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Aft. X. Essays on the Advantages of Revelation; the Rewards of Eternity; the Advantages of the Knowledge revealed to Mankin d concerning the Holy Spirit; fyc* fyc. By the late Rev. J. Whiteley, M.A. Head Master of the Free Grammar School, Leeds ; and Vicar of Lastingham. Longman. London, 1816.
A N Advertisement prefixed to this volume informs us, that ■**■ it is a republication, in a collected form, of Essays that have already appeared in detached pieces, in compliance with the will of the late Mr. Norris; each having gained the annual prize which he instituted in the University of Cambridge. And it further informs us, that these Essays obtained the decided approbation of Bishops Hurd and Porteus, and of the late Lord Chancellor Thurlow, who, after having read one of them, presented to the Author, 'unsolicited and unasked,' the Vicarage of Lastingham.
Mr. Whiteley goes over a beaten track, in a neat common, place way; and if we allow that he acquits himself creditably, as a young man who has to produce something appropriate upon a given subject, and such as shall evince that he is competently acquainted with what has been already written upon it, we say quite as much as the case admits; for we did not find in them any thing that can constitute a sufficient reason for the republication of pieces which apparently finished their work in the world, when the specifications of the founder's will, to which they owe their existence, were fulfilled.
Indeed, we are not anxious to see any publication on the evidences of Christianity, that does not as a whole, bring the matter to a point.
General argumentations in the style of apology, though they may perhaps find a place, without impropriety, as appendages to more direct reasonings, tend, when presented by themselves, rather to weaken the impression of conviction, than to extend the ground upon which it rests. They are not suflHent for those who require to be informed of the reasons of their belief; they will never, we think, avail to allay the anxieties of that class of persons, who, from some infirmity in their intellectual or physical constitution, are perpetually subjected to the recurrence of distressing doubts; still less will tiiey have power to force across the mind of the determined unbeliever, the tremendous conviction, that what he fears is true. Little, indeed, if any food, is likely, we think, to be the effect of those long-drawn implead'mgs of Christianity versus Paganism, which are intended to result, in giving a verdict for the plaintiff,— Damages, one shilling:—that is, that altogether, the world has been benefited by Revelation;—that altogether, it is better to be a Christian, than, a heathen.—It is not on such terms, nor is t in such a tone, that the defenders of Religion should ever Vol. VILN.S. P
condescend towards the supposed advocates of any of the systems of impiety that have existed, or that may yet exist in the world. If any one, now, is so senseless, or so wicked as to say, that after examination, he does not believe that the Bible is what it professes to be, let him never have reason to suppose from the manner of its apologists, that they think it a subject upon which, men of sound understandings, and virtuous lives, may entertain opposite opinions. Especially, let those who undertake to treat with the rejecters of Christianity, write, and speak, under the perpetual recollection of those fearful words, "He that believeth not, shall be condemned." .; • •
We shall not attempt to give an abstract of these several Essays, as we imagine it would but little interest our readers. Besides the three, of which the titles appear at the head of this Article, there are two Essays on the following subjects: * Volun'tary Neglect of any one Duty, cannot be compensated by Strict.* ness of Attention to other Duties;' When the Fulness of Time was come, God sent forth his Son. Gal. iv. 4.
We extract the following, as a specimen of Mr. W.'s style.
* Duty consists in a prompt obedience to the will of God; in a disposition to follow wherever He leads ; to love what He loves, and to hate what He hates. It implies, not barely a resignation to his appointments, and an acquiescence in his wisdom; but also a cheerfulness, an alacrity, a zeal in his service. It excludes every motive, but the love of God, and every eD<l, but the happiness of man. It is a principle, uniform and steady in its operation. It is directed equally against every sin, without distinction or exception; it admits no hesitation, no palliatives, no reservations; it abhors every species of prevarication, hypocrisy, and guile; and condemns whatever bears the impression, or even the semblance of evil. It acknowledges no works of supererogation : it admits no claim of redundant virtue. It requires the joint services of the mind and the body; and it considers those actions only as virtuous, which spring from sincerity of intention, and from the consciousness of universal and unqualified obligation. •
« From the very nature then and essence of duty, it is clear, that the voluntary neglect of any one command, cannot be compensated by strictness of attention to others; because it betrays a want of that sincerity, without which there can be no moral principle.'p. 22G.
We have met with a few paragraphs in which we are willing to hope the Author had a better meaning than his language would seem to convey; yet, to say the least of them, they are in a theological point of view, vague and unguarded. The following passage, however, is highly exceptionable. In making a classification of sins, he says,
• The second and most numerous class comprises the sins of infirmity; and is the more comprehensive, as it includes, not only the exterior acta, but also the latent principles of sin. Whoever considers the frailty of man, the temptations, the treachery and the dangers he has to encounter, from without and from within, will not wonder that he is often betrayed into actions, which, in the tranquillity of retirement, and the season of recollection, he cannot but disapprove. The cravings of appetite, the impulse of passion, and the propensities of nature, often surprise him unprepared. He does not always reduce to practice, what he admits in speculation, that temptation isf best overcome by retreat. And, although, in the general tenor of his conduct, he can forego, with Moses, the splendour of a court; or, like Joseph, can resist the solicitations of beauty, and the blandishments of criminal pleasure; he may, nevertheless, in an unguarded moment, violate the dictates of reason and discretion. The general sins of men of upright intention are of this class. And, although we are not authorized to say, even of these, that they can be compensated by strictness of attention to other duties; yet we hope they will be forgiven, through the intercession of that gracious Redeemer, who knows whereof we are made, who considers that we are but dust, and who will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss.' p. 238.
