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desist; and in bidding Mr. C. farewell, we once more intreat him to bear with us, and take our animadversions in the spirit in which they are offered. We have not censured his attempt to explain prophecy : we think highly of the spirit in which he has engaged in it; but we deeply lament the want of judgment which he seems to us to have displayed in its interpretation.
Reflections on the four principal Religions which have obtained in the
World; Paganism, Mohammedism, Judaism, and Christianity; also on the Church of England, and other Denominations of Protestants : and on Evangelical Religion. By the late Rev. DAVID WILLIAMSON, Minister of the Gospel, Whitehaven. 2 vols. 11. ls. Richardson, 1824.
From a short sketch of the life of the author, prefixed to these volumes, we learn that Mr. Williamson was, for upwards of thirty years, minister, at Whitehaven, of the seceders from the Church of Scotland—though he had in early life manifested some dissatisfaction with the tenets or conduct of the Secession Church; and “ was for several years previous to his death evidently attached to the Church of England, and seldom omitted an opportunity of attending Divine Service in her sanctuary, when the duties of his own chapel did not require his presence. In the year 1792 he published " Lectures on Civil and Religious Liberty," which excited some interest, and occasioned an incident in his life which reflected honour on his character-his rejection of a living which was offered him, for fear his acceptance of it should be considered as a dereliction of his principles. A disagreement between Mr. Williamson and the trustees of the meeting-house, relative to the arrears of his salary, which was finally determined in his favour, induced him to relinquish his appointment, and retire to America; but a severe cold, caught during the voyage, fastened on his lungs, and occasioned his death, a few weeks after his arrival, in 1821.
From a publication sent forth under such circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect that uniform accuracy, which otherwise the public have a right to demand in a work of this nature; and no one would too severely censure the partiality of friends, in giving to the world that which had occupied the last thoughts of an individual, whose integrity and moderation had strong claims to respect, and who had already met with a fa
vourable reception as an author. It is, however, certain, that Mr. Williamson was not the person best qualified for such an undertaking as that before us. Few subjects, perhaps, are more fitted to call forth the powers, and try the strength, even of a man of first-rate talents, thoroughly trained to theological discussion, than the attempt to exhibit a clear view of “the religious world.” We are indeed aware, that there is no subject in which greater facilities for book-making are afforded, and that a mere extract-stitching drudge may, without much difficulty, patch up some sort of a sketch or view of religious opinions ; but he who is capable of feeling the importance of the theme, and whose motives are of a higher cast than the necessity of providing for the morrow, will find that there is hardly any subject in which it is more difficult for an author to please either himself or others,
The difficulty of presenting a perspicuous, and yet condensed, statement of the tenets of any one sect, is not slight; it is not easy to generalize correctly, to select what are to mankind at large the most interesting and important topics, to decide as to the relative proportion they should retain, and the degree of prominence in which they should be exhibited. An advocate usually wearies the patience of his readers,—an adversary rarely gratifies their curiosity; and both are liable to the effect of prejudice. But if the painter find it difficult to convey the character of a single figure, and so to dispose the lights and shadows, and adopt his colouring to the subject, as at once to strike the eye of the unobservant, rivet the attention of the careless, and conciliate the fastidious; how much greater becomes the labour, and how much slighter the chance of success, when he proceeds to group objects in themselves dissimilar, and to concentrate interest, at the very time that he enlarges the field of observation. It indeed requires a master in the art, so to view, with the mind's eye, the subject in all its points and bearings, so to select and arrange the materials, and so to diseriminate between the essential and the adventitious, the important and the trivial, as to form a whole which shall at once awaken the imagination, and satisfy the judgment.
It is in subjects like these that the rare union of genius with judgment, of real learning with originality of thinking, of correctness with warmth, is necessary. It requires not merely the eagle's eye, but the eagle's elevation also, to view the vast extent of religious opinion as it really exists. The temptation to enlarge upon what we are best acquainted with, to deem that most important which ourselves best understand, and to regard that as most interesting, which is most connected with our own hopes and fears, seems to preclude all prospect of obtaining a moderate statement from a partizan: whilst the tendency there is to trust to imagination rather than enquiry, and to create ideal horrors, or ideal charms, according to the medium through which we are wont to look, seems equally to preclude the hope of obtaining correct details from any other than a partizan.
The only method that we have of correcting the delusions which are thus continually conjured up before the mental eye, must be by comparing the uncertain with the certain, and forming our opinions of the unknown by the known. We have, indeed, no trigonometry, which will enable us to reduce to mathematical calculation the results of the observations we make on the moral aspect of the world; but by comparison of the opinions of others, we may in some measure correct the false notions produced by surveying all the varieties of man, as "a religious animal," from one fixed station, and through the same refracting medium.
In this respect, the work before us is not without its value: the author honestly confesses he has his peculiar views, and his peculiar objects.
