« AnteriorContinuar »
dition of conceding, that they have no reply to a remon. strant who tells them that their speculations are falşe, that their moral principles are corrupt, and that their prospects are melancholy,—who calmly proves to them that certain declarations and requisitions have been made by the Governor of the world, and that, if they choose to repel and ridicule them, they are indeed quite at liberty to do it, but must make up their minds to abide the consequences, which consequences are most distinctly foreshewn in those declarations.
With respect to those persons whose judgements are undecided on the grand inquiry, whether Christianity is of divine authority. or not, we would earnestly press on their minds the question, whether they really care, and are in earnest on the subject; whether they value their spiritual nature enough to deem it worth while to attain, by a serious investigation, a determinate conclusion on the claims of a religion which at once declares that spiritual nature to be immortal, and affirms itself to offer the only means for its perpetual happiness. If they really do not care enough about this transcendant subject, to desire above all things on earth a just and final determination of their judgements upon it, we can only deplore that any thing so precious as a mind should have been committed to such cruelly thoughtless possessors. We can only repeat some useless expressions of amazement to see a rational being holding itself in such contempt; and predict a period when itself will be still much more amazed at the remembrance how many thousand insignificant questions found their turn to be considered and decided, while the one, involving infinite consequences, was reserved to be determined by the event, too late therefore to have an auspicious influence on that event, which was the grand object, for the sake of which it ought to have been determined before all other questions. If, on the contrary, 'a strong solicitude is felt to put an end, in the shortest time possible, to all doubts respecting the authority of the Christian religion, the very first duty, next to that of imploring sincerity and illumination from Heaven, is to study the works of this au-, thor. It is impossible to hear, with the slightest degree of respect or patience, the expressions of doubt or anxiety about the truth of Christianity, from any one who can delay a week to obtain the celebrated View of its Evidences, or fail to read it through again and again. It is of no use to say what would be our opinion of the moral and intellectual state of his mind, if after this he remained still undecided...
It is not perhaps to be required, as a general rule, that a man who extends his investigations round the whole border and circumference, if we may so express it, of a great system of truth, constructing defensive arguments, and planta ing armed watch' at every point open to attack or actually attacked, and every where looking out to a great distance to ascertain from what quarter and in what direction an enemy may come, should carefully and separately examine all the interior parts of this system. It were too much to insist that the military guardian of a whole country, whơ takes the charge of its thousand miles of frontier, should acquaint himself with the rural and local economy of its several districts, or cultivate himself some particular piece of its ground. He might tell us, it is enough that, while his talents and exertions are maintaining the general security, there is happy scope giyen for the good management of all the affairs in detail, by men, whose cares are not forced to such a painful expansion. A man who sedulously and ably performs, for all other Christian students and teachers, the great office of bringing into their hands, from an immensely extensive field of inquiries, all the most decisive proofs of the divine origin and authority of the system, may well demand that they in return should furnish to him more accurate investigations of its component parts than his extended labours will have allowed him to prosecute or finish, instead of invidiously scrutinizing and exposing the defects of his knowledge in the detail. To have exhibited what will be appealed to, for ages to come, as a most luminous concentration of evidence, in proof that divines have really a di. rect revelation from God to explain and discriminate into a system of particular doctrines, is a much more difficult and important service, than, assuming this great general truth, it would be to give the clearest elucidation of one, or two, or ten of those doctrines. And besides, the other studies prosecuted by Dr. Paley, with a direct view, as it is fair to infer from their ultimate application, of vindicating the first principle of all religion, the belief of a God, were of a nature to absorb long spaces of his life, as they extended to very wide and scientific departments of knowledge.
From the consideration of studies extended over such ample and various ground, and yet all made to conduce to the advancement of religion, we should think it uncandid to exact from this distinguished author a minute precision throughout the whole list of theological questions. It is true, indeed, that the importance of religion, as a whole, must consist in the aggregate importance of all its parts: but we are not making any contrast, or referring to any proportion of importance, between the aggregate and the separate parts; we are merely pointing to the much more extended scope, and
the much severer process, of the great general argument, as compared with the argument on any specific Christian doctrine. This specific argument requires of course but one document, of which it assumes the validity, but to the establishment of which validity so many other documents, and so . many methods of investigation, were antecedently required.
