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CHAPTER II.  The Spirit in which the Author Conducts his Review.


CHAPTER II. The Spirit in which the Author Conducts his Review.

James Dodson

It is delightful to witness in a writer on religious controversy those marks of courtesy, candor and honesty, which evince a desire to arrive at the truth on the point in dispute.

How far Mr. M. has succeeded in mitigating the harshness of controversy, by observing the principles of honor and christian courtesy, in his work on Psalmody, a very few extracts from that remarkable book, will serve to show.

On p. 20 he is pleased to express his opinion of the following stanza, in our metrical version of the second Psalm:

"Thou shalt as with a weighty rod
Of iron break them all,
And as a potter’s sherd thou shalt
Them dash in pieces small."

It will be remembered that the translation of the Psalms from which this passage is taken, is that prepared by Sir Francis Rouse, Esq., M[ember of] P[arliament], a distinguished Hebrew scholar; revised successively by the Westminster Assembly and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and for the last two centuries used by the best and greatest men in the Church of Christ, in the celebration of God’s praise. And, apart from the sanction of such high authority, the sentiments contained in this verse, and the manner in which they are expressed, must seem to most readers to be at once strong, beautiful and sublime, Mr. M’s. comment on the place, however, is,—"What a sublime idea Rouse presents! The idea of dashing a weighty iron rod against a piece of crockery-ware! What a striking figure! It just took Rouse to do it. And he carries out the idea; for he says ‘them dash in pieces small.’ Of course, when the piece is dashed in pieces, the pieces, will be small! But there is no such small affair in the Psalms of inspiration. It is original with Rouse." The reader will perceive that in the verse of the Psalm alluded to, there is nothing about "dashing a weighty iron rod against a piece of crockery-ware." It contains, indeed, a prediction that Christ’s enemies shall be broken as with a weighty rod of iron, and that like a potsherd they shall be broken to shivers; but the idea of dashing a weighty iron rod against a piece of crockery-ware, whether it be low or "sublime," is altogether original with Rev. G. Morton. His exclamation, "what a striking figure!" would doubtless be an excellent pun, did it not carry on its face a contemptuous sneer, aimed at the word of God: for the reader will perceive by reference to the prose version of Ps. 2:9, and our Saviour’s allusion to the place, Rev. 2:27, that in neither is the figure any less striking, than in the stanza respecting which Mr. M. makes himself so merry. And mark, with how much deference he speaks of Sir Francis Rouse, "It just took Rouse to do it,"—"there is no such small affair in the Psalms of inspiration. It is altogether original with Rouse." Indeed, to speak so contemptuously of so great a scholar as Sir Francis Rouse, and of the Westminster Assembly and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who revised and approved his version of the Psalms, would be worthy of the severest censure, were it not for the admitted fact that Mr. M., who does so, is "the man and wisdom shall die with him." Again, p. 35; "And Rouse says. ‘He let out the southern wind to go,’—to go where?—Perhaps to go and inspire Rouse." Indeed this kind of humor is characteristic of his whole work; and especially of his second chapter, in which he attempts to destroy the authority of our metrical version of the book of Psalms: and which, by the way, contains 44 pages. This scurrilous and abusive treatment of Sir Francis Rouse and the Church of Scotland, has very much the appearance, it must be confessed, of causeless, deep and impotent malice against "The Psalms of David in Metre," and those who use them in the celebration of God’s praise. But we ought to be cautious how we impugn any man’s motives; and perhaps those of Mr. M. in this instance are of the holiest description. It may be that the fermentation of certain malignant humors in his heart had filled him with a violent spleen against all "Psalmonism" and "Psalmonists;" and that he wrote his second chapter, merely by way of unburdening his mind of its filthy load in order that he might prosecute the remainder of his work with the purer feelings.—Probably he thought that it would have been presumptuous in a mortal man, to have attempted to imitate the example of Michael the Archangel, who, when he disputed with the Devil, about the body of Moses, did not dare bring a railing accusation against him;—if indeed, he does not consider Sir Francis Rouse worse than the Devil.—Or, perhaps he foresaw that this low, scornful, sneering way of writing, would render his book popular with his "Neodistic" brethren.

Mr. M. like every other prudent controversialist, takes the precaution not to present his argument, till he has done what he can to prepare the mind for its reception. How fair the means are, to which he has recourse for this end, the candid reader will judge, after the perusal of a few extracts. Mark the following, p. 12:—"There seems to be some relation between a fondness for Rouse’s Psalms, and a want of liberality for the cause of Christ. In the compass of my own knowledge. I could refer to the case of several individuals, for the verification of what I say. They are great sticklers for Rouse; but very stingy in their contributions. I know one very partial to the ‘Old Psalms,’ who has several times left the church, during public worship, just because the pastor or perhaps an agent brought before the congregation the cause of Missions, or some other benevolent object." Now this attempt to fasten upon a large class of christians, a failing which has been observed in a few individuals belonging to that class, would, under ordinary circumstances, be esteemed to the last degree illiberal, base and unjust.—There are "in" the compass of Mr. M.’s "knowledge, several individuals" who "are great sticklers for Rouse, but very stingy in their contributions." And he knows "one,"—(yes, no less than ONE,) "very partial to the ‘old Psalms,’ who has several times left the church during public worship; just because the pastor, or perhaps an agent brought before the congregation the subject of missions or some other benevolent object."—And what is the conclusion? one which none but our learned author could draw from such scanty premises:—that "there seems to be some relation between a fondness for Rouse’s Psalms, (that is the Psalms of inspiration,) and a want of liberality for the cause of Christ!!" One would think that it would have been bad enough to conclude that there was "some relation between a fondness for the Bible Psalms, and a want of liberality for the cause of Christ," if upon a careful examination of well authenticated statistics, it had been found that those who confine themselves to an inspired Psalmody, contribute less for the support of the gospel, in proportion to their numbers, than those who use a Psalmody of human manufacture. But far be it from me, that I should try Mr. M. by the same rule which I would apply to others;—perhaps he had reasons known to himself, for drawing from the unimportant and insignificant statement which he has made, an inference so disrespectfully to the Psalms of David. However, after what he has said himself, he will not be offended if I state some things which he knows to be facts; that there are not only "several individuals," but thousands, who belong to those churches in which uninspired hymns are used, who hold slaves,—thousands who play cards,—thousands who travel, visit, read the newspapers and write letters on the Lord’s day.—That not one-tenth of those who are members in his "Neodistic" fraternity ever worship God in their families.—That there are large communities of the users of human Psalmody, who deny the divinity of Christ, and large communities of them, who deny a future state of punishment. Our author well knows "one," not very "partial to the ‘Old Psalms,’ a minister of the Gospel in the Presbyterian Church, who preaches against returning thanks after meals, and practices accordingly; and I can inform him of another who is probably the most abandoned profane swearer in Pennsylvania,—who by his profanity has gained for himself the epithet of swearing ——, or, Devil ——, who is, nevertheless, a member in regular standing, in a "Neodistic" church, and served with acceptance one term in the eldership. The reader, in drawing his inference, may either adopt Mr. M.’s method shown above, or follow a course of his own.

Our author, on p. 11, gives further proof of his candor. He says, "In the former class, ("Neodistic" churches,) there is undoubtedly quite as much vital piety and true godliness, as in the latter, ("Psalmonistic" churches,) and we have abundant evidence that this is the belief, especially of the Associate Reformed Church: because she is very willing to receive accessions from the ranks of the Presbyterians. Even those who are not in good and regular standing in the Presbyterian Church, are very gladly received into her bosom; showing that Presbyterians, of an inferior quality are considered as good material for building up the Associate Reformed Church."—But why, (the reader will naturally inquire.) does Mr. M. single out the Associate Reformed Church from among several others equally Psalmonistic, and aim at her this tenderhanded stab? Is this fair? Oh, yes, reader: I can easily convince you that nothing can be fairer.—You see, Mr. M. is writing against Dr. Pressly; and Dr. Pressly is Prof[essor of] Theol[ogy] in the A[ssociate] R[eformed] Church. As stratagem is allowable in war, so in religious controversy, all policy however cowardly, base, and dishonest, ought to be not only tolerated but applauded; and what more politic in reasoning against Dr. Pressly, than to assert that the A. R. C. in which he teaches divinity, receives into her fellowship disorderly members of the General Assembly Church; and to insinuate that this is her common practice? It is true that he has not proved that this matter is as he represents it; but I think nothing the less of him for that: for how could he prove it, since it is not true. Besides, we should remember that it is no part of his policy to prove things.

After the taste that we have had of our author’s quality, it would certainly be very unreasonable to deny him the right of making Dr. Pressly say what he pleases; more especially, as this is a right on which he seems to set a high value. How he uses this privilege, the reader will perceive by reference to pp. 8, 9, where he will find the following, "and does Dr. Pressly believe, that Dr. Swift, in doing this, (giving out, in his congregation, a hymn from the Assembly collection,) is influenced by such haughty impiety and satanic pride, as is implied in ‘arrogating to himself that glory which Jehovah declares he will not give to another.’ I am fully persuaded were Dr. Pressly publicly to answer this inquiry, he would answer, No: He would say he does not believe Dr. Swift guilty of such daring impiety.—And in saying so, he would admit all that for which we contend. Because he would admit, that Dr. Swift has authority for conducting the worship of God in the manner in which he does. And without advancing far, we come to what might be the end of the controversy, namely, that we have authority to use in the worship of God, songs of praise not found in the Book of Psalms. Dr. Pressly must admit of this, or else hold Dr. Swift guilty of the great wickedness implied in arrogating to himself the glory that belongs to God." But Dr. Pressly holds, that he is not thus guilty; and hence admits that he has authority: and thus proves that his own belief is contrary to his own reasoning!" Now, some niggardly reviewers would content themselves with commenting upon what a man has said,—a thing which we could do ourselves without their aid; but Mr. M. generously leads us into a field of inquiry, which, without his assistance, we could never have entered,—remarking at length upon what Dr. Pressly would say under given circumstances. Some persons may be so captious as to ask, ‘how does Mr. M. know how Dr. Pressly would answer the question which he suggests, if it were publicly asked, or that he would condescend to give any answer to a question proposed in terms so offensive?’ But what matter how he knows it if he knows it at all? And Mr. M. certainly does know what Dr. P. would say; or else he would not, upon such a supposition, dare to assert that Dr. Pressly has admitted "that we have authority to use in the worship of God, songs not contained in the Book of Psalms;" and much less, that the Dr. is so dishonest, as to reason throughout his whole book against his own belief.

If reasoning against a man, from what he would say, is worthy of commendation, as being a more speedy method of ending a controversy, than reasoning from what he does say; a capacity for discriminating between the blunders of a writer, and the error of the press is no less praiseworthy, in its own place; as being well calculated to maintain justice between the author and printer. This latter excellence shines in its highest perfection in Mr. M. Witness the following, p. 134. "Again the Dr. says, ‘the ninety-sixth and parts of some other Psalms, are found in the Second Book of Chronicles.’ But this is not so: something like them is found in the 10th Chap. of the First Book of Chronicles. This is no typographical error, for he gives it in words, not in figures. But it is a sample of his usual want of accuracy; and an evidence that he takes things on rumor, without examining for himself, Nor is it like a typographical error to give the ‘15’ of Second Chronicles instead of the 5th. It looks like as though he had heard somebody say it was in the 15th, and gave it so." So the reference in the Dr.’s book, to Second Chronicles in place of First Chronicles, is not, cannot be a typographical error," because the number is given "in words, not in figures!" And "15 instead of 5th does not look like a typographical error," although the number is given in "figures" not in "words." Why may words not sometimes be printed amiss, as well as "figures," and why by an error of the press 15 may not be substituted for 5th, as well as any one number for another, he does not condescend to tell us; and perhaps if the reason were made known, it would be above our comprehension. But if the mistakes referred to, did not originate with the printer, might they not at least be accidental blunders in Dr. P.’s manuscript? No, indeed; Mr. M. has set that matter to rest. The former "is a sample of the Dr.’s usual want of accuracy, and an evidence that he takes things on rumor without examining for himself;" and the latter "looks like as though he had heard somebody say it was in the 15th, and gave it so." How fervent the charity of our author! Poor Dr. Pressly! It seems that he has never read the Bible himself, and is consequently obliged to make use of Scripture as he can catch it from the lips of his neighbors. Perhaps the Dr. has no Bible:—but would it not have been better for him to borrow one from Mr. M. (who doubtless has two or three of them,) than to quote Scripture at second hand?

