Amanda, Theodosia and Eusebia
Henry Thornton, 1846
PREFACE The reader of the present volume will recognize in it the same Christian wisdom, the same practical devotion, the same sterling common sense — that rare quality, without which the application even of piety to the inculcation of religious truth is not always successful — which marked, in active life, the character of the late Henry Thornton; and which rendered that life a blessing while he was spared on earth; and have rendered his other posthumous works — and will, it is trusted, through the Grace of God, render this work also — a blessing to his country and to the Church of Christ.
Amanda is a young lady who, without possessing any peculiar piety, has received some very pleasing dispositions from nature, and has also derived great advantages from education.
When a child, she was the delight of her friends and companions, the favorite of her brothers, and the source of much happiness to her parents. She was good-natured and obliging, submissive and obedient, and singularly tender and affectionate. She was taught to rise early, to be temperate in her diet, to observe the utmost propriety in her dress, to be punctual to her appointments, and almost invariably to devote certain hours of the day to their appropriate occupations. She thus became exercised in habits both of bodily and mental self-denial and diligence.
Her temperament, originally fine, was rendered still more excellent by the management of a most able, though not very religious governess. The eye of this lady was constantly upon her charge. Every attitude and gesture of the young pupil was observed; and her manners were formed according to the strictest rules of female decorum. The purity of her mind was at the same time consulted — for the perusal of novels, with few exceptions, and likewise of some compositions of our English poets, was disallowed.
When Amanda came out into the world, she was everywhere accompanied by her prudent and experienced mother, who assiduously instructed her in all those rules of worldly wisdom and precaution by which the character of a young woman becomes established in fashionable society. She was enjoined to refrain from indulging herself in violent and hasty friendships; and at the same time to beware of raising up any enemies. Hence she was admonished to restrain the first impulse of her feelings, either of affection or dislike; to bestow her attentions both on the old and on the young; both on her acquaintance of a lower, and on those of a higher class; to speak somewhat favorably of all; to bear patiently the tediousness and dullness of unattractive individuals; and when accosted by young men too freely and familiarly, to be proportionably guarded, and ceremoniously polite.
Amanda has been taught to mix some flattery with her civilities; she has, however, practiced in the school of the world a certain kind of useful discipline and self-command. Her ideas have also been enlarged by opportunities of hearing the conversation of intelligent men, the extent of whose talents and information has moderated her opinion of herself; and her increasing acquaintance with people of the highest rank, has continually added a fresh polish to her manners.
Amanda joins to a sound understanding — a very kind and sympathizing heart; while her benevolence, therefore, makes her wish to please — her good sense enables her, in almost all cases, to effect her purpose. She enters into every feeling of her company. She has now acquired, through long practice, an almost intuitive perception of what is deemed by the more refined part of society, to be proper to be said and done on every occasion. Among her superiors and equals, she is an accomplished woman; she is attentive without oppressing them by her civilities. She furnishes her share of agreeable remark; yet never engrosses, and rarely leads the conversation. She indulges in no egotisms; betrays no disgusting vanity; is hurried into no improprieties of temper; allows herself in no violent exaggerations; and avoids, especially when she is in mixed company, censorious observations on absent characters. If she utters a sarcasm — it is against herself; if she relates an interesting anecdote — it is to the advantage of some other person.
Amanda likewise manifests great kindness when she finds herself in a circle of her inferiors. Many women in her rank of life take credit for general condescension, because they sometimes show a compassionate attention to the lowest of their fellow-creatures. They are not aware that benevolence and humility are much more clearly evinced, by affability towards people placed only at a small distance below them, people with whom they are in some danger of being confounded.
Amanda has gained her popularity in the quarter of which I now speak, by manners a little different from those which she adopts in the higher circles. Fearing to distress her more humble acquaintance by too stiff a silence, she often takes the lead among them, and communicates freely that superior knowledge which she possesses. Her conversation is restrained only when there is danger of too much encouraging the forward or the vain. No people offend her taste more than those individuals of the middling class who affect gentility — but are evidently underbred. Her benevolence, however, prevailing over her fastidiousness — she sympathizes with these as with others.
But if I wished to exhibit Amanda in the most favorable point of view in which she can be placed — I would draw her picture when she is visiting the poor who surround her father's splendid mansion in the country. She occasionally enters the humble abodes of the cottagers, inquires into the health of each member of the family, and examines into their means of comfortable subsistence. She imparts to the unlettered tribe, the information with which she has, for their sakes, enriched herself. She labors assiduously to remove their prejudices. She instructs them how to improve their chimneys, to economize their fuel, to render their food more cheap, wholesome, and nutritious; how to mitigate the diseases, and perhaps preserve the lives of their children.
Is there a bickering among the females of the village? She enters with calmness and precision into the causes of the dissension; and allays the heat through the influence of her authority. By her known determination not to favor the unworthy — she promotes much honest industry. She saves not a few in the extremity of their poverty; for she reports to her fond and admiring father the cases which she has seen, and extracts from his purse many a piece of silver or of gold, which, if Amanda had not interposed, would have been applied to very different uses.
I have observed that Amanda, nevertheless, is not particularly distinguished for piety . I did not mean to affirm that she had no religion. There is so natural an alliance between piety and benevolence, (the benevolence, I mean, which is active and self-denying,) that where I see a pre-eminent degree of the one — I feel almost irresistibly impelled to assume the existence of some portion of the other.
Amanda is a professor of Christianity. She occasionally receives the sacrament, and prepares herself for it with great solemnity. She behaves, I am sure, with great propriety when she is at church. She kneels very devoutly during the prayers, and evidently listens to the sermon. I take for granted that she is accustomed to say her daily prayers; and I have heard from good authority that she reads her Bible. She dwells, indeed, on what she calls the plainer parts. She prefers the Gospels to the Epistles; the Sermon on the Mount to any other portion of the Gospels; and the text, "Judge not, that you be not judged," to every other passage of the Sermon.
