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man of science, with an air of superiority, leaves them to some florid declaimer, who professes to work upon the passions of the lower class, where they are so debased by noise and nonsense, that it is no wonder if they move disgust in those of elegant and better informed minds.
Yet there is a devotion, generous, liberal, and humane, the child of more exalted feelings than base minds can enter into, which assimilates man to higher natures, and lists him “ above this visible diurnal sphere. Its pleasures are ultimate, and, when early cultivated, continue vivid even in that uncomfortable season of life when some of the passions are extinct, when imagination is dead, and the heart begins to contract within itself. Those, who want this taste, want a sense, a part of their nature, and should not presume to judge of feelings to which they must ever be strangers. No one pretends to be a judge in poetry or the fine arts, who has not both a natural and a cultivated relish for them; and shall the narrow minded children of earth, absorbed in low pursuits, dare to treat as visionary, objects which they have never made themselves acquainted with ? Silence on such subjects will better become them. But to vindicate the pleasures of devotion to those, who have neither taste nor knowledge about them, is not the present object. It rather deserves our inquiry, what causes have contributed to check the operations of religious impressions amongst those, who have steady principles, and are well disposed to virtue.
And, in the first place, there is nothing more prejudicial to the feelings of a devout heart, than a habit of disputing on religious subjects. Free inquiry is undoubtedly necessary to establish a rational belief; but a disputatious spirit, and fondness for controversy, give the mind a sceptical turn, with an aptness to call in question the most established truths. It is impossible to preserve that deep reverence for the Deity with which we ought to regard him, when all his attributes, and even his very existence, become the subject of familiar debate. Candour demands that a man should allow his opponent an unlimited freedom of speech, and it is not easy in the heat of discourse to avoid falling into an indecent or careless expression; hence those who think seldomer of religious subjects, often treat them with more respect, than those whose profession keeps them constantly in their view. A plain man of a serious turn would probably be shocked to hear questions of this nature treated with that ease and negligence, with which they are generally discussed by the practised Theologian, or the young lively Academic ready primed from the schools of logic and metaphysics. As the ear loses its delicacy by being obliged only to hear coarse and vulgar language, so the veneration for religion wears off by hearing it treated with disregard, though we ourselves are employed in defending it; and to this it is owing, that many who have confirmed themselves in the belief of religion, have never been able to recover that strong
and affectionate sense of it, which they had before they began to inquire, and have wondered to find their devotion grown weaker when their faith was better grounded. Indeed, strong reasoning powers and quick feelings do not often unite in the same person. Men of a scientific turn seldom lay their hearts open to impression. Previously biassed by the love of system, they do indeed attend the offices of religion, but they dare not trust themselves with the preacher, and are continually upon the watch to observe whether every sentiment agrees with their own particular tenets.
The spirit of inquiry is easily distinguished from the spirit of disputation. A state of doubt is not a pleasant state. It is painful, anxious, and distressing beyond most others; it disposes the mind to dejection and modesty. Whoever therefore is so unfortunate as not to have settled his opinions in important points, will proceed in the search of truth with deep humility, unaffected earnestness, and a serious attention to every argument that may be offered, which he will be much rather inclined to revolve in his own mind, than to use as materials for dispute. Even with these dispositions, it is happy for a man when he does not find much to alter in the religious system he has embraced; for if that undergoes a total revolution, his religious feelings are too generally so weakened by the shock, that they hardly recover again their original tone and vigour.
Shall we mention Philosophy as an enemy to religion? God forbid! Philosophy,
Daughter of Heaven, that slow ascending still
With radiant finger points to Heaven again. Yet there is a view in which she exerts an influence perhaps rather unfavourable to the fervour of simple piety. Philosophy does indeed enlarge our conceptions of the Deity, and give us the sublimest ideas of his power and extent of dominion; but it raises him too high for our imaginations to take hold of, and in a great measure destroys that affectionate regard, wbich is felt by the common class of pious Christians. When, after contemplating the numerous productions of this earth, the various forms of being, the laws, the mode of their existence, we rise yet higher, and turn our eyes to that magnificent profusion of suns and systeins, which astronomy pours upon the mind; when we grow acquainted with the majestic order of nature, and those eternal laws which bind the material and intellectual worlds; when we trace the footsteps of creative energy through regions of unmeasured space, and still find new wonders disclosed and pressing upon the view ; we grow giddy with the prospect; the mind is astonished, confounded at its own insignificance; we think it almost impiety for a worm to lift its head from the dust, and address the Lord of so stupendous a universe; the idea of communion with our Maker shocks us as presumption, and the only feeling the soul is capable of in such a moment is a deep and painful sense of its own abasement. It is true, the same philosophy teaches that the Deity is intimately present through every part of this complicated system, and neglects not any of his works; but this is a truth which is believed without being felt; our imagination cannot here keep pace with our reason, and the sovereign of nature seems ever further removed from us, in proportion as we enlarge the bounds of his creation.
Philosophy represents the Deity in too abstracted a manner to engage our affections. A Being without hatred and without fondness, going on in one steady course of even benevolence, neither delighted with praises, nor moved by importunity, does not interest us so much as a character open to the feelings of indignation, the soft relentings of mercy, and the partialities of particular affections. We require some common nature, or at least the appearance of it, on which to build our intercourse. It is also a fault of which philosophers are often guilty, that they dwell too much in generals. Accustomed to reduce every thing to the operation of general laws, they turn our attention to larger views, attempt to grasp the whole order of the universe, and in the zeal of a systematic spirit seldom leave room for those particular and personal mercies, which are the food of gratitude. They trace the great outline of nature, but neglect the colouring gives warmth and beauty to the piece.
not vague and general description,