صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

country liberty had got involved in the mazes of the town, did not appear; but there was the bright-winged creature floating in the air, or darting off with the rapidity of thought, and attracting all passengers by its diamond-like brilliance, as, while stationary, it sparkled in the sun, or, in motion, reflected a wavy line of light; spirit-like in its unwonted appearance; spirit-like in its shining glory; spirit-like, alas! also, in its abrupt departure.

We will shortly trace the history of the butterfly, and then close our interview with insects for the present. For some months after it comes from the egg it assumes the form of a caterpillar. It has sixteen legs, feeds on leaves, which it devours by means of two jaws, and has twelve eyes, so small as not to be seen without a microscope. After casting its skin several times, the caterpillar attaches itself to a leaf by a silken girth. It gradually becomes smaller; the skin splits and falls off, leaving an oblong mass, without apparent head or limbs, and seemingly dead, exhibiting motion, and that only very slightly, when touched. In this state, without food, it exists for some months, when, bursting from its prison, it soars away into the air, a winged and gorgeously decorated butterfly. Ten of its feet are gone; and those it now has are long and taper, whereas before they were short and thick. Its jaws are replaced by a proboscis, suited only for sipping honey from the cups of flowers; and, for its twelve invisible eyes, it has got two large ones, composed of at least twenty thousand lenses, each of which is supposed to be a distinct seeing power! All is changed appearance, habits, pursuits. What can be more wonderful than the fact that an unsightly worm should pass through a shrouded and death-like sleep, and should wake at last a glorious butterfly, to bask in sunshine, float on the impalpable air, and quaff the lucious nectar of beauteous flowers! Well might such a miracle be made the poet's theme. Well might those philosophers, on whose minds there dawned, albeit dimly, the great truth of an after life-well might they imagine their toilsome existence typified in the caterpillar; their descent to the quiet grave, in the tomb-like repose of the crysalis ; and the hereafter they sighed for, in the spirit-like resurrection of the happy butterfly; and, seizing with avidity the idea, well might they designate these airy creatures by the name of souls.'

CHRISTIANITY-A RELIGION FOR THE PEOPLE.

Never, at any previous era of the world's history, has more attention been directed than now to the common people. We have science for the people, information and entertainment of all sorts for the people. This is the result, not of spontaneous philanthropy, but of the progress of events. An entire change is coming over the face of society. Power is every day passing from the hands of the few into those of the many. The masses, jealous of their rights, and conscious of their power to assert them, will no longer submit to be the dupes and tools of despotism, whether civil or religious. They are beginning to think for themselves; and provision must be made for the spirit of inquiry which has been awakened. They are assuming the mastery, and they must have servants to minister to their wants.

To meet this new demand, the literature and science of the day have taken a decidedly popular turn; and, under the pretext of enlightening or amusing the people, an unprincipled press is busily employed in flattering their prejudices and pandering to their passions. The Most High will, no doubt, overrule this change for the best of purposes. Meanwhile, it is pleasing to reflect, that though, from the shock which unsettles the fabric of society, the gospel may suffer for a season, there is no reason to fear that it will go down with the wreck of human institutions, or perish with the abuses of past ages. True religion has outlived its own abuses ; and from the revolutions which are now taking place, we may anticipate for it a more decided triumph than it has ever yet won; for, in the best sense of the phrase, Christianity is a religion for the people.

It is certain that the gospel has always met with more acceptance from the common people, than from those distinguished for rank, wealth, or learning. While the scribes and rulers of Judea turned away from our blessed Lord in contempt, and sought to kill him,' it is said that the common people heard him gladly. Of his apostles, we are told that the people magnified them.' And when not deterred by fear or blinded by prejudice or superstition, the commonalty have always manifested a predilection for the pure preaching of the gospel. This does not imply that there is any natural liking in the human heart to the doctrines of the gospel, which are too humbling to the pride of man, and too much at variance with his lusts to obtain without divine influence, a cordial reception. But there is certainly much about the gospel which is, in its own nature, fitted to commend it especially to the poor and needy, who form the great mass of the people; and it may be profitable to inquire what those qualities are which render it so worthy of their acceptation.

