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The Greatest Thing in the World

The Greatest Thing in The World

Tho I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, &c.—1 Cor. 13.

Everyone has asked himself the great question of antiquity as of the modern world: What is the summum bonum—the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?

We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. That great word has been the key-note for centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been told that, we may miss the mark. I have taken you, in the chapter which I have just read, to Christianity at its source; and there we have seen, “The greatest of these is love.” It is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of faith just a moment before. He says, “If I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” So far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “Now abideth faith, hope, love,” and without a moment’s hesitation the decision falls, “The greatest of these is love.”

And it is not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love was not Paul’s strong point. The observing student can detect a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening all through his character as Paul gets old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” when we meet it first, is stained with blood.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as the summum bonum. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it. Peter says, “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves.” Above all things. And John goes further, “God is love.” And you remember the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their passage to heaven by keeping the ten commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. “Take not his name in vain.” Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal—how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbor. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbors had. He would rather that they possest it than himself. In this way “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.

Now, Paul had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the most wonderful and original account extant of the summum bonum. We may divide it into three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analyzed; toward the end, we have love defended as the supreme gift.

Paul begins contrasting love with other things that men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.

He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And we all know why. “We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies no love.

He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is love. Hence faith, the means, is in order to love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of love, one of the innumerable avenues of love, and there may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper’s cost. It is too cheap—too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of would-be missionaries—and I have the honor to call some of you by this name for the first time—to remember that tho you give your bodies to be burned, and have not love, it profits nothing—nothing! You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language of love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among the great lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw before—David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labor, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and your life-work must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is not worth while going if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not love, it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.

After contrasting love with these things, Paul, in three verses, very short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism broken up into its component colors—red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colors of the rainbow—so Paul passes this thing, love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we have what one might call the spectrum of love, the analysis of love. Will you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day, that they are things which can be practiced by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum, is made up?

The spectrum of love has nine ingredients:

Patience—“Love suffereth long.”

Kindness—“And is kind.”

Generosity—“Love envieth not.”

Humility—“Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

Courtesy—“Doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness—“Seeketh not her own.”

Good temper—“Is not easily provoked.”

Guilelessness—“Thinketh no evil.”

Sincerity—“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity—these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

There is no time to do more than to make a passing note upon each of these ingredients. Love is patience. This is the normal attitude of love; love passive, love waiting to begin; not in a hurry; calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things. For love understands, and therefore waits.

Kindness. Love active. Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things—in merely doing kind things? Run over it with that in view, and you will find that He spent a great proportion of His time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping; but what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.

“The greatest thing,” says someone, “a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children.” I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How superabundantly it pays itself back—for there is no debtor in the world so honorable, so superbly honorable, as love. “Love never faileth.” Love is success, love is happiness, love is life. “Love,” I say, with Browning, “is energy of life.”

For life, with all it yields of joy or wo

And hope and fear,

Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love—

How love might be, hath been indeed, and is.

Where love is, God is. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Generosity. “Love envieth not.” This is love in competition with others. Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better. Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to those who are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness and detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection against unchristian feeling! That most despicable of all the unworthy moods which cloud a Christian’s soul assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing truly needs the Christian envy, the large, rich, generous soul which “envieth not.”

And then, after having learned all that, you have to learn this further thing, humility—to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done. After you have been kind, after love has stolen forth into the world and done its beautiful work, go back into the shade again and say nothing about it. Love hides even from itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. “Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

The fifth ingredient is a somewhat strange one to find in this summum bonum: Courtesy. This is love in society, love in relation to etiquette. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” Politeness has been defined as love in trifles. Courtesy is said to be love in little things. And the one secret of politeness is to love. Love cannot behave itself unseemly. You can put the most untutored persons into the highest society, and if they have a reservoir of love in their hearts, they will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply cannot do it. Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer gentleman in Europe than the plowman-poet. It was because he loved everything—the mouse, the daisy, and all the things, great and small, that God had made. So with this simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter courts and palaces from his little cottage on the banks of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the word “gentleman.” It means a gentle man—a man who does things gently with love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentle man cannot in the nature of things do an ungentle and ungentlemanly thing. The ungentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic nature cannot do anything else. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness. “Love seeketh not her own.” Observe: Seeketh not even that which is her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted, and rightly, to his rights. But there come times when a man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights. Love strikes much deeper. It would have us not seek them at all, ignore them, eliminate the personal element altogether from our calculations. It is not hard to give up our rights. They are often external. The difficult thing is to give up ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek things for ourselves at all. After we have sought them, bought them, won them, deserved them, we have taken the cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then perhaps to give them up. But not to seek them, to look every man not on his own things, but on the things of others—id opus est. “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” said the prophet; “seek them not.” Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things cannot be great. The only greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all, than, having sought it, to give it up. I must take that back. It is only true of a partly selfish heart. Nothing is a hardship to love, and nothing is hard. I believe that Christ’s yoke is easy. Christ’s “yoke” is just His way of taking life. And I believe it is an easier way than any other. I believe it is a happier way than any other. The most obvious lesson in Christ’s teaching is that there is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only in giving. I repeat, there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. And half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It consists in giving and serving others. He that would be great among you, said Christ, let him serve. He that would be happy, let him remember that there is but one way—it is more blessed, it is more happy, to give than to receive.

The next ingredient is a very remarkable one: good temper. “Love is not easily provoked.” Nothing could be more striking than to find this here. We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature.

The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered, or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is, there are two great classes of sins—sins of the body, and sins of the disposition. The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of the first, the Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever as to which of these is the worse. Its brands fall without a challenge, upon the Prodigal. But are we right? We have no balance to weigh one another’s sins, and coarser and finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature may be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye of Him who is love, a sin against love may seem a hundred times more base. No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to unchristianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone. Look at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful—let him get all credit for his virtues—look at this man, this baby, sulking outside his own father’s door. “He was angry,” we read, “and would not go in.” Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal—and how many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside? Analyze, as a study in temper, the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother’s brow. What is it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, touchiness, doggedness, sullenness—these are the ingredients of this dark and loveless soul. In varying proportions, also, these are the ingredients of all ill temper. Judge if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in, and for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did Christ indeed not answer the question Himself when He said, “I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.” There is really no place in heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only make heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is perfectly certain—and you will not misunderstand me—that to enter heaven a man must take it with him.

You will see then why temper is significant. It is not in what it is alone, but in what it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking of it with such unusual plainness. It is a test for love, a symptom, a revelation of an unloving nature at bottom. It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products of the soul dropped involuntarily when off one’s guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred hideous and unchristian sins. For a want of patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of temper.

Hence it is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change the inmost nature, and the angry humors will die away of themselves. Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in—a great love, a new spirit, the spirit of Christ. Christ, the spirit of Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all. This only can eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate and regenerate, and rehabilitate the inner man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does. Therefore, “Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Some of us have not much time to lose. Remember, once more, that this is a matter of life or death. I cannot help speaking urgently, for myself, for yourselves. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That is to say, it is the deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not to live than not to love. It is better not to live than not to love.

Guilelessness and sincerity may be dismissed almost without a word. Guilelessness is the grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret of personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up; but in that other atmosphere they expand, and find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love “thinketh no evil,” imputes no bad motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every action. What a delightful state of mind to live in! What stimulus and benediction even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them. For the respect of another is the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.

“Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” I have called this sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorized Version by “rejoiceth in the truth.” And, certainly, were this the real translation, nothing could be more just. For he who loves will love truth not less than men. He will rejoice in the truth—rejoice not in what he has been taught to believe; not in this Church’s doctrine or in that; not in this ism or in that ism; but “in the truth.” He will accept only what is real; he will strive to get at facts; he will search for truth with an humble and unbiased mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But the more literal translation of the Revised Version calls for just such a sacrifice for truth’s sake here. For what Paul really meant is, as we there read, “Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth,” a quality which probably no one English word—and certainly not sincerity—adequately defines. It includes, perhaps more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses to make capital out of others’ faults; the charity which delights not in exposing the weakness of others, but “covereth all things”; the sincerity of purpose which endeavors to see things as they are, and rejoices to find them better than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.

