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but in what it is capable of doing. It is the addition of experiment to speculation, of practice to theory. In all other matters this is regarded as the path of wisdom. But while experience is made to be nearly every thing in the several departments of science, or social policy, it is just that thing in religion, on which the wise men of this world are ever disposed to expend their contemptuous sarcasms, or a ribald wit. Every thing in this kind of experience they view as the effect of impaired health, of mental imbecility, or of deliberate fraud. But admitting that many of the impressions, described as parts of christian experience, have no better origin, is it to be concluded that all the experience, so designated, is contemptible and delusive?
Let this reasoning, if reasoning it may be called, be, in fairness, applied to other things. There have been experiments in science, and in human affairs, which, from being constructed on a partial or mistaken view of facts, or from not being prosecuted with sufficient ability, have proved failures. But whoever thought of affirming, on the ground of such occurrences, that all certainty in such matters is a mere dream? Should those faults be placed on the science itself, which manifestly belong to the unskilfulness of the operator? An ignorant man may have missed his way; but it scarcely follows from this fact, that an informed man must do the same. Certain base spirits have yielded to temptation; but we need something more than this to
show that men of another spirit would fail to resist it. All we claim with regard to religion, on this point, is, that men will forbear to judge of the many, from the weakness or the wickedness of the few that they should cease to put the exceptions in the place of the rule.
Such, however, is a specimen of that ingenuous treatment, which it is a part of our christian experience to endure in the present world. It is in the nature of evil passions to blind the understanding; and, from the manner in which men often reason, in reference to the essential elements of christian piety, it is plain that of all the enmities of the carnal mind, there are none so deadly as those which have an immediate reference to the Gospel and its Author; since, on no other subject do we find the faculty denominated common sense, so miserably disabled and perverted. Christian experience consists in a struggle between knowledge and ignorance, ingenuousness and prejudice, truth and error; and between the passions which are pure and celestial, and those arrayed against them. Accordingly, the scornful man has gained nothing by shewing that the wheat is not without chaff, nor the gold without an adhesion of dross. Such a state of things has existence in the best. Paul felt it deeply when he exclaimed, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? We do not expect completeness in a change which is merely in its progress. We think it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end;
and we deem the slightest portion of discernment enough to distinguish between these. God has created the light, and has seen it to be good; and the moment is at hand in which it will please him that it should be totally separated from the darkness.
Hence, in adverting to the Causes of religious despondency, we at once admit, that there may be instances in which it proceeds, at least in part, from an IMPAIRED STATE OF HEALTH. The influence of the body over the mind, we feel to be intimate and powerful. Weakness of body is sometimes born with us, sometimes induced, and sometimes the effect of old age; and the mind, which is always more or less affected by it, is, at some seasons, so wrought upon, that events, which at another time would hardly have been noticed, are found to create the utmost anxiety and sorrow. The mind fears where no fear is; and grieves where, in a better state of health, such a feeling would have been unknown. Now where there is this yielding to despondency, in reference to the ordinary affairs of life, it surely is not surprising that religion, adapted as it is to exert a much stronger influence over the susceptibilities of the enfeebled spirit, should become a matter associated with serious doubt and apprehension. For what are the interests of time when weighed against those of eternity!
It may be, therefore, that not a few instances of despondency proceed mainly from this source; and where this is not manifestly a leading cause, it may still have a measure of influence. In cases of
the former description, the pastor has less to do than the physician; and the care of the body, is plainly a duty of the first importance in relation to the soul.
We have to observe also, that despondency is often the effect, in a great degree, of SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE. According to the church of Rome, ignorance is the mother of devotion;—according to the scriptures, and experience, it is the parent of superstitious terror, and the nurse of depravity. It allows men to put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; to believe that they are doing good, while doing only evil; and to delude themselves with a hope of future life, while going down to the chambers of death. Even conscience, which should only guide to truth, duty, and heaven, may be thus fearfully perverted, through the want of instruction,-doing just the opposite of its proper office. Thus the heathen trusts that he is performing a meritorious act, in presenting the father who begat him, or the fruit of his own body, in oblation to an idol. Ignorance and error, which have wholly darkened the judgment, in the case of such a man, may misguide it in our own. Our convictions, like his, may be sincere, and, like his, may be erroneous. Our fault may not be in doing contrary to our conscience, but in not making an adequate use of the means appointed to enlighten it. Our duty must ever be to act according to the dictates of this inward monitor; but there is a previous duty, no less binding upon us, which is, that we seek
to have this spiritual adviser rightly and fully informed.
- The conscience, then, being in a diseased state— that is, in a state not sufficiently instructed, it frequently happens that the spirit is shaken by unnecessary alarms, and filled with sorrows, which more ample knowledge would have prevented. The smallest matters are sometimes magnified into affairs of the utmost moment. No sin is really trivial, though some may be so spoken of in comparison with others; and, in such cases as are now under review, the smallest transgression, or the slightest omission of duty, is sometimes allowed to occupy the mind until it seems to separate the soul from all hope of salvation. The importance attached to dreams, and to imaginary warnings, the utterance of rash vows, and the fear of having committed the sin not to be forgiven,-all these, and more, possessing a power to afflict the soul with the gloom of despondency, have their origin generally in the want of sound scriptural knowledge. The sacred scriptures present a full description of the work of the Holy Spirit; and, in proportion as the Bible is neglected, error, with respect to this all-important matter, will not fail to encroach on the province of truth. What the Holy Spirit really does will not be understood; and, in instances equally numerous, what has not proceeded from him will be imputed to him.
There is one point especially, on which the want of a sufficient acquaintance with scriptural truth is