Page images

there are so handsome. Those honest folk who had suffered from their incantations gradually recovered, excepting such as had been afflicted with twitches and aches, which, however, assumed the less alarming aspects of rheumatism, sciatics, and lumbagoes, -and the good people of New England, abandoning the study of the occult sciences, turned their Attention to the more profitable hocus-pocus of trade, and soon became expert in the legerdemain art of turning a penny. Still, however, a tinge of the old leaven is discernible, even unto this day, in their characters, witches occasionally start up among them in different disguises, as phy. sicians, civilians, and divines. The people at large show a keenness, a cleverness, and a profundity of wisdom that savor strongly of witchoraft, —. and it has been remarked, that whenever any stones fall from the moon, the greater part of them is sure to tumble into New England."!

| Irving': vorts, vol. I, p. 120

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

St. Matthew xvi, 26.

Is this an enlightened age ?- Enlightenment and empiricism-Material progress-Constant agitation

and fever-Rest and motion-Sell-complacency-Two classes of extravagance pointed out. -And illustrated. -Doctrine of progress applied to religion--Degrading religion to an earthly standardReason and faith-Incident related by St. Augustine-Reasoning backwards - A tower of BatolModern systems of philosophy-True and false liberty-Evils growing out of sectarianism-Carry ing out a false principle-Private judgment—The great struggle and Anal issue-Protestantiam and onlightenment-American inddelity-Parallel lines of reasoning adopted by the sects and by infidels-Fanaticism and infidelity-Mammonism-Money and virtue-Mammon worship in opurohes-Utilitarianism-Wrong views of education --Religious indifference and latitudinarianism - Prightfal moral disorders—Fruits of Protestantism-The great problem of the age.

Some malicious wight has ventured to call this age the seculum humbuggianum ; but we greatly prefer to call it the age of enlightenment. This latter epithet, besides being vastly more polite and fashionable, is, at the same time, perhaps more nearly connected with the truth. True, we have empiricism in every thing; in medicine, in science, in politics, and even in religion! The empiric deals not only in quack medicines and in political legerdemain, but also in the once hallowed tenets of a holy religion ! Our modern mountebanks feast us on Millerism and Mormonism, as well as on Fourierism and Mesmerism, to say nothing of a thousand and one other new-fangled notions and isms. When the wisest of men said, “ There is nothing new under the sun,” he could scarcely have directed his prophetic vision to our enlightened age. We have certainly hit upon some new things, which would have greatly astonished and startled even Solomon himself.

Still our confidence in this being an enlightened period is not at all sbaken. The extravagances, to which we have just alluded, are but exceptions to the general spirit of our age. Enlightenment is the rule, empiricism the exception. The latter is a superabundant growth on a rich and fertile soil. The noxious weeds with their wild luxuriance may cumber the ground uselessly, but they cannot wholly choke the many healthy apri


usef:a) plants which flourish thereon. And it may be, that by a judicious system of cultivation, we may finally succeed in plucking out the eril weeds altogether, and in causing the goodly plants to shoot forth their branches, and to yield their abundant fruits, for the healing of the nations, without let or hindrance.

Yes, we are free to avow the belief that ours is, in some respects, an enlightened age. In certain points of view, the present is far in advance of any preceding age. As far as mere earthly interests and comforts are concerned, we can boast of great improvements over our more simple and unsophisticated ancestors. All the useful arts have attained a perfection never dreamed of by them, even in their wildest reveries. In navigation, in commerce, and in ship-building; in warlike accoutrements and in naral equipments ; in the facilities of intercourse both by sea and by land ; and in tlie appliances of domestic comfort; we are immeasurably ahead of our forefathers in all past ages. We travel a thousand miles now in a shorter time, and with more comfort, than our ancestors did a hundred ; we traverse the ocean with as much facility as they did an arm of the sea, or an inland lake. By the invention of steam-navigation and the great improvements recently made therein, we have almost succeeded in annihilating time and space. We have brought the whole world into close and intimate cor. respondence. The old and new worlds, once separated by an almost impassable gulf, are now brought almost into contact. The most ordinary articles of our daily consumption, such as spice, pepper, and tea, are brought from the very antipodes, and, in return, we spread out before the antipodes our own products. Thus the very extremities of the globe are made near to each other; and the children of the earth, inhabiting the remotest boundaries thereof, are brought together, and associate as brethren of the same great family.

Still we are not satisfied. We are always in a restless fever of agitation and excitement. We are never at rest, but when we are in motion. We forget what is past, and we bend forward to what is future. Past discoveries, great and magnificent as they are, are all counted as nothing; we anticipate something much more brilliant in the future. The surface of society is like that of the ocean lashed into foamy billows by the winds of heaven. But, unlike the sea, we are never at rest. The great characteristic of the age is PROGRESS. We must progress in every thing; in the arts, in the sciences, in legislation, in philosophy, and even in religion ! We are always looking restlessly ahead. Inventions, which once dazzled the world with their brilliancy and promise of usefulness, have been long since superseded and forgotton. The cumbrous and imperfect steamboat machinery of Blasco de Garay and of Biancas were superseded by the more simple and manageable apparatus of Fulton ; while this too, in its turn, has given way to the more available methods suggested by recent discoveries.

