« PreviousContinue »
minor movements of the great machine, yet, to set their faces in a direction opposite to that in which their efforts are giving it impulse. Even those who have laboured with a cool and intelligent calculation to afflict, to corrupt, to destroy the earth, have, most often, been cheated in the ultimate effect; which has resulted in the re-edification of society upon a better plan, in the diffusion of knowledge, and in the establishment of securities against similar devastations. Of other great changes in the state of the world, the history is lost amid a complication of causes; so that no claim can be advanced in behalf of any individual, of whom it might be said,-This is his work; he planned it, and he brought it to pass. If we look at the beneficial effects of particular benevolent designs, it will generally be found, that the honoured agents have been placed, as it were by accident, in the midst of their worthy labours, without having had the leisure to indulge in long-drawn calculations of what they were to do. This general principle may even receive confirmation from an observation which many may have had opportunity to make, namely, that men who, all their lives, have been alternately elated and tormented by the planning of vast designs for the Inelioration of the world, are very rarely the persons actually called out of their obscurity by the voice of the Divine Providence, to become the prime agents in great and happy undertakings. Vastly more has been done for the world by men who, like Jonah, were urged forward in their course against all their intentions, and all their predilections, and all their, tastes, than by those who have been forward to run without a commission. To the most eminent and successful servants of mankind, it may be said, with peculiar significance, by their Lord, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen "you".
The tendency of these views is, to promote a patient continuance in those obvious, humble, and unambitious efforts to diffuse the word of life, which are clearly incumbent upon every one who holds it in his hands, rather than to encourage the devising of such, novel and special plans as might seem adapted to produce more quickly the desired reformation in the corrupted opinions and practices of our fellow men. the duty required of British Christians seems to be, simply that of acquitting themselves of their responsibility as the depositaries of the true religion; while they wait, and hope, and pray for that change in the state of the world, which shall be produced by means at once beyond human agency, and beyond human calculation. Now, so far as concerns this quiet discharge of our responsibilities, we know not that any
thing important could well be added, in substance, to those labours of Christian charity that are actually in progress. But, as to the manner in which these labours are prosecuted, we think the responsibilities of British Christians towards their brethren of the neighbouring nations, will not be fully acquitted, until the tone and style of their intercourse with them, on subjects connected with religion, shall be greatly altered; and until the maxims of a timid and compromising policy, shall give place to the dictates of manly and Christian, sincerity. In order that the following remarks may be liable to the fewer exceptions, they must be understood as referring, exclusively to the state of things among our nearest continental neighbours.
Laying aside, then, the anticipation of some extraordinary interposition of the Divine Providence to produce a religious reformation in France, and calculating only upon calculable probabilities, it is apparent, that all our hopeful regards must be turned towards the few scattered individuals in that country, whether Romanists or Protestants, whose piety and zeal, or whose enlightened public spirit, seem almost to make them foreigners in their own country, and at home in ours. That these worthy men should view in a full and clear light, their own religious state, their relative position, their responsibilities, and the true condition of their country, is indispensable to their fulfilling the hope that centres in them. And how much does this full and clear view of themselves and of their cir-// cumstances, depend upon the fidelity of that reflected image of both, which is presented to them in the manner and the Reports of those who visit them from a land which, as they acknowledge, abounds with better feelings, and enjoys a purer light! Do we not know, that our own privately formed conceptions of things are liable to be, suddenly, either di minished or enlarged ten-fold, by the impression which we... perceive the same objects make upon those whom we believe to be like-minded, and better instructed than ourselves? The zeal of one who has in secret sighed and wept over prevailing corruptions, until he is inspired with the fervour and the constancy of a martyr, may, in a moment, be chilled down into hopeless and degrading timidity, by his first conference with foreign brethren, who hear his recitals with a lower, feeling than his own, and who, if they do not whisper to him the maxims of a too cautious policy, impart more of the spirit of patience, than of enterprise. A case cannot, perhaps,, be imagined, in which we can be required actively to urge qur, brother forward towards the fires of martyrdom; but if he a is placed where Satan's seat is," and where he may be
actually exposed to this trial, we do him an incalculable injury, when we whisper a thought of compromise, that may make his constancy to falter.
The few individuals of this character at present to be found in France, are immediately confronted with the irreligious and licentious members, and the heterodox and intolerant heads of their own communion, with whom will be their first conflict;is and by whom, if they prove faithful to their high calling, they will, ere long, be abandoned or betrayed into the strong hands of the government, as incorrigible fanatics, to be dealt with by force. Unless political changes should alter the position of parties, to us it seems inevitable, that these persons should meet with actual persecution; and that, by their sufferings and humble courage, perhaps by their blood, they must win for their country a real, as well as a chartered religious libertyni By sympathy with their sufferings, and by means of their appeals, there may gradually be created in France a party, at present not existing, whose strong and serious convictions d shall render them unconquerable; and to whom, at length, must be conceded, what has been at length conceded to the c dissidents of England. To the pious few in France, the language of appropriate Christian counsel would dwell on the strength, courage, and grace which shall be needed to meet the fiery trial. And all the incitement, and all the support that....... can be given, are due to them from their brethren of England. Well will it be if this needed spiritual aid shall be administered with an entire exclusion of the pestiferous suggestions of certain politico-religious fanatics, who are ever wandering through dry places, seeking occasion to promote conflagration. Our free country has always bred, and it still breeds, a small party of men, whose brains have been scorched by a rabid hatred of dignities." These persons would exult to find in France, or indeed any where, individuals who might be instigated to an open contempt of the "powers that be;" and who, once pushed into the fires of persecution, would be.. talked of here in speeches long and loud,-and-abandoned. May He who is wont to restrain the wrath of man, avert the interference!
Besides the pious members of the Reformed communion, the agents of our several religious societies are occasionally brought into contact with some not less pious persons, members of the Romish Church. Our intercourse with individuals of this description, if it be at once faithful and wise, is a matter of so much difficulty and delicacy that we can hardly venture a suggestion on the subject. But we think it evident, that the spirit of the present times places all the
danger on the side of a certain Christian bonhommie, very naturally inspired by the pleasure of finding piety where we had not looked for it; the effect of which must be, to lull the slumbers of these estimable individuals in the arms of the idolatrous communion to which they belong; thereby lessening the probability of their becoming the active instruments of overthrowing its corruptions. An enlightened and pious Protestant cannot, we think, hold continued intercourse with a pious Romanist under any circumstances which shall free him from the obligation to protest, and to repeat the warning, "Come out of her." We doubt whether there is to be found in the present day, a single conscientious Romanist of sound understanding and competent knowledge, quite free from certain disquietudes on the subject of his religion, which, though they are never freely admitted among his thoughts, the is unable to appease or dismiss. Perhaps, nothing can more directly tend to waken these hopeful anxieties, and to bring them to a favourable issue, than a friendly intercourse with persons whom all his best feelings oblige him to acknowledge as Christian brethren, while his own Church, in her loudest and plainest tones, commands him to think of them and to treat them as the worst enemies of God, and the undoubted heirs of perdition. This sort of proof of the arrogant error of his Church, comes close home to the heart; and it even appeals to the understanding more irresistibly than that derived from the evidence of his senses, persuading him that a wafer is still a wafer. For when things supernatural are to be credited, the mind is not staggered by a little more or a little less in the miracle. But no authority, no prejudice will avail in a sound mind and a Christian heart, to produce the conviction, that the purity of manners, the active beneficence, the love of God, the faith, the humility, the heavenlymindedness, which have past under its own observation, are, in fact, only the false shews of damnable heresy, and the fearful omens of an impending and final exclusion from the Divine favour. To believe that God may, in special instances, contravene the laws of the material world, is easy; but to believe that he will ever permit the laws of the moral world to clash, is impossible. We say, then, that the intercourse of pious Protestants with pious Romanists, affords an opportunity not to be trifled with; and that it should be directed by the aim to urge forward the above-mentioned auspicious perplexity towards the vastly important inference in which alone it can be resolved. Nor can the immediate attainment of any seemingly desirable object excuse, on our part, a bland finesse, -a false charity, that would lead us to represent the con
scientious difficulties of the Romanist as among the many which may safely be left to be explained in the day when all doubts shall be cleared up, There are some questions that must be determined now, under peril of our own salvation: there are other questions that must be determined now, under peril of the salvation of all to whom our influence may possibly extend. If the question concerning the pretended authority of the Romish Church be not one of the first class, it clearly belongs to the second.
But there is yet another, and a very different class of persons in France, with whom the agents of our several religious societies are brought in frequent friendly correspondence. We refer to those liberal-minded and partially enlightened men, who may be adduced as specimens of the influences of the Revolution, viewed on its fairer side. They have imbibed the heartiest abhorrence of all that was abhorrent in the ancient order of things; they have stood at a sufficient distance from the scene, to condemn the deeds and to dread the principles of the men by whom the Revolution was achieved; they have watched the course of a complete experiment for founding a government of brute force upon the doctrine of atheism; and they acknowledge the ill result and the utter failure of this experiment. They witness with disgust, the attempt to bring back the forms of a religion which has now nothing left to it but its forms, its follies, and its evils. They look wistfully towards England, where they see the unblemished and safe triumph of reason, and of liberty, under the immediate auspices of a system, of which, indeed, they have no distinct notion, but which they know is called le Christianisme. They are willing,-nay, they wish, and are ready to give effect to their wishes by their exertions,--they wish to introduce this Christianisme among their countrymen. They hail, therefore, with pleasure the visits of men who profess to bear the panacea, and to understand the mode of its administration; and they yield to them the deference due to messengers of health fror aland where the balm seems indigenous. The respectable men to whom we are referring, have then certainly a claim upon all the wisdom that can be found among us for their aid. They have this claim on many grounds: especially because, if yet lacking in true knowledge, it must in candour be confessed, that they have gained as much of it as has been fully placed within their reach. One or two quotations from the well intended volume before us, will best shew in what region of thought these persons are moving.
M. Coquerel, we would fain hope, knows more about Christianity than appears in his book. He labours to recal