Nevertheless, on first hearing of the publication of sermons of Dr. Paley, we thought it not improbable that he might occasionally have exerted the whole force of his enriched and penetrating mind on some selected point of Christian doctrine or morals; and were prepared to expect a number of elaborate, and therefore important, dissertations. We were not apprized that the volume would chiefly consist of the very short and hastily written discourses which were composed in the ordinary course of his professional services. The shortness indeed of some of them is tantalizing and-vexatious. When an important subject has been concisely laid forth, when two or three views of it have been very transiently unfolded, when some most striking argument appears to be just opening, of which we earnestly wish for an ample illustration, then, even just then, comes the twelfth or the thirteenth page, and suddenly puts an end to the reasoning and the discourse, leaving us to a mordfication rather similar to what we recollect to have felt on being obliged to shut up a volume of prints of the structures of Balbec, when we had looked through about half the series, or on being suddenly called away from a philosophical lecture, when the most curious experiments were going to be made in illustration of an interesting proposition. Several of the subjects are indeed prolonged to two or three sermons, but we end almost all of them with an impression of the incompleteness of the discussion, from the narrowness of the allotted space. But for some rather unceremonious addresses on some rather uncourteous subjects, we must be led to entertain a lofty idea of Dr. Paley's auditory; for how important must have been the employments with which their time was accustomed to be occupied, when such a preacher could seldom presume to trespass beyond fifteen minutes ! But with regard to congregations in general, it is surely very fair to observe how useless such discourses must be. If even Dr. Paley, with his admirable power of compression and lucid statement, is quité unable in such a contracted space to do justice to the bare argument of a subject to say nothing of those modes of representing and enforcing it, which are requisite to secure för it a place in the imagination under the form of some striking figure or scene, or to make it impressive on the con-' science and affections, what can be expected from such a
diminutive shred of the composition of ordinary performers of the sacred services? We should undoubtedly be among the most vociferous to protest against a return toward the triple hour-glass discourses of the venerable puritan and ancient Scotch presbyterian times ; but really human creatures must be prodigiously changed since that period, if about a tenth part of the same instruction be now sufficient to expel their ignorance and their vices.
No reader of Dr. Paley's former works will open his sermons with any expectation of what we usually call eloquence. A mind, predetermined perhaps by its original structure, and therefore accustomed from early youth to seek the rationale, as it used to be termed, of every subject, would come to have little esteem for the lighter matters of imagery and sentiment. Its attention would instantly fix on the hard and supporting parts of all doctrines and systems, as the eye of John Hunter almost involuntarily examined the anatomical structure of all animal forms that came in his view, often quite forgetting all the beauties of complexion, colour, or gloss, and perhaps sometimes regarding even the most ornamental appearances of the superficial substance as but disagreeable obstructions to his desired research into the conformation of the bones. Such a mind views all subjects as placed in a state of controversy by opposite propositions and argumentations; and regards it as the noblest, indeed the only noble intellectual achievement, to carry a question through the conflict of adverse arguments, and in the result to establish some one thing as true, consolidating its proofs by a demolition of all that opposes ; and therefore this ar
gumentative mind makes little use or account of any forces sbut the rigid ones of the understanding, leaving every thing *that relates to decoration and attraction to the taste aud fancy of orators and poets. If a builder of ships of war happens to walk through a forest, he will take little notice of trees recommended by taper elegance on the one side of his path, or by beautiful foliage and blossoms on the other; it is the oak that his eye naturally searches for, and fixes on with the most interest; and even in looking at that, he does not care about the rich mass of green shade, the fine contour of its form, or the wreaths of woodbine that may be climbing and flowering round its stem; he is thinking precisely of the timber, which is to brave storms and artillery,
The compositions before us are devoid of all ornament, and evidently did not receive the ordinary, finishing of an author. The language is sometimes quite homely, sometimes inaccurate, and but barely any where attains a tolerable degree of neatness; it is as free from variegated colouring as the
winter sky, while the author's imagination is as subdued as the principle of vegetation appears just now in the middle of December. The train of thought, as far as it is carried, is a most simple exercise of intellect, very briefly analysing, occasionally with a slight use of the forms of logical process, and generally with admirable discrimination, some speculative or moral principle in the theory of religion, with the intermixture of a few plain reflections of a practical tendency, The passions are no further attempted to be moved, than as that effect may be produced by a short and very cool and sober statement of what is deemed the most important consideration involved in the subject. And we will acknowledge that the grave stillness of manner, and the extreme simplicity of expression, with which solemn considerations are presented, have sometimes, on us, the effect of making them more impressive, than perhaps, we should have felt them as exhibited in oratoric language. 'For instances, we should refer, among other sermons, to those on the “ Neglect of : Warnings,' and the “ Terrors of the Lord. There are certain
classes of thoughts which are expressed by almost all writers in language of apparent emotion, and by many with strong figures, and urgent appeals and inculcations : when such momentous thoughts are uttered in a perfectly calm manner, they come to us, partly by contrast with their usual impassioned mode of being communicated, with a certain air of novelty, which more forcibly arrests and fixes our attention ; we are made to look the subject more directly in the face, in consequence of meeting it thus divested of its usual array of authority, and yet bearing an aspect of the highest authority still. It is useful for us now and then to be made to feel, what an imperative quality religious truth possesses essentially, and can therefore evince without the aid of raised and ardent language. Part of this authoritative effect of serious truths coolly expressed, may also be owing to the very manner of the person thus expressing them. Provided he is believed to be a wise and pious man, his thus refusing to come into a state of sympathy with us, and gravely placing solemn truth before us as a being without passions, gives us, at times, an impression as if he were a monitor of a superior order to ourselves, whose object in addressing us is to execute a serious commission to which he is appointed, leaving us to regard or to slight, at our choice, what he was sent by a higher- authority to say to us. And besides, when important truths are declared in a manner totally unimpassioned, he who utters them appears by this calm manner to place an
entire reliance on the force of the truth itself, feeling it of ' too solemn and peremptory a character to need the help of