Page images

degraded and polluted by the praises of political liberals and worldly-minded religionists hailing him as their founder, and the patron-saint of modern free inquiry, which is self-dependence in pursuing truth; and of modern liberty, which is self-exaltation in all things. Men of illumination! keep your patriots and philosophers to yourselves, and welcome ; but, for Luther, claim not a hair of his head : he is a spiritual man, and nothing but a spiritual man. Reason he had in a lofty measure ; but that is not quite enough to prove your consanguinity to him. Imagination and passion to the heroic pitch ; learning beyond most men of his age ; eloquence that rushes bold and loud as a deepchanneled mountain-torrent amid the rough and rugged vigour of his thoughts : but these make not the man these are but a medium fitted to transmit with no perverting hues that Divine light within, which forms his true character, and his true value to Europe and the world. It is painful to hear it said that the assertion of the people's right to read the Scriptures was Luther's great achievement, or of their right to judge for themselves. Hume and Voltaire, Paine and Taylor, assert the right of the people to read what they please-yes, and to think what they please-in a far stronger sense than Luther maintained it: and will Christian doctors tell us that the Great Protestant's great work was a thing which could as well have been effected by an earlier introduction on the stage of such purifiers of doctrine as these ? No; Luther, taught by God, proclaimed the true Christian doctrine, for whose truth he appealed to God's word : and this was to do more than to send us to a book, of whose intrinsic efficacy to convert it is enough to say, that there are myriads of copies now circulated throughout the world, and the world remains what it is. One living man with the Spirit dwelling in him and speaking by him, who exercises faith and prayer for his fellow-men, is more to a country than thousands of Bibles. I do not mean Bibles left shut, but thousands of Bibles pored on and ransacked for proofs of doctrine, are less than one living man, with the Spirit of wisdom and love, of faith of prayer. What, then, was Luther's great work? Our answer is brief: He preached Christ, and denounced Antichrist.

Luther was a man of faith, and doubtless God blessed his efforts, and the great shaking and dismemberment of the Papacy which he consummated, to the multiplying of believers all over Europe. Our present inquiry, however, leads us rather to follow the progressive workings of evil than of good ; and it is easy to see that the evils which now encompass us had their origin at least as far back as the period of which we speak. Some strength, it must be owned, they gained from the character of Luther himself. Such bold resistance to existing authorities could scarcely by any means be exbibited, and taught the people, without shaking their reverence for authority itself, and stimulating the independence and self-sufficiency of man's nature. But Luther's temper and manner of conducting the warfare added not a little to this its unavoidable tendency. To use the language of a wise and learned admirer of the Reformer, “ he was actuated by an almost superstitious hatred of superstition, and a turbulent prejudice against prejudices :" and, again, he speaks of Luther's “ angry aversion to those in high places, whom he regarded as the oppressors of their rightful equals.” The contemptuousness of his demeanour towards Henry VIII. is well known; and in his “ Circular Letter to the Princes on occasion of the Peasants' War, his language is very inflammatory, and his doctrine borders very nearly on the holy right of insurrection.” Now, along with this, consider of how very worldly and un hallowed sort were many of the influences which we have already described as falling into the channel of the Reformation, and mingling in the general tide of opposition to Popery. Consider how soon the question was mixed up, in the native country of Luther, with that of political liberty: consider how much easier it is at all times to pull down than to build up, and to teach men evil than good. Reflect on the pride excited by appeal to the private judgments of the people against ancient venerated usage, against kings and emperors, cardinals and popes and councils : think how many would exult in bursting all old bonds on mental independence, how few would exchange them for the" light yoke" and the “easy burden:" think how naturally, in such cases, newly acquired familiarity with the formerly forbidden sanctity of Scripture must have passed into irreverence; and contempt for old opinions into levity and wildness in excogitating and circulating new: remember, that the world, less familiar than we are with false alarms of great discovery, and with the vast range of plausible falsehoods, furnished honest and earnest converts in abundance to any new absurdity; that this weakened the cause of the one true faith, perpetuated the habit of hasty innovation, tarnished the honour of the Book from which all alike quoted for defence and refutation. Combine these causes in our mind, and then we shall admit how obvious was the result :-a spirit of self-sufficiency in judgment, and of contempt for authority, was diffused far more widely than the positive principles which the Reformers would have substituted for those they impugned. Before a century had elapsed, there was civil war in Germany, civil war in France, civil war in Holland, civil war in Scotland, civil war in England; and in Scotland, in Holland, in Germany, in France, Popery was avowedly identified with the cause of oppressive despotism, and Protestantism with that of popular independence. Now we make no question whether liberty be a good thing;


but we do make a question whether it be usually sought by the mass of its advocates in a good spirit, or in a spirit likely to be ameliorated by success. At all events, while theological controversy was raging, and weakening the faith of the Bible ; while fanaticisin was ever and anon bursting forth and disgracing the name of spirituality ; while the vast power of the house of Austria, and their employment of it in hehalf of the church and of tyranny at once, made the liberals of the day of one party with the Scriptural religionists; Protestantism gradually grew, in its tendency to corrupt, into that infidelity which is not the mere negative of faith, but its positive contrary,—that independent completeness in self, which shuts out all that is beyond the range of one's own sense and intellect; which, therefore, in the bitterness of wounded self-conceit, not merely doubts of it, but denies and hates and scorns it ; which may infuse itself in various proportions into those pursuits and dispositions which at a hasty glance seem most alien from infidelity, and there long work disguised and unsuspected, but is adapted in its ripeness to explode all science even, all social order, all religion from the world. In Protestantism, almost from the first, there was thus much of the spirit we describe, that it flattered and elevated the individual, without the controul of reverent faith in any visible unity of the church, scarcely being able to shew him such a unity: and let us observe how this was fostered into the prevailing spirit of the present times. In this country alone, the ecclesiastical revolution was introduced at once,' by the authority of the existing government. So little, however, did this harinonize with the spirit of the times, that the people must have a reformation of their own, more boldly innovative, more anti-papal, more popular in its tone and institutions. And so truly was this movement in society, from beneath upward, the strongest here, as well as throughout the West of Europe, that in this country, where it conquered last, it conquered most completely; and the united cause of Puritantism and individual independence triumphed, in the destruction of monarchy and the establishment of the Commonwealth. Again excess, and the exhaustion of effort, produced a reaction; and the popular spirit took a breathing-time during the reigns of the last two Stuarts. The spirit of despotism, still papal, took so much advantage of the respite as again to force the other into action at the Revolution ;-in itself a mighty good achieved ; in

