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character, have been of no hasty growth; and while far be it from us to found our right to a free government upon the mere circumstance of antiquity, still, to use the words of Mr. Hallam, it is a generous pride that intertwines the consciousness of hereditary freedom with the memory of our ancestors; and no 'trifling argument against those who seem indifferent in its cause, that the character of the bravest and most virtuous among nations, has not depended upon the accidents of race or climate, but been gradually wrought by the plastic influence of civil rights, transmitted as a prescriptive inheritance through a long course of generations.'
Art. IV. Hulsean Lectures for the Year 1839. Man's Responsibility
in Reference to his Religious Belief, Explained and Applied. By the Rev. THEYRE T. Smith, M. A., of Queen's College, Cambridge, and an Assistant Preacher at the Temple Church. Fellowes. London. 1840.
CE called the attention of our readers on a previous occasion
to a volume of sermons by the Rev. Theyre Smith, and were happy to have it in our power to recognize in the church the existence of talents of so high an order, and employed with so fine a discrimination. Since our notice of those sermons, it seems that the same gentleman has been appointed Hulsean lecturer at the university of Cambridge, and the present volume is the fruit of that appointment. We remark in these lectures the same qualities of mind that previously drew our attention to this writer; the same caution and metaphysical acumen when his argument is to be prepared and adjusted; the same vigor of language when the conclusion is to be enforced, and the blow is to be struck. The style is indeed rather more diffuse than in the preceding volume, and the page is less liberally adorned with those passages of bold oratory, and those manly and spirited metaphors, which occasionally startle us in the compositions of this author. But his present subject is little favorable to these displays; and eight lectures upon one topic, and written for an express occasion, can hardly be expected to exhibit the same compression of matter, the same terseness of style, and, above all, the same wealth of hoarded eloquence, as a volume which was probably the compilation of the best efforts of many previous years.
In the selection of his topic, however, we think Mr. Theyre Smith has been fortunate. It is one on which much loose reasoning is often heard in conversation, and even read in books;
it is one of a momentous nature, needing elucidation, and most intimately connected with the great inquiry into the evidences of Christianity,--the prominent subject, we believe, which is prescribed to the Hulsean lecturer. Man's responsibility for his religious belief is often rashly questioned, often heedlessly forgotten, and sometimes insisted on without due discrimination. The temper also which should be brought to the examination of our religion, is not always described with sufficient accuracy by the zealous minister of the gospel. To adopt the language of a well-known saying of Coleridge, we wish no man to love his Bible more than he loves truth; but we would have him love truth more than himself, love it first of all, and that perpetually. We require from the student of the Scriptures a thirst for divine knowledge, equivalent to that desire for scientific knowledge, without which the pupil of the mathematician or the naturalist would be looked on as a hopeless and unworthy candidate for instruction ; and we add, that while profane science may often be neglected without blame, there hangs upon every man whose mind has been once awakened to a notice of the subject, a grave responsibility to prosecute his religious inquiry. Here there can be no blameless indifference; no contentment in a state of ignorance can be here permitted; no half-suspected error on this subject can be suffered to lie undisturbed upon the mind; nor is it more a matter of choice whether knowledge is to be obtained, than whether, when obtained, it is to guide and control our conduct. Should the mind have tampered with itself in this inquiry, guilt of the deepest dye has been contracted.
To bring out this momentous truth with distinctness, to fence it against hostile attacks, and vague denials, to contend for it with the metaphysician, and to enforce it upon the negligent, is the task which the author of these lectures has assumed, and which, for all practical purposes, he has successfully accomplished. We say for all practical purposes, because, with all our respect for the ability he has displayed, we cannot compliment the lecturer upon having placed the subject, regarding it as one merely of speculative philosophy, in a point of view altogether satisfactory. He has shown with great distinctness that our responsibility to God for matters of opinion, is to be placed on the very same footing with our responsibility for matters of conduct; and thus far he has done eminent service to his cause, and silenced that multitude of superficial observations we are accustomed to hear upon this subject; but he has not, to our mind, displayed equal discrimination when he has to deal with the feeling of responsibility itself, whether applicable to opinion or to conduct. He has not stopped where he might. "He has called up difficulties which he has not solved.
He has placed our responsibility, both in thought and action, on the same basis ; and this, for the Christian reasoner, is of great practical service ; but, following out his own speculative course, he has not shown a secure basis for our responsibility in either.
Mr. Smith is one of those divines who cling with great tenacity to what is termed natural religion. With him, it would appear that revelation is more generally viewed as the completion and confirmation of that knowledge the reason is able of itself to acquire, than as containing an entire scheme of its own, and supported by its own peculiar evidences. For ourselves we are glad to be relieved from the necessity and the toil of building up, with painful care, a very imperfect structure, on a very dark foundation. Should others, upon this ground of human reason, be more skilful architects, be able to build more amply, and with more stability, than ourselves, we have, of course, nothing but our congratulations to offer. But, on the other hand, we have no scruple or timidity in holding up to broad day-light any deficiencies we may detect in their several superstructures. We deem it, indeed, our duty to do this, in order to show, that the weakness which these may betray is not the weakness of Christianity; for it not unfrequently happens that a sceptical reasoner imagines that he has impugned the truth of our religion, when he has only been wrestling with the conclusions of some philosopher as speculative as himself. If, therefore, we discover discrepancies in Mr. Smith's statement, when dealing with the abstract idea of human responsibility, or in the speculations of any other divine, when delighting to ride on the high a priori road, we shall have no hesitation to expose them, so far as it lies within our ability to do so.
But before we hint at difficulties or objections, let us quote a passage in which the broad grounds whereon a responsibility in matters of religious opinion rests, are very clearly stated.
• That a man may be morally guilty, and obnoxious to punishment from God, on account of his opinions, is a proposition which admits of as rational an explanation, or rather, is grounded on the same presumption, as the prevailing conclusion, that he is subject to the judgment of God on account of his actions : there is precisely the same reason for asserting that he is amenable to a higher tribunal than that of his fellow-creatures, for the one as for the other. Our deeds are pronounced to be evil, inasmuch as they are presumed to be committed through an excess or perversion of the passions, or the predominance of a corrupt inclination over the sense of duty whether to God or man. In like manner certain opinions are held to be morally evil, and grounds of divine displeasure, inasmuch as they are presumed to be embraced through the defect of a right disposition, the bias of some vicious propensity, or under the habitual influence of ill-ordered
passions. In either instance the imputation of guilt is directed against the prevailing desire, the ruling affection, of the mind. Unless, then, it can be shown that the affections in general are inert in the process of belief, or the formation of opinions-inert so far as they can be characterized as morally good or evil-it must follow, that we may be as reasonably obnoxious to blame and punishment in the determinations of our judgment, as in the disposal of our conduct. It is not, we are aware, the opinion itself which is sinful, for the same conclusion may, in many instances, be embraced under the influence of widely different feelings and dispositions—may be arrived at in an upright conduct of the understanding, or reached by a perverted use of our reason, or the strength of unsubordinated passions. But neither is it the outward physical act which is morally evil. The destruction of the life of a fellow creature does not constitute the guilt of murder ; for this may be done by the hand of the executioner, or the fury of a maniac, as well as by the stroke of the assassin. Indeed the actions of an individual, in a moral acceptance, are properly significant of those desires which are conceived to prompt him in performing them. In like manner his opinions, morally estimated, denote those inclinations which are supposed to operate on the understanding in the course of his adopting them—those predispositions which affect the mind in its capacity for knowledge, or susceptibility of conviction ; in its search and use of that evidence by which facts are ascertained, and conclusions are established.'—p. 7.
* But it may be asked, by what rule but his own opinions can a man shape his conduct as a rational being, or a moral agent ? Clearly, by no other. But this, so far from disproving or extenuating our accountableness in the formation of opinions, in the highest degree confirms and enhances it, and lays open the magnitude of the subject before us,-the imperious necessity of including it in our view of human probation, if we would promote, in ourselves and others, the power of well.doing, and stay the progress of evil. For suppose an individual to have succumbed to the strength of his passions, in the perversion of his judgment, he is so far disabled for the fulfilment of his duty: he is in a condition which may not unfitly be compared to that of a person who has deprived himself of the proper use of his reason by intoxication. Now it may be readily admitted that a man is not equally answerable for his doings when inebriated as when sober, when his intellect is suspended or impaired, as when he is capable of a moral estimation of his conduct; but at the same time it is perfectly manifest that he has contracted no little guilt by so immoderate an indulgence of his appetite, as to have placed himself in a state of defenceless exposure to the onset of his passions ; of increased liability or aggravated proneness, to break the laws of God and man. So it may be granted that the erroneous opinions of an individual infer a diminution of the guilt of his offences, if committed at their dictation, or under their sanction ; but, at the same time we may detect most depraved operation of the passions in his embracing and adhering to those opinions.'—p. 12.
Nothing could be better argued or more clearly stated than this. The lecturer next proceeds to defend the scriptural language in its injunction to believe. A religion, it must be remembered, can have no benign or saving efficacy but by being received into the mind-by being, in short, believed. If it is admitted that an individual may examine its evidences with candour, and yet refuse assent to its divine origin, and if it is granted that the case of such an individual is one out of the scope and reach of the religion, and that his future destiny must depend, as we are accustomed to express it, on the uncovenanted mercies of God,—it is plain that liberality of judgment has been carried to its utmost extent. It were absurd, and an unintelligible proposition, to say that such an individual can partake of the blessings of a faith he rejects. The connexion of belief, therefore, with the promised benefits of Christianity, is one founded in the very nature of things; and the lecturer thus justifies the style of injunction and command, in which the Scriptures make this requisition of belief.
It is often affirmed, and we allow with some degree of plausibility, that a commandment to believe the gospel — to believe a religion to be true, is incongruous and irrational: that the weight and influence of authority, the fear of punishment, and the hope of reward, must operate as a constraint upon the judgment, and be incompatible with the pursuit of truth and the process of conviction : that an intelligent belief is essentially spontaneous, the result of free inquiry and independ. ent reflection. The assertion, however, is well founded only on this supposition—that by freedom of inquiry, or independence of thought, is meant an exemption from all moral obligation in dealing with the criteria of truth, or the grounds of a rational conviction. Otherwise the commandment in the Bible to believe may be as little open to an imputation of irrationality as any one of its practical precepts. The Scripture, for example, enjoins the communication of our substance to the needy: but in what manner do we understand the injunction ? Do we infer its meaning to be that God approves the external act of almsgiving ? Certainly not, if we receive its own explanation of the precept; for it expressly declares that though a man bestow all his goods to feed the poor, yet if he have not charity it profiteth him nothingIts meaning then is, that God enjoins us to cultivate that love of our fellow-creatures which cannot but dispose us to relieve the indigent ; whatever spurious or defective motives may also prompt the bestowment of alms, and usurp the honor of benevolence. In a simi. lar sense, or with a like implication, it is equally reasonable to understand the commandment of the gospel to receive as true the doctrines which it purports to unfold—equally reasonable to conclude that, in this commandment, the gospel demands an active, supreme regard to the will of God; implying, whether correctly or not, that under adequate circumstances, or with sufficient opportunities of knowledge, the