Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Taste in Religious Matters
By Thomas Chalmers (17801847)
From Astronomical Discourses
THE MERE majesty of Gods power and greatness, when offered to your notice, lays hold of one of the faculties within you. The holiness of God, with His righteous claim of legislation, lays hold of another of these faculties. The difference between them is so great, that the one may be engrossed and interested to the full, while the other remains untouched, and in a state of entire dormancy. Now, it is no matter what it be that ministers delight to the former of these two faculties. If the latter be not arrested and put on its proper exercise, you are making no approximate whatever to the right habit and character of religion. There are a thousand ways in which you may contrive to regale your taste for that which is beauteous and majestic. It may find its gratification in the loveliness of a vale, or in the freer and bolder outlines of an upland situation, or in the terrors of a storm, or in the sublime contemplations of astronomy, or in the magnificent idea of a God, who sends forth the wakefulness of His omniscient eye and the vigour of His upholding hand, throughout all the realms of nature and of providence. The mere taste of the human mind, may get its ample enjoyment in each and in all of these objects or in a vivid representation of them; nor does it make any material difference, whether this representation be addressed to you from the stanzas of a poem, or from the recitations of a theatre, or finally from the discourses and the demonstrations of a pulpit. And thus it is, that still on the impulse of the one principle only, people may come in gathering multitudes to the house of God; and share with eagerness in all the glow and bustle of a crowded attendance; and have their every eye directed to the speaker; and feel a responding movement in their bosom to his many appeals and his many arguments; and carry a solemn and overpowering impression of all the services away with them; and yet, throughout the whole of this seemly exhibition, not one effectual knock may have been given at the door of conscience. The other principle may be as profoundly asleep, as if hushed into the insensibility of death. There is a spirit of deep slumber, it would appear, which the music of no description, even though attuned to a theme so lofty as the greatness and majesty of the Godhead, can ever charm away. Oh! it may have been a piece of parading insignificance altogetherthe minister playing on his favourite instrument, and the people dissipating away their time on the charm and idle luxury of a theatrical emotion.