Little did even Fulton dream of the wonderful extent to which his dis. covery, or rather improvement, would be rendered available for the purpnses

of manufacture, of land travel, of navigation, and of naval warfare. Little did the Italian physician Galvani think, while experimenting on frogs with his metallic plates, that he was laying the foundations of a science which, at no distant period, would be applied to the instantaneous transmission of intelligence between the most remote points, and, perhaps, to the purposes of machinery and navigation. Stil! less, we are quite sure, did the simpleminded Italian suspect that the notable science of animal magnetism would be built up on this discovery! Little did the first inventors of the noble art of printing imagine the amazing progress which their simple invention would soon make in the world, and the wonders to be achieved by the steam and the power-press. And little did any among the earlier harbingers of science dream of the beautiful discovery of Daguerre, by which the rays of the sun are caught in their rapid progress towards the earth, and are made to subserve the purposes of the pictorial art, without the aid of either the brush, the pencil, or the coloring material of the painter !

All these, and many others, are the triumphs of modern art and science And yet, as we have already said, we are not content with our present improvements. We rush forward in the career of discovery with the speed of one of our own steamboats or locomotives; and we make almost as much noise, and give out almost as much smoke, in our progress. Puff! puff! ! puff !!! is our watch-word, and the token of our progress. This is the age of puffing, no less than of progress. With us every thing goes by steam. The steam engine is the characteristic and the most appropriate emblem of our age. We have made amazing progress in every thing; we know it and feel it; and we wish others to know it and to feel it as well. And if others should not know it and feel it, it will surely be for no want of boasting on our parts. Our Fourth-of-July orators and itinerant lecturers ; our pulpit orators and our rostrum haranguers; our journalists and our reviewers, have heralded forth this fact so often and so loudly, that surely the world must be very deaf and stupid indeed not to have found out by this time, that we are a great and enlightened people, and that ours is peculiarly the age of enlightenment. Never, since the world began, has the saying of the inspired apostle been more fully or more strikingly verified; · “SCIENTIA INFLAT—knowledge puffeth up.” At no former period was the accompanying warning of the apostle more appropriate or more needed : “ If any man thinketh that he knoweth any thing, he hath not yet known as he ought to know."! Our knowledge is great, but our self-glorification is greater. Our science is inflated and vain-glorious in the extreme. We have not yet learned the noble modesty of Socrates, who, after having devoted a long life and a vigorous intellect to moral and scientific pursuits, said when near the close of his career: Hoc unum scio, me scire nihil ihis one thing do I know, that I know nothing.”

Now, we do not at all object to this spirit of progress, so characteristic of our age; we applaud it rather, if it be kept within its appropriate limits. We merely rebuke its extravagances and its excesses. These

I Corinth. viii 1. 2

are mainly reducible to two classes: first, an application of the doctrino of progress to religion and to heavenly things; and secondly an almost total forgetfulness of religion and of heaven, in the all-absorbing interest which the mind is made to take in things of this earth. We will devote this paper to a brief consideration of these two leading errors of modern society; and if our humble efforts should contribute even ever so little to the awakening of public attention to a subject of vast and paramount importance, and if they should even slightly contribute to the more healthy development of the great principle of progress, we shall not have labored wholly in vain. We will endeavor, then, to show that modern society is grievously wrong in both of two ways:



1. That there is in our age a strong tendency to bring down the noble and sublime truths of religion to the low level of mere earthly knowledge, we think no impartial and philosophic observer of the signs of our times will or can deny. That this tendency is entirely wrong; that it is founded on very imperfect or erroneous notions of religion; and that it debases and degrades this heavenly science, we think equally undeniable. That it is fraught with danger, and that it has already produced the most lamentable results, a mere glance at the leading features of modern society will be sufficient to prove. We can not in any other way explain the extensive prevalence of unbelief among us; nor can we otherwise account for the mischievous theories which have been broached and received with favor, if not with avidity, by large masses of our population. There is surely something grievously wrong some where ; and we will endeavor briefly to point out the wrong and its remedy.

The wrong lies precisely where we have located it:– in the vain attempt to estimate heavenly things by a merely earthly standard ; the remedy consists in a counter movement, embracing a return to sounder principles of reasoning. Religion is something apart from, and immeasur. ably above, mere human speculation and knowledge ; it treats of God, of heavenly things, of eternity. It is the embodiment of divine wisdom ; of principles and truths unfolding the nature and attributes of God himself, and His revelations in time to His creatures. To know and to estimate aright the things of God, we must have God himself for our teacher, or at least some one authorized and commissioned by Him to teach us in His name, and with His unerring truth. Any other teacher would be wholly incompetent to the task; because any other might be mistaken and might mislead us fatally. The truths of religion rest not on mere human speculation, or theory, or science; they rest on a fact; that God himself has so declared and so spoken in His revelation to man. The Lord hath spoken ; let the earth be silent, and let men listen

« PreviousContinue »