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ON THE TENDENCY OF THE DIFFERENT SYSTEMS, TO PROMOTE HAPPINESS, OR CHEERFULNESS OF MIND.
Nothing is more common with our opponents, than to`represent the Calvinistic system as gloomy; as leading to melancholy and misery. Our ideas of God, of sin, and of future punishment, they say, must necessarily depress our minds. Dr. Priestley, as we have seen already, reckons Unitarians " more cheerful" than Trinitarians. Nor is this all. It has even been asserted, that the tendency of our principles is to promote "moral turpitude, melancholy, and despair; and that the suicide practised among the middling and lower ranks, is frequently to be traced to this doctrine." This is certainly carrying matters to a great height. It might be worth while, however, for those who advance such things as these, to make good what they affirm, if they be able. Till that be done, candour itself must consider these hold assertions as the mere effusions of malignity and slander.
It is some consolation, however, that what is objected to us, by Socinians, is objected to religion itself, by unbelievers. Lord Shaftsbury observes, "There is a melancholy which accompanies all enthusiasm," which, from his pen is only another name for Christianity. To the same purpose, Mr. Hume asserts, "There is a gloom and melancholy remarkable in all devout people." If these writers had formed a comparison between Deists and Atheists, on the one side, and devout Christians, on the other, they would have said of the former, as Dr. Priestley said of Unitarians, "They are more cheerful and more happy."
* See Critical Review, for Sept. 1787, on Memoirs of Gabriel d'Anville. VOL. II. 24
It is granted, that the system we adopt has nothing in it adapted to promote the happiness of those who persist in enmity against God, and in a rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the only way of salvation. While men are at war with God, we do not know of any evangelical promise that is calculated to make them happy.— This, perhaps, with some, may be a considerable ground of objection to our views of things: but then, such objection must stand equally against the scriptures themselves; since their language to ungodly men is, Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep. All the prophets and ministers of the word were, in effect, commanded to say to the wicked, IT SHALL BE ILL WITH HIM. This, with us, is one considerable objection against the doctrine of the final salvation of all men; a doctrine much circulated of late, and generally embraced by Socinian writers. Supposing it were a truth, it must be of such a kind as is adapted to comfort mankind in sin.— It is good news; but it is to the impenitent and unbelieving, even to those who live and die such; which is a characteristic so singular, that I question whether any thing can be found in the Bible to resemble it. If our views of things be but adapted to encourage sinners to return to God by Jesus Christ; if they afford strong consolation to those who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them; and if sobriety, righteousness and godliness here meet with the most powerful motives, this is all that the scriptures themselves propose.
Our system, it is granted, is not adapted to promote that kind of cheerfulness and happiness to which men in general are greatly addicted; namely, that which consists in self-deceit, and levity of spirit. There is a kind of cheerfulness, like that of a tradesman who avoids looking into his accounts, lest they should disturb his peace, and render him unhappy. This, indeed, is the cheerfulness of a great part of mankind; who shun the light, lest it should disturb their repose, and interrupt their present pursuits. They try to persuade themselves that they shall have peace, though they add drunkenness to thirst; and there are not wanting preachers who afford them assistance in the dangerous delusion. The doctrines of human depravity, of sinners being under the curse of the law, and of their exposedness to everlasting punishment, are
those which are supposed to lead us to melancholy: and we may fairly conclude, that the opposites to these doctrines are at the bottom of the cheerfulness of which our opponents boast. Instead o considering mankind as lost sinners, exposed to everlasting destruction, they love to represent them simply as creatures, as the children of God, and to suppose that, having, in general, more virtue than vice, they have nothing to fear; or if, in a few instances, it be otherwise, still, they have no reason to be afraid of endless punishment. These things, to be sure, make people cheerful; but it is with the cheerfulness of a wicked man. It is just as wicked men would have it. It is no wonder, that persons of "no religion, and who lean to a life of dissipation, should be the first to embrace these principles." They are such as must needs suit them; especially, if we add what Dr. Priestley inculcates, in his Sermon on the death of Mr. Robinson, That it is not necessary to dwell in our thoughts upon death and futurity; lest it should interrupt the business of life, and cause us to live in perpetual bondage. We hope it is no disparagement of the Calvinistic doctrine, that it disclaims the promoting of all such cheerfulness as this. That cheerfulness which is damped by thoughts of death and futurity, is, at best, mere natural joy. It has no virtue in it; nay, in many cases it is positively vicious, and founded in self-deception. It is nothing better than the laughter of a fool. It may blaze awhile in the bosoms of the dissipated, and the secure; but, if the sinner be once awakened to just reflection, it will expire like the crackling of thorns under a pot.
