« PreviousContinue »
the Spaniards, and is rewarded by their contempt, by poverty and misery.
The story is well told, the interest kept up in a most satisfactory mauner, and the characters and incidents strongly marked and strikingly effective. The novel is, on the whole, extremely clever, and its author stands among his modern rivals second only to the author of Waverley.
For the Oracles of God, four Orations. For Judgment to Come, an Argument, in nine Parts. By the REV. EDWARD IRVING, M.A. Minister of the Caledonian Church, Hatton Garden. THE popularity of Mr. Irving as a preacher is so great at this moment, and his sermons have become so universal a topic of conversation, that, putting aside the solemn and important nature of their object, we should feel it incumbent upon us to lay some notice of them before our readers as mere novelties. The publication of the volume mentioned above enables us to do this without even a seeming departure from that merely literary road in which it is our duty to tread. But, as we have also heard Mr. Irving preach, and as the public curiosity is highly excited with respect to him, we shall not think it foreign from our purpose to say a few words on that subject also. The preacher is a man of tall commanding person; his face is strongly marked, and very expressive: when its features are in repose, it is not handsome; but, when they are called into action by the emotions of his mind, they assume an appearance rather agreeable than otherwise: he has curling black hair, of a very considerable length, and a remarkably white long hand. Having finished so engaging a picture, we are sorry, for the ladies' sakes, to add that he squints. Some of his warm partisans would perhaps say, as the mob said of John Wilkes, that he does not squint more than a gentleman should; but, for ourselves, we think his personal appearance is much impaired by this blemish. The manner of his preaching is, however, so energetic, and he has the faculty of engaging so entirely the attention of his hearers, that his features are soon forgotten, and the matter of his discourse more regarded than his manner of delivering it. His gesticulation is sometimes violent, but it is always graceful; and, if we could approve of violence at all on such occasions, it would be for the reasons which impel Mr. Irving to exercise it. It must be allowed to be consistent with his end, which is to awake the attention of his hearers to what they have forgotten; and it should be added that he is not always violent: on the contrary, there is an affectionate persuasive calmness occasionally in his manner, which is well judged and highly effective. We now turn to his volume.
Mr. Irving's object is announced explicitly: it is merely to persuade men to consult the oracles of God-to search the Scriptures.' He has been, he says, induced to this task from observing the ignorance of both the higher and lower orders of religion, and has seized upon the press as a means of removing that ignorance; and, as preparations are specifically made for teaching men of all denominations, why
not,' he asks, train ourselves for imaginative men, and political men, and legal men, and medical men?'
'Moved,' he says, 'by these feelings, I have set the example of two new methods of handling religious truth-the Oration and the Argument: the one intended to be after the manner of the ancient oration, the best vehicle for addressing the minds of men which the world hath seen, far beyond the sermon, of which the very name hath learned to inspire drowsiness and tedium; the other after the manner of the ancient Apologies, with this difference, that it is pleaded not before any judicial bar, but before the tribunal of human thought and feeling.'
Now the design thus avowed by the author seems to us so rational, so properly belonging to his own particular function, to say nothing of its holy nature, that its execution might for those reasons alone have been exempted from captious censure or any severe criticism. Α very different result has, however, ensued: the author has been exposed to sneers and abuse for which he has personally given no cause, as far as we can see; and from which ordinary conventional courtesy, as it shields other men, ought to have shielded him. For ourselves, we feel bound in candour to say, that the world are indebted to Mr. Irving for a very zealous endeavour to call their attention to a subject which all men agree in deeming important. We think, too, that he is entitled to no ordinary respect for the talent which he has displayed in handling that subject, and giving to it a new, but not à different, form from that in which it has too often been presented, and the antiquity and familiarity of which had, perhaps, ceased to inspire, in some minds, all the veneration which it should command.
The style of these discourses is quite different from that of most modern authors; but it is often distinguished by that powerful and nervous simplicity which are the characteristics of the elder English writers. Jeremy Taylor and Barrow have evidently been objects of the author's sedulous study: he has adopted their quaint phrases, and their antiquated, but always correct, forms; he has even caught up occasionally some of their obscurity. But he has also added a pas sionate and fervent vein-an exalted tone-which those writers had not, because his object seems to be rather to wake the sleepers than to exhort those who have only been supine. In some passages his writing is unquestionably fine; in others it is less so; but in all it is striking and popular; and these last characteristics are those he has most laboured to impress upon his work, as being best calculated to answer the purpose for which it was undertaken.
