« PreviousContinue »
erecting booths for the feast of Tabernacles. The reason given for this is, that Satan may not be able to accuse them before God, by saying that their devotion and early rising during the former days were only to obtain a good destiny, and that having secured this they had relapsed into their former carelessness. This however is but for one day, for on the second after the atonement they resume their old ha
[To be continued.]
SOME OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PRESENT AGE.*
There has been a strong tendency, in certain periods of the Christian church, and in some individuals in all periods, to live in the Past. The life of such persons is made up of
* This article is the commencement of a series of Essays, in which the writer proposes to present a view of the ecclesiastical and religious state of England and Scotland, the politi. cal position of the Dissenters, the state of Biblical literature, and of Mental Philosophy in those countries, with some of the great questions which now agitate their ecclesiastical and political bodies. After which it is hoped that Germany and our own country will be brought under review. The writer possesses ample materials for this proposed survey of the characteristics of different countries, and his name, if given, would be a sufficient guarantee of the ability and discretion of his proposed discussions., But he earnestly requests that this series may appear sine nomine. His reasons are, that he will. probably have occasion to speak somewhat plainly of living persons, current publications, etc. in Europe, and also of some things in our own country; and he will write anonymously with more freedom than he could do over his proper signature. As the field of these discussions will be somewhat peculiar, we trust the readers of the Repository will excuse us for yielding to the above request, while our knowledge of the writer assures us that he will not abuse his anonymous privilege.
reminiscences. They read the page of history for its own sake; not as furnishing lessons of wisdom for the present or for the future. Their delight is among the tombs. The records of antiquity are all in illuminated letters. Their memory, like that of the very aged, extends far back, heedless of recent events. Their feelings kindle in the recollection of primitive, rather than in the anticipation of millennial piety. The present is loathed as a degenerate age, and its names are cast out as evil.
There are others who cling to the present. Instead of answering to the definition of beings who “ look before and after," they do neither; they look only around. They cleave tenaciously to the existing and to the tangible. The page of history is a universal blank. The present fills the whole field of vision: Engrossed by the mighty changes which are going on before their eyes, they have no time to listen to the still voice which comes to them from past or future ages. Bustle, activity, energy, instant, practical effect, are their watchwords.
A third class are the children of hope and of desire. They live in a world of their own. Having no sympathy with the dull realities of the present, they are looking forward for some unattained, and, perhaps, unattainable good. They have conceived, it may be, exaggerated notions of the glory of the latter day. They have formed the figment of a millenium, not the rational one of the Scriptures, but one utterly inconsistent with the imperfection and probation of man.
But neither of these exclusive habits is desirable. They generally have their ground in misinformation, prejudice, or ignorance. When they do not proceed from either of these, but are to be regarded as a constitutional tendency of the soul, they are inordinately cherished, and render the subject unhappy or less useful, and his character inconsistent, or incomplete. In our feeble manner, so far as our powers and our knowledge permit, we are to be like Him who is incapable of prejudice, who looks upon all things justly, and according to truth.
We are not called upon to fix an idolatrous attachment on any of the great names in church history, nor to be reluctant to have their merits canvassed with discriminating candor, even at the risk of the loss of some of our complacency
and reverence. It is not our duty to picture to ourselves a golden age of piety in the past, and long for the coming of some other such. That golden age never existed, or if it did exist, it may never come again. The developments of Christianity, in primitive times, were, in many respects, peculiar. The religion was in its infancy, in an empire that overshadowed the civilized world. It was before the invention of printing, before the division of the Christian disciples into sects, and before the formation of systems of divinity, The religion was put to the test too. The stuff of which it was made was ascertained between the teeth of the Numidian lion, in the tarred coat, and under the lictor's axe. Piety, in all its circumstances, like that of the converts of John and of Polycarp, will never be seen again on earth. Christianity, while she maintains her essential elements, must adapt herself to the changing forms of the church and of the world. It is in vain to lament that ours is not the primitive style. To believe, to love, and to suffer like them, we must be thrown back eighteen hundred years, and be set down under the shadow of a pagan throne, in an upper chamber, where a few hundred artless men and women were assembled. We must, also, have in our hearts that peculiar love to the Saviour, which sprung up in part within their bosoms, from knowing how he looked, how he walked, how he spoke, what were the cadences of his voice. It was, also, in part, the product of the experience of common dangers and sufferings.
