Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

L derstood, religion is a moral revolution; thus simplified, religion is only a moral revolution. Before this deep emotion, metaphysics and theology, ceremonies and discipline, all is blotted out or subordinate, and Christianity is simply the purification of the heart. Look now at these men, dressed in sombre colors, speaking through the nose on Sundays, in a box of dark wood, whilst a man in bands, “ with the air of a Cato," reads a psalm. Is there nothing in their heart but theological “ trash" or me. chanical phrases? There is a deep sentiment-veneration. This bare Dissenters' meeting-house, this simple service and church of the Anglicans, leave them open to the impression of what they read and hear. For they do hear, and they do read; prayer in the vulgar tongue, psalms translated into the vulgar tongue, can penetrate through their senses to their souls. They do penetrate; and this is why they have such a collected mien. For the race is by its very nature capable of deep emotions, disposed by the vehemence of its imagination to comprehend the grand and tragic; and the Bible, which is to them the very word of eternal God, provides it. I know that to Voltaire it is only em. phatic, unconnected, ridiculous; the sentiments with which it is filled are out of harmony with French sentiments. In England the hearers are on the level of its energy and harshness. The cries of anguish or admiration of the solitary Hebrew, the transports, the sudden outbursts of sublime passion, the desire for justice, the growling of the thunder and the judgments of God, shake, across thirty centuries, these biblical souls. Their other books assist it. The Prayer Book, which is handed down as an heirloom with the old family Bible, speaks to all, to the dullest peasant, or the miner, the solemn accent of true prayer. The new-born poetry, the reviving religion of the sixteenth century, have impressed their magnificent gravity upon it; and we feel in it, as in Milton himself, the pulse of the twofold inspiration which then lifted a man out of himself and raised him to heaven. Their knees bend when they listen to it. That Confession of Faith, these collects for the sick, for the dying, in case of public misfortune or private grief, these lofty sentences of impassioned and sustained eloquence, transport a man to some unknown and august world. Let the fine gentlemen yawn, mock, and succeed in not understanding: I am sure that, of the others, many are moved. The idea of dark death and of the limitless ocean, to which the poor weak soul must descend, the thought of this invisible justice, everywhere present, ever foreseeing, on which the changing show of visible things depends, enlighten them with unexpected flashes. The physical world and its laws seem to them but a phantom and a figure; they see nothing more real than justice; it is the sum of humanity, as of nature. This is the deep sentiment which on Sunday closes the theatre, discour-' ages pleasures, fills the churches; this it is which pierces the breastplate of the positive spirit and of corporeal dullness. This shopkeeper, who all the week has been counting his bales or drawing up columns of figures; this cattle-breeding squire, who can only bawl, drink, jump a fence; these yeomen, these cottagers, who in order to amuse themselves draw blood whilst boxing, or vie with each other in grinning through a horse-collar, -all these uncultivated souls, immersed in material life, receive thus from their religion a moral life. They love it; we hear it in the yells of a mob, rising like a thunderstorm, when a rash hand touches or seems to touch the Church. We see it in the sale of Protestant devotional books; the Pilgrim's Progress and The Whole Duty of Man are alone able to force their way to the window-ledge of the yeoman and squire, where four volumes, their whole library, rest amid the fishing-tackle. We can only move the men of this race by moral reflections and religious emotions. The cooled Puritan spirit still broods underground, and is drawn in the only direction where fuel, air, fire, and action are to be found.

We obtain a glimpse of it when we look at the sects. In France, Jansenists and Jesuits seem to be puppets of another century, fighting for the amusement of this age.

Here Quakers, Independents, Baptists exist, serious, honored, recognized by the · State, distinguished by their able writers, their deep scholars, their men of worth, their founders of nations. Their piety causes their disputes; it is because they will believe that they differ in belief: the only men without religion are those who do not care for religion. A motionless faith is soon a dead faith; and when a man becomes a sectarian, it is because he is fervent. This Christianity lives because it is developed; we see the sap, always flowing from the Protestant inquiry and faith, re-enter

[ocr errors]

1 William Penn.

the old dogmas, dried up for fifteen hundred years. Voltaire, when he came to England, was surprised to find Arians, and amongst them the first thinkers in England-Clarke, Newton himself. Not only dogma, but feeling, is renewed; beyond the speculative Arians were the practical Methodists; behind Newton and Clarke came Whitefield and Wesley.

No history more deeply illustrates the English character than that of these two men. In spite of Hume and Voltaire, they founded a monastical and convulsionary sect, and triumph through austerity, and exaggeration, which would have ruined them in France. · Wesley was a scholar, an Oxford student, and he believed in the devil; he attributes to him sickness, nightmare, storms, earthquakes. His family heard supernatural noises; his father had been thrice pushed by a ghost; he himself saw the hand of God in the commonest events of life. One day at Birmingham, overtaken by a hailstorm, he felt that he received this warning, because at table he had not sufficiently exhorted the people who dined with him; when he had to determine on anything, he opened the Bible at random for a text, in order to decide. At Oxford he fasted and wearied himself until he spat blood, and almost died; at sea, when he departed for America, he only ate bread, and slept on deck; he lived the life of an apostle, giving away all that he earned, traveling and preaching all the year, and every year, till the age of eightyeight ;it has been reckoned that he gave away thirty thousand pounds, traveled about a hundred thousand miles, and preached forty thousand sermons. What could such a man have done in France in the eighteenth century? Here he was listened to and followed, at his death he had eighty thousand disciples; now he has a million. The qualms of conscience, which forced him in this direction, compelled others to follow in his footsteps. Nothing is more striking than the confessions of his preachers, mostly low-born and laymen. George Story had the spleen, dreamed and mused gloomily; took to slandering himself and the occupations of men. Mark Bond thought himself damned, because when a boy he had once uttered a blasphemy; he read and