The volume before us consists of Four Orations for the Oracles of God; of an Argument, divided into nine parts, for Judgment to Come. It is in the first that we think he has shown most skill, although, as we gather from his preface, he is of a different opinion. The importance of the Scriptures, and the necessity of consulting them, has not often been insisted upon more eloquently nor more fervidly than by Mr. Irving; perhaps never with greater skill. In the Oration on the Preparation necessary for consulting the Oracles an appeal is made to the most common and favorite propensities of human nature, in which the following passages occur:
Why is not curiosity, curiosity ever hungry, on edge to know the doings and intentions of Jehovah King of kings? Why is not interest, interest ever awake, on tiptoe to hear the future destiny of itself? Why is not the heart that panteth over the world after love and friendship, overpowered with the full tide of the divine acts and expressions of love? Where is Nature gone when she is not moved with the tender mercy of Christ? Methinks the affections of men are fallen into the yellow leaf. Of your poets which charm the world's ear, who is he that inditeth a song unto his God? Some will tune their harps to sensual pleasures, and by the enchantment of their genius well nigh commend their unholy themes to the imagination of saints. Others, to the high and noble sentiments of the heart, will sing of domestic joys and happy unions, casting around sorrow the radiancy of virtue, and bodying forth, in undying forms, the shortlived visions of joy! Others have enrolled themselves the high priests of mute Nature's charms, enchanting her echoes with their minstrelsy, and peopling her solitudes with the bright creatures of their fancy. But when, since the days of the blind master of English song, hath any poured forth a lay worthy of the Christian theme? Nor in philosophy," the palace of the soul," have men been more mindful of their Maker. The flowers of the garden and the herbs of the field have their unwearied devotees, crossing the ocean, wayfaring in the desert, and making devout pilgrimages to every region of Nature, for offerings to their patron muse. The rocks, from their residences among the clouds to their deep rests in the dark bowels of the earth, have a most bold and venturous priesthood; who see in their rough and flinty faces a more delectable image to adore than in the revealed countenance of God: and the political welfare of the world is a very Moloch, who can at any time command his hecatomb of human victims. But the revealed sapience of God, to which the harp of David and the prophetic lyre of Isaiah were strung-the prudence of God, which the wisest of men coveted after, preferring it to every gift which Heaven could confer-and the eternal Intelligence himself in human form, and the unction of the Holy One which abideth,-these the common heart of man hath forsaken, and refused to be charmed withal.'
The Orations are, first, on the preparation for-secondly, on the manner of consulting-and, thirdly and fourthly, on the manner of obeying the oracles of God. They are more persuasive than argumentative; they rather display the advantages of obedience than set forth the penalties of disobedience, and yet in this latter part they are not deficient; but it is in the Argument that the pains of hell are so terrifically painted. The most novel feature in Mr. Irving's discourse is his disapproval of catechisms, which have always been so much affected by Christians of every denomination: we think he is wrong in this respect, because catechisms do what else would remain altogether undone that it might be done better no one can doubt. We believe very sincerely that the chief cause of the opposition which has been made to Mr. Irving, and the abuse which he has received, arises from the fearless and candid manner in which he has attacked the VOL. I. Aug. 1823, Br. Mag. 2 M
darling vices of the age. He does not fear to mention hell to ears polite.' He sets plainly before his readers and his hearers the consequences of their vice, and does not scruple to tell them that judgment and punishment await them. Upon this subject we extract the following passage:
'Terror hath sitten enthroned on the brows of tyrants, and made the heart of a nation quake ; but upon this peaceful volume there sits a terror to make the mute world stand aghast. Yet not the terror of tyranny neither, but the terror of justice, which abides the scorners of the most High God, and the revilers of his most gracious Son. And is it not just, though terrible, that he who brooked not in heaven one moment's disaffection, but lanched the rebel host to hell, and bound them evermore in chains of darkness, should also do his sovereign will upon the disaffected of this earth, whom he hath long endured and pleaded with in vain.
