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what we should expect, if the religion were divine.' But the same thing would probably, or might probably have occurred, if the religion be supposed to be merely new and remote from the prevailing apprehensions of mankind. There is a congruity, however, though it is nothing more, between the hypothesis of Christianity and the fact here noticed, which was deserving of mention.
Chap. VI. is on the "argument of the Christian Scriptures with subsequent experience." The general object of this part of his volume, is stated with great force and eloquence by Mr. Sumner, and we cannot do better than give it to our readers in the author's own language.
"Without assuming the truth of the Gospel, we may acknow ledge that wherever it is received, whether justly or not, as of divine authority, it has placed men in a new situation: by discovering to them relations not before apprehended, by opening to them prospects not before known, by awakening faculties not before exercised. But the Gospel displays, within itself, a prophetic insight into the behaviour of men under these new relations and in this untried condition. And, more remarkably still, that insight is commonly shown by allusions and hints not fully developed, but manifesting in the original author of them a perfect acquaintance with circumstances and cases which should arise hereafter. Declarations, warnings, descriptions occur, which require a key. The characters or circumstances which the Gospel has produced, supply that key. But could such men as first set out to preach the Gospel, have possessed this fore-knowledge? Could any men have possessed it? If they had ventured to conjecture at all upon a subject so uncertain as human conduct in a case so delicate as religion, would their conjectures have been verified by the subsequent experience of eighteen hundred years? What would have been thought of Columbus, if, instead of merely persevering till he reached a country of whose existence he was assured, he had undertaken to describe the rivers, mountains, or inhabitants which it contained, and the reception he should meet with there? And if he had hazarded such a prophecy, and the event had turned out according to his predictions, we should look upon him as something more than an enterprising adventurer.
"The discourses, however, of Jesus, are full of anticipatory warnings and precepts, which show that the whole map of the future proceedings of his disciples was laid as it were open to his view. And many of these presumed on consequences from the doctrines to be promulgated, some of which would not have seemed probable beforehand to human expectations, and others would not have been openly declared by an imposture, if they had been foreseen."
The first instance adduced by Mr. Sumner, in illustration of this proposition, savours, we fear, of a particular school in theology; the example he selects, is that of the frequent
warnings which our Saviour appears to have given his disci ples, of the persecution, to which they would thereafter be exposed. It is clearly intimated," we are told," that the persecution of the Christians should be for righteousness sake;" and our author proceeds to say, that even to the present hour, the crime of too much religion is held in a degree of dread and dislike, which is not easily accounted for. For, although there have been victims of fanaticism, yet let all of these, from the times of the Apostles to the present day, be summed up together, they would not appear by a hundredth part, the number of the victims of libertinism. Mischief may have been done by false views or impressions of religion. But if the whole of the mischief could be brought before us, it would not amount to a thousandth part of that which has arisen from the want of any religion." Mr. Sumner goes on immediately after to say, that this dread with which people, even of irreproachable moral character," are haunted, lest those in whom they are interested, should be guilty "of the crime of too much religion," which they "think worse than the extreme of vanity or extravagance;" all this, he tells us is a fact, which "could not have been foreseen by human intelligence;" that "silent piety, conscientious temperance, and unresisting patience, should be treated as contemptible, and opposed as pernicious," this is a "new case," as he justly remarks, though it is "one which was clearly foreseen by the authors of the Gospel."
Now, as we like openness and frankness, and are no friends to hints and insinuations in others, we will not pretend to conceal what we conceive to be the secret allusion in Mr. Sumner's mind, in the above passages. We understand then, and whether he meant it or not, we are certain most of his readers will understand, that by " those persons of irreproachable moral character," who are afraid lest those in whom they are interested should become "too religious," and who oppose "silent piety, conscientious temperance, and unresisting patience," as contemptible and pernicious," Mr. Sumner means generally to describe those who are called regular church people in this country. The objects of this unhappy persecution, are to be sought among the evangelical clergy and their followers.
In the days of the Apostles, "silent piety, conscientious temperance, unresisting patience," "humility," "moderation," and" purity," were the weapons by which Christians were instructed to disarm their Heathen persecutors, whose hostility, we may remark, was otherwise very naturally provoked by the manner in which their vices and errors were attacked. But the High Church persecutors of true religion,
are worse than Heathens; for the very conduct by which St. Peter instructs the early converts to make those who accused them falsely" to be " ashamed," now, it seems, provokes only hatred and malice, and all uncharitableness.
