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O, who hath tasted of thy clemency
I AM almost ashamed of myself that I have written three papers and have not yet touched on the important subject of religion, the best gift of God; the last hope of forlorn and fallen man. Religion is such an element in Puritanism, that no one, who assumes that name, can possibly neglect it. A Puritan without religion, would be a rose without fragrance, a star without lustre or beauty. It was the pervading principle at Oldbug house; and if I wished to show to the libertine and unbeliever, the gospel in its sweetest developement, I would point him to the life of my grandfather and his affectionate daughter.
It is true they were Calvinists, but without a par
ticle of that austerity or rigor which has been sometimes imputed to that system. They had never been irritated by opposition, or fretted by controversy; and having heard the Bible and the Catechism delivered by the same traditionary wisdom, and taught by similar maternal lips, I doubt whether they very accurately distinguished the human composition from the divine. Their religion consisted in a deep reverence for God and all his institutions; a hearty love for their fellowcreatures; a humility which controlled the temper'; and a faith, which, amidst all its sublime abstractions, governed the life. I am sure if all Calvinists were like them, it would be well for mankind if all the world were Calvinists.
Years have passed over my head since I enjoyed their society; and when tossed on the billows of life, and exposed to the temptations of infidelity, the recollection of their meek principles and holy lives has been my surest defence. I am pretty confident, if, at the tender age of boyhood, Voltaire could have been led to bed by my aunt Hannah, or have set out his winter evenings on my grandfather's settle, he never could have been an infidel. No; the recollections of his youth would have been too powerful for the corruptions of his heart.
Since those days, I have turned on the gospel a severer and more scrutinizing eye; and have been led to ask, what is this religion which bands men into parties, which has been the root of some of the
noblest virtues and the cloak of some of the basest crimes; a religion so shadowy, as that scarce two agree in describing its nature; and yet so substantial, as to last for ages, amidst the perishing wreck of superstition and the changing manners of men. It was foretold that Christ should be a sign spoken against, and never was prediction more manifestly fulfilled. By all, who think deeply on the subject, he is either detested or adored.
In an old closet beside my grandfather's fireplace, there was a little bundle of rods and rings called puzzling irons, which were often delivered to the stranger to exercise his ingenuity, and, at the first trial, it was no slight matter to slip off the rings, and disentangle the complication, to undo the chain and reveal the mystery. It puzzled me more than the hardest theory has in Euclid since. But when you were once shown the process, or had found it by your own sagacity, ever after nothing could be more simple and plain. I have been led to inquire whether there is not some such clue to divine truth; some process by which the mind may be led into the interior of the system; and discover, by a simultaneous light, at once powerful and convincing, the doctrines which rectified reason welcomes, and the duties on which the conscience may forever repose.
All ages and countries have had a conception of virtue and vice; of right and wrong; and, since these sublime ideas could not arise from a blind instinct,
we must look for their origin in another source. cannot be, certainly, that a voluntary being is virtuous, as water is clear, or a nectarine delicious, without thought or intention. Nor do I like, for I can hardly understand, those modes of explaining virtue, by which one abstraction is brought to expound another; as when it is said, virtue is disinterested benevolence, or acting according to the fitness of things, or according to nature or utility, &c. &c., all which seem to me rash attempts to illustrate the plain by the obscure. Such theories communicate no light (to me at least.) Yet virtue is not an empty name; it is the purest ray that darts from heaven to earth to illuminate and beautify the path of man. What then is it? What. is the central light, which, like a chandelier in a church, makes virtue plain, and all other objects plain around it.
Now if there be a distinction between a good man and any of the conveniences of nature; for example, between a good intention and a loaf of bread, then it seems necessary that virtue should be the conformity to some law. Certain of our ideas are wholly referential; they are not to be understood but by being compared to some pattern or rule from which we at first derived them, and to which they must silently be referred. The idea of magnitude is an example. Virtue is not an impulse, a blind propensity, a thoughtless good nature arising from the milkiness of the blood. But it is a fixed purpose; a formed motive; which con
trols the native propensities, rather than is controlled by them. But the very word motive, is (not ambiguous, but) a duplicate; it implies a purpose within and an object without; and where will you find the external object, but in the requirements of some law? Take away law, and you take away the very conception and being of virtue. Some men may be troublesome, and some fawning or useful, like spaniels or puppies, but all the lofty ideas of duty and obligation are levelled to the dust.
In this view of the subject there are several advantages.
In the first place, it is a most satisfactory analysis, terminating in something which our reason can grasp. When we resolve a complex object into its elements, we wish those elements to be clear, simple, and the simplest objects of knowledge. This analysis is clear in two ways. It carries up to God, (for law implies a law-giver and law-executor,) and shows that the existence of the Deity is the prime truth in religion. In the second place, it resolves virtue, not into a shadowy abstraction, but into a grand fact that God is, and God governs the world by a law; and all virtue is obedience to his will. Here we must stop; when we know this, we know all we can know. Obey my voice, is the requisition of Jehovah, and the last element of moral knowledge.
Abandoning this ground, what confusion have some respectable writers introduced into their schemes of