« AnteriorContinuar »
Are we not therein taught by God himself the true religion, and consequently the only efficacious morality? How, then, dare any teacher, taking upon him the name of a Christian, presume to depart from the express dictates of infinite wisdom, and teach, for doctrines, the weak or wicked dictates of his own senseless and treacherous heart. The true Christian, depending for his salvation on the blood of God, suffers not a drop of it to fall beyond the verge of his own gratitude. And if he is a teacher of others, as there is no part of him unguarded by this blood for the bolt of justice to strike in, so bis sermons are deeply dyed in this blood. The standard of his faith, erected for the soldiers of Christ to gather round, is of the same crimson colour, and proclaims the battle fought by the Captain of our salvation for the souls of all true believers. What a loud call to moral goodness is here made on gratitude and love! Can ethics speak with a voice like this? Wonder not, reader, that the faithful preacher of Christ comes forth, under this standard, like the angels above, a fame of fire kindled by gratitude, and tempered by charity. No bounds can be set to bis gratitude, because called forth by infinite love ; and Christian charity qualifies the sourness of even his reproofs and rebukes.
495. There is no question so often put to me as this, Whether are we to depend for salvation, on faith or works? When men, wholly ignorant, take upon them to instruct others in the principles of religion, it is no wonder that questions of this kind should be started, or that differences of opinion, in points like this, should find abettors. Whatsoever claims the teachers mentioned may lay to inspiration, it is undoubtedly the enemy of religion that hath stirred up this particular inquiry. If with fanatics, faith alone is made the organ of salvation, it follows, that morality and good works need not be much attended to; and if, with the Arians and Socinians, faith is treated with contempt, and morality alone depended on, that very morality, for want of faith, is deprived of its necessary principle and motive. The truth is, the question supposes a distinction, where there is no difference, but between a cause and its effect, so necessarily connected, that, to suppose them separated, even in thought, is to strike at the very foundation of our religion. In the Christian sense, faith and virtue cannot be separated without the total ruin of both. By true Christian faith we are saved; but that faith which is without works, is dead, is not Christian faith, and can save nobody. Our
blessed Saviour himself, being asked by the Jews, what they should do to work the works of God, is so far from distinguishing faith from works, even as cause and effect, that he makes them the same thing; for he answers, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;' laying it down for a rule, that to believe in Christ is the very soul of Christian obedience; insomuch, that he who thus believes, must, as the Holy Spirit saith by St. Paul, ‘be careful to maintain good works;' for otherwise he only believes as the devils do, who cannot help believing, nor acting nevertheless as infidels.
196. That contempt which one man hath for the understanding of another, is carried too far, and even for the understandings of brutes. For want of knowledge, what it is, we give it the name of instinct, a word, by which we mean nothing at all. I have entertained a great affection, and some degree of esteem, for the species of birds we call swallows, ever since I saw a remarkable instance of their sense and humour, played off upon a cat. This quadruped had in a very fine day, seated herself on the top of a gate-post, as if in contemplation, when ten or a dozen swallows, knowing her to be an enemy, took it into their heads to tantalize her, in a manner that demonstrated a high degree of, not only good sense, but humour. One of these birds, coming from behind her, flew close by her ear, and she made a snap at it with her paw,
but was too late. Another swallow in five or six seconds did the same, and she made the like impotent attempt to catch it. This was followed by a third, and so on, to the number above mentioned; and each swallow, as it passed, seemed to set up a laugh at the disappointed enemy, very like the laugh of a young child when tickled. The whole number, succeeding one another, at the distance of about three yards, formed a regular circle in the air, and played it off, like a wheel, at her ear for near an hour, not seemingly at all alarmed at me, who stood within six or seven yards of the post. I enjoyed this sport as well as the pretty birds, till the cat, tired out with disappointments, quitted the gate-post, as much huffed, I believe, as I had been diverted. This lovely species of birds are naturally so domesticated with ours, that we ought to consider them as relations. They build with us, and flutter perpetually about us on account of the dung-hills, adjacent to our houses; not that they love putrefaction, but on account of the flies which are generated in that sort of stuff, as these are their only food, by which
may be, of
means it happens that we are annually relieved from a great part of that nuisance, we are, after all, apt enough to complain of perhaps too apt; for how do we know whether these again are not doing for us the office of little swallows, in devouring some more minute and noxious kind of flies, the causes, it epidemic fevers and plagues ; ordinarily thus checked ; but when a guilty generation of men are to be chastised, suffered to increase, to abound, and enter into our blood. This supposition I found, not only on my own, but on the conjectures of others, more deeply read in natural history than myself, If our common dies are not thus employed, they, however, feed on those putrid or putrescent substances, blood, fat, &c. which would otherwise more considerably vitiate the air, which we continually breathe. It is rationally to be believed they answer many useful ends of their creation whereof we are ignorant. Be this, however, as it may, it is certain, that animal life in this world is every where supported by death. Man, in particular, eats not a meal, for which millions of insects do not die. The sea, the lakes, and all sorts of vegetables, swarm with such, every larger species of which is furnished with means of pursuing and seizing the smaller ; and the smaller with means of eluding the pursuit of greater. In the mean time, the love of life and dread of death are strongly impressed on all, by their nature. This is a most awful mystery, which natural religion, as it is called, should look into, ere it presumes to cavil at the mysteries of revelation. These minute tribes, we perceive, were not created in vain; but as none of them were intended for immortality, and they must all die, it is but fit that every one of them should pay the tax of existence by contributing to that of others, that it may not die to po purpose, since all are to perish with the using. Man himself, proud man, must render back to the earth the body he hath borrowed, and submit to be the food of rats and worms.
