Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

palm-branches were snatched, and waved around, and strewn in the path of the lowly, but then triumphant prophet; and the acclamation resounded to all the hills of Zion, “ Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven, and glory in the highest !” And so rolled on that beautiful pageant; beautiful, but O how brief!- for the storm was up which should scatter it abroad; and the clouds were brooding that should wrap it in a pall of blackest darkness.

'He, around whose head these evanescent glories shone, was weeping.' — Vol. II. pp. 80 - 82.

We had marked other passages for quotation, but are obliged to desist. We hope soon again to meet our author in the work which he proposes as a sequel to the present, on the A postles and their Preaching ;' and trust that he will not pause in his labors until he has completed the plan which he has announced in his Preface, of a survey of the Holy Scriptures, their History, Morality, Poetry, and Philosophy.'

[For the Christian Examiner.]

Art. IV. - Unitarianism vindicated against the Charge of

Skeptical and Infidel Tendencies.

Men may take their religion on trust, or make it a matter of inquiry and rational conviction. Unitarians prefer and adopt the latter course; holding it to be their privilege and duty to do so, and essential to consistent Protestantism. With them it is not enough that the church has decided in favor of a particular doctrine ; or that the doctrine belongs to the religion established by law; or that it was held by their ancestors, and is still held by the majority. On the infinitely important subject of religion, and with the Bible in their hands, they do not feel themselves at liberty to waive the right to read for themselves, and judge for themselves. One of the consequences of acting on this principle is, as might be expected, that they come to some conclusions differing materially from those commonly received; and also that they do not agree exactly with one another ; nor the same man with himself at different times, for of course as he continues his inquiries he may receive more light. This circumstance, however, has

afforded occasion for one of the most common and serious objections urged against them. Their way of proceeding, it is said, has a tendency to unsettle men's minds, and introduce a general skepticism; and the whole system has been branded as the half-way house to infidelity. We

e propose to take up this single charge, and give it a careful and thorough examination. After a few preliminary remarks on the nature of faith, and the history and present state of the particular question at issue, we shall be prepared to demonstrate, that there is nothing in Unitarianism itself, nor in its rejection of certain popular doctrines, nor in the general manner in which it has been, or is, defended and maintained, to warrant the suspicions and imputations just named.

It does not follow necessarily that a man believes a particular doctrine, merely because he thinks he does ; for he may be mistaken in regard to this fact, as well as in regard to any other. To know whether we believe a particular doctrine, we must know, in the first place, what the doctrine is; in the second place, we must know what our own ideas on the subject really are ; and in the third place, we must compare the doctrine and our own ideas together, and see whether they agree. Now we hazard nothing in saying, that many never think of going through this process; and those who undertake it, are liable to mistake at every step, and of course may be mistaken in the conclusion. The truth is, — and why should men try or affect not to see it? most persons adopt the religious phraseology which happens to prevail where they are brought up; and as they do this in early childhood, they do it before they can be expected to use such phraseology understandingly, and a habit of using it vaguely and mechanically is formed and perpetuated. It is no sufficient evidence, therefore, that a man believes the popular doctrines in religion, merely because he uses the popular language ; for he may use this language in a different or qualified sense, or, which is still more probable, he may use it in no determi

As a general rule, indeed, we suspect that conversions to Unitarianism, especially when they take place among serious and devout people, do not imply any material change in their convictions, but only that they have ascertained what their real convictions are, and are not restrained by considerations either of interest or fear from avowing them.

24

nate sense.

VOL. XI.

N. S. VOL. VI.

NO. II.

Again, it does not follow necessarily, that a man believes a particular doctrine, merely because he wishes he did, and is willing to take it for granted. It may be for his interest to believe; he may be persuaded or frightened into the opinion that he ought to believe; he may honestly think that believing would make him a better man ; but, after all, he cannot believe, until he is convinced. Faith is not a simple act of the will; nor can it be strengthened or weakened, or changed or in any way modified, by a simple act of the will. It is the involuntary yielding of the mind to a preponderance of evidence as it strikes us at the time. True, in some states of mind we are much more likely to believe, than in others; but it is because in different states of mind the same evidence strikes us differently, being viewed under different aspects; and not because the will, simply considered, has any control over our convictions. In all cases without exception, let our state of mind be what it may, belief is the involuntary assent of the understanding to a preponderance of evidence, as it strikes us at the time. It does depend on a man's will what professions he shall make, and what church he shall attend, and what party he shall connect himself with; and he may take every thing he hears for granted, if he pleases, and he may reason, and to a certain extent he may act on it, as if it were true; but what has this to do with real belief ? He may wish to believe; he may try to believe; he may say he believes; still, however, it is not belief, in any proper sense of that word, unless he is convinced. It resembles much more nearly what children call making believe.' For fashion's sake, for interest's sake, for peace' sake, perhaps for conscience' sake he may make believe; but this is the utmost he can do, until he is convinced.

