« PrécédentContinuer »
they saw the chain of gold about his neck, and the star of opulence upon his bosom. It requires no special insight or wisdom to perceive the contemptible quality of this worship of mere wealth, especially when the mind is poor. Everyone knows how poor and miserable,and blind, in the intellectual sense, are many of the wealthiest ; poor in thought, without an idea or volition of their own; for ever surrendering their minds to the guidance of others, and those commonly the meanest and most cunning slaves of custom; consulting with all counsellors except the highest, with all oracles except the oracle of God; the bondsmen of established order, the first to join the outcry against the honest reformer (“The Pharisees who were rich derided him '); without vigorous employment to sweeten life, without knowledge either of books or men, without re source in leisure, the victims of sated appetite and unconquerable dullness; cankered by envy, petty rivalries, ignoble ambitions; without the sense of beauty, or the glow of poetry, or the love of truth ; without the love to man which gives a relish to society, or the love to God which makes a Bethel of a solitude; the decorated livery servants of fashion, dreading more an error in equipment or mènage than a private scandal or a public crime; faring sumptuously every day, and every day becoming more audaciously pretentious amidst their grovelling earthliness; and finding in a restless and peevish old age that something much beyond money, or the position that wealth can buy, is essential to constitute the happiness of man. There is no country under heaven where there are more rich met of this description, who have become opulent by inheritance, or by pushing industry, or by easy success, without the advantage of early discipline or subsequent moral cultivation ; yet there is no country where so much respect is paid to wealth apart from consideration of its intellectual accompaniments and belongings.
“ Rich gluttons and “rich fools," as our Bible describes them, abound in all departments of English life, and nothing is more startling to a well-educated foreigner than the degree of honour accorded in society to property in comparison with that which is yielded to the qualities of the mind. It is the very worst feature of our English civilization, the characteristic vice of the richest and most money-loving nation in the world. Socrates himself would sink down before a Rothschild.
The Nonconformists form a part of this national society, and special circumstances render it possible for them to fall sometimes under the malign influence of unwise wealth. In the general so ciety of England the weight of money is in some measure counterbalanced by the whole pressure of rank and professional education. The rich are often very well educated meñ, and those who are not are spread abroad among a vast number of nobles, statesmen, philosophers, lawyers, doctors, artists, literary men, and officers of the
army and navy. This in some measure moderates their pretensions, and vindicates the claims of culture and position against the overbearing weight of possessions. But the social system of Dissent is remarkably dissimilar from that of the whole country. It has only one nobleman, few very great philosophers, and compara
ly few professional adherents; hence, when a new rich man arises among the Nonconformists, there is a danger lest the English moneyworship should break out in one of its worst types, unrestrained by any due influence of a highly educated order. The rich man counts for more than he would elsewhere ; the whole financial system being founded on the voluntary principle, the people who can give money naturally occupy a very important position, especially in the eyes of those who wish, by avoiding the necessity of giving many littles, to escape from their own obligations. If they happen to be, as some of the most prominent Nonconformist capitalists happily are, most sincere, judicious, and self-devoting Christians, little harm follows, as the fawning worshippers obtain the repulse they so richly deserve. But when the rich men do not remember that in the Church of England they would be nobodies; when they are ambitious, foolish, brusquely despetic, and fond of 'a little briet authority, afraid of all thought, and of all thinking men, as they are now and then, and are not well-read in proportion to their wealth,—then very lamentable and laughable results ensue. The “rich glutton" of the parable becomes a vulgar Diotrephes, the commercial magnate attempts to rule the ministers with a rod of iron, or a sceptre of brass, and to dictate its channel to the current of inquiry and belief, and people begin to think that if nonconformity were not quite so wellto-do, it would nevertheless be far more dignified, far more intelligent, and far more spiritual. It was an evil day when the thinking and the learned class were the despotic rulers of the world and the Church. It will not be a much better day when wealthy men who have few other qualifications than their wealth, assume to dominate roughly over the class of devout scholars, and to treat the gifts of mind or heart as unworthy of their highest honour. In some quarters there is undoubtedly occasion to hint this warning. If ever nonconformity should come to be governed exclusively by bands of rich manufacturers and contractors, its glory will have departed. A rich man, who, like Joseph of Arimathea, modestly and bravely takes his place beside the cross, and honours the Saviour when the Sanhedrim denies him, is worthy of eternal praise, even if his gifts be few; but there is no evidence in the New Testament that Christ intended commonplace and uncultivated capitalists to become the dictators of Christendom. Let the best and holiest and most instructed mind govern us,-or let secession perish.
