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ced many persons, honestly, though blindly, rest their habitual, and even systematic reserve on religious subjects. But “ familiarity" in our mind has reference rather to the manner, than to the act, of introducing religion. To us it is synonimous with a certain trite and trivial repeti. tiou of serious remarks, evidently “ to no profit,” which we soinetimes hear from persons familiarized, rather by education than feeling, to the language of piety.
More particularly we refer it to a still more criminal habit, which, to their disgrace, some professors of religion share with the profane, of raising a laugh by the introduction of a religious observation or even a scriptural quotation. “ To court a grin when we should woo a soul,” is surely an abuse of religion, as well in the parlour as the pulpit." Nor has the senate itself been always exempt from this impropriety. Dr. Johnson has long since pronounced a jest drawn from the Bible, the vulgarest because the easiest of all jests.--Aud far from perverting religious topics to such a purpose himself, a feeling Christiap would not often be found, where such would be the probable consequence of offering a pious sentiment in company. ,
That allusions involving religious questions are often productive of dispute and altercation, is a fact, which though greatly exaggerated, must yet, in a degree be admitted. This circumstance may in some measure account for the singular reception which a religious, remark is of. ten observed to meet with in the world. It is curious to notice the surprise and alarm which, on such occasions, will frequently pervade the party present. The remart is received as a stranger-guest, of wbich no one knows the quality or intentions: And, like a species of intellec.. tual foundling, it is cast upon the conipany withont a friend to foster its infancy, or to own any acquaintance with the parent. A fear of consequences prevails. It is obvious that the feeling ism" We know not into what it may grow; it is therefore safer to stifle it in the birth.” This, if not the avowed, is the implied sentiment.
But is not this delicacy, this mauvaise honte, so peculiar perhaps to our countrymen on religious subjects, the very cause which operates so unfavourably upon that effect which it labours to obviate? Is not the very infrequency of moral or religious observations, a sufficient actount to begiven both of the perplexity and the irritation
said to be consequent upon theirintroduction? And were not religion (we mean such religious topics as may legiti. mately arise in mixed society) banished so much as it is from conversation, might not its occasional recurrence become by degrees as natural, perhaps as interesting, certainly as instructive, and after all as safe, as "a close committee on the weather," or any other of the authorized topics which are about as productive of amusement as of instruction? People act as if religion were to be regarded at a distance, as if even a respectful ignorance were to be preferred to a more familiar approach. This reserve, however, does not give an air of respect, so much as of mystery, to religion. An able writer* bas observed, " that was estecmed the most sacred part of pagan devo. tion which was the most impure, and the only thing that was commendable in it is, that it was kept a great mystery." He approves of nothing in this religion but the modesty of withdrawing itself from the eyes of the world.
But Christianity requires not to be shrouded in any such mysterious recesses. She does not, like the Eastern monarchs, owe her dignity to her concealment. She is, on the contrary, most honoured where most known, and most revered where most clearly visible.
It will be obvious that hints rather than arguments be. long to our present undertaking. In this view we may perhaps be excused if we offer a few general observations upon the different occasions on which a well-regulated mind would be solicitous to introduce religion into social discourse. The person possessed of such a mind, would be mainly anxious, in a society of christians, that some thing should appear indicative of their profession. He would accordingly feel a strong desire to effect it when he plainty perceived his company engaged on no other topic either innocently entertaining, or rationally instructive. This desire, however, would by no means cloud bis brow, give an air of impatience to his countenance, or render him inattentive to the general tone and temper of the circle. On the contrary, he would endeavour to feel additional interest in his neighbour's suggestions, in pro-, portion as he hoped in turn to attract notice to his own. He would shew long forbearance to the utmost extent of conscientions toleration. In the prosecution of his favourite design, he would never attempt a forced or un'
: * Bishop Slrerlock.
seasonable allusion to serious subjects; a caution requiring the nicest judgment and discrimination, most parti. cularly where he felt the sentiments or the zeal of hiscompany to be not congenial with his own. His would be the spirit of the prudent mariner, who does not ap. proach even his native shore without carefully watching the winds, and sounding the channels; knowing well that a tenporary delay, even on an unfriendly element, is pre. ferable to a basty landing his company, on shore indeed, bnt upon the point of a rock.
