Page images
PDF
EPUB

inconsiderable tendency to this species of infidelity in some of the most cultivated minds in our country.

Far more common is the doctrine held by some naturalists and physicians, that matter, or corporeal substance, is the primitive cause of things, that the soul is a material substance, and that matter itself produces spiritual changes, or that the soul is a consequence of the bodily organization, by which matter is spiritualized and ennobled into mind. This is a species of infidelity which is peculiarly congenial to the vulgar taste, because it is easily comprehended, and does something to pacify an awakened conscience, while it admits the most fervent devotion to its material God.

The skepticism peculiar to our days seems to have sprung from the changes which have been going on in civil society. Previously to the French Revolution, the great mass of the population, in most of the countries of Europe, were sunk in degradation. That great event broke their chains. They soon perceived that they had been the dupes of a villainous priesthood ; that under the pretence of religion, they had cheated them out of every thing which man holds most dear. Of course they cut themselves off from all religious restraint. In their ignorance, or their madness, they confounded the wily priest

, his corrupt religion, and Christianity together. In all the papal countries of Europe, the mass of the population, it is said, are either superstitious devotees to popery, or they are infidels. The entrance of a little light induced them to throw aside all religion, and rush into a heartless materialism. This baneful effect is seen elsewhere. The extension of civil privileges in the Protestant countries of Europe may be attended with a disastrous infidelity, unless religious education and the preaching of the gospel should

hand in hand. Men of common sense in the heathen and Mohammedan world, when their eyes are opened to the enormous absurdities of Islamism or Polytheism, are shocked. They are thrown from their balance, and they at once renounce all faith, placing Christianity in the same category with the herd of false religions. This constitutes one of the most interesting phenomena of our age. Could we inspect the hearts of men, we might see millions on the long road from Paris to Calcutta in this fearful transition-state. The movements of the times have caused them to throw off the monstrous absurdities which they could not endure, but

go

nothing has come in the place. When the unclean spirit has gone out, they pass through dry places seeking rest and finding none. The sun of righteousness does not arise on their perplexed and uncertain path.

A different form of skepticism is that broached a few years since by Dr. Strauss, of Tubingen,* in Germany, or rather, more boldly, learnedly, and systematically avowed and defended by him, and which, it is said, has a multitude of advocates. It transforms the historical facts of revelation into allegories. It denies the historical truth of the narratives of the New Testament, and treats them merely as symbols or fables. Our Saviour is, with Dr. Strauss, the symbol of humanity. Humanity, taken as a whole, is God manifest in the flesh. Eternity exists in this world. It is made up of the infinite succession of human generations. Eternal happiness is the progress by which mind gradually overcomes matter, and causes it to subserve its purposes. The system, if so it can be called, seems to be a mixture of deism, pantheism, and rank atheism.

Unhappily, not a few philosophical minds, that do not embrace any of these absurd and impious dogmas, are very far from coming up to the requisitions of Christianity. They are accustomed to regard this religion as one of the developments of the human mind, as a means of civilization, or as containing a very interesting chapter in the history of the human race. They may go further, and assert that it is indispensable to the repose and prosperity of nations; that every other system has been tried, and found in some points to be defective, while Christianity has as yet stood the test. These philosophical Christians are by no means inconsiderable in number at the present day. They are believers in general, but skeptics in particular. The gospel does not come to them with life-giving power, because they do not feel themselves to be in perishing need of its provisions.

* We observe that Dr. Strauss has been thrown out of his office at Zurich by the indignant inhabitants of the canton.

+ We regret that Mr. Hallam, in his recent very comprehensive and well-written “Introduction to the Literature of Europe," does not sympathize more deeply with the Lutheran Reformation, and with the recent developments of Christianity.

5. A striking fact pertaining to the present age is the rapid disappearance of the aboriginal tribes of various coun. tries before the progress of what is called civilization. It is a melancholy truth, ihat the intercourse of Europeans and Americans with various uncivilized, aboriginal nations, has been characterized by enormous injustice on the one side, and untold sufferings on the other. By fraud and violence, these so-named civilized communities have usurped immense tracts of native territory, paying no regard to the rights of the inhabitants. Close on the process of usurpation has been that of extermination, which has been already carried to an incredibile extent. In some cases, the work of annihilation is complete, while, in others, it is making the most fearful progress. There is scarcely a tribe, of any considerable size, that has had communication with large bodies of civilized nations, which is not the worse for the intercourse. Civilized diseases and vices have been so firmily ingrafted, that the utter extirpation of some native races seems to be not far distant.*

