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terms as approved and classical, as those which are employed on other subjects.
The discourses, which compose this volume, are ten in number, and are on the following topics: “Spiritual Religion. Spiritual Joy. Doing Good; part first, Doing Good; part second, Coöperation with God. Prayer; part first, Prayer; part second, The Sabbath. Restraints on Divine Influence. The First Last, and the Last First, or the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.” From this enumeration, our readers will perceive at once the practical character of the book. We wish them to procure it, and thus judge for themselves of its excellence in this, as well as other respects, and we would not diminish the motive to do this, by presenting too copious extracts upon our pages. We shall limit ourselves to two or three quotations, in which we have in view the two-fold object of illustrating the manner of the author, and calling attention to the importance of some of the ideas which he advances.
The first of the series,—the sermon on Spiritual Religion,-is truly an able effort. It not only discusses a subject of vital importance, but does it with a power, moral and intellectual, which is rarely exceeded. We have, in the first place, a definition of the nature of spiritual religion, showing what it is in itself, and as contrasted with other kinds of religion, which are found among those who prosess to be Christians. The way being thus prepared for understanding the terms of the proposition, the proposition itself, which it is the design of the discourse to illustrate, is laid down in these words: viz., That spiritual religion has, in many respects, greatly the preëminence above every other. The truth of this affirmation is then argued, in a strain of the most convincing and persuasive eloquence, from a variety of considerations, such as that this sort of religion is scriptural religion,—that it is the most rational kind of religion, that it is the only religion which affords sensible and satisfying enjoyment,—that it is the only kind of religion which perceptibly advances the soul in the life and likeness of God,—that it is more useful than any other religion, and better adapted to sustain us under evil. And, finally, two or three objections, which might be supposed to arise in the mind against the claims of such piety, are taken up
and disproved, and thus, at the close of the subject, the full weight of the obligation to cultivate and practise this religion, is left pressing upon the conscience, with nothing to obstruct it, except the aversion of the heart itself to the holiness, which is shown to be so justly required.
We have sketched the plan of this discourse, not because we suppose the reader will obtain from it any adequate conception of the ability with which it is executed, but because we wish to lay before him at least one example of that skill in sermonizing, which Dr. Skinner possesses in so eminent a degree. There is one peculiarity, we would take occasion to say, in the structure of the sermon under remark, which is worthy of notice. It will be perceived, on comparing the main position of it with the subsequent reasoning, that the former claims less than the latter really proves; in other words, it presents a conclusion narrower than the premises on which it rests. All which it proposed to show is, that spiritual religion has a decided superiority over religion of every other kind; but the thing actually shown and intended, is, not that such religion is the best of several kinds of religion, of which a person may safely take his choice, but that it is in fact The only religion, which can make it certain that the soul will finally be saved. Every one can see, that this mode of conducting the argument is perfectly adapted to the circumstances of the case. Had more been demanded at the outset, less, in all probability, would have been secured in the end. It admits of no dispute, that the generality of those, who are reputed Christians, do not, practically at least, regard such piety as this discourse recommends, as essential to the safety of their religious hopes. They acknowledge its desirableness, but deny its necessity. They consider it as well suited, perhaps, to ministers of the gospel, and a few others who are peculiarly favored in their circumstances; but beyond this, as too impracticable to be expected, as an ordinary attainment. Hence, to have taken at once the open ground, that such a view as this is utterly false, and the practice to which it leads, in the highest degree dangerous and sinful, could have had no other effect than to arouse the mind to opposition, and throw it into precisely the state, of all others the most unfavorable to conviction. To have provoked thus a feeling of hostility, to have commenced with giving out, as it were, a challenge to resistance, would have been surely neither necessary nor wise. The plan of discourse, which the author has adopted, has enabled him to avoid all prejudice of this kind against his object. It gives him an opportunity to convince those who may need it, without being compelled, in so doing, to overcome a previously formed purpose on their part not to be convinced. The point of the Thyrsus, so to speak, is concealed for a while; but it is the Thyrsus still. In due time, this is manifest. The ivy-wreaths, which were entwined around it, are presently stripped away, and the fearful weapon is seen as it is. But it is then too late to recoil. The truth has done its work. By the time that the writer has disclosed fully the design and scope of his argument, he has already presented so much evidence of its correctness, that the conclusion to which it tends can no longer be fairly resisted. With what plainness and fidelity that conclusion is urged, the closing sentences of the discourse will show. They are as follows:
“ Still, some will think that although spiritual religion is the best and safest kind, yet as the more common sort may suffice, they will content themselves with that. But does not this savor more of a low and calculating selfishness, than of that spirit of regeneracy which instinctively pants after entire freedom from sin, and entire conformity to the image of God ? Have those persons any true holiness, who desire no more than may answer to keep them out of the world of wo? But is it certain that the common sort of religion will suffice? Who feels certain of it? Have the professors of that religion an assurance of their salvation? Their hearts answer, No! Has the world any assurance of their salvation ? All men stand in doubt,-and it is indeed a doubtful matter. St. Paul thought he should be a cast-away if he did not keep his body under, and bring it into subjection. Do these professors of religion practise such discipline on themselves, that their souls may not be lost? Who would stand in their souls' stead? In the infinite concerns of religion, no uncertainty, no suspense of mind ought to be tolerated, if it can possibly be prevented; and prevented it may be, by giving due diligence to that end. And the needful diligence in this case is not more than men generally employ to secure worldly things. But shall men, shall professors of religion, use more diligence to secure to themselves things that perish in the using, than to lay hold on eternal life? Are such men Christians ? Must we not tremble at the question !