197. Nations, and the generations of men in every nation, distinguish themselves, in point of virtue or vice, by their amusements, especially if grown common or habitual, more perhaps than by any other sort of characteristic. Our pleasures are less indifferent to us than our pains. They seize the springs of life and action by our imaginations, affections, and passions. They possess themselves of our hearts and wills in such a manner as to establish an absolute power over reason, principle, and conscience. They steal from us that liberty on which, of all things, we pre
tend to set the highest value. In writing this I have my eye on the number of novels which for half a century have made the chief entertainment of that middle class which subsists between the court and the spade, and on the manner wherein that species of performance addresses itself to the attention of its readers; a manner which, in my humble opinion, does little honour either to the entertainers or the entertained, in regard to the taste or morals of both. In this censure I include all I have seen but Clarissa and Millennium-hall. The reason of this exception will presently appear. All the rest come forward on the footing of genius and invention, whereof they discover, I think, a miserable penury. They are all planned on the same set of characters and incidents, and end with precisely the same catastrophe. A fine young man and a fine young woman, not at all different from those of every other novel, fall violently in love with each other, the woman as violently as the man, and with as little saving to the modesty of her sex; meet with some troubles and distresses, usually from their parents ; get the better of these, and marry; and, to make them perfectly happy, a rich uncle or two is killed, whereby they get possession of a great fortune, and consequently have afterward nothing else to do but to wallow in wealth, pride, luxury, and sensuality. Behold the heaven of a novel! So painted, gilded, and stretched out before the eyes of its reader, as totally to intercept the prospect of any other heaven. Throughout the whole the shortness of life is forgotten. Eternity is forgotten ! God is forgotten! As to taste, what a dull and tiresome sameness! What a total want of originality and variety! What a stupid sterility of invention! As to religion and virtue, how is the heart and its affections centred in low and temporary things! How are these magnified and adorned in false colours to rivet the attention! The little life and vigour discovered in these performances is exhausted in fulsome descriptions of a passion, and of its gratification proposed, too gross to be modestly mentioned. The corruption of the human imagination and heart is but too apt to do all this dirty work for itself, without the help of a novel, which, as it is generally managed, is but the cantharides of reading, a little palliated for the taste of the polite by the specious name of love, and some decency of terms, which render it more insinuating and dangerous than the gross expressions of the kennel could do. Our nature exhibits no sight sò despicable, and yet so hideous, as an old bag or battered rake reading a novel through spectacles, every two minutes, to be cleared of the rheum distilling from their eyes, while the filthy drivel is wiped away from their chaps. How ghastly! These wretches are haunted by the Asmodeus or ghost of their former lewdness, till they give the painter a subject more qualified to represent the most frightful fiend in hell, than the imagination of a Raphael or an Angelo could ever have formed. It is unhappy for some people that they can read. Besides, here is a fictitious picture of life, so widely different from the original, that the young girl is made to expect a hero, and the young bachelor, a goddess, in marriage; insomuch, that such young men and women as the world affords, when they go together, are sure to be miserably disappointed, and taught to despise and abhor each other. What a difference between the lover and the busband! What a dowdy is the wife to the mistress! All the novels I have seen, except the two above mentioned, are planned upon an atheistical footing; and so ill planned even on this, that were there no life but the present, its few and casual satisfactions would be greatly impaired, if not in a great measure prevented, to such readers of our novels as bave, in any degree, realized their stories to themselves. In these the world is
represented in disguise ; so that the reader is led from one scene of delusion to another. Were the heaven of a novel to be eternal, the condition would not be eligible. Such an infinity of disappointments, of ingratitude, of villany, of treachery, of cruelty, the happy pair must suffer under, as would often force them to wish for death. Nay, they themselves, finely as they are set off by their writers, would often contribute so much to their mutual misery, as to long for a total separation. Our holy religion represents this life, at the best, as a state of vanity and vexation of spiit; and every where prescribes self-denial and mortification for the reduction of our appetites and passions, especially our pride and love of sensual pleasure. But it is the grand aim and end of our novels to pamper and inflame both to the uttermost, though, of all our irregular dispositious, these want it the least. So saith religion, and so saith reason and universal experience. The pride and vanity, the impurity and wantonness of our corrupt nature, require not surely to be fed; but fed as they are by wealth, high station, and luxury, a novel comes in to finish the infernal work, and raises them to distraction, This turns away the ears of its readers from the truth to fables, transports them into a land