One of the most pernicious opinions which is entertained in relation to this subject is, that the fate of many aboriginal tribes is inevitable. It has been represented as one of the immutable laws of the Governor of the world, that wherever civilized man chooses to fix his abode, there the natives must melt away and be destroyed. But, in the language of the Rev. Dr. Philip, of Capetown, it is not the law of God that civilized man should destroy the natives of those countries which he colonizes. On the contrary, it is the law of wickedness. It is a law proceeding from the depravity of the human heart. “I know no argument," says Dr. P., “ which can be adduced in defence of this system, which may not be adduced in defence of theft or murder in England." If all our legislators had been William Penns, and

We should not know, from any thing which he has said, that he was not a liberal, philosophical Jew, or a disciple of Ram Mohun Roy. Surely this is carrying impartiality a little too far.

* We cannot forbear to mention in this connection, the late visit at the Sandwich Islands, of the French frigate l'Artemise, Capt. Laplace. Will not Great Britain and the United States remonstrate ?

SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO, II. 17

all our Christians had possessed the spirit of David Brainerd, this necessity would never have been heard of. The Indians, on this continent, instead of melting away like flakes of snow which fall on the running streani, would have been incorporated with us in the enjyınent of all our rights and privileges, or living by our sides, independent and happy nations. On listening to the recital of the outrageous wrongs, which the people of this country have inflicted on the Indians, and then hearing the story of the ravages which the small-pox, or some other dreadful disorder, has caused in some of the more western tribes, we have thought that the latter had the envied lot. Better for the Mandans and the Black Feet 10 perish by mortal disease, than to come within the limits of civilization. The small-pox is a merciful visitation compared with the whiskey of the frontier, or with a treaty of the Senate of the United States ! Destruction by the first-named does not involve us in guilt ; it does not subject us to the vengeance of Heaven-a fiery deluge of wbich is most surely impending over us, and which may burn us with as scorching a heat as Old Spain has felt in her vitals for her most flagitious and inhuman treatment of this same Indian race.

6. We remark, once more, on the present age as characterized by the effusion of the Holy Spirit. It is not impos. sible but that these displays of Divine grace inay have been too much undervalued by some of their real friends. Modern revivals of Christianity have been compared with those experienced in other generations, and the degeneracy of the former have been the subject of mourning and lamentation. But the student of church history need not be informed that the same or similar errors have attended, more or less, all general or national revivals. What seems to be a fresh error or mistake is but a modification of one long since exploded. Lay preaching, censoriousness, selfconfidence, harsh judgments, extravagant speeches, looking for evidence of conversion in transient feelings or impulses, neglect of the written word, and similar follies, have always, sooner or later, to a greater or less extent, attended general revivals of religion. The truth is, that Christians have never yet been able to bear a long.continued Divine influence, because there has ever been a great deficiency in humility.

[ocr errors]

Revivals of religion will certainly be corrupted, until there is a great advance in liberality of views and spirituality of feeling among the ministers and churches of Jesus.

There is, however, a gradual approximation towards a better day. No outbreak of disorder which has occurred in the last thirty years, can be compared to the violence and confusion which existed in some parts of this country, soon after the iniddle of the last century. The war of the revolution was not entered upon with more earnestness than the contest which occupied the belligerant Old and New Lights, during the period of Governor Law's administration in Connecticut. But few men in modern times have acquired a more unenviable notoriety than this same governor on the one side, and John Davenport on the other.

The great lessons which are taught at such periods, are forbearance, meekness, candid judgment, moderation, and a resolute determination on the part of every Christian not to be prejudiced by hearsay reports or partisan evidence. Human nature, in such circumstances, betrays a deplorable weakness. This is true, not only of the moral part, but of the boasted intellectual powers. It is melancholy to reflect, how men of sound mind and of liberal education will fall into errors, and become the dupes of follies which, if it were possible, would disgrace Matthias the prophet, or the Mormon heresiarch.

Revivals of religion will partake, inevitably, of the general character of the times. The religion of our countrymen, in the last century, and in the present, too, has been furdamenially affected by the mode of admission to the church which was practised and defended by such men as Increase Mather and Solomon Stoddard. The revivals, in our days, are colored by passing events and existing opinions. There is, unquestionably, a deficiency in doctrinal knowledge, or a tendency to superficial investigation, or to loose habits of study, not universal, but, nevertheless, far too cominon. The circumstances of a new country, which is rapidly filling with inhabitants; the acrimonious political contests; the boundless and reckless spirit of adventure; the unsettled nature of the great monied concerns of the country; the frequency, and consequent ferment, of our popular elections ; the opening of the eyes of men, suddenly, to certain great moral evils; the emigration to this country of men enter

« PreviousContinue »