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Review of Foster's Essays....Evangelical Religion, &c.
of taste a sentiment unfavourable to the reception of evangelical religion, is, that this is the religion of many weak and uncultivated minds. Con
If a hint of wonder was insinuated at their
reading so little, and within so very con-
before him, even to read through the Bible
traneous to the Bible.
that this reading the Bible was no work of
inquisitive thought; and indeed he has commonly found that those who have no wish to obtain any thing like extended information, have no disposition for the real business of thinking, even in religion, and that their discourse on that subject is the
tracted, says Mr. Foster, in its abode; the great inhabitant will, like the sun through a misty sky, appear with but little of its magnificence, to a man requiring large views and elevated sentiments to accompany and to evince in all its disciples the majesty of religion. Happily he finds the great subject imparted by other oracles than the forms of conception and language in which a narrow and uncultivated mind declares it; but while from them he disclosure of intellectual poverty. He has receives it in its own character, he is tempted to wish he could detach it from all the associations which he feels it has acquired from the humThe author then ble exhibition. proceeds to mention various ways in which the injurious impressions have perhaps struck the mind of We cannot follow such a person. him in all his observations on these points, but must content ourselves with making a few extracts. The following remarks seem to deserve peculiar attention, although if we were at liberty to indulge our own should scarcely inclination, know how to exclude any part of this essay.
"The majority of Christians are inevitably precluded from any acquirements of general knowledge; but he" that is the intellectual man has met with numbers who had no inconsiderable means,
to money, judging by their unnecessary
seen them live on from year to year con-
what had been uninteresting as doctrine, be-
Mr. Foster next proceeds to notice the prejudices which may be refined taste and intellectual acquireexcited in the mind of a person of ments by the vulgar religious habits of some Christians, by their strange grimaces and coarse conversation, especially if his education had been in the society, and under the inspection and controul of persons, whether parents or any other friends, One extract we whose religion was in a form so unattractive to taste. essay, shall give from this part of the because we think it calculated to be particularly useful, at least in the way of caution, to many of our readers.
"The religious habits of some Christians may have revolted him excessively. Every thing, which could even distantly remind him of grimace, would inevitably do this; as, for instance, a solemn lifting up of the
*"I own," says Mr. Foster with much truth and propriety, "that what I said of Jesus Christ's gladly receiving one of the humbler intellectual order for his disciple, will but ill apply to some of the characters that I describe."
eyes, artificial impulses of the breath, grotesque and regulated gestures and postures in religious exercises, an affected faltering of the voice, and, I might add, abrupt reFigious exclamations in common discourse, though they were even benedictions to the
Almighty, which he has often heard so ill
timed as to have an irreverent and almost a ludicrous effect. In a mind such as I am supposing, even an increased veneration for religion will but increase the dislike to these habits. Nor will it be reconciled to them by a conviction, ever so perfect, of the sincere piety of the persons who practise
“In the conversation of illiterate Christians, he has perhaps frequently heard the most unfortunate metaphors and similies employed to explain or enforce evangelical sentiment, and probably if he twenty times recollected that sentiment or subject, or if he met with it from some other quar
ter, the repulsive figure was sure to recur to his imagination. If he has heard so many of these, that each Christian topic is associated with its appropriate image, you can easily conceive that a lively impression of the pure spirit of the subject itself is requisite to preclude the disgust, and banish the associations. Here I might observe, it were desirable that some one would suggest to Christian teachers the propriety of not amplifying the less dignified class of those metaphors which it may be very proper to
introduce, and which perhaps are employ
ed, in a short and rapid way, in the Bible, I shall notice only that common one, in which the benefits and pleasures of religion are represented under the image of food. I do not recollect that, in The New Testament at least, this metaphor is ever drawn to a very great length. But from the facility of the process, it is not strange that it has been amplified, both in books and discourses, into the most extended descrip
tions; and the dining-room has been exhausted of images, and the language ransacked for substantives and adjectives*, to diversify the entertainment. The metaphor, in its simple unexpanded form, may often serve as an apposite illustration, without lessening the subject; but will it be no degradation of spiritual ideas thus extensively and systematically to transmute them, I might even say cook them, into sensual ones? No analogy between great things and mean ones ought to be pursued, for the
* Dainties, love-feasts; sweet, rich, fat, savoury (the king of this whole tribe of adjectives), delicious, and a great many more.
mere sake of analogy, beyond the extent of necessary illustration." (p. 125–127.) Mr. Foster closes this part of his subject with an attempt to correct, in the supposed intellectual observer, that fastidiousness of taste which
repels him from Christianity on account of the low and disgusting form which it is sometimes made to assume. The passage is too long, or we should with pleasure have extracted the whole. It is full of the most important and energetic thoughts, and deserves to be carefully studied by every one who is disposed to neglect or contemn the Gospel.