1 On one tour he slept three weeks on the bare boards. One day, at three in the morping, he said to Nelson, his companion: “ Brother Nelson, let us be of good cheer, I have one whole side yet; for the skin is off but on one side."--Southey's Life of Wesley, 2 vols., 1820, ii. ch. xv. 54.

[ocr errors]

prayed unceasingly and in vain, and at last in despaik he en listed, with the hope of being killed. John Haime had visions, howled, and thought he saw the devil. Another, a baker, had scruples because his master continued to bake on Sunday, wasted away with anxiety, and soon was nothing but a skeleton. Such are the timorous and impassioned souls which become religious and enthusiastic. They are numerous in this land, and on them doctrine took hold. Wesley declares that “A string of opinions is no more Christian faith than a string of beads is Christian holiness. It is not an assent to any opinion, or any number of opinions.” “This justifying faith implies not only the personal revelation, the inward evidence of Christianity, but likewise a sure and firm confidence in the individual believer that Christ died for his sin, loved him, and gave his life for him.i “By a Christian, I mean one who so believes in Christ, as that sin hath no more dominion over him.”

The faithful feels in himself the touch of a superior hand, and the birth of an unknown being. The old man has disappeared, the new man has taken his place, pardoned, purified, transfigured, steeped in joy and confidence, inclined to good as strongly as he was once drawn to evil. A miracle has been wrought, and it can be wrought at any moment, suddenly, under any circumstances, without warning. Some sinner, the oldest and most hardened, without wishing it, without having dreamed of it, falls down weeping, his heart melted by grace. The hidden thoughts, which fermented long in these gloomy imaginations, break out suddenly into storms, and the dull brutal mood is shaken by nervous fits which it had not known before. Wesley, Whitefield, and their preachers went all over England preaching to the poor, the peasants, the workmen in the open air, sometimes to a congregation of twenty thousand people. “The fire is kindled in the country.” There was sobbing and crying. At Kingswood, Whitefield, having collected the miners, a savage race, “saw the white gutters made by the tears which plentifully fell down from their black cheeks, black as they came out from their coal-pits."3 Some trembled and fell; others had transports of joy, ecstasies. Southey writes thus of Thomas Olivers : “His heart was broken, nor could he express the strong desires which he felt for righteousness. . . . He describes his feelings during a Te Deum at the cathedral, as if he had done with earth, and was praising God before His throne.”] The god and the brute, which each man carries in himself, were let loose; the physical machine was upset; emotion was turned into madness, and the madness became contagious. An eye-witness says:

1 Southey's Life of Il’esley, ii. 176.

Ibid. i. 251.

3 Ibid. i. ch. vi. 236.

“At Everton some were shrieking, some roaring aloud. ... The most general was a loud breathing, like that of people half strangled and gasping for life; and, indeed, almost all the cries were like those of human creatures dying in bitter anguish. Great numbers wept without any noise; others fell down as dead. . . . I stood upon the pew-seat, as did a young man in the opposite pew, an able-bodied, fresh, healthy, countryman, but in a moment, when he seemed to think of nothing else, down he dropt, with a violence in. conceivable. . . . I heard the stamping of his feet, ready to break the boards, as he lay in strong convulsions at the bottom of the pew. ... I saw a sturdy boy, about eight years old, who roared above his fellows; his face was red as scarlet; and almost all on whom God laid his hand, turned either very red or almost black." 2

Elsewhere, a woman, disgusted with this madness, wished to .eave, but had only gone a few steps when she fell into as violent fits as others. Conversions followed these transports; the converted paid their debts, forswore drunkenness, read the Bible, prayed, and went about exhorting others. Wesley collected them into societies, formed“ classes” for mutual examination and edification, submitted spiritual life to a methodic discipline, built chapels, chose preachers, founded schools, organized enthusiasm To this day his disciples spend very large sums every year ir missions to all parts of the world, and on the banks of the Miss. issippi and the Ohio their shoutings repeat the violent enthusiasm and the conversions of primitive inspiration. The same instinct is still revealed by the same signs; the doctrine of grace survive: in uninterrupted energy, and the race, as in the sixteenth century puts its poetry into the exaltation of the moral sense.

V. A sort of theological smoke covers and hides this glowing hearth which burns in silence. A stranger who, at this time, had visited the country, would see in this religion only a choking vapor of arguments, controversies, and sermons. All those cele. brated divines and preachers, Barrow, Tillotson, South, Stilling

" Southey's Life of Wesley, ii. ch. xvii. rin.

2 Ibid. ii. ch. xxiv. 320.

« НазадПродовжити »