« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
The Application of Christianity to the Commercial and Ordinary Affairs of Life, in a Series of Discourses. By Thomas Chalmers, D.D., Minister of St. John's Church, Glasgow. Fourth Edition. Glasgow, 1820. Chalmers and Collins. 8vo. pp. 278.
WE acknowledge that we should with much greater pleasure have entered on the duty that is now before us, if it had not led us to discuss the merits of an author already in so high, though deserved, estimation amongst all classes of religious society; for although we feel not the slightest inclination to maintain opinions opposite to those of our neighbours, from the mere dislike of being associated with others in their judgment, or the fear of being lost in the crowd; nor yet, by a perversion of sentiment, equally false and misanthropic, regard the popular testimony to the talents of an orator as of little or doubtful authority: still there is a reluctance, for which we hope to be forgiven, to every thing that seems, however untruly, to be a mere servile accordance with the voice either of general applause or censure; the iteration for the ten thousandth time of what has been said so frequently before. There is not this embarrassment in speaking of a more ordinary writer, because the critic can usually escape the charge of base and unmingled subserviency to the prevailing opinion; but to sit in judgment upon the genius or the works of a man who has obtained so great and such general popularity, is rather to institute an inquisition on the declared taste and decision of the public, with which, if a reviewer in all points agree, he can hardly avoid the suspicion of actual succumbency; if he differ, it is at the hazard of rousing against himself the most formidable of all enemies, and inviting a combat so disproportionate, as to have the whole world for his foe. In spite, however, of this, delicate, and somewhat perplexing situation, we shall faithfully discharge an office, which we can neither fulfil without difficulty, nor relinquish without self-reproach.
Exactly proportionate to our sense of the arduousness of its attainment, and the unequalled importance of its uses, is the delight we feel in contemplating every genuine specimen of sacred oratory; and even if we had not possessed, in the present age, other examples of excellence, such as, though various in their individual features, yet contribute unitedly
to turn the edge of those indiscriminate and hasty reproaches often cast upon the public teachers of Christianity; the single name of Dr. Chalmers would have been enough to inspire us with a confidence of no mean order, when we compared this description of eloquence with those that are usually exalted above it, into a superiority almost unlimited.
He has evidently derived from nature a most happy mental constitution; and though there is far from being a deficiency of fancy or of tenderness, yet the more valuable qualities of judgment, and strength, and unconquerable ardour, are peculiarly the characteristics of his genius. Formed originally with an unusual power of reasoning, and a correspondent love of argument in all its varieties, he has still acquired increased vigour, and greater command of all the faculties, from a long continued and admirable discipline, whereby every native power has been raised to higher dignity, and made subservient to more useful purposes: and thus he may be regarded as possessing a measure of the qualifications requisite to an orator, as large as any man in modern ages has been permitted to enjoy. That love of argument with which he is endowed, and which gives to his whole composition a style even more exclusively polemical than we could sometimes have desired, yet wears in him the best, and the most noble, shape in which it ever appears; but one it very seldom puts on: when it becomes a prominent and leading feature, it appears not so much a fondness for reasoning, considered in itself, as another and most honourable aspect of the love of truth. This is very conspicuously exhibited in the fact, that the sentiments on which he delights to dwell, and the modifications of proof by which he supports them, are not the minute and the subtle, such as commonly attract the attention, and are found in the writings of men smitten with the love of jangling and debate; but the great, the manly, the momentous, such as cannot be overlooked without injustice to the weightiest subject; and such, at the same time, as, while they most forcibly confirm the truths they are brought forward to establish, indicate by their very simplicity what is the character of the mind to which, from the extraordinary warmth of feeling that accompanies their exhibition, they are obviously congenial. The boldness and manly independence displayed in all his writings, is another of the most distinguishing marks of his genius. In another age he might have been a reformer, or a confessor. It is impossible not to believe that his testimony to every truth which has received his sanction, is that of a man who would
not be drawn in to countenance it by the prevalence of universal example, if it met not with his own unbought and honest approbation. Neither would any array of dangerous consequences have hindered him from openly giving it his avowal, when it had once secured his judgment on its side. Yet this boldness never betrays him into the maintenance of paradoxical opinions. There is all the firmness of the most fearless adventure about every statement he adduces, but nothing of needless hazard; no appeal to the mere credulity or effort to excite the surprise of his reader: neither is there any man more remote from that which is censured by the great apostle, under the name of doubtful disputation. On the contrary, the use made by him, in every instance, of the powers of argument, is conviction, not perplexity. While he is most free from all alliance with the arts of the sophist, he presents himself before us in all the various armour of a champion in the cause of God. Few writers have ever exhibited, in the same degree, that first and greatest requisite of an orator-sincerity; and this communicates to his style a character of unusual force and vehemence. Every where you feel that the author is in earnest, that there is not one assertion he does not fully and confidently believe-not an exhortation which he does not urge with all the seriousness of a genuine and ardent concern. There is, therefore, in the breast of the reader less disposition to cavil with any of his statements, or to pause long enough for the trifling purpose of criticising minutely his language, than in almost any other case. No effort of his seems casual, or at random: all is the result of previous thought and conviction, and thus all contributes to the exact purpose he is aiming to effect. He never stops, or turns aside, to pick up some frivolous orna ment, or to insert some decorative epithet or gaudy allusion; but goes right onward in his track, with his attention steadily fixed upon the object he has undertaken, and his whole collected energy of genius forcing itself along in one mighty and undeviating career. Whether his path be entangled with the intricacies of speculation, or arduous and rugged from the grandeur of his attempt, he still pursues one course; and that the shortest, the boldest, the most direct, with the mark in his eye, and a continued vigour of thought, adequate, however difficult the task, to conduct him firmly and decisively to its very centre.
