« ZurückWeiter »
be thought very liberal in their sentiments of religion are apt to brand all with the supposed odious epithet of superstitious, whe maintain a strict attachment to things which they deem sacred. But is this sense warranted in the bible? St. Paul in his address to the Athenians says, I perceive that in all things ye are too super&titious...Acts xvii. 22. But how so? Why he goes on to explain, For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an alter with this inscription, to the unknown God...Verse 23. The word here rendered superstitious, as the learned well know, signifies a reverence for demons, or false gods. And the Athenians seem to have been so addicted to this, that lest they should not pay divine honors to them all, they would erect an altar to one of whom they did not pretend to know any thing. That is to say, they would authorise and practice every sort of worship as equally acceptable. And wherein does this materially differ for that over-affected liberality in our day, which would make no distinction in matters of religion ; which would represent modes of faith and worship as perfectly indifferent, all equally good and equally true? The Athenians, it seems, having no fixed sentiments of their own ; but, as we are told, spent their time in nothing but either to hear or tell some new thing, they readily gave way to novelties, and so introduced into their rites, and their creed any thing that came in their way. All was one to them.
Just so is it with some at the present day; having never examined for themselves, having no fixed opinions of their own on any subject of religion, but being altogether afloat on the surface of things, they are ready to embrace any novelty that is offered, and to give it up as easily to embrace another; or to relinquish it for none at all; and are therefore in the apostle's sense the truly superstitious. To wor. ship the God of christians, or the gods of the heathens, an unknown god, or no god, is all one. With them it is no matter in what light the character of God is represented, or with what rites he is served ; what men believe concerning him and the duty which they owe him, whether any thing, or nothing ; whether they deify their own fancies, or ascribe that honor soleiy to the one God Almighty and true. With such, a sincere and conscientious adherance to the appointed ordinances of God is superstition. To talk of particular times and seasons being more holy than others; of things and places being consecrated exclusively to God's service ; of the sacred nature of a priesthood, and the special veneration due to the institutions of a visible church, is all rank superstition. No; every thing must be in common, every thing equally sacred, equally entitled to our regard and veneration, and then we shall have a religion that will be pure and rational, unmixed with superstition. Actuated by sentiments and feelings like these, it is becoming too common for people, otherwise sober and regular in their lives, to throw off all regard for sacred things. On the day dedicated to the service of God they will indeed attend the public devotions of the church ; but so soon as they are over, in order not to be thought superstitieus, they will repair to places of amusement; or if not so bad, at least they will join a visiting party, where the news of the day, politics, and the business of the world are discussed, or the time is passed away in idle chir
chat. And thus the hours which should be devoted to private devotion, to the instruction of youth, or to reading such books as may tend to inspire the mind with a serious concern for the important interests of eternity, are far worse than thrown away.
Under the same fear of superstition all notions of sacriligious profanation of holy things are ridiculed and discarded. The consecration of churches becomes an idle and vain superstition; and they triumphantly ask, what can be more absurd than to think there can be any holiness in one house, in one parcel of wood, or of brick and, stone, more than in another? True there is not, any farther than as they bear a peculiar relation to God. Having been devoted to his. service they become in a peculiar manner his property, and hence pertake of holiness as he is holy. They are relatively and not absolutely boly. They are holy because he to whom they belong is holy. Is there any thing absurd or difficult to be understood in all this? Look to the nature of property between man and man, and it will be clear enough. Are not all our notions on that subject merely relative? How does he injure me who violates my property, who siezes and appropriates it to his own use, but because it bears a relation to me, a relation sanctioned by the law of the land ? What absolute inherent wrong is there in appropriating to one's self one piece of property more than anothor? If this be the case with regard to man, shall we think there is less evil in violating the property of God, and diverting it to our own use, to the gratification of our own humors or worldly interests.
