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Authority for Infant Baptism.
391 of the fact, “that here the spirit of Popery, under one or other of its more specious forms, has for the last three centuries retained a footing within the very stronghold of Protestantism, from which it has never yet been dislodged.”.
But a brighter day is dawning. Dr. M'Neile, Mr. Litton, we may
almost add, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are perceiving that the practice of infant baptism is not found in Scripture. When the fact is universally recognised the controversy will assume a new form. The ground will be completely cut away from beneath the sacramental theory; and Protestants will have the full benefit of their own principle—the appeal to Scripture as the form of religious truth. Whilst this historical conversion i : in progress, greatly as we deplore the evils which flow from the baptismal service, we regard any attempt to introduce a change as premature.
But let us not be misunderstood: we have not wished to breathe the slightest insinuation against the legitimacy and the importance of infant baptism. We have expressed our persuasion, that it is a rite unknown to Scripture, and that it was probably unpractised in the apostolic age; but we also firmly believe that it is an institution eminently conformable to the genuine spirit of Christianity, as such warranted by Scripture, and in the highest degree valuable to the Christian Church. Scripture furnishes the strongest warrants for believing that the infant children of Christian parents are placed in a peculiar and holy relation towards God. The precedent of circumcision, of itself alone, furnishes ample authority for the dedication of Christian infants to God, and their public incorporation into the Church of Christ. The emphatic blessing pronounced by the Lord Himself on little children—His tender and loving command to bring them to Him—has found an echo in every Christian heart; it has been rightly felt to confer the highest of all possible sanctions on the practice of infant baptism by the Christian Church. Who can estimate the unspeakable importance of the fact, that the soul at the earliest dawn of intelligence should awaken to the consciousness of its consecration to Christ —that it should learn at the same time that it is a religious and a Christian being? What Christian parent does not desire for his child that his opening mind should catch the feeling that he belongs to Christ—that Christ loves him and has redeemed him —and that he is, by a solemn act of consecration, Christ's child? But in the absence of all express institution of infant baptism by Christ or His Apostles, we dare not call it a complete sacrament till the consciousness of the baptized person has become capable of fulfilling the spiritual condition of the sacramental blessing, and become susceptible of its reception. The celebration of the outward rite at an age when intelligence is still dormant separates, in respect of time, the two elements which are necessary to constitute a sacrament: and we have not a particle of authority for supposing that the sacramental virtue can be realized till both elements are present. A spiritual blessing of necessity implies a spiritual recipient. This momentous truth—which lies at the foundation of the Christian faith-has been forgotten by those who hold that infant baptism is a complete sacrament. They have been betrayed into this forgetfulness by the belief that infant baptism was expressly of apostolical origin, and by the consequent pressure of the language of Scripture. They found spiritual blessings attached to baptism in Scripture; but they found also spiritual conditions imposed upon the recipient. The belief that infant baptism was the institution then spoken of involved them in a hopeless dilemma, from which they vainly endeavoured to extricate themselves by overlooking the spiritual state of the infant, and at the same time supposing that God, in some mysterious manner, communicated some equally mysterious blessing to his soul. The very essence of sacerdotalism was involved in this belief. But a mere examination of Scripture has made all clear. The language of the apostolic Church does not apply to infant baptism, and is consequently free from every taint of the priestly theory. The Church indeed advanced, and as honestly believe, rightly advanced, in the very spirit of Scripture principles already indicated, to the baptism of infants ; but it neglected, whilst modifying the practice, to modify the rule which guided the interpretation of Scripture respecting it. The defect can be supplied now. The Church can and does uphold infant baptism as a truly Christian and most precious institution; but it ought not to speak of it as a full sacrament, until the understanding of the baptized has consciously accepted the Christian faith and ratified the baptismal covenant. Then, and not till then, may the words of Scripture regarding baptism be applied; for then only will the sacrament be such as Scripture in these words supposes it to be.
We are anxious to draw from what precedes the moral of the vast importance of a sound exegesis. Those whose motto and watchword is Scripture should above all others be accurate and scientific in the interpretation of Scripture. Religious controversies are every day assuming more and more the sharp and definite form of an antagonistic struggle between the Christianity of Scripture and the Christianity of tradition. The Word of God is the touchstone by which alone we can distinguish truth from error in tradition—the right interpretation of that Word is the only weapon with which it is possible for Protestants to win the victory. The neglect of a scientific exegesis is, we
Importance of Exegesis.
