Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

self with assuming a defensive attitude; his object being to guard the friends of religion, and not to assail the advocates of infidelity. Hence, he does not prominently introduce the evidences of the Christian faith, but notices the specious and sophistical opinions by which it is often indirectly impugned: he does not contend with the confirmed unbeliever, but reasons with the doubting Christian. The volume is divided into five sections: On the necessary Articles of Christianity — Considerations to prove the Doctrine -- Various Queries and Objections of the Deists answered — General Exhortations to Christians - Preservatives against Apostacy from the Faith of the Gospel. The value of this volume has been deteriorated by the luminous defences of more modern divines; it cannot either be compared with the learned efforts of many of the writer's brethren in the ministry ; yet still to the particular class to which it was directed, the foundation of whose faith had been shaken but not destroyed, it was calculated to be useful. The deistical controversy was much agitated at the commencement of the eighteenth century; and the dissenters sent forth a goodly host of combatants into the field. Collins, Tindal, Woolston, Morgan, and Dodwell, appeared on the side of infidelity; and Leland, Chandler, Lardner, Browne, Reynolds, and Doddridge, for the cause of truth. The adversaries of religion in that day, excepting a few persons of learning and ingenuity, were, however, widely different to those who are now found in the ranks of infidelity: they were “men of wit and pleasure about town,” imposing upon the ignorant and unwary by flippant declamation and shallow philosophy. Some divines of the establishment were for checking their career by the aid of the civil magistrate; but against the prosecution of Woolston the dissenting ministers strongly though ineffectually protested. Whatever evils might be enumerated as the consequence of freedom of religious discussion; far greater might be advanced resulting from the exercise of a spiritual despotism. Truth is too potent to court the aid of

civil enactments and penal laws, to skulk from the fair field of debate behind the magisterial chair, and contend with its thousand foes by incarceration and fine, instead of by calm and deliberate inquiry. The deistical controversy of the last century was a signal benefit to the cause which was assailed; it has enriched our theology, illustrated the resources we coinmand, shown the strength of those foundations upon which our hopes repose, and unveiled Christianity to the confusion of the sceptic, exhibiting the majesty of truth and reflecting the benignity of heaven.

The next work that comes under our notice is entitled “ The Doctrine of the Passions explained and improved; or, a brief and comprehensive scheme of the natural affections of mankind, and an account of their names, nature, appearances, effects, and different uses in human life.” The character of the treatise may be gathered from this full and descriptire title — the writer investigates the nature of the mental affections — their general design and use — the circumstances that most powerfully influence them; as, natural constitution, climate, season, employment, health or sickness -- and some admirable rules for their government and regulation are proposed at the close. Descartes divides the primary passions into six -- admiration, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sorrow by no means an accurate distribution: Dr. Watts, who has evidently well studied his treatise, divides them into three – admiration, love, and hatred-minutely examining their several modifications and derivatives. The subject has a most important practical bearing upon man in his social, civil, and personal relations; and the work in question deserves the serious and attentive perusal of every one anxious to perform bis part aright upon the great theatre of public life, within the range of immediate neighbourhood, and in the privacy of the domestic circle. The happiness of individuals has often been infringed, and the comfort of families sacrificed, where one mind has undergone no proper training - where the early

ebullitions of passion have met with no check - the capricious will encountered 'no rein -- and the character left to grow up and be confirmed in its native wildness and instability. To be proficient, however, in the art of self-government, Dr. Watts well knew that the aids of religion are indispensable; that divine grace alone can implant a permanent and enlightened moral principle; a principle of guidance and control, “the spirit of power and of a sound mind,” achieving the mastery of self, and conquering the appetites and propensities of carnal nature. It is when the gospel comes not in word only to the ear, but in power to the heart, that the axe is laid to the root of the tree, instead of pruning a few of its excrescences; the display of unhallowed tempers is then succeeded by the attractive beauty of holiness; and the every-day actions of life are ordered by the calm decisions of the judgment, and not by the sudden impulses of unbridled feeling.

The Doctrine of the Passions originally appeared in outline, as an introduction to the “Discourses on the Love of God, and the use and abuse of the passions in religion.” Both subjects appearing to the author capable of considerable expansion, he enlarged his plan, and the contents of the volume were amplified into two separate treatises. The latter work arose from the declining state of ieligion, and the growing deadness of the churches to its vital influence: it was designed to vindicate the affectionate Christian, to reprove the formalist, and to show that the gospel, as Cudworth remarks, is not merely "a letter without us, but a quickening spirit within us." Dr. Watts was an attentive observer of the signs of the times; not only did the spiritual prosperity of his own people lie near his heart, but his expansive charity led to a lively concern for the improvement of others; and he could not witness symptoms of degeneracy, without attempting to correct the evil and avert the calamity. The excitement produced by the political changes of the seventeenth century, had a powerful and, in many instances, an unfortunate influence upon various religious

classes of the period. Some weak, yet dreamy and ardent spirits, belonging to the successful party, in the intoxication of the moment, were led to interpret their triumphs as plain and unequivocal signs of heavenly approbation. The judgment of God was seen in the routing of a cavalier, and the special interposition of Providence in the victory of a roundhead; the turbulence of human passion was mistaken for the fervour of devotion; and the high eminences of spiritual attainment were awarded to those who connected the most extravagant displays of animal feeling with the profession and exercises of piety. A different error was introduced by the restoration of the monarchy and the settlement of the national convulsions. The state of unnatural excitement which subsisted during the commonwealth, was followed by one of lamentable depression; and the evil that resulted from enthusiastic perversions, was equalled if not surpassed by that which sprung from a drowsy supineness. A large body among the dissenters, and nearly the whole of the establishment, agreed in reducing the elements of religion to a few cold theorems and formal observances; the expression of a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, was denounced as a relic of former fanaticism; and Christian experience, condemned as the offspring of visionary minds, was banished from the pale of cultivated and polite society. Syllogistical reasoning usurped the place of the doctrine of Christ, and dry and jejune disputes were heard instead of the whole counsel of God. Dr. Watts observed with pain this new divinity dominant in the church, and engrafted among the presbyterians, and to counteract the growing evil he produced the work now under review. No one was better qualified for such a task; his unexceptionable personal piety, his calm and dispassionate judgment, his knowledge of the human heart, and of the state of the religious world, eminently fitted him for a work which the circumstances of the church so loudly demanded. He shows that godliness has not only an outward form but an inward power--that pious affections,

impugned by philosophy as a weakness, are the peaceable fruits of righteousness - that to excite is the use, to govern the abuse of the passions in religion - and that pure and unadulterated Christianity, dwells semi-distant from the frigid zone of formality as well as from the tropic climes of fanaticism.

Another publication of Dr. Watts's appeared in the year 1730;“A Short View of the whole Scripture History, illustrated with Remarks on the Laws, Government, &c. of the Jews.” This was written in the way of question and answer, and intended as a kind of sequel to the catechisms. Lord Barrington had such a high opinion of this work, that he promised the author in one of his letters to keep a copy of it in his own study, and to leave it in his nursery, hall, and parlour. To form a proper estimate of Watts's labours, we must constantly keep in mind the time in which he lived. The press now teems with religious exercises and popular theology for the young, and little effort would be necessary to construct an educational formulary, having such multifarious works to use. But it was widely different a century ago: there had been then comparatively few labourers in the field; there was but little stock in hand that was available; and the amount of time and labour required in the composition of these lessons of instruction, was far greater than at first sight may appear.

It was at this period that Dr. Watts's acquaintance commenced with the amiable and accomplished Countess of Hertford, celebrated for her literary acquirements and fervent piety. This lady, the friend of Mrs. Rowe, and the patron of the poet Thomson, was the daughter of the Hon. Mr. Thynne, brother to Viscount Weymouth. She married Algernon, Earl of Hertford, son of Charles Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who, uniting in his own person the blood and the possessions of the illustrious houses of Percy and Seymour, was, perhaps, the greatest subject this country has ever seen by hereditary right. He was summoned to parliament during his father's life-time as Baron Percy, in 1722; was created Earl of Northumber

[ocr errors]
« FöregåendeFortsätt »