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of religion, not as revealed, but as embodied by faith, and as exhibited among men, will not suffer in passing through our hands? The lovers of popularity, and of the profits of popular bookmaking, have a strong temptation to seize the right moment, and to humor the taste of a community which is aiming at something new and stirring. But we put it to their consciences to say, how far they can go in this business, and do good, or do right.
Never, probably, were there more persons speaking the English language, who felt themselves qualified to write a meritorious book-never were there greater facilities for publishing the books that are written, and never more readers of any thing and every thing that comes in the way, than at the present inoment. Any one upon whom the poor honors of authorship, together with the sanguine, though often baseless hope of pecuniary reward, can operate far enough to induce him to satisfy the very moderate demands of the printer and binder, may throw himself before the gazing eyes of the wondrous public at any time, in the shape of a book. But if the christian religion must be volatilized and evaporated, we beg, that this work may be left to the ephemeral agency of the living preacher, or the coinmon journalist, rather than that this influence should be put into the more substantial form of a book, and the evil be perpetuated to future generations. The periodicals of every hue and temperament, will do enough of that sort of work. It may be a sufficient apology for those who must deliver their usual weekly tale of brick, whether they have straw or stubble, that they sometimes write in haste, or speak from the impulse of the moment,--especially as their frequent and regular periods for appearing before the same readers and hearers, affords them an early opportunity for correcting mistakes and supplying deficiencies, which the writer of a book does not enjoy.
We know not, that a re-action has been generally dreaded, but to us it seems as much to be seared as to be deprecated. Nor is there any thing which tends more directly to hasten on a surfeit of the reading portion of our population, when men will cease to read from fulness and disgust, than the incessant publication of hastily written books. We know, and we are willing to admit, that the eagerness for every thing that is new, constitutes this a reading age, and that the demand for books will create a supply. But this peculiarity of the age was not entirely produced by evanescent publications, and if we attempt to sustain it upon it will soon pass away: nor can it, or will it pass, like the “ airy fabric of a vision, and leave no wreck behind.” It will be remembered, --its influence will be felt long after the mushroom productions to which it has given rise, have been forgotten. If the love of excitement is amply fed, even with truth, yet served
up in a frothy instead of a substantial form, this age of activity and bustle will be succeeded by a death-like torpor and stagnation,—such as bas too greatly followed those frequent protracted meetings and church conferences, which have been resorted to by many, as seasons in which christians are to do up their work in the Lord's service for a long time at once, instead of becoming habitually obedient to the truth. This being over, then too often comes the sad and heart-rending sequel; days, weeks, and months of inaction and hopeless declension ensue; the sweetly breathing and all-subduing influence of the Holy Spirit is withheld, and their house is left unto them desolate.
The author seems to have prepared himself for some blame, on account of the haste with which his “ Hints on Christian Intercourse" were thrown together for the public eye; he will not, therefore, we trust, regard what has been said as ill-suited to his case. But if an apology is needed, we cheerfully admit, that prolific brains and ready writers, have become so common, that if a happy train of thought is hit upon, the only way to secure the benefit of it, is to write a book at once, obtain a copy right, and publish before we sleep. To “keep a piece nine,” nay two " years,” would be to destroy it forever: for either some equally happy thinker would place himself in the way, or the world would be filled with books.
The work under review, is not indeed peculiarly subject to censure for the defects which have been mentioned, as distinguishing the most of those which have been written “in great haste.” It was by no means our intention to make a general application of these remarks to the volume before us, or to have it thought, that any thing more than just the topic, was suggested by the “Hints on Christian Intercourse.” Our author has given security to the christian world, that he will never knowingly contribute, in the smallest degree, to that kind of religious excitement which is promoted by extemporaneous declamation and novel measures, rather than by the plain and deliberate inculcation of his views. Nor have we any apprehension, that these hints will foster in the public mind a feverish state of feeling, without ultimate and solid benefit. The subject of christian intercourse is generally discussed in this book, with a courteous regard to the views and feelings of those whose faults it was designed to correct, and a fair reference to the soundest principles of practical godliness.
2. A second topic naturally suggested by Dr. Sprague's " Hints," is the difficulty of "regulating christian intercourse, without annihilating it, or reducing it to a mere ceremonious existence. We like the title of the book, and we think that the author has in general, happily succeeded in making his suggestions harmonize therewith. It is something like a recurrence to the first principles of Congre
gationalism. For what power has Christ intrusted to his church, but the power of exerting on men a moral influence ? Every man who moves a thought, or gives a hint which is calculated to send us back to that influence, and to turn it into the right channel, deserves our thanks. We most sincerely wish, that the churches of the Lord Jesus could be made to see, that without the thunders of the vatican, or the terrors of the inquisition, they have the power in their own hands, or in their lives and conversation, to elevate religion up to the bible standard, and to carry it through the earth. As long as we look to some miracle of the Almighty, or to some extraneous aid, we shall fail to use and appreciate the resources within our own reach.
The more mechanically the powers and operations of machinery are applied and governed, the better. Absolute precision in every part of the most complicated and delicate machinery, is necessary; for there nothing can be left to intelligence and discretion. But not so with free agents, placed together and governed as men are. The very attempts which are kindly intended to render their acts perfect in their character and effects, often make them any thing but what they should be, and entirely destroy their usefulness. The acts of free moral agents, cannot be very specifically regulated. This truth is strongly marked in the revelation of God to man. Hence the negative, instead of the positive form adopted in the decalogue. The lawgiver could pointedly prohibit, where he could not specifically command. It is, for instance, wrong for a man to violate the rest of the sacred sabbath; but there is scarcely an act of external worship, which it would be safe to command, or a secular one which could be prohibited, so as to admit of no exception. Hence also the general character of many of the positive injunctions of the divine word. Thus it might be ordered, that every man should do unto others as he would that others should do unto him, when the particular course which every man should take, in every circumstance of human life, could not be prescribed. Nor is there any department of conduct, to which it would be more difficult to apply particular rules, or in which it would be more embarrassing to conform to particular regulations, than in our religious efforts and intercourse.
A disposition has been manifested to subject the efforts of christians for the promotion of revivals, to high-church dictation, of which Congregationalism has a right to complain. We are willing, that those church organizations which have something more mechanical in their constitution, should manage things in their own way. But there is something both inconsistent and injurious, in attempting to regulate every movement of voluntary associations by rule; and such, in a peculiar manner, are Congregational Vol. VIII.
churches. They are allowed to prepare their own creed, expressing their views, not of doctrinal theology as a system, but of what the bible teaches, and no one not belonging to the body, has a right to object or require an alteration. But if the Spirit of the Lord is given in answer to their agonizing supplications, and a revival of religion is the blessed result, does that sink the pastor and church into a state of incompetency, to say what measures should be used to forward the work of grace? The obtrusion of particular rules upon the churches in such circumstances, produces an evil effect, by preventing the good that would be done by untrainmeled efforts, and by rendering the course of men, when the restraint is finally thrown off, reckless and ungovernable. Many ministers have been intimidated by the clamors against new measures, so that they have not dared to do what was really necessary. Thus it is with a strong desire for the salvation of souls, and the advancement of Christ's glory, when laid under restraint, as with the broad and deep current of a stream across which a barrier has been thrown and raised, until it can be held in no longer; when it breaks away it pours on with a wildness and fury which would not have been witnessed, had it been left to pursue its own course unmolested. Indeed
of the evils which have attended the course of reformers, have resulted from the attempts made to bring them to work by rules which others prescribe. Those who have been very anxious to regulate the churches, may regard themselves as having been instrumental in causing, to a great degree, the evils which they have so much deplored.
Equally difficult is it to regulate the common sociabilities of religion, laying out of the account the embarrassment which often attends the introduction of religious conversation. There are a thousand circumstances in the life of every active christian, that might serve to illustrate this point. We will give two of the most cominon. Let an inquirer approach, who has so long neglected what was once plain and apparently easy, as to have become perplexed with the plainest and easiest things to the willing soul, and say,—“Now sir, I wish to converse with you on the subject of religion.” The probability is, that being thus urged to conversation, when only the general subject of religion is spread out before the mind, we should be perplexed, if not speechless. The field is too vast to allow our thoughts to settle on every single point. Produce the difficulty, and conversation begins. Or let us suppose ourselves in company where we suspect, that prejudice lurks and watches for heresy in our sentiments, or for homely phraseology in our dialect, freedom in conversation will be impossible. The reason is plain. The mind is thus abstracted from what should be the subject of thought, and what would enliven it into an impressible and active state, and is employed in arranging ideas and choosing words, so that no faw may be found in the one, or any thing which can be perverted in the other. Where such regulation begins, there all ease in the intercourse of men ceases. The truth is, that this part of christian intercourse, although it may receive gentle, or as it were, indirect hints, which will serve to give it direction, cannot be regulated by definite rules. It must arise from a fountain of kind feeling in the soul; and gushing up like a free and clear spring from the earth, be left in a great measure, to pursue its own course; or, like that, it will soon mingle with the soil again and disappear.
We do not say, that the intercourse of christians should not be under the direction of religious principle. Nor do we think their commercial intercourse is not in need of specific rules and reproofs, such as are to some extent given in the book under consideration. We think with the author, that it should be the fixed purpose of the christian to make his intercourse with men, of every kind and in every place, such as becometh the gospel. There is no virtue in being occasionally drawn into religious conversation, or in falling into it, as it were, by accident. But that purpose of the mind to aim at securing a religious infuence upon the individuals with whom we usually associate, and in those circles in which we mingle; which does not spring froin a deep seated and habitual desire to do the will of Christ, and a prevailing love for the souls of men, will be of but little avail. It may produce some formal and awkward onsets upon the impenitent and upon faulty professors ; but these will more frequently beget prejudice than conviction, and oftener result in increased hardness of heart, than conversion to God.
3. These “ Hints” are wanting in a clear statement of the relative importance of the subject. The very title of the book seemed to us to clothe the writer with interest, and to lay upon him a weight of responsibility, beyond that which belongs to ordinary topics. So it still appears to us. Whether he thought this would be granted by all, and therefore needed not to be asserted, or purposely omitted it, calculating that the whole work should make this truth clearer and more impressive than a discussion of it would do, we cannot say. But he has no where directly undertaken to impress the minds of his readers with the immense evils, that grow out of the unsanctified intercourse of christians, and the great and glorious results which might flow from a strict observance of christian principle in their intercourse with each other and with the world. We regard it as a defect in the work, that the importance of the subject was not impressed upon the reader's mind near the beginning, all glowing with the warmth of the author's own feelings. The christian reader should be made to feel, that the prosperity and adversity, the advancement and decline of religion in this world, are intimately connected with the sanctification or per