Page images

neither expect nor wish that it should be restored. God forbid that we should go back to the symbolical sacrifice of animals ; however necessary this might be, in a barbarous age, to awaken by a coarse sensible image the sacred feeling of moral disinterested


I will go further, and acknowledge, that I not only respect and admire the New Testament, but gladly receive many of its important truths.

I consider it as a spiritual commentary upon the Old, and as throwing great light upon the true and essential nature of religion in general.

To me it appears that all received religions, in all countries, are instruments in the hand of Providence for the moral perfectioning of the various communities and bodies of men ; and as, in this country, one sect may receive instruction from the teachers of another sect, so I as a Jew am glad to purify my notions of religion by the aid of the Gospel.

After all, there is a fluctuation and a progressive change, for the better I trust, in all human affairs; and perhaps the Christian of the fifteenth century was not a wiser or a better character than the Jew of the nineteenth.

It is not a new observation nor a trivial one, that an imperfect religion, when sincerely followed, is more effectual to salvation than the most perfect, in which the heart is not so deeply concerned. And as no external tyranny can coerce the conscience, or impose faith upon the mind, that has the virtue, the courage, and the wisdom to think for. itself; man must ever be free, to whatever church he is united, to interpret its doctrines, and to limit his internal reception of them, according to the degree of enlightenment with which providence has blessed him.-It

is thus that the tone and temper of religious institutions are gradually purified, though their formularies and canons remain the same.

On the strength of this freedom, I have not hesitated, though a Jew, to adopt in a certain sense some of the principles of Christianity; I do not, however, flatter myself that I have done entire justice to its doctrines; nor have I undertaken to strike a balance of excellencies and defects between it and the Mosaic or other institutions : this would require more learning than I possess. Besides, my object is not to lessen the credit of either ; but merely to satisfy my own conscience and to enlighten my mind.

As a man, I feel that I possess an animal nature, and powerful instincts that impel me to its gratification ;-but I feel also, an intelligence within me which tells me I ought to hold this animal nature in subjection, and to limit its operations according to rational, that is to say, moral principles. This moral instinct, which I can no more shake off than I can hunger or thirst, com


pels me to acknowledge that I am a responsible being, and to believe myself possessed of a rational free will, superior to every axaterial and sensual impulse. I therefore condemn myself whenever my inferior, masters my superior nature ;--and in this voice of CONSCIENCE, which proclaims the duty, and therein the adequate strength, of the rational will to maintain itself against all the powers of nature, I find the proof of the immortality of that being in which it resides.—This proof is not indeed intuitive, for we cannot see the soul and its sensible powers ;-it consists in a necessary and inevitable belief in our moral eristence.

This struggle of the two natures of man, Saint Paul refers to; and this idea of the soul, Plato considered as the

memory of prior state of existence : which explains the ancient notion of the fall of man, allegorically signified in the book of Genesis.

The great object of all religion, and what alone gives it entrance into the soul, is in the New Testament energetically called “a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness. We may conceive it figuratively as the birth of the soul into this world: it implies, however, the predominance of the moral power of reason in determining the will.—Where this exists, (but, alas ! who can pretend to more than very feeble, if any genuine, efforts of its power?) in that man the Deity may behold an object worthy of His approbation.

It is not my intention to attempt an explanation of all the doctrines of true religion ; but merely to state what I conceive to be its most essential and fundamental principle.

It appears to me to be an indisputable fact, that, in no book of divine revelation has the science of the mental faculties been attempted to be given to man; and although the Scriptures, both Old and New, treat continually of metaphysical objects and IDEAS, they do not any where attempt to explain scientifically the origin or true nature of these ideas. They are evidently adapted to the conceptions and language commonly received at the time they were written. They do not teach metaphysics, any more than logic or natural philosophy.

They are addressed to the illiterate as well as to the learned; and, therefore, wisely avoid all scientific explanations on profound subjects, which the learned of those days were themselves not capable of giving, even supposing them to have been prepared to receive them.

The sacred writers were not scientifically enlightened, but morally and religiously inspired. And it appears to me, that their instrunientality in the hand of Providence was confined to the single object of awakening the moral energy of the soul ; bringing its immortal nature constantly into the view of the ignorant, as well as of the learned ;-thus preventing it, in the earlier stages of human cultivation, from being totally lost, in the struggle of sen, sual and material interests; and, at a more advanced period, in the chaos of erroneous speculations.

Even in our day, the philosophical scepticism that prevails in the learned world, plainly shows that scientific reason has not yet attained its most important object. It has not yet discovered the rational foundation of morals and religion in the human mind; and, therefore, it has no right to claim to itself the direction of the moral and religious world. And surely when the learned despair, the half-learned and the utterly ignorant should not presume. The innate feeling of immortality planted in the conscience, however obscure and incomprehensible that feeling may be, is still the only safeguard of virtue, and the only defence which religion has hitherto received from our rational nature.

Philosophy is happily not required to lay the germ of virtue in the soul; and it has not yet discovered, which is its true business, the means of protecting its growth there. The moral sense of mankind, therefore, must continue to assert its claim to dominion against philosophy, during its non-age, as against an involuntary enemy; rather than prematurely accept its guidance, as a sure and tried friend. Not, however, as if the ignorant conscience were absolutely sufficient of itself; for, as a mere instinctive feeling, however noble in its nature, it is still but a blind impulse, and will ever be liable to the perversions of error, till reason, under the guardianship of Providence, shall become sufficiently enlightened to take the reins of the moral government into its own hands. And, as this desirable end is progressive, the voice of reason must, in every stage of its advancement, be patiently listened to ;-all that is requisite is to try its agreement or disagreement with our innate sense of moral duty, and to reject every system that will not bear this sure and universal test of truth, whether philosophical or religious : for as morality is the basis of religious faith, it must ever be the test of its genuineness and truth.

