Page images

the complacency of the steer ruminating beneath the shade of the British oak? Yet mankind in general seem to have no idea of composed felicity. It must be active and tumultuous; and this occasions their mistakes as to the happiness of Christians. They cannot value, for they can hardly comprehend, the placid enjoyments of religion. The pious aspirations, the holy joy, the heavenly peace, which are fountains of celestial gladness continually springing up in the bosom of the good man, produce no bustle, and therefore excite no observation. I doubt not but many of the happiest of mortals are to be found among those children of God who pass on unnoticed in their pilgrimage, and are viewed by their worldly neighbours, sometimes with pity, and sometimes with contempt. It is natural therefore, that men should underrate the happiness of Christians, from their imperfect knowledge of its real marks. They infer melancholy, wherever they see unobtrusive quiet and composure. But it is not so

66 The broadest inirth unfeeling folly wears,
Less lovely far than virtue's very tears.”

If I can judge at all from my own experience, laughter is a very bad criterion of gladness. Nay we know that the most comical productions of Swift and Cowper were written while their authors laboured under an afflictive constitutional dejection. Philosophers take a distinction between the beautiful and the picturesque; and I believe it is a just one. The pleasure (they say) which we feel in stealing along a sunny vale, soothed by the concert of the woods and murmuring waters, is of a different kind from the delight enjoyed in coursing over an open champaign, keen in the chase, and braced by the wintry gales. The two kinds of happiness alluded to, admit, I believe, of the same distinction, and for myself, I must confess a decided partiality to the beautiful*.

3. In attempting to account for the frequency of religious gloom, I shall not meddle with those cases in which melancholy evidently arises from an erroneous practice or unhappy opinions. These sufficiently explain themselves. If (as too commonly happens) men, who have strong religious impressions, will indulge themselves in some favourite, but vicious habits; or if they cherish their negligence in religion, from wilful blindness, because they are afraid to contemplate the real terms of salvation; it is no wonder they are gloomy. They must be uneasy; they ought to be uneasy. To be happy in such a case is to be miserable. But their gloom obviously “is owing not to their religion, but to their deficiencies in religion. While they continue to be the servants of sin, they must expect the wages of sint:" To such we can only say, “Turn ye unto the Lord with your whole hearts; for the fruit of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance for ever;" but “there is no peace,” saith my God, “to the wicked.”

So likewise if a man unhappily thinks some of the miserable penances of the Romish Church necessary to his acceptance, or is involved in that extreme darkness of pre

* See Paschall's Thoughts. That sublime writer considers all restI essness as the effect of our degenerate naturę dissatisfied with itself, and complacent satisfaction as evidencing the remains of our original perfection. Indeed it may be observed, that contentment is called true happiness. Now contentment implies repose; an easy and cheerful acquiescence in the present state of things.

+ Mr. Gisborne. See the admirable discourse which closes his first volume of Sermons.

destinarian fantasy, which is full of “fearful shapes and sounds of woe;" so that he apprehends an irreversible decree of reprobation to have passed against him, it is very natural he should be dejected. Such cases fall not within our present inquiry, for they carry with them their own solution. They may move our compassion, but cannot excite our surprize. They imply not the slightest reproach to Christianity, because they are the known consequences of adequate causes. Those causes, indeed, may afford some triumph to the irreligious, but it is beside the question to shew its emptiness.

However, after all proper deductions, it must be owned there still remains much of real or apparent melancholy among religious persons unaccounted for. Christianity is a religion of cheerfulness. How is it that so many of its worthiest professors seem to bear a living testimony against its excellence; that while they practise its precepts, they cannot enjoy its privileges? The causes I believe are various; to be found in the tempers of those who embrace Christianity; their peculiar situations; and the nature of the world around us. Perhaps after examining into these causes, their effects will appear less extraordinary.

In the first place, let us consider who are they who at all times are the most likely to accept the offers of covenanted grace. What said our blessed Lord? “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Christianity offers rest to the weary, and consolation to the hopeless. Surely it is not wonderful, if some at least of the children of woe accept the proffered mercy. Yet such Christians, it is obvious, will be melancholy; for religion, though undoubtedly it corrects, does by no means destroy our feelings. The widow and orphan, the childless parent and distracted husband, will fly to their Saviour for refuge: and they shall find him to be a Saviour indeed; "a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest: as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” But they still remain widowed and fatherless: the parent has lost the child of his expectation, and the husband the

delight of his eyes.” It is meet they should mourn, though “not as without hope.” Nay, I am not sure whether to common observers they will not appear more unhappy, as they become less so. When men are wretched without consolation, they are apt, (particularly before others), to make a desperate effort to rid themselves of their misery, and dash into tumultuous gaiety, or vicious indulgence, to effect a momentary release from evils they are unable to endure. Such men are indeed horrible spectacles. Like a lion in the toils of the hunter, they chafe and roar, and struggle only to exhaust their strength, and entangle themselves more desperately. Yet for a while such efforts may give an appearance of vigour, and deceive those who see not the loathsome dregs which subside when the fermentation is over. Christianity subdues this unnatural violence, and softens the sufferer into patience. It not only teaches him that resistance against the dispensations of Heaven is unlawful, but makes him feel it as unwelcome and unnecessary. He who so lately bore his yoke with uneasiness or passion, and knew his sorrows only as wretchedness for the present, and despair for the future, learns to bow cheerfully under his burthen, can trace in his afflictions the hand o af benign Providence, and, entering in hope within the veil, takes up his cross with joy, and follows the footsteps of his Master. Yet it

is possible, that to worldly spectators, this placid submissiveness may pass only for increased wretchedness, and Religion is thus sometimes discredited by the very blessings she communicates.

Be this however as it may, it is evident at least that unhappiness will probably lead us to embrace Christianity in earnest. But alas, to careless and prejudiced observers, Christianity and unhappiness thus become associated, and a collateral effect is mistaken for the cause. Calista is still young and beautiful; her disposition was naturally gentle and sensible, and the tenderness of her parents cherished early in her bosom the habits of holiness. When Calista was about sixteen, she was seized with an alarming fever which long threatened her life. Under discipline so severe, she improved daily in every pious affection, and has grown to a height in grace rarely equalled by her sister saints. She is now four and twenty. The fever I have just mentioned, though it did not prove fatal, hung upon her for many months, and weakened a constitution which never was robust. Calista is at times dejected, for her spirits are not strong, and the world is full of trials. Her friends say, she is too religious; it makes her melancholy. She says, I am melancholy because my health is weak, and religion is my only consolation. Poor Calista! I am apt to think she is right, but nobody believes her.

But the unhappy are by no means the only class of mortals, to whom it is probable that Christianity will seem welcome. There are pains of the understanding as well as of the heart. Men of grave and contemplative tempers cannot long remain insensible to the darkness which surrounds them. We find ourselves dropped (as it were) into a theatre of wonders; marvellously formed, and mar

« PreviousContinue »