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Characteristics of New England Theology.


is more graceful and speculative and literary. The one was formed in the pulpit and for the pulpit. The other was framed in the closet of the school, and better suits the closet. We are far from denying that our theology, our preaching and our practical views are exposed to some defects. We are willing that these defects should be corrected, and care not from whence the correction comes. Our theology may have been too unrefined and scholastic, and our preaching too often hard and metaphysical. Our worship may have been too often rude and ungraceful. Our practical views may have led us to sin against taste and propriety, as well as to commit worse mistakes. But we would hold fast the staple of our New England system. For the world. has no other like it, and the excellences which we lack can be easily taken up by a truth-loving and truth-serving church.

It seems worth while to ask distinctly the question, what is the one distinctive feature of the New England theology, by which it differs from every other? It certainly is far enough from the ecclesiastical theology of the English church, and very far also, if the testimony of its opponents is to be received, from the scholastic Calvinism of the Synod of Dort. Its peculiarity seems to be, that it is an intensely rational and moral system. It addresses the conscience and it aims to move it by reasoning. Thus does it vindicate the moral government of God, by declaring the need of moral rule, to a being who understands his fitness for law, and the sacred obligations of law. Having thus prepared the way, it unveils the mount of God, from whose "right hand went a fiery law," and it wrings the willing or the reluctant amen from the sinful being whom this law condemns. It shows, too, the need of the sacrifice on the cross as a moral necessity, and while it displays the necessity it vindicates the love that did not shrink from giving it full satisfaction. It shows man his deep, his damning, guilt, guilt pertaining to a deliberate purpose, and rooted in the very lowest springs of his moral life, a willing depravity. It summons him, thus alienated and refusing to repent himself, to be reconciled to God, and holds over him the awful fact of his dependence on sovereign grace, as the grand argument against delay. Thus is it a perpetual argument with the reason and conscience, an earnest striving with men capable of being thus addressed; vindicating the truths which it urges, and holding them perpetually home to the mind. How different this from the diluted weakness of the theology of regeneration by baptism, and of sanctification by the sacraments; of growth in grace by the ma

gic influence of symbols, rather than by the manly diet of prayer and preaching. How different also from the unthinking and formal reiteration of stereotyped dogmas, in old scholastic phrase. Whether it be not the nearest to the theology of the apostle of the Gentiles, let all men judge. Whether its preaching be not the most akin to apostolic preaching, and its results to those of apostolic power, let candid men decide. That it has defects we own, but that its genius and aim is better than that of all others which the world now beholds, we do most earnestly contend.

Wherever, then, the influence of Coleridge has caused a dislike of this system and a longing after a splendid ritual and formal observances; wherever it has induced the feeling that the glory of a church was to be found in its organization, rather than in its moral life; and that this moral life depends more on its usages than on its faith; there has it induced a sad degeneracy. That it has caused this degeneracy we know. Much of this morbid dissatisfaction with our own system which has recently prevailed, this longing after something perfect in the outward to satisfy our dreamy ideal, rather than the resolute purpose to make a better church by making better Christians, has come from the perverted study of Coleridge.

Its influence upon the power of the pulpit has been not a little disastrous. Some preach the better for it. More, we fear, preach the worse. To preach with earnestness and power, one must have something to say and must care to say it. There is and there can be no commanding and continued power in any pulpit where theology is not preached. But it must be a theology which the people can understand, and which the preacher must feel that he can make level to their apprehensions and by which he can hold their consciences. But this theology must be translated into another dialect to be received by the people, and the misfortune is too often that the preacher, instead of translating his theology into the language of his hearers, corrupts the language of the pulpit by its own barbarous and grotesque phraseology. Hence disgust with the people because they cannot understand him, then disgust with theology in the pulpit and the betaking of one's self to what is vulgarly called popular preaching, and last of all disgust with the pulpit itself.

We feel bound to notice a perversion of Coleridge, seriously unfavorable to moral and religious life. A love of the clear in thought and of the simple in expression, is akin to moral simplicity and to singleness of religious character. An earnest man for


Classes of his American Disciples.


duty has little to say of great and eternal principles, and a man who longs for communion with God, loses sight of ideas, that he may find the living Jehovah. It is quite possible to be so rapt with an imaginative philosophy, as to despise the simplicity of practical ethics, and to be so devoted to an imaginative theology, as to forget the sublime simplicity of God as revealed in Jesus. Far distant be the day when our philosophy and theology shall spoil the simplicity of our trusting faith, or give us a morbid distaste for the realities of a struggling and humble piety.


To pass from the abstract to the concrete, from the general to the particular; the American disciples of Coleridge, to our eye, group themselves into the following classes: First are the genuine scholars and thinkers. These are the men who adopt the Kantian principles and nomenclature from study and conviction, who receive no system without digestion, who can translate their own principles into tolerable English, and can use them in the solution of other questions, with the ease and air of men who understand their own views and can' explain them. All honor be rendered to those men, whether they be few or many. All respect be given to their claims and to their reasonings. They are not to be disposed of by a name, nor will they be affected by a sneer. We may reject fewer or more of their opinions. We may think we detect their errors and can show the weak points of their reasonings; but for their independent and scholar-like spirit, for their actual services to mental and moral science, for their free and tolerant spirit, for their elevation above the petty squabbles of party, they merit the respect of the whole commonwealth of letters.