She denies, however, no one doctrine of Christianity. She is neither skeptic, heretic, nor schismatic. She is as religious as anyone needs to be in the opinion of the majority of her friends, as well as in that of more than half the world. She is rather too religious according to the views of that part of her acquaintance, who are very giddy, and somewhat profane. Still, however, according to my idea, piety is the very article in which Amanda will be found to fail.
But how shall I prove my point? My first step shall be to subjoin some few additional observations respecting Amanda; and I will afterwards endeavor to mark her deficiencies by the means of two other characters of my acquaintance. I begin with the defects of Amanda's faith.
It is true, that she does not deny, as was before observed, any one doctrine of Christianity; but to none of them does she give sufficient prominence and weight. She submits to them with all due reverence, accounting it to be stubbornness and rebellion against the authority of the Church to question their truth. But she examines little into their practical consequences; she perceives them indistinctly, believes them faintly, and interprets them loosely.
The truth is, that she has as yet made but small progress towards emerging out of that state of natural ignorance and error respecting these subjects, in which we remain — until a discovery of the evil of sin, and a sense of our own exposure to the just condemnation of God, on account of our transgressions, make us fly for refuge to the grace of the Gospel. Hence, though deeming herself a perfect church-woman in her faith, she is apt to side, in some respects, with the very apostles of heterodoxy; and when accused of a departure from the true tenets of the Church, I have known her to justify herself exactly as they do, by observing, that to perform well our relative duties (a phrase which too often means little more than to be respectful to our relations and attentive to the courtesies of life) is the great point, and that practice is all in all.
Amanda, I am confident, cannot but confess, that although she is warm in her natural feelings — she is, at present, very cold in her religion. Even before her most private friends, she says little on the subject. She has a maxim by which she justifies her silence. She holds it to be a degradation of Christianity to turn it into a topic of familiar discourse. Religion, she tells you, is a private thing. By means of this sentiment she conceals from herself and others her lack both of that sound religious knowledge which will stand discussion, and of a more operative and lively faith. She forgets that "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth" will not fail to "speak." In short, she rather excites in me the idea of "the languid professor of a hereditary faith," than of the partaker of the animated joys, the glorious hopes, and the blessed consolations of the Gospel.
But let us next consider more particularly her practice ; for as yet we have viewed it chiefly on the favorable side. The great source of Amanda's deficiency in this respect (for great will her deficiency be found to be) is the same which has been already mentioned as the cause of the errors in her faith — namely, the lack of a just sense of the true nature and evil of sin. In estimating guilt, she considers not so much the transgression against God — as the offence against society, or the injury done to some individual. Observe her language: "virtuous and wicked, mischievous and beneficial, criminal and innocent, honorable and dishonorable, correct and incorrect, creditable and discreditable, proper and improper," are her terms. The word "sinful" is scarcely to be found in her vocabulary; nor are the terms, "godly," "sanctified," "holy," "children of God," "regenerate," to be discovered in her divinity. All these are deemed by her to be theological expressions, derived indeed from the New Testament, and transferred from thence into our ancient and venerable liturgy, and even adopted into the language of our ancestors. But then she well remembers how much religion was discredited in a former century, by some who remarkably abounded in a phraseology of this sort.
Amanda keeps extremely clear of their fault. Her error is on the side of the contrary extreme. I grant that it may be proper to make a guarded use even of those scriptural expressions, which have been heretofore much perverted, or may now be imperfectly understood; and that the pious mind will affix a Christian sense to more modern theological phrases. I apprehend, however, that Amanda is in great danger of annexing to the terms which she employs, those low ideas which they are so well calculated to convey; for both the company which she keeps, and even the books of morality which she peruses, contribute to give to her mind that irreligious bias of which I complain.
Amanda is a great enemy to the new French philosophy — but she is not aware how naturally she is carried by the general spirit of the times towards the very system which she condemns. Her ethics are not sufficiently founded on religion. She draws her motives from earth, rather than from Heaven. She is too much used to consider human actions as bad — in proportion either as they violate conscience, however unenlightened, or as they wound our natural and instinctive sensibility, or as they offend against man's short-sighted notions of expediency, or as they depart from certain trifling rules of propriety and decorum , or contradict the maxims of honor established by the world. They are far too little contemplated as violations of the revealed law of God, or as means of drawing down His indignation. It is on this account that I term her a moral rather than a religious character.
One consequence of this fundamental error in Amanda is her lack of a sufficient perception of the evil of profaneness. I do not say that she herself is accustomed to make a light use of the solemn name of God: but I affirm that she day by day hears it profaned by others without apparent emotion, and without seeming to feel any consequent diminution of the pleasure derived from their society. It will, perhaps, be said in her excuse, that she is scarcely sensible of these violations of the Third Commandment. I grant it — and her insensibility it is which establishes my argument.
Her Sunday is by no means very strictly kept; and even the more gross violations of it by others are not the objects of her very serious regret, much less of her censure. I may possibly be suspected of requiring her to observe the day in a more strict and pharisaical manner, than the liberal spirit of Christianity demands. I reply, that her Sunday, with even its few strictnesses, is now a burden to her; and that this consequence results from her viewing Christianity too much in the light in which the Jews contemplated their religion — namely, as a law of works and ceremonial observances; and from her esteeming it too little as a dispensation of pardon to the guilty, and of mercy, consolation, hope, and joy. Her religion having on this account never much interested her feelings — is not sufficiently the subject of her conversation, of her reading, and of her meditation. As soon as Amanda shall begin to derive pleasure from the Gospel, she will naturally incline to the more strict, or as I would rather call it, the more religious observation of the Sabbath.
