Imatges de pÓgina
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opinions and actions; and if I have, since my early youth, devoted my leisure hours to science and polite literature, it has been almost solely as a preparation to this necessary trial; other motives I could not have had. In my situation I could not expect the least temporal advantages in the sciences. I knew too well that I could not find prosperity in the world by such means. And pleasure? oh, my esteemed philanthropist ! The condition to which my brethren in faith are condemned in civil life is so far removed from all free exercise of the powers of the mind, that I certainly could not increase my contentment by learning to know the rights of humanity in their true point of view. I avoid a nearer explanation on this topic. He who knows our condition, and has a humane heart, will feel more than I can express.

After the inquiry of many years, if the decision had not been perfectly in favour of my religion, it would have been necessarily known by a public act. I cannot imagine what should bind me to a religion in appearance. so severe, and so generally despised, if I were not in my heart persuaded of its truth. Whatever the result had been, so soon as I found the religion of my fathers was not the true one, I must have deserted it. Were I in my heart convinced of the truth of any other, it would be the lowest vileness in me to bid defiance to my conviction, and be unwilling to recognise the truth; and what could seduce me to such vileness?—I have already said, that prudence, integrity and love of truth were on one side. Had I been indifferent to both religions, and laughed at or despised all revelation, I know very well what prudence advises when conscience is silent: what should withhold me? Fear of former brethren? Their temporal power is too trifling to be feared. Obstinacy? Indolence? Adherence to habitual notions? Since I have devoted the greater part of my life to the inquiry, I shall be allowed to have acquired wisdom enough not to sacrifice the fruits of my labour to such weaknesses. You see, hence, that but for an upright conviction of the truth of my religion, the consequence of my inquiry must have shewn itself by a

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public act; since, however, it strengthened me in that of my fathers, I could proceed on my course in silence. without giving to the world an account of my conviction.

I shall not deny, that I see in my religion human additions and abuses, which, alas! but too much obscure it. What friend of truth can boast, that his religion has been found free from mischievous human additions? All of us recognise the poisoned hand of hypocrisy and superstition, all who, seeking the truth, wish to purify it, without injuring the good and the true; but of the essence of my religion, I am as firmly and irrefragably assured, as you, Mr. Bonnet, or any other, can be of yours and I here testify, in the name of the God of truth, your and my Creator and Father, by whom you have in your dedication conjured me, that I will retain my principles so long as my soul retains its nature! My remoteness from your religion, which I avowed to you and your friends, has in no respect diminished.

And my esteem for its founder? You ought not to have omitted the condition which I expressly added, and I should then have granted as much now. There are certain inquiries which one must at one time of one's life have ended, in order to proceed further. I may assert, that with respect to religion, I have done this several years ago. I have read, compared, reflected, and held fast to that which I thought good; and yet I would have suffered Judaism to be overthrown by every polemical lecture-book, and led in triumph in every school exercise, without stirring a step in its defence. Without the least contradiction on my side, I would have allowed every scholar, and half scholar, to represent out of Scharteck, (whom no intelligent Jew now reads,) to himself and readers, the most ridiculous ideas of Jewish faith. I wish to be able to destroy the contemptuous opinion which is generally formed of a Jew, not by controversial writings, but by virtue.

My religion, my philosophy, my situation in civil life, all give me the strongest motives to avoid all religious disputes, and in public writings to speak only of those truths which are

equally important to all religions. According to the principles of my religion, I ought not to attempt the conversion of any who are not born under our law. This spirit of proselytism, whose origin some would gladly throw on the Jewish religion, is in fact directly averse to it; all our Rabbies agree, that the written and oral laws, in which our revealed religion consists, are obligatory on our nation only. "Moses has given to us the law. is an inheritance of the tribe of Jacob." We believe that all other nations are directed by God to abide by the law of nature and the religion of the patriarchs. They who live according to the laws of their religion, of nature, and of reason, are called the virtuous men of other nations, and these are children of eternal salvation.