There is to be sure a compendious method of geting rid of this reasoning by saying that it is an idle superstition to talk of God's having property in a distinct sense, when he tells us that the whole earth is his, the round world and they that dwell therein. But what if man by his own voluntary act has given and appropriated a thing to his use, may it not in that case become more peculiarly his ? And has man afterwards a right to recall it, and appropriate it to his own use? What one man gives to another, human laws say he has no right to recall; and shall not a gift to Almighty God be equally sacred? After we have appropriated a thing to his use, have we any right left to use it as we please? As well may I give to a neighbor my horse and yet insist that I have a right to use the animal when and as I please. Because there is no human law to enforce God's right, does it therefore follow that the evil of violating it is less? To human society it may be, but ought not to be in reason and conscience.
Let these remarks be applied to the church, the house of God, and how will they be found to square with the use to which it is some times put? Being consecrated and set apart to the service of God, what shall be said of introducing into it political intrigue at elections, with all the base worldly passions which are usually at work in such a scene? This has sometimes been done. Nay more, there have been instances of admiting the military cn parade days when the weather has been stormy. Can there be a greater profanation of sacred things, than thus to convert the house of God into a barrack for soldiers, with the usual accompanyment of profane language; perhaps drinking and reveling? By the enevitable recurence of such
a scene to the mind, must not all seriousness and solemnity be banished thence on the following Sunday? This may be called superstition, but it is a superstition that pretended philosophers would do well to consider.
The Observer. MR. EDITOR.
THE fluctuating state of human opinions has ever been a subject of notoriety and much speculation : like the pendulum of a clock, they vibrate from side to side, from one extreme to another, never noticing the medium or point of station. Perhaps no subject has ever come in for a greater share of speculation, than that of religion ; since every man takes upon himself to settle his own faith, and assumes the liberty of judging for himself in matters of orthodoxy. At one time we see its professors exhibiting a starched sanctity of life, a practical display of personal holiness, whose prominent ensigns are, I am holier than thou, and a contempt for all appearance of human enjoyments. Again we view men pursuing a course widely opposite, which, though not so forbidding in its first appearence, is still more pernicious in its effects, when all distinction in religious sentiments is laid level, in whose place one great magazine for common stock is made, into which the tenets of the christian Jew, Mahometan, and Pagan are promiscuously cast, Sincerity being the only criterion by which any preference is to be adjudged to the claimants.
This liberal way of thinking, as it is commonly called, I am sorry to add, seems to have had its influence on the form and structure of churches, both inside, and exterior. But under what obligation, many will ask, is a churchman to build his house of worship in one fashion rather than another; or what impropriety can there possibly be in placing the pulpit at the side rather than the end ? Can a round window have any advantage over one of a square form, and can the congregation be any better accomodated by being forced to pass through one crowded door, instead of having free access to sereral ; or what spiritual advantage can possibly arise from seats in preference to pews ?
If we could divest mankind of the power and uniform practice of associating their ideas, and bring them to pursue such a line of conduct, as that analogy of one thing would not consequently bring lo mind its concomitant practices, so as to receive a degree of sympathy in the beholders, I would answer that these things were indocent and perhaps advisable as far as they accorded with primitive practices, and philosophical principles. But since we are well acquainted that these are often the ensigns of schism and opposition to the Catholic Church, we must certainly give the preference to the practice of the church, and strongly recommend an adherance to the same. In the New Testament, we are indeed, no where directed how or where to build churches, nor even have we a com. mand to build them at all, and little or nothing can be gathered from primitive writers direct to that point ; however, that there was
of old an universal mode for building them, and that a departing from this mode was reckoned an unnecessary if not unjustifiable innovation, may be learned from the opposition that the Greek Church, an extensive and respectable branch of the Catholic Church, made to the introduction of steeples as forming a part of the sacred edifice. This religious fear of innovation we find was not altogether confined to the church abovementioned, since we learn, as Bishop Latimer tells the story, that when commissioners vere appointed by royal authority to examine into the cause of the sinking of Earl Goodwin's lands, an old member of the church very spiritly ans: wered, that it was by the judgment of God, because of the building of Tenterdon steeple.* These cases, though they are not exactly parallel with those in question, yet satisfy us that modifications and inventions in things appertaining to spiritual uses, were not so greedily received some centuries ago as they are at present. I would not be thought fastigious, or wishing to convey the idea, that any moral evil is attached to the construction of a church in such manner as the builders shall think' best ; but like wise men and friends to pure and unmixed christianity, we ought to look forward to the end, and pay some attention to contingencies : neither do I conceive we are to join issue with the favorite cry and construct our religious edifices as the present fashion of the day may happen to be, lest the friends of orthodoxy and the church be often disgusted with the schismatical form of a conventicle or Whitfield tabernacle. Such models, as have been the longest in use and obtained the most universal suffrage of the church, most certainly discover a decided preference.
To the custom of placing the church in such a situation, that the door, at the end opposite the chancil, may open to the East, has, I believe, gained the universal consent of the Western churches, The reason is obviously this, that the priest in his ministrations may be enabled, by thus having the earthly Canaan in sceming view before him, more constantly to remind his flock of the heavenly one of which the earthly was a type.
That the pulpit and desk should be located at the end of the building is obvious to every one who understands the nature and power of sounds; and should be thus constructed both for the contenience of the speaker and hearer, since it has its foundation on philosophical principles. In this situation the impulse given the air, by the speaker's exertions, is backed by the wall behind, while the side walls confine and hinder a wide undulation, leaving but one direction for the sound to take, thereby giving the auditors at the farther, end, a chance of hearing nearly equal to that of the foremost. Whereas in all other positions of speaking, the case is similar to dropping a stone into the water, and although tlie impulse at the place of immersion may be considerable, yet the adulations,
We at present are in the habit of thinking that steeples are not only very harmless things, but very ornamentive, though we have resson to concluic froin experience, that they have been of no great service to religion, since they have often been made the means of levelling the chur toile dumble capacity of a town-house, or any other place of buwinerys here the bells suspended in them have been of use.
being allowed to spread on every side, soon lose their force and spend themselves in the expanse before them.
I must still insist upon the position, that devotional exercises cannot be performed with their proper spirit and solemnity, without a correspondent degree of solemn appearance in the surrounding objects. For this reason the Gothic style of architecture so far ex: ceeds the more light finical one of Greece, when applied to churches, The latter indeed serves to captivate the eye and fancy, but that makes an impression upon the heart and manners. Thus it is that those large crown windows, used in cathedrals and many other churches of long standing, have such a decided preference over these thickest ones of modern edifices.*
Perhaps some inquisitive soul not thoroughly initiated into all the niceties of the times, might demand wherein consisted the superior convenience of a multiplicity of doors leading into the body of the church ? Charity and a wish to put a favorable construction upon the actions of men, would reply, that it lay, in giving devout wor. shippers a more free ingress to the house of God. Nay but rather to accelerate their egress, would sage experience exclaim : " !, would she say in continuation, who have taught the nations wisdom and old age prudence, I have seen the doors of the house of God thronged by the multitude of people pressing out at the conclusion of divine service, but never was my eyes gratified with a sight of the alternative (when the pure service of the temple was the sole motive of attendance,) even when admission was to be gained by a single entrance only." These facts are corroborated by constant observation, both in the late attendance of some and universal hurry that is manifested even before the minister may have finished blessing the congregation. The consequence of which haste is that such pious members as wish to offer a short ejaculation at the end of service, are either forced to relinquish their attempt, or sus. fer interruption from their jostling neighbors.
I shall now set down the opinion that some have entertained upon this matter : that as the invisible church or mystical body of Chris, hath but one method of entrance, and that through the door of bap tism ; so the visible hath save one leading to the nave, where the ordinances are administered, and the door into the other authoritively opened.
To the last query, which relates to pews, I shall only add that, es clusive of the awkward situation into which persons of delicacy may often be thrown by the vacant stare of those who set: opposite them, a tolerable share of good breeding will infallibly demonstrate to them, the impropriety of thus denying the speaker the privilege of addressing them to their face.
OBSERVER. • I am happy to state, that I have observed many churches erected in to country which bear the model I have been describing, and I think reflect na emall honor upon the correct taste of the builders.