“ On the doctrines of Christianity, he cannot hope that his sentiments will be found in unison with those of all his readers, how limited soever their number may be. He confesses, that the great aim of his performance is, to contribute the little that he can to advance the interests of evangelical piety. Believing the doctrines of the Trinity, of Original Sin, Justification by Faith through Grace, Regeneration and Sanctification by the influence of the Holy Spirit, to be fundamental doctrines of Christianity, he cannot but think them worth contending for; but even in that contention, he hopes he has employed no arts unworthy of the sacred cause. He willingly gives many excellent persons credit for genuine piety, to whose language, on some controverted subjects, he cannot subscribe, and believes their intentions to be sounder and better than their definitions." P. xi.
We greatly prefer this avowal to the cant of indifference, and the affectation of philosophy, “ falsely so called ;” and we believe our readers will not concur less heartily than ourselves, with the sentiments of the following passage.
“ In our times every man that can cavil at any doctrine, or any discipline of the church of God, or can hatch a new conceit in religion, is sure to find some followers. If they are numerous, the popularity of his tenets is considered as a sufficient proof of their truth. If the converts are few, their very paucity is considered as a demonstration that they have entered by the strait gate, and are walking in the narrova way. They are the true church, and all other men are on the road to destruction. There are some religionists in this country, whose party altogether only amounts to a few hundreds, who believe themselves to be the only church of God in the world!! They will not even bend their knees to pray to God, with any who are not members of their society. What sort of hearts those men must have, who look upon their own little society as the whole fruit of the Redeemer's travail and pain, it is not for the author to inquire. Were his views of the church of God as contracted as theirs, his comfort and happiness would be insulated indeed. The state of men's tempers has often much greater influence in forming their religious principle; and when their hearts are as contracted as their tempers are sour, it is no wonder that their Christian world is bounded by the same narrow limits." P. xiii.
Such are the sentiments with which our author sets out, and to which he pretty uniformly adheres. In general there is a highly commendable attempt to unite moderation in considering the opinions of others, with an earnest contention for what he conceives to be the “ truth once delivered to the saints,"though there are exceptions which those most concerned in them will not be slow to discover, and reprobate; and which others will regret to find in the pages of such a writer. There are also many passages manifesting “a zeal not according to knowledge;" and the whole work can only be regarded as the expression of opinions formed by one who has not possessed sufficient information on the subject, or has recurred to a favourite set of authors, as decisive in all questions connected with it.
The First Volume is occupied with the discussion of the essential points of religion. The accounts of Paganism, Mohammedism, and Judaism, are very bald and common-place. The author's information is derived also in many cases from sources not altogether free from objection; and the high authority attached to the "Christian Researches" of Dr. Claudius Buchanan, and the “ Religious World Displayed" of Mr. Adam, though each of these works has its merits, is not likely to increase the confidence of those readers who require impartial and original authorities.
In the subsequent part of his enquiries the author is more at home, and speaks with the certainty and ease which knowledge alone can impart; though the impression still remains, that the whole is an ex-parte statement, almost exclusively derived from the writings of that class which he chiefly advocates.
After a review of the Evidences of Christianity, in which the usual topics are repeated, the Doctrines are brought forward ; and those which the author deems essential to Christianity, occupy the remainder of the First Volume;—the Second being deyoted to subjects on which he conceives the orthodox may safely differ. Among these latter, however, we are surprised to find Antinomianism, which from the language employed to designate it, we are convinced the author would never have thus classed, but through forgetfulness of his own words, and the inducement offered by the convenience of arrangement. With the exception of what was, doubtless, intended to be a fair representation of Calvinism and Arminianism, though it betrays an evident bias to the former; and an article of considerable length on Church government; the Second Volume is occupied by an examination of the history, doctrines, and public services of the Church of England, and a laboured vindication of those who are here denominated, the “evangelical clergy."
Such is the arrangement of our author's work. We shall now proceed to give some extracts which will convey an idea of its execution, purposely however passing over “ the ground common to the orthodox professors of Christianity;" as being less calculated to shew the peculiar tendency of Mr. Williamson's reflections. That he could write with caution is manifest from the following passage.
“ Some divines have considered regeneration and conversion as terms of the same import, and by thus confounding them have run themselves into some difficulties, from which they found it no easy matter to escape. But these doctrines, though nearly connected, are different. Regeneration is of universal and absolute necessity to the whole human race. But it is not absolutely necessary to every individual of mankind, that he be conscious of the manner, or recollect the time in which that change took place. It may have taken place in his infancy. He may have been sanctified from the womb, and consequently, he may not be able to recollect any point of time when he was a stranger to the grace of God. The man who has thus been planted with his Saviour, and has risen like a tender shoot,--the man on whose branches the continual dew of God's Spirit ceases not to fall, from his unconscious years, needs not to be converted. Should he fall into presumptuous sin, he would, indeed, like Peter, after his fall, require to be converted, to have his soul restored to that peace and vigour of holiness from which he had fallen. But while he goes on in the strength of the Lord, confirming grace only is necessary. To conversion consciousness is absolutely necessary; and in ordinary circumstances, the recollection of the time and manner of it, is likely to be strong. Of regeneration, all who are saved, whether infants or adults, must be the subjects. Those only can be said to be converted, who had continued dead in trespasses and sins, till they arrived at the
years of recollection; and who in this condition, were awakened to flee from the wrath to come, and were made to turn unto God, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance." Vol. I. p. 354.
. This is, however, very different language from that held in the