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By NEHEMIAH ADAMS.
The Life of the Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor, D. D. by
Bishop Heber. First American, from the third London
It is amongst the encouragements which we feel in underaking our new work, that the state of the religious and literary community here, is beginning to be such as to call for the lives, opinions, and the golden words of the older writers. For those who have been in the least conversant with the learning and wisdom of the fathers of English literature, have felt in returning to this generation a great change of atmosphere; as the hot and feverish days of summer, when there are no air currents to defecate the heavens, oppress the mountaineer, descending from the bracing winds, and the rich, far spreading visions of the summits. Book-making characterizes the present age, and many who are fitted for higher employment, are in humble servitude to the popular taste. There is to some extent a want of individuality of feeling, or separateness and independence of mind. Men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote as if they were in eternity. It was everlasting truth which filled their souls and overflowed with irrepressible feeling ;-" they could not but speak the things which they had seen and heard.” But the bookseller's price current is now to a great extent the rule of genius; for the state of the reading community affects authors just as any other market influences the mechanic or producer. Modern popular literature might well have for its emblem something like the late fashionable scrap box, whose superficies presents to the eye a large display of small pictures, the original designs of which are lost in their evident obsequiousness to their great substratum. The truth is, the world has gone after what it calls science, and the press groans with a multitude of books made to teach people as the why and the wherefore” of all things. It is to be hoped,
, when we have thus been sufficiently taught how things are
made or done, and Lyceums have spent their infusions of “ knowledge for the people," and Observation with wearied eye ceases to stimulate the minds of old and young with revelations of the everlasting secrets of nature, intermingling reproofs for being contented not to know every thing—that Reflection will resume her delightful reign ; that men will know more of the little springs of thought and feeling in their own souls, and walk in secret by the still waters, deserted though they now are in a great measure for the dusty highways of the world. We may be singular, but the present strained efforts of many to make us understand every thing connected with anatomy, mechanics, the air, earth, and heavens, is fatiguing to the mind. It is true, the world has gone after science. Even religion seems to have grown objective and scientific. The great absorbing topics in which she has lately been engaged, are questions which engender strife, respecting the will, dependence, ability, and the existence of sin. A large proportion of the sermons which have been preached upon great and solemn occasions, within a few years in this vicinity, have had for their object the elucidation of some difficult and abstruse subject in divinity, and on the Sabbath, a vast amount of light and heat have been expended upon the question, Whether a sinner can repent! We long for the time when great and holy men like Barrow, and Taylor, and Hooker, and Bishop Hall, will publish discourses of meditated thought concerning redemption, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and all the thrilling subjects of the great salvation; when the logic of the modern pulpit will be set on fire with an impassioned eloquence in the soul's behalf, and religious literature will be a rich and deep stream, like old Pactolus triumphing over his golden sands.
We cannot believe with some that the way to bring back the age of Reflection is to publish fragments, or selections, or even “ Beauties” of the old English writers. This it is true is most acceptable to a superficial generation, inasmuch as it saves the trouble of connected thinking, and enables many to feel that they are acquainted with a writer, when all which they know of him consists of a few striking expressions. It seems to be the popular rule to know a little of every thing,
a and this method of bringing the great masters of thought and language before the public, is a sure way to prevent them in many instances from being studied in their original connected form. The common plea, that to give men a taste of such writings will lead to a further acquaintance with them, might be admitted in the case of a newly discovered work; but so long as the natural indolence of man continues, many will be satisfied with so much of an acquaintance with those standard writers, of whom it is a shame to be entirely ignorant, as is afforded by the “ Extracts.” A royal road to learning has been laid out within a few years, though it is said to be exclusively for the benefit of the common people. Lectures are the railways of knowledge. Those who can afford the time and expense, may pursue the old road of investigation and reflection, of comparison and analysis, but those who have but little time for such a course, and those who are ambitious of being general scholars, are warranted a quick and easy, and sure passage to all kinds of information. Those learned men who devote themselves to the improvement of others from motives of real philanthropy, and spend their time and strength in the illustration of truths of great importance, that they may be apprehended, and, as far as possible, reduced to practice, are deserving of gratitude and praise; but those who neglect severe study when they are capable of it, because a popular lecture room furnishes knowledge without labor, and saves the anxiety and toil of investigation, will, inasmuch as they receive their learning at second hand, always be second rate scholars.
