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Unitarian Dedication and Ordinations, in November.
RELIGION, ILLUSTRATED BY A COMPARISON OF IT WITH
OTHER QUALITIES AND OBJECTS.
NO. III. METHODS OF EXHIBITING RELIGION.
I proceed in the third place from the means of cultivating and promoting religion to the methods of exhibiting it. These I would subject to the same test, which has been applied to other things in religion.
When a man has become possessed of religious sentiments and affections, a question often occurs to him on the proper method of exhibiting the state of his mind to others. He would know how he shall adorn the docrtine of God, his Saviour. He would know, how he shall • let his light shine before men, that they may glorify his Father in heaven.'
Now the answer to this question is summarily comprised in the rule that has already been given. He should display his religious affections, no otherwise than as he displays any serious, joyful and earnest affections he may possess.
vol. 11.—NO. I. 1
This rule would undoubtedly be objected to by many, and it is proper that the objection be fairly met. It will be said, that religion is not like the other affections; that it is in the mind to which it gains entrance, something new, signal and extraordinary, and therefore that it demands some unusual and signal manifestation. Let us attempt to speak on this point, with care and discrimination.
Undoub:edly, a religious and good man will appear on many occasions differently from another man, and differently in proportion as he is religious and good : not always, however, nor in things indifferent. There may be nothing to distinguish him in his gait, or countenance or demeanor. But there certainly will be occasions when his character will come out-many occasions. His actions, his course of life, his sentiments, on a great many subjects, will show his character. And these sentiments he will express in conversation ; so that his conversation will be thus far different. But still the disclosures of his character will all be natural. He will show you that he is interested in religion just as he shows you that he is interested about every thing else, by natural expressions of countenance and tones of voice, by natural topics of conversation and habits of conduct. In short there will be an appropriate exhibition of religious character ; but nothing unusual or strange.
Now, for multitudes of persons all this will not do ; it is not enough. They want something peculiar. There are many, indeed, who are not satisfied unless there is something peculiar in the looks, and manners to mark out a man as religious. And who does not 'know how common it has been, and still is, to a great extent, for a clergyman to be known, every where, by these marks? And what is more common than for the new convert to the prevailing modes of religion, to put on a countenance and deportment, which causes all his acquaintance to say, 'how strangely he appears! And many, I repeat, would have it so. They would have a man, not only belong to the kingdom of Christ, but carry also some peculiar outward marks and badges of it. They would have a man wear his religion as a military costume, that they may know, as they say, under what colors he fights. But let us remember that many a coward has worn a coat of mail : and many a brave man has felt that he did not need one. And many a bad man, I would rather say, many a misguided man, has put on a solemn countenance, and carried a stiff and formal gait, and got all the vocabulary of cant by heart: and many a good man has felt that he could do without these trappings of a mistaken and erring piety.
But if there are those who insist on these modes of religious exhibition, there are many more who lay a stress on the conversation. They would have a christian converse—I do not say affectedly—but still they would have him converse much, and expressly on the subject that is nearest to his heart. If a person is mentioned to them, as possessing a character for piety, and if they stand in any doubt concerning him, their first question is, does he talk about religion ! On this point I shall endeavor to make a distinction, which I think of great importance, to the proper understanding of this part of the character.
It is this. A man may talk religiously, and yet not talk about religion ; either as an abstract subject, or as a matter of personal expression. A truly devout and good man, will show that he is such, by his conversation, but not necessarily by his conversing about the abstract subjects of devotion and goodness. He will show it, by the spirit of his conversation, by the cast and tone of his sentiments, on a great many subjects. You will see, as he talks about men and things, about life and its objects, its cares, disappointments, afflictions and blessings, about its end and its future prospects—you will see that his mind is right, that his sentiments are pure, that his affections are spiritual. You will see this, not by any particular phraseology he uses, not because he has set himself to talk in any particular manner, not because he intended you should see it, but simply, because conversation is ordinarily and naturally an expression and index of the character. I am not denying that a good man may talk about religion, or religious experience, as the express subject. All may do this at times ; some, from their habits of mind, may do this often, and ordinarily. But what I say is, that with most men, this is not necessarily, or naturally the way of showing an interest in religion.
And to prove this, we need only ask how men express oy conversation, their interest, in other subjects, how they exhibit other parts of their character, through this medium. A man talks affectionately or feelingly ; you see that this is the tone of his mind; you say he is a person of great sensibility ; but does he talk about affection or feeling in the abstract? A man talks in