But the great practical evil which results from her estimating right and wrong so much by the rules and maxims of men, and so little by the spiritual and perfect law of God, is this: she is tempted habitually to regard actions — rather than motives; the propriety of the words which she utters — rather than the purity of the inward thought which dictated them; the outward manners — more than the holiness of the heart. "The law of The Lord is perfect, converting the soul;" but the law of man is imperfect, principally regarding the mere actions of this life, and concerning itself with only a small portion even of these.
Amanda! have you ever carefully considered this perfection of the law of God? Do you habitually scrutinize all those various motives, affections, and imaginations of your mind, which it is the express object of the divine law to regulate? Have you ever surveyed the vast extent of your duties, and contemplated the guilt of each sin, even of omission? I suspect that a large number of your actions are conceived by you to belong to a class, which you term indifferent . I am afraid you imagine, for example, that conscience needs to take no cognizance of the manner in which you employ a great portion of your time , of your conversation , substance , and influence . The duties of life, as you term them, being fulfilled, and of these you have a very narrow idea — I fear that the remainder of your talents is deemed to be at the disposal of your own desires; conscience merely demanding that they shall be turned to no use directly mischievous: and because some part of this large remnant is employed according to the dictates of your natural benevolence, I fear, that instead of saying, "When we have done all, we are but unprofitable servants" — that you are ready to take credit for certain works of merit.
But be assured, there can be no action which is strictly indifferent, no hour which is without its duty; that even no deed can be strictly right, in the place of which a better might have been substituted; that our very amusements need to be subjected to the law of God; and all our affections to be measured out according to the dictates of the same law — God Himself being the supreme object of our desire. Such sentiments as these would suggest to you, on the one hand, a high standard of practice — and would produce, on the other, a very deep humility.
I must name another important evil which results from the system of Amanda. I have often observed in her a disposition to value too highly in others, that kind of correctness in which she herself excels; and I suspect that, in spite of all her benevolence, she exercises too little charity towards those who may have heretofore grievously offended. Would you convince Amanda that you are a good Christian? You must prove to her that you have been free from great sins, even from your youth. In your professions of repentance, she will have little faith. Habits, as she thinks, are invincible. Certain great crimes indicate a state that is incurable. When reputation is lost, she fears that all is lost.
Amanda! Have you ever reflected how small has been your own temptation to those sins, into which some others have fallen? What if the case should change, and the providence of God should expose you to some trial? May not the present innocence of your life, as you are too much disposed to term it, result rather from your circumstances than from any strength of holy principles which you possess? "Be not high-minded — but fear. Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."
Amanda therefore, in some degree, resembles those Pharisees who are described in Scripture as possessing a superficial righteousness , in which they trusted, and as having too little respect for the repenting publican and sinner. But let me not be misunderstood; I would be most unjust if I were to liken her in all respects to the ancient Pharisee. The comparison would fail in a number of most important particulars. She does not "devour widows' houses, and, for a pretense, make long prayers." She does not "choose the chief place in the synagogues, and love to be called Rabbi." She does not "persecute the prophets from city to city, and scourge them, and put them to death." Unquestionably, she is not what the Pharisee was — an example of the highest degree of sanctimonious pride, and prejudice, and hypocrisy, and the arch enemy of Jesus Christ. I would esteem it a sin to brand her, in any unqualified manner, with a name which she so little merits. Nevertheless, I must insist that she would have gained a great step in Christianity if her character were farther removed from that of him, who said, "God, I thank You that I am not as other men are," and if she more resembled the man who smote upon his heart, exclaiming, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"
But a few remarks must be added on one part of Amanda's conduct, which was before very favorably noticed. I praised this benevolent creature when in the country. There, indeed, she chiefly shines. But what is she when in London? Even here it has been acknowledged that she is polite, agreeable, and actuated by a desire to please. But then Amanda has the honor of visiting, when she is in town, about eight hundred people; and her habitual endeavor seems to be to please and satisfy them all. The general character of this immense host of people is far inferior to that of Amanda, in point both of benevolence and of religion.
Among them are some Atheists and Deists; a great multitude who practically disbelieve; not a few very light and dissipated women; and a large proportion of notoriously licentious men. Amanda is popular in every part of the circle which I have described. Whence then is that good fame which she has acquired in so many wicked quarters? Does it not result from a too great toleration of certain things which she sees and hears? Can she then possess a sufficiently tender conscience? Would she be thus agreeable, if, either by her conduct, by her words, or even by her looks — she gave to every species of sin and impiety, the due discouragement and reprehension? Amanda professes to believe in Jesus Christ, and I feel very unwilling to suggest doubts respecting the sincerity of her faith; but was He popular with all the world? Did He not often testify of it that its works were evil? And was it not by the severity of His reproofs, that He provoked the anger of His persecutors?
But, it may be said, Amanda is a woman; that she is also a young person; and that it would be presumptuous in her to pretend to imitate the Savior. I grant that to do in all respects as He did, would be to mistake the line of our duty; but are the followers of Christ to maintain no warfare with the world? What is baptism, but a profession of this very warfare? And what is Christianity, but a following of Jesus Christ?
"But Amanda," it will also be replied, "is so extremely affectionate and kind! She is benevolence itself; and it is the mere excess of her charity which causes her to lean, perhaps, a little too much to the accommodating side."
Was He then, whose religion she professes to follow, less exuberant in his kindness, or less tender in His nature than Amanda? His conflict with sin was one effect of His benevolence. He would have been less benevolent if He had been less strenuous in opposing the corruptions of the world. Here, therefore, I am reminded of the observation which has been already more than once introduced. Amanda sees but imperfectly, the evil of sin. Hence proceed her erroneous ideas of Christian doctrine; hence her low standard of practice; hence her inadequate conceptions of the iniquity prevailing in the world. The sins which she faintly discerns, she feebly opposes. When she beholds pain, sorrow, sickness — her instinctive benevolence makes her endeavor to remove them; but moral evil does not equally engage her attention. She imitates her Savior in endeavoring to mitigate the common troubles of life; but she is not earnest like Him to promote the spirit of true and universal holiness in the world.