To say that we are not mortified by the conclusion which is here forced upon us, would, perhaps, be consistent with the supposed pride of our High Church feelings, but not at all consistent with the respect which we entertain for the talents and character of Mr. Sumner. The best refutation, however, which we can give of his unfavourable opinion of so large a portion of his brethren, is a practical refutation; and, so far as we are individually concerned, it is complete. Mr. Sumner will, we trust, believe us, when we assure him, that we do most sincerely rejoice in the knowledge that his unaffected piety and unquestionable zeal for religion, have at least not stood in his way in life. As he is a splendid exception to the general rule of persecution for righteousness sake, according to his peculiar interpretation of the words, so, after this declaration of ours, we trust he will allow that the conductors of the British Critic, are also exceptions to it in an opposite sense. If, however, he should decline to release us from the application of his rule, we can only further reply by "unresisting patience;" which is in reality no great effort on our part. For although we do not think that this part of Mr. Sumner's volume is the very best portion of his book, as some, no doubt, will judge it to be, yet we are certain he meant to wound no feelings, nor to create any hostility, by what he has said; and we can very truly say, that it has been in our office of critics and judges, that we have said any thing on this part of his book, rather than as parties concerned. This part of the work is by no means one which displays much discrimination: to defend fanaticism, because it has not done so much mischief in the world as atheism and irreligion, is really saying nothing at all. Mr. Sumner cannot doubt but that it is the schismatical spirit, the arrogant pretensions, and the many unsound opinions, both as regards faith and practice, which the church opposes, and not the virtues of the sectaries. He must indeed be blinded by the prejudices of party, if he does not admit this. The church may be wrong in her estimate; but at the most it is an error of judgment the error in charity, lies with those who can seriously suppose, that any class of Christians, that are any thing more than Christians in name, should be found to persecute their brethren, because they are too religious.
The next example which Mr. Sumner selects in prosecution of the line of argument, here taken by him, is less objectionably
chosen and except, that in this instance also, he is afterwards guilty of the same fault, which in fact pervades his book, of stating the conclusion in terms much more general and comprehensive, than the particular nature of his premises will warrant, we should praise the passage which we are about to extract, very highly. After noticing the language in which our Saviour foretold the success which his religion would meet with in the world, under the similitude "of a grain of mustard seed," Mr. Sumner then adverts to the different manner in which the reception of the Gospel, by different classes of men, would be marked.
"The parable of the sower is remarkable on this ground. "Behold there went out a sower to sow; and it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth; but when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
"The sower who goes out to sow his seed, that seed being the word of God, is a just and lively representation of the manner in which the Gospel was originally taught, and is still maintained and disseminated throughout the world. The sower resembles Jesus and his Apostles, and the Christian teachers, ministers, and missionaries which have succeeded them: and if any one were now describing the office of these various labourers as it has been exercised since the introduction of Christianity, the comparison would be no less obvious than it is apt and natural. But nothing similar had been seen in practice when this parable was delivered, The sower had no prototype in the commentators of the law, the Scribes or Pharisees: nor even in the occasional exhortations and warnings of the prophets: still less among the various priests and hierophants of heathen superstition.
"The application of the parable is still more original and extraordinary. It describes, with a sort of graphical illustration, the different reception which was to be expected for the "Word of God.” The Gospel claimed this title; and there are four distinct ways, and no more, in which a doctrine professing this claim may be treated.
"It may be at once rejected. It may be admitted for a while into the heart, and be afterwards excluded by rival interests. It may be admitted and retained there, but exercise no active influence over the conduct; or it may be made the ruling principle of a man's sentiments, desires, pursuits, and actions.
Every modification of faith and of unbelief falls naturally into one of these four classes; and all these classes have existed wherever the Gospel has been generally made known. None of them, however,
had existed at the time when the parable was uttered. Jewish law was so different in its nature, and so differently taught, that it produced none of those marked effects which have always attended the promulgation of the Gospel. Therefore the parable was at the time unintelligible to those who heard it. The characters which should hereafter appear, existed only in the mind of the Author of the religion' under which they were to spring: as the forms and lineaments of the future world are supposed by the philosopher to have been present in the mind of its divine Architect, though the lapse of time was required to unfold and exhibit them. The parable, when first pronounced, was as much a prophecy as the declaration which foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. P. 172.
We approve of every part of the above passage, except the conclusion which Mr. Sumner draws, that the parable" was as much a prophecy, as the declaration which foretold the destruction of Jerusalem." Surely this is very loose and inconsiderate; at all events, it is a very untheological way of speaking. It is lowering the evidence of prophecy in general, in order to exalt a particular argument. If Mr. Sumner would only consider for a moment, and define to himself what it is which is meant by prophecy, he will at once perceive, that this way of confounding the perfect wisdom of our Saviour's character and instructions, with the miraculous evidence on which the proof of his divine authority rests, can be productive of no possible advantage; it only gives a handle to unbelievers for questioning the judgment of divines in matters of theological reasoning. Instances of this kind of carelessness are so numerous in the work before us, that even upon ourselves an impression has been made, that Mr. Sumner is a writer upon whose conclusions a reader cannot implicitly rely without a careful examination of his argument.
We have expatiated at so much length upon this and other topics, that we have left ourselves but little space for any remarks upon the remaining part of the volume. And as the subject of the concluding chapters of the work leads us along a path that has been already beaten by writers upon the evidences, the haste in which we must run to the conclusion of our review, needs the less to be regretted, The subjects of the remaining chapters are, the "wisdom manifested in the Christian Scriptures," the "Originality of the Christian Character," the "Reasonableness of the Christian Doctrine," the "First Promulgation of Christianity,"-its "First Reception;" and its "Effects." Except in the chapter on the "Originality of the Christian Character," in which we cannot help thinking that Mr. Sumner lays a somewhat more exclusive stress upon the doctrine of human corruption, than is warranted by the example of St. Paul, or than seems either expe
VOL. XXIII. MARCH, 1825.