« Prev APHORISM XIII. Next »




It is not altogether unprofitable; yea, it is great wisdom in Christians to be arming themselves against such temptations as may befall the hereafter, though they have not as yet met with them; to labour to overcome them before-hand, to suppose the hardest things that may be incident to them, and to put on the strongest resolutions they can attain unto. Yet all that is but an imaginary effort; and therefore there is no assurance that the victory is any more than imaginary, too, till it come to action, and then, they that have spoken and thought very confidently, may prove but (as one said of the Athenians) fortes in tabula, patient and courageous in picture or fancy; and, notwithstanding all then: arms, and dexterity in handling them by way of exercise, may be foully defeated when they are to fight in earnest.



The word of God speaks to men, and therefore it speaks the language of the children of men. This just and pregnant thought was suggested to Leighton by Gen. xxii, 12. The same text has led me to unfold and expand the remark.--On moral subjects, the Scriptures speak in the language of the affections which they excite in us; on sensible objects, neither metaphysically, as they are known by superior intelligences; nor theoretically, as they would be seen by us were we placed in the sun; but as they are represented by our human senses in our present relative position. Lastly, from no vain, or worse than vain, ambition of seeming to walk 62 on the sea of mystery in my way to truth, but in the hope of removing a difficulty that presses heavily on the minds of many who in heart and desire are believers, and which long pressed on my own mind, I venture to add: that on spiritual things, and allusively to the mysterious union or conspiration of the divine with the human in the spirits of the just, spoken of in Rom. vii, 27, the word of God attributes the language of the spirit sanctified to the Holy One, the Sanctifier.

Now the spirit in man (that is, the will) knows its own state in and by its acts alone: even as in geometrical reasoning the mind knows its constructive faculty in the act of constructing, and contemplates the act in the product (that is, the mental figure or diagram) which is inseparable from the act and co-instantaneous.

Let the reader join these two positions; first, that the divine Spirit acting in the human will is described as one with the will so filled and actuated: secondly, that our actions are the means, by which alone the will becomes assured of its own state: and he will understand, though he may not perhaps adopt my suggestion, that the verse, in which God speaking of himself, says to Abraham, Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thy only son, from me--may be more than merely figurative. An accommodation I grant; but in the thing expressed, and not altogether in the expressions. In arguing with infidels, or with the weak in faith, it is a part of religious prudence, no less than of religious morality, to avoid whatever looks like an evasion. To retain the literal sense, wherever the harmony of Scripture permits, and reason does not forbid, is ever the honester, and, nine times in ten, the more rational and pregnant interpretation. The contrary plan is an easy and approved way of getting 63 rid of a difficulty; but nine times in ten a bad way of solving it. But alas! there have been too many commentators who are content not to understand a text themselves, if only they can make the reader believe they do.

Of the figures of speech in the sacred volume, that are only figures of speech, the one of most frequent occurrence is that which describes an effect by the name of its most usual and best-known cause: the passages for instance, in which grief, fury, repentance, &c, are attributed to the Deity. But these are far enough from justifying the (I had almost said, dishonest) fashion of metaphorical glosses, in as well as out of the church; and which our fashionable divines have carried to such an extent, as in the doctrinal part of their creed, to leave little else but metaphors. But the reader who wishes to find this latter subject, and that of the aphorism, treated more at large, is referred to Mr. Southey's Omniana, vol. ii, p. 7-12, and to the note in p. 62-67, of the author's second Lay Sermon.



Leighton and Coleridge.

Seek not altogether to dry up the stream of sorrow, but to bound it and keep it within its banks. Religion doth not destroy the life of nature, but adds to it a life more excellent; yea, it doth not only permit, but requires some feeling of afflictions. Instead of patience, there is in some men an affected pride of spirit suitable only to the doctrine of the Stoics as it is usually taken. They strive not to feel at all the afflictions that are on them; but where there is no feeling at all, there can be no patience.


Of the sects of ancient philosophy the Stoic is, perhaps, the nearest to Christianity. Yet even to this sect Christianity is fundamentally opposite. For the Stoic attaches the highest honour (or rather, attaches honour solely) to the person that acts virtuously in spite of his feelings, or who has raised himself above the conflict by their extinction; while Christianity instructs us to place small reliance on a virtue that does not begin by bringing the feelings to a conformity with the commands of the conscience. Its especial aim, its characteristic operation, is to moralize the affections. The feelings, that oppose a right act, must be wrong feelings. The act, indeed, whatever the agent's feelings might be, Christianity would command: and under certain circumstances would both command and commend it--command it, as a healthful symptom in a sick patient; and commend it, as one of the ways and means of changing the feelings, or displacing them by calling up the opposite.


I. The more consciousness in our thoughts and words, and the less in our impulses and general actions, the better and more healthful the state both of head and heart. As the flowers from an orange tree in its time of blossoming, that burgeon forth, expand, fall, and are momently replaced, such is the sequence of hourly and momently charities in a pure and gracious soul. The modern fiction which depictures the son of Cytherea with a bandage round his eyes, is not without a spiritual meaning. There is a sweet and holy blindness in Christian love even as there is a blindness of life, yea, and of genius, too, in the moment of productive energy.

II. Motives are symptoms of weakness, and supplements 65 for the deficient energy of the living principle, the law within us. Let them then be reserved for those momentous acts and duties in which the strongest and best balanced natures must feel themselves deficient, and where humility, no less than prudence, prescribes deliberation. We find a similitude of this, I had almost said a remote analogy, in organized bodies. The lowest class of animals or protozoa, the polypi for instance, have neither brain nor nerves. Their motive powers are all from without. The sun, light, the warmth, the air are their nerves and brain. As life ascends, nerves appear; but still only as the conductors of an external influence; next are seen the knots or ganglions, as so many foci of instinctive agency, that imperfectly imitate the yet wanting centre. And now the promise and token of a true individuality are disclosed; both the reservoir of sensibility and the imitative power that actuates the organs of motion, (the muscles) with the net-work of conductors, are all taken inward and appropriated; the spontaneous rises into the voluntary, and finally after various steps and a long ascent, the material and animal means and conditions are prepared for the manifestations of a free will, having its law within itself and its motive in the law--and thus bound to originate its own acts, not only without, but even against, alien stimulants. That in our present state we have only the dawning of this inward sun (the perfect law of liberty) will sufficiently limit and qualify die preceding position, if only it have been allowed to produce its two-fold consequence--the excitement of hope and the repression of vanity.




As excessive eating or drinking both makes the body sickly and lazy, fit for nothing but sleep, and besots the mind, as it clogs up with, crudities the way through which the spirits should pass*, bemiring them, and making them move heavily, as a coach in a deep way; thus doth all immoderate use of the world and its delights wrong the soul in its spiritual condition, makes it sickly and feeble, full of spiritual distempers and inactivity, benumbs the graces of the Spirit, and fills the soul with sleepy vapours, makes it grow secure and heavy in spiritual exercises, and obstructs the way and motion of the Spirit of God, in the soul. Therefore, if you would be spiritual, healthful, and vigorous, and enjoy much of the consolations of Heaven, be sparing and sober in those of the earth, and what you abate of the one, shall be certainly made up in the other.

« Prev APHORISM XIII. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection