Page images

are classed, by the bigot, under the term persecution, and persecution, like a current of air, adds violence to fire. The gentler, the kinder, the more Christian mode of expostulation and rational concession, wherever concession can be made, may, like a balsamic vulnerary, heal the sore which opposition would cause to rankle.

I therefore do not deny the justice of the enthusiast's pretensions, who professes himself actuated by a belief that the Holy Spirit condescends to assist him in virtuous endeavours, by a sacred influence from heaven. But I caution him against entertaining, for a moment, the presumptuous idea, that the same Spirit which assists him, does not, with equal readiness and efficacy, assist his pious neighbour also, and all sincere believers, throughout Christendom, however distinguished by sect, church, or persuasion. .

I urge him to try his Spirit by the infallible touchstone of Scripture. Is it pure, is it peaceable, is it gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy? If it should be deficient in any of these amiable qualities, let him be cautious of indulging it, lest the Spirit should be of a diabolical, and not of a heavenly nature.

And in what manner is he to form a judgment of himself, since the heart is deceitful; and to know oneself is the most difficult of sciences ? If his high pretensions are accompanied with a bad life; if he be disposed to contend with rancour and violence in support of his pretensions; if he be disposed to involve all who think differently from him in perdition; if he decry good works; and if, with every appearance of sanctity, and many external acts of piety and benevolence, he reserves to himself some secret and favourite vice, he may rest assured, that the Spirit which actuates him is not from above.

| James, üi. 17.

If he be inclined to neglect, despise, and revile decent and useful ordinances, such as are countenanced by Scripture, and have a direct tendency to preserve peace, benevolence, and piety; if he prefers himself to all regular and learned ministers, whether in the establishment or out of it, and preaches to ignorant and deluded multitudes in the fields, with the air and voice of frenzy, he may have just reason to fear, though he should have ten thousand in his train, that he has carried his pretensions to the Spirit beyond that wisdom, moderation, and love of order, which the author of our religion taught, both by precept and exan

[ocr errors]

If, in his writings, he applies the Scriptural language to himself, and assumes the authority of a primitive apostle; if, at the same time, he expresses his ideas in such a manner as to excite the laughter and contempt of men of sense and approved goodness, he may infer that his spiritual pride has hurried him to the verge of insanity; and, as he values his health and happiness, should exert himself to remove the febrile symptoms which are at once contagious and fatal.

When mechanics, of confined education, and not remarkable for natural discernment, or peculiar virtue and goodness, think themselves better

able to instruct the people, than a numerous class of their fellow-citizens, who have been separated, from their youth, for sacred offices, instructed in learning of various kinds, versed in the original languages of Scripture, the very idea implies so great a degree of pride and self-conceit, that it cannot come from the gentle, unassuming Spirit of him who was himself meek and lowly, and who everywhere taught his disciples the lesson of humility.

If such persons urge, in defence of their extravagant behaviour, their dereliction of their trades and daily labours, and their assumption of the priest's office, a particular call, from Heaven itself, louder than reaches the ears of others, let them, before they believe themselves, or persuade others, produce, as a credential of their commission, a miracle. If they find themselves utterly unable to do this, let them return to the workshop and warehouse, renounce the deceitful spirit, and evince their attainment of the true, by humility, charity, modesty, and obedience to lawful superiors; by a study to be quiet, and an attention to their own business.

From such practices, and such persons as I have alluded to, has arisen much of the disgrace which has fallen on true and laudable enthusiasm, or that wisdom which is infused into the pure, gentle, and charitable heart from above. False enthusiasm should be discouraged, that true religion may grow and flourish; as the weed should be plucked up, to give room for the wholesome plant to strike root, and expand itself in foliage and blossoms, and produce good fruit in abundance.


Of being Righteous overmuch.

It seems to be very doubtful, whether the Scriptural phrase of being righteous overmuch, signifies that sort of excess which Methodists and fanatics are apt to indulge. I am rather induced to believe, that it means an extreme rigour in exacting from others an unerring rectitude. •Be not righteous overmuch; why shouldst thou destroy thyself ?'' That is, “ Establish not, by thy severity, a rule so strict as must, if put in force against thyself, involve thee, imperfect as thou art, in destruction.” The prohibition seems to me to quadrate with the old observation, that justice in the extreme is extreme injustice.?

There are other interpretations of the words at least as probable as that which confines it to the over-sanctity of the Methodist or bigot.

The ingenious and pious Dr. Trapp has taken the words in the latter sense, and written, with great force of argument, against the extravagances of Methodism. Perhaps the words of his text did not properly authorize him in deriving the doctrine from them which he has laid down; but, whether they did or not, I think he had reason on his side, when he endeavoured to explode all superstitious excesses which are subversive of true

1 Eccles. vii, 16.

? Summum jus, summa injuria.

religion, injurious to society, and painful to the deluded individual.

Philosophers, by the light of nature, discovered, in the earliest ages, the wisdom of avoiding extremes; and no precepts are more common than those which recommend the golden mediocrity. These were undoubtedly suggested by actual experience, and a careful study of the human constitution. If they are just and proper, when applied to philosophy, there is every reason to think them equally so, when applied to religion, which is the perfection of philosophy. Excess, in the very name, implies culpability, even when the things in which it appears are of a virtuous and laudable nature.

So that whoever advances his virtues beyond the line of rectitude, errs no less than he who stops, at an equal interval, on this side of it. Yet, at the same time, I must observe, that there is something far more noble and generous in errors of excess than of defect; and the virulence which has been shown in refuting the poor Methodist, who has been tormenting himself with superfluous austeries, seems to me to arise from a want of good-nature and charity, far more criminal than the mistaken discipline of a zealous devotee.

That part of the Methodists who are sincere in their rigid self-denial, and in all the active and passive virtues of their persuasion, are certainly objects of kindness and compassion, rather than of severe animadversion.

The Church, and the Protestant Dissenters, it appears, teach the doctrine of grace; a doctrine which, I believe, the Methodists consider as of the

« PreviousContinue »