She discourses agreeably with her company; when she opens her lips, she conveys pleasure to all around — but her's is a narrow, and, in many cases, a mistaken benevolence. She endeavors to make them happier — but not by rendering them holier. She delights you for the moment — but she discovers little aim to communicate that permanent enjoyment which results from the knowledge and love of Christ.
Amanda! I appeal now to your benevolence. Whence come those pains and griefs which, when in the country at least, you are so much occupied in assuaging? Come they not chiefly from the sinful passions of men? The grand source of human miseries, is the moral evil of the world. The man, or the woman, who subdues one sin, prevents a thousand of the common evils of life from ever having an existence.
To sum up the character of Amanda. She affords an example of the highest excellency which is to be attained when morality is substituted for religion — when the gifts of nature occupy the place of Christian graces — and when the discipline of the world is preferred to that of the school of Christ. Amanda, indeed, it has been admitted, may be under some influence from religion; but it can only be a partial and a very languid influence. She seems to have imbibed nearly just as much Christianity as is consistent with general conformity to the manners of the age.
"But the age itself," it may be said, "is Christian." Let it be granted that it is not heathen — but does it reach, does it even approach, the standard required by the Gospel? Are the eight hundred people, whom Amanda visits, of the same stamp with those who, in our Savior's time, were designated by the title of "His people;" "the sheep of His fold, who heard His voice?" Are these the "members of His body;" "branches of the living vine, which, by abiding in Him, bring forth much fruit;" the men "who love not the world, nor the things of the world;" "who crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts;" "who watch and pray, that they enter not into temptation;" "who work out their salvation with fear and trembling;" and who "pray always that they may be accounted worthy to escape all those things which are coming on the earth, and to stand before the Son of Man?" Is Amanda herself of this description?
She is, indeed, one of the very best of her own worldly circle; and she unquestionably does great honor to their cause. The votaries of fashion point to her, and say, "See how excellent a thing is our religion — a religion not disgraced by bigotry, not rendered extravagant by fanaticism, and in no respect pushed too far; a religion that is quiet and unobtrusive, cheerful and happy, candid and liberal; honoring God by a cheerful acceptance of His gifts; offending none by an implied censure of their proceedings — but judging charitably of all; accommodating itself to the times in which we live, and allowing a full participation in all the common pursuits and pleasures of the world."
"Amanda," they add, "does great good by her example. She goes everywhere, and all who see her are in love with virtue." The truth rather is, that she contributes to sanction a system which is far more defective even than her own; and that she is approved by many of her acquaintance, not merely nor chiefly for her virtues themselves — but rather on account of her lending the credit of those virtues to the support of the worldly cause. They love her most for that which is her great fault — namely, for never daring to rebuke, or to withstand them; for living so much in their circle; for carrying the spirit of compliance so very far; in short, for hiding the little religion which she possesses; confining it to the hours of worship, and of preparation for the sacrament.
But let not Amanda conceive that I am advising her to become morose or dogmatic, to assume the office of censor of the age, to retire altogether out of society, or to live in it only for the purpose of opposing its customs, correcting its errors, and reproving its vices. I am inviting her not to lay aside any amiable qualities now possessed by her — but to add to these something superior to them all, and to establish them all on a solid basis. I am requesting her not to become ill-bred or fanatical, conceited or censorious; not to lay aside the charities of life — but to be that true Christian, of which she will behold the portrait in the New Testament, and may discover examples in the present world.
God has endowed her with some rare qualities of nature. His Providence has, in certain respects, favored her in education; and His Grace has preserved her from open and presumptuous sin. Let her then devote her ten talents heartily to His service. Let her yield herself up to that Gospel which she is so well calculated to adorn. The returning prodigal is in general far less able to render service to the Christian cause, than one who has ever possessed, like Amanda, an unspotted character in the world. She indeed has to lay the foundation of her faith in deep repentance — but her sins are those of the heart — more than of the life , and those which most escape the censure of mankind. Her Christian influence over others may on this account be the greater; her piety will be viewed with less suspicion than that of one who has a bad character to retrieve.
Some there are, who, though converted into true Christians, continue long both to feel and to exhibit the effects of evil habits indulged during the former period of life. Amanda, having formed better habits, may more easily become exemplary in her conduct; she is therefore fitted for more arduous service.
But there is another mode in which she may be addressed. I have hitherto considered her as possibly a real, though without doubt, a very imperfect Christian. She is, however, one of those, who, while they ought to be judged charitably by others, would do well to be suspicious of themselves.
When the young man in the Gospel came to Christ, and said, "All the commandments have I kept from my youth up — what lack I yet?" He perhaps was an Amanda , exemplary in his own way, and much to be beloved, both for the natural amiableness of his disposition, and for his apparent desire to draw near to Christ. How different was the manner in which our Savior received this youth, from that in which He addressed Himself to the hardened Scribes and Pharisees. Yet the young man was not able to stand the test by which our Savior proceeded to prove whether he was a true disciple: "Sell all you have, and give to the poor, and come and follow Me." "And he went away sorrowful, for he had large possessions." Then said our Savior, "How hardly shall those who are rich, enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
This story is recorded for a warning, not only to the rich — but also to all those, of whatever class, who are unfaithful to Him whom they profess to call their master. "Sell all you have." Part with everything — wealth, interest, pleasures, reputation, and the good opinion of connections, "cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye" — surrender, when you are called to the trial, whatever is most dear to you, "and come, and follow Me." "Follow Me through evil report, and good report. Follow not the world, for My disciples are not of the world, even as I am not of the of the world. The world will love its own." "Confess Me," openly before men, for then will "I also confess you before My Father who is in Heaven."
Amanda, it is to be feared, is of the world, a follower of its customs, an encourager of its maxims, a votary of its enjoyments. Her thoughts, as I suspect, dwell not on God, and holiness — but secretly pursue, as their great object, imaginary scenes of worldly happiness. There is reason to apprehend lest the time should come when, being less favored by outward circumstances, she may disappoint the expectations which by many people are now formed concerning her, and when even her present religious strictness will much abate. She is, nevertheless, so amiable, that I could almost deem myself censorious in complaining of her. She is so correct and exemplary, that it appears difficult to bring home to her conduct, a manifest and specific fault. Her exterior , however, is her better part. Let her beware, lest, by the very correctness of her external behavior, she should deceive herself, as well as others. Let her remember, that while "man looks on the outward appearance — the Lord tries the heart."
In a former Paper I described the character of Amanda. I purpose now to present the account of Theodosia, a lady of a very opposite description, whose piety, however, is also questionable, though she maintains some degree of credit for religion within her own immediate circle. If merely to differ widely from Amanda were sufficient evidence of being a Christian, Theodosia might unquestionably lay claim to that appellation, for she has renounced the pomps and vanities of the world. She is much addicted to religious conversation; and is also zealous on the side of what she calls "the truth," a term by which she means to denote those important doctrinal parts of Christianity which Amanda mistakes or overlooks.
Theodosia, however, in her very views of doctrine, runs into some extremes, which shall be specified hereafter; and in her manner of promoting the cause of religion, she is pugnacious and dogmatic, as well as hasty and imprudent. The hostility thus excited against herself, is assumed by her to be altogether against the Gospel, and is dignified with the name of persecution, and is accounted one of her special marks of grace.
Theodosia is rather of a melancholy turn. She appears to be ever in quest of religious comfort — but not able to find it.
She also disappoints you in the great article of Christian humility , for, notwithstanding very profuse acknowledgments of her general vileness, she is apt to justify herself when you come to particulars; and in spite of much seeming renunciation of her own righteousness and strength — she gives to common observers the idea of her being conceited and self-sufficient.
One source of the dislike which many people feel towards Theodosia, a dislike rising even to disgust in some fastidious and rather worldly individuals, is a certain species of phraseology in which she abounds. By the use, however, of this phraseology, she gains credit in another quarter. She thereby deceives some pious — but not very discriminating people; and their favorable sentiments confirm her good opinion of herself. Of her stock of phrases, some offend people of the world, merely because they imply unpopular truths; some, though proper, and scriptural, are worn threadbare by incessant use; others indicate good doctrine — but are bad English; a few are symptomatic of errors to which she leans; and many are objectionable, because they degrade the subject of religion by their coarseness and familiarity. Theodosia is not in the least aware that any part of her phraseology is reprehensible. That these peculiar phrases may excite pious emotions in some hearts, is not to be doubted; but I grievously suspect her of using them merely by rote .
Theodosia, however, deserves to be partly vindicated against certain charges which are brought against her. She is supposed by many people to be a friend to Faith without works . It is true that she gives some ground for this imputation; but she by no means denies the obligation to perform good works, though she is not very zealous on the subject. She is reproached with being an Antinomian, a term which implies that she is altogether an enemy to the moral law of God. The charge is exaggerated. She rightly affirms, that, if we are true believers, we are freed, through Christ, from the condemnation of the law; but she does not venture quite so far as to say that we are released from the obligation of obeying it.
Again, by some she is vehemently condemned, and is even shunned as a heretic, because she is understood to entertain predestinarian principles. These, however, are not held by her in such a sense as, in her own apprehension, to take totally away either the responsibility of man, the guilt of sin, the use of means, or the duty of exertion. I do not think, that her theory of religion is quite so liable to reprehension, as it is by many supposed to be.
But I advance to some other points, which it is important carefully to specify.
Theodosia talks much of "experience" in religion; and loves to hear what she calls "experimental preaching." Now, these terms are susceptible of an enthusiastic, and also of a very sound and sober signification. If Theodosia simply means that we ought to experience a powerful effect on our minds from the preaching of the doctrines of the Gospel, and that she likes to hear this effect described, I perfectly approve of her sentiment. Indeed this is so obvious, that I do not understand how any Christian can deny it. Is it possible to maintain that the emotions of pious gratitude, of love, of hope, of joy, of reverential fear, as well as of penitential sorrow for sin — ought not to be experienced in the soul of the believer, when he hears of the mercies of his Savior?
If, therefore, Theodosia would thus explain herself, she would completely vindicate the use of the term, which is so offensive to fastidious ears. But she runs into some extravagances on the subject in question. She does not speak of her religious experience as implying merely the exercise of the common affections of the mind on religious objects; she mentions it in such a manner, as a little to imply some new and special revelation, some miracle wrought upon her, some communication of a new faculty, some view of even the bodily presence of her Savior, some communion which it is needless to describe, because it is intelligible only to those to whom it is given to possess it.
She leans in this respect to mysticism , as well as to enthusiasm — and I conceive this error to be one cause of that complaint of the lack of comfort which was formerly mentioned. She is in quest of transports and supernatural impressions, which it does not please God to give her. She is not content with that share of quiet consolation which He sends to those who are diligent in the use of the ordinary means of grace, and are conscientiously serving God in that state of life into which it has pleased Him to call them. The exercise of faith is too low an attainment for her. She is impatient for the full assurance of faith. Not content to love Him whom she has not seen, and to believe in Him who is invisible, she talks of seeing, of tasting, of feeling spiritual things, in such a manner as almost to imply the bodily possession of them.
In these descriptions, she sometimes uses, it is true, scriptural terms; but neither in that simply metaphorical, nor in that practical sense, which they bear in the word of God. She also too much inclines to an opinion, that having no power over the religious feelings of her own mind, she has only to wait until it shall please God to pour into it the comforts of His Holy Spirit. Her enemies, therefore, say, that she believes in miraculous influx of the Spirit. They, however, on their part, are apt to be unguarded in their accusations. In opposing, for example, the extravagance which has been just spoken of — some of them have seemed altogether to deny the doctrine of Divine influence.
