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with reverent awe:- such is the principle upon which alone we can learn religion aright and with certainty. To attempt to learn it in any other manner, would betray a woful ignorance of the first elements of religion, and would mislead us in a thousand ways.
To pretend that we can find out what religion is by mere unaided human reason, is about as wise as would be the declaration of the mountebank, :hat he could light up the heavens of a dark night with a mere rushlight! Such a pretension forcibly reminds us of the beautiful allegorical incident related by St. Augustine. This greatest man of his age tells us that, when he was once walking on the sea shore, he observed a man very busily engaged in dipping up the water of the sea, and pouring it into a small basin which he had excavated in the sand of the beach. To the holy Doctor's inquiry as to the object which prompted this singular conduct, the simple peasant replied, that he meant to dry up the sea by emptying its waters into the cavity! St. Augustine smiled at his simplicity, but turned the incident to account in his writings against the Manicheans and other unbelievers of his day.
Our modern philosophers are attempting to do precisely what that foolish peasant fancied he could accomplish ; - they would fain make the immense, boundless, and unfathomable ocean of God's truth pass through the narrow and shallow basin of their own reason! They apply the principles of human science to religion, with as much confidence as they apply algebra to geometry. With them, religion is to be estimated only by human knowledge. The inflated doctrine of human progress is the starting point; religion is the conclusion reached. Science is everything ; religion is almost nothing: at least, science is the principal thing ; religion is but a secondary consideration - an adjunct, a corollary.
In religion those things are readily admitted, which human science can understand or demonstrate ; those are rejected which human science is pleased to reject. Whatsoever doctrines of revelation appear to them to promote human knowledge and to aid human progress, are received with applause and hailed with delight; whatever wars against human pride, is painful to human sensuality, or is humbling to human reason, is rejected with scorn. Mysteries can not be fathomed or understood ; therefore mysteries must be rejected. It matters not, that there are thousands of mysteries in this lower world, both around and within us, - mysteries which all agree in admitting, without being able to understand or explain them ; it matters not how strong may be the evidence which establishes the fact, that God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, has revealed those same mysteries; they will not believe them, because they cannot understand them! Thus, certain astronomers could not prove the existence of God mathematically; therefore, they sagely concluded the existence of God is at best but problematical ! Thus, also, certain learned Christian philosophers can not, for the life of them, understand the nature or utility of the great revealed doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Real Presence, &c.; therefore, al' these must go by the board ! These
wise men might as well blot out the n.yriads of twinkling stars from the firm ament, under the pretence that they cannot understand the utility of so many bodies in our system! And they might exclaim with their prototype Judas Iscariot : “ Ut quid perditio hæc,” - why this sad waste of light?
There is something radically wrong in all this line of reasoning. Those who adopt it begin at the wrong end of the argument, and reason backwards. Instead of reasoning from high to low — from heaven to earth, they reason from low to high — from earth to heaven. Instead of raising up the earth to the lofty standard of heaven, they would fain bring down heaven to the low standard of earth. Puffed up with the pride of learning and with the windy spirit of the age, they would, like Lucifer of old, raise themselves up to the very heavens of God, and either seek to place themselves on a level with the Eternal himself, or to bring down the Eternal to their own abject position. With Lucifer they say, in the pride of their hearts : "I will ascend into heaven, and I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. .... I will ascend above the clouds ; I will be like the Most High." Would that they did remember Lucifer's fall; and they might learn to beware! Would that they did but place a lower and more truthful estimate on themselves, and a higher estimate on God and on heavenly things! Weak, erring, and short-sighted as they are, would that they could but learn a little more modesty in inquiring into things infinitely above themselves, and entirely beyond the range of their imperfect vision! In a word, would that the emphatic language of the great apostle of the gentiles were not fully verified in them: “Prosessing themselves to be wise, they became fools!"2
But alas! Such a hope were almost idle in our vain-glorious age! The great ones of the earth never learn anything. The experience of the past, the striking lights of history with its fearful lessons, the teachings of a sounder philosophy, are all thrown away on them. In spite of all that can be alleged, they persist in being “vain in their thoughts, evanuerunt in cogitationibus suis." Like the builders in the plains of Shinar, they have foolishly sought to erect a tower which shall reach to the
very heavens; but like them too, their speech has been confounded. The inflated philosophy of the day is a modern Babel; - a sad jumble of osntradictory theories and speculations. As in the days of Cicero, there is no absurdity whatever, which the soi-disant philosophers of the age have not broached and idolized. Atheists, deists, materialists, pantheists, rationalists, eclectics, transcendentalists, perfectionists, Fourierists, Millerites, Mormons, socialists, mesmerists, neurologists, &c., &c., &c.,what a conglomeration of jarring elements, or rather absurdities! And, as if we had not already absurdities enough, new ones are daily starting into existence; and it is a sad thing that nothing new can be broached, no matter how shocking or absurd, which does not gain proselytes! Alas for our enlightened age !