“ Thus irresistible and overwhelming, are the arguments for SPIRITUAL RELIGION. Should we venture upon any other? Destitute of this kind of religion, is there a man living, who, for a thousand worlds, would take our place at death or judgment ?”—pp. 41–43.
In passing to the second of the discourses before us, we find ourselves still in the same spiritual atmosphere which surrounded us in the first. The proximity of the one to the other may have been accidental, but it is certainly natural and happy; for what moral effect follows more certainly from its cause, than “spiritual joy” from “spiritual religion ?" It is not, however, the object of the writer to consider the origin, or describe the nature of this affection, so much as “to show the power of it as a practical principle." No view of the subject could be taken, so profitable to Christians as this: and yet, probably, it is the very one, which of all others has been least frequently presented. It is universally understood and acknowledged, so far as relates to the ordinary pursuits of men, that to be successfully followed, they must take a deep hold of the affections of those devoted to them, and be regarded, not merely as a duty and a labor, but as a source of happiness and delight. No activity is so efficient as that which is prompted by a lively interest in the work to which it is directed. It is when the mind derives pleasure from the exertion of its powers, that its powers are so exerted as to accomplish the greatest results. It is not enough, for example, if a person would be truly learned, that he should desire the rewards which learning confers; he must delight also in the toils which it imposes, and be attracted to them as much by the gratification which they afford, as by a desire for those remoter benefits which he may thus secure. Nothing has such a tendency to arouse the mind, and give it power for successful effort, as a feeling of intense delight in the objects which engage its attention. Nor is this true of those pursuits only, which are strictly intellectual in their character. We witness the same fact in every department of human labor. Most of those differences of skill, which exist among those who practise the mechanical arts of life, are to be attributed, not so much to a superior natural aptitude for the processes which they perform, as to the greater pleasure, which they take in these exercises of their ingenuity. With such manifestations of the power of this principle, all are familiar; we have observed its effect in the case of others; we have often experienced it ourselves. But beyond these limits, there is another and yet more important field of its operation. It is in our character as moral beings,
VOL. IV.—NO. XIII.
that we fill the highest sphere of action; and the law, of which we have just spoken as having such an effect on our physical and intellectual agency, has the same effect also, here. It is this most interesting and important truth, which the writer sets forth and illustrates, in the discourse under consideration. He thus proposes his object:
“It is joy, for the most part, that makes men industrious and indefatigable in the fulfilment of moral claims and undertakings. This is the great principle of Christian attainment; of holy zeal and enterprise in the people of God. Why should it not be so? Would it not be surprising and unaccountable to find it otherwise? Should we not ask with wonder, how it is, that a principle which holds good in every other department of rational agency, should fail in this department? Are the laws of nature violated in the spiritual kingdom? No; reason requires us to believe, that this is the very sphere, in wbich, above all others, the efficiency of this influence is discovered. The influence itself exists here in a far nobler kind, than any where else. The joy of the Lord is as far above all other kinds of joy, as holiness is better than other kinds of excellence. The just conclusion is, that the effects of this joy are proportionately superior; the conclusion of common sense, confirmed by the universal testimony of Scripture and experience. It may, however, be useful, to enter somewhat particularly into an examination of the tendencies of this feeling ; to inquire, in several instances, into the ways in which its efficacy is exerted and discovered.”—pp. 51, 52.
The considerations, which the writer then proceeds to submit, in further prosecution of his design, are happily conceived, and eloquently expressed. We adduce his remarks inerely on a single one of the several topics upon which he enlarges,—the power of “spiritual delight to bear up the mind amidst assaults of outward afflictions."
“Through these assaults must all make their triumphant way, who at last gain entrance into the world of rest. As many as I love I rebuke and chasten. I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. Here it is that strength is demanded, and what, in these circumstances, imparts strength like this holy joy? Hope and faith are, indeed, peedful, but it is joy, commonly, which gives faith and hope their strength. Unattended by joy, they may stay up the mind in some sort, amidst these seasons of storm and darkness; they may keep it from sinking into the deep waters of despair, but they may not do even this, without a great inward strife. Many a saint, going through the floods of trouble in the mere exercise of hope and faith, has meanwhile trembled in himself, lest, by failing to retain these supporters, he should perish in the passage. But how is the scene changed at once, when the light of heavenly joy springs up in darkness? What can any floods or fires of tribulation then do, to hinder