Another peculiarity often charged on Theodosia is a belief that all real conversions are miraculous. Now, what is the true meaning of the term miraculous? God may properly be said to act in a miraculous manner when He departs from His own ordinary mode of proceeding in the operations either of nature or of grace. When, for example, He caused the Red Sea to open a passage for the Israelites, and when He made the Sun and Moon to stand still in the Valley of Ajalon — He produced an operation of nature which was miraculous. It was miraculous, not because God was the Author of it, for He is the Author equally of the most common natural events — but because the operation was out of the ordinary course of His agency.
Again, when Paul was converted by a special voice from Heaven, he experienced an operation of grace which was out of the common course. When, on the other hand, multitudes were converted to the same faith by the preaching of the Apostles and their successors, although the power was equally from God, they could not be said to experience a conversion which was miraculous. Theodosia, therefore, is inaccurate; she uses inflated language , if she commonly applies the term miraculous to the conversion of men in modern days, unless indeed she can prove that events, similar to that which befell Paul, now frequently take place.
Thus far, therefore, I take part against Theodosia. The controversy, however, on this subject, does not in fact confine itself to the epithet in question; for some at least of her enemies, while they affect to declaim against merely miraculous conversions, are aiming to discredit the doctrine of conversion altogether. A few of them have gone so far as plainly to affirm, that all those terms, "being born again," "renewed," "created anew," "converted," which abound so much in Scripture, refer either to the case of the heathen, or to the mere ceremony of baptism. They speak as if we had nothing to do but to convince ourselves by our reason of the general truths of Christianity, in order to entitle ourselves to the denomination of Christians, and to all the privileges of believers. Thus they lead us to leave out of our consideration the idea both of the Divine agency, and of that great and all important moral change (the effect of this Divine agency) which the Scriptures describe as indispensable.
Theodosia is under another very important misconception on this subject — she too much inclines to consider conversion, or regeneration, as consisting either in a mere change of doctrinal opinions; or in the expression of certain violent impressions, once felt, and of which the remembrance is afterwards carefully cherished, on account of its being esteemed the pledge of Salvation. If, therefore, you would give proof to Theodosia of your being a Christian, you must be able to recount to her, with due particularity of time and place — the history of your conversion. It is not enough that you now possess the scriptural marks of your being a Christian. The present predominance of pure over corrupt affections; the present manifestation of humility, patience, meekness, and self-denial; the present exercise of faith, hope, and charity — are not allowed to determine this question. You are rather called upon to describe, and in some degree after her manner, and in her phraseology — how you entered upon your Christian state.
Now it often pleases God to cause the seed sown in the heart to grow up (as one of the Evangelists expresses it) "one knows not how." God waters it, perhaps from infancy, with the imperceptible and gentle dew of His blessing; and the fruit brought forth by those who have experienced this more gradual kind of regeneration, is quite as rich, and genuine, and abundant, as that which is the result of the most astonishing conversion.
I have been often greatly disappointed in the moral character of those whom Theodosia has assumed to be religious. On the other hand, I am persuaded that there is more true goodness than she supposes in some people who are out of her circle. Her false judgment of character arises from her having imbibed unscriptural opinions as to the essential qualities of a true Christian.
Your readers will by this time have discovered that the fault of Theodosia consists much in pushing things too far. She is not quite so heterodox as she is often said to be — but she discredits the cause of orthodoxy, by presenting to the world a picture, of which some features are exaggerated to extravagance, while others, not belonging to the original, are superadded. Her whole character is marked by culpable vehemence. Nothing is more clear, than that there was a calmness in the piety of our Savior, which is by no means her characteristic. She justifies her general warmth, by dignifying it with the name of zeal, and her eagerness in smaller and more disputable points, by observing that she wishes to suppress no part of the truths of God.
She has a few truly pious and discreet friends, who endeavor to restrain her warmth; but of these she has a low opinion. Some of them she regards as concealing timidity under the plausible titles of prudence and moderation; and others are deemed by her to be a secondary sort of Christians, hopeful and well disposed — but as possessing imperfect light.
There is one mode by which it might be thought that the inferiority of her Christianity to that of some of these more sober friends might be proved to her own conviction. I have been present when she has not commanded her temper quite so well as they — even though the subject which has roused her has seemed to have no connection with religion. I have said to myself, Can she plead her warmth in the cause of Christianity, in justification also of her vehemence in the ordinary affairs of life? I have found, however, that she has a way of bringing in her zeal for the Gospel, as an apology for her vehemence in almost all cases.
Does anyone, for example, attack her character? She remarks that she feels extremely patient under the injury, so far as concerns herself; and is agitated merely because the reputation of one of her religious profession involves the honor of the Gospel. Is her influence counteracted, her recommendation slighted, her judgment questioned, her temporal interest harmed? The severity of her mortification results, as she persuades herself, merely from the consideration of the limitation of her means of usefulness. Is a little portion of her time taken up by an unwelcome intruder? She is out of humor — as she thinks, not in consequence of an ill-regulated temper; but because some most important occupation is impeded.
She is apt, indeed, to discover some pious excuse for all her sins and infirmities. Is her mind too much bent on some favorite object? She discerns, as she thinks, an opening of Providence, which points out the propriety of the pursuit in question. Is she slack in respect to some spiritual duty, and do you urge her to more exertion? She uses the orthodox saying, "that we can do nothing of ourselves," in a manner which, though it may not amount to a direct apology for her religious negligence, serves a little to undermine the necessity, and weaken the force of your exhortation.