There is, also, a kind of happiness, which some persons enjoy, in treating the most serious and important subjects with levity; making them the subjects of jest, and trying their skill in disputing upon them; which is frequently called pleasantry, good nature, and the like. A cheerfulness of this kind, in Oliver Cromwell, is praised by Mr. Lindsey, and represented as an excellency "of which the gloomy bigot is utterly incapable."† Pleasantry, on some occasions, and to a certain degree, is natural and allowable : but, if sporting with sacred things must go by that name, let me be called a "gloomy bigot," rather than indulge it.
This is the substance of what he advances, pp. 7-12. + Apology, Chap. II.
Once more; It is allowed, that the system we embrace has a tendency, on various occasions, to promote sorrow of heart. Our notions of the evil of sin exceed those of our opponents. While they reject the doctrine of atonement by the cross of Christ, they have not that glass, in which to discern its malignity, which others have. There are times in which we remember Calvary, and weep on account of that for which our Redeemer died. But, so far are we from considering this as our infelicity, that, for weeping in this manner once, we could wish to do so a thousand times. There is a pleasure in the very pains of godly sorrow, of which the light minded speculatist is utterly incapable. The tears of her that wept, and washed her Saviour's feet, afforded abundantly greater satisfaction than the unfeeling calm of the Pharisee, who stood by, making his ill-natured reflections upon her conduct.
If our views of things have no tendency to promote solid, holy, heavenly joy; joy that fits true Christians for the proper business of this world, and the blessedness of that which is to come; we will acknowledge it a strong presumption against them. If, on the other hand, they can be proved to possess such a tendency, and that in a much greater degree than the opposite scheme, it will be a considerable argument in their favour. Let us examine this matter a little closer.
The utmost happiness which the peculiar principles of Socinians are adapted to promote, consists in calmness of mind, like that of a philosopher contemplating the works of creation. The friends of that scheme conceive of man as a good kind of being, and suppose there is a greater proportion of virtue in the world than vice; and that things, upon the whole, are getting better still, and so tending to happiness. They suppose there is little or no breach between God and men; nothing but what may be made up by repentance, a repentance without much pain of mind,* and without any atoning Saviour; that God, being the benevolent Father of his rational offspring, will not be strict to mark iniquity; and that, as his benevolence is infinite, all will be well at last: As with the good, so with the sinner; with him that sweareth, as with *Such a repentance is pleaded for, by Mr. Jardine in his Letters to Mr. Bogue.
him that feareth an oath. This makes them serene, and enables them to pursue the studies of philosophy, or the avocations of life with composure. This appears to be the summit of their happiness; and must be so of all others, if they wish to escape their censure. For, if any one pretends to happiness of a superior kind, they will instantly reproach him as an enthusiast. A writer in the Monthly Review observes, concerning the late President Edwards, "From the account given of him, he appears to have been a very reputable, good, and pious man, according to his views and feelings in religious matters, which those of different sentiments and cooler sensations will not fail to consider as all wild ecstacy, rapture, and enthusiasm."
The tendency of any system to promote calmness, is nothing at all in its favour, any further than such calmness can be proved to be virtuous. But this must be determined by the situation in which we stand. We ought to be affected according to our situation. If, indeed, there be no breach between God and men; if all be right, on our part as well as his, and just as it should be; then it becomes us to be calm and thankful: but, if it be otherwise it becomes us to feel accordingly. If we have offended God, we ought to bewail our transgressions, and be sorry for our sin; and, if the offence be great, we ought to be deeply affected with it. It would be thought very improper for a convict, a little before the time appointed for his execution, instead of cherishing proper reflections on the magnitude of his offence, and suing for the mercy of his offended sovereign, to be employed in speculating upon his benevolence, till he has really worked himself into a persuasion that no serious apprehensions were to be entertained, either concerning himself, or any of his fellow-convicts. Such a person might enjoy a much greater degree of calmness than his companions; but considerate people would neither admire his mode of thinking, nor envy his imaginary felicity.
Calmness and serenity of mind may arise from ignorance of ourselves, and from the want of a principle of true religion. While Paul was ignorant of his true character, he was calm and easy,
* Review of Edwards' History of Redemption, Vol. LXXX. Art. 68.