Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

1. Emanuel Swedenborg : A Biography. By James John

Garth Wilkinson. Newbery : London. 1849. 2. Publications of the Society for Printing and Publishing

the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. London. 1840,

1841, 1843, 1847. 3. Sammlung von Urkunden betreffend das Leben und den

Charakter Emanuel Swedenborg's. Von Dr. J. F. I.
Tafel. Tübingen. 1839-44.

It is the favourite cant of a certain school, taken up at a venture from some dashing aphorism of Carlyle or Jean Paul, to abjure the whole eighteenth century en masse as a period of heartless criticism and mental disorganisation, devoid of all love and earnestness and creative power. One lesson at least might have been learned from that calumniated age—not to hazard sweeping assertions without the qualifications which an accurate knowledge of facts would have made imperative on the lover of truth. Reposing from the long exhaustion of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and weary of controversies that had yielded no fruit, it is certainly true, that the general mind of Europe, from the commencement of the last century, was remarkable for its distrust of vague generalisations based on intuitive assumption; and

CHRISTIAN TEACHER.—No. 48.

L

with the great results and exquisite instruments of Newton, Huygens, Leibnitz and Locke, placed in its hands, concentrated its energies on the search after new facts, and on the devisal of fresh applications for those already known. But it is preposterous to describe the spirit of the eighteenth century as simply analytic and negative. Facts were rapidly developed into laws. In the wide range of human annals, where shall we point to a period so fertile of prolific principles ? In its womb were engendered the seeds of thought and the germs of power, which are only now bearing their fruit in the middle of the nineteenth century, and whether for good or for evil are unquestionably revolutionising the entire condition of society. To that

age belong the names of Adam Smith, Watt, Franklin, Gibbon, Voltaire, Beccaria, Howard, Burke, Lavoisier, Priestley, and, by his education and earliest impressions, Bentham. What incalculable influences have gone forth from the thoughts of these men! Our own time, resonant with the pretensions of querulous prophets and oracular declaimers, must furnish more names to parallel with them, ere it can be suffered to look down with disdain on that illustrious past.

The Religion of the period in all the great communions of Christendom, inheriting certain dogmas which represented the belief of a former age, and unable to harmonise them with the intellectual activity in which it was involved, shrank from the unequal contest, and with apathetic easiness, it must be confessed, settled down on that broad neutral ground of natural light and practical ethics, where learning and criticism might fully exercise their functions with impunity indeed, but with no large spiritual fruit. But even this did not take place without frequent and effectual protest. It is the reverse of fact to affirm, that the eighteenth century was without examples of a most earnest development of the Religious Life. Its phæno

. mena in this respect are among the most striking and varied in the history of the Church. The nineteenth century has produced nothing as yet to equal them either for depth or for continuance of impression. The Protestantism of the established and recognised Churches of Europe was an imperfect birth, arrested at a particular point of its natural growth by the mere accident of political events--the

a

restoration of a sovereign, the casualties of a treaty, or the humour of a legislative assembly in defining the bounds of toleration. It did not even rise to the character of a fait accompli. It carried within it the seeds of inevitable disquietude and change. It satisfied neither the reason, nor the affections, nor the faith of mankind. Among the effects of the mental restlessness of Europe during the last century, not the least interesting are the religious movements to which it gave rise.

Out of these we may single four, as remarkably expressive of different tendencies, associated with the names of Wesley, Zinzendorf, Priestley and Swedenborg. The two former had a close affinity in sentiment, and even some co-operation in practice. Their effort was a re-action against the lifeless rationalism of the prevalent theology. They sought religion in its transforming action on the affections in the power of a present faith to recal men from worldly pursuits, and consecrate them to the life of God. Here was the strength and beauty of their systembut here also was its danger, its liability to overset the mind so strongly possessed, and let it lapse into folly and licentiousness. Averse from criticism, and accepting without question the established faith of the land, they severally appropriated from the Anglican and Lutheran Confessions precisely those elements that were best fitted to work on the feelings and imagination, and induce the conviction of that close personal union with Christ, which might be taken as an earnest of future salvation. They showed but little interest in the science and literature of the day—or only in reference to its possible spiritual influ

Thrown back into the feelings of the primitive Christians, Heaven with them absorbed every other consideration. Their one object was to counteract the unbelief and spiritual deadness of the world-and to separate to God a peculiar people, marked off from the surrounding infidelity, by a spirit, a language, and a mode of life of their own. Schools and preaching and singularly organised societies were their great instruments of action ; and the worthiest fruits of their zeal and love are still visible in an extensive reformation of the most depraved classes, and the most successful missious, after those perhaps of the Jesuits, that have been yet carried among the Heathen.

[ocr errors]

ence.

Priestley and Swedenborg present a strong contrast to the remarkable men just alluded to. Widely differing from each other in the character of their minds, and in the nature of their appeal to the convictions of mankind—they agreed nevertheless in approaching the questions of theology under the light of philosophy, and from the advanced ground of modern science--in strong dissent from existing Churches in their conception of the object of worship and of human relations to Him-and in their endeavour (though very differently applied) to establish the certainty of a Future Life on the evidence of fact. They resembled each other moreover in making little effort to spread their doctrines by fervent preaching and organised proselytism and the marked separation of their followers by outward tokens from the rest of the world. Priestley disseminated his views in very numerous writings, and calmly trusted to the force of truth to procure them acceptance. Preachingnever the peculiar distinction of the Presbyterian Churches, amongst which his doctrinal reformation took chief effectwas perhaps still further depressed by his immediate influence, and only revived again under a new stimulus from America.-Swedenborg was a layman, and considered it a part of his specific mission to circulate the truths of the New Church through the press. For more than a quarter of a century previous to his death, he was incessantly engaged in composition; his theological works, all written in Latin, fill about thirty octavo volumes; and now, almost eighty years since his decease, a Society is in active operation for the translation and dissemination of his writings. The circumstance is significant, as indicating the adaptation of his doctrines to a time when books are becoming the universal medium of instruction, and the press is daily encroaching on the domain once occupied with undisputed sway by the pulpit.— With these particulars, however, the parallellism between Swedenborg and Priestley wholly ceases. Priestley was a thorough and consistent rationalist (for miracles were to him a rational proof) who acknowledged no distinction, as to the ground of admission, between the belief of outward facts and faith in spiritual realities, but comprehended both in the same category of evidence

-testimony that may be relied upon, and sound logical inference. He would take no man's assurance for a direct

communication with Heaven, but insisted on the outward sign in some act of superhuman power or a clear fulfilment of the prophetic word. Swedenborg made no pretension to work external miracles, and even denied their fitness to generate a free and individual faith: but he affirmed with distinct asseveration, that his own spiritual sight had been opened to commune with Angels, and to behold the wonderful scenery of Heaven and Hell. The calmness, the pertinacity and the consistency, with which a man of the world, trained in the exact sciences, familiar with Courts and Universities, and on all other subjects giving proof of perfect rationality, persisted for the last five and twenty years of his existence in declaring his immediate communication with the unseen world and daily insight into its mysteries and with which under this conviction he separated himself from all other pursuits, sent forth volume after volume, and elaborated a very compact and minutely developed system of Theology--are phænomena which may well excite our astonishment in the history of this remarkable person.

The bare assertion of such claims will be sufficient with many readers, to convict him at once of madness or imposture, and to render his character and writings unworthy of any further notice. But the case cannot be thus summarily dismissed. Whatever becomes of his supernatural pretensions, Swedenborg is the symbol of an influence which cannot be despised. His peculiar principles find defenders and representatives among intelligent and educated men in England, America, France and Germany. Churches not a few have been gathered in his name, and are said to be on the increase. He is one of a remarkable series of phænomena, running through the ages and connected with the birth of many enduring forms of religion, which the philosophical investigator of human nature will not pass over with indifference. Wholly independent of the reality of his Seership, and the intrinsic value of his doctrines, his own deep-rooted conviction, viewed as a simple question of psychology, offers a problem of no slight interest for solution. Should it be our final conclusion, that his pretensions had their source in mental disease, it must stiîl be recollected, that a thoughtful study of pathology renders more distinct the conditions of health, and that sometimes through the rent which

« AnkstesnisTęsti »