Next come the discriminating or eclectic students of Coleridge. These are the men who reject his terminology and some of his peculiar principles in philosophy, and who start back in utter amazement, from the main peculiarity of his theological system, as also from his rash and capricious interpretations of Scripture, but have an eye to see and a heart to feel his other high excellences. And yet Coleridge is to them a favorite author from his wakeful and wakening spirit, from his intense earnestness, from his vigorous criticism, for his tact in comprehending the bearings of a writer and a principle, and for his point and power in uttering what he thinks. So also, for all that variety of merit comprehended under the term suggestion, for the stores of his powerful, his ready, eloquent mind, bursting out in every direction from the profuse and overstocked richness of his intellectual wealth. His

works are those which they would be very unwilling to spare ⚫ from their library or their table. Of this class, the writer would

of course be likely to think and to speak well, as he would count himself in their number, and if the epithets which he has affixed to them be too flattering, they may be ascribed to a very natural


The next are the parasites of Coleridge, the undigesting recipients of all that he says, without the attempt to explain or to understand it, except by repeating his own praises and confounding you with his terminology. A parasite of any man is always offensive, especially an unthinking retainer of any metaphysician, but most of all of such a philosopher as Coleridge. The pretensions are so magnificent, the learning so imposing, the terminology so appalling, that when it comes up in the form of an "ass's load of lumber," the contrast between the bulk of the burden and the sorry figure of the bearer, is striking and ludicrous.

Another class may be called the figurative philosophers, or more precisely those who philosophize by illustrations rather than by reasoning. Coleridge is not the only philosopher who has introduced this intellectual fashion, but he is greatly responsible for it. It consists in propounding a theory or speculation or course of argument, which may be true or may be false, which may be original or which may be borrowed, which may be sense or which may be nonsense, but which shall be imposing by its mysterious way of announcement and which is sure to be arrayed in the lively and piquant air of pointed illustrations or in the gorgeous robes of splendid imagery. When you look for the truth in the midst of these magnificent appendages, it is possible that there is no truth to be found, and that the substance and accidents, the body and its dressing, are but empty air; or if you do find it, it may prove not to be worth finding. There is a strong tendency in the public mind to call this philosophy. Our educated men who ought to know better will shout, "this is original, this is philosophy;" and the students of some of our literary institutions have been known to be strangely bitten with a mania for this kind of philosophizing. There are two reasons for this. Our national aptness for guessing with our disposition to praise the successful guesser, and the absence of a thoroughly learned class who are able and ready to discriminate between scholarship and pretension. If we do not read Plato and Aristotle and Lord Bacon and Cudworth, we can talk about them, and with the help of quickness and tact we can often guess aright; or if we do not, Cole


The Tendency of the spiritual Philosophy.

ridge and such as he can tell us what to say, and then how magnificently we can say it!

Even when the philosophizing is of a higher character, and the merit more real, it is an ill sign in a man who sets up for a philosopher, always to speak in figures, never to face a syllogism. and to dread the precise avowal of his opinion, in severe and well-defined statements. And it is a sadder sign, for the commonwealth of letters, if this is to pass as genuine and profound philosophy. It is one thing, to be able to shed various and pleasant lights around an old truth or a happy suggestion, and quite another, to go down into the depth of the mine and bring up the heavy ore. It may seem to be a strange charge but we believe it is true, that the tendency of the so-called spiritual philosophy has been to render superficial and to popularize our science. Its contrary influence has been urged in its favor. This is no philosophy for boarding-school misses, say its friends, and yet more zealous Coleridgites than sundry misses of sixteen or thereabouts we have never seen. Guessing and pretension, mys tery and splendor, go well with the people on this side the water. Itinerant ministers will exhaust all their reading about Plato and Aristotle on the immortality of the soul, before an audience of a dozen in a log school-house, and they shall pass for very learned men. That this philosophy gives facility for similar operations on a larger scale and before a more respectable audience, we need not stay to argue.

So too it has begotten in many a sad and almost savage intolerance. There are sundry defenders of the faith and of right principles against infidelity and error, who planting themselves upon the eternal principles of the spiritual philosophy, treat their antagonists with no stinted measure of contempt, if not of railing. The appellations, utilitarian, priestly, infidel, principles of the sensual school, are distributed in every variety of combination, and with labored efforts to overwhelm their antagonists beneath a storm of contemptuous expression and of violent language. Where there is so much violence we may always suspect some confusion of thought. When the words are so bitter, though the direction of a man may be right in the main, yet there appears to be less conscious strength in the argument. But these men of the spiritual school, do not analyze; they affirm; they will not argue, but they will overwhelm you with a hail-storm of contempt. The cause of truth owes but little to such defenders. The next variety which we name, are the voluntary mystics. VOL. IV. No. 13. 15


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