Perhaps the most fashionable absurdities of the day are pantheism, 1 Isaiah xiv, 13, 14.
2 Rom. i, 22.
eclecticism, and transcendentalism. These three systems — if systems they may be called —are but a revival, under new and more witching forms, of very old systems of pagan philosophy, long since consigned to the tomb of the Capulets. Pantheism is but a new form of the ancient Platonism; - a system peculiarly acceptable to our modern philosophers, because it deified the world, made matter an object of idolatry, worshiped the creature, and forgot the Creator. The modern, like the ancient eclectic in the days of Cicero, prided himself in the assumption, that he has succeeded in extracting the quintessence of all that is best in all other systems of philosophy, and in harmonizing together the truths thus extracted; whereas, the truth is, that he has only succeeded in showing his own inconsistency and absurdity, in the attempt to harmonize contradictions. The transcendentalist steps gallantly forth to the rescue of the pantheist and of the eclectic, when these are pressed by the stringent logic of the Christian philosopher; and he dexterously conceals the true position, or covers the retreat of his allies, with a cloud of grandiloquent, but unmeaning verbiage. His motto is that of Horace's poetaster : “ex igne dare fumum"- to smother the brightly burning fire of truth with a heavy superincumbent mass of smoke! You know not where to have him ; for his panoply is - smoke. His real position was very appropriately defined by the Scotch highlander, who, when asked the definition of metaphysics, replied: “When a man dinna know what another man says, and the other man dinna know what himself says, that's metaphysics !”
It is a sad and a sober fact, that the intellectual and philosophic atmosphere of our age has become hazy and foggy to such an extent, that the bright sun of truth is almost wholly concealed from the eyes of the simpleminded beholder. Those who are content to become little children for Christ's sake, really know more of sound philosophy, though they boast less, than the proudest philosophers of them all.
These men tell us, as an apology for their never-ending and ever-changing theories, that this is an age of enlightenment and of progress. Nonsense. Is the heaping of absurdity on absurdity, and the adding of vagary to vagary, any evidence of enlightenment or of progress? They tell us that this is the age of mental liberty and of free inquiry in every thing, from things in the humblest walks of life up to those in the highest regions of philosophy and religion. Nonsense. Is there, then, no difference between rational liberty, trammeled only by the fetters of sober reason and by the golden bonds of obedience to a divinely constituted and clearly ascertained divine religion, and that licentiousness of intellect which knows and acknowledges no restraint whatever, human or divine ? Must we become sons of Belial, and shake off all restraints of every kind, in order to be free? If liberty can be attained only on such conditions, and at such cost, then away with liberty; we have had too much of it already. We pant for no higher freedom than that of which Jesus spoke, when he said : Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” We want no higher freedom than this. Dearly as we prize liberty, we value no other than that of which the venerable prince of the apostles speaks, when he warns us to conduct ourselves, “ As free, and not as making liberty a cloak for malice, but as the servants of God.""
1 St. John viii, 32
What benefits or truths have the proudly boasting philosophers, who have the hallowed name of liberty forever on their lips, really bequeathed to the world, after all the noise they have made on the subject ? We have already seen what bequest they have left us; and until they have something better to offer, we are done with them. We
e are content to be little children; aye, to “become fools for Christ's sake.” Pride precipitated Lucifer from heaven, and pride drove our first parents from the earthly paradise ; pride is the main spring of modern philosophy, and the bane of modern society ; pride has heaped nothing but maledictions, mental and moral, on our race : we are done with pride, and we embrace with delight the less attractive but more safe way of humility, being most fully persuaded, that “God rejects the proud, and gives His grace to the humble.”
Disguise the fact as we may, it is still a fact, that the wrong which we deplore is not confined to those who, in our day, wear the mantle of philosophy; it has extended to the sects, and it has done its deadly work among them. Sectarianism has been always cursed and blighted by the same evils which have ruined philosophy; and these evils have sprung from the same polluted fountain of private judgment and individual reason, proudly raising itself up against the teachings of authority. The sectarian prates as much about liberty and the emancipation of the human mind, as does the infidel philosopher. Voltaire and Rousseau did but seize
and re-echo through the world the self-same shout of LIBERTY, which Luther and Calvin had sent forth, two and a half centuries before in Germany and Switzerland. The infidels did but carry out the leading doctrine of the reformers, and all the world saw and folt the awful results of that principle, when it was fully developed.
And not only the French infidels, but the children of the reformers themselves, have carried out that mischievous doctrine to its logical and most fearful consequences. What is it that has blighted German, and Swiss, and European Protestantism generally? What is it that has filled the land of Luther and of Calvin, — which erewhile resounded with the battle cry of freedom from the tyranny of the papacy — with the discordant notes of triumph, now raised by the rationalists, pantheists, and transcenden. talists? What is it, that has there made the press, and the pulpit, and the professor's chair the vehicles of downright infidelity? What is it but this same demoniacal shout of LIBERTY — liberty as excluding, and in deadly opposition to, all restraint of authority ? Private reason first undertook to judge for itself in matters of religion, and it has ended in rejecting religion altogether! Infidelity has triumphed over Protestantism on the very soil and the very first battle-ground of Protestantism; and it bas achieved its triumph, too, with the very weapons which Protestantisi placed in its hands! Is not this true ? Is it not lamentably true ?
1 1 Peter ii, 16.
We must be blind to the spirit and manifest tendency of our age, not to perceive that the great struggle in our own republic will, at no distant day, be not so much between Catholicity and Protestantism, as between Catholicity and infidelity. Protestantism in this country will, and must in the very nature of things, run the same career, and pass through the same phases, that it has run and passed through in Europe, and it must ultimately share the same fate. Torn and distracted within, split up into a hundred warring sects already, and yearly witnessing new divisions, and the rise of new sects, it must, sooner or later, fall a prey to its own dissensions, and become a victim of those warring elements of dissolution which are already festering in its very bosom. Jesus hath uttered the prophecy, and the prophecy must be fulfilled: “ Every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand."! American must bide the doom of German Protestantism; nothing can prevent this result. The sects may make a prodigious noise ; they may put on a sanctimonious air; they may boast their love of the Bible ; they may prate about the sabbath; they may league together against Catholicity; they may make desperate and almost supernatural efforts to infuse a sort of spasmodic and galvanic life into their else lifeless followers; but their doom is sealed, and no human power can avert it.
PROTESTANTISM CANNOT BEAR THE TOUCH OF LITERATURE AND ENLIGHT. ENMENT. Paradoxical as this may appear, it is even true. Reason and history both proclaim its truth. The endless vagaries and the countless inconsistencies of Protestantism must vanish before the progress of enlightenment, even as the mists vanish before the rising sun of day. One of the most eloquent writers of the day has said : “Science is an acid which corrodes and consumes every thing but the pure gold of truth;” and never was a truer thing said. Such has been precisely the result of progressive enlightenment in Germany, and such it will be in this country, so certainly as similar causes invariably produce similar effects under similar circumstances.
In fact, a mere glance at the religious aspect of our country is sufficient to convince us that “the mystery of iniquity already worketh " ? among us. Look at Boston, said to be the most enlightened city of our union. What is it but the paradise of infidels, and of sects bordering on the very verge of infidelity? What is it but the great centre of Universalism, of Unitarianism, of Fourierism, of Parkerism, of Transcendentalism, and, perhaps, of many other isms of a similar character ? How sadly have the children of the Puritans degenerated from the rigid orthodoxy of their sires, who whilom enacted the blue laws, hung the witches, bored the tongues of the Quakers with red hot iron, and drove forth brother
1 St. Mathew xii, 25.
2 2 Thessalon. ii, i