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Their most boasted virtue, that of the stoic, was a virtue despoiled of every generous sentiment and kindly affection,"an idol of ice, enshrined in a heart of curdling sympathies and frozen emotions." His philosophy, though it sheltered him from the turbulence of human passion, taught him to look with a malignant frown upon every benevolent feeling, and to bestow the sneer of contempt upon every object of human pursuit. Destitute of the light which revelation has shed upon the true nature of moral greatness, they vainly labored to attain to its knowledge by the exercise of unassisted human reason.
Hence their multiplied, and vague, and ever-varying systems, with the complete annihilation of moral principle which they occasioned.
While the glory of God, and the bliss of heaven are the grand animating objects of the Christian's pursuit, the pagan philosopher, rejecting the superstitions of his age, derived his highest incentive to action from the approbation of his fellow-creatures. He, too, who treads the pathway of life, in the full vi sv of a future righteous retribution, must act under the iniluence of a far more effective and purifying principle than the wisest heathen, who had no positive or elevating expectations afier death. All the considerations which impelled bim to the acquisition of a virtuous character, had regard solely to the interests and objects of this present world. Nor could it be otherwise, since most of their miscalled systems of morality inculcated the belief, that the soul is a miere sensual animation, and that death is an endless slumber.
If such was the character of ihe heroes and sages of antiquity, will not the animated delight with which the student peruses their history, tend to beguile him into a habit of sentiment foreign to the spirit of the Gospel. He is taught
He is taught to consider them as the highest style of man, and as enviable displays of the dignity to which human nature is capable of attaining. These opinions are imbibed at a period of life, when they are adapted to make a deep and lasting impression. They enter powerfully into the principles of action, and become associated with all the hallowed recollections of youth. Unspeakable detriment to the cause of Christianity has thus been occasioned by classic literature. It has erected a strong barrier against the entrance of truth into irreligious minds, while it has vastly diminished the moral power of the church, by modifying the sentiments of morality which the Christian professes to receive from the Bible.
Nor can the elegant literature of modern times be deemed undeserving of similar censure. Much of the deleterious effects of heathen classics arises from a communication of their spirit to subsequent writers. The sentiments which these latter inculcate, have been formed from a perusal, and after the model of ancient authors. As these constitute their chief and favorite reading, while they have addicted themselves but little to the study of the Bible, their productions have echoed the false sentiments of the authors whom they admired. They reflect the light of heathen philosophy, softened, indeed, by the salutary effects of the prev
alence of the Christian religion in a community. A great proportion of our most admired poets, historians, essayists, moral philosophers, and writers of fiction, are obnoxious to the accusation of an anti-Christian tendency. This arises, mainly, from their deficiency in the distinctive sentiments of the Christian dispensation. Such is the nature of the principles of the Gospel, that they readily interweave themselves into every serious subject of thought, imparting a peculiar modification to all. Their presence or absence will give a very different aspect to every thing that has relation to the important interests of time, and to our coudition in the life which is to come.
Now, we apprehend that the classical writers of modern days, with a few illustrious exceptions, have wholly disregarded these great principles. We arise from a perusal of their works, almost without a suspicion that any revelation has been made to man, which teaches a different system of morals from that of pagan antiquity. Even in works professedly ethical, which should be thoroughly pervaded by Christian morality, there is very little recognition of its paramount authority, very little reverence expressed for him who “spake as never man spake.” Most of our popular writers disclose very little acquaintance with the doctrines and duties which the Gospel unfolds, or seek to inspire any regard for them in the minds of their readers. We do not, indeed, expect their pages to be occupied with dissertations upon subjects strictly religious, though these demand a degree of space and attention. But we ought to require the efforts of their minds to be tinged with the peculiar spirit of Christianity; and their failure, in this respect, justly incurs the censure of the Christian moralist.
Wherein does the virtue wbich they commend, differ from the lauded virtue of pagan morality? The schools of Socrates and of Plato would furnish all the information requisite to the attainment of their standard of excellence. Abounding in censure upon the follies and vices of mankind, they acknowledge not the humbling truth of the Scriptures, that all are by nature destitute of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. The doctrine of a radical change of character, as essential to true and permanent happiness to which the Bible gives distinguished prominence, is nowhere admitted in the creed of our popular classics. What source of consolation do they afford in the trying hour of death? It is the recollection of a well-spent life. Thus, they entirely reject the support on which alone the humble Christian relies. The aniinating hope, which faith in a crucified Redeemer inspires, irradiates not their dying couch. Their triumph over death is not the consequence of that great sacrifice for sin which enables the Christian exultingly to exclaim, O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?
Many of our historians have labored to instil the poison of infidelity into the minds of their readers. None of them has bestowed that merited condemnation upon the warriors and wars of historic renown, which the principles of the Gospel demand. The essayists
who have aimed to amuse and to reform their age, have avoided the infusion of vital religion into their works with a carefulness which indicates any thing but respect for her authority. The bewitching influence of poetry, if we except a few mighty names, whose genius was bathed in the purifying stream of Calvary, has been employed to decorate vice with the most attractive drapery. The countless tribe of fictitious writings has largely contributed to swell the tide of irreligious influence. No one, who has suffered himself to be beguiled by their almost resistless influence, is insensible to the aversion which they create for the less imaginative, but far more important pages of the New Testament. Even our periodical literature, which has assumed a high station, and exerts à mighty power, must be classed with the influences which present a hindrance to the triumphs of the cross.