The two next letters of this essay are devoted to the consideration of another of the causes in question; which the author thinks is the peculiarity of language adopted in the dis courses and books of the teachers of evangelical religion, as well as in the letters and religious conversation of Christians. The assemblage of the best writers in the language, he observes, have created and fixed a grand standard of general phraseology. Deviations from this standard he considers to be, first, by a mean or vulgar diction, which is below it; or secondly, by a barbarous diction which is out of it, or foreign to it; or thirdly, by a diction which though foreign to it, is not to be termed barbarous, because it is elevated entirely above the authority of the standard by a super-human force or majesty of thought, or a super-human communication of truth. Mr. Foster first attends to the phraseology of evangelical divinest as coming under
the second of these deviations.
+ This unfortunate epithet has been made the subject of so much discussion, that one is almost tired of hearing it men tioned. The following note, however, of Mr. Foster is so sensible and apposite, that to prevent, if possible, the sneers and cavils of opponents, we subjoin it as a good "When I say explanation of the term. Evangelical Divines, I concur with the opinion of those who deem a considerable, and, in an intellectual and literary view, a highly respectable class of the writers who have professedly taught Christianity to be not eyangelical. They might rather be deno
"I suppose," says he, "it will be instantly allowed, that the mode of expression of the greater number of evangelical divines and professors, is widely different from the standard of general language, not only by the necessary adoption of a few peculiar terms, but by a continued and systematic cast of phraseology; insomuch that in reading or hearing five or six sentences of an evangelical discourse, you ascertain the school by the mere turn of expression, independently of any attention to the quality of the ideas. If, in order to try what those ideas would appear in a different form of words, you attempted to reduce a paragraph to the language employed by intellectual men in speaking or
writing well on general subjects, you would find it must be absolutely a version." (p.
"It appears to me," he adds, "that Christian doctrine should be given, if it can, in that uncoloured neutral vehicle of expression which is adapted indifferently to common serious subjects, and may therefore be call ed the language of generality, and which should become peculiar on any one subject only just so far as that subject has indispensable peculiar terms. That in such a vehicle Christian truth can be discriminatively conveyed, is proved by a very few perfect
examples of living and dead writers, and by many partial ones. It might be proved also by the practicability of making such a version as I was just now supposing, of any discourse or treatise where the peculiarity of phrase prevails. Evangelical sentiment might be very specifically presented in what should be substantially the diction of Addison or Pope. And if even Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, and Hume, could have become Christians by some mighty and sudden efficacy of conviction, and had determined to write thenceforth in the spirit of the Apostles, they would have found no
minated moral and philosophical divines, treating very ably on the generalities of religion, and on the Christian morals, but not placing the economy of redemption exkctly in that light in which the New Testament appears to me to place it.
radical change necessary in their style." "It would be striking to observe how a diction which appears most perfectly pagan, provided it be of a strong and dignified character, would become christianized by a very slight change, if the real presence of a Christian spirit, as well as the denominating terms of a Christian subject, were introduced." (p. 150-152)
The author then gives several very weighty reasons to justify the wish that such language had been much more generally employed. Amongst these are the two following, which are peculiarly important, viz. that hypocrisy would find a much greater difficulty, as far as speech is con cerned in supporting its imposture,
if a more general language were employed in religion: and that if this alteration of language were adopted, some of the sincere disciples of evangelical religion would much more distinctly feel the necessity of a clear intellectual hold on the principles of their profession.
Mr. Foster next proceeds to consider the objection which may be urged against his views respecting religious language, that the diction which he has been describing has grown out of that of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, which it will, perhaps, be also asserted, that Christian instructors will do wisely to imitate. This objection is treated with much acuteness and judgment by our author. In opposition to it he observes, that the diction which he is censuring does not produce the solemn impression of Scriptural language, and is therefore not the proper model for Christian instructors; and that its meaning is not so exactly and promptly comprehended, as if the ideas were perspicuously expressed in the lan guage employed on general subjects.
"Why should the diction," says Mr. Foster, "of one part of the sacred writings be imitated and another avoided? No man would think of narrating a fact even of the Scripture history in the biblical forms of narrative expression. Why then should not the truths of a more doctrinal kind be taught from the Bible in the lan
guage that most belongs to our mental habits?-1st the oracles of inspiration be cited continuedy, both as authority and ilbistration, in a marder that shall make the
mind instantly refer cach expression that js inted to the venerable book from
which it is taken; but let our part of religious language be simply ours, and let those Cranes etain their characteristic form of express on unimitated and unique to the
end of time.” (p. 168, 169.)
