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No. 494. Gloom no part of piety; anecdote from Puritan times ;
character of Sombrius ; true religion is cheerful. Ægritudinem laudare, unam rem maxime detestabilem, quorum est tandem
philosophorum ?-Cic. What kind of philosophy is it, to extol melancholy, the most detestable thing
in nature ?
About an age ago it was the fashion in England, for every one that would be thought religious, to throw as much sanctity as possible into his face, and in particular to abstain from all appearances of mirth and pleasantry, which were looked upon as the marks of a carnal mind. The saint was of a sorrowful countenance, and generally eaten up with spleen and melancholy. A gentleman, who was lately a great ornament to the learned world, has diverted me more than once with an account of the
reception which he met with from a very famous Independent 10 minister, who was head of a college in those times). This
gentleman was then a young adventurer in the republic of letters, and just fitted out for the university with a good cargo of Latin and Greek. His friends were resolved that he should try his fortune at an election which was drawing near in the college, of which the Independent minister whom I have before mentioned was governor. The youth, according to custom, waited on him in order to be examined. He was received at the door by a servant, who was one of that gloomy generation that were
then in fashion. He conducted him, with great silence and 20 seriousness, to a long gallery which was darkened at noon-day,
and had only a single candle burning in it. After a short stay in this melancholy apartment, he was led into a chamber hung with black, where he entertained himself for some time by the glimmering of a taper, till at length the head of the college came out to him from an inner room, with half a dozen nightcaps upon his head, and religious horror in his countenance. The young man trembled; but his fears increased, when, instead of being asked what progress he had made in learning, he was
examined how he abounded in grace. His Latin and Greek 30 stood him in little stead; he was to give an account only of the
state of his soul; whether he was of the number of the elect; what was the occasion of his conversion ; upon what day of the month and hour of the day it happened; how it was carried on, and when completed. The whole examination was summed up with one short question, namely, Whether he was prepared for death? The boy, who had been bred up by honest parents, was frighted out of his wits at the solemnity of the proceeding, and by the last dreadful interrogatory; so that, upon making his escape out of the house of mourning, he could never be brought a second time to the examination, as not being able to go through the terrors of it.
Notwithstanding this general form and outside of religion is 10 pretty well worn out among us, there are many persons, who, by
a natural unchearfulness of heart, mistaken notions of piety, or weakness of understanding, love to indulge this uncomfortable way of life, and give up themselves a prey to grief and melancholy. Superstitious fears and groundless scruples cut them off from the pleasures of conversation, and all those social entertainments which are not only innocent, but laudable : as if mirth was made for reprobates, and chearfulness of heart denied those who are the only persons that have a proper title to it.
Sombrius is one of these sons of sorrow. He thinks himself 20 obliged in duty to be sad and disconsolate. He looks on a
sudden fit of laughter as a breach of his baptismal vow. An innocent jest startles him like blasphemy. Tell him of one who is advanced to a title of honour, he lifts up his hands and eyes; describe a public ceremony, he shakes his head: shew him a gay equipage, he blesses himself. All the little ornaments of life are pomps and vanities. Mirth is wanton, and wit profane. He scandalized at youth for being lively, and childhood for being playful. He sits at a christening, or marriage feast, as at
a funeral; sighs at the conclusion of a merry story, and grows 30 devout when the rest of the company grow pleasant. After
all, Sombrius is a religious man, and would have behaved himself very properly, had he lived when Christianity was under a general persecution.
I would by no means presume to tax such characters with hypocrisy, as is done too frequently; that being a vice which I think none but he, who knows the secrets of men's hearts, should pretend to discover in another, where the proofs of it do not amount to a demonstration. On the contrary, as there are
many excellent persons who are weighed down by this habitual 40 sorrow of heart, they rather deserve our compassion than our
reproaches. I think, however, they would do well to consider whether such a behaviour does not deter men from a religious life, by representing it as an unsociable state, that extinguishes all joy and gladness, darkens the face of nature, and destroys the relish of being itself.
I have, in former papers, shewn how great a tendency there is to chearfulness in religion, and how such a frame of mind is not only the most lovely, but the most commendable in a virtuous
person. In short, those who represent religion in so unamiable 10 a light, are like the spies sent by Moses to make a discovery of
the land of Promise, when by their reports they discouraged the people from entering upon it. Those who shew us the joy, the chearfulness, the good-humour, that naturally spring up in this happy state, are like the spies bringing along with them the clusters of grapes and delicious fruits, that might invite their companions into the pleasant country which produced them.
An eminent Pagan writern has made a discourse, to shew that the atheist, who denies a God, does him less dishonour than the
man who owns his being, but at the same time believes him to 20 be cruel, hard to please, and terrible to human nature. For my
own part, says he, I would rather it should be said of me, that there was never any such man as Plutarch, than that Plutarch was ill-natured, capricious, or inhumane.
If we may believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter. He has a heart capable of mirth, and naturally disposed to it. It is not the business of virtue to extirpate the affections of the mind, but to regulate them. It may moderate and restrain, but was not
designed to banish gladness from the heart of man. Religion 30 contracts the circle of our pleasures, but leaves it wide enough
for her votaries to expatiate in. The contemplation of the divine Being, and the exercise of virtue, are in their own nature so far from excluding all gladness of heart, that they are perpetual sources of it. In a word, the true spirit of religion cheers as well as composes the soul; it banishes indeed all levity of behaviour, all vicious and dissolute mirth, but in exchange fills the mind with a perpetual nity, uninterrupted chearfulness, and an habitual inclination to please others, as well as to be pleased in itself.—0,
No. 531. The idea of God; opinion of Locke ; religion of Sir Isaac Newton.
Qui mare et terras variisque mundum
HOR, Od, i. 12. Simonides being asked by Dionysius the tyrant, What God was? desired a day's time to consider of it before he made his reply. When the day was expired, he desired two days; and afterwards instead of returning his answer, demanded still double time to consider of it. This great poet and philosopher, the more he contemplated the nature of the Deity, found that he waded but the more out of his depth; and that he lost himself in the thought, instead of finding an end of it.
If we consider the idea which wise men by the light of 10 reason have framed of the Divine Being, it amounts to this :
that he has in him all the perfection of a spiritual nature; and since we have no notion of any kind of spiritual perfection but what we discover in our own souls, we join infinitude to each kind of these perfections, and what is a faculty in a human soul becomes an attribute in God.
We exist in place and time; the Divine Being fills the immensity of space with his presence, and inhabits eternity. We are possessed of a little power and a little knowledge, the
Divine Being is Almighty and omniscient. In short, by adding 20 infinity to any kind of perfection we enjoy, and by joining all
these different kinds of perfections in one being, we form our idea of the great Sovereign of nature.
Though every one who thinks must have made this observation, I shall produce Mr. Locke's authority to the same purpose, out of his Essay on human understanding 1. 'If we examine the idea we have of the incomprehensible Supreme Being, we shall find, that we come by it the same way; and that the complex ideas we have both of God and separate spirits,
are made up of the simple ideas we receive from reflexion: 30 v. g. having from what we experiment in ourselves, got the ideas
of existence and duration, of knowledge and power, of pleasure and happiness, and of several other qualities and powers, which it is better to have than to be without,-when we would frame
THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES.
an idea the most suitable we can to the Supreme Being, we enlarge every one of these with our idea of infinity; and so putting them together, make our complex idea of God.'
It is not impossible that there may be many kinds of spiritual perfection, besides those which are lodged in an human soul; but it is impossible that we should have ideas of any kinds of perfection, except those of which we have some small rays and short imperfect strokes in ourselves. It would be therefore a very
high presumption to determine whether the Supreme Being has 10 not many more attributes than those which enter into our con
ceptions of him. This is certain, that if there be any kind of spiritual perfection which is not marked out in an human soul, it belongs in its fulness to the Divine Nature.
Several eminent philosophers have imagined that the soul, in her separate state, may have new faculties springing up in her, which she is not capable of exerting during her present union with the body; and whether these faculties may not correspond with other attributes in the divine nature, and open to us here
after new matter of wonder and adoration, we are altogether 20 ignorant. This, as I have said before, we ought to acquiesce in,
that the Sovereign Being, the great Author of nature, has in him all possible perfection, as well in kind as in degree; to speak according to our methods of conceiving. I shall only add under this head, that when we have raised our notion of this infinite Being as high as it is possible for the mind of man to go, it will fall infinitely short of what he really is. There is no end of his greatness ; the most exalted creature he has made, is only capable of adoring it, none but himself can comprehend it.
The advice of the son of Sirach is very just and sublime in 30 this light. “By his word all things consist. We may speak much,
and yet come short; wherefore in sum, he is all. How shall we be able to magnify him ? for he is great above all his works. The Lord is terrible and very great; and marvellous in his power. When you glorify the Lord, exalt him as much as you can : for even yet will he far exceed. And when you exalt him, put forth all your strength, and be not weary; for you can never go far enough. Who hath seen him, that he might tell us? and who can magnify him as he is ? There are yet hid
greater things than these be, for we have seen but a few of to his works.'