« PreviousContinue »
the play-house. If they will have pleasure, it is much better to seek it where it will not interfere with solemn duties, than to desecrate the house of prayer and make its influences profitless to the soul. I repeat, this is not a trifling matter. Once lose sight of the grand object of human existence, sober duty; once substitute empty amusement for it in its most solemn schools; and farewell to conscience, moral dignity, and serious thought. Frivolity, levity, and inconsideration will fritter them away; and minds made for immortality, an immortality of reflection and of conscientiousness, become lighter than the butterfly's flutterings.
But there is another way in which sensual propensity, in a still more evident manifestation, is valued as religion. It is the desire of heaven founded on gross conceptions of its enjoyments. The imaginations of some religionists represent it as a Mahometan Paradise of pleasure. The same oriental warmth of fancy and peculiarities of association which inflamed the descriptions of the Arabian Prophet, affected the language of the inspired writers; with this difference, however, that the former meant to be understood literally, the latter figuratively. But the natural man, Christian though he may be in name and creed, is for clinging still, perhaps without his entire conciousness, to the literal sense of these glowing representations, and longs for heaven as an elysium of physical delight. In our colder climate, to be sure, we may not estimate very highly some of the enjoyments which the genius of the fervid East ascribes to its heaven.
may not care
much for wandering along the banks of cool streams, shaded by ever fruitful trees, fanning the air, and loading it with the perfume of their blossoms. Angels in flowing robes, with golden harps in their hands, and crowns on their heads, soaring among the clouds, or plucking all manner of fruit that grows along the river of life, do not seem, to our taste for more substantial comforts, to enjoy a very enviable condition of being. But still our notions of the happiness of heaven are apt, in spite of our better knowledge, to be too directly derived from that of the senses. Almost every one comes from the nursery with the impression on his imagination, let reason expose its folly as sagely as it may, that we are in heaven to be passively exhilerated by the sight of a material glory,--a dazzling flood of light surrounding us--and that we may be made permanently happy by this, as little infants are for a moment by the first presentation of a candle before their eyes. Now, this is not merely childish and absurd; it does harm. It gives false estimates of the qualities necessary for the enjoyment of heaven. It teaches that the character, the soul, is of little essential importance to it. It is all outside of the heart. Such views mislead even as to the purest and truest pleasures we have on earth.
The same may be said of the views of those, who, from certain passages in the mystical parts of scripture, dream that heaven is like a jewellers shop, glittering with gold and gems of every hue and brilliancy. Its walls are of jasper, and its cities of pure gold like unto clear glass.' This is taken to be half, if not wholly literal. Again its foundations are garnished with all manner of precious stones ; and its twelve gates are twelve pearls. Now incredible as it may seem, there occasionally comes along even a Doctor of Divinity, who, in the wrong-headed fervor of false ideas of religion, tells us all these descriptions are to be taken strictly according to the letter.
Beware, reader, of a religion so much akin to the propensities of the natural man.' Religion is a pure inward sentiment, to which all this earth-born sensualism is gross almost as vice compared to virtue. It is not religion. It has not one particle of its essential spirit; though from ignorance it may sometimes be united with it. In its primary and genuine simplicity, religion, so far from this worldliness, has even no reference to self at all. It is the sentiment which the character of God excites in the soul, whether we think of our personal benefits from it or not. It is spontaneous and uncalculating as instinct in the unvitiated mind. It is reverence for moral sublimity, adoration of beneficent sovereignty, love for transcendant goodness. grand or beautiful object in nature kindles admiration, and engages our interest as soon as we behold it, by its natural aptitude to affect the feelings ; so the majesty, the benignity of Deity. Look at them, and the healthy mind must revere and love thein. And this regard is due to him, and a pleasure at once to ourselves, if there were no heaven waiting for us to reward it.
Still we are permitted, we are earnestly exhorted to consider the exceeding great reward which follows,
yes, and accompanies religion. But we are false to the elevation and refinement of soul which devotion is capable of yielding, and was especially designed to yield, if we think of this reward as something eternal and material. We foster thereby the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And it is a misapplication, monstrous indeed, it is a corruption of the best into the worst, it is a fall from the height of heaven to the bottomless depths, if we make that which should sanctify for the skies, the pamperer of earthly taste, the pander of appetite, the prompter to pride, ostentation, and worldlinesss.
Its great rewards are spiritual. Piety and virtue are their own abundant blessings. Their blessings abound even here where they are necessarily imperfect and interrupted. They may not ensure our happiness now, because they may not control all the influences that act upon our terrestrial condition. But as far as their sceptre reaches over it, there surely is an empire of peace and joy. In the land of spirits our nature shall have dropt every constituent principle, every faculty, every relation, which piety and virtue cannot sway unto happiness; and then tongue cannot tell, nor the heart of man conceive the perfect blessedness they
Do their simple joys appear too little to be worth struggling for through life's temptations ? Must we have an object more stimulating, more attractive, more earthly, more sensual to interest us? Alas! then we are not prepared to enjoy a heaven of purity, if admitted to it. The apostle's natural man’ too closely describes ourselves. The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.' He does not admire, he cannot relish any thing so pure. Cleanse we our spirits, raise and ennoble our moral conceptions, and we shall value heaven for nothing so much as for being the dwelling of piety and virtue, the empire of spiritual purity, the throne of God, who is the purest spirit.
One of the most affecting charges against Unitarianism is, that it is not a religion to die by. I would solemnly enter a protest against this unjust sentence, from personal experience.
In health I had a thrilling dread of death, and its mortal agony. Often in bright and airy moments, a sudden thought of the cold grave has darted through my mind, and touched the flowers of life with a withering chill.
I was seized with a severe illness. I saw the countenances of my friends grow sadder and sadder. My little ones were sent away, or taught to tread noiselessly around my bed. The only stranger permitted to break on the stillness of my chamber was one, who sometimes brings relief, but always alarm, an additional physician.