Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Rev Edward Irving, Part 2

July 6th.—I have once more heard Irving, and I know not whether it is because the novelty is over that the impression is weakened, but I feel much less displeased, and at the same time much less pleased, than I was last Sunday. I am quite sure the arrogance, the self-sufficiency, the dictatorial spirit, though still but too evident, were much less striking than in the oration of last Sunday.

The coarseness and vulgarity were also in great measure avoided, but the metaphors were still very superabundant, and also were generally pushed much too far. It appeared to me that this oration was deficient in clearness, but perhaps my understanding, as well as my hearing, was dulled by the various inconveniences of the situation in which I found myself; close to the door, far removed from the preacher, and separated only by the thin partition of the pew from a crowd who squeezed and made incessant noise.

Even when one did not hear some voices crying for mercy and others for silence, the crowd pressed against the pew till they made every board creak, and kept one in continual apprehension that at last they would give way. During the last hour of the oration the people were more quiet; some servants, who I believe came for the fun of pushing about, were turned out, and we heard better.

The general outline of the subject was still to show how inefficacious was mere morality to constitute the happiness of man in this life. He said he had purposely omitted drawing any argument from the future state, as he was anxious to prove his facts from those truths which are admitted even by unbelievers, but he must address one observation to those who, believing in a future state, lived as if they thought of this world only. He said their conduct was like that of a mother who, in bringing up an infant, could fancy that it was always to remain in the same state, was always to be fed as a nursling, to be swathed, to be led like an infant.

This simile, though a happy one, was spun out to a length which destroyed its effect. Soon after followed a beautiful burst of eloquence on that power of Christianity which could bend the rebellious stubbornness of the heart, strengthen the tender heart, prop the weak, and enable it to tear itself from those affections which are dearer far than a right eye. Nature would teach a far different doctrine, an eye for an eye; nature and the world we live in are setting their adverse currents against the proper course of the human heart. Where, but in Christianity, is to be found the electric spark which is to repel them? Where, but in her, is to be found the mighty trident to stem these storms and currents ?

One assertion of Irving's was not a little startling: he told us he considered Hume as one of the most powerful advocates of revealed religion who has ever appeared. That able metaphysician has, he said, proved the inefficacy of mere human reason, &c. &c. I own I could not help thinking while he made this strange assertion that it was not unlikely that some one of my neighbours in the aisle would, upon the recommendation of their pastor, take the first opportunity of edifying themselves by a perusal of the works of this powerful advocate of Christianity. I am sure that from his oration they could never have discovered that this was not a plain matter of fact.

He gave us a beautiful illustration of Jacob's ladder, calling it emblematical of the Christian dispensation which had opened the communication between heaven and earth: the angels ascending he called the human affections drawn up to heaven, and those descending the divine Spirit shedding its consoling influence in return.

An exhortation (which appeared to me very commonplace) to those who were leaving the crowded city for the beautiful scenery of nature, concluded the oration.

The concluding prayer was the best I have heard from Irving, but it is in this part that the want of simplicity is most apparent, and totally destroys all the earnestness which he vainly tries to supply by vehement gesticulation. . Some expressions (and those not the best) were repeated from the prayer of last Sunday; we had again ' ennoble the nobles,' ' dignify the dignitaries,' to which he added, ' with the dignity of religion and virtue.' In the first prayer we had this strange expression, ' Clear our souls from the obscuration of sin.'

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