« ForrigeFortsett »
Our Saviour upbraided his disciples with their unbelief. But he did not stop there. He proceeded to point out to them the true source of their unbelief; and that not only in general, by referring it to the heart, but more particularly, by assigning that state of heart to which their unbelief was owing. He upbraided them with their hardness of heart. This hardness of heart then it was, which resisted the impression of sufficient evidence.
The expression, hardness of heart, partakes undoubtedly of the nature of metaphor, as must ever be the case with human language, when it aspires to delineate the functions of the soul. But, even the metaphorical expressions of Jesus, of Him, who knew what was in man, whose own workmanship the whole complicated human frame is,—of such a speaker, even the metaphorical expressions should justly command our highest respect. His own ideas on the subject could not but be at once true, accurate, and clear; and if he made use of metaphors, we may be certain, they were the most apposite that language could furnish.
Accordingly, in the present instance, the term hardness of heart will not easily mislead us, though it be merely figurative, because it brings us directly to the observation of fact. It is matter of observation, that of the different occurrences around us, some affect us more deeply than others. Some events hurry as it were past us, and leave scarce a memorial of themselves behiud them; others, again, leave such permanent traces of their existence, as to influence our conduct through life. Of this fact we speak quite intelligibly, when we say, that things around us make different impressions upon us. Now, this may be owing to the different nature of the things themselves. But we likewise remark, farther, that external appearances being exactly the same, one man is more affected by them, than another; the same man is more affected by the same circumstances at one time, than at another. Here, the cause of diversity must be within the man; that which receives the influence of the external world within him, must itself be capable of variation, or by an easy allusion to the impression made by hard substances when they are applied with some force to wax, or other similar yielding bodies, his heart is at one time softer than at another, or one man has a more tender heart than his neighbour.
The terms tenderness, and hardness of heart, are quite current in our daily conversation; it would therefore have been unnecessary to dwell so long on the subject, if the ordinary use of those phrases had coincided in meaning with the use of them by our Saviour, and the sacred writers. But we shall soon see how far this is from being the case.
But what we wish the reader just now to consider, is, the connexion of the state of heart so often mentioned, with the effect of evidence in working conviction. That which leads the mind to give to evidence its full weight, is what we call interest. When any thing interests me. I grudge no pains, in determining concerning its truth. Now, this interest is an affection of the heart; and will be, cieteris paribus, as the degree of tenderness it possesses directly, or as its hardness inversely. Dr. Paley has justly observed, that a total want of interest, or, which is the same thing, contempt previous to examination, is the surest way to miss the discovery of all truth of which the evidence is not both obtrusive and compelling.
Again: It is an irregular or disproportionate interest, that is, an interest for one thing more than another, which interest is not founded in the real nature of those things, or in their relation to human nature, and to being in general; it is this disproportionate interest, which leads to the mistake of holding falsehood for truth. How this unequal interest stands related to hardness of heart, will be seen by and by. Here we will only remark, that this was the case of the dis-" piples. There was in the breasts of those who had not yet seen Jesus, a selfish jealousy of those who had already been favoured with a sight of him. This jealousy arose, as we shall see, from the harduess of their hearts, and so blinded their faculties, that they could not discern the truth, though presented to them with what even we may discover to be abundant evidence.
We have already hinted, that what the Scriptures call tenderness of heart, is not the same as that which is usually so called. Whenever any human being is strongly affected by any thing that is not absolutely of a selfish nature, the world is ready to attribute it to tenderness of heart. Even crimes, according to this false, worldly estimate of character, may sometimes arise from this source of supposed tenderness. The Bible never uses the expression in any such sense. In the Scripture sense of the term, to be tender-hearted is always to be virtuously disposed. The expression always implies something praise-worthy. A tender heart uniformly signifies one with which God is well-pleased It is painful to be obliged to quote, as a specimen ot the false judgement of the world, on a subject so closely connected with religion, the language of so worthy and respectable a person as Dr. Robertson. But the more justly he is esteemed on other accounts, the more needful it becomes, to point out clearly his erroneous judgement on this head; because there are no doubt numbers, by whom his authority would be deemed sufficient for the regulation, not of their opinions only, but also of their practice.
Every one is acquainted with Robertson's masterly account of the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, with the leading circumstances of her reign, as embellished in his eloquent narration, and with the general estimate he has given us of her character. With that truly classical work we are only so far concerned, as to remark, that in attempting to apologize in some measure, for the many false steps in the private conduct of Mary, he attributes them to a too great tenderness of heart. In his own words, they proceeded from a heart too tender. Had he called it a mis-placed tenderness, and spoken of her conduct with a due degree of abhorrence, we should not have found fault with him for a phrase. Yet, surely, a state of heart, which could disregard every thing for the sake of a selfish connexion with a wicked wretch, which connexion originated in mutual lewdness, and was productive of the worst kinds of criminality; a state of heart, which, in the loose enjoyment, that was the only discoverable object of that connexion, could forget every duty of the Queen, the woman, and the Christian, deserves to he branded with some harsher epithet than that of tender. Where was her tenderness, when she could consent to blow up a sick husband with gunpowder; or, not to insist upon a fact which rests upon something short of absolute proof, where was her tenderness, when she could take into her bosom, and receive as a confidant, the very man to whom the public suspicion imputed the tragical end of her former husband; and this, while the mangled remains of her murdered lord were scarcely removed from her sight? If this be tenderness, what, we would fain be informed, is hardness ofheart?
The truth of the matter is, the Scripture phrase, tenderness of heart, implies a tact not merely delicate, but also correct; it implies not sensibility only, but just sensibility; a sensibility which gives to Csesar the feeling which is C«sar's, and to God, that which is God's. A partial, false tenderness, a tenderness, if we may use the expression, in one department of the heart only, would seem to be always connected with an increased hardness in others.
To anticipate somewhat of our final result, we have no hesitation in ascribing the scepticism both of Hume and Gibbon, to hardness of heart, in the Scripture sense of that expression; and that we are so far right, will appear clearly from a scrutiny into the general state of their feelings, as recorded in their lives; a scrutiny, which it is by no means difficult to make, and in the several steps of which many a thoughtless votary of the world may as in a mirror discover his own image.
The lives of those two remarkable men have evidently proved the possibility, that a literary person of some wealth and influence in society, may pass through life with tolerable comfort, and without much interruption from the experience of that common lot of humanity, that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. But how have they, and others resembling them, achieved this mighty feat? Dr. Beattie, in his Essay on Truth, has well accounted for the circumstance, as far as concerns Hume; and what he there says, will apply equally to Gibbon. Those persons who move in a certain sphere of life, may, according to the low tone of morality which prevails in that class of society, almost totally disregard the feelings of others beneath them. If they can stand in the judgement of their equals and superiors, they make little account of the ordinary feelings of the multitude. We well remember hearing witli indignation, the cool assertion of a gentleman, that feeling is a prerogative of the higher orders, a privilege to which the working class of mortals ought to make no pretension. A certain almost technical routine of alms-giving, and an occasional exertion of brilliant benevolence, upon some very extraordinary occasion, will obtain for a gentleman, in the judgement of his peers, the credit of highly meritorious tenderness.
But could once these gods of the earth, persuade themselves to descend from their high places of laughter and pleasure, and enter the work-shop and the cottage, not, as they are wont to do, for the sole purpose of domineering and commanding, but in order to feel with the inhabitants, as with those who are formed of like materials with themselves, they would soon discover, that without some solid mental comfort, such as they indeed can afford to dis-regard, the drudgery of common life could not be supported, nor that regular course of things in society be kept going, upon which they themselves depend, as though it sprung spontaneously out of the earth. The mind of man requires the constant stimulus of hope, to be capable of enjoying itself under the monotonous detail of necessary exertions. To the rich and illustrious, the pride of life, or a growing reputation for professional skill, may afford a passable substitute for the true hope of mail; but Mere there no lower class supported by the hope of an hereafter, there could be no higher class, to satisfy themselves with the enjoyments of this life. It is the partial view of things, which men derive from their elevated station of life, and the hardness of their hearts, which permits them to forget, that the very existence of their comforts, supposes a multitude of their fellow-creatures who want them ; it is this state of heart, which prevents them from perceiving the evidence of truth, or even from discovering that a theory of moral sentiments which rests upon their own partial state of feeling, whether that theory be of an affirmative or of a negative nature, cannot be a true one. They feel no want of religion; and therefore they have no interest sufficient, to engage them in an impartial inquiry into its evidences. Did they love their neighbour as themselves, or were they only convinced that they ought to do so, and deeply concerned and dissatisfied with themselves, because they find themselves unable to act up to so equitable a rule; could they once be brought to aspire after that high-toned spirit of fellow-feeling and of universal benevolence, which embraces in its sincere good wishes the whole extent of sensitive being; they would soon find the germe of religion springing up within themselves, and discern that the evidence for the truth of Christianity, is abundantly sufficient to convince any man who possesses genuine tenderness of heart.
The writer of the present article was formerly in the habit of associating with a set of men of a certain description, who being perfectly at their ease, with regard to the comforts of this life, could coolly laugh and sneer at the hopes of the humble Christian, and that in a strain which seemed intended to display their triumph over his understanding as well as his enjoyments. When such scenes have occurred to his recollection, since his conversion to Christianity, they have often reminded him of what is recorded by St. Luke concerning our Saviour. He had been stating with equal truth and strength, the nature of true riches, and the extreme folly of neglecting them for the transient vanities of the present world. "And "the Pharisees also," it is then added, "who were covetous, "heard all these things: and they derided him." How exactly was this mockery in the spirit of our two philosophical historians, more especially of Hume. Had they lived at that period, no doubt they would have joined with the Pharisees, in deriding the blessed Jesus: they do it in fact, by implication, when they at present deride his humble followers.
If so much weight be allowed to what has been said on the subject of belief in general, as to admit the conclusion, that infidelity, or a disbelief of Revelation, has its origin in the native hardness of the human heart, or in that natural state of hardness, confirmed and increased by peculiar circumstances, how comes it, we might ask, that so large a