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"When they encounter a new acquaintance of their own school, these reciprocal signs of religious intelligence produce an instantaneous sisterhood; and they will run the chance of what the character of the stranger may prove to be, if she speaks in the vernacular tongue. With them, words are not only the signs of things, but things themselves.
If the phraseologists meet with a well-disposed young person, whose opportunities are slender, and to whom religion is new, they alarm her by the impetuosity of their questions. They do not examine if her principles are sound, but "does she pray extempore?" This alarms her, if her Loo recent knowledge of her Bible and herself has not yet enabled her to make this desirable proficiency. "Will she tell her experience?" These interrogations are made without regard to that humility which may make her afraid to appear better than she is, and to that inodesty which restrains a loud expression of her feelings. She does not, perhaps, even know the meaning of the term, in their acceptance of it.
"Do we then ridicule experimental religion? Do we think lightly of that interior power of Divine grace upon the heart, which is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of Christianity? God forbid! But surely we may disapprove the treating it with flippancy and unhallowed familiarity; we may disapprove of their discussing it with as little reserve and seriousness, as if they were speaking of the state of the weather, or of the hour of the day; we may object to certain equivocal feelings being made the sole criterion of religion-feelings to which those who have them not may pretend,-which those who have them may fear to communicate, before they have acquired a strength and permanency which may make them more decisive; we may blame such injudicious questions to incipient Christians, who barely know the first elements of Christianity."— pp. 127-130.
As this is an example of her judicious observation of character, so others might be brought to show her intimate knowledge. of the heart. She is peculiarly fitted by this knowledge for the kind of writing to which she has devoted herself-the great object of which is to lay open men's bosoms and shew them to themselves, that they may see the necessity of a system of strict watchfulness. She appears to have made the human heart her study; she has minutely acquainted herself with its variety of operations, its use of motives, its secret biases, its slippery evasions, and is able to follow them all up till she detects and exposes them. She has a perfect understanding of the multifarious equivocations of conscience respecting duty, and a curious skill in anticipating and defeating the excuses which will be brought by the unwilling, the indolent, and the slaves of habit. To use a phrase that is well understood, she is very close and searching; she gets the soul, as it were, into her power, and she pursues it through every shifting and-turning in its attempt to escape, as perseveringly as it is represented to be pursued by Death, in Blair's poem of the Grave:
-the frantic soul Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
Runs to each avenue, and shrieks for help,
Pursues her close through every lane of life,
In connexion with this feature in her character as a writer, may be mentioned her very rigid principles of morals, and her exalted, unbending notions of the standard of christian excellence. Few place so high the requisitions of duty, or allow so little to the excuses of Christians for their imperfections, and their compliances with the customs of the world, and the inconsistency of their practice with their faith, or of one part of their practice with another. She does not admit any degree of indulgence, which is merely indulgence; and insists, strenuously and decidedly, that nothing is to determine a Christian to act except the certain conviction-the well grounded and intelligent, not the careless conviction,—that it is right, that it is the will of GOD. Nothing is to be done, which will not bear to be examined by this principle. It will not do to compromise; it will not do to hesitate; whatever is not unquestionably right, is unquestionably wrong and sinful. It is not remarkable that one should say this; but it is a little remarkable that one should in all cases rigidly and consistently adhere to it. Others state such a principle in the abstract; but do not strictly abide by it; in its application they permit a thousand deviations; and so explain it away as to pronounce many things innocent, which, actually tried by this principle, would not be innocent; and, indeed, might perhaps be amongst the first to laugh at the scrupulosity of one, who should fetter himself by it in his whole conduct. But in Mrs. More there is no such deviation; she brings all her remarks, rules, and illustrations upon every subject to this point; she never loses sight of it; and there is, of consequence, a rigid severity every where in her moral requisitions. She demands of the disciples of Jesus a blamelessness of life, an elevation of motive, a spirituality of heart, which are so rarely attained, that many regard them as fanciful; as wearing the air of romance; and hence was the saying of some one, that "her Practical Piety contains more piety than can be practised." But we are persuaded that by this means she affects many others, who would be little affected by the representation of excellence more immediately within their reach; she excites in them ardor of pursuit; creates lofty ideas of the holiness which is possible; and gives an air of meanness and insufficiency to moderate attainments. Many are captivated by excellence when painted as a thing so
extraordinary; they are emulous of greater things, because greater things are showed them; and become discontented with a low state of religious attainment, just as the ambitious in letters or in arts, whose imaginations have been inflamed with the idea of some infinite and unlimited excellence, become dissatisfied with all inferior rank, and press on to that indefinite and invisible resting place.
We are especially convinced, that such strong representations of the strictness of christian perfection are important to those, who are first interested in religious things, and just commencing their christian pilgrimage. There appears to be little reason for fearing, that injury may be done them by over statements upon this point. The operation of a man's common sense, in this age when common sense is permitted to operate, will prevent it. And the experience in life, which is gained by a little intercourse with men, will soon cause all extravagance to settle down into a sober state of rational and fervent piety. We do, therefore, conceive it to be of the utmost importance, that the standard should be set very high at first. The first impressions of religion on the mind should be exceedingly severe and solemn. If they be not so then, when the heart is most susceptible, the conscience most tender, and the desire of doing all that can be done most powerful; it is to be feared that afterward, when the early ardor is cooled, and the emulation of the novice passed away-the notions of duty will become loose and confused, the impressions of responsibility weakened, and the standard of attainment low. Many there are, satisfied to be stationary in great imperfection, because they were never made to be in love with perfection. We therefore do not think it possible to do too much to impress the young Christian with a strong feeling of the vastness of the height he has to climb, and to give birth within him to an earnest and determined desire to arrive at its summit. It is better that he should feel too much than too little. The enthusiasm of the young convert always cools with time, and soberer views occupy him. And if his first views were but just sufficiently sober, they will never be very animated and may be very feeble. hardly possible they should increase, but very probable that they will decrease.