Has she been inattentive to some other article of morality? Her end, she trusts, has been good; it has been nothing less than the promotion of the Gospel. Zeal for so great an end may justify some little irregularity in the means — or if the Gospel cannot be distinctly pleaded, God, as she has the privilege of knowing, looks to the heart — and her heart, she is sure, has been bent on doing, in a general way, the thing that is right, though she may not have attended to the particular in question. The particular, too, always happens to have been only a small matter . It was one of those points of "mint, and anise, and cummin," about which it would be pharisaical to be too scrupulous.
But let me not be misunderstood. I do not charge her with gross hypocrisy. We all have our sins and infirmities; and we all have our excuses. I mean to remark that the excuses of Theodosia seem always to be perversely derived from the very orthodoxy of her opinions.
This observation suggests the propriety of adding a few words on the true nature of orthodoxy. Theodosia would be more truly orthodox, were she to mix more practice with her doctrine ; and to accustom herself to try the soundness of a sentiment, by its tendency to give discouragement to sin. She seems to consider the acknowledgment of the Christian doctrines , as more important than the possession of that Christian spirit which they are intended to produce. She does not enough perceive, that doctrinal truth, when rightly understood, is itself a practical thing ; that it even is not believed, according to the scriptural meaning of that term — unless the belief is manifested to be real, by a correspondent temperament and practice .
This remark shall be exemplified. Theodosia is very sound on the doctrinal point of justification, in respect to which multitudes err, as she but too justly observes, by representing man's own obedience as in part, at least, the ground of his acceptance with God. The ancient Pharisees, as she often remarks, trusted, like many moderns, in their own righteousness, and on this account fell under condemnation; "they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness — did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God; for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
Theodosia, therefore, gives the appellation of Pharisees to all who now, according to her own conception, doctrinally err on the point in question; and she builds much on her superiority over them in this respect. Now I apprehend, that the ancient Pharisees were chiefly distinguishable for a very self-righteous temper and spirit; and moreover, that there may be many moderns who possess a humble disposition, though, in some degree, clouded in their views of this article of their faith.
When our Savior related the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, his object evidently was to show the contrariety between the dispositions of the two men — still more even than between their doctrinal opinions . In order, therefore, to judge whether a person more nearly resembles the one or the other, we ought to inquire chiefly, which temper of mind he possesses; for is it not possible that a man may engraft self-preference, and Self-Conceit, which were leading sins of the Pharisee, on the very consciousness of being free from his doctrinal fault? Theodosia, for example, knows something of Amanda; and judging too highly of herself, regards Amanda with rather too little respect. May not Theodosia, therefore, be too much disposed to say, "God! I thank you that I am not as others are, dark, ignorant of Gospel truth, or even as this Amanda!"
Let me not be suspected of overlooking or undervaluing the general tendency of the great doctrine of which I have spoken. It naturally disposes to humility , though it may be so received into the mind as to contribute to the indulgence of self-conceit. There is a knowledge even of sound tenets which "puffs up." Never let that saying of the Apostle be forgotten: "If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know."
It is observable that while Theodosia deems Amanda to be pharisaical — Amanda has learned to give to Theodosia the very same appellation; partly from discovering in her repeated symptoms of spiritual pride; but partly also from observing some of her religious strictnesses, which have been too readily construed into pharisaical scrupulosity.
The disposition of Theodosia to dwell too much on doctrine , evinces itself also in another manner. In speaking of Amanda, it was observed that she preferred the Gospels to the Epistles, and the Sermon on the Mount to any other portion of the Gospels. Theodosia and Amanda may be said to divide the Bible between them. I am persuaded, that the New Testament of the one would open of itself at those parts to which the other has scarcely given any attention; for Theodosia prefers the Epistles to the Gospels, perhaps with the exception of the Epistle of James; and she dwells chiefly on the doctrinal passages in them. Nor is this all — she has a habit of construing practical texts so doctrinally , as often to offend against the plainest rules of interpretation. When she reads, for example, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, she assumes this saying of Christ to mean, not that we must carry our religious practice farther than the Scribes and Pharisees, and must attain to a higher degree of righteousness than they; but that we must be clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ. And in perusing the last verses of our Savior's Sermon on the Mount, in which He likens the man who hears His sayings and does them, to one who built his house upon a rock, she evades the important practical caution which is intended to be conveyed to such people as herself — by construing the word Rock to mean Christ Himself, on whose merits alone the believer builds his salvation.
Both Amanda and Theodosia read the prophetic parts of the Old Testament; the former complains of their obscurity — but she admires the beauty of the imagery, and gratifies her taste by the perusal. The latter delights in the difficult parts, for she is occupied in spiritualizing them; and she finds exactly her own doctrinal opinions in many a hard passage which has perplexed the understandings of the learned.
Your readers may by this time be impatient to know to what sect or church Theodosia, who has been thus amply characterized, belongs. I confess that I find some difficulty in answering this question. Strictly speaking, she is neither a Church-woman nor a Dissenter; and yet there is a sense in which she is Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist. I mean, that she pursues "the truth," and (I am afraid I must add) pursues a little entertainment at the same time, by attending indifferently either to church, chapel, meeting-house or conventicle, as she deems expedient.
It is clear, however, that she is not a Papist, since she most freely uses her Protestant right of exercising her own judgment on the doctrines of her teachers. She is quick to discern the unsoundness of a sermon. The preacher who, while he re-asserts her tenets, can most amuse her imagination, is the object of her preference. She loves, I admit, to have her mind vehemently affected — but no great practical good seems to result from these impressions. She likes to be . . . alarmed by tremendous threatenings, transported with ecstatic joys, entertained also by familiar anecdotes, and surprised by new modes of spiritualizing and allegorizing the Scriptures.
She comes, indeed, in the way of much practical, animated, and sound divinity; but, though professing herself a Church-woman, she approves not of the sobriety which is generally thought to befit our pulpits; and she has an astonishing faculty of separating doctrine from practice — however closely joined by the preacher. She receives, and even contends for the one — but almost dismisses the other from her recollection.