It is a very large majority of the community we fear; of whose religious instructions this piece of Aiitiuomianism might be taken as a fair specimen. Under the shelter of such sentiments as these, thousands among us quietly live according to the course of this world; and die, considering the provisions of the Gospel, as something laid up for them against the reckoning day, when they may need some such help.
Mr. W.'s volume has not tended to alter the opinion we had previously formed of certain Institutions in our Universities, and of those of a private nature, to one of which last, as we have already stated, it owes its origin. We are indeed inclined to think somewhat lightly of their real utility; we mean when they profess to have in view any thing more important, than merely the production of Academic exercises. But when the evidences of Christianity, or its more essential doctrines, are to be made the themes of prize Essays, the contrivance, how well soever inientioned, is we think liable to an important objection; and in stating the grounds of our opinion, we anticipate the concurrence of at least those of our readers, who, while they feel a deep and active interest in every thing that concerns the promotion of Religion, are, in judging of means, the most accustomed to discriminate between their theoretical and their actual tendencies. ,
With the merely literary advantages of these Institutions, we are not now concerned; although, if the design of the founders is supposed to have included the intention of leaving a fund for the annual purchase to the public, of some valuable addition to their literary riches, we should not hesitate to pronounce such an intention chimerical, even though it were granted that, .i a small number of pieces of intrinsic value hare been thus produced; for it is hardly a question, whether the writers of such pieces would not for the most part have given us much the same thing, independently of any such immediate cause.
It is a principle of extensive application as it regards the mind, that that only is likely to be highly valuable, or of a kind to produce much effect upon others, which is spontaneously produced, and the result of direct motives. It is obvious that there is an inspiration, an earnestness, a freshness, peculiar to the writer who handles the subject of his choice, and which subject has, for a length of time, constituted as it were, a part of himself. There is a tone of conviction and decision in him who writes, because he believes he has something important to communicate. There is a faithfulness to the business in hand, where the first motive for writing is the desire of producing a definite impression upon the minds of others; and there is an impetus springing from the consciousness of power, which is included in the expectation of actually producing this impression.
Some circumstances of advantage for thinking and writing, exist, without a portion of which we can hardly expect any thing above the unimpressive detailing of mere common places; but which, by the nature of the case, are almost intirely excluded, when a writer is summoned from the state of intellectual indifference, under the influence of indirect motives, to put together a piece of work according to order, such as he deems most likely to fit, and to fill the expectations of his employers. But to come to our present object, it is surely not under these latter circumstances, that the momentous subjects of religion will probably be treated in that kind of way, in which alone it is desirable they should ever be presented to the mind.
It would seem that whatever causes to pass through the mind religious ideas, in a connexion that dissociates them from the impression of their importance to ourselves, is dangerous to us as religious beings: and it may be assumed therefore, that he with whom it is the chief, or at least a leading object, to acquit himself well in the execution of an assigned task, and who is moreover confessedly under the operation of all those feelings that are called into action by the circumstance of competition, writes under influences that will in a great degree produce this dissociation in his own mind; and, as a consequence, he will write in a tone directly tending to produce the same effect in the minds of his readers. And as to the mass of mankind, it must be remembered, that they take things as they are given to them; and are content, as it regards their opinions and impressions, to live all their days, if we may be allowed the allusion, on what has been furnished by the care and the capital •f others; and therefore, that the naked facts are but a part »f what is important in the business of instilling principles. It is upon the kind of impression under which the matter of instruction is communicated, that the nature of the effect produced by it depends.
In frequenting what is called religious society, our ears are too much familiarized to a style of conversation on the great topics of Christianity, that might almost suggest the idea of our being with creatures belonging to some other system, who, themselves far removed from all the influences of evil, having heard the history of this our poor world, of what has been done to ruin it, and of what has been done to redeem it, were but beguiling a portion of their tranquil existence, by discussing the circumstances of so curious a narrative. Such an impression would perhaps be most strongly experienced in the society of persons whose lives are passed chiefly in intellectual pursuits; as such persons seem peculiarly liable to the dangerous illusion of almost forgetting that they also are men, (cjuoiCTodfi;,) subjected' to the same conditions of good and evil as others.
To those who are much accustomed to contemplate the condition of the world, and the benefits of redemption, under the strong impression of eternity, the kind of conversation to which .we allude, must, no doubt, be highly painful; and it may often drive them to take refuge in a reserve, that will deprive others of the beneficial influence of their communications.
If it be allowed that an important objection rests against the practice of using religious subjects as mere topics of conversation, and under circumstances in which the impressions and associations proper to them are scarcely thought of, or if remembered, will almost inevitably be dissipated, an objection, drawn from the same principles, must also be granted to lie against the practice upon which we have offered these remarks. And it must be remembered further, that, while in the natural and ordinary course of things, the writing of religious books will, for the most part, fall into the hands of religious people, in this case the irreligious, the sceptical, the profane, are invited to put their hands to the Ark.
The real tendencies of things in which Religion is concerned, are, in many cases obscured from our view by those bulky and shapeless concretions, that have formed about them in the course of ages, in consequence uf their contact with secular institutions. But human nature is the same, Christianity is the same now, that it was in the days of the Apostles; and if it offends against our ideas of consistency in character, to think of Paul, John, and Peter, sitting down to write Essays, one against the other, upon the great topics of their mission to mankind, can we