So much for the analysis of love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things in our characters. That is the supreme work to which we need to address ourselves in this world to learn love. Is life not full of opportunities for learning love? Every man and woman every day has a thousand of them. The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love. What makes a man a good cricketer? Practice. What makes a man a good artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practice. What makes a man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practice. What makes a man a good man. Practice. Nothing else. There is nothing capricious about religion. We do not get the soul in different ways, under different laws, from those in which we get the body and the mind. If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if he does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber nor beauty of spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character—the Christlike nature in its fullest development. And the constituents of this great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practice.

What was Christ doing in the carpenter’s shop? Practicing. Tho perfect, we read that He learned obedience, and grew in wisdom and in favor with God. Do not quarrel, therefore, with your lot in life. Do not complain of its never-ceasing cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work with. Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practice. That is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do not grudge the hand that is molding the still too shapeless image within you. It is growing more beautiful, tho you see it not, and every touch of temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe’s words: Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character in dem Strom der Welt. “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.” Talent develops itself in solitude—the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.

How? Now how? To make it easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But these are only elements. Love itself can never be defined. Light is a something more than the sum of its ingredients—a glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love is something more than all its elements—a palpitating, quivering, sensitive, living thing. By synthesis of all the colors, men can make whiteness, they cannot make light. By synthesis of all the virtues, men can make virtue, they cannot make love. How then are we to have this transcendent living whole conveyed into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch. We pray. But these things alone will not bring love into our nature. Love is an effect. And only as we fulfill the right condition can we have the effect produced. Shall I tell you what the cause is?

If you turn to the Revised Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these words: “We love because he first loved us.” “We love,” not “We love him.” That is the way the old version has it, and it is quite wrong. “We love—because he first loved us.” Look at that word “because.” It is the cause of which I have spoken. “Because he first loved us,” the effect follows that we love, we love Him, we love all men. We cannot help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love everybody. Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ, and you will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ’s character, and you will be changed into the same image from tenderness to tenderness. There is no other way. You cannot love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and fall in love with it, and grow into likeness to it. And so look at this perfect character, this perfect life. Look at the great sacrifice as He laid down Himself, all through life, and upon the cross of Calvary; and you must love Him. And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love. It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, and that piece of iron for a time becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the mere presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a permanent magnet, a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw all men unto you; like Him you will be drawn unto all men. That is the inevitable effect of love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced in him. Try to give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law, or by spiritual law, for all law is divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room he just put his hand on the sufferer’s head, and said, “My boy, God loves you,” and went away. And the boy started from his bed, and called out to the people in the house, “God loves me! God loves me!” It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him, melted him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him. And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in man, and begets in him the new creature, who is patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is no other way to get it. There is no mystery about it. We love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us.

Now I have a closing sentence or two to add about Paul’s reason for singling out love as the supreme possession. It is a very remarkable reason. In a single word it is this: it lasts. “Love,” urges Paul, “never faileth.” Then he begins one of his marvelous lists of the great things of the day, and exposes them one by one. He runs over the things that men thought were going to last, and shows that they are all fleeting, temporary, passing away.

“Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” It was the mother’s ambition for her boy in those days that he should become a prophet. For hundreds of years God had never spoken by means of any prophet, and at that time the prophet was greater than the king. Men waited wistfully for another messenger to come, and hung upon his lips when he appeared as upon the very voice of God. Paul says, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” This book is full of prophecies. One by one they have “failed”; that is, having been fulfilled their work is finished; they have nothing more to do now in the world except to feed a devout man’s faith.

Then Paul talks about tongues. That was another thing that was greatly coveted. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” As we all know, many, many centuries have passed since tongues have been known in this world. They have ceased. Take it in any sense you like. Take it, for illustration merely, as languages in general—a sense which was not in Paul’s mind at all, and which tho it cannot give us the specific lesson will point the general truth. Consider the words in which these chapters were written—Greek. It has gone. Take the Latin—the other great tongue of those days. It ceased long ago. Look at the Indian language. It is ceasing. The language of Wales, of Ireland, of the Scottish Highlands is dying before our eyes. The most popular book in the English tongue at the present time, except the Bible, is one of Dickens’ works, his “Pickwick Papers.” It is largely written in the language of London street-life, and experts assure us that in fifty years it will be unintelligible to the average English reader.

Then Paul goes further, and with even greater boldness adds, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The wisdom of the ancients, where is it? It is wholly gone. A schoolboy to-day knows more than Sir Isaac Newton knew. His knowledge has vanished away. You put yesterday’s newspaper in the fire. Its knowledge has vanished away. You buy the old editions of the great encyclopedias for a few cents. Their knowledge has vanished away. Look how the coach has been superseded by the use of steam. Look how electricity has superseded that, and swept a hundred almost new inventions into oblivion. One of the greatest living authorities, Sir William Thompson, said the other day, “The steam-engine is passing away.” “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” At every workshop you will see, in the back yard, a heap of old iron, a few wheels, a few levers, a few cranks, broken and eaten with rust. Twenty years ago that was the pride of the city. Men flocked in from the country to see the great invention; now it is superseded, its day is done. And all the boasted science and philosophy of this day will soon be old. But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the university to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: “Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.” Sir James Simpson was a great authority only a few years ago; men came from all parts of the earth to consult him; and almost the whole teaching of that time is consigned by the science of to-day to oblivion. And in every branch of science it is the same. “Now we know in part. We see through a glass darkly.”

Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it “passeth away.” There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while. Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the immortal things are: “Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Some think the time may come when two of these three things will also pass away—faith into sight, hope into fruition. Paul does not say so. We know but little now about the conditions of the life that is to come. But what is certain is that love must last. God, the eternal God, is love. Covet therefore that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand, that one coinage which will be current in the universe when all the other coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonored. You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to love. Hold things in their proportion. Hold things in their proportion. Let at least the first great object of our lives be to achieve the character defended in these words, the character—and it is the character of Christ—which is built round love.

I have said this thing is eternal. Did you ever notice how continually John associates love and faith with eternal life? I was not told when I was a boy that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should have everlasting life.” What I was told, I remember, was, that God so loved the world that, if I trusted in Him, I was to have a thing called peace, or I was to have rest, or I was to have joy, or I was to have safety. But I had to find out for myself that whosoever trusteth in Him—that is, whosoever loveth Him, for trust is only the avenue to love—hath everlasting life. The gospel offers a man life. Never offer men a thimbleful of gospel. Do not offer them merely joy, or merely peace, or merely rest, or merely safety; tell them how Christ came to give men a more abundant life than they have, a life abundant in love, and therefore abundant in salvation for themselves, and large in enterprise for the alleviation and redemption of the world. Then only can the gospel take hold of the whole of a man, body, soul, and spirit, and give to each part of his nature its exercise and reward. Many of the current gospels are addressed only to a part of man’s nature. They offer peace, not life; faith, not love; justification, not regeneration. And men slip back again from such religion because it has never really held them. Their nature was not all in it. It offered no deeper and gladder life-current than the life that was lived before. Surely it stands to reason that only a fuller love can compete with the love of the world.

To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever. Hence, eternal life is inextricably bound up with love. We want to live forever for the same reason that we want to live to-morrow. Why do we want to live to-morrow? It is because there is some one who loves you, and whom you want to see to-morrow, and be with, and love back. There is no other reason why we should live on than that we love and are beloved. It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live; because to live is to love. Be it but the love of a dog, it will keep him in life; but let that go and he has no contact with life, no reason to live. He dies by his own hand. Eternal life is to know God, and God is love. This is Christ’s own definition. Ponder it. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Love must be eternal. It is what God is. On the last analysis, then, love is life. Love never faileth, and life never faileth, so long as there is love. That is the philosophy of what Paul is showing us; the reason why in the nature of things love should be the supreme thing—because it is going to last; because in the nature of things it is an eternal life. It is a thing that we are living now, not that we get when we die; that we shall have a poor chance of getting when we die unless we are living now. No worse fate can befall a man in this world than to live and grow old all alone, unloving and unloved. To be lost is to live in an unregenerate condition, loveless and unloved; and to be saved is to love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God; for God is love.

Now I have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his whole life. You might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the perfect character. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.” Get these ingredients into your life. Then everything that you do is eternal. It is worth doing. It is worth giving time to. No man can become a saint in his sleep; and to fulfil the condition required demands a certain amount of prayer and meditation and time, just as improvement in any direction, bodily or mental, requires preparation and care. Address yourselves to that one thing; at any cost have this transcendent character exchanged for yours. You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those around about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide. Everything else in all our lives is transitory. Every other good is visionary. But the acts of love which no man knows about, or can ever know about, they never fail.

In the Book of Matthew, where the judgment day is depicted for us in the imagery of One seated upon a throne and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a man then is not, “How have I believed?” but “How have I loved?” The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but love. I say the final test of religion at that great day is not religiousness, but love; not what I have done, not what I have believed; not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to Him to be seized with the spell of His compassion for the world. It means that

I lived for myself, I thought for myself,

For myself, and none beside—

Just as if Jesus had never lived,

As if He had never died.

It is the Son of Man before whom the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of humanity that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped; or there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other witness need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not deceived. The words which all of us shall one day hear sound not of theology but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. Thank God the Christianity of to-day is coming nearer the world’s need. Live to help that on. Thank God men know better, by a hairbreadth, what religion is, what God is, who Christ is, where Christ is. Who is Christ? He who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick. And where is Christ? Where?—Whoso shall receive a little child in My name receiveth Me. And who are Christ’s? Every one that loveth is born of God.[1]

 

 

[1] Drummond, H. (1908). The Greatest Thing in The World. In G. Kleiser (Ed.), The World’s Great Sermons: Drummond to Jowett (Vol. 10, pp. 3–35). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 27

Psalm 27

A sufferer, surrounded by enemies intent on his destruction, and deprived of human help, implores divine assistance and expresses his assured hope of obtaining it. The expression of confidence occurs at the beginning and the end, the description of the danger and the prayer for deliverance in the body of the psalm. If God be for him, and admit him to his household, he is satisfied and safe, ver. 1–6. With this persuasion he implores that God will interpose for his deliverance from present danger, ver. 7–12. If he did not believe that God would grant his request he must despair; but as he does believe it, he encourages himself to wait for it, ver. 13, 14. There is no apparent reference to any particular historical occasion, but an obvious intention to provide a vehicle of pious sentiment for all God’s people under the form of trial here described.

1. By David. Jehovah (is) my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid? Jehovah (is) the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be in dread? As darkness is a common figure for distress, and light for relief from it, the same idea is here twice expressed, first in a figurative form as light, and then more literally as salvation. These terms are applied to God, by a natural and common figure of speech, as the source or dispenser of light and salvation. Compare Micah 7:8. The interrogations imply negation of the strongest kind. The form of expression is imitated in Rom. 8:31–35.—The noun מָעזוֹ is sometimes used as an abstract, strength; but its proper meaning, as its very form denotes, is local. The stronghold or fortress of my life, that which makes my life as safe as walls and fortifications. The variation of the verbs in the two clauses is merely rhetorical, without any change in the idea.

2. In the drawing near against me of evil-doers, to devour my flesh, (in the drawing near of) my adversaries and my enemies to me, (it is) they (that) have stumbled and fallen. Even in the most imminent dangers which have hitherto befallen me, the divine protection has enabled me to see those who sought to overwhelm me overwhelmed themselves. Evil-doers, not only against me, but in general. It was not because they were his enemies merely, but because they were the enemies of God, that he so easily subdued them.—To eat my flesh, a figure borrowed from the habits of wild beasts. Compare Job 19:22, Ps. 14:4, 35:1.—To me is to be construed not with enemies, but with the verb, as in Job 33:22. See below, on Ps. 55:19. The pronoun expressed in the last clause is emphatic, “They themselves, not I, as they expected, fell.”

3. If there encamp against me an encampment, my heart shall not fear; if there arise against me war, (even) in this (case) I (am) confident. With the sentiment of this verse compare Ps. 3:7 (6). The primary meaning of the noun in the first clause is retained in the translation for the sake of its assonance with the verb, which is lost in the common version, although marked in the original. By encampment, however, must be understood the men encamped, the host, the army.—In this, even in this extremity. Compare Lev. 26:27, Job 1:22. The common version, in this will I be confident, although ambiguous, appears to mean, “I will confide in this, i.e. in the fact that Jehovah is my light and my salvation.” This construction is grammatical, and yields a good sense, but the other is more pointed and emphatic, and the absolute use of בּוֹטֵחַ in the sense of safe, secure, is justified by Judges 18:27, Jer. 12:5, Prov. 11:15.

4. One (thing) have I asked from Jehovah, (and) that will I (still) seek, that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah, to gaze at the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in his temple. To dwell in the house of the Lord is not merely to frequent his sanctuary as a place of worship, but to be a member of his household, and as such in intimate communion with him. See above, on Ps. 15:1, 23:6.—Beauty, loveliness, desirableness, all that makes God an object of affection and desire to the believer. See below, on Ps. 90:17. Some take the last verb in the secondary sense of meditating; but the proper one of inquiring is entirely appropriate.—Temple, properly palace, the earthly residence of the great King, and therefore equally appropriate to the temple and the tabernacle. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7).

5. For he will hide me in his covert in the day of evil; he will secrete me in the secrecy of his tent; on a rock he will set me high. This verse assigns his reason for wishing to be still a member of Jehovah’s household, namely, because there he is sure of effectual protection.—The word translated covert means a booth or shelter made of leaves and branches, such as the Jews used at the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:42). It is here used as a figure for secure protection in the day of evil, i.e. of suffering or danger.—Secrete and secrecy are used in the translation to represent the cognate verb and noun in Hebrew.—By his tent, as appears from the preceding verse, we are to understand the tabernacle, not considered merely as a place of public worship, but as Jehovah’s earthly residence, his mansion. In the last clause the idea of protection is conveyed by an entirely different figure, that of a person placed upon a high rock beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:14 (13), 18:49 (48).

6. And now shall my head be high above my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in his tabernacle sacrifices of joyful noise; I will sing and make music to Jehovah. And now may either be a formula of logical resumption, as in Ps. 2:10, 39:8 (7), or be taken in its strict sense, as denoting that he not only hopes for future safety, but is ready in the meantime, even now, to thank him publicly for his protection as already realized. The first clause merely amplifies the last of the preceding verse. The next adds the promise of a thank-offering at the tabernacle, which implies an assured hope of deliverance and prosperity. By a joyful noise some understand the blowing of trumpets which accompanied certain offerings (Num. 10:10, 29:1); but as this is never mentioned in connection with private sacrifices, it seems more advisable to rest in the general sense of the expression.

7. Hear, O Jehovah! (with) my voice I will call, and do thou have mercy on me and answer me. The Psalmist here descends from the tone of confident assurance to that of strong desire, prompted by a sense of urgent need.—With my voice, not merely with my mind, but audibly, aloud. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).

8. To thee hath said my heartSeek ye my facethy face, Jehovah, will I seek. The general meaning of this verse is obvious enough, although its syntax is exceedingly obscure. The best solution is to take “seek ye my face” as a citation of God’s own words. “My heart has said to thee—(whenever thou hast said) Seek ye my face,—thy face,” &c. Or, “my heart has said to thee—(in answer to thy words) Seek ye my face—thy face,” &c.—My heart hath said, i.e. I have said with or from the heart. See above, on Ps. 11:1. There may be an allusion to Deut. 4:29, from which the expression seek God (2 Sam. 12:16, 2 Chron. 20:4), and seek his face (Ps. 24:6, 105:4) seems to be derived. The idea is that of seeking admission to his presence for the purpose of asking a favor. See above, on Ps. 24:6.

9. Hide not thy face from me, put not away in wrath thy servant; my help thou hast been; forsake me not, and leave me not, (O) God of my salvation! The first petition is that God will not withhold from him the manifestation of his love or favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—Put not away, or thrust aside, as one unworthy to be noticed.—Thy servant, and as such entitled to thy kind regard.—My help, i.e. the source and author of my help, my helper. Thou hast been; the past tense is here essential: what thou hast been, continue to be still.—God of my salvation, my Savior God, or God my Savior; see above, on Ps 18:47 (46).

10. For my father and my mother have left me, and Jehovah will take me in. Parents are here put for the nearest friends, whose loss or desertion is frequently complained of in the Psalms as one of the most painful signs of desolation. See Ps. 31:12 (11), 38:12 (11), 69:9 (8), 88:9 (8), and compare Job 19:13. The first clause may also be translated, when my father and my mother have left me, then the Lord will take me in.—The last expression is applied to the compassionate reception of strangers or wanderers into one’s house. See Josh. 20:4, Judges 19:15, and compare Mat. 25:35, 43. The case described is an ideal one, and may be thus expressed in paraphrase: “The kindness of the nearest earthly friends may cease by death or desertion (for the verb to leave may comprehend both); but the Lord’s compassions cannot fail.”

