Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

God's displeasure. They choose still to presevere in the accustomed cant of infidelity and formalism, which shrugged its shoulders and turned up its nose at the mention of experimental piety, and reasoned upon Cowper's own religious experience as part of his monomania or madness, exasperated if not inflicted by injudicious theological advisers.

Now, this is a very general and natural delusion. Nevertheless, whatever of supposed piety there may be, whatever of unsullied purity of life, whatever of outward morality, whatever of seeming loveliness of character, we know that it is vain and delusive, unless the heart has been humbled before God and brought to the acceptance of His grace, as free, undeserved grace to a guilty, lost sinner. There is no real piety, no true sanctity of life, no real holiness, until God's mercy in Christ, God’s mercy to the guilty and the lost, has been sought and received in God's own way, by a humble, broken heart and contrite spirit. But our natural pride is wholly averse from such a procedure and opposed to it. And yet that pride itself may be effectually concealed from one's own view, if there has not been a self-searching and self-knowledge of sin and depravity, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the spirituality of God's law. There have been men who seemed naturally to have all the humility and docility of children, learned men without any of the pride of learning, modest and unassuming, and of highest integrity and honourable feeling in all the business of society and intercourse of life, who have, nevertheless, denied and rejected with indignation the necessity of self-abasement and selfloathing at the feet of the Saviour, and the truth of the

[blocks in formation]

worthlessness of human virtues without faith in His redemption, and reliance upon that alone.

But in such very indignation at the imputation of utter worthlessness to what is assumed as human virtue ; indignation, as if the noblest qualities were despised, belied, and libelled; in that very indignation which seems to the deluded mind but a noble fervour of admiration for what is admirable in mankind, and the defence of humanity itself from slander, there is the plain development of the sin by which the angels fell; the pride that challenges the regard of God himself for pretended human goodness, and demands the mercy of God on account of such goodness, and not merely on account of Christ. But, as Cowper remarked in one of his letters, mercy deserved ceases to be mercy, and must take the name of justice. Here, then, must the purest being come where Cowper came—here the most unsullied soul, the loveliest and most amiable nature, the strictest and most virtuous moralist, to this position at the foot of the cross, on a level with the most miserable publicans and harlots, or there is no piety and no salvation. Let this be understood, or nothing in the gospel is understood rightly. We know nothing truly of Christ, or the way of salvation, till we know Him in the selfabasement of a contrite spirit.

It might have been expected that at so late a period as 1836, such a biographer as Southey, with Cowper's own memoir, and the whole series of his letters in full before him, would not have stooped to join in the hunt with such sneering infidelity. Yet we find him writing strange things in reference both to Cowper's own religious enjoyment, which it was intimated was delusive, and ought

[blocks in formation]

not to have been sustained as true, and also to the influence of those dear Christian friends, among whom Mrs Unwin and John Newton were the most intimate, who rejoiced with him in his religious joy. Southey argues that they ought to have discouraged that joy as an illusion, and that their not taking that course, but, on the contrary, confirming him in the belief that his happiness was the work of God's grace, prevented their having any power after ard to comfort him in gloom, and dispossess him of the delusions of despair. They encouraged him at first in what Southey intimates were false raptures of piety, the work of an insane mind, and the consequence was that they could do nothing with him to dissipate his darkness, when the clouds came upon him, or to convince him that his despair also was a false despair. Because they did not in the first case believe, and labour to make Cowper believe, that the light and grace of that ecstatic blessedness which he knew when first he saw the Lord, were a mere illusive fancy, the heat of a mere delusive imagination, therefore they could not in the last case persuade him or encourage him to believe that the gloom and blackness of a despairing soul were of the same imaginary nature. The argument is, that if they had denied the grace and light at first to have been from heaven, they might have persuaded him afterward that the darkness and despair were only a dream from hell; but that, having encouraged him in a lie at first, as from heaven, they could not dispossess him of the lie afterward as from hell. Such, says Southey, "are the perilous consequences of religious enthusiasm. He had been encouraged to believe that there was nothing illusive in the raptures of his

[blocks in formation]

first recovery; and they who had confirmed him in that belief argued in vain against his illusions when they were of an opposite character." A singularly wise physician of a madhouse would a writer like this have made! One cannot help reflecting how fearful from the outset must have been the result, had the care of Cowper's soul fallen into the same hands with that of his memory.

[blocks in formation]

The cure by Divine grace—The mental malady made subservient, by

such grace, to a sweeter poetry-Secret of the all-ruling charm of Cowper's poetry.

cure.

The autobiography of the poet is a demonstration that nothing but Divine grace effected the completion and permanence of Cowper's cure, and that nothing but the ministrations of the Spirit of God preserved his mind from utter ruin. We say completion and permanence; and in the best sense, the true, eternal sense, such was the

Cowper could say, though "I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me. The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.” Those heavenly ministrations, having renewed his heart, and sanctified the fountain of principle and feeling, enabled him to write with all the sweetness and glory of a piety kindled at the cross, even at the very time when, through the partial prevalence of his mental malady, his own personal Christian hope was in a state of suspended animation. For more reasons than one, if it had not been for Cowper's piety, we should never have had his poetry. His sweet religious experience was a quiet harbour, a serene and lovely nook, into which the shipwrecked mind was guided, that otherwise would, by the ragged reefs and waves, have been quite

« AnteriorContinuar »