It

Our Rabbies are so far from having the spirit of conversion, that they even command us to dissuade him, by serious remonstrances, from his intention, who of his own accord would embrace our faith. We ought to inform him, that by this measure he subjects himself, without necessity, to a heavy burden; that in his present situation he has only to fulfil the duties of a Noachide, in order to be blessed, but that, so soon as he adopts the religion of the Israelites, he obliges himself voluntarily to the severe laws of their faith, and he must then obey them, or expect the punishment which the legislator has annexed to the infraction of them. We are also bound faithfully to represent to him the miseries and troubles and contempt in which the nation now lives, in order to deter him from a step, perhaps precipitate, and which in the event he may repent

of.

The religion of my fathers, therefore, will not be extended. It is not our duty, therefore, to send missionaries to both Indies and to Greenland, to preach our faith to its remote inhabitants: the latter in particular, who, according to the description of travellers, observe the laws of nature, alas! better than we, and are, according to our religious creed, an enviable people. Whoso is not born to our laws ought not to live according to our laws; we consider ourselves alone as bound to observe them, and this cannot give offence to our fellow-men.

Our opinions are thought absurd. It is unnecessary to raise a dispute about them. We act according to our conviction; and others are at liberty to raise doubts against the validity of laws, which, according to our own confession, do not bind them.

Whether they act justly or benevolently who so deride our laws and customs, we leave to their own consciences: so long as we do not seek to convince others of our opinions, all contest is to no purpose. If a Confucius or Solon lived amongst my contemporaries, I could, according to the principles of my religion, love and admire the great man, without having the ridiculous thought of converting a Confucius or Solon.-Convert? For what? As he does not belong to the tribe of Jacob, my religious laws do not bind him; and on doctrinal points we should understand each other. Do I believe he could be saved? Oh! I believe truly, that he who in this life has led men to virtue, cannot be condemned in the other; and I stand in fear of no reverend college, which, like the Sorbonne towards the upright Marmontel, can censure me for this opinion.

I have the happiness to possess many excellent friends, men who are not of my faith; we love each other heartily and honestly, though we suppose, and take for granted, that in matters of faith we are of different opinions. I enjoy the luxury of their society, which improves and delights me. My heart has never secretly cried out to me, woe to the excellent soul." He who believes that out of his church there is no salvation, must have this sigh often weighing upon his breast.

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It is doubtless the duty of every man to spread knowledge and virtue amongst his fellow-men, and root out prejudices and errors according to his power-hence it might be believed to be the duty of every man openly to oppose religious opinions which he believes false. But all prejudices are not equally injurious, and, therefore, we are not to treat in the same way all the prejudices which we believe we see in our fellow men. Some are immediately hostile to the happiness of the human race; their influence on morals is clearly ruinous, and we can

not expect from them even accidental benefit. Such must be directly attacked by every friend to man, and the more direct the assault, the better: all delays by circuitous means are unjustifiable. Of this nature are all the errors and prejudices which destroy their own and their neighbours' contentment and peace, and root out the seed of truth and virtue in men before it can shoot. On the one side, fanaticism, hatred and the spirit of persecution; on the other side, vanity, debauchery and immoral libertinism.

But sometimes the opinions of my fellow men, which I hold to be errors, refer to the higher theoretical principles, and are too far removed from practice to be immediately injurious; but they constitute, from their very generality, the foundation, out of which the people who adopt them has drawn its system of morals and social life; and hence to this portion of the human race are accidentally become of great importance. Openly to contest such principles, because they appear to us prejudices, is, without supporting the structure, to dig a pit under it, in order to examine whether it be firm and sccure.

This modesty is still more incumbent on me, when the nation which one believes to be in such errors, has, in other points, made itself venerable by wisdom and virtue, and counts amongst it a number of great men, who deserve to be considered as benefactors of the species. So noble a portion of the human race must, when met by any one, himself human, be indulged. Who should be so rash as to lose sight of the excellencies of such a nation, to attack it where he believes he has found a weakness? These are the motives which my religion and my philanthropy furnish, and induce me carefully to avoid religious disputes; add the domestic situation in which I live amongst my fellow men, and you will think me fully justified. I am the member of an oppressed people, who must implore shelter and protection from the ruling nation; and even this it obtains not every where, and no where without limitation. My brethren in faith are willing to renounce liberties which are granted to all other classes of men, and are contented if they are tolerated and protected. They esteem it no small act of beneficence in the nation which receives them only on tolerable conditions, since, in many states, even residence is refused them. Is your circumcised friend allowed, by the laws, to pay you a visit at Zurich? What obligations, then, do we not owe to the nation which receives us with general philanthropy, and allows us, unhindered, to worship the Almighty according to the manner of our forefathers? We enjoy in the state in which I live the most becoming liberty, and ought we not to avoid contesting the religion of the governing party, that is, attacking our protectors on the side of which men of virtue are the most sensible?

He who cares more for the happiness of men than his own fame, will withhold his opinion concerning prejudices of this description, beware of attacking them directly, and without the greatest caution, that he may not destroy a doubtful principle of morals, before his fellows are fit to receive a true one. I can, therefore, consistently with my principles, believe I perceive natural prejudices and false religious notions, and yet feel myself bound to be silent, when these errors do not immediately destroy natural religion, or the natural law, and much more when they are accidentally connected with the promotion of what is good. It is true, the morality of our actions scarcely deserves that name when it is grounded on error, and the good can always be more securely and better preserved by truth, when it is recognised, than by prejudice. But so long as it is not recognised, so long as it is not become national, so that it cannot operate on the multitude so powerfully as deep-rooted prejudice, so long must even prejudice to every friend of virtue be almost sacred.

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rized to despise. But the solemn appeal of a Lavater compels me, at least, to openly declare my mode of thinking that no one may interpret a silence, too long preserved, into confession or contempt. MENDELSOHN.

form a curious department in the
history of the human mind; and serve
to illustrate the danger of departing
from the suggestions of good sense in
matters of religion. By disciplining
the affections to a hatred of the world,
and an indifference to every pursuit
that did not contribute directly to the

An Essay on the Causes of the De- promotion of spiritual objects, they
cline of Nonconformity.
acquired the distinction of ascetics.
Moved alone by selfish considerations,
they were utterly regardless of human
improvement. With political subjects
they never meddled, because Christians
have nothing to do with the affairs of
this world. "From questions in philo-
sophy or in morals they would start
with horror, as injurious to the health
and safety of the soul. Ecclesiastical
topics were too mean for their notice;
and they regarded learning as an im-
pediment to spiritual improvement.
Adverse to the pleasures of social in-
tercourse, and to a temperate enjoy-
ment of the bounties of Providence, a
morbid sensibility passed with them
for tenderness of conscience. In fine,
whatever may be thought of their pre-
tensions to the next world, the ten-
dency of their faith was decidedly to
unfit them for the present. To rea-
son with persons encircled within the
folds of this ignorance would have
been utterly futile; for, as they felt
no interest in the discussion of ques-
tions that concerned material beings,
so they could never be brought to un-
derstand them.

(Concluded from p. 347.)

Tov
OWARDS the middle of the last
century, an occurrence took place
that will furnish another clue to the
decline of Nonconformity. Within
the bosom of the Church of England
there arose a new party of religionists,
headed by Messrs. Whitefield and Wes-
ley, who, bringing to the support of
their cause a larger portion of zeal
than had been seen for a long time in
England, soon gained numerous con-
verts, and created a schism in the
Church, but without any intention of
departing from her communion. As
their followers increased, they took
possession of some of the vacant meet-
ing-houses, and built new tabernacles
or places for religious worship. The
enthusiastic pretences of these people,
and their disregard to ecclesiastical
discipline, caused them to be regarded
with an eye of jealousy and disappro-
bation by the real Dissenters. But,
as they addressed themselves in plainer
language to the common people, whose
passions are more easily influenced
than the judgment, it is not surprising
that they gained an easy access to
popular favour, and soon supplanted
them in the esteem of the multitude.

The congregations that were formed by the early apostles of Methodism, gave a new feature to the religious character of the age. Indifferent altogether to the various schemes of church government, all their energies were directed to the maintenance of those doctrines in the belief of which they placed the essence of Christianity. By giving a mystical turn to the phraseology of Scripture, and converting religion into a fanciful intercourse with the Deity, they deluded each other into a belief that they were the peculiar favourites of heaven, and, as such, the subjects of a miraculous inspiration. The extravagancies they committed, under this impression,

The qualifications necessary for the expounders of this sort of religion were so very few, and so easily attained, that their ministers seldom made any pretensions to literature, and were generally taken from the order of mechanics. In their view, to educate men for teachers of religion, was virtually to deny the operations of the Spirit, and learning was no better than a mark of the beast. As the phraseology adopted by them in their sermons was apparently sanctioned by the literal interpretation of the Scriptures, their appeal to them was frequent; and professing to discard the study of other books, their knowledge of the Bible entitled them to the appellation of good textuaries. To this attainment they added a fluency of speech acquired by frequent exercise, and an earnestness of manner that ab

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sorbed the attention of their hearers. Professing to receive their message immediately from heaven, they assumed all the authority of inspired personages, and dealt about their anathemas with an unsparing hand. Resolving all religion into the possession of a supernatural faith, they thought that those only who were thus mysteriously wrought upon, had any sensible token of the Divine favour, considering the highest moral worth, without it, as no better than splendid sin. A love of the marvellous is so closely allied to ignorance, that it is a food easily digested by the common people. Unable to form any just conclusions themselves, they became a prey alternately to the passions of hope and fear, and were thus prepared to resign their consciences to their spiritual dictators. A religion thus taught and thus acquired, referring all the events of the present life to the immediate interference of Providence, and providing a spiritual remedy for the various ills to which it is incident, is peculiarly adapted to the common people, which accounts for its success. But being at variance with good sense, and with any rational scheme of improvement, it must ever be confined within their precincts.

Whatever may have been the effect of Methodism in confirming the popular belief in its leading doctrines, and in reclaiming the people from vicious habits, no man who has watched its progress, and is qualified to pronounce an opinion upon the subject, can doubt for a moment that it has had an injurious effect upon the interest of Nonconformity, whilst it has given vigour and stability to the National Church. I am well aware that it will be contended by a numerous class of persons, who are called Dissenters, but in reality are no other than the spawn of Methodism, that, as the main end of preaching is the conversion of sinners, in comparison with which all other considerations are mere trifles, so this object can be attained as well in one place, and by one description of men as by another. without disputing the truth of either of these propositions, I shall merely observe, that they have nothing to do with the question of Dissent, which must stand or fall upon considerations perfectly distinct. If these are not

sufficient to warrant a separation, I cannot imagine any tolerable pretence to justify its continuance. In the Church of England, the State has provided ample means for the instruction of the people in the doctrines and duties of Christianity; and she possesses a numerous body of clergy who are zealously devoted to their work. But the same remark will apply equally to the Catholic Church, or to any other corrupted form of Christianity. A dissent from the Church of England can only be justified upon one of the two following grounds: 1. That the civil establishment of religion is altogether useless or improper; or, 2. That the present Church of England is not the best adapted to answer the purposes of truth and utility. Whoever leaves it upon any other ground has a motive for dissent that I cannot comprehend. As for the artifice above alluded to, it is altogether unworthy of notice in the controversy, any farther than as it has served to divert the attention from the main subject.

Since the rise of Methodism, the face of Nonconformity has been wholly changed, if, indeed, it has not been swallowed up in the vortex. The original principles of separation have been nearly forgotten, or sacrificed to the shrine of custom; whilst the passions have been entirely absorbed in doctrinal contentions. Scarcely known any longer as the three denominations, they are now distinguished by the more popular designations of orthodox and heterodox, two names which carry enmity in their foreheads. Amongst both parties will be found persons holding various shades of opinion upon the subject of church government; approximating more or less to the National Church or receding from it. Some are friendly to the principle of church establishments, although differing in opinion upon their detail; whilst others are hostile to the principle itself. As the Almighty has not seen fit to entail natural talent upon the belief of any particular theological tenets, and as no sect has, as yet, obtained an exclusive patent for private worth, so persons of both descriptions will be found in each party, as well as some whose talents have been improved by educa. tion. In point of numbers, the or

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