‹ These topics of terror it is very much the fashion of the time to turn the ear from, as if it were unmanly to fear pain. Call it manly or unmanly, it is Nature's strongest instinct—the strongest instinct of all animated nature; and to avoid it is the chief impulse of all our actions. Punishment is that which law founds upon, and parental authority in the first instance, and every human institution from which it is painful to be dismembered. Not only is pain not to be inflicted without high cause, or endured without trouble, but not to be looked on without a pang : as ye may judge, when ye see the cold knife of the surgeon enter the patient's flesh, or the heavy wain grind onward to the neck of a fallen child. Despise pain, I wot not what it means. Bodily pain you may despise in a good cause, but let there be no motive, let it be God's simple visitation, spasms of the body for example, then how many give it license, how many send for the physician to stay it? Truly, there is not a man in being whom bodily pain, however slight, if incessant, will not turn to fury or to insensibility embittering peace, eating out kindliness, contracting sympathy, and altogether deforming the inner man. Fits of acute suffering which are soon to be over, any disease with death in the distance, may be borne; but take away hope, and let there be no visible escape, and he is more than mortal that can endure. A drop of water incessantly falling upon the head is found to be the most excruciating of all torture, which proveth experimentally the truth of what is said.
'Hell, therefore, is not to be despised, like a sick bed, if any of you be so hardy as to despise a sick bed. There are no comforting kindred, no physician's aid, no hope of recovery, no melancholy relief of death, no sustenance of grace. It is no work of earthly torture or execution, with a good cause to suffer in, and a beholding world or posterity to look on, a good conscience to approve, perhaps scornful words to revenge cruel actions, and the constant play of resolution or study of revenge. It is no struggle of mind against its material envelopments and worldly ills, like stoicism, which was the sentiment of virtue nobly downbearing the sense of pain. I cannot render it to fancy, but I can render it to fear. Why may it not be the agony of all diseases the body is susceptible of, with the anguish of all deranged conceptions and disordered feelings, stinging recollections, present re
morses, bursting indignations, with nothing but ourselves to burst on, dismal prospects, fearful certainties, fury, folly, and despair?
I know it is not only the fashion of the world, but of Christians, to despise the preaching of future woe; but the methods of modern schools which are content with one idea for their gospel, and one motive for their activity, we willingly renounce for the broad methods of the Scripture, which bring out ever and anon the recesses of the future to upbear duty and downbear wickedness, and assail men by their hopes and fears as often as by their affections, by the authority of God as often as by the constraining love of Christ, by arguments of reason and of interest no less. Therefore sustained by the frequent example of our Saviour, the most tender-hearted of all beings, and who to man hath shown the most excessive love; we return, and give men to wit, that the despisers of God's law and of Christ's gospel shall by no means escape the most rigorous fate. Pain, pain inexorable, tribulation and anguish shall be their everlasting doom! The smoke of their torments ascendeth for ever and ever. One frail thread snapped and they are down to the bottomless pit. Think of him who had a sword suspended by a hair over his naked neck while he lay and feasted,think of yourselves suspended over the pit of perdition by the flimsy thread of life- -a thread near worn, weak in a thousand places, ever threatened by the fatal shears which soon shall clip it. You believe the Scriptures, then this you believe, which is true as that Christ died to save you from the same.
"If you call for a truce to such terrific pictures, then call for mercy against the more terrific realities; but if you be too calious or too careless to call for mercy and ensue repentance, your pastors may give you truce to the pictures, but God will give no abeyance to the realities into which they are dropping evermore, and you shall likewise presently drop, if you repent not.'
Now that this is very frightful we do not deny; but that it is also true no man believing in the Scriptures can doubt. If Mr. Irving be wrong, the Holy Scriptures are wrong with him. Where, then, we are compelled to ask, is the justice or the sense in abusing him for such writing? As writing merely, it is powerful; as Scripture doctrine, it is true: with what show of honesty or candour, then, do they who would hold him up to scorn set about their task? To Mr. Irving, we can willingly believe, the rough treatment he experiences is a matter almost of indifference; but it is not so with men whose reputation depends upon the wisdom and moderation with which they use the authority which accident has placed in their hands. There is no light in which Mr. Irving or his book can be regarded, in which they do not command respect; not the respect of partisans, or of his own particu lar flock, but that of every rational and impartial man, who, whatever be his sect, thinks religion a matter worthy of attention. The Orations are closed as follows:
In such a manner we have endeavoured to conduct the discourse, which we now bring to a close. Whether it may gain the conviction of those to whom it is addressed, we leave in the hands of God, who giveth the increase, possessing within ourselves the satisfaction of having designed and endeavoured the best; adding to all, this our