« PreviousContinue »
preferring the conscientious worship of God in woods and deserts, peopled only by savage tribes, to all the comforts of civilized life in their native country, where the liberty of such worship was denied them ?-does not religion exist amidst the countless multitudes who acknowledge its divine authority, and offer up their voluntary prayers to God in a thousand temples, unconnected with any religious establishment in America, where no such establishment has ever existed, and can, therefore, have exercised no influence whatever on the public faith or piety? Not only the nature of religion itself, which, it cannot be too often repeated, is a purely personal thing, existing solely between God and a man's own conscience, but the sincere profession of it in various countries, by persons of all ranks, without the patronage of an Establishment, and in direct opposition to its persecuting decrees, prove, beyond all doubt, that it can subsist in the soul, and influence the conduct, without any connexion with the state;-and of this we may feel assured, that if religion could not exist separate from an Establishment, or depended upon the protection and support of the state for its diffusion or welfare, the Deity would have empowered Christ to have formed a union between it and some existing government, and to have given express injunctions for the continuance of such an union.
An established religion is said to be further useful in preventing schisms in the church and in producing uniformity of religious opinion. If by schisms be meant differences of opinion on religious subjects, and dissent from a standard of faith established by human authority, the utility of preventing such schisms, if practicable, will be denied by all who consider the important benefits that result to society from the unfettered exercise of the human mind in the investigation of all religious doctrines, professing to be of Divine authority; since to such investigation alone is owing the establishment of the most salutary truths, as well as the exposition of the most baneful errors, and without it mankind must be ever exposed to impositions in religion of the grossest and most injurious kind. Deny men the right of private judgement, and you immediately convert them into the victims of superstition and the dupes of priestcraft; you take from them the means of ascertaining what nature and revelation teach on the great subjects of their destiny and duty, rendering them blind to all the light it has pleased God to cast upon them; you make them the passive slaves of spiritual tyranny, and expose them to all the dreadful ills which spiritual wickedness in high places' may choose to inflict upon them. The suppression of free inquiry on religious topics leads, moreover, to ulterior consequences most fatal to the best interests of society: for when the mind has once ceased to reason on the most momentous of all subjects, it is not very probable that it will exer
cise its judgement on matters of minor importance, even if its powers of discrimination were not blunted, as they must be, by a habit of implicit reliance on the decisions of others, and of entire submission to their decrees. Hence the sacrifice of religious has been generally followed by that of civil freedom: the most subservient subjects of despotic governments having been found in the Established Church, and the most patriotic opponents of tyranny out of it, in the ranks of those conscientious servants of God, who denied and resisted its usurped authority, nobly contending for the liberty with which,' according to the declaration of an apostle, Christ has made us free.' The history of the Christian church, from the earliest period of its alliance with the state, in those countries in which it was established, proves, beyond all dispute, the truth of this assertion: so that were religious establishments able to prevent schisms, the utility of such prevention might be justly called in question, especially when it is further considered, that the only means of producing this effect must be bribery or force, purchasing the sacrifice of individual opinion by the loaves and fishes of state patronage and preferment, or suppressing it by persecuting statutes-by fine, imprisonment, and death. By the adoption of the former mode of buying up the consciences of men, the moral welfare of society must be seriously injured, as it would nurse in its bosom the basest of all vices-religious hypocrisy, and by the practice of the other its civil interests would be greatly impaired, as it would create much personal suffering and distress, occasion domestic feuds and altercations, and eventually lead to public dissensions and calamities. Before, indeed, a general suppression of opinion could be produced by persecution (if it were possible so to produce it), the civil rights of mankind must have been frequently violated, their personal security endangered, and their lives as well as property destroyed: and, though in the silence thus enforced by ruin and devastation, in this annihilation of religious freedom by the sword of the magistrate, the prejudiced bigot, the time-serving priest, or the despotic statesman, would, no doubt, boast of the tranquil and undisturbed state of the church, to it and to them might be applied with equal justice the emphatic words of the philosophic historian, who impartially recorded the aggressions and crimes of his countrymen :
They make a desert, and they call it peace.**
But so far is an established church from being calculated to prevent schisms, that it has a direct tendency to create them. The usurped authority it assumes and the despotic acts it performs naturally excite feelings of indignation and disgust in the minds of all but the spiritually enslaved, or those more wretched
* 'Atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.'-Tacit. Agric. Vit.
apostates, who violate the most sacred obligations to promote their temporal interests, and trample upon religion itself, using it as a stepping-stone to wealth or power: and the experience of past ages has abundantly proved that multitudes of conscien tious men, under a solemn sense of duty to God, will resist the spiritual domination of temporal princes, assuming the office of His vicegerents, and, at all risks of personal comfort and safety, separate themselves from a religious establishment supported by the state and subservient to its will. One instance, amidst a multitude which the pages of ecclesiastical history would supply, will be sufficient to establish this undeniable fact, and it may be the more satisfactory to some, as it occurred in the Church of England. I allude to the schism produced in that church by the despotic Act of Uniformity, passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when upwards of 2,000 ministers resigned their livings, and left the Establishment, rather than admit the authority, or obey the injunctions, of that most tyrannic act, leaving to future ages a noble example of virtue and integrity, worthy of the highest admiration.*
As a religious establishment is unable to prevent the occurrence of schisms in the church, being itself often the cause of them, it is equally ineffectual in producing uniformity of opinion on points of faith and doctrine. The minds of men differ as much as their countenances, and it would be contrary to their nature for them all to think alike on any subject: hence differences of opinion have always existed amongst the members of every establishment-those which existed in the Romish Church are notorious from the public debates that were carried on in its assembled councils; and in the Church of England it is well known that a great difference of sentiment has existed as to the nature of the Articles themselves, one party contending that they are Calvinistic, another that they are Arminian, and that the highest authorities have disagreed in the manner in which they have understood the doctrine of the Trinity, various modes of explaining this mysterious dogma having been adopted by different individuals occupying some of the highest stations in the hierarchy. The numerous grades of opinion that exist amongst the promiscuous multitude that frequent the Established Church, it is unnecessary, were it possible, particularly to describe that such differences do exist is a generally-acknow ledged fact, and it is sufficient to disprove the assertion, that uniformity of religious opinion is produced by a religious establishment.
