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Worship will be tinctured with gloom, while our ideas of its object are darkened by superstition; it will be infected with hypocrisy, while its professions and tenets run counter to the genuine, unperverted moral sense of mankind; it will not meet the countenance of philosophers, so long as we are obliged to unlearn our ethics, in order to learn divinity. Let it be considered that these opinions greatly favour immorality. The doctrine that all are vile, and equally merit a state of punishment, is an idea as consolatory to the profligate, as it is humiliating to the saint; and that is one reason why it has always been a favourite doctrine. The indecent confidence of a Dodd*, and the debasing terrors of a Johnson, or of more blameless men than he, spring from one and the same source. It prevents the genuine workings of real penitence, by enjoining confessions of imaginary demerit; it quenches religious gratitude, because conceiving only of two states of retribution, both in the extreme, and feeling that our crimes, whatever they may be, cannot have deserved the one, we are not sufficiently thankful for the prospect of the other, which we look upon as only a necessary alternative. Lastly, it dissolves the connexion between religion and common life, by introducing a set of phrases and a standard of moral feeling, totally different from those ideas of praise and blame, merit and demerit, upon which we do and must act in our commerce with our fellow creatures.
** And admitted, as I trust I shall be, to the realms of bliss before you, I shall hail your arrival there with transport, and rejoice to acknowledge that you was my comforter, my advocate, and my friend.'-Letter from Dr Dodd to Dr Johnson. See Boswell's Life of Johnson, Vol. II. p. 140.
There are periods in which the human mind seems to slumber, but this is not one of them. A keen spirit of research is now abroad, and demands reform. Perhaps in none of the nations of Europe will their articles of faith, or their church establishments, or their modes of worship, be able to maintain their ground for many years in exactly the same position in which they stand at present. Religion and manners reciprocally act upon one another. As religion, well understood, is a most powerful agent in meliorating and softening our manners; so, on the other hand, manners, as they advance in cultivation, tend to correct and refine our religion. Thus, to a nation in any degree acquainted with the social feelings, human sacrifices, and sanguinary rites, could never long appear obligatory.
The mild spirit of Christianity has, no doubt, had its influence in softening the ferocity of the Gothic times; and the increasing humanity of the present period will, in its turn, produce juster ideas of Christianity, and diffuse through the solemnities of our worship, the celebration of our sabbaths, and every observance connected with religion, that air of amenity and sweetness, which is the offspring of literature, and the peaceful intercourses of society. The age which has demolished dungeons, rejected torture, and given so fair a prospect of abolishing the iniquity of the slave trade, cannot long retain among its articles of belief the gloomy perplexities of Calvinism, and the heart withering perspective of cruel and never ending punishments.
It is observed by a late most amiable and elegant writer, that religion may be considered in three different views. As a system of opinions, its sole object is truth; and the only faculty that has anything to do with it is reason, exerted in the freest and most dispassionate inquiry. As a principle regulating our conduct, religion is a habit, and like all other habits, of slow growth, and gaining strength only by repeated exertions. But it may likewise be considered as a taste, an affair of sentimet and feeling, and in this senise it is properly called Devotion. Its seat is in the imagination and the passions, and it has its source in that relish for the sublime, the vast, and the beautiful, by which we taste the charms of poetry and other compositions that address onr finer feelings; rendered more lively and interesting by a sense of gratitude for personal benefits. It is in a great degree constitutional, and is by no means found in exact proportion to the virtue of a character.
It is with relation to this last view of the subject, that the observations in this essay are hazarded; for though, as a rule of life, the authority and salutary effects of religion are pretty universally acknowledged, and though its tenets have been defended with sufficient zeal, its affections languish, the spirit of Devotion is certainly at a very low ebb amongst us, and what is surprising, it has fallen, I know not how, into a certain contempt, and is treated with great indifference, amongst many of those who value themselves on the purity of their faith, and who are distinguished by the sweetness of their morals. As the religious affections in a great measure rise and fall with the pulse, and are affected by everything which acts upon the imagination, they are apt to run into strange excesses ; and if directed by a melancholy or enthusiastic faith, their workings are often too strong for a weak head, or a delicate frame; and for this reason they have been almost excluded from religious worship by many persons of real piety. It is the character of the present age to allow little to sentiment, and all the warm and generous emotions are treated as romantic by the supercilious brow of a cold hearted philosophy. The