; the further excitement it gave to the independent or selfsufficient feeling throughout Europe, a vast and yet unexhausted evil. Meanwhile, the wild fanaticism and gloomy pharisaical habits of the Cromwellian times, the increasing suspicion cast on Scripture by controversy and speculation, the dissoluteness and irreligion of the next age, and the great tide of



[blocks in formation]

opinion and of affairs, still running strong in favour of subversion without establishment, had swept away almost altogether the faith of the upper ranks in this country ; left to the divines generally little more than a confidence in their accurate science

a in theology; and, by occasioning much controversial writing against infidels, had filled the religious world, narrow as it was, with a religion of common sense, because argued on grounds chosen by the enemies of spiritual truth, and addressing itself, therefore, to the lower faculties, in which infidelity has its stronghold. In France, those in whom the energy of the national mind chiefly resided had before them English liberty and laxity of faith to admire and long to imitate ; under their eye, Popish mummeries and impostures to despise, and to confound Christianity in their hatred, and last, not least, a theological literature which abjured the foolishness of preaching, and abandoned its power, to flatter and court the applause of the enlightened and the elegant; which boasted in the heartless pomposity of Bossuet and the heartless polish of Massillon, and sent forth its publications with prefatory eulogiums of players and Atheistical Academicians. Thus the most influential party in that kingdom where Protestantism and Popery had fought so long and so laboriously that the energies of both were almost_worn out, retained, some, the name of Catholic; and some, of Protestant; but were the rightful and advancing successors of that school of literature we before described, the concentrators of the new political infidelity, the first-ripe specimens of fanatical devotion to the worst fiend from the bottomless pit that has visited earth. Then their poison wrought its way downward, to irritate and demonize an ignorant and oppressed populace; and the result was the French Revolution, and the general crash and chaos that followed. At that fearful period, what was the condition of the populace of this country? We need not attempt to describe it. And is this spirit extinguished among them ? And is complaint, and ground of complaint, diminished among them? And is steadiness of principle so firmly seated at the helm of national management, as to give this country one solitary advantage over France ? And will that useful knowledge, of which the French Academy was the fountain-head, save men from the principles and designs of which, too, the French Academy was the fountain-head ?- And, then, this is the Millennium; or, at all events, something almost as good, if not better!! What infatuation can threaten woe to a country, if these gratulations at such a season do not ?-But it is with the aspect of the religious world we have at present to do.

We have seen how, since the Reformation, all things have been favouring that principle of self-sufficing individuality in man, which is infidelity in the head, and self-worship in the heart,

and liberalism in politics. Now, we have dwelt so long on this, because we believe that to this principle, which the church at the Reformation so mightily impelled because the necessity of her circumstances could appeal to individual judgment only, the present condition of that portion of the church called “ the religious public” is mainly to be ascribed. Such a spirit, in its perfection, is absolute infidelity ; in all its degrees, it is unbelieving. And if a religious party has almost no positive or dogmatic theology at all ;--if her strongest doctrinal propositions are negative ;-if in answer to every question she give some such reply as, “ Calvin says this, and he is extravagant; Gro

; tius says that, and he is heretical; truth lies somewhere between, and it does not belong to essentials to determine;"—if, when these essentials are inquired after, two or three Scripture phrases, whose meaning it is presumptuous to determine, are all the satisfaction that can be got;—if the Bible meet so little honest credence, that the very professing to understand its prophecies in their plain meaning is called a certain prophetical theory, and the understanding its doctrinal passages in their plain meaning is called a certain theological hypothesis ;-if it be in general a literal impossibility to get an answer to the query, What is Christianity the belief of ?-if the word of God be usually treated so, as that men would run the risk of being pistolled who should openly so treat the word of a worldly man of honour; then, incredulity has become a feature of the professing church. And this, alas! is the result of her controversies and divisions, her polemical skill, and her infection from a world she first infected. Her faith is palsięd, and cannot close its hand on truth. -Again, this spirit will be compromising. It would be painful to give facts in proof that it is so in the religious world : but it is believed that men of no religion despise professors of spirituality far more now for inconsistency and easy yielding, than they ever did for that fanaticism, the fear of whose reproach has aided so much to bring on the present feebleness. That very creed of negatives we spoke of, is the result of mutual compromise in a party made of many parties, exhausted with disputes, and taught by weariness to care less about principles at issue than about the power of union, and the presenting to the world a creed sensible and moderate enough to be admissible by reasonable men. And certainly this does procure a rapid influx from the world ; and certainly, in this age of cultivated intellects,

; there are multitudes of candid and inquiring men, who had left a little gap in their knowledge for some religion to be picked up at leisure, who find that spiritual Christianity has been ground down and smoothed, in collision with the irreligious and in the mutual collision of religious parties, to a size and form that fits the space without trouble, and gives no disturbance



« PreviousContinue »