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conversation, substantially recollected, will contribute in any measure to the design of your useful Magazine, you will be pleased to insert it in some of your pages not otherwise appropriated.
The gentlemen particularly engaged, I shall designate by the name of Timocles and Eusebius. The former of whom thus replied to the above-mentioned question:
Timocles. The forms of religion, how differently soever administered and practised amongst the several sects of christian professors, I conceive to be useful. They tend to impress the mind with conceptions of the attributes of the Almighty, of our dependence upon him, our obligations to him, and our final accountableness as his rational creatures. They are likewise needful, and with well-disposed minds can hardly fail to cherish and promote the virtues of sobriety, justice, and benevolence. So far as these may be called genuine religion, I can have no objections to its influence on the affairs of the world, or to the happiness of men. That which I object to is, what indeed goes by the name of religion with many, but is accompanied with higher degrees of spirituality, (as it is called by some, but by others, as well as myself, enthusiasm) than is suited to the present state of humanity.
Eusebius. If I rightly understand you, you admit the genuineness of that religion which is taught and inculcated in the christian scriptures. What you object to, as unfavourable to the interests and happiness of the world, is this same religion when experienced and practised in a higher degree than you suppose to be connected with a bare attention to those instituted forms to which you have referred. Whether the whole amount of religion, by you included in those forms, deserves the appellation, I will not pretend to say; but it appears, that you approve of that which is taught in the scriptures only in its lowest or least sensible powers and appearances. The question then is not, whether religion in its nature is incompatible with the interests and happiness of the world; but whether it be not so in the higher experience and expressions of it.
Timocles. I allow, as you observe, that religion possessed and practised in its real nature, is on the whole beneficial. But this world was never intended by our Maker to be other than what it is; it was never intended to be a heaven; nor, of course, was it ever intended that we should feel, and act, and live as they do in heaven. There is both time and place in the wise constitutions of God for all things. The heavenly state has its share of religion ; let this world also have its proper share. We are commanded not to be righteous overmuch.
Eusebius. I am persuaded, sir, that, with the discernment of which you are possessed, a little attention will convince you, that your opinion is not well founded; and that your assertion was rather premature. You admit that the Author of the world, and of the christian scriptures, is perfectly wise and good; and that the religion he requires of us in the present state is perfectly consonant with his wisdom and goodness, and of course, with our relations to the present as well as future world. But is the religion he requires no other than that formal compliance, or that inanimate or partial moral conformity to which your approbation is confined? Does not God require us to 6 love him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind!” And does not this requisition imply, not only, that in our present imperfect and depraved state, we should love him sincerely, but that we should love him with all the ardour and intenseness of affection, of which our powers, especially as aided by his grace, are capable. :If this statement be just, as I think it is, we are then to infer, that God does wisely and benevolently, as well as justly and authoritatively, require all those degrees in the sense and practice of religion, which you have pronounced to be unfavourable to the interests and happiness of the world. Surely, sir, it could not have been your design to impute ignorance and folly to infinite knowledge and wisdom, or unkindness to infinite goodness. He is perfectly acquainted with the extent of our powers, with our relations to the world we live in, and how far our excellence and happiness is influenced by our sentiments and conduct in reference to the things of the world; he is also perfectly acquainted with the real value of all worldly objects, and with that kind and measure of respect to them which is most conducive to our real interest and felicity. If then religion does in any instances require the restricted use or the sacrifice of any of these things, wbich we are prone to consider as the goods, the elegancies, the pleasures, or the glories of the world, we may be sure that so far our affection for them and pursuit of them is not good; that it is in wisdom and goodness we are prohibited from them; and that, whatever we may imagine, it is our happiness to be so prohibited.
Timocles. God forbid that I should presume to criminate the perfectly wise and benevolent administration of the Almighty. On your principles, I own, you reason justly. Yet I may presume to question the perfection of your principle. Religion doubtless requires that we love our Maker with all our hearts. But the precept, I conceive, admits of a more extensive qualification than
that which you have suggested. May we not also justly explain it in accommodation to the present imperfect condition of human saciety; to the innocent habits and modes of life, which prevail in it; and to the innocent uses of the material world we inhabit? It is in result of this reasonable accomodation, that the commerce, the trades, and the various occupations of men are advantageously conducted without those discouragements and impediments, which would arise from a consciousness of violating in the instance the principles and precepts of religion. It is in result of this, that so liberal a scope has been allowed to the exertions of genius, the propensions of taste, the sallies of fancy, and those high improvements to which the fine arts have been carried in one age and another. To this we are indebted for the opulence, the various elegancies, and even splendours with which human life is adorned in the several departments of civilized society, and for the progressive melioration of the forms of humanity and politeness. But, consider, my friend, what a different appearance in all these respects would have been exhibited, had religion universally pretailed in those elevations of spiritual sentiment, and at the same time, restrictions of practice, which you seem to advocate? Rapt in his extra-mundane celestial conceptions, the mortal saint would be rendered wholly unfit for the common concernments of mortality; much more for the nobler efforts of genius, and refinements of natural taste.