Happily for our present purpose, the days' we live in afford circumstances both of foreign and domestic occur-, rence, of every possible variety of colour and connexion, so as to leave scarcely any mind unfurnished with a store of progressive remarks by which the most instruclive truths may be approached through the most obvious topics. And a prudent mind will study to make its ap. proaches to such an ultimate object, progressive: it will know also where to stop, rather indeed out of regard to. others than to itself. : And in the manly avowal of its sentiments, avoiding as well what is canting in utterance as technical in language, it will make them at once appear not the ebullition of an ill-educated imagination, but the result of a long-exercised understanding
Nothing will be more likely to attract attention or se cure respect to your remarks than the good taste in which they are delivered. On common topics we reckon him the most elegant speaker whose pronunciation and accent are so free from all peculiarities that it cannot be determined to what place he owes his birth. A polished critic of Rome accuses one of the finest of her histori. ans of provinciality. This is a fault obvious to less en. lightened critics, since the Attic herb-woman could detect the provincial dialect of a great philosopher. Why. must religion have her Patuvinity? Why must a Christian : adopt the anaintness of a party, or a scholar thie idiom of the illiterate? Why should a valuable truth be combined with a vulgar or fanatical expression? If either would of. fend when separate, how inevitably must they disgust when the one is mistakenly intended to set off the other. Surely this is not enchasing our " apples of gold iu pictures of silver."
We must not close this part of our subject withont alYdding to another, and still more delicate introduction of
religion, in the way of reproof. Here is indeed a point in religious conduct to which we feel it a boldness to make any reference at all. Bold, indeed, is that casuist who wonid lay down general rules on a subject where the consciences of men seem to differ so widely from each other: and feeble too often will be his justest rules where the feelings of timidity or delicacy rush in with a force which sweeps down many a land-mark erected for its own guidance, even by conscience itself.
Certainly, much allowance, perhaps respect, is die in cases of very doubtful decision, to those feelings which, after the utmost self-regulation of mind, are found to be irresistible. And certainly the habits and modes of address attached to refined society, are such as to place personal observations on a very different footing to that on which they stand by nature. --A frown, even a cold and disapprovinglook, may be a reception which the profane expression or loose action of a neighbour of rank and opulence may have never before encountered from his flatterers or convivial companions. A vehement censure in his case might inflame his resentnient without amending his fault. Whether the attempt be to correct a vice or rectify an error, one object should ever be steadi. ly kept in view, to conciliate rather than to contend, to inform but not to insult, to evince that we assume not the character of a dictator, but the office of a christian friend; that we have the best interests of the offender, and the honour of religion at heart, and that to reprove is so far from a gratification that it is a trial to ourselves; the effort of conscience, not the effect of choice.
The feelings, therefore, of the person to be admonished should be most scrupulously consulted. The admonition, if necessarily strong, explicit, and personal, should yet be friendly, temperate, and well bred. An offence, even though publicly committed, is generally best reproyed in private, perhaps in writing. --Age, superiority of station, previous acquaintance, above all, that sacred profession to which the honour of religion is lappily made a personal concern, are circumstances wbich especially call for, and sanction the attempt recominended. And he must surely be unworthy his Christian vocation, who would not conscientiously use any influence or authority which he might chance to possess, in discountenancing or rectifying the delinquency he condemns.
We are, indeed, as elsewhere, after the closest reflec. tion and longest discussion, often forced into the general conclusion that “a good heart is the best casuist.” And doubtless, where true Christian benevolence to wards man meets in the same mind with an honest zeal for the glory of God, a way will be found, let us rather say will be opened, for the right exercise of this, as of every virtuous disposition,
Let us ever remember what we have so often insisted on, that self-denial is the ground-work, the indispensable requisite for every Christian virtue; that without the ha. bitual exercise of this principle we shall never be follow. ers of him who pleased not himself.” And when we are called by conscience to the largest use of it in practice, we must arm ourselves with the highest considerations for the trial : we must consider him, who (through his faithful reproofs) “ endured the contradiction of sinners againsi hiniself.” And when even from Moses we hear the truly evangelical precept, “ thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him ;" we must duly weigh how strongly its performance is enforced upon ourselves, by the conduct of one greater than Moses, who expressly " suffered for us, leaving us an example that we sliould follow his footsteps."
CHAP. XVI. ,
OF all the motives to vigilance and self-discipline which Christianity presents, there is not one more powerful than the danger, from which even religious persons are not exempt of slackening in zealand decliving in piety. Would we could affirm, that coldness in religionis confined to the irreligious! If it be melancholy to observe an absence of Christianity where no great profession of it was ever made, it is far more grievous to mark its declension where it once appeared not only to exist, but to flourish. We feel on the comparison, the same distinct sort