On the other hand, we have no cause unduly to magnify the present, as if our generation were the people, and as if wisdom were to die with them. One draws heart and life from the past. It is a barbarian spirit that would drag down into the dust the great names which brighten along the tract of church history. It is a refreshment to the spirit to think how they loved, and believed, and wrote, and preached. Some of them lived when primitive, or protestant Christianity was passing through its agonies of trial:
Nor for their bodies would accept release,
For their dear countrymen, and all mankind.
Equally unwise is it to shut out the future. There are generous hopes and noble aspirations in which we may lawfully indulge. The kingdoms of nature, of Providence and of grace, are governed by uniform laws; and by watching their development, we may predict, with some confidence, the things which shall be. We know, too, from Revelation, that better days are coming; and, though we cannot determine the exact time, nor the amount of blessings in store for our race, nor many of the attendant circumstances, yet we may take the consolation of their certain and benign approach. Besides, we are as much creatures of imagination as we are of sense and of memory. We have as much right to indulge in the first as we have in the others. Looking entirely on the past, we acquire a melancholy, if not a narrow and bigoted mind. Confined to the present, we are shallow, and self-conceited, and boastful. Living wholly in the future, we become unsubstantial enthusiasts,
Many of the imperfections in the characters of individuals, and many of the evils which befall political communities, as well as the church of Christ, may be traced to one of these three great tendencies--a predominant love for the Past an exclusive attachment to the Present, or an ardent desire for future good, imaginary or real. It is memory, sense, imagination. It is veneration amounting to idolatry for bygone times ; it is an absorption in what is visible and apparent; or it is an insane reaching forward for those things which never can exist, or which “ the Father hath put in his own power." Hence it is important, when we attempt to estimate the character of an individual, of a nation, or of an age, that we understand what are the main influences which have conspired to form that character; from what direction
they proceed, and how they combine to forin one result. The writer of the Oxford Tract worships the dusty centuries which are gone. The radical tramples the Past indignantly into the mire. The poet of hope, and also the political perfectionist, expéct to realize on carth an Elysium of all conceivable good. The Scotchman fights for every old corner and every crumbling pillar. The Frenchman falls down before the feverish Present. The German reigns over the empire of the air, and lets the weeds grow on the graves of the most honored names in his history. The middle ages garnished the sepulchres of Thomas Aquinas and the schoolmen. Henry More, Cudworth, and their contemporaries in England, bowed, almost idolatrously, at the shrine of Plato.
What are the characteristics of our age? What are some of the prominent tendencies of the generation to which we belong ? By what features is the nineteenth century distinguished ?
Against the propriety of answering questions like these, two objections may be urged. It may be said, in the first place, that we are not in a condition to judge fairly. We are actors in the scenes which are passing before us. We are too much interested to form an accurate judgment. Time must set his seal before we can ascertain the truth. Besides, every thing appears confused, indefinite and complicated, an inextricable labyrinth of good and evil. It is as when we look on a picture from a wrong point of view. We cannot disentangle threads so involved. In the second place, it may be objected, that it is extremely hazardous to state an opinion on such subjects. The whole aspect of the world may be revolutionized by the events of a single year. Our profoundest reflections may turn out to be the merest guesses; our wisest decisions, the contingent and baseless visions of a night. Our most confident predictions may resemble the oracles of the modern prophets. Our rivals may be Matthias, Smith, and Miller.
In reply, we may say, that there are certain general tendencies, characteristics or facts, about which there need be no dispute. They are known and read of all men. Our duty is essentially connected with understanding them fully. We cannot accomplish the great object of our existence without knowing how to act upon our fellow-men, how to meet their prejudices - how to turn public opinion into the