393 grieve to say, the glaring defect of modern English Low-Churchmen—the fruitful source of many defeats. A lamentable distrust of the application of the laws of philosophy and historical criticism to the Bible is the result-war is declared against the progress of the intellect—and powerful adversaries are arrayed against the cause of religion and Scripture. The Bible is capable of vindicating God's truth against all foes; but for this the Bible must be made to utter its own real meaning. The history of the Church throughout numerous ages shews how Scripture may be overridden and set at nought by the traditions of men: it is a two-edged sword, but God has not willed it to be victorious, except for those who know how to use it rightly. Piety is an indispensable qualification in the Christian interpreter; but piety alone will not enable him to discharge his office. Piety has too frequently been associated with ignorant dogmatism and shallow presumption. At no age of the Christian Church has a profound and accurate exposition of Scripture been more urgently needed than in the present day; and we emphatically warn those to whom the Protestant faith is dear, that if they wish to resist successfully the assaults of Popery of every form, and infidelity, they must take their stand on the right interpretation of Scripture.
ART. IV.-1. Poems, Lyrical and Dramatic. By HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW; with an Introductory Essay, by GEORGE GILFILLAN. Liverpool, 1848.
2. Poems. By THOMAS BUCHANAN READ. Illustrated by KENNY MEADOWS. 12mo. London, 1852.
3. Poems. By EDGAR ALLAN POE. Edited, with an Essay on his Life and Genius, by JAMES HANNAY. 8vo. London, 1852.
4. The Poetical Works of WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT. 3 vols. London, 1850.
Ir is the unhappy error of nearly all recent criticism of artof poetry especially-that its judgments have been formed without reference to any high or very distinct standard of what it is desirable and right that poetry should be. A poem is praised because it is well finished, or because it has been dashed off in a masterly way, or because it is "original," "pathetic," or "lyrical," or "well constructed;" or on account of some other properly secondary quality, quite compatible with general worthlessness or positive demerit. We cannot help thinking that a sounder tone of criticism would produce, indirectly, a sounder tone of art than that which at present prevails. It is certain that no artist,-poet or otherwise,-will ever be made or marred by reading good criticism; but it is equally certain that the weeds which flourish under the encouragement of a lax critical system, do discourage and tend to choke the flower of true art; and that these might, in a great measure, be uprooted and done away with, if we would ascertain and ruthlessly declare their worthless and noxious character.
In the art and criticism of America we generally behold the errors of our own art and criticism exaggerated. Happily for the hopes of the world, America has a filial-almost more than filial-affection and reverence for Britain and the "Britishers." But this attachment is not without its disadvantages: affection and reverence beget imitation; and the imitator is always more or less blind, and, most often, is found to copy the deformities of his model first. In commenting upon the shortcomings of American poetry and criticism of poetry, let us adopt a tone of self-reproval; for, if we have taught errors by our example, we should set the example of repentance. In endeavouring, therefore, to heighten, as far as we can, the common estimate of what poetry ought to be, and in pronouncing American poetry, generally, to be an example of what poetry ought not to be, we would have it understood that we have no intention of implying a favourable contrast upon the side of our own modern writers.
395 We have placed at the head of this Article the names of the four poets who seem to us to be the most notable, as yet, produced by America. Two of them, Bryant and Longfellow, have won a considerable reputation on this side of the Atlantic; the other two, Read and Poe, are not so well known here, although, to our thinking, they are quite as well worth knowing as the others are.
We regret that we cannot fully join in the popular applause of Mr. Longfellow's poems. In what we are about to say of them, it must be understood that we dwell more upon the faults of these poems than we should have done were it not that their merits have already enjoyed more than a fair share of public attention.
In criticizing Mr. Longfellow, we have a part to play that requires some boldness, we must speak ill of his model, Goethe, who, by a most strange injustice, has of late been permitted to usurp a throne in the seventh heaven of fame, with Shakespeare, Dante, and Homer.
Goethe was probably the greatest critic that ever lived; but we are convinced that the next generation will be astonished at the admiration with which his poetry has come to be regarded by us. In our opinion, Goethe's poetry is always more or less heartless. His minor poems are full of warm fancy, exquisitely expressed; but there is more heart in half a dozen of Burns's songs than in all Goethe's minor poems put together. Faust, we venture to think, is immensely overrated. Everybody praises it, and calls it profound, because there is much of it that nobody understands, or was intended to understand. It abounds with deep lines and picturesque passages, but it has no claim to be regarded as the great symbolical poem which it pretends to be. This is proved by what we know of its history. Large portions are unmodified transcriptions of literal stories : the track of light that follows the wake of the black dog turns out to be an optical fact which had been observed by Goethe. Other incidents are anecdotes of the poet's youth; and in the “Intermezzo” there are numerous allusions of a personal and temporary character, confessedly to be understood only by those who were in the secrets of a narrow literary coterie. Goethe felt this, but had not the boldness to undeceive his numerous admirers. At an early stage of the composition of "Faust," he saw the prudence of postponing the discovery of its essential defects by allowing it always to remain as a fragment. Of the wickedness and vulgarity for which Coleridge has condemned this poem, we do not speak, for Mr. Longfellow has not so much imitated these, its worst qualities, as its lighter sins of false pretension and charlatanism.
VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIV.