[ocr errors]

tendencies of the heart, even after its professed subjection to the Gospel. We believe that Mrs. More's own views on this point, pariake of the simplicity of apostolic doctrine ; but she has not

it appears to us, uniformly explicit in maintaining this fundamental article of Christianity.

With this deduction from the value of her religious writings, we must award to them our warmest approbation. There are few authors who have better deserved the name of practical, by exhibiting the morality of the Gospel in all its beauty, its com-prehensiveness, and its spiritual nature. Practical holiness, as the connecting link between the doctrinal and the preceptive parts of Christianity, is her leading theme, ber favourite topic. The acquaintance she discovers with the secret windings of the human heart, proves that her closet has been her study, and that she has not consulted lier library oftener than her own bosom. The writings of Mrs. More are not, indeed, to be crecte i into models of style, or standards of orthodoxy; nor had their Author any wish to supersede the more comprehensive and systematic works which have enriched our language on subjects of practical divinity. There is much more danger of her writings being undervalued, when the fashion of her name is over, than of their being too implicitly regarded. Those for whom principally she writes, will be glad to say she has written too much, as an apology for discarding their venerable instructress; and they will eagerly appeal to the critic against the moralist.

But it is time to introduce our readers to the work which has given occasion for these remarks, and which we have perused with at least equal pleasure to that which we have derived from her two immediately preceding productions. Whether we have ourselves felt that charm in the subject which recommended it to our Author, or that it has had the effect of exciting her best efforts in the composition of the work, we think that neither in her “ Practical Piety,” nor in her “ Christian Morals," are the vigour of the style and the interest of the subject more equably sustained. The Author appears to have felt the advantage of having had a more definite object placed before her; an advantage which has given to the present volumes a less desultory character, and made them more susceptible of analysis. At the same time she anticipates objections on the ground of deficiency of method and systematic arrangement in their contents ; to which she returns for answer,

as she never as. pired to the dignity of an Expositor, so she never meant to enter into the details of the Biographer.'

« The writer has confined herself to endeavour, though, it must be confessed, imperfectly and superficially, to bring forward St. Paul's character as a model for our general imitation, and his practical wri

that 5

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

tings as a storehouse for our general instruction, avoiding whatever might be considered as a ground for the discussion of any point not immediately tending to practical utility.'- It is the principal design of these pages, to shew that o!ir common actions are to be performed, and iur common trials sustained, in somewhat of the came spirit and temper with those high duties and those unparallelled sufferings to which St. Paul was called out.'

The first three chapters of the work may be considered as introductory. They are entitled - Introductory Remarks on the

Morality of Paganism, sbewing the necessity of the Christian

Revelation ;' On the Historical Writers of the New Tes'tament;' and · On the Epistolary Writers, particularly St. • Paul.' The following remarks on Pagan Morality deserve to be extracted, as placing in a very strong light the essential defectiveness of the philosophic systems, whether viewed as a standard, or as a law.

• Many of the works of the heathen writers, in almost every species of literature, exhibit such perfection as to stretch the capacity of the reader, while they kindle his admiration, and invest with no inconsiderable reputation, him who is able to seize their meaning, and to taste their beauties ; so that an able critic of their writings almost ranks with him who excels in original composition. In like manner the lives of their great men abound in splendid sayings, as well as heroic virtues, to such a degrte, as to exalt our idea of the human intellect, and, in single instances, of the human character. We say, in single instances, for their idea of a perfect character wanted consistency, wanted completeness. It had many constituent parts, but there was no whole which comprised them. The moral fractions made up no integral. The virtuous man thought it no derogation from his virtue to be selfish, the conqueror to be revengeful, the philosopher to be arrogant, the injured to be unforgiving : forbearance was cowardice, humility was baseness, meekness was pusil. lanimity. Not only their justice was stained with cruelty, but the most cruel acts of injustice were the road to a popularity which immortalized the perpetrator. The good man was his own centre. Their virtues wanted to be drawn out of themselves, and this could not be the case. As their goodness did not arise from any knowledge, so it could not spring from any imitation of the Divine perfections. That inspiring principle, the love of God, the vital spark of all religion, was a motive of which they had not so much as heard ; and if they had, it was a feeling which it would have been impossible for them to cherish, since some of the best of their deities were as bad as the worst of theinselves.' pp. 5--7.

The Author proceeds to remark, that

. Besides this, all their scattered documents of virtue could never make up a body of morals. They wanted a connecting tie. The doctrines of one school were at variance with those of another.'

· The system would have wanted a head, or the head would have wanted authority, and the code would have wanted sanctions.' p. 8.

The chapter concludes,

• But under the clear illumination of evangelical truth, every precept becomes a principle, every argument a motive, every

direction a duty, every doctrine a law; and why? Because thus saith the Lord.

• Christianity however, is not merely a religion of authority; the soundest reason embraces most confidently what the most explicit re. velation has taught, and the deepest enquirer is usually the most con. vinced Christian. The reason of philosophy, is a disputing reason, that of Christianity, an obeying reason. T'he glory of the Pagan religion consisted in virtuous sentiments, the glory of the Christian in the pardon and the subjugation of sin. The humble Christian may say with one of the ancient Fathers,- I will not glory because I am righteous, but because I am redeemed.' pp. 24–25.

The chapterOn the Historical Writers of the New Testament, is principally occupied with pointing out the internal evidence of genuineness and fidelity, which is furnished by the undesigned coincidence, and unimpassioned style of the Evangelists. It is perhaps rather irrelevant, and suffers exceedingly from dilation. We could have wished that it had not occupied so many pages of the volume. The succeeding chapter is far more valuable. In this our Author illustrates the necessity of a further development of the doctrines of Scripture, than the historical books were designed to contain. The Epistles she considers as furnishing that full and complete commentary' upon the writings of the Evangelists, which was requisite for our guidance in understanding their true import. She completely exposes in the following remarks, the flippant and superficial objeetion which has been raised against the authority of the Apostle Paul, on the remark of St. Peter, that "in his epistles are some “ things hard to be understood,

"" which they who are unstable and unlearned wrest to their own destruction.” Here the critic would desire to stop, or rather to garble the sentence which adds, " as they do also the other Scriptures ;” thus casting the accusation, not upon Saint Paul or “ the “other criptures, but upon the misinterpreters of both. But Saint Peter farther includes in the same passage, that “ Paul accounts the “ long. suffering of God to be salvation, according to the wisdom given him. It is apparent, therefore, that though there may be more dif. ficulty, there is not more danger in Saint Paul's Epistles, than in the rest of the Sacred Volume. Let us also observe what is the character of these subverters of truth,--the “ unstable” in principle and the “ unlearned" in doctrine. If, then, you feel yourself in danger of being misled, in which of these classes will you desire to enrol your name? But it is worthy of observation, that, in this supposed cen. sure of Saint Peter, we have in reality a most valuable testimony,

not only to the excellence, but also to the inspiration of Saint Paul's writings; for he not only ascribes their composition to the wisdom given unto him, but puts them on a par with the other Scriptures,—& double corroboration of their Divine character. Vol. I. pp. 60-61.

Mrs. M. subjoins the observation of an eminent divine,' that ' If St. Paul had been only a good man writing under that

general assistance of the Spirit common to good men, it would « be ascribing far too much to his compositions to suppose that . the misunderstanding of them could effect the destruction of o the reader.'

The following judicious remark points out a very important and natural distinction between the language of the sacred narrative respecting Jesus Christ, and that of his Apostles, when communicating the Divine injunctions of their risen and ascended Master, after the full revelation of his personal character as the Son of God.

• If we really believe that Christ speaks to us in the Gospels, we, must believe that he speaks to us in the Epistles also. In the one he addresses us in his militant, in the other,in his glorified character. In one, the Divine Instructor speaks to us on earth ; in the other, from heaven.'

Whoever, then,' Mrs. More subsequently remarks,“ sball « sit down to the perusal of these Epistles without prejudice, will not rise from it without improvement. We wish not lightly to make our excellent Author an offender for a sentence, but we cannot entirely subscribe to this vague assertion. The axiomatic and antithetical style in which she is so fond of indulging, and soinetimes with happy effect, is rather dangerous, as exposing a writer, on the one hand, to the enunciation of truisms, and, on the other, to the equally venturous assertion of doubtful or paradoxical positions. "It might indeed be asked, Who did ever sit down to the perusal of the New Testament without prejudice ?- since the most inveterate prejudice characterizes the natural disposition of the heart in relation to the dictates of revealed truth. And is there no antecedent preparation of the mind necessary to our sitting down to the perusal of the Epistles, beyond that of a simple efort of the will to shake off its prejudices? no other preparation, in fact, than that which is necessary for the dispassionate perusal of a writer on human science ? Mrs. More indeed adds, that our apprehension of the doctrines depends not merely on the industry but on the tem

per with which we apply; “ if any man lack wisdom, let him * ask of God, and it shall be given him." But this qualifying observation, and the quotation annexed to it, are very inadequate to convey any correct idea as to the necessity of a Divine

influence to render us morally capable of receiving the spiritual light.

• Let any reader say,” she adds, ' if after perusing Saint Luke's biographical sketch of the Acts of the Apostles, he has not attained an additional insight into the genius of Christianity. Let him say further, whether the light of Revelatior, shining more and more as he advances, does not, in his adding the perusal of the Epistles to that of the Acts, pour in upon his mental eye the full and perfect vision.'

We will not affect to be seriously alarmed at these incautious expressions, which seem so strongly to imply the suficiency of the human understanding. We think that a little can tour may reconcile the Author's meaning with the truths in which she has elsewhere expressed a cordial belief. But we point them out with the view, principally, of shewing the importance of clear and consistent theological sentiments on what are termed doctrinal points, in treating of subjects purely practical ; and the difference which will be betrayed between writers inclining to opposite systems, even when treating upon ordinary points of moral duty. We use the term opposite systems, in reference to the Calvinistic and the Arminian representations of the Christian scheme, in compliance with prevailing courtesy : but for ourselves, we have no hesitation in ascribing the Arminianism, or semi-Arminianism, of some of those mild and truly pious persons who have embraced its tenets, or rather have adopted its language, either to a prejudice respecting what is called Calvinism, founded perbaps on some crude and injudicious representations of its distinguishing sentiments; to a benevolent self-deception as to the real character and condition of man, yet not flecting their estimate of themselves; or, to a timid repugnance to follow out the conclusions deducible from their own opinions, or to meet the difficulties attaching alike to every system of belief or disbelief, and which is sought in vain to be evaded by being thrown upon a particular school of theology or of metaphysics. Ve cannot ourselves consent to view the controverted tenets of the great Reformer, as they are now professed and advocated by the class of theologians designated by his name, as any other than the plain, unequivocal de lara tions of Scripture upon points which cannot be separated from our duties, our inotives, and our hopes; and which have the most intimate connexion with personal holiness !!' 45 ane humility.

Our limits will not admit of following me suunor very closely through the remaining chapters. That entitled “si. Paul's Faith a Practical Principle, is particularly excellent.

« ForrigeFortsett »