Eusebius. From what you have said, we are to suppose, you conceive those improvements and embellishments of human life, to be of the highest importance, and most indispensable necessity; so much so as to demand, and even to effect an extraordinary cor. responding indulgence in the legislation of the Sovereign of the world, or, as it should rather be considered, an essential change in the nature and obligations of religion; so much so as to supersede all necessity of moral regulation of the natural genius and taste, or of correcting the passions which are usually attached to them. In my turn, therefore, let me urge you, sir, to consider how insignificant all these things are, which you hold in so superior estimation, compared with the interests which religion involves, to the favour of our Maker, the accomodation of our habits and enjoyments to the nature of heavenly and to the order of carthly things, the peace of our minds, and to the well-founded prospects of a happy immortality. Compared with these, what are all those imaginary advantages, refinements, and splendours you speak of? They vanish at once as the twinklers of the night, before the superior lustre of the rising sun. Did the present life include the sum total of our existence, our interest and our happiness would be wholly confined to its concerns; and our religion, if religion in that case were supposable, would correspond with the littleness of our being. But when we contemplate this life as only a preliminary step or passage to a nobler, to a life of endless duration, and in every respect infinitely better adapted to the intention of our moral and rational powers, we must assume very different ideas, and designs; ideas and designs more suitable to our real predicament, and to the real nature of things. In short, we must assume ideas, and cultivate sentiments and conduct more conformable to the genius and to the precepts of that holy religion, which the christian scriptures inculcate. This religion, which is a constitution of the most perfect wisdom, purity, and goodness, has taught us to “ live above the world;" to " set our affections on things above, and not on things on earth,” to be « spiritually minded;" to have “our conversation in heaven;" to “ deny ourselves, and to take up our cross, and to follow the Redeemer.” Whatever our earthly bias, or short-sighted wisdom may suggest, this is the religion, and the only religion, which is favourable to the real interest and happiness of the world; and a religion it is, which in its nature evidently involves, and in its precepts evidently requires, all that spirituality and elevation of sentiment, all that abstraction from the world, and all that selfcorrection and self-denial to which, or to the tendencies of which, you object.
It must be admitted, that if this religion in its proper experience and practice were universal, the appearances of things in the world, especially such as are the effect of human industry and art, would be different from what they now are, or in the past ages have been. Those appearances, which you hold in so high estimation, and as so indispensable, are, far the greater part of them, the product, not of the wisdom which God and religion approves, but of the wisdom, that is to say, the vanity, the pride, the ambition, the avarice, the luxury, and even the caprices, of the depraved heart.
Timocles. This, I suspect, is the case in regard to many of the productions of human industry and art; and it is not to be wondered at, if some of them should be useless. But, because some are useless, and even in some respects hurtsul, are we therefore to suppose ourselves bound by religion to cherish a frame of mind, which is, I may say, inimical to all, or which at least indisposes to a becoming attention to them?
Eusebius. Forgive me, sir, if I suggest, that your ideas are in
a great measure founded in a misapprehension of the proper ten dency of religion. Its radical principle, as has been observed, is a superior commanding love of God, and benevolence to our fellowmen. Now, where this principle prevails, it will prompt us to a becoming attention to whatever is most pleasing to God, and be neficial to mankind. Whatever in the compass of art or science; whether commerce, or agriculture, or manufacture, or works of mechanism or taste, accords with this pious and benevolent intention; or, in the words of the apostle, “ whatever things are just, and true, and pure, and honourable, and amiable, and of good report," it will think on these things; so think on them as to praca tise them as far as occasion shall require, as ability shall enable, and duty shall prescribe. In this case, the occupations of life will be the proper occupations of religion; their ruling principle will be a principle of religion; and the spirit of religion will be their in. forming and most efficient spirit. I do not say, that in this case, the works of industry and commerce, of taste and genius, will be so numerous, or always so forcibly, or highly wrought; but they will be sufficient in these respects for human use and rational enjoyment: and what need we more?
Timocles. True: but will you allow nothing for the amusement of life, the gratification of fancy, the love of fame, or the passion for civil distinction and renown in arms? .
Eusebius. How far, in the several degrees or varieties of them, they may accord with religious principle, our time, I presume, will not permit us to state. We must distinguish them as to their kinds, their measures, and occasions; and some of them we must perhaps altogether reject; at least as altogether unne. cessary either to society or the individual. The love of God and a well regulated benevolence to our species, I believe, would seldom prompt us to much ardour and exertion in the most innocent of them. And particularly as to civil distinction (excepting indeed what arises from offices of dignity and usefulness, well executed) and to military glory, I have pleasure in believing, that when ger nuine, vital, and practical religion shall become universal, as, according to our prophetic scriptures, in some future period it will, there will not only be no need of war, or titles of nobility, but they will be wholly expelled from, and unknown in the world.
Timocles. Well, sir, our time being limited, as you suggest, and as I do not approve of disputation merely for victory, or of discussion for the confirmation of prejudice, I am free to own, that I have not much more to say in support of my assertion; that for my sentiments I am partly indebted to my education, Voi. II.