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unfavourable if not fatal to settled conviction. If the mind be accustomed from the time when it begins to exert its own powers, to depart from all authority in belief, to theorize as it will, and find in its own speculations all that it requires, it is very questionable if it does not learn permanently to consider as insupportable chains what are in fact the mental and moral fences of the soul. It is thus a want of the capability of conviction, as much as a want of actual conviction, which holds back some speculative natures from the truths of revelation.
Shelley's speculations were of the boldest nature, but much study of his works is necessary for understanding them completely. His opinions seem to have been a good deal unsettled. Christianity he entirely repudiated, nay considered it to be one of the great causes of evil in the world; yet he did homage to the character and precepts of our Saviour, and it may be imagined that, with a soul so formed to harmonize with its spirit, he might, had he lived longer, learnt at some time to assimilate to itself the truths which it contains. Definite truths, however, of all kinds, hung back from him, glided past him like shadows, and eluded his grasp, whilst the vague was ever before him, folded its dark wings round him, palpable in all its immensity. His notions of the Deity were pantheistic.“Mind," he says, "judging from what we know of it, which is only from experience, can never create, only perceive;" and hence he denies the creation of the world by an Infinite Spirit. The universe he conceived to be pervaded by a spirit of Beauty and Love, mentioned often in his poems; but a spirit devoid of personality, possessed of no fixed relations to us. Thus he entirely abandoned the idea of a Providence, and left no motive for prayer. On the faith in a Providence, in a Being to whose paternity the interests of his creatures are dear, depends the belief in an Immortality; for, take from us the dependency of our existence on some higher Being, leave us to a life whose conditions are nothing more than an unconscious destiny, a rigid necessity, where then shall we, perishable mortals as we are, helpless against the obstructions which meet us on every path of inquiry and action, profoundly ignorant of our own real nature, with an unknown Past and Future behind and before us, and with no fixed relations to anything beyond the visible world, dare to fix a hope ? Certainly, in no powers of our own over our destiny. Even the trust which we feel inclined to give to the imperishable nature of our best qualities (the anchor on which Shelley seems chiefly to have rested), to our unsatisfied aspirations after unattainable excellence, to our power of conceiving of a perfection, freed from “the encumbrances of mortal life," though it be sufficient to confirm what is already believed from other reasons, cannot be laid as a sure foundation for hope. These voices of our spiritual nature, which plead with so much power and tenderness, are not able to drown the harsh tones of material Nature, and a hard experience which rise on the other side. The noblest feelings, they tell us, may change, wither, and die; a few alterations of the corporeal frame can prostrate the intellect of a Newton to the imbecility of an infant; can change the sentiments of a noble and beautiful soul to the ravings of a madman. Faith and Hope are inseparable, and when we deny the efficacy of one, we give up all foundation for the other. Shelley himself is an evidence to the truth of what has been said. We find him treating of the question of immortality, and leaving it undecided. It is evident that his mind was in an undecided state with respect to it. He balances with conscientiousness the arguments on each side, and not having the doctrine of a Providence to decide, he finds but the equipoise of Hope and Fear, the trembling of the balance between Annihilation and Immortality.
ART. IV.--WHAT AM I TO BELIEVE?
If we look back at the history of Christianity, we find that, at a very early period, men ambitious of power, perceiving that the religions prevalent in the world were rapidly losing their influence, and that the rationality of the Christian system was producing change that could not be long resisted, combined together, and, under every appearance of outward sanctity and imposing ceremony, formed what was called the Church. This Church, ere long, became divided against itself, and separated. That division of it which established itself in the West soon acquired temporal as well as spiritual dominion; and, taking advantage of the extreme ignorance of the people, the Roman Church, by its well-devised expedients, succeeded so to entangle the human mind in superstitious fear as to render it subservient to the most ambitious desires. The height to which the power of the Church rose appears, now that the yoke has been broken and the mind emancipated, almost incredible. The most powerful intellects were devoted to the service of the tyranny, and long preserved the throne that had been erected on the prostrate understanding of man. At length, trusting too much to influence and assumed infallibility, this Church found there were sincere Christians in her bosom who could not conscientiously submit, nor allow others to submit, to proceedings wholly inconsistent with the first principles of religion and morality. Like all other tyrannies, that of the Roman Church was brought low, and she now languishes in the contempt of all enlightened men, even in the countries where she is still tolerated and supported in her decrepitude.*
While this Church rejoiced in the days of dominion and wealth, the people of all ranks were in a state of the most degrading profligacy and ignorance, and it could not be said, however much the Church boasted of being true, that Christianity had contributed to the advancement of morality. Whether the first Reformed Church was less tyrannical in reference to the human mind, than the Church dissented from, may be a question of some importance; and the same question may be asked of bodies of modern Christians. Into such questions it is not now proposed to enter. Indeed, they would resolve themselves into another question, which every one is prepared to answer, Whether civil liberty is to be infringed in order to support the Church?