Further; it is idle to think of believing a proposition, the terms of which we do not and cannot understand.

A man may believe, perhaps, that a proposition, unintelligible to himself, is nevertheless true ; but this is not believing the proposition itself, but only in the authority of the proposition. A man may believe, perhaps, that a truth is asserted in such a proposition; but this is not believing the truth asserted, but only that a truth is asserted. To believe a proposition is to believe what is asserted in the proposition ; but, before we can believe what is asserted in the proposition, we must know what is asserted. If we do not know what is asserted in a proposition, how do we know, how can we know, but that we believe exactly the contrary ? A man's real belief on any subject is neither more nor less than his ideas on that subject. Set before him, then, an unintelligible proposition, and we should like to be informed, how he is to tell whether his ideas agree with it, or not; and on the supposition that they do not, we should like to be informed, how he is to proceed in order to make them agree. The mysteries of the New Testament are not unintelligible propositions, but secrets, hidden, it is true, from the foundation of the world until they were disclosed by Jesus Christ, and his apostles, but now that they are disclosed, as intelligible as any other truths. There are also mysteries in nature, mysteries as yet undisclosed; but these are not unintelligible propositions, nor propositions of any kind, but ultimate facts, beyond which, at present, we cannot go either in our reasonings or conceptions. What abuse of language, therefore, as well as confusion of ideas, is implied in thinking to believe ourselves, or to make others believe, unintelligible propositions under the name of mysteries, awful mysteries ? And yet how much effect this cry of mystery, awful mystery, has had in inducing men to suppose that they believed, merely because they were afraid to inquire. After the advocates of error have been driven from

every

other position, they have always been able to turn round on their pursuers, and raise the cry of mystery, awful mystery ; and the strongest minds have been daunted, and withdrawn their objections as presumptuous and irreverent, and acquiesced in absurdities and superstitions, which they had again and again refuted. In following back the history of our religion we are reminded, at almost every step, of the inscription on the forehead of the woman in the Apocalypse, who prefigured the abuses and corruptions in the church : “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.”

But the days of mystery and concealment are passing away; for men have learned from the Scriptures themselves to prove all things, and hold fast that only which is good. There are those who are alarmed at this, but the man who fears that inquiry will make him a skeptic, shows himself a skeptic already. All interferences to repress freedom of thought, all attempts to deter men from hearing and reading on both sides, all appeals to the fears and prejudices of the people to prevent a free and open discussion of novel opinions, originate

in that very skepticism, which they are vainly thought to preclude. It is the policy of men, whatever they may say to the contrary, who have no confidence in their own cause, and therefore dread, above all things, the inquisitive and searching spirit which is trying the systems and institutions of the world, as by fire. Some will contend, we are aware, that they have no objection to a free discussion of religious subjects, provided it is confined to the privileged and well educated classes; but the people, the common people must be kept at a distance, at all events, and not be suffered to break through and gaze.

You cannot do it. The distinction of modern times does not consist so much in a greater advancement of knowledge, as in a greater diffusion of knowledge; and the consequence is, not that the few are less inclined to impose on the many than formerly, but that the many have become acquainted with their rights and powers, and will not permit it. If ignorance is the mother of devotion in the common people, you have committed a fatal error in allowing education to become general; but the light has

gone forth, and you cannot recall it, and those who have learned to think for themselves on other subjects, will think for themselves on the subject of religion. It is a full century too late for timid expedients and half-way measures, and the discussion of all subjects literary and moral, political and religious, must be free, free as the air, and while free, safe, for in the world of mind, as of matter, it is repression only which produces violence.*

* The universal education of the poor, which no earthly power can prevent, although it may retard it, is loudly demanded by the united voices of the moralist and politician. But if the people are to be enlightened at all, it is unavailing and inconsistent to resort to half measures and timid expedients; to treat them at once as men and children; to endow them with the power of thinking and at the same time to fetter its exercise ; to make an appeal to their reason and yet to distrust its decisions; to give them the stomach of a lion, and feed them with the aliment of a lamb. The promoters of the universal education of the poor ought to be aware that they are setting in motion, or at least accelerating the action of an engine too powerful to be controlled at their pleasure, and likely to prove fatal to all those parts of their own systems, which rest not on the solid foundation of reality. They ought to know, that they are necessarily giving birth to a great deal of doubt and investigation; that they are undermining the power of prejudice, and the influence of mere authority and prescription ; that they are creating an immense number of keen inquirers and orig

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »