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to put my hand unduly upon sacred subjects, which are appropriate to another profession of public teachers; and, on the other, not to treat those sacred subjects, so far as I may have occasion to touch them, as ordinary topics of literature and taste. The literature which is associated with holy things must be approached with the reverential feeling with which the picture of a sacred subject should be looked on, remembering that there is due to it something deeper than unloving, technical criticism of art.
I have been attracted to this subject by the conviction that every Sunday has its unappropriated portions of time, and also that there is an abundant literature, in English words, to be used appropriately to the day, and beneficially. The week-day opportunities for reading vary very much with the business and duties of our lives; but our Sundays, with the rest they bring, put us all more on an equality. The most punctual attendance on public worship does not absorb the day; and, the day's duties discharged, the evening can have no better employment than that which is in-door and domestic. There are the contingencies, too, that compel the spending of the whole day at home; and I believe that is a sore trial to those who have no resources for the employment of it. This is a great pity, considering how large those resources
I do not propose to speak of the study of the Bible, because I am not willing to treat that as a literary occupation. It stands on higher ground, and ground of its
With regard to modes of Christian faith and systems of church-government, it surely is becoming for every one, both man and woman, to have an intelligent knowledge of their belief and membership It is right to
hold, with confidence and charity combined, to well-formed and precise principles, in all that we profess to give our spiritual allegiance to; to understand our own position and to feel the strength of it, instead of that careless ignorance, that latitudinarian indifference, which is seen and heard so much of a mock liberalism, which I speak of as unreal, because, often when it is put to the test, it is found to cover either a hollow scepticism or a bitter intolerance, instead of genuine Christian charity.
In the discipline of habits of reading, it is on many accounts important to draw a line of distinction between week-day reading and Sunday reading. Independent of the propriety of making the reading subservient to the uses of the day, such appropriation is desirable as a means of securing acquaintance with a large and very valuable portion of English literature--the department of its sacred literature being very extensive both in prose and poetry; so extensive, indeed, that when this habit is well formed and cultivated, it will be found that the Sunday reading is more apt to encroach on the week-day reading than the
The choice of books must be not only reverently suited to the day, but also large in their influences. It should be no narrow choice, for such would be unworthy of the manifold
It may associate with books which are formally and directly connected with sacred subjects, and others no less sacred in their influences, because the sanctity is held more in reserve, acting, it may be, more deeply, because less avowedly.
The sacred literature of our language may be described as containing books on the evidences of religion, sermons, devotional books, church history, biographies of saintly men and women, travels in the Holy Land, sacred allegories and other prose stories, and sacred poetry. The unappropriated portions of the Sundays of a long life might find in the English books on such subjects varied and unfailing delight and spiritual health.
Of one of the classes of books named, those on the evidences, it appears to me that injudicious use is not unfrequently made. If a man is an unbeliever, these books may be good for him; or if he has to deal with unbelievers, they may be of service to him: but to a believing Christian, man or woman, many a well-intentioned work of this kind may be not only worthless, but injurious. A great work, such as Bishop Butler's, may indeed be invaluable both as a discipline of thought and as strengthening the intellectual conviction of the truth of revelation ; or such works as the Bridgewater Treatises may help to deepen the sense of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator, as displayed in the universe. But there is a multitude of books which, I fear, are mischievous, for they tell the believing, faithful spirit of doubts which such a spirit never would have dreamed of-doubts engendered in the hard heart of unbelief, the miserable sophistries which skepticism has spun out. Why should the happy heart of belief even look at, much less pore over, such things, studying the refutation of fallacies never else heard of? What need of the antidote, if the poison would not come nigh you? Why should believing Christian people think it worth while to waste their time and thoughts upon such things ? and above all, why the fresh and docile and believing spirit of youth, manly or womanly youth—the believing children of believing parents—be trained in the knowledge of what Hume denied, and how Gibbon scoffed,
and the ribald deism of Paine, for the sake of being taught how these things may be answered ? A little argumentative strength of belief may be gained, (perhaps,) but there is danger in the process that the power of affectionate, instinctive belief—a thousand-fold more precious — may be at the same time wasting and worn away.
Charles Lamb's recollection from childhood of Stackhouse's History of the Bible is full of warning on this subject. “I remember," he says, “it consisted of Old Testament stories, orderly set down, with the objection appended to each story, and the solution of the objection regularly tacked to that. The objection was a summary of whatever difficulties had been opposed to the credibility of the history by the shrewdness of ancient or modern infidelity, drawn up with an almost complimentary excess of candour. The solution was brief, modest, and satisfactory. The bane and antidote were both before you. To doubts, so put, and so quashed, there seemed to be an end forever. The dragon lay dead for the foot of the veriest babe to trample on.
But-like as was rather feared than realized from that slain monster in Spenserfrom the womb of those crushed errors young dragonets would creep, exceeding the powers of so tender a St. George as myself to vanquish. The habit of expecting objections to a passage set me upon starting more objections, for the glory of finding a solution of my own for them. I became staggered and perplexed, a skeptic in long coats. The pretty Bible stories which I had read, or had heard read in church, lost their purity and sin cerity of impression, and were turned into so many historic or chronologic theses to be defended against whatever impugners. I was not to disbelieve them, but—the next thing to that, I was to be quite sure that some one or other would or bad disbelieved them. Next to making a child an infidel, is the letting him know that there are infidels at all.”*
Such an influence is not limited to childhood, but affects in like manner the spirit of belief at any age; and therefore it is safer and wiser to seek no knowledge of atheism, or deism, or skepticism, even in the refutation of them.
This also should be borne in mind, that the evidences of religion, as discussed in the last century, when they were most rife, present Christianity in a defensive apologetic attitude, which is unworthy of it. The literary leaders of the times were the infidels Bolingbroke, and Hume, and Gibbon, and others earlier and later, the British infidelity which was followed by French infidelity. The insolence of unbelief had risen high, and the tone of the faithful was depressed; a style of defence prevailed which is out of place in a better age, where no infidel author has bold prominence in literature. That subdued mode of warfare with skepticism was oddly adverted to at the time by George the Third, (who, whatever his faults
were, had the merit of being the first moral man that had sat on the British throne for more than a century :P) when Bishop Watson published his “Apology for the
* Prose Works, vol. ü. p. 150. Essay on Witches and other Night Fears.
† In Lord Mahon's last volume of “The History of England," are two letters of George the Third to Bishop Hurd, on the death of one of his children, in 1783, which brightly illustrate the King's private and familiar character. Vol. vii. Appendix, p. 34. W. B. R.