Our author's strict notions of consistency and perfection in duty, are united with equally high sentiments respecting the piety which is due to God, and the spirit of devotion in which the mind of man should always be maintained. The duty of prayer is, with her, the first and crowning duty; that which prompts all the rest, and sanctifies all the rest, and without which the rest are 59
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altogether insufficient. The connexion of the soul with its Maker is so necessary, so near, and so sacred, that nothing can be done by a Christian without the recollection of it; and no act of the mind, no motive of the conduct, can be in any proper sense Christian, which is not hallowed and directed by the principle of piety,--by the appeal to GOD. Half of the present work treats upon this subject, and topics connected with it. In her other works it is frequently treated; and perhaps she has not written a chapter upon any religious subject, in which it is not recognized and acknowledged-certainly, implied-as the one thing needful.
In her representations, however, of the strictness of christian duty, we have been often sensible of a faultiness, which we do not know how to express in other words than by saying, they are indefinite, vague, somewhat mystical. The impressions she leaves are not always sufficiently distinct. She gives you a feeling of awe, and urges you, with a solemnity that makes you tremble, to do something-but does not tell you, in so many words, what it is. She oftentimes writes thus, paragraph after paragraph, leaving upon your imagination nothing more than a general and confused idea of some tremendous responsibility. In practical writings this is surely a great fault. So far as regards the practice of religion, there is certainly little worth in that which you cannot define--which cannot be made palpable; for it amounts to nothing more than a certain solemnity of feeling, which is not necessarily followed by action, and may exist in a very bad man. You cannot be too plain, direct, explicit in every thing which relates to practical piety, and christian morals; duty should be so defined and laid before men that they cannot evade or equivocate. And after all, the great difficulty lies in the performance of plain direct precepts. He is not really the strictest Christian, who loves to be touched by eloquent appeals to his conscience, and to have his heart wrong, and his emotions excited; but he, who never swerves in his conduct from rigid principle, and who is never drawn aside by temptations from exact adherence to the rules, which are well defined, and of no uncertain interpretation.
The work now before us, in which the author takes "her final leave of her readers," is strongly marked by the characteristics which we have mentioned, but is not equal in merit to some of the efforts of her younger days. The portion of the volume, which is entitled Moral Sketches, is partly occupied in bewailing the demoralizing consequences of that frequent intercourse between the Continent and England, and especially of that intimacy with the society of Paris, which has followed the gene
ral peace in Europe. She expresses herself upon this point with great energy of feeling, and with most solemn forebodings of the religious and moral evils, which must flow from this unholy familiarity of the sons of God with the daughters of men. She fears much, and the cry of her fear is eloquent. The other part of the Sketches' is occupied with equally earnest expostulations respecting the secession which has recently taken place from the established Church, and the multifarious religious evils, which, in her opinion, have arisen out of it.These topics are principally of local interest; but they compose by far the finest part of the work, and even in this country may be read with pleasure and improvement. Some of the chapters, indeed, under these heads, are of universal application, and may be equally valuable to Christians of every nation and church. Such, for example, is the following passage; which we quote from a chapter on Soundness in judgment, as a specimen of her good sense when she is least ambitious to be fine.
"There is one thing we would more particularly press on the important class we are now taking the liberty to address; it is the cultivation of a sound judgment. Of all persons, religious persons are most bound to cultivate this precious faculty."
"Judgment is to the faculties of the mind, what charity is to the virtues of the heart; as without charity the latter are of little worth, so without judgment talents are of little comparative use."
Judgment is so far from being a cooler of zeal, as some suppose, that it increases its effect by directing its movements; and a warm heart will always produce more extensive, because more lasting good, when conducted by a cool head.
"We speak of this attribute the more positively, because it is one which, more than many others, depends on ourselves. A sound judgment, indeed, is equally bestowed with other blessings by Him from whom cometh every good gift; yet it is not, like the other faculties of the mind, so much born with us, as improved by us. By teaching us to discern the faults of others, it warns us to avoid them; by detecting our own, it leads to their cure. The deepest humility is generally connected with the soundest judgment. The judicious Christian is watchful against speculative errors, as well as against errors in conduct. He never adopts any opinion because it is new, nor any practice because it is fashionable; neither does he, if it be innocent reject the latter merely for that reason. Judgment is, in short, that quality of the mind which requires to be kept in ever wakeful activity; and the advantages it procures us, and the evils from which it preserves us, will be more apparent, the more it is kept in exercise.
Religious charity more especially demands the full exercise of the judgment. A judicious Christian will double the good done, by his selection of the object, and his manner of relieving it. All things that are good are not equally good. A sound judgment discriminates between the value of the claimants whi present themselves, and bestows on them inore or less attention, according to their respective claims.
"Above all, an enlightened judgment will enable you to attain and to preserve CONSISTENCY, that infallible criterion of a highly finished Christian character, the want of which makes some really religious persons not a