There can be no doubt, in the first place, that Christianity was intended and designed by its divine Author mainly for the common people. "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble, not many mighty are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things, the weak things, and base things of this world, and things that are despised hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, that no flesh should glory in his presence.' Poverty has been so long the common lot of mankind, that the term poor has become synonymous with the common people. When our Lord said, "To the poor the gospel is preached,' he meant to say that to the people the gospel is preached.' Every thing characteristic of the gospel shows that it was designed for the common people. Our blessed Lord himself, according to the flesh, was a poor man; and, though lineally descended from David, was chosen out of the people.' So were his disciples ; so was the great body of his followers in the primitive ages. His gospel addresses itself to the people. True, the rich and the great are not excluded, and many of them have had reason to thank God with a well-known lady of rank for the single letter which made the passage read, “Not many noble are called,' instead of "Not any noble are called.' But the great are included under the general denomination of the people; they must be content to sit down on a level with the meanest at the table of the gospel. Christianity is no class religion. Like the sun and air, it is catholic and common to all. It is not enough to say it admits of no exception; it recognises no distinctions. It is not a religion for gentlemen merely, or for great men, or for mean men; it is a religion for men. Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.'

Further, it is apparent that the gospel is admirably adapted to the comprehension of the common people. In this respect it differs from all other sciences. These can only be acquired by a select few; for, after all the efforts that have been made of late to bring science within the reach of the multitude, it can be but a mere scantling of knowledge that can be thus imparted, and that ill understood, and of small practical utility. Few can command the leisure, still fewer can bring the ability and inclination necessary to master any one of the natural sciences. But the truths of revelation are patent to the understanding of all. They require neither great talents nor much labour to comprehend them. The way of holiness is an highway; the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.' All in the school of Christ may not have made the same progress; but in the learning which is there to be acquired, the simplest minds frequently outstrip the most acute and intelligent; and, under the promised teaching of the Spirit, 'we all come, in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of fulness of Christ.'

But, besides this, Christianity is graciously suited to the outward and common lot of the people. That, as we have said, is generally one of penury and privation. Debarred from many of the luxuries enjoyed by the rich, the common people must spend most of their time in hard and unremitting labour. We assume, now, that in this respect, “the thing that has been shall be. In no conceivable state of society can labour be dispensed with ; and no rights' that can be adjudged to it will exempt man from the sentence- In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground. The wants of society must multiply with its growth, and the number of its poor must increase in proportion to its prosperity; for the dream of equality is out of the question, and the prosperity of any one class of the community implies the corresponding depression of those who are required to minister to their elevation. Be this as it may, Christianity provides a solace to the poor man, so long as the poor continue in the land, under all the miseries to which he is liable. Has he no money? How admirably adapted is the gospel to produce that contentment which, with godliness, is itself 'great gain! What a precious boon to the poor man, did he but know it, is that religion which opens up to him a new world, with treasures that cannot be stolen, and an inheritance that fadeth not away! Is the poor despised of his neighbour? • Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him ? Is the poor destitute of friends ? The gospel amply compensates for this, by introducing him to the friend of sinners.' Is he often reduced to a piece of bread? A little that a just man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.' In fine, is he left to die unnoticed and unpitied by all around bim? Why repine if he has the presence of his God, and the promises of grace, which administer such strong consolation—the gentle hand of his Saviour wiping the tear from the eye of anguish, and angels whispering peace in the last moments of dissolving nature ? "At my first answer,' says Paul, 'no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.'