The Life of Jeremy Taylor, by Bp. Heber, which has suggested these reflections, has also recalled to mind a question of a distinguished layman, who having sought for a long time in vain for a popular candidate to fill a vacant pulpit, inquired of a minister if he thought that Heaven had made the race of great men to cease ? As we think of the long catalogue of illustrious men, especially amongst the clergy, who lived between the reigns of Elizabeth and George the III., and the flood of their intellectual glory breaks upon the mind, we feel as in a dream after listening to a description of the evening heavens in the southern hemisphere. We know that many will plead that this age is more practical, a word which, in vulgar use, distinguishes with favor the material from mind, and is employed by thousands as the easy and unanswerable argument for sacrificing matters of taste and in
tellectual delight to sensuous utility. It would dig down • Parnassus to help McAdamize a road, and underlay the
foundations of Castalia and Arethusa with aqueducts. And
there are many good men who are satisfied that things should be as they now are, because, they say, this is a working age preparatory to the millennium. It is a working age indeed, and religious enterprises exceed the expectations of their founders; the churches of our cities and large towns are all in a bustle, and man, woman and child, rich and poor, saint and sinner, are hewing wood and drawing water, or holding forth their money, or their exhortations ; religious charities are systematized, and the work, though not as still as when Solomon built his temple, goes on with as great rapidity and strength. This is as it should be ; and more than this, these labors must increase, greater sacrifices are to be made, and the efforts of the church must rise with the sound of every falling idol, and with every shout of victory from the missionary bands. But we know that multitudes will sympathize with the opinion, that these external duties of the church, this organization for benevolent purposes, this prompt activity, this exciting yet delightful show of spirit, and business-like movement, will be very apt to pass for religion itself, unless those who are most deeply engaged take a double care of their spiritual concerns. If ministers, to whom prayer and the preaching of solemn truths are apt to become a mere business, are so often warned of this liability, the laymen cannot feel themselves safe from danger. The only subjects of conversation with many Christians, are those relating to the external movements of the church. Let these movements proceed with tenfold rapidity, but let it be remembered, that the Saviour has said, “THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN you.” Let it be remembered, that spirituality is the grand essential means of advancing Christ's kingdom; and that without it, all efforts to do good will be comparatively inefficient. There is a church, for example, whose members have been trained to noble efforts, and the rich amongst them imitate the primitive spirit of benevolence. But when you meet them, their conversation is upon their flourishing condition, their full house, the success of their benevolent enterprises, large contributions, and the numbers that have joined them from the other side. Go into their church meeting; their business is done with the tact and promptitude of the insurance office. They sing, exhort, and pray, with ease, and the meeting reminds you of a glib machine that runs upon oiled ways. You come away, and feel as if you had been with men of spirit rather than of spirituality. There VOL. I.
is another church where the religious enterprises are as well managed and the contributions as great as in the former, while amongst the members you habitually discover a deep and solemn religious feeling. They make you feel that they are men of prayer, men who live in a spiritual world, and have communion with eternity. Conscious of the danger to which they are exposed at the present day of losing the individuality of their religious character, knowing that benevolent activity is very apt to pass in the soul's estimation for piety, and apprehending the danger from these causes, of a light spirit, a superficial piety, and a kind of mercantile religion, they make a serious duty of private meditation and reflection. They seem in conversation, as if they had been talking with Mr. Flavel · On keeping the heart. If we may judge from their prayers, their reading does not consist merely of reports and newspapers, but having inherited or having purchased volumes of the old and sainted men, their delight is with such writings as the sermons of President Edwards, and to mention no others, the Holy Living and Dying of Jeremy Taylor. When they meet with the church, though they are prompt and efficient in its business, especially in its discipline, they take more pleasure in a devotional, than in a deliberative meeting. They are not those who love discussion and management, but a spirit of earnest, fervent, disinterested, and simple-hearted piety. They are zealous for the purity of the church as well as for the conversion of sinners; they would regard it as tending more to its real welfare, to have an worthy member cut off, than to receive a number of merely "hopeful” converts. Their influence comes down upon their brethren, like dew on Hermon; the church rises fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. Yes, it is terrible to hypocrites; they cannot live in such a church; they will either seek a dismission, or make their hypocrisy and sin manifest and be cut off. It is terrible to the enemies of God around them, and still more so to the gates of hell. Their minister is greatly encouraged; he is more spiritually minded. He rises over the congregation like a cloud full of rain. Each of the church, awakened in their turn by his example and exhortations, becomes a minister of God to sinners; benevolent efforts of all kinds rise higher and higher, and the influence of that band of Christians is without measure and without end. What is the cause? Its leading members are men of spiritual reflection. They com