Page images

Edwards' and Emmons' metaphysical speculations bave made, or ever will make, one.

Since then the actual influence of these books is so great, it is of the utmost importance that they should be of such a kind that their influence may also be good, purely good, without any mixture of evil. They may be made the mightiest of all engines to move the feelings and wield the prejudices of the world; and it is therefore so much the more necessary, that they should be employed exclusively on the side of humanity and truth. It is to be deeply regretted that this is not always the case. Numbers of thein, we apprehend, are enlisted in the service of error and bad feelings, inculcating sentiments and breathing a spirit no where to be found in the gospel. There is too much reason to fear, that many of those books, purporting to be books of devotion, do little else but propagate wrong opinions and wrong dispositions, acting on the minds of men with a power as mischievous as it is extensive and lasting. Even those books, the leading object and general tenour of which are decidedly good, often have their consistency destroyed, and their good effect in a great measure prevented, by the occasional introduction of sentiments at which every enlightened christian must revolt. In almost every such instance, we have been sorry to see, that what is good does little but recommend what is bad in the publication ; we mean, that the earnest spirit and pious design exbibited throughout such publications seem to answer no end, but the evil one of giving to the errors and absurdities they countenance a currency and popularity, which they would not otherwise have obtained. We are fully persuaded, that many of the opinions prevalent at the present day, and which we cannot but think to be both unscriptural and irrational, are indebted almost entirely to a few popular devotional works, for the strong hold they have gained on the affections of the people.

More might well be written on this point, for we do not think it has yet attracted sufficient attention from those, whose office and duty it is to expose and correct the errors and mistakes that may exist on the subject of religion. Wbat has been said, however, we presume is enough to convince any one, that the influence of books of devotion may be as disastrous as it is general. They may be inade to do much good, but they may also be made io do much evil. No books, therefore, should be watched with greater jealousy ; none should be criticised with greater severity ; and none should be selected and recommended with greater care. From the vast mass

of devotional works, of which many deserve no praise, none should be selected and recommended, but such as are pure

in sentiment, catholic in spirit, and cbasle in style ; for so long as those of a different description are circulated and approved, it is in vain to think of counteracting by any other means, the bad influence they will have on the minds of men.

As therefore it is of the utmost importance that books of devotion should be selected with judgment and care, we shall attempt to suggest a few of those rules by which we should be governed in making this selection. We are aware that by following these rules, many popular works, whose authority has almost superseded that of the Bible, will be rejected. But for the consequences of these rules, it will be recollected, we are not answerable. It is enough for us to show, that the rules themselves are founded in truth, and that they are such as men of sense and discernment must approve.

Our first rule, then, is, that we should discountenance such books of devotion as are calculated to give wrong ideas of the nature of devotion itself. Devotion is notbing else but practical piety. It consists in cherishing diligently and babitually the principles of true piety, and applying them to the regulation of the temper and the government of the life. This is devotion ; and a book, which recommends any thing else under the sanction of this name, ought to be discountenanced. We are aware that the writer of it may be animated by a sincere desire to de good that he may be actuated by a zeal for what he deems to be religion ; still, however, we maintain that the book itself must have a dangerous tendency. By misleading us as to wbat constitutes a devout frame of mind, it must also mislead us as to what ought ever to be the subject of our prayers, and the object of our exertions, and give a wrong direction to all our religious principles. It must also dispose us to place an ill-grounded confidence in a spurious kind of devotion, which ought not so much as to be named with that which is genuine -leading us to aim at that alone, to rest contented with it, and to hold it, and build on it as a succedaneum for something better. Such works are liable to all the objections that can be brought against the doctrine of penance among the Catholics, which has substituted in the room of true christian self-denial, a multitude of unmeaning and profitless acts of self-inorification. All books, therefore, which, under the colour of recommending devotion, recommend what is not devotion, but something different and inferior, and often highly injurious—all such books as recommend devotion, making it however to consist, not in a steady frame of the affectious, in which the man is led to

live and act under a constant sense of the divine character, presence and government, but in certain fervours of the imagination, certain transports of feeling, or, in short, in any excitement of the mind that is at the same time unnatural, unaccountable, and ungovernable—all such books, we think, should be avoided as dangerous ; and we conceive it to be the solemn duty of every serious and enlightened christian, to discourage their circulation.

Another role of importance to be observed in selecting good devotional works is, to be on our guard against those writers who seize every opportunity to insinuate their own peculiar and erroneous sentiments. Devotion does not depend on the peculiar doctrines of any sect. It does not result from any peculiar views of the christian scheme. But it grows up in the human mind from contemplating aright those great principies of religion, which are held in common by all believers. It springs from seriously considering that relation which we all admit Man bears to God-from considering the Supreme Being as our proprietor, governour, Father and friend.-These are the considerations to which all true devotion must ultimately be referred, and to these alone; and these are considerations, the justness of which no one can doubt, and the force of which no one will question. Yet it is the fault of most men, that they are apt to think more, and lay more stress, on those doctrines by which they are distinguished from others, than upon those in which all are agreed. Devotional writers especially, are ever prone to introduce and insist upon their own peculiar opinions, on every occasion which they can either find or make. Perhaps it is because they value religious truth more dearly ; but certain it is, that in works professedly written for the sole purpose of inculcating devotion, many of them omit no opportunity to insinuate their own peculiar views as highly important, if not absolutely essential, to a devout frame of mind. It is true tbey do not undertake formally to defend the dogmas of their school; but, what is a great deal worse, they take them for granted ; they assume them as incontestable iruths—as undisputed principles, lying at the root of all religion. And in this light they are too apt to be viewed and admitted by the incautious and unsuspecting reader, without so much as once allowing himself to suppose it possible that they are unfounded. Thus it is that errors are propagated without end, and that, too, the more effec. tually, because propagated in connexion with some of the most impressive and affecting truths of religion, and united and blended with some of the deepest and holiest feelings of our

[ocr errors]

nature. Deeply, therefore, do we lament that so many of our most popular devotional works have proceeded from menwhose sincere and unaffected piety we love and venerate—but whose doctrines are so different from what we conceive the scriptures to teach. And of such works we acknowledge our fear is, that the good influence they might otherwise bave on mankind, is in a considerable degree counteracted by the errors, which it is their direct and necessary tendency to disseminate.

A third rule to be regarded in selecting such devotional works as ought to be recommeuded, relates to the manner and spirit with which they are written. It is not difficult to notice a material difference among them when considered in this point of view. Some are written in a style that is chaste and manly, and others in one that is puerile and vulgar: some breathe a spirit that is mild and amiable, and others one that is gloomy and bitter : some are calculated at the same time to enlighten the mind and enlarge the heart, while others can only tend to flatter men's prejudices and inflame their passions. Such, in short, is the temper of some of these productions, that their immediate tendency must be to promote, and such the temper of others, that their immediate tendency must be to destroy, the influence of that heaven-born charity, which is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, of every thing that is good among the children of one common Father. Here, then, there is vast room for discrimination, and vast need of it. The importance and necessity of this must be particularly felt at the present day, when a multitude of books of a devotional cast have been thrown upon the public, which do not seem to indi. cate in their authors those qualifications of mind, or in many instances, we are sorry to add, those qualifications of the heart, which are absolutely indispensable in a good devotional writer. We must be allowed to consider them, that is, many of them, as poor, and low, and paltry things, wholly unworthy of favour or respect. We fear they are doing much to take from piety its respectability, and to make devotion itself only a term of derision.

As therefore we wish for religion without cant, and for. devotion without vulgarity, we conceive it to be incumbent on all, to read and to recommend only such devotional works, as to zeal add knowledge, to knowledge good feeling, and to good feeling a pure and dignified style.

These are the rules, upon this subject, which we think it most important to lay down. By observing them it will at once be perceived, that many books of devotion now in repute, must be exchanged for others of a far less exceptionable cha

racter. This we conceive is an exchange devoutly to be wished; for we are deeply impressed with a conviction, that many of the present popular works on devotion, are such as to give us very defective views of the nature of religion, mislead us as to the way in which its graces are to be found, deceive us as to the true grounds of cbristian bope, and form in us characters, which will possess enough perhaps of seriousness and zeal, but be deficient in those chaste and manly virtues, that high tone of moral feeling, and those generous and exalted motives and aims, which ought preeminently to distinguish the follower of Jesus.

It cannot be supposed from the course of our remarks, that we would discourage the reading of all devotional works. On the contrary, we conceive them to be, next to the scriptures, the life and support of practical religion. They should be taught to children, to imbue their minds with early piety. They should be put into the hands of youth, that their characters may be formed in the school of Christ. Men engaged in active life should read them continually, that they inay counteract the influence, which their worldly business might otherwise bave, to contract their feelings, and corrupt their hearts.

And it is to them, tbat the aged also should go for those supports and consolations, which religion only can give, gilding with the beams of the sun of righteousness the evening of their days. Indeed so fully are we persuaded of the utility and importance of devotional works-so entire is our conviction that they should be numbered among the most powerful of those religious excitements, by wbich the slumbers of the thoughtless are to be broken, and the consciences of the vicious to be alarmed that we cannot refrain from expressing our regret, that there are so few books of this description wbich we can recommend, without qualification. Some, however, there are, and it is also a subject of extreme regret, that these are not more generally known and read. Law's Serious call to a devout and holy life ; Thomas a Kempis, On the Imitation of Christ; Scougal's Life of God in the Soul of Man; Holy Living and Dying, by Jeremy Taylor ; and Hannah More's Practical Piely ; - these are all works of acknowledged merit, and works which we can recommend with very little abatement of that praise, which Christians of all persua. sions, bave alınost unanimously lavished upon them. What then shall we say of Mrs. Barbauld's Hymns for Children ; Merivale's Daily devotions for the Cluset; the Devotional Discourses of Newcome Cappe; and the Sermons of our late lamented Buckminster-books easily to be obtained-books

« EelmineJätka »