A superficial reader of Pressly on Psalmody, if he did not agree with the Dr. on every point, might perhaps give him credit for being honestly mistaken. But our author, who has doubtless searched Dr. Pressly’s heart, (for how else could he tell what he would say, under supposed circumstances?) seems to know whether or not the Dr. thinks what he says, and does not fail to expose him when he finds him lying. On page 9, he says, "what the Dr. next brings forward as an argument, is the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who ‘offered strange fire before the Lord.’ And on page 10, he (Dr. P.) represents, Neodism as the very identical sin of Nadab and Abihu." And after laboring through four pages to set aside the Dr.’s argument, our author, p. 13, says, with great humility, "Now, Dr. Pressly is perfectly aware, that we have given a true representation; that there is positively no evidence of any kind tending to show, that Neodism is similar to the sin of Nadab and Abihu, and why does he represent them as similar?" How very flattering!—Dr. Pressly "is perfectly aware—that there is positively no evidence of any kind tending to show, that Neodism is similar to the sin of Nadab and Abihu," and yet "he represents them as similar;" that is, in plain English, he makes a representation which he well knows to be false. Surely Mr. M. has seen the Groves of Blarney. He hurls a few more compliments at the Dr. on p. 111:—"Indeed I never saw, and I question if any one ever saw, an equal amount of misrepresentation in the same compass;—but how is it possible to account for such dissimulation.?" This deceitful representation, too, is from the Professor’s chair, which is supposed to be the watchful guardian of morals!" Instances of the same style of argumentation might be multiplied indefinitely, from the work before us; let one or two more suffice. On p. 123, are these remarkable words; "he (i.e., Dr. Pressly) labors through two dozen pages to prove what he does not believe."—That is, he devotes 24 pages to wilful lying. Again, p. 141, "my very dear Doctor; you know very well, that the way you exhibit the matter, is merely a misrepresentation." It is truly matter of rejoicing, that in the person of Mr. M. there exists a man sufficiently endowed with Christian fortitude, to give the lie to any man who may entertain a view opposite to his own; and who is not by any sickly squeamishness, held back from performing this painful duty, to a man twenty years older than himself, even though he were Senior Professor, in a respectable divinity school.

After all that has been said it will not be thought strange that our author everywhere treats Dr. Pressly as an outlaw, and withholds from him that courtesy which is commonly extended to a respectable antagonist, in religious controversy. In the dark character with which he invests Dr. Pressly, representing him as a man who ordinarily quotes scripture at second hand—a man who makes no scruple of laboring through two dozen pages to prove what he does not believe,—the charitable reader will find an apology for such bursts of eloquence as the following:—"But all ye connoisseurs of criticism see that you fail not, to secure for yourselves the Dr.’s work on Psalmody; and turn to his ‘critical analysis,’ and summon all your powers of intellect for the enjoyment of something profound, examine it with care—but I exhort ye not to laugh! And then too it is just from the Doctor’s hand—direct from the wonderful philological chair—coming from the very fountain of Biblical science—and set forth by the Chief Rabbi of that notable school! It must be remarkable!—and it is! All who want to have a curiosity in criticism—get it! Happy youth! who resort to that school! When the master is so profound in Biblical criticism, doubtless they will all be much distinguished in this department of sacred learning," (pp. 104, 105.)—"We find the Doctor is a great protector; and no wonder when he ranks himself at the head of the Protestant Church, and acts in her name! But then his Highness ought to be careful not to protest against himself," (p. 77.)—"Away in the backwoods among the boys in the common schools perhaps something like it has been heard. But coming from the learned Doctor; and the Chief Rabbi among his brethren; this is the most astonishing of all!" (p. 116.)—It must be of vast advantage to that branch of the church, to have their chief theological chair replenished with such an embroilment of accurate Biblical knowledge!" (p. 135.)—"Why my dear Doctor! your representation is most exquisite foolery.; and if you were to try your skill again, I do not think you could beat this." (p. 192.) The very evangelical spirit which breathes through the above passages of "Morton on Psalmody," and I may add, through the whole book,—for it is all of the same stamp,—our author, no doubt, imbibed from the "Evangelical Psalmody," which he has so long been using. This is his way of "instructing with meekness those who oppose themselves." It is worthy of observation, that there is nothing of this humor discoverable in Dr. Pressly’s Review of Dr. Ralston’s Inquiry; which shows plainly that Dr. P. is totally ignorant of the fundamental maxims of religious controversy, and utterly destitute of the most important qualification of a Reviewer. And though the art of flavoring one’s arguments with such spice as this, is no invention of our worthy author,—nothing having been more common ever since the time that Sarah detected Ishmael sneering at Isaac, (Gen. 21:9,)—yet he is entitled to great praise, since he practises it on a larger scale than any of his contemporaries.

Far be it from me to attempt to gain for Mr. M. a reputation which he does not deserve. And lest the partiality to him, which I have contracted by reading his book, should mislead my judgment, or misguide my pen, I have made it a point, (as the reader will perceive,) to give large extracts from his work in support of everything which I have alleged.

And now I leave it with the judicious reader to decide whether Mr. M. be not a reviewer of infinite candor, charity and courtesy.