She is not sufficiently aware of the proneness of man to self-conceit, and of the danger lest the true Gospel of Christ should ultimately be discredited and hindered through the competition of a multitude of superficial and self-appointed instructors.
But I cannot conclude my account of Theodosia without presenting the reader with a short history of her life . She was born of parents who were rich, though of middling rank; and her education, in no respect very good, was shamefully defective in point of religion. Having been baptized in her infancy, she was confirmed at the usual age, almost without even a superficial examination of her proficiency in religious knowledge, and soon afterwards she received the sacrament. On these grounds alone she was taught to consider herself a very good and sufficient Christian — unless, indeed, some enormous crime should be perpetrated by her. She was plunged into the vanities of the world; she was accustomed, after the example of her parents, continually to take the name of God in vain in her ordinary discourse; not, indeed, with what is deemed intentional profaneness — but by that light and irreverent mention of the name of the Supreme Being, against which, though so common among those who are not without religion, the Third Commandment is pointedly and expressly leveled.
She never looked into a Bible; she indulged much vanity; she despised serious piety in her heart, and was most grossly ignorant of many of the leading doctrines of Christianity. It is true, that she went once in a week to church, and did not formally disbelieve the Scriptures. But she owed her faith in them, if faith it may be called, to her ignorance of their contents; for while she admitted their general truth, her mind accorded scarcely with one individual doctrine or precept which they contain; yet though her right to the honorable appellation of a Christian, rested on such slight foundations, neither her parents, nor her friends, I repeat it, infused into her any doubt of her being a Christian.
Theodosia being visited by a religious friend during a state of severe illness, she became superficially acquainted with many great doctrines of Christianity, which had before escaped her observation. She experienced at this season extreme distress of mind; for she had a strong expectation of dying, and sometimes deemed herself on the brink of everlasting destruction. On her recovery, being more eager to obtain spiritual comfort than to make her calling and election sure — she was inclined to pacify her conscience, without laying the foundation of deep repentance, and without much attending to the necessity and nature of that change in the dispositions of the heart, which the Scriptures represent as necessary to the true Christian.
She, indeed, partly adopted the views of some of the religious people among whom she fell, people whose object seems to have been to multiply converts to a party, and to a scheme of doctrine — rather than to establish them in every good word and work. She now began to live in this circle.
Theodosia, during the period when she was acquiring her doctrinal knowledge, had the appearance of being extremely humble — a circumstance which contributed to the establishment of her religious credit, even with some discerning people. She soon, however, began to feel much delight in the idea of her superior knowledge; and having always had some turn both to disputation and self-conceit — she now made use of the doctrines of religion as her means of indulging freely her old dispositions.
Not that Theodosia is to be regarded as a mere hypocrite. She deceives herself much more than other people. I do not even affirm, that she has in no respect benefitted by her change — any state is preferable to that of total indifference to religion. Moreover, I admit that she does not now take in vain the name of God as heretofore. She has a little enlarged her alms-giving. She subscribes towards the Propagation of the Gospel among the heathen; and when she attends at a charity sermon, she now drops half-a-guinea into the plate instead of her former shilling or half-crown. She has separated herself from a number of dissipated friends, and she seems to have renounced the more fashionable kind of life forever.
I should have deemed the last-mentioned change a far better evidence of her piety, if she had possessed much natural taste for the society and employments which she has abandoned. Amanda once hinted to me, that Theodosia never was remarkably received among the higher circles; and added, that she remembers to have been present in a select company when Theodosia seemed to experience much mortification, under the consciousness of being unable to bear her part in the conversation. I have heard, on the other hand, that when the new convert was thought to be passing over to the people whom she has since joined, she experienced a degree of attention and respect, as well as of Christian kindness, which must have been very gratifying to one not accustomed to find herself the object of peculiar notice.
Motives, therefore, of a nature not clearly religious — might lead her to cross over to a new party; to which if we suppose her to be joined, it is obvious that she would naturally adopt some of their strictnesses. The habit which we all have of accommodating our practice to that of those by whom we are surrounded, together with the disposition which we feel to act up to the general expectations which are formed concerning us — seem to me to be very nearly sufficient to account for as much improvement in Theodosia as I can clearly perceive to have taken place.
I would, however, merely suggest my doubts respecting her character; and would do it with a view of urging her to some very serious self-examination. I admit, indeed, that there are not only strong and thriving Christians — but such as are less vigorous and flourishing. I allow it to be possible to build on the right foundation , though the superstructure may not be so spacious or so lofty as were to be wished. I admit that the Scripture speaks even of those who are to be saved as by fire.
But let Theodosia seriously consider that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; that if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. Then let her look into her conduct ; and still more, let her scrutinize her heart . The tree is to be known by its fruits — let her carefully examine whether the fruits of the Spirit are to be recognized in her; and let her suspect that the marks and evidences , on which she places her chief reliance, may be little or nothing more than the result of party spirit, of a regard for her character among her religious friends, or with her favorite minister.
I understand that the stricter part of her new acquaintances entertain the same apprehensions of the unsoundness of her principles which I have ventured to express; and are becoming less and less cordial in their attachment to her. A few of the more faithful and discerning among the body, having found some well-intentioned hints offered by them to be not very kindly or patiently received, and to be construed into indications of their own defect of light, or lack of grace, are now retiring silently, but with regret — and are giving place either to more submissive and accommodating people, or to those who largely participate in her religious errors.
Theodosia nevertheless assumes her present friends to be a most select body. She even deems them to be of the highest order of Christians — and their views of doctrine, to be orthodoxy itself. It is, however, rumored, that some small doctrinal, and chiefly philosophical differences, as well as a few other circumstances, are beginning to produce private feuds and subdivisions even in this little set
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