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ON RELIGIOUS SENSIBILITY.*

EZEKIEL Xxxvi. 26 :

“ And I will give you a beart of Resh.”

The subject to which I wish to invite your thoughts in this discourse, is that religious sensibility, that spiritual fervour, in other words, that “ heart of flesh,” which is spoken of in the text.

To a sincere, and, at the same time, rational cultivator of his religious affections, it seems, at first view, a thing almost unaccountable, that Christians, apparently serious and faithful, should everywhere be found complaining of the want of religious feeling; that the grand, universal, standing complaint of almost the entire body of Christians should be a complaint of dulness. To one who has studied the principles of his own nature, or observed its tendencies ; who knows that as visible beauty is made to delight the eye, so moral beauty is made to delight the mind; it seems a tremendous moral solecism, that all the affections of this nature and mind should become cold and dead the moment they are directed to the Infinite Beauty and Glory. It will not solve the problem to say that human nature is depraved. If, indeed, the depravity of men were such, that all enthusiasm for excellence had died out in the world, the general reason assigned might satisfy us. But what is the fact? What is the beauty of nature but a beauty clothed with moral associations ? What is the highest beauty of literature, poetry, fiction, and the fine arts, but a moral beauty which genius has bodied forth for the admiration of the world? And what are those qualities of the human character which are treasured up in the heart and memory of nations—the objects of universal reverence and exultation, the themes of celebration, of eloquence, and of festal song, the enshrined idols of human admiration and love? Are they not patriotism, heroism, philanthropy, disinterestedness, magnanimity, martyrdom?

And yet the Being from whom all earthly beauty and human excellence are emanations, and of whom they are faint resemblances, is the very Being whom men tell us that they cannot heartily and constantly love: and the subject which is held most especially to connect us with that Being, is the very subject in which men tell us they cannot be heartily interested. No observing pastor of a religious congregation who has been favoured with the intimacy of one mind awaking to this subject, can fail to know that this is the grand complaint. The difficulty about feeling is the first great difficulty, and it is one which

* The substance of the two following discourses was addressed to the graduating class in the Theological Department of Harvard University, in 1834. This circumstance will account for the form that is given to some of the topics and illustrations,

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presses upon every after-step of the religious course. Few arrive at that point where they can say with the apostle, “ I know in whom I have believed.” The common language and tone in which even religious confidence is expressed, do not go beyond such distrustful and desponding words as these—" I hope that I love God; I hope I have an interest in religion.” Alas! how different from the manner in which friendship, love, domestic affection, breathe themselves into the ear, and thrill through the heart of the world!

It seems especially strange, that this complaint of dulness should be heard in places devoted to the acquisition of religious knowledge, and the cultivation of religious affection; and yet it is, perhaps, nowhere more common or emphatic. And it is confined to no one species of religious seminaries ; it is confined, I mean, to no one sect. I have heard it in tones as emphatic from Catholic and Calvinistic seminaries as from any other. I have heard it as strongly expressed in other lands as in our own. But is it not very extraordinary? We hear it not from the studios of artists. We hear it not from the schools of law and medicine. There is no complaint of dulness, there is no want of enthusiasm about their appropriate objects in any of these. He, whose mind is occupied with the most abstruse questions of science or of the law; he who gazes upon a painting or upon a statue—ay, and he who gazes upon a skeleton, does not complain that he cannot be interested in them. I have heard such an one say, “ Beautiful! beautiful!” in a case where admiration seemed most absurd; where it provoked a smile from the observer. And yet in schools—in schools of ardent youthwhere the subject of attention is the Supreme and Infinite Beauty, if we may take confession for evidence—I do not say it is yours, my brethren, but I have often heard it from persons situated as you areyes, among such persons, if we may take confession for evidence-all is cold and dead.

But I must here, and before I go any further, put forward one qualification. I do not think that confession is to be taken for evidence altogether, and without any qualification. One reason, doubtless, why Christians complain so much of the want of feeling, is to be found in the very sense which they entertain of the infinite value and greatness of the objects of their faith. And it is unquestionably true, that there is often a great deal of feeling in cases where there are very sad lamentations over the want of it. Lamentation certainly does not prove total insensibility.

Still, however, there is an acknowledged deficiency; not appertaining to any one class or condition, but to the entire body of Christians. And it is especially a deficiency of natural, hearty, genuine, deep sensibility. And, once more, it is a deficiency, sad, strange, and inexcusable, on a subject more than all others claiming our sensibility. And yet, again, it is a deficiency which, when existing on the part of the clergy, is most deplorable in its consequences.

It is therefore everybody's interest, and that for every reason, to consider what are the causes, and what are the remedies, of this peculiar, prevailing, religious insensibility.

I have some question, indeed, whether this demand for sensibilitythe popular rage, that is to say, for feeling, feeling alone-is not, in some views, mistaken, excessive, and wrong. But let me admit, for I cannot resist, the strength, the supremacy, of the claim which religion has on our whole heart. The first and lawful demand of the mind awakened to religion, is to feel it. The last attainment is to feel it deeply, rationally, constantly. Of the awakened mind, the first consciousness always is—“I do not feel; I never did feel this subject as I ought. It claims to be felt. The solemn authority, and the unspeakable goodness of God; the great prospect of immortality; the strong bond of duty upon my nature; the infinite welfare of my soul—these are themes, if there be any such, upon which I ought to feel.” The mind, thus aroused from worldly neglect to the greatest of subjects, will feel its coldness, its indifference to be a dreadful burthen, and it will sigh for deliverance: and the preacher, who has never such a mind to deal with, may well doubt whether he is preaching to any purpose. And in all its after-course it will hold a fervent religious sensibility to be indispensable to its peace. If its prayers are formal and heartless, if its love waxes cold, if its gratitude and humility are destitute of warmth and tenderness, it cannot be satisfied.

And it ought not to be satisfied. This demand for feeling in religion, I say, is right; it is just; and I am desirous, in this discourse, to meet it and to deal with it as such. And

yet I am about to say, in the first place, that there are mistakes about it, and that in these mistakes are to be found some of the causes of the prevailing religious insensibility.

I. Is there not something wrong, then, in the first place, is there not something prejudicial to the very end in view in this vehement demand of feeling? I have said that it is mainly right, and that I intend so to regard it. But may there not be some mistake in the case ? May not the demand for feeling, sometimes be made to the prejudice of feeling, and to the prejudice, also, of real practical virtue?

I confess that I have been led at times to suspect that the craving of some for great religious feeling, in the preacher, though right in fact, yet was partly wrong in their minds. A person conscious of great religious deficiency, conscious of weekly and daily aberrations from the right rule and the religious walk, will be glad, of course, to have his feelings aroused on the sabbath; it gives him a better opinion of himself; it puts him on a better footing with his conscience; it, somehow brings up the moral account, and enables him to go on as if the state of his affairs were very well and prosperous.

This, perhaps, explains the reason, if such, indeed, be the fact, why, in some cases, a very pathetic and fervent preacher seems to do less good than a man of much inferior endowments. In this latter case, the congregation cannot depend upon the periodical and passive excitement, and is obliged to resort to something else—to some religious activity of its own.

It appears to me, also, that the great religious excitements of the day answer the same purpose, however unintentionally, of keeping the people satisfied with general coldness and negligence.

But I was about to observe that this urgent demand for feeling is probably one of the causes of religious insensibility,—that is to say, the directness, urgency, and reiteration of the demand are unfavourable to a compliance with it. This importunity, with regard to feeling, does not allow it to spring up in the natural way. If it were applied to feeling on any other subject—to friendship, filial attachment, or parental affec

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tion-how certainly would it fail of success! Human feeling, in its genuine character, can never be forced, urged, compelled, or exhorted into action. The pulpit, I believe, has occasion to take a lesson from this principle of analogy. It is not the way to make the people feel, to be telling them constantly that they must feel, to be complaining continually of their coldness, to be threatening them perpetually with heaven's judgments upon their insensibility. And he who has used only these methods of awakening emotion, need not wonder that the people have no feeling about religion. No, let the preacher himself feel ; let him express his feeling, not as if he had any design upon the feelings of others, but as if he could not help it; let him do this, and he will find hearts that sympathize with him. The chill of death may have been upon them-it may have been upon them for years; the rock may never have been smitten, the desert never cheered; but there is a holy unction—a holy unction of feeling, which is irresistible. It is like the rod of miracles in the hand of Moses; the waters will flow at its touch; and there will be life, and luxuriance, and beauty, where all was barrenness, and desolation before.

I do not say that there will, of necessity, be actual regeneration in the heart where this feeling is excited; I do not say that there will certainly be fruit where all this verdure and beauty are seen ; for the importance of feeling is often exaggerated to that degree that it is made a substitute for practical virtue. And thus the mistake we are considering is made unfavourable to religious sensibility in another way; for, although at first view it seems to favour sensibility to make so much of it-although, in fact, it exaggerates its importance; yet, as the nature of the exaggeration is to make feeling all-sufficient of itself, the effect, of course, is to draw off attention from that basis of principle and habit which are essential to the strength and permanency of feeling. This is so much to admire the beauty and luxuriance of vegetation in one's field, as to forget and neglect the very soil from which it springs. Of course the luxuriance and beauty will soon fade away. And so the common religious sensibility is like the seed which was sown upon stony places; forthwith it springs up because it has no deepness of earth; and because it has no root, it withers away. Or it is like the torrent after a shower. There has been a commotion in the moral elements of society; there have been thunderings in heaven, and an outpouring from the skies; and fresh streams are gushing forth and flowing on every side; and how many, in their agitation, their enthusiasm, and their zeal, will mistake these noisy freshets for the deep, pure, silent, everflowing river of life!

Nay, this vehement demand for feeling tends to throw an interested and mercenary character over it, which are also extremely unfavourable to its cultivation. There is that trait of nobleness still left in human nature, that it will not barter its best affections for advantage. He who is striving with all his might to feel, only because feeling will save him, is certain to fail. This is the reason why none are ever found so bitterly complaining of the want of feeling, as men often are in the midst of a great religious excitement. They see the community around them aroused to great emotion ; they are told that this is the way to be saved; the fear of perdition presses upon them; under this selfish fear they strive, they agonize, they goad themselves, they would give the world to feel; and the result is, that they can feel nothing! Their complaint is, and it is true, that their heart is as cold as a stone. No: -men must feel religion, if at all, because it is right to feel it. The great subject of religion must sink into their hearts, in retirement, in silence, without agitation, without any thought of advantage. They must foel, if at all

, involuntarily; they must feel, as it were, because they cannot help feeling.

This, too, is one of the reasons, as I believe, why there is so little religious sensibility in theological seminaries. There is a perpetual demand for sensibility; society demands it; religious congregations demand it; the student is constantly reminded by his fellows, by every body, that he cannot succeed without it; that his eloquence, his popularity, depend upon it; and every such consideration tends directly to chill his heart. He is ashamed to cultivate feeling under such influences. Let him, then, forget all this; let him forget that it is his interest, almost that it is his duty to feel; let him sit down in silence and meditation ; let him spread the great themes of religion before him, and with deep attention, ay, with the deep attention of prayer, let him ponder them, and he will find that which he did not seek; he will find that feeling is the least thing, the easiest thing, the most inevitable thing in his experience.

II. In the second place, there are mistakes—and they arise, in part, from the one already stated, -concerning the characteristics and expressions of religious sensibility; and these mistakes, too, like the former, are unfriendly to its cultivation.

I shall not think it necessary to dwell long upon this topic—or, at least, not upon its more obvious aspects. Every one, unhappily, is but too familiar with the extravagances, and the extravagant manifestations of religious feeling. They are as public as they are common. Their effect, in repelling and estranging the feelings of multitudes from religion, is no less clear.

In a celebrated volume of Essays, published some years ago, you will remember one “On the aversion of men of taste to Evangelical religion.” The aversion is there taken for granted; and, indeed, it is sufficiently evident. Whether the taste be right, or the religion be right, the fact of their contrariety is indisputable. The whole body of our classic English literature—that literature with which the great mass of readers is constantly communing and sympathising—is stamped with nothing more clearly than an aversion to what is called Evangelical religion. The peculiarities of its creed, of its feelings, of its experiences, of its manners, of its tones of speech, have all been alike offensive to that taste which is inspired by the mass of our best English reading

But the effect, unhappily, does not stop with repelling the mind from religion in the Evangelical form. It repels the mind from religion in every form. And more especially, it begets a great distrust of all religious earnestness. Hence all the solicitude then is, especially among the cultivated classes, to have everything sober, calm, rational, iu religion. Hence the alarm that is so easily taken at every appearance of zeal and enthusiasm. It seems to be thought by many, that there can be no religious earnestness but what breaks out into extravagauce and fanaticism. If they had not identified two things essentially

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