2. The second danger which may attend our nonconforming society is the excessive influence of publishers who trade upon deno
minational partizanship, and of a class of public writers who com mand a popular style, but are deficient in the reserve that come from early and thorough education and gentle companionships England is the paradise of parvenus, and this is a portion of it highest glory. A man by industry, intelligence, and force of will may rise from the ranks to the position of a general commander The courts of law, the camp, the exchanges, the museums, the uni versities, and the pulpits, abound with persons who have thus leaper into the saddle, and now ride nobly and worthily among the princes Even if we were born in the rank of dustmen we may hope som day to rise above it, and become “respectable.” The literary cir cumstances of the Church of England and Dissent however dif fer so widely, that the rise of ingenious persons to posts of autho rity in the two bodies is sometimes, and happily only sometimes attended with signally diverse characteristics. In the Church o England a poor man who is rising is sent to school or college, where lie at once associates with gentlemen, and the formative influenc of the new society rapidly transfigures the plebeian into something that may be very readily mistaken for a gentleman, and generally is much of that which it seems. This influence is so constant, and is continued so long, that after a certain number of years all trace of the ancient position are worn out, and the Master of Arts o Doctor of Divinity carries the air and the reserve of a native Don his original will never be mentioned to him any more. Not s always among the Dissenters. Here the society into which a rising youth of the lower orders is occasionally thrown is not nearly se gentle, and hence it may happen that our parvenu, if a person o intense and pushing self-esteem, and superficial habits of study, may carry to the position, won by his force and fag, and perhaps by bi fanaticism and brag, qualities which remind the spectator agains his will
, forcibly and unpleasantly, of “the hole of the pit whence he was digged." Here, for example, is a picture of Vulcan, a sledge hammerer, of iron muscle, " dissenting principles, "and but moderate delicacy of soul, who resolved upon improving his mind so far as to
rn everything knowable, and on acquiring an infinite scrap knowledge, which the English might mistake for omniscience. I such a man should write every week in that peculiar style of real force and boundless pretence which might be the natural outcome of such a history, working at his new literary anvil, with plenty of blows, and plenty of sparks, he would be certain to exert an influence over the multitudes, whose education leads them to love bard hitting, and whose fears for the ark of God might perhaps be quickened by the zeal of a now Yankee be-titled champion forging arms for the orthodox so conspicuously in the van of the defence. We say nothing of the systematic and cowardly wrongdoing to which an unconverted violence of mind and temper nearly always leads, of
the puffery and bombast to which an inflated ambition descends, even when treating on the holiest themes ; but it might be well if Nonconformists commonly considered the danger of influences such as these. Nothing is of more importance in a spiritual community than the quality of the "religious” writings which are chiefly esteemed and chiefly read. For families to receive a weekly contribution of sectarian chit-chat or unholy rancour, to read columns of revolting flattery, equalled only by parallel columns of as revolting slander, must exert a deteriorating influence upon the tempers of the old, and the piety of the young. Let such influences completely penetrate our communions, and all the venerable grace and reserve of ancient nonconformity will pass away. Men will say, the Lord deliver us from a zeal which is ever exploding in unjust anathemas, and from a wisdom whose pretension is "foaming out its own shame" in angry and pretentious writings which are a disgrace to Christendom. Now the only mode of suppressing such writers isneter to be tempted to read them. Let the market cease, and the supply will fail. We surely cannot expect an English and spiritual edition of the New York Herald to guide our feet into the way of reace, or to advance the interests of unfeigned godliness. Allowhee must needs be made for the noisy and unscholarly character fmuch periodical writing in times of excitement, but it is