Mr. Foster admits, that there are many single terms of the biblical diction, especially of that of the New Testament, which seem necessarily employed in the language of religion, and are almost peculiar to it; such as grace, sanctification, covenant, salvation, and some others. But he contends, that this theological peculiarity does not belong to the original words, and that some of the terms of the English New Testament which have now acquired a pre-eminence in the diction of divines, were adopted by the first translators as simply common words, though from their disuse in other subjects, they now seem to be exclusively appropriated to evangelical religion. With respect to some of these terms, Mr. Foster allows, that they could not easily have followed the alteration of general language: but he thinks, that many of them might have been advantageously exchanged for others of sufficiently parallel meaning,
"As for instance," he observes, "piety might have been substituted for godliness, improvement for edification, desire for lust, justice for righteousness, affliction for tribulation, sensual for carnal, happiness for blessedness. Even the term salvation might oftener have been exchanged for deliverance, behaviour for conversation, and grace for favour or kindness. The sacredness which some good men seem to feel in a peculiar class of terms is imaginary, since the peculiarity itself is in a great degree modern and adventitious," -(p. 171, 172.)
In the general view of this point we fully agree with Mr. Foster; though as to several of the single terms which he has mentioned, we do not think that they could often be exchanged with advantage for
any others. Indeed it has been one
This letter closes with some severe
but just strictures on the great body of evangelical authors, Here we again hail him as a valuable and powerful ally.
The next letter proceeds from the consideration of the causes which are associated immediately with the object, and by misrepresenting it, render it less acceptable to refined taste, to those which operate by perverting the very principles of this taste itself, so as to make it dislike the religion of Christ, even if presented in its own full and genuine characters, cleared of all these associations. Mr. Foster remarks chiefly on one of these causes.
"I fear," says he, " it is incontrovertible that far the greatest part of what is termed Polite Literature, by familiarity
with which taste is refined, and the moral
sentiments are in a great measure formed, is fatally hostile to the religion of Christ; partly, by introducing insensibly a certain order of opinions unconsonant, or at least not identical, with the principles of that religion; and still more, by training the feelings to a habit alien from its spirit.
And in this assertion, I do not refer to writers obviously irreligious, who have laboured and intended to seduce the passions into vice, or the judgment into the rejection of divine truth; but to the general assemblage of those elegant and ingenious authors who are read and admired by the Christian world, held essential to a liberal education and to the progressive accomplishment of the mind in subsequent life, and regarded as so far co-incident, at least, with Christianity, as not to injure the views and temper of spirits advancing, with the New Testament for their chief instructor and guide, into another world." (p. 183, 184.)
Though it is modern literature which the author has more particularly in view, he takes occasion previously to review the spirit and tendency of the ancient biographers and poets, in order to shew the injurious influence of their writings with reference to the spirit and design of Christianity. This part of his subject is executed in a very ingenious and masterly manner indeed, Homer, Virgil, and, Lucan are made to pass under a severe scrutiny in a moral and religious point of view,
As a specimen of Mr. Foster's exe. cution of this part of his work, we add the following observations on the last of these writers:
"The eloquence of Lucan's moral he roes does not consist in images of triumphs
and conquests, but in reflections on virtue, sufferings, destiny, and death; and the
sentiments expressed in his own name have
often a melancholy tinge which renders them irresistibly fascinating. He might seem to have felt a presage, while musing on the last of the Romans, that their poet was soon to follow them. The reader becomes devoted both to the poet and to these illustrious men ; but, under the influence of this devotion, he adopts all their sentiments, and exults in the sympathy; forgetting, or unwilling, to reflect, whether this state of feeling is concordant with the religion of and martyrs. The most seducing of LuChrist, and with the spirit of the apostles
pensive sublimity, are those concerning death. I remember the very principle which I would wish to inculcate, that is, the necessity that a believer of the gospel should preserve the Christian style of feeling predominant in his mind, and clear of every incongruous mixture, struck me with great force amidst the fascination and enthusiasm with which I read many times over, the memorable account of Vulteius, the speech by which he inspired his gallant flections on death with which the poet band with a passion for death, and the recloses the episode. I said to myself with a sensation of conscience-What are these sentiments with which I am burning? Are these the just ideas of death? Are they such as were taught by our Lord? Is this the spirit with which St. Paul approached his last hour? And I felt a painful collision between this reflection and the passion inspired by the poet. I perceived with the clearest certainty that the kind of interest which I felt was no less than a real adoption, for the time, of the very same sentiments by which he was animated.” (p. 203 -205.)
can's sentiments, to a mind enamoured of
"And why," asks our author, "do ! deem the admiration of this noble display of moral excellence, i. e. in the heathen worthies, pernicious to these reflective [reflecting] minds in relation to the religion of because the principles of that excellence Christ? For the simplest possible reason; are not identical with the principles of this religion" The man of taste" has felt the animation which pervaded his soul in musing on the virtues, the sentiments, and