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1847.] Progress of Public Opinion.
373 nearly the whole day was consumed in filling up the jury, So with Gordon, in Rhode Island, McCurry, in Maryland, and Polly Bodine, in a more recent case.
It has been reported, without contradiction, that the city of Providence could not furnish enough for a jury to sit upon Gordon's life.
Dr. Cheever replies to every such argument for change,
“ Make the penalty certain, oblige jurors to keep to their oaths, compel men to lay aside their scruples about the sanctity of human life, deprive governors of their pardoning power,” etc. Does he not see that the overwhelming tide of popular opinion is setting the other way, — that, even without the public discussion of a repeal, the growing humanity of the age promises to sweep away penalties which it will not inflict and cannot justify ? Every expression of interest in penitentiaries and houses of reformation, every dawning of sympathy towards “discharged convicts” and penitent criminals, every increase of reverence for human life, alike aggravating the guilt of murder and awakening horror at the thought of our exacting blood for blood, serves to hasten the time when the death-penalty shall only be as the log thrown down for a king to the frogs, despised, insulted, defied, by those who once dreaded its power. Before that time shall draw any nearer, let us seek to put this matter on a just and permanent basis, according to the self-evident maxim of Edward Livingston, that “ the law should never command more than it can enforce; and therefore, whenever, from public opinion or any other cause, a penal law cannot be carried into execution, it should be repealed.” For well has one of our own poets sung,
- Thank God that I have lived to see the time,
F. W. H.
Art. V. -EDWARDS AND THE REVIVALISTS.
A CHAPTER OF NEW ENGLAND ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.
In the works of religious writers at the beginning of the last century, we find lamentations over the spirit of lukewarmness which had infected the churches. “It seems to have been acknowledged that the enthusiasm of the early Reformers had passed by, and that the earnest devoutness, selfsacrifice, delight in religious exercises, sanctity, stern conscientiousness, of their Protestant ancestors had subsided into staleness of thought and stagnancy of feeling. Such ebbs and flows, indeed, can be traced throughout the history of the Christian Church, and may be explained by principles which regulate alike the collective and ihe individual life of man.
The law of vibration is universally operative in the moral as in the natural world ; and pulsation is felt throughout all bodies, material and social, in which life circulates. But it may be asked in passing, whether the Protestant movement, in its very aim to make religion wholly spiritual, did not involve the certainty that such oscillations as we have alluded to should be at once more frequent and more perceptible than they had been under the Catholic system.
In their doctrine of “ justification by faith,” the Reformers broke the thraldom of a hierarchy which claimed to be the only medium of Divine communication ; but they thereby threw every individual back upon his own experience, - an experience, in most souls, of moral weakness. The exclusive control of the sacraments was swept away, and the tyranny inseparable from such assumed prerogatives ; but the sinner was still enslaved to inward lust and to outward custom. Rituals made room only for stern realities; the scourge was dropped, but the struggle with sense and self went on; penance was abandoned, but remorse remained ; and for the comforts of the confessional were left the lonely agonies of an awakened conscience. Though nominally retaining the theory of a church, yet, by the mode in which the fact of personal responsibility was exaggerated, the Protestant was forced to feel that no human brother could help to bear the burden of his guilt to the foot of the cross.
For himself, within himself, by himself, he must seek direct access through Christ to God. No absolution, no benediction, from a father 1847.)
Season of Apathy.
on earth would avail to encourage and strengthen. Only by the spirit of adoption breathed in from the Father in Heaven could he find peace. No bright company of saints seemed to him to shed light upon the path of temptation, where amidst pitfalls he must find his gloomy way. He stood alone. Doubtless the already strong in conscience grew stronger by this self-dependence, and learned to know the mystery of the life-giving power of prayer; but the weak in will, who most needed aid, were thus made conscious of spiritual destitution, as those never can be who feel that they are encompassed by holy ministrations, through which the church triumphant above and the church militant around pledge and proffer them aid.
In rejecting, too, the influences by which beauty through the senses refines the heart, and the power of symbols to lift man to lofty heights of contemplative thought, the Protestant, though in part freed from temptations to become a formalist or a mystic, was left more subject than the Catholic to the danger of fanaticism intermitting with deadness. The universal consecration of life is the ideal of the Christian Church throughout its various communities of believers ; but in rejecting the rites by which Catholicism typified devotedness to good, Protestantism demanded of its members an almost unattainable spirituality as the only means of counterbalancing the pressure of worldliness. Only by sanctifying all relations of existence, of industry and property, of politics and social intercourse, of science and art, and making every man in his appropriate sphere and function a minister of divine life to his fellows, and so binding the members of society together in a communion of active love, for ever renewed from on high and embodied in daily deeds, can the loss be supplied of the system of sacraments so wonderfully perfected in the Middle Ages. In confirmation of this view, the history of each Protestant denomination, and of Protestantism as a whole, will be found to consist of a series of alternations from enthusiasm to apathy.