Never, perhaps, was a speaker possessing stronger claims to the applause of originality—and this originality we have sometimes been inclined to attribute, partially at least, to
the circumstances wherein, if we are not misinformed, his present order of religious sentiments has been adopted. We have heard it stated, that his opinions with reference to what is usually termed the evangelical system, were not always such as they now are; and this, indeed, is confirmed by his own admissions, in the admirable pastoral exhortation he addressed to his flock at Kilmany, when on the point of removing from thence to Glasgow. It is added, that previously to his perception of the peculiarities of the Christian doctrine in this simple and beautiful aspect, he had been accustomed to entertain strong prejudices against it, and even a contemptuous disdain of the supposed imbecility of intellect, which that class of sentiment is commonly imagined by its opponents to display. Now, if this be true, the fact of his having been not always familiar with the more detailed parts of the system of his having regarded what he imperfectly knew respecting it with emotions so different from those he now cherishes - of his having felt, as we have been told he once did, the lack of such a species of consolation, as the firm and practical belief of this system alone can afford; amidst the languishings of sickness, and in the anticipation of death-of his having become, as we are also given to understand, in a great measure, the pupil of Scripture itself, in its own genuine simplicity, with little regard to the interpretations and doctrines of men, while framing the solid structure of his present belief-all this, added to the native qualities of his own mind, would be likely, we think, to produce much of that novelty of conception, and happy perspicacity, in catching the minutest and most unobserved characters of the genuine faith of the New Testament, in its application to the conscience and the life, which is every where to be found in his valuable writings. No doubt a mind constituted like his would be marked by originality, under any modification of circumstances. It could scarcely be otherwise. But yet we seriously regard this change, simply considered, in his habits of reflection on religious subjects, as being probably amongst the most beneficial of all causes that could be brought to operate upon such a mind, as to the character of its subsequent opinions. It can hardly fail to have been attended by a feeling analogous to that of discovery-a mingled emotion of surprise and pleasure-a consciousness of entering upon a new and delightful range of inquiry, where all that presented itself was sufficiently unlike whatever had been before witnessed, to attract more than a common measure of attention, and to impress
itself upon the memory with more than ordinary distinctness and permanency. Every man who has resided for any considerable period in a country where the language and manners of the inhabitants were very different from those with which his youth was familiar, has found that he could detect, and was able to describe, a short time after his first visiting it, every little shade of variety in the local customs and peculiarities, with a clearness far surpassing that which attended the same efforts when directed to the correspondent peculiarities of his native country, or even to those of that wherein he has fixed his temporary residence, after a longer period had elapsed from his first acquaintance with it. Many things he once thought singular, and could have pointed out in the most lucid manner to the observation of another, had now ceased to attract his particular notice, and dwindled down to the level of ordinary things, which he could scarcely persuade himself to summon up an exertion adequate to observe with any great degree of interest or discrimination. Every man has found how much more accurate and forcible are the impressions made upon his recollection, by attention to the grammar of another language, than of his own. There is a point at which the knowledge of every subject ceases to be favourable to our framing definite and precise conceptions respecting it, and respecting those parts of it especially, which, because they are essential to its being, present themselves most frequently, and in the most numerous and varied combinations. To have been less habitually accustomed to have it passing in review before us, when we were struck by nothing unusual in its appearance, and cast on it only an indolent and languid glance as it glided by, a thing of every day's occurrence, would have been far more advantageous to one perceiving it afterwards in the fulness of its separate proportions, and the distinguishing lineaments of its proper form. Such as have been all their days inured to the contemplation of religious truth, under that aspect which is exclusively termed evangelical-such as have never felt how cold and dreary are the regions of religious speculation, nor contrasted with them the cheering beauties that present themselves on every hand in the fields of genuine Christianity, know little of the freshness, and interest, and loveliness, which each new footstep, in this happy land, brings to the notice of the traveller, who has lately crossed the barrier that divides it from every other territory. Now Dr. Chalmers came to the examination of the evangelical system with every possible advantage of mental preparation — with a