These remarks forcibly evince the necessity of literature which, in its various departments, shall be tinctured with the spirit of the Gospel. The subject presents itself in a still more imposing attitude, when we consider the character of the present age. It is, pre-eminently an age of mind. A new and unparallelled impulse has been given to the human powers by the diffusion of education. The man of genius now wields an intellectual sceptre over whole communities. Books readily gain access to the mansions of the rich, and to the cottages of the poor. The influence of standard literature daily gathers accessions of power, and operates with a mightier energy upon the opinions and characters of men. Hence the importance of a sanctified literature assumes a fearful and commanding aspect. We need now, emphatically, a literature which shall bow, with unhesitating submission, to the Bible, which shall honor God, and reflect, in its pages, the beauty and glory of his works, and which by its holy influences, shall co-operate with him in his benevolent designs. We would behold the efforts of mighty minds, like those of a Hall and a Foster, employed in eradicating every species of moral corruption. We would see poetry, like that of Cowper, delineating the varying emotions of the religious life, and giving aid, while it imparted delight to the soul, in her struggles to rise above the polluted things of earth.
What chastened strains, what eloquence, kindled upon the altar of devotion, what pure and lofty thoughts would then gush forth, to gladden and to sanctify the human race. Then would truth stand forth, in her native loveliness, to the gaze of an admiring world. Error and vice would retire, abashed, to the darkness which is their proper dwelling-place. The standard of the public morals would be elevated, and the public taste would be corrected and refined. Then would the religion of the Gospel, associated with the splendor of genius, and illustrated in the most admired productions of mind, urge onward her march to her millennial triumph.
ON THE STUDY OF THE CLASSICS.
In noticing Pres. Babcock's Inaugural Address in our November number, a sentence escaped us in a parenthesis (written by a friend, while the Editor was confined to a sick bed,) which has been thought to eonvey a wrong impressio of the Author's views. It gives us pleasure, therefore, to correct any wrong impressions, by presenting the following extract from the Address to our readers.
But a more serious objection has been made to the study of the ancient classics, on the ground of their immoral tendency. The whole spirit which they breathe, it is said, terds to the increase of war, licentiousness, and impiety. The indirect bearing of this objection on the theme of present discussion will not allow me more than a general and brief answer to it. After a most careful consideration of what has been so ably urged in support of this objection, I am constrained to believe that much more of this kind of influence is attributed to the classics than facts will warrant. When has it ever been shown, by a sufficiently ample and candid induction, that students of ancient literature are more warlike, more profligate, or even more irreligious than others ? On the contrary, I hazard little in saying, that such an investigation would show directly the reverse of this. One of the most effectual antidotes for the evils in question is presented in the disgusting sensuality and the debasing superstition of the ancient systems and practices. Let these be held up in contrast with the lovely and winning purity inculcated and exemplified in the scriptures, and the result cannot but be favorable. Especially will this be true, if a judicious use of this contrast be made by the teacher, and the mind of the pupil be indirectly led to a contemplation of the immense difference of these systems, by a comparison of their fruits. What would be thought of that artist, who should undertake to improve the effect of some of the noblest productions of the pencil, by removing all their shades? Revelation distinctly assures us, that it was “in the wisdom of God” that the demonstration so full, various, and conclusive, in all ages and all circumstances, has been made, that the world by wisdom knew not God."
And shall we presume to be wiser or more benevolent than the author of our being, by hiding that demonstration from sight?
These considerations may justly be regarded as obviating, to a very great degree, the force of the objection. But it also deserves to be distinctly noticed, that the amount of licentiousness contained in the best classics, is far less than the objection would seem to imply. Let the teacher select for use only the best and most unexceptionable, and let even these, if necessary, be purified; but do not, with a ruthless hand, raze to their very foundations the noblest structures of human genius, because of imperfection and faultiness in a portion of their materials.
OUGHT MISSIONARIES TO BE ENGAGED FOR LIFE?
To the Editor of the American Baptist Magazine.
The following communication was delivered before the members of the Theological Seminary at Newton, as a class exercise by one of the students of that institution. A general wish has been expressed by those who heard it, to see it in print, and, at the suggestion of some individuals, it is now transmitted to you for publication in the Magazine.
The opinion, which I have formed on the subject before us, is decidedly in behalf of the affirmative, and I shall endeavor to adduce some consideration, to establish this side of the question. The most obvious and natural thought, which occurs to the mind on a view of the subject, is, that the work of the missionary is, in the highest degree, arduous and difficult. The Christian ministry is so every where, even among our kindred and friends, in the land of our birth and education. Where is the man who is not ready to say, with an inspired apostle, Who is sufficient for these things? Every one, who has any thing like an adequate view of his duties, must feel that he needs almost every resource of body and mind. Years of preparation are required before the candidate can be considered as qualified to engage in his labors; and, if this is true, when one is called to teach in his own vernacular tongue, it cannot be less clearly important, when he is sent abroad to perform the same duties in a language of which he knows nothing at all. True, before he enters upon this new field exertion, he may have been through a long process of discipline; but this training has no immediate or practical bearing on the peculiar duties which belong to the missionary. It may, indeed, store his mind with extensive and valuable knowledge ; it may give him intellectual resources and power; it may enable him to communicate, more fully and strongly, his thoughts and feelings to others; but it can only do this by means of language and speech. This is the common medium of intercourse and instruction, and whatever besides this belongs to the preacher, if he wants this, he wants every thing which can make him efficient.
The mind of a missionary, so long as he remains destitute of a command of words and expressions, is, in effect, incapable of receiving or making impression. This position is clear, and almost too plain to be stated. The all-important requisite, then, is the knowledge of language; and the question arises, How can this knowledge be most successfully acquired or imparted? In other words, By what process of study is the mind of the preacher to be put in possession of that power which alone can make his labor productive?
The question before us may be fairly resolved into this simple inquiry, Is the acquisition of any of the languages of the east, an easy attainment, which can be made here or elsewhere, in a very