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that your spiritual delinquencies are not of so fatal a kind as to put in danger your personal salvation (an assumption, by the way, always hazardous) and let it be granted that you are chargeable only with certain infirmities of judgment, or with mere exuberances in temper or conduct;—yes, but these faults in you, as a Christian, and especially at the present critical moment, exert a negative power, the circle of which none can measure. Can you then desire that we should exercise a scrupulous tenderness toward you, while we forget pity towards the millions of mankind ? Nay, rather, let every instrument of correction, and the most severe, be put in play, which may seem needful for restoring its proper force to the Gospel—the only means as it is of mercy to the world. No, we must not flinch, although the sensitiveness and the vanity of thousands among us were to be intensely hurt. Let all-all be humbled, if such humiliation is indeed a necessary process that shall facilitate the conversion of the world.
Such then is the prime motive which should animate the difficult labour we have in hand. But there are other reasons, nor those very remote, that may properly be kept in view when it is attempted, as now, to lay bare the pernicious sentiments that have so often and so severely afflicted mankind.—If, just at the present moment, there seems little or no probability that sanguinary and malignant superstitions should regain their lost ascendancy, can we say it is certain that no such evils, congruous as they are with the universal passions of man, shall henceforth be generated, and burst abroad? Manifest as it is that the human mind has a leaning toward gloomy and cruel excesses in matters of religion, whence can we derive a firm persuasion that this tendency shall, in all future ages, be held as much in check as now it is !-Not surely from broad and comprehensive calculations, such as a sound philosophy authenticates. The supposition that human nature has for ever discarded certain powerful emotions which awhile ago raged within its circle, must be deemed frivolous and absurd. How soon may we be taught to estimate more wisely the forces we have to guard against in our political and religious speculations! The frigid indifference and levity we see around us is but the fashion of a day; and a day may see it exchanged for the utmost extravagance, and for the highest frenzy of fanatical zeal. Human nature, let us be assured, is a more profound and boisterous element than we are apt to imagine, when it has happened to us for a length of time to stand upon the brink of the abyss in a summer season, idly gazing upon the rippled surface-gay in froth and sunbeams. What shall be the movements of the deep, and what the thunder of its rage, at nightfall, and when the winds are up!
Nothing less than the ample testimony of history can support general conclusions as to what is probable or not, in the course of events. And yet even the events of the last few years might be enough to prove that mankind, whatever may be the boasted advance of civilization, has by no means outgrown its propensity to indulge vindictive passions. Or can we have looked abroad during our own era, and believe that the fascinations of impudent imposture and egregious delusion are quite spent and gone? Rather let it be assumed as probable, at least as not impossible, that whatever intemperance, whatever atrocity, whatever folly, history lays to the charge of man, shall be repeated, perhaps in our own age, perhaps in the next.
The security which some may presume upon, against the reappearance of religious excesses, if founded on the present diffusion of intellectual and Biblical light, is likely to prove fallacious in two capital respects.
In the first place, the inference is faulty because this spread of knowledge (in both kinds) though indeed wide and remarkable — or remarkable by comparison, is still in fact very limited, and its range bears an inconsiderable proportion to the broad surface of society, even in the most enlightened communities. If a certain number has reached that degree of intelligence which may be reckoned to exclude altogether the probability of violent movements, the dense masses of
society, on all sides, have hitherto scarcely been blessed by a ray of genuine illumination; moreover, there is in our own country, and in every country of Europe, a numerous middle class, whose progress in knowledge is of that sort which, while it fails to insure moderation or control of the passions, renders the mind only so much the more susceptible of imaginative excitements. Torpor, it is true, has to a great extent been dispelled from the European social system ; but who shall say in what manner, or to what purposes, the returning powers of life shall be employed ? In now looking upon the populace of the civilized world, such as the revolutionary excitements of the last fifty years have made it, one might fancy to see a creature of gigantic proportions just rousing itself, after a long trance, and preparing to move and act among the living. But, what shall be its deeds, and what its temper?— The most opposite expectations might be made to appear reasonable. Everything favourable may be hoped for;—whatever is appalling may be feared. At least we may affirm that the belief entertained by some, that great agitations may not again produce great excesses; or that egregious delusions may not once more, even on the illuminated field of European affairs, draw after them, as in other ages, myriads of votaries, rests upon no solid grounds of experience or philosophy, and will be adopted only by those who judge of human nature from partial or transient aspects, or who think that the frivolous incidents of yesterday and to-day afford a sufficient sample of all Time.
But a persuasion of this sort, founded on the spread of intelligence, whether secular or religious, seems faulty in another manner-namely, in attributing to knowledge, of either kind, more influence than it is actually found to exert
ver the passions and the imagination of the bulk of mankind. Education does indeed produce, in full, its proper effect to moderate the emotions, and as a preservative against delusion, in cold, arid, and calculating spirits ; and it exerts also, in a good degree, the same sort of salutary influence over even the most turbulent or susceptible minds, up to that critical moment when the ordinary counterpoise of reason is overborne, and when some paramount motive gains ascendancy. This sudden overthrow of restraining principles--an overthrow to which sanguine and imaginative temperaments are always liable, is not often duly allowed for when it is attempted to forecast the course of human affairs.—We form our estimate of moral causes according to that rate of power at which we observe them now to be moving; but fail to anticipate what they shall become, perhaps the next instant, that is to say, when existing restraints of usage or feeling have been burst asunder.