Such a season of apathy had arrived in New England at the beginning of the last century. And, apart from the general tendency of Protestantism and the operation of the law already indicated, by which successive ages become eras of inspiration or of indifference, it is easy to recognize some at least of the peculiar influences which caused that period to be a spiritually passive one. The corruption of manners,
which from Charles the Second's reign downwards had been working through English society, though less gross in particular manifestations than at some earlier times, was more generally diffused. We have only to read the pages of Addison and Steele, of Johnson and Goldsmith, to be satisfied that there was an almost universal prevalence of frivolous and profligate habits ; and it is difficult to conceive how any high principle and pure feeling survived. The tone of even these writers, earnestly endeavouring as they were to apply their knife and cautery to the foul corruptions of the social body, is pervaded by a sentimentalism which proves that the moral malady had nearly reached the heart of the age. In the Colonies, to be sure, the healthy Puritan blood yet circulated, and the whole temper of life was at once more manly and simple, more earnest and upright. Still, the example of the mother country was to a degree contagious ; her fashions and literature made themselves felt in manners and thought; and proof enough remains, that the children of the Pilgrims had sadly deteriorated from the style of character and life inculcated by their stern forefathers. The growing liberality, and the increasing interest in philosophy, also, which characterized the reigns of William the Third and the first two Georges, * by diverting men's minds from wonted channels of opinion, and threatening to undermine by new currents the long-tilled acres of old creeds, disturbed conscience, distracted feeling, and led insensibly to a nego lect of traditionary usages of piety; and, finally, the commercial and industrial activity of the times absorbed in practical affairs the energies which, in earlier eras of theological and civil convulsions, had been concentrated upon the problems of man's spiritual existence. As the result of these combined influences, it was painfully felt by the devout, even in the heart of New England, that palsy was crippling the churches. Amidst these conditions the outbreak of enthusiasm, known at the time as the “Great Awakening,” appeared.
The first traces of this movement are to be found in a small body of believers, in the neighbourhood of New Haven, Connecticut, who about 1730 became filled, as they thought,
Hist. of Dissenters, Bogue and Bennett, 2d ed., Vol. I.,
213 - 244; Vol. 11., pp. 77 – 134. Quincy's Hist. of Harvard College, Vol. 1., pp. 196, 315.
The New Lights.
with a new religious life.* Their own modes of expression, no less than the descriptions given by opponents, would lead one to class them with the Familists and Seekers, with Mrs. Anne Hutchinson and her followers, and the various bodies of enthusiasts who appeared in the times of the Commonwealth, and whose prototypes may be found in earlier ages of the Church. They all might be properly grouped, perhaps, under the one name of “ Conscious Communicants in the Spirit.” Their central doctrine was, that, by an immediate and sensible influence of the Holy Ghost, the soul underwent a total change from death to life, and the sinner was thereby suddenly listed from the gloom of hell into the prospective glory of heaven. Not only was the converted person new-born, but this process was one which could be distinctly traced from the quickening of the germ to the travail throe, — if, indeed, this suggestion of a progressive development is not inconsistent with the instantaneous regeneration which the “New Lights” announced as the only means of escaping eternal death. Conscious new-birth was the chief object of their contemplation, the continual burden of their preaching, the experience longed and waited for, the theme of grateful exultation in their prayers. They aspired aster and believed that they attained to entire oneness of will with God. They reached an undoubting assurance of salvation. The renewed man became at once, by communion with the Holy Spirit, himself holy. He put off the filthy rags of his own righteousness, and was clothed upon with the righteousness of Christ. Ordinances had become useless, for he had attained to the living realities which they symbolized. He passed from legal bondage into Gospel freedom. No longer an outcast, everlasting life was open to him as his home. He was never alone, but the Father abode with him as a friend.
He could not be deceived in men, but tried all hearts by an unfailing test. Temptation had lost its hold upon his heart. He needed the Bible no more, for the Spirit enlightened him fully. He had no perplexities, for the path of duty was luminous with splendors of eternal day. All human learning was henceforth despicable. He could not err, for the face of truth was unveiled. He was justified, and needed no outward sign of sanctification. He was re
Chauncy's Seasonable Thoughts, pp. 202 - 215. Edwards's Works, Vol. III., p. 20.
VOL. XLIII. - 4TH S. VOL. VIII. NO. III. 33