No pretended divine sanction, no priestly authority, can change the eternal nature of right and wrong. We must be careful, therefore, in translating and interpreting the Scriptures, not to give them a meaning which may lessen and degrade the sacred obligations of morality. Essentially inherent in reason, they are the fundamental conditions of the necessity of religion; they can never, therefore, come into contradiction to the will of God.

They are, indeed, no other than the Divine will, the Logos, the Word, written by the finger of God himself in the mind. This internal revelation of morality is the voice of the Spirit, that prayeth within us, “ according to the will of God;"-and by this test alone can we " try the spirits, whether they be of God." This, it is the duty and the privilege of every man to do, whether his priest command him to immolate his fellow-creatures in the wilds of Africa, or to apply the pincers and the torch of an European Inquisition. Nor is this duty less imperative upon those happier and more enlightened beings, whom a religion of justice and mercy allows the full liberty of conscience. Let them use this glorious freedom with moderation, respecting the liberty of others ; and, if they suppose themselves endowed with superior wisdom and strength, let them treat with gentleness the weakness and the errors of their inferiors.

I fear that my inability to do justice to this difficult subject, may have rendered my remarks obscure and unsatisfactory; I will endeavour not to add tediousness to my other faults, but proceed to consider the dangers to which true religion is now exposed. I shall, perhaps, differ from the generality of persons, in stating it to be my firm conviction, that religion has few, if any, wilful an intentional enemies. I conceive it possible, and so far as I am able to judge, I am inclined to think that both Paine and Carlile sincerely spake what they believed to be true, and likely to benefit mankind. I have, also, no doubt that they were very far from renouncing religion altogether ; yet, never was the press profaned by a more dangerous abuse than in their hands, from which Liberty herself must desire that it should be wrung.

When I contemplate the extraordinary disgust, on the one hand, and the profound veneration, on the other, in which the Bible is held, I cannot but conclude that the different parties direct their principal attention to different parts of its multifarious contents or, if they consider the same parts, that they must give them very different interpretations ; or lastly, that they must differ in the principles according to which their judgments are formed.

This ancient book, however, is the visible foundation of all religion and religious institutions, throughout the most enlightened part of the world ; those who rashly despise it, cannot deny this great fact, which surely demands for it our reverence and our gratitude.

How has it unfortunately happened, that this dearly cherished and beloved book has become an object of contempt and hatred, not only to sceptical philosophers, but to the illiterate, who have received only the soured dregs of an abortive and partial wisdom at their hands ?

The real truth of the matter appears to me to be this, that the world, in the Nineteenth century, is still but in its infancy : there needs no more to prove it, than that its Philosophers are Sceptics. Yet I by no means look upon this as a hopeless' or retrograde state of mental cultivation. The detection and exposure

of the false pretensions of all prior philosophy, though without the discovery of any thing to supply its place, which scepticism implies, is no inconsiderable progress, in a speculative point of view; though, as to any immediate practical utility, it offers none ; and in its extension beyond the boundaries of the learned and the philosophical world, it may occasion some temporary and partial evil. This, however, the prudence and moderation of our Government, at least, will find no difficulty in restricting, among a people too wise to be deluded by the rash and unfounded speculations of ignorance. I call this a temporary evil, and such, if we believe in a Providence, are all the evils that can assail us ; but it is also a growing and an inevitable one. God has not planted in man the principle of his advancement to the ideal of perfection, that it should lie dormant within him ; it cannot, it ought not to be stifled. His cry is every where for reform : the learned sceptic calls for it, in philosophy; and his voice, in the schools of the learned, may be useful, though perplexing. Paper systems may be set up and pulled down, there, with great safety and propriety ; but when the illiterate sceptic attempts to lay this axe to the root, out of doors, the jest becomes too coarse and practical.

The only radical cure for this necessary evil, is a sound philosophy ; and the thinking world cries aloud for it, through every rank and order of society. In every art and science, not strictly mechanical, its want is felt, in the confusion that involves all The ory; but in morals and religion, and whatever rests upon them, as political justice and national liberty, this want is conspicuously evident, in the discord and hostility that agitates the public mind, multiplying sects and parties, whose sole principle of union is a prudent toleration of each other's errors, founded on a common consciousness of mutual good intention.

This principle of charity cannot be too far extended, or too firmly relied on. The advancement of human intellect may, indeed, be impeded by the rigor of despotism, or the rage of anarchy; but violence and persecution will certainly not promote it: and, whatever number of centuries may precede, and though one generation after another should be butchered to avert or to accelerate it, as according to the ordinary course of history, if men have not yet had enough of blood, may very likely happen ;-yet, if there be a Providence governing human affairs, so surely will the reason implanted in man gradually develope its powers. He will not always remain destitute of a rational and consistent knowledge of the nature, the extent, the right and harmonious use of his faculties,without which his noblest powers have been bestowed upon him in vain.

Will any one say that the end of our being, in this world, has

« PreviousContinue »