needless expose ourselves to the voluntary discredit of supporting in persanent authority scribes whose moral and literary character brands ith national ridicule the Nonconformist name. 3. The third opening for the entrance of a corrupt personal inuence amongst us is furnished by the union of popular preaching alent with great ignorance and ambition. And here we shall not ugle out the well-known portrait of Mr. Spurgeon for "art critism," open or implied, as some might think natural and desirable. Whatever is blameworthy in his character and career is attributable pite as much to the taste of a multitude of conformists and people f no religion as to any speciality in dissent. Mr. Spurgeon speaks requently of divine things in the way which is most delightful to be English crowd in all ages. The same commonalty that loved to Latimer, and Bunyan, and Berridge, and Huntingdon, and Rowland Hill, digests with signal content the broad humour of Mr. Spurgeon. We agree with Mr. Simeon that the humourous form (the gospel is far from the highest
, that it is fatal to deep moral seling, and does despite to the more solemn aspects of the divine haracter. We believe it to be a reaction from an honest endeavour o believe an extravagantly terrific creed. But Mr. Spurgeon has lone, notwithstanding all his quips and his high Calvinism, incomparably more good than harm among the working classes : he has given a fresh impulse to their evangelization, he has opened St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey for the gospel, he has devoted
labour, money, and talent, to the instruction of the people, without stint; and we cannot think so ill of our nation as to reckon the measure of his popularity the exact measure of their religious corruption. There is much no doubt to condemn, and much to differ from, in theological principles, and not a little to forgive, as we may think, on the score of taste and temper ; but then there is so much to praise, if it were only in his reading the English Bible to the multitudes, though that is far from the whole account of his deserts, that we prefer to reflect on the brighter side of an improving reputation that now belongs to the Anglo-Saxon nations.
It is not from Mr. Spurgeon, nor even from the students of bis college,” that the chief danger impends over nonconformity. He stands
alone ; he has in him the grand recommendation of intellectual growth, and his case is unlike all others. There is more danger from his weaker imitators ; for there are persons who de serve to be guarded against, as introducing influences hostile to the old-fashioned intelligence and spiritual well-being of our communions. We speak not now of the order of stipendiary functionaries in religious societies; men who have honourably worked themselves up by shrouds and ladders of red tape to situations of trust and considerable artificial authority. The world is held together by red tape, let men jeer as they may. Men of business are needed in every combination, although those who possess the required habits of accuracy, diligence, and order, are not always endowed with the gifts which would raise them above zeal for a narrow denominationalism. These persons become dangerous only when they become bumptious and supreme, with power to extinguish all other lamps and rushlights; when their useful talents are not counterbalanced by the influence of “divines” and inspired men ; when they, with their cut-and-dried “resolutions" on all subjects human and divine, are permitted to assume a representative character, and to dictate wisdom in every assembly of the elders. Of such we do not now speak, we point rather to a class of nonconforming orators
, who are guilty neither of those habits of exact and useful diligence, nor of a loftier prophetic enthusiasm. There is reason to fear that the success of some of the fashionable lecturers of Young Men's Christian associations, who build up climaxes like Alpine peaks, one above another, and whose sentences are like avalanches in their thundering sublimity, resulting in responsive “ thunders of applause," now of many years' duration, from the religious public, has affected that public with an undue respect for oratorical performances as the vehicles of religious instruction. Such a style may be very good for lectures, but it is really wonderful what trash is now often extolled as the very best preaching by multitudes of the frequenters of such assemblies; what empty dogmatism, unsupported by shadow of evidence,' what trumpery ornaments, worthy only of the