* This remark may appear inconsistent with the knowledge of the efforts which are, at the present time, so conspicuous in England, to throw back the Church into the abyss whence she had escaped ; and in Scotland to establish a tyranny not the less galling, because more vulgar, than that which the priests of Rome exercised. But such efforts are regarded as a prelude to the universal acceptation of a rational system.
The Reformed Church also has divided against itself to an extent so vast, that multitudes have declared that those who profess to teach Christianity, being so much separated, cannot all be in the right, and that the probability is they are all in the wrong: and from this is derived much, if not all, of the irreligion, profligacy, and disrespect for the clerical character and functions that seem to be becoming daily more prevalent.
Notwithstanding the munificence of the provision made for teaching Christianity in every country where it obtains, its effects on the conduct and habits of thought of the people do not appear to have been of a commensurate kind. The records of crime against person and property might of themselves prove this; but there is most ample demonstration to be found of the levity and licentiousness of the highest ranks, surpassing the profligacy of the lower. The cause of this is not true Christianity; it is the mode of teaching it, and the conduct of too many teachers, who are more eager to feed upon the public than to feed their flocks. The practice of keeping the morality of Christianity in the background, of declaiming on the subjects of doctrine and mystery, and of deluging the country with trashy publications, which have neither reason nor common sense to recommend them to the attention of
but the weakminded and half-educated portions of society, is well calculated to perpetuate ignorance, the parent of every suffering under which humanity writhes.
When we consider Christ's moral precepts, in connection with the nature of man, with the attention which they merit, we see how far those who teach Christianity have succeeded in enforcing their practice. It is of no use preaching to men only what the preacher may think they should believe, and that without appealing to reason, of which most preachers are greatly afraid. It is a most important and necessary part of a pastor's duty to show also what men should do. And not only is individual practice to be adverted to, but the conduct of man as a social heing. It may be ticklish to give reason any share in the enforcement of doctrine and mystery, but there is no risk in giving the intellect full swing under the guidance of moral feeling.
It is admitted on all hands that God rules external nature by unvarying laws; and it is not less apparent to those who give their attention to the subject, that He governs the moral world also by unvarying laws. He has given to the external world a determinate constitution, and also to man's body. He has made the mind of man in perfect adaptation to all things around him; and it is surely the duty of man to exert himself to discover every law of God, relating to inward and outward things, that he may learn in what true obedience consists. The dis, covery of the laws which govern outward things and our own bodies, impresses upon us the liveliest ideas of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God. The discovery of moral laws, which must be obeyed by an inward power, exhibits His beneficence the instant we contemplate their connection with outward things and our fellow men. In the moral precepts of Christ he does not confine himself to our duty as social beings, but shows distinctly that that duty cannot be separated from religious duty. He does not attempt to force belief, as is done by too many fallible interpreters of his words. He leaves man to judge whether he does or does not appeal to human nature, and points out the true sources of happiness. The orthodox preacher seldom thinks of studying the precepts and commands of Christ in their connection with the nature of man, and of teaching his flock to know God in His works, and above all the others in man himself. Such knowledge would lead to virtue, the want of it leads to vice. It is a very natural and far from unimportant question to ask—How comes it that so many divisions have arisen among professing Christians, so as to obstruct the progress of truth towards the improvement of mankind in moral conduct? How comes it that men differ so widely in their interpretations of the Bible ? How comes it that each sect is so desirous that all mankind should agree with it alone, and so ready to condemn all who dare to call its peculiar doctrines in question? To those who have studied the nature of man, the answer to these questions is not difficult. It is enough, however, to state at present, that every human being is prone to cherish opinions which his feelings wish to be true, contrary, perhaps, to the dictates of
These opinions seem to himself true, because he does not consider his want of title to set himself up as a standard, by which the mental dispositions and powers of other men are to be measured. Every one possesses specifically the same mental constitution; but no two men exactly agree in the proportions to one another of the parts of which that constitution is made up:
Without adverting more particularly either to the history of Churches, or to the diversity of religious opinion, let us observe