Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

vernment through the millenium, as well as the closing scene, when sentence will be pronounced on evil angels, and on the whole human race.- We have now given, we believe, all the peculiarities of Milton's faith. As for that large part of his work, in which he has accumulated scriptural proofs of doctrines and duties in which all Christians are agreed, its general tenour may be understood without further remarks.

It may now be asked, what is the value of this book ? We prize it chiefly as a testimony to Milton's profound reverence for the christian religion, and an assertion of the freedom and rights of the mind. We are obliged to say, that the work throws little new light on the great subjects of which it treats. Some will say, that this ought not to surprise us; for new light is not to be looked for in the department of theology. But if this be true, our religion may be charged with the want of adaptation to our nature in an essential point; for one of the most striking features of the human mind is its thirst for constantly enlarging knowledge, and its proneness to lose its interest in subjects which it has exhausted. The chief cause of Milton's failure was, that he sought truth too exclusively in the past, and among the dead. He indeed called no man master, and disclaimed the authority of Fathers, and was evidently dissatisfied with all the sects which had preceded or were spread around him. Still he believed in the perfection of the primitive church, and that Christianity, instead of being carried forward, was to be carried back to its original purity. To use his own striking language, the lovely form of truth,' which Christians at first embraced, had been hewn into a thousand pieces, like the mangled body of Osiris, and scattered to the four winds;' and consequently he believed, that the great duty of her friends was to gather up limb by limb, and bring together every joint and member.' In conformity with this doctrine, he acted too much as an eclectic the ologian, culling something from almost every sect, and endeavouring to form an harmonious system from materials 'gathered from the four winds.' He would have done better, had he sought truth less in other minds, and more in the communion of his own soul with Scripture, Nature, God, and itself. The fact is, that the church, from its beginning, has been imperfect in knowledge and practice, and our business is, not to rest in the past, but to use it as a means of a purer

and brighter futurity. Christianity began to be corrupted at its birth, to be debased by earthly mixtures, as soon as it touched the earth. The seeds of that corruption which grew and shot up into the overshadowing despotism of papal Rome, were sown in the age of the Apostles, as we learn in the Epistles; and we

.

infer from the condition of the world, that nothing but a stupendous moral miracle, subverting all the laws of the human mind, could have prevented their developement. Who, that understands human nature, does not know, that old associations are not broken up in a moment; that to minds, plunged in a midnight of error, truth must gradually open like the dawning day; that old views will mingle with the new; that old ideas, which we wish to banish, will adhere to the old words to which they were formerly attached; and that the sudden and entire eradication of long-rooted errors would be equivalent to the creation of a new intellect? How long did the Apostles, under Christ's immediate tuition, withstand his instructions? Even Peter, after the miraculous illumination of the day of Pentecost, remained ignorant, until the message from Cornelius, of that glorious feature of Christianity, the abolition of the Jewish peculiarity, and the equal participation of the Gentiles with the Jews in the blessings of the Messiah. As soon as Christianity was preached, it was blended with Judaism, which had power to neutralize the authority of Paul in many churches. In like manner, it soon began to be 'spoiled? of its simplicity by philosophy and science falsely so called, and to be encumbered by pagan ceremonies. The first Christians were indeed brought into 'wonderful light,' if their christian state be compared with the darkness from which they had emerged; but not if compared with the perfection of knowledge to which Christ came to exalt the human race. The earliest Fathers, as we learn from their works, were not receptive of large communications of truth. Their writings abound in puerilities and marks of childish credulity, and betray that indistinctness of vision, which is experienced by men, who issue from thick darkness into the light of day. In the ages

of barbarism, which followed the fall of the Roman empire, Christianity, though it answered wise purposes of Providence, was more and more disfigured and obscured. The Reformation was indeed a glorious era; but glorious for its reduction of papal and clerical power, and for the partial liberation of the mind, rather than for immediate improvements of men's apprehensions of Christianity. Some of the reformers invented or brought back as injurious errors as those they overthrew. Luther's consubstantiation differed from the pope's transubstantiation by a syllable, and that was all the gain; and we may safely say, that transubstantiation was a less monstrous doctrine than the five points of Calvin. How vain, therefore, was Milton's search for the mangled Osiris,' for 'the lovely form and immortal features of truth,' in the history of the church !

Let us not be misunderstood, as if we would cut off the pre

[ocr errors]

sent age from the past. We mean not, that Milton should have neglected the labours of his predecessors. He believed justly, that all the periods and generations of the human family are bound together by a sublime connexion, and that the wisdom of each age is chiefly a derivation from all preceding ages, not excepting the most ancient, just as a noble stream, through its whole extent and in its widest overflowings, still holds communication with its infant springs, gushing out perhaps in the depths of distant forests, or on the heights of solitary mountains. We only mean to say, that the stream of religious knowledge is to swell and grow through its whole course, and to receive new contributions from gifted minds in successive generations. We only regret that Milton did not draw more from the deep and full fountains of his own soul. We wish only to teach, that antiquity was the infancy of our race, and that its acquisitions, instead of being rested in, are to bear us onward to new heights of truth and virtue. We mean not to complain of Milton for not doing more. He rendered to mankind a far greater service than that of a teacher of an improved theology. He taught and exemplified that spirit of intellectual freedom, through which all the great conquests of truth are to be achieved, and by which the human mind is to attain to a new consciousness of its sublime faculties, and to invigorate and expand itself forever.

1

We here close our remarks on Milton. In offering this tribute, we have aimed at something higher than to express and gratify our admiration of an eminent man. We believe that an enlightened and exalted mind is a brighter manifestation of God than the outward universe; and we have set forth, as we have been able, the praises of an illustrious servant of the Most High, that, through him, glory may redound to the Father of all spirits, the Fountain of all wisdom and magnanimous virtue. And still more; we believe that the sublime intelligence of Milton was imparted, not for his own sake only, but to awaken kindred virtue and greatness in other souls. Far from regarding him as standing alone and unapproachable, we believe that he is an illustration of what all, who are true to their nature, will become in the progress of their being; and we have held him forth, not to excite an ineffectual admiration, but to stir up our own and others' breasts to an exhilarating pursuit of high and ever-growing attainments in intellect and virtue.

Printed by RICHARD TAYLOR, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street.

LIST OF WORKS

BY

DR. CHANNING,

Which have been reprinted in England.

1. A Sermon delivered at the Ordination of the Rev, Jared Sparks, to the Pastoral Care of the First Independent Church in Baltimore, May 5, 1819. Price 6d.

2. A Discourse on the Evidences of Revealed Religion, delivered before the University in Cambridge, at the Dudleian Lecture, March 14, 1821. Price 6d.

3. A Sermon on the Duties of Children. Price 2d.

4. A Sermon delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Ezra Stiles Gannett, as Colleague Pastor of the Church of Christ, in Federal Street, Boston, June 30, 1824. With a Preface containing Remarks on Dr. Channing's Animadversions on Dr. Priestley, and the English Unitarians. Price 6d.

5. Remarks on the Character and Writings of John Milton; occasioned by the publication of his lately discovered Treatise on Christian Doctrine. Price ls. 6d.

6. The Superior Tendency of Unitarianism, to form an elevated Religious Character. A discourse, preached at the Dedication of the Second Congregational Unitarian Church, New York, Dec. 7, 1826. Price 6d.

7. Analysis of the Character of Napoleon Bonaparte, suggested by the publication of Scott's Life of Napoleon. Price Is. 6d.

« ForrigeFortsæt »