* We may add here, that the Church of England is itself a great schism, or separation, from the Roman Catholic Church, and is, therefore, the very last that, denouncing heresy and division, should offer its own authority or example as an antidote against them.
(To be Continued.)
The Works of William Ellery Channing, D.D. Vol. 1.'-Hedderwick and Son, Glasgow; Hunter, Fox, and Mardon, London.
IT has sometimes been objected to those whose special function it is to regenerate the existing forms of Christianity, and breathe at once a purer and a more energetic spirit through society, that they are practically inattentive to the claims of the missionary enterprise, and leave the Heathen world in the unmitigated ills of moral darkness. But what is the fact? They do not themselves visit the Islands of the South Sea, but they send an influence in the hearts of the actual missionaries. If they improve Theology, they improve the administration of Christianity, and aid in missionary labours. Spiritual aggression does not consist in the transmission over the waste of waters' of bodies in human shape. The missionary effort is in moral and intellectual power: and he that creates and diffuses these, does a missionary work. It matters nothing whether the diffusion takes place by his own corporeal efforts, or by those of another. Let mind speak-and what signifies it by whose lips? The most effectual missionary is found in the most powerful and the most prolific mind. And far more valuable is the labour of the secluded philosopher, who, from the depths of his retirement, sends forth thoughts which girdle the earth with light, and breathe a new moral impulse through society, than even an army of the ordinary church militant, carrying about the world influences that are powerless, because poor in kind and stale with repetition. If this is a correct view of the nature of missionary influence, then Dr. Channing, weak as he is in body, and narrow as is the circle of his locomotion, is among the greatest of missionaries; for his thoughts are going up and down the world girded in power, and followed with the peace and happiness of a spiritual regeneration. And a solemn thought it is a thought as impulsive to industry in moral enterprise, as it is solemn, that the mind of a solitary and infirm Christian should be germinating in minds of the most diverse character throughout the old and the new world; and wherever it is allowed to exert its natural influence, leaving a new creation of moral beauty. What a sacred thing is mind! What awful responsibilities does its possession involve! What a noble function is its exercise! What a high vocation is that of the Christian Teacher, 'thoroughly furnished' for his office!
In the belief that Dr. Channing's writings are eminently fitted to bless mankind, by increasing the amount and furthering the progress of Christian truth, we rejoice at every publication that proceeds from his pen; and are no little pleased to find that after most of his pieces have been repeatedly presented to the public, the demand for them should be such as to call forth the work of which the title stands at the head of these remarks. The present is the only complete edition of Channing's Works which has yet been published-the Publishers having been enabled to enrich it with several articles which have not appeared in any collected copy of his writings, while the price is but half that of the Boston and London edition,-six shillings each volume. They have considered it proper, also, to throw his Sermons chiefly into the second
volume-those only upon the Evidences of Christianity, being introduced into the first. By this arrangement, they have brought before the reader, in a consecutive form, the whole of those exquisitely beautiful and original pieces of literary criticism, and other literary miscellanies, which have been so generally admired for the depth and originality of the ideas the comprehension and grasp of thought—and the singular eloquence and vigorous terseness of style which they exhibit. The work is neatly executed. We hope the second volume will be found to include the very beautiful and very valuable discourse recently delivered before the Fraternity of Churches in Boston, on The Ministry for the Poor.'
• Observations on the Discourse of Natural Theology, by Henry Lord Brougham; by THOMAS WALLACE, Esq., L.L.Ď.'—Ridgway, London.
This is a temperate and respectful exposure of some errors committed by Lord Brougham, in a work lately reviewed by us, in which we find no little similarity to the views we ventured to advance. We notice the volume, not with any view of levelling a shaft at a nobleman for whom we entertain the highest respect, and whose services we regard as of literally incalculable importance to mankind, but merely in the execution of a duty imposed on us by a love of truth and the claims of literary justice.
Mr. Wallace, in his introduction, expresses a feeling identical with our own: The following observations are written by one who, firmly believing in the immortality of the soul, acknowledges his ignorance whether that soul be material or immaterial. It is also his firm conviction, that certain knowledge on that subject is neither attainable by man in his present state of existence, nor necessary for the government of his concerns, either as they respect this world or the next.'
After giving utterance, in no meagre terms, to the admiration which the publication of such a work from such a quarter inspires him with, the Observer proceeds to take his objections to that part of the argument of Lord Brougham, which is based on the assertion of the soul's immateriality.
Mr. Wallace justly complains of the noble writer's having introduced, as an instance of the kind of inductive proof necessarily connected with Natural Theology, a metaphysical and theological proposition, still and ever likely to remain a subject of debate; that it was both inconvenient and dangerous to do so, inasmuch as thus the advocate of inductive proof in the science of Natural Theology takes upon himself to show, not only that this controverted proposition naturally belonged to a class of proofs appropriate to that science, but also the additional, perhaps the impossible task of establishing the disputed proposition itself; and that, while professing to elucidate and strengthen those indications which natural science suggests to us that we shall have an existence hereafter, he has embarrassed by teaching us that the possibility of a future life depends on the contingency of an abstruse question being decided one way-namely, that the substance of the human mind is material, and in some degree makes a disputable and unproved fact, one of the principal supports of the science the rank of which he seeks to raise.