But not only is Christianity framed in accordance with the lot of the common people—it is fitted to elevate their condition. This it effects in various ways. It raises men in self-respect, teaching the christian to regard himself as the temple of God, the companion of angels, the heir of immortality. It elevates him above mean pursuits and sordid pleasures—proposes to him the most exalted aims, and inspires him with noble aspirations. •The righteous man is more excellent than his neighbour.' It has often been remarked that the greatest men have risen from the ranks of the common people—that the largest intellectual growths have sprung up in the rough forests of nature. But pure religion is needed to give a right and useful direction to the sturdy energies of the popular mind. Wanting this, they will be expended in the rude conflict of politics, or run to waste in mere ornamental pursuits. Or, should they devote themselves to useful avocations, how often do we see the most promising talents, in the absence of right moral and religious principle, prematurely lost to society, and quenched in the most degrading vices? Many are the projects devised for the amelioration of mankind; but after all have been tried, it will be found that none can succeed without that “pure religion and undefiled,' which, like the living water,' must enter into the composition of every thing that lives, and which admits of no substitute. We must judge of this, not by individual instances, but by the influence produced on the mass of society. Exceptions may be pointed out, but the general rule will be found invariably true, that righteousness exalteth a on, and sin is a reproach to any people. We grant that in some parts of the world, the outward condition of the people, even where they are religiously disposed, is very low. But in all these cases it will be found that some external obstacles prevent the free development of religious principle. Civil despotism, or slavery, or feudal tyranny, have repressed the native energies of the soul ; and, under such disadvantages, even the noble vine of God's own planting will be stinted in its growth : "the bear out of the wood will waste, and the wild beast will devour it.' But let the word only have free course,' and it will be glorified;' nay, it will glorify the people among whom it dwells.

Still further, Christianity will be found to promote the real happiness of the common people. We say their real happiness; for, without frowning on their innocent pastimes, or interfering with any source of rational enjoyment, religion looks higher than the mere animal recreation of the people. Many of our historians, while inveighing against the puritanical strictness of our fathers, overlook, or carefully conceal the fact that the 'sports' against which they protested were in reality intended to keep the popular mind in a state of brutal ignorance, and fit them for being the tools of civil and spiritual despotism. Such amusements were as unmanly as they were unchristian. But Christianity aims at promoting the happiness of man, by banishing those evils which poison the fountains of human bliss, and cherishing those virtues which are essential to real enjoyment. It promotes the comfort of the domestic circle; it teaches man to act his part with becoming fidelity in all the relations of life; it places woman in her proper sphere; it inculcates on all the observance of peace, order, and mutual benevolence; and were its due influence to be universally felt, and its ultimate design realised, it would banish war, abolish slavery, and bind mankind in one happy brotherhood.

We shall only add that Christianity is well fitted to meet the peculiar demands of the common people. All merchants know that, to meet the popular demand, a peculiar quality of goods must be supplied. They must be cheap, so as to be readily purchased; they must be miscellaneous, so as to suit various tastes and wants; they must be accessible, so as to lie within the reach of all; they must be divisible, so as to be retailed in small portions. In all these respects Christianity is wisely accommodated by its Author to the case of the people. It is the cheapest of all wares, and may now be had literally "without money and without price;' it is miscellaneous in its contents, and adapted to all characters, climes, and conditions; it is easily accessible, and is susceptible of being 'rightly divided,' so that the wise steward of its manifold mysteries may give unto each their portion of meat in due season.'

These remarks, let it be remembered, apply only to genuine Christianity. False religions, and spurious forms of the true, however widely they may have been spread over the world, are not in reality adapted to the people. They have been either enforced by the sword, or perpetuated by the power of custom. They are destined, therefore, to vanish before the light of truth and the progress of liberty. We cherish the hope, that the revolutions now in progress will eventually issue in the emancipation of the nations of Europe from the yoke of antichristian bondage. The people, finding that they have been duped, will revenge themselves on their impostors; and rising in their might, will carry off the beam with the web, by which they have been so long entangled. Every system of priestcraft being founded on the prostration of popular rights, bears in its bosom the elements of dissolution. And the same remark applies to every form of church government which does not recognise the rights of the christian people.

It follows, however, from the observations we have made, that genuine Christianity, however unfashionable may be now, is destined to become the most popular of all religions. The promise is sure

« السابقةمتابعة »