11. Guide me, Jehovah, (in) thy way, and lead me in a straight (or level) path, because of my adversaries. The way in which he here desires to be led, is not the way of duty but of providence, which he calls a straight or smooth path, as distinguished from the rough or crooked ways of adversity. See above, on Ps. 25:4, 26:12.—Because of my enemies, that they may have no occasion to exult or triumph. Of the many Hebrew words applied to enemies, the one here used is supposed by some to signify malignant watchers for the errors or calamities of others. The one used in the next verse means oppressors or causers of distress.—With this clause compare Ps. 26:12.

12. Give me not up to the will of my enemies; for risen up against me are witnesses of falsehood, and a breather forth of cruelty. The word translated will properly means soul, and is here used for the ruling wish or heart’s desire, as in Ps. 35:25. The second clause assigns the ground or reason of this prayer. As if he had said, I have reason to ask this, for there have risen up, &c.—One breathing violence or cruelty, a strong but natural expression for a person, all whose thoughts and feelings are engrossed by a favorite purpose or employment, so that he cannot live or breathe without it. Compare the description of Saul’s persecuting zeal in Acts 9:1, and the Latin phrases, spirare minas, anhelare scelus.

13. Unless I believed (or fully expected) to look upon the goodness of Jehovah in the land of life. This is an instance of the figure called aposiopesis, in which the conclusion of the sentence is suppressed, either from excitement and hurried feeling, or because of some unwillingness to utter what is necessary to complete it. Thus in this case the apodosis would probably have been, I would despair, or I must have perished. (Compare Ps. 119:92.) Of the other cases usually cited, that in Gen. 31:42 especially resembles this, because the sentence opens with a similar conditional expression.—To look upon, not merely to behold, but to gaze at with delight. See above on Ps. 22:18 (17).—The land of life, as opposed to that of darkness and the shadow of death (Job 10:21), seems to be a more correct translation than the common one, land of the living.

14. Wait thou for Jehovah; be firm, and may he strengthen thy heart; and wait thou for Jehovah! Instead of finishing the inauspicious sentence which he had begun, he interrupts himself with an earnest exhortation to await the fulfilment of God’s promises, to hope in him. See above, on Ps. 25:3.—The optative and causative senses of the third verb (יַֽאֲמֵץ) are both determined by its form, which equally forbids the versions, let thy heart be strong, and he will strengthen it.—The repetition, wait for the Lord, and wait for the Lord, implies that this is all he has to enjoin upon himself or others, and is more impressive, in its native simplicity, than the correct but periphrastic version of the last clause in the English Bible, wait, I say, upon the Lord.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 120–123). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 26

Psalm 26

An appeal to God’s justice and omniscience, ver. 1–3, enforced by a disavowal of all sympathy and communion with the wicked, ver. 4–6, and a profession of devotion to God’s service, ver. 7, 8, with an earnest prayer to be delivered from the death of those whose life he abhors, ver. 9, 10, and an expression of strong confidence that God will hear his prayer, ver. 11, 12. There is a certain similarity of form between this psalm and the foregoing, which, together with their collocation in the Psalter, makes it not improbable that they were designed to constitute a pair or double psalm.

1. By David. Judge me, Jehovah, for I in my integrity have walked, and in Jehovah I have trusted; I shall not swerve (or slip). The correctness of the title is confirmed by the resemblance of the psalm itself to several, the authorship of which is undisputed, more especially Ps. 15. 17. 18. 24.—Judge me, do me justice, vindicate or clear me. See above, on Ps. 17:1, 2.—In my integrity of purpose and of principle. To this is added its inseparable adjunct, trust in God.—Walked, lived, pursued a certain course of conduct. See above, on Ps. 1:1. The last clause is by some explained as the expression of a wish, let me not be moved. But there is no reason for departing from the strict sense of the future, as expressing a confident anticipation. Swerve, as in Ps. 18:37 (36), 37:31.

2. Try me, Jehovah, and prove me; assay my reins and my heart. The first verb is supposed by etymologists to signify originally trial by touch, the second by smell, and the third by fire. In usage, however, the second is constantly applied to moral trial or temptation, while the other two are frequently applied to the testing of metals by the touchstone or the furnace. This is indeed the predominant usage of the third verb, which may therefore be represented by the technical metallurgic term, assay. See above, on Ps. 17:3, where two of the same verbs occur.—Reins and heart are joined, as seats of the affections. See above, on Ps. 7:10 (9).—The prayer of this verse is an appeal to God’s omniscience for the psalmist’s integrity of purpose, which agrees much better with the context than the explanation of צרופה as a participle, and of the last clause as an affirmation, purified (or purged) are my reins and my heart.

3. For thy mercy (is) before my eyes, and I have walked in thy truth. This verse assigns a reason for his confident persuasion that he shall not slide, to wit, because God’s mercy is before his eyes, literally, in front of them, i.e. constantly in view, as an object of memory and ground of hope. He is also encouraged by his previous experience of God’s truth or faithfulness. See above, on Ps. 25:5. The verb translated walked is an intensive form of that used in ver. 1 above, and ver. 11 below. It means properly to walk about or to and fro, and expresses more distinctly than the primitive verb, the idea of continuous habitual action. “My constant experience of thy mercy and thy faithfulness assure me that I shall not fall away hereafter.”

4. I have not sat with men of falsehood, and with hidden (men) I will not go. He is further encouraged to believe that he will be sustained because he has not hitherto espoused the cause of those who hate God.—Men of falsehood, liars or deceivers, which appears to suit the context better than the wider sense of vain men, i.e. destitute of all moral goodness, good for nothing, worthless. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6), 24:4. The same class of persons are described in the last clause as masked, disguised, or hypocritical.—Sat, not merely in their company, but in their councils, taking part in their unlawful machinations. The change of tense is anything rather than unmeaning. “I have not sat with them in time past, and I will not go with them in time to come.” The form of expression is borrowed from Gen. 49:6.

6. I will wash in innocence my hands, and will compass thy altar, O Jehovah! To the negative professions of the two preceding verses he now adds a positive declaration of his purpose. Not content with abstaining from all share in the counsels of the wicked, he is fully resolved to adhere to the service of the Lord. He will cleanse himself from all that would unfit him for that service, and then cleave to the sanctuary where God dwells. The expression in the first clause seems to be copied from Gen. 20:5, and the symbol or emblem from Deut. 21:6. (Compare Mat. 27:24.) Whether compassing the altar be explained to mean going round it in procession, or embracing it, the idea expressed is still that of close adherence and devoted attachment.

7. To make known with a voice of thanksgiving, and to recount all thy wondrous works. The object of the acts described in the preceding verse was to promote God’s glory. To make known, literally to cause to hear or to be heard. The clause admits of several constructions. 1. To publish thanksgivings with the voice. 2. To publish with a thankful voice, without expressing what. 3. To publish and recount all thy wondrous works with a voice of thanksgiving. The last is on the whole entitled to the preference.—The last word in the verse is a passive participle, meaning wonderfully made or done. The plural feminine is used indefinitely like the neuter in Greek and Latin, to mean things done wonderfully, which is also the idea of the common version, wondrous works.

8. Jehovah, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place of the dwelling of thy glory. This verse expresses more directly and literally the idea of ver. 6 above, and shews that his compassing the altar was intended to denote his love for the earthly residence of God, the altar being there put for the whole sanctuary, which is here distinctly mentioned. The habitation of thy house might be understood to mean a residence in it; but the usage of the first noun and the parallelism shew that it rather means the place where thy house dwells, perhaps in allusion to the migratory movements of the ark and its appendages before the time of David. So too in the last clause, Hebrew usage would admit of the translation, thy glorious dwelling-place, as in Ps. 20:7 (6); but the use of כָּבוֹד, in the Pentateuch, to signify the visible presence of Jehovah (Exod. 24:16, 40:34, 35), seems decisive in favor of explaining it the place where thy glory dwells, i.e. where the glorious God is pleased to manifest his presence.

9. Take not away my soul with sinners, and with men of blood my life. The primary meaning of the first verb is to gather, as a harvest or as fruit, a figure not unfrequently applied in various languages to death, here described as the taking away of the life or soul. This verse and the next contain a prayer that he may die as he has lived; that since he has had no community of interest or feeling with ungodly men in life, he may not be united with them in his death.—Men of blood, literally bloods, i.e. murderers, either in the strict sense or by metonymy for sinners of the worst class. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6). Another idiomatic plural in this sentence is the word lives at the end, which is used as an abstract simply equivalent to life in English.

10. In whose hands is crime, and their right hand is filled with a bribe. The first clause exhibits the peculiar construction of the relative in Hebrew with the personal pronoun expressed, of which it is the substitute in other languages. Who (or as to whom)—in their hands (is) crime. This last word (זִמָּה) is a very strong one, used in the Law to denote specifically acts of gross impurity, but signifying really any wicked act or purpose The common version, mischief, is too weak. The last word in the verse denotes especially a judicial bribe (Ps. 15:5), and may be intended to suggest that the whole description has reference to unrighteous rulers, or to wicked men in public office.

11. And I in my integrity will walk; redeem me and be merciful to me. The use of the conjunction and emphatic pronoun is the same as in Ps. 2:6 above. Our idiom would require an adversative conjunction, but I, in opposition to the sinners just described, but as for me, I will still walk as I have done in sincerity and simplicity of purpose. The obvious contrast of the tenses here and in ver. 1, may serve to shew how seldom they are used promiscuously or confounded.—That the Psalmist’s perfection or integrity was neither absolute nor inherent, is clear from the petition of the last clause. He expects still to be perfect, not because he is without sin, but because he hopes to be redeemed from its dominion through the mercy of Jehovah.

12. My foot stands in an even place; in the assemblies will I bless Jehovah. As a state of danger and distress might be compared to a precipitous and rugged path, so one of ease and safety is denoted by a smooth or level path. My foot (now) stands, or has (at last) stood, found a resting-place, implying previous wanderings and hardships.—The assemblies primarily meant are no doubt the stated congregations at the sanctuary. The determination to praise God implies a strong assurance that the occasion for so doing will be granted. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7). The whole verse indeed is an expression of confident belief that God will hear and answer the foregoing prayers, and thus, as in many other psalms, we are brought back at the conclusion to the starting-point. Compare the last clause of ver. 1.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 117–120). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 25

Psalm 25

The first of the alphabetical psalms, in which the verses begin with the different Hebrew letters in their order, an arrangement peculiar to those psalms, in which a single theme or idea is repeated under various forms, and, as it were, in a series of aphorisms. Now and then, in order to complete the expression of the thought, the series of the letters is neglected, either by repeating or omitting one. In this psalm, for example, two successive verses begin with א, and two with ר, while ו and ק are left out. The first verse, however, does not properly belong to the alphabetical series, but constitutes one sentence with the short verse at the end, which is added after the completion of the alphabet. The theme which runs through this psalm is deliverance from enemies, occasionally blended with a prayer for the divine forgiveness.

1. By David. Unto thee, Jehovah, my soul will I lift up, or as some explain it, bring or carry. All agree, however, that the essential idea is that of confident desire. See above, on Ps. 24:4, and compare Ps. 86:4, 143:8, below, where the phrase occurs again. The sentiment expressed is that of settled confidence in God, to the exclusion of all other helpers.

2. My God, in thee have I trusted, let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me, or more exactly, with respect to me. As the future verb of the preceding verse implies a fixed determination to confide in God hereafter, so the preterite in this verse indicates that such trust has been exercised already. The present is included under both forms.—Ashamed, disappointed, defeated in my plans and expectations. See above, on Ps. 22:6 (5).—The last clause shews that suffering from enemies was in the Psalmist’s mind throughout.

3. Likewise all (those) waiting for thee shall not be ashamed, ashamed shall be the traitors without cause. He does not ask for any special dispensation in his own behalf, but merely for a fair participation in God’s customary mode of dealing with the whole class of which he is a member, here described as those waiting for God, i.e. hoping in him, awaiting the fulfilment of his promises. The modern English sense of waiting on is too restricted, though the phrase once exactly corresponded to the Hebrew.—The position of the verbs, at the end and the beginning of successive clauses, gives a peculiar turn to the sentence, which is lost in some translations.—Without cause qualifies the word immediately preceding, and describes the enemy not only as perfidious, but as acting so gratuitously, and without provocation. See above, on Ps. 7:5 (4), and below, on Ps. 35:19, 38:20 (19), 69:5 (4).

4. Thy ways, Jehovah, make me know; thy paths teach me. As the ways of God, throughout this psalm, are the same as in Deut. 32:4, namely his dispensations towards his people, the way in which he orders their condition and disposes of their lot, the teaching prayed for must be that of experience. “Let me know in my own case what it is to be guided and protected and provided for by God himself.” This meaning suits the context better than that of moral guidance, which however is implied, if not expressed.

5. Make me walk in thy truth and teach me, for thou (art) the God of my salvation; for thee have I waited all the day. The obvious meaning of this verse, interpreted according to New Testament and modern usage, would be that of a prayer for divine instruction in religious truth or doctrine. But the usage of the Psalms, and the preceding context, are in favor of explaining truth to mean the veracity of God, or the faithful performance of his promises. See Ps. 30:10 (9), 71:22, 91:4. The teaching asked is then experimental teaching, or the actual experience of God’s faithfulness.—The God of my salvation, or my Savior God. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46).—I have waited. This is no new or untried exercise of faith, to be attempted for the first time, but one with which I have been long familiar.—All the day, continually, always.

6. Remember thy mercies, O Jehovah, and thy favors, for from eternity are they. The prayer for future favors is here founded upon those experienced already.—Of old is an inadequate translation of מֵעוֹלָם, and even in the stronger form, ever of old, less exact and expressive than the literal translation from eternity, to which there is the less objection here, as the words relate not merely to God’s acts but to his attributes.

7. The sins of my youth and my transgressions (O) remember not; according to thy mercy remember thou me, for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! Among the mercies which he craves, the most important is the pardon of his sins, not only in itself considered, but as that without which all the others must be worthless. The sins of his youth are mentioned as the earliest in date, and probably as those committed with the least restraint, at an age when reflection is subordinate to passion. Compare Job 13:26, 2 Tim. 2:22. Besides the obvious reference to the youthful sins of individuals, there may be also an allusion to the national iniquities of Israel, committed in the period of their childhood as a people, namely, that of their sojourn in the wilderness. See below, on ver. 22, and compare Deut. 9:7.

8. Good and upright (is) Jehovah; therefore will he guide sinners in the way. Not only the goodness, but the rectitude of the divine nature requires the exercise of covenanted mercy. The second epithet is borrowed from Deut. 32:4.—The way meant in the last clause is the way of safety or salvation. What is meant may be either that God guides sinners into it by converting them, or that he guides those sinners in it who are still his people, as the same person claims to be both righteous and a sinner in Ps. 41:5, 13, (4, 12). Hence perhaps he uses the indefinite term sinners, not the distinctive phrase the sinners, or the more emphatic epithet, the wicked.

9. He will guide humble (sinners) in justice, and teach humble (sinners) his way. The common version of ענוים, meek, is too restricted and descriptive of mere temper. The Hebrew word is the nearest equivalent to humble in its strong religious sense. The omission of the article may be explained as a poetic license, and the word translated the humble, so as to include the whole class. But the intimate connection between this verse and the one before it, makes it more natural to take ענוים as a description of the sinners mentioned in ver. 8, who are then of course to be regarded as penitent believing sinners, i.e. as true converts. In justice, i.e. in the exercise of justice, as before explained. The way and the teaching are the same as in the foregoing context, namely, those of Providence.

10. All the paths of Jehovah (are) mercy and truth to the keepers of his covenant and his testimonies. The paths of Jehovah are the paths in which he walks himself, in other words, the ways in which he deals with his creatures.—Truth, veracity, fidelity. See above, on ver. 5. A similar combination occurs, John 1:14. The last clause shews that the preceding promises are limited to those who are in covenant with God.—Keepers, observers, those obeying.—His covenant, the commands to which his promise is annexed. The same are called his testimonies against sin and in behalf of holiness. See above, on Ps. 19:8 (7).

11. For the sake of thy name (wilt thou do this), and wilt pardon my iniquity because it is great. The form of the verb (וְסָלַחְתַּ) is one that is commonly preceded by a future, which may here be readily supplied, so as to make the first clause refer to the preceding promises. For thy name’s sake, for the honor of thy nature and thy attributes, as heretofore revealed in act. See above on Ps. 23:3. The emphatic pronoun at the end (רֵב־הוּא) may possibly refer to the remoter antecedent, as in Ps. 22:18 (17). The sense will then be, “and forgive my iniquity because that name is great.” (Compare Mal. 1:11.) There is nothing ungrammatical, however, in the usual construction, which also agrees better with the usage of the adjective (רַב), as denoting rather quantity than elevation, and with the parallel phrase, much transgression (פֶּשַׁע רַב), in Ps. 19:14 (13).

12. Who (is) the man fearing Jehovah? He will guide him in the way he shall choose. In the first clause the form of the original is highly idiomatic; who (is) this, the man, a fearer of Jehovah? See above, on Ps. 24:8.—The ellipsis of the relative in the last clause is common to both idioms.—He guides him, and will guide him. There is not only an affirmation, but a promise. The way, as in the foregoing context, is the providential way in which God directs the course of a man’s life. His choosing it implies not only sovereign authority, but a gracious regard to the interests of his servant.

13. His soul in good shall lodge, and his seed shall possess the land. The parallelism between soul and seed seems to shew that by his soul we are to understand himself, for which the Hebrew has no appropriate expression. The promise, then, includes both himself and his posterity. To lodge, to be at home, to dwell at ease, and by implication, to abide or continue undisturbed. In good, not goodness, but good fortune or prosperity. The verb, translated shall possess, denotes specifically to inherit, or possess as an inheritance, i.e. from generation to generation, in perpetual succession. The land, to wit, the land of Canaan; and as this was the standing promise of the law, uttered even in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:12), it became a formula for all the blessings implicitly embraced in the promise of Canaan to the ancient Israel, and is so used even by our Lord himself, (Mat. 5:5.)

14. The friendship of Jehovah is to (those) fearing him, and his covenant to make them know. The word translated friendship means originally a company of persons sitting together, Ps. 111:1; then familiar conversation, Ps. 55:15 (14); then confidential intercourse, intimacy, friendship, Prov. 3:32; then a confidence or secret, Prov. 11:13. The last sense is commonly preferred in the English version, even when one of the others would be more appropriate, as in this case, where the sense of intimacy, friendship, seems required by the context. The last clause is ambiguous, and may either mean, his covenant is designed to be known by them, or his covenant is designed to make them know, i.e. his way; or in general, to give them knowledge. To make them know his covenant is a forced construction, and forbidden by the collocation of the Hebrew words. The meaning of the whole verse seems to be, that Jehovah condescends to hold familiar intercourse with those who fear him, and enters into covenant relation with them, for the purpose of making them know all that they need know for his service or their own advantage.

15. My eyes (are) always towards Jehovah; for he will bring out from the net my feet. The first clause expresses settled trust and constant expectation. The figure of a net is a favorite one for dangers arising from the craft and spite of enemies. See above, on Ps. 9:16 (15), 10:9.

16. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, for lonely and distressed (am) I. The prayer to turn implies that his face was before averted, a common figure in the Psalms for the suspension or withholding of God’s favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—The word translated lonely is the same that occurs above, Ps. 22:21 (20).

17. The troubles of my heart have they enlarged; from my distresses do thou bring me out. The plural of the first clause is indefinite, equivalent to a passive construction in English, are enlarged. (Compare the common version of Luke 12:20.) It does not refer even to his enemies specifically, but to all others, as distinguished from his lonely self, and from his sole deliverer.

18. See my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. So long as God leaves him to endure, he is conceived of as not seeing his condition. The prayer that he will see includes the prayer that he will save. The renewed prayer for forgiveness in the last clause seems again to recall to mind the intimate connection between suffering and sin.

19. See my enemies, for they are many, and (with) hatred of violence have hated me. The agency of wicked foes in causing his distresses, which had been referred to in ver. 2, 15, 17, is here again brought into view. The word translated violence is very strong, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 11:6 (5), 18:49 (48).—The past tense represents the enmity as something of long standing.

20. (O) keep my soul and deliver me; let me not be ashamed, for I have trusted in thee. To keep is here to keep in safety, to preserve.—Ashamed, confounded, disappointed. See above, on ver. 2. The word translated trusted is not that employed in ver. 2, but the one which occurs in Ps. 2:12, and which originally means to seek a refuge or a hiding-place. See above, on Ps. 11:2 (1).

21. Integrity and rectitude shall preserve me, because I have waited for thee. The first word means completeness or perfection (integritas), i.e. freedom from essential defect. See above, on Ps. 18:21, 24 (20, 23). Here, however, it may signify the perfect rectitude of God, which will not suffer him to cast off or forsake those who wait for him, i.e. trustfully expect the fulfilment of his promises.

22. Redeem, O God, Israel out of all his troubles! As the psalm was designed, from the first, to be a vehicle of pious feeling and desire for the whole church, it is here wound up with a petition shewing this extent of purpose. The Psalmist prays no longer for himself, but for all Israel. The peculiar name, Jehovah, which had hitherto been used exclusively, is here exchanged for the generic name of God, perhaps in opposition to the human adversaries of the Psalmist, and his total destitution of all human help. This verse forms no part of the alphabetical series, but begins with the same letter as ver. 16. Like the first verse, it consists of a single clause, as if the two together were designed to constitute one sentence.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 113–117). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Practical Hints to Various Descriptions of Persons

Difference between nominal and real Christians, of the first importance

THUS have we endeavored to trace the chief defects of the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians in this country. We have pointed out their low idea of the importance of Christianity in general; their inadequate conceptions of all its leading doctrines, and the effect hereby naturally produced in relaxing the strictness of its practical system: more than all, we have remarked their grand fundamental misconception of its genius and essential nature. Let not therefore the difference between them and true believers be considered as a trifling difference; as a question of forms or opinions. The question is of the very substance of Religion; the difference is of the most serious and momentous amount. We must speak out: Their Christianity is not Christianity. It wants the radical principle. It is mainly defective in all the grand constituents. Let them no longer, then, be deceived by names in a matter of infinite importance; but, with humble prayer to the Source of all wisdom, that he would enlighten their understandings, and clear their hearts from prejudice, let them seriously examine, by the Scripture standard, their real belief and allowed practice; and they will become sensible of the shallowness of their scanty system.

Helps in self-examination—Frequent sources of self-deception, pointed out

If, through the blessing of Providence on anything which has been here written, any should feel themselves disposed to this important duty of self-inquiry, let me previously warn them to be well aware of our natural proneness to think too favorably of ourselves. Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to overrate our good qualities, and to overlook or extenuate our defects. The corruption of human nature therefore being admitted, it follows undeniably, that in all our reckonings, if we would form a just estimate of our character, we must make an allowance for the effects of selfishness. It is also another effect of the corruption of human nature, to cloud our moral sight, and blunt our moral sensibility. Something must therefore be allowed for this effect likewise. Doubtless, the perfect purity of the Supreme Being makes him see in us stains, far more in number and deeper in dye, than we ourselves can discover. Nor should another awful consideration be forgotten: When we look into ourselves, those sins only, into which we have lately fallen, are commonly apt to excite any lively impression. Many individual acts of vice, or a continued course of vicious or dissipated conduct, which, when recent, may have smitten us with deep remorse, after a few months or years leave but very faint traces in our recollection; at least, those acts alone continue to strike us strongly, which were of very extraordinary magnitude. But the strong impressions which they at first excited, not the faded images which they subsequently present to us, furnish the juster measure of their guilt: and to the pure eyes of God, this guilt must always have appeared far greater than to us. Now to the Supreme Being, we must believe that there is no past or future: as whatever will be, so whatever has been, is retained by him in present and unvarying contemplation, continuing always to appear just the same as at the first moment of its existence. Well may it then humble us in the sight of that Being “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” to remember, that, unless through true repentance and lively faith we have obtained an interest in the satisfaction of Christ, we appear before him at this moment clothed with the sins of our whole lives, in all their original depth of coloring, and with all the aggravations which we no longer particularly remember; but which, in general, we perhaps may recollect to have once filled us with shame and confusion of face. The writer is the rather desirous of enforcing this reflection, because he can truly declare that he has found no consideration so efficacious in producing in his own mind the deepest self-abasement.

In treating of the sources of the erroneous estimates which we form of our religious and moral character, it may not perhaps be without its uses to take this occasion of pointing out some other common springs of self-deception. Many persons, as was formerly hinted, are misled by the favorable opinions entertained of them by others: many also, it is to be feared, mistake a hot zeal for orthodoxy, for a cordial acceptance of the great truths of the Gospel: and almost all of us, at one time or other, are more or less misled, by confounding the suggestions of the understanding with the impulses of the will, the assent which our judgment gives to religious and moral truths, with a hearty belief and approbation of them.

Outgrowing, or merely changing our vices, mistaken for forsaking of all sin

There is another frequent source of self-deception, which is productive of so much mischief in life, that, though it may appear to lead to some degree of repetition, it would be highly improper to omit the mention of it in this place. That we may be the better understood, it may be proper to premise, that certain particular vices, and likewise certain particular good and amiable qualities, seem naturally to belong to certain particular periods, and conditions of life. Now, if we would reason fairly in estimating our moral character, we ought to examine ourselves with reference to that particular “sin which does most easily beset us,” not to some other sin to which we are not nearly so much liable. In like manner, on the other hand, we ought not to account it matter of much self-complacency, if we find in ourselves that good and amiable quality which naturally belongs to our period or condition; but rather look for some less ambiguous sign of a real internal principle of virtue. But we are very apt to reverse these rules of judging: we are apt, on the one hand, both in ourselves and in others, to excuse “the besetting sin,” and take credit for being exempt from others, to which we are less liable; and, on the other hand, to value ourselves extremely on our possession of the good or amiable quality which naturally belongs to us, and to require no more satisfactory evidence of the sufficiency at least of our moral character. The bad effects of this partiality are aggravated by the practice, to which we are sadly prone, of being contented, when we take a hasty view of ourselves, with negative evidences of our state; thinking it very well if we are not shocked by some great actual transgression, instead of looking for the positive marks of a true Christian, as laid down in the holy Scripture.

But the source of self-deception, which it is more particularly our present object to point out, is, a disposition to consider the relinquishment of any particular vice as an actual victory over the vice itself; when, in fact, we only forsake it on quitting the period or condition of life to which that vice belongs, and probably substitute for it the vice of the new period or condition on which we are entering. We thus mistake our merely outgrowing our vices, or relinquishing them from some change in our worldly circumstances, for a thorough, or at least for a sufficient, reformation.

But this topic deserves to be viewed a little more closely. Young people may, without much offence, be inconsiderate and dissipated; the youth of one sex may indulge occasionally in licentious excesses; those of the other may be supremely given up to vanity and pleasure: yet, provided that they are sweet tempered, and open, and not disobedient to their parents or other superiors, the former are deemed good-hearted young men, the latter innocent young women. Those who love them best have no solicitude about their spiritual interests: and it would be deemed strangely strict in themselves, or in others, to doubt of their becoming more religious as they advance in life; and still more to speak of them as being actually under the divine displeasure; or, if their lives should be in danger, to entertain any apprehensions concerning their future destiny.

They grow older, and marry. The same licentiousness, which was formerly considered in young men as a venial frailty, is now no longer regarded in the husband and the father as compatible with the character of a decently religious man. The language is of this sort; “they have sown their wild oats, they must now reform, and be regular.” Nor perhaps is the same manifest predominance of vanity and dissipation deemed innocent in the matron; but if they are kind respectively in their conjugal and parental relations, and are tolerably regular and decent, they pass for mighty good sort of people: and it would be altogether unnecessary scrupulosity in them to doubt of their coming up to the requisitions of the divine law, as far as in the present state of the world can be expected from human frailty. Their hearts, however, are perhaps no more than before supremely set on the great work of their salvation, but are chiefly bent on increasing their fortunes, or raising their families. Meanwhile they congratulate themselves on their having renounced vices, which they are no longer strongly tempted to commit, and the renunciation of which forms no just criterion of the religious principle, since the commission of them would prejudice their characters, and perhaps injure their prospects in life.

Old age has at length made its advances. Now, if ever, we might expect that it would be deemed high time to make eternal things the main object of attention. No such thing! There is still an appropriate good quality, the presence of which calms the disquietude, and satisfies the requisitions both of themselves and of those around them. It is now required of them that they should be good natured and cheerful, indulgent to the frailties and follies of the young; remembering, that when young themselves, they gave into the same practices. How opposite this to that dread of sin, which is the sure characteristic of the true Christian; which causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow; and which, instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless, as a privilege belonging to their age and circumstances, prompts him to warn them against what had proved to himself matter of such bitter reflection! Thus, throughout the whole of life, some means or other are devised for stifling the voice of conscience. “We cry peace, while there is no peace;” and both to ourselves and others that complacency is furnished, which ought only to proceed from a consciousness of being reconciled to God, and a humble hope of our possessing his favor.

Uncharitableness, and true Charity

I know that these sentiments will be termed uncharitable; but I must not be deterred by such an imputation. It is time to have done with that senseless cant of charity, which insults the understanding, and trifles with the feelings, of those who are really concerned for the happiness of their fellow-creatures. What matter of keen remorse and of bitter self-reproaches are they storing up for their future torment, who are themselves the miserable dupes of such misguided charity, or who, being charged with the office of watching over the eternal interests of their children or relations, suffer themselves to be lulled asleep by such shallow reasonings, or be led into a dereliction of their important duty by a fear of bringing on themselves a momentary pain! Charity, indeed, is partial to the object of her regard; and where actions are of a doubtful quality, this partiality disposes her to refer them to a good, rather than to a bad motive. She is apt also somewhat to exaggerate merits, and to see amiable qualities in a light more favorable than that which strictly belongs to them. But true charity is wakeful, fervent, full of solicitude, full of good offices, not so easily satisfied, not so ready to believe that everything is going on well as a matter of course; but jealous of mischief, apt to suspect danger, and prompt to extend relief. These are the symptoms by which genuine regard will manifest itself in a wife or a mother, in a case of the bodily health of the object of her affections. And where there is any real concern for the spiritual interests of others, it is characterized by the same infallible marks. That wretched quality by which the sacred name of charity is now so generally and so falsely usurped, is no other than indifference; which, against the plainest evidence, or at least where there is strong ground of apprehension, is easily contented to believe that all goes well, because it has no anxieties to allay, no fears to repress. It undergoes no alternation of passions; it is not at one time flushed with hope, nor at another chilled by disappointment.

Women naturally more disposed to Religion than men

To a considerate and feeling mind, there is something deeply afflicting, in seeing the engaging cheerfulness and cloudless gaiety incident to youth, welcomed as a sufficient indication of internal purity by the delighted parents; who, knowing the deceitfulness of these flattering appearances, should eagerly avail themselves of this period, when once wasted never to be regained, of good humored acquiescence and dutiful docility: a period when the soft and ductile temper of the mind renders it more easily susceptible of the impressions we desire; and when, therefore, habits should be formed, which may assist our natural weakness to resist the temptations to which we shall be exposed in the commerce of maturer life. This is more especially affecting in the female sex, because that sex seems, by the very constitution of its nature, to be more favorably disposed than ours to the feelings and offices of Religion; being thus fitted by the bounty of Providence, the better to execute the important task which devolves on it, of the education of our earliest youth. Doubtless, this more favorable disposition to Religion in the female sex was graciously designed also to make women doubly valuable in the wedded state: and it seems to afford to the married man the means of rendering an active share in the business of life more compatible than it would otherwise be, with the liveliest devotional feelings; that when the husband should return to his family, worn and harassed by worldly cares or professional labors, the wife, habitually preserving a warmer and more unimpaired spirit of devotion, than is perhaps consistent with being immersed in the bustle of life, might revive his languid piety; and that the religious impressions of both might derive new force and tenderness from the animating sympathies of conjugal affection. Can a more pleasing image be presented to a considerate mind, than that of a couple, happy in each other and in the pledges of their mutual love, uniting in an act of grateful adoration to the Author of all their mercies; recommending each other, and the objects of their common care, to the divine protection; and repressing the solicitude of conjugal and parental tenderness by a confiding hope, that, through all the changes of this uncertain life, the Disposer of all things will assuredly cause all to work together for the good of them that love and put their trust in him; and that, after this uncertain state shall have passed away, they shall be admitted to a joint participation of never-ending happiness? It is surely no mean or ignoble office which we would allot to the female sex, when we would thus commit to them the charge of maintaining in lively exercise whatever emotions most dignify and adorn human nature; when we would make them as it were the medium of our intercourse with the heavenly world, the faithful repositories of religious principle, for the benefit both of the present and of the rising generation. Must it not then excite our grief and indignation, when we behold mothers, forgetful at once of their own peculiar duties, and of the high office which Providence designed their daughters to fulfil, exciting, instead of moderating in them, the natural sanguineness and inconsiderateness of youth; hurrying them night after night to the resorts of dissipation; thus teaching them to despise the common comforts of the family circle; and, instead of striving to raise their views, and to direct their affections to their true object, acting as if with the express design studiously to extinguish every spark of a devotional spirit, and to kindle in its stead an excessive love of pleasure, and, perhaps, a principle of extravagant vanity, and ardent emulation?

Innocent young people—term much abused

Innocent young women! Good-hearted young men! Wherein does this goodness of heart and this innocence appear? Remember, that we are fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart, but in the remission of sin, and in the effects of the operation of divine grace. Do we find in these young persons the characters, which the holy Scriptures lay down as the only satisfactory evidences of a safe state? Do we not, on the other hand, discover the specified marks of a state of alienation from God? Can the blindest partiality persuade itself that they are loving, or striving “to love God with all their hearts, and minds, and souls, and strength?” Are they “seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness?” Are they “working out their salvation with fear and trembling?” Are they “clothed with humility?” Are they not, on the contrary, supremely given up to self-indulgence? Are they not at least “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God?” Are the offices of Religion their solace, or their task? Do they not come to these sacred services with reluctance, continue in them by constraint, and quit them with gladness? And to how many of these persons may not the prophet’s language be applied; “the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands?” Are not the youth of one sex often actually committing, and still more often wishing for the opportunity to commit, those sins, of which the Scripture says expressly, “that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” Are not the youth of the other sex principally intent on the gratification of vanity; and looking for their chief happiness to the resorts of gaiety and fashion, and to all the multiplied pleasures, which public places, or the still higher gratifications of more refined circles, can supply?

And then, when the first ebullitions of youthful warmth are over, what is their boasted reformation? They may be decent, sober, useful, respectable, as members of the community, or amiable in the relations of domestic life. But is this the change of which the Scripture speaks? Hear the expressions which it uses, and judge for yourselves—“Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—“The old man—is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” an expression but too descriptive of the vain delirium of youthful dissipation, and of the false dreams of pleasure which it inspires; but “the new man” is awakened from this fallacious estimate of happiness; “he is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”—“He is created after God in righteousness and true holiness.” The persons of whom we are speaking are no longer indeed so thoughtless, and wild, and dissipated, as formerly; so negligent in their attention to objects of real value; so eager in the pursuit of pleasure; so prone to yield to the impulse of appetite. But this is no more than the change of which a writer of no very strict cast speaks, as naturally belonging to their riper age;

Conversis studiis, ætas, animusque virilis

Quærit opes, & amicitias: inservit honori:

Commisisse cavet, quod mox mutare laboret.

Hor.

This is a point of infinite importance: let it not be thought tedious to spend even yet a few more moments in the discussion of it. Put the question to another issue, and try it upon this principle, that life is a state of probation; (a principle true indeed in a certain sense, though not exactly in that which is sometimes assigned to it;) and you will still be led to no very different conclusion. Probation implies resisting, in obedience to the dictates of Religion, appetites which we are naturally prompted to gratify. Young people are not tempted to be churlish, interested, covetous; but to be inconsiderate and dissipated, “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” People again in middle age are not so strongly tempted to be thoughtless, and idle, and licentious. From excesses of this sort they are sufficiently withheld, particularly when happily settled in domestic life, by a regard to their characters, by the restraints of family connections, and by a sense of what is due to the decencies of the married State. Their probation is of another sort; they are tempted to be supremely engrossed by worldly cares, by family interests, by professional objects, by the pursuit of wealth or of ambition. Thus occupied, they are tempted to “mind earthly rather than heavenly things;” to forget “the one thing needful;” to “set their affections” on temporal rather than on eternal concerns; and to take up with “a form of godliness,” instead of seeking to experience the power thereof: the foundations of this nominal Religion being laid in the forgetfulness, if not in the ignorance, of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. These are the ready-made Christians formerly spoken of, who consider Christianity as a geographical term, properly applicable to all those who have been born and educated in a country wherein Christianity is professed; not as indicating a renewed nature, or as expressive of a peculiar character, with its appropriate desires and aversions, and hopes, and fears, and joys, and sorrows. To people of this description, the solemn admonition of Christ is addressed; “I know thy works; that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”

Hints to such as, having been hitherto careless, wish to become true Christians

If there be any one who is inclined to listen to this solemn warning, who is awakened from his dream of false security, and is disposed to be not only almost but altogether a Christian—O! let him not stifle or dissipate these beginnings of seriousness, but sedulously cherish them as the “workings of the Divine Spirit,” which would draw him from the “broad” and crowded “road of destruction, into the narrow” and thinly peopled path “that leadeth to life.” Let him retire from the multitude—Let him enter into his closet, and on his bended knees implore, for Christ’s sake and in reliance on his mediation, that God would. “take away from him the heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh;” that the Father of light would open his eyes to his true condition, and clear his heart from the clouds of prejudice, and dissipate the deceitful medium of self-love. Then let him carefully examine his past life, and his present course of conduct; comparing himself with God’s word; and considering how any one might reasonably have been expected to conduct himself, to whom the Holy Scriptures had been always open, and who had been used to acknowledge them to be the revelation of the will of his Creator, and Governor, and Supreme Benefactor: let him there peruse the awful denunciations against impenitent sinners: let him labor to become more and more deeply impressed with a sense of his own radical blindness and corruption: above all, let him steadily contemplate, in all its relations, that stupendous truth, the incarnation and crucifixion of the only-begotten Son of God, and the message of mercy proclaimed from the cross to repenting sinners,—“Be ye reconciled unto God.”—“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

When he fairly estimates the guilt of sin by the costly satisfaction which was required to atone for it, and the worth of his soul by the price which was paid for its redemption, and contrasts both of these with his own sottish inconsiderateness; when he reflects on the amazing love and pity of Christ, and on the cold and formal acknowledgements with which he has hitherto returned this infinite obligation, making light of the precious blood of the Son of God, and trifling with the gracious invitations of his Redeemer; surely, if he be not lost to sensibility, there will rise within him mixed emotions of guilt, and fear, and shame, and remorse, and sorrow, which will nearly overwhelm his soul; and he will smite upon his breast, and cry out in the language of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But, blessed be God, such an one needs not despair—it is to persons in this very situation, and with these very feelings, that the offers of the Gospel are held forth, and its promises assured; “to the weary and heavy laden” under the burthen of their sins; to them who thirst for the water of life; to them who feel themselves “tied and bound by the chain of their sins;” who abhor their captivity, and long earnestly for deliverance. Happy, happy souls! whom the grace of God has visited, “has brought out of darkness into his marvelous light,” and “from the power of Satan unto God.” Cast yourselves then on his undeserved mercy: he is full of love, and will not spurn you from his footstool: surrender yourselves into his hands; and solemnly resolve, through his Grace, to dedicate henceforth all your faculties and powers to his service.

It is your’s now “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” relying on the fidelity of him who has promised to “work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Ever look to him for help; your only safety consists in a deep and permanent sense of your own weakness, and in a firm reliance on his strength. If you “give all diligence,” his power is armed for your protection, his truth is pledged for your security. You are enlisted under the banners of Christ—Fear not, though the world, and the flesh, and the devil, are set in array against you.—“Faithful is he that hath promised;”—“be ye also faithful unto death, and he “will give you a crown of life.”—“He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” In such a world as this, in such a state of society as ours, especially if in the higher walks of life, you must be prepared to meet with many difficulties:—arm yourselves, therefore, in the first place, with a determined resolution not to rate human estimation beyond its true value; not to dread the charge of particularity, when it shall be necessary to incur it; but let it be your constant endeavor to retain before your mental eye, that bright assemblage of invisible spectators, who are the witnesses of your daily conduct, and “to seek that honor which cometh from God.” You cannot advance a single step, till you are in some good measure possessed of this comparative indifference to the favor of men. We have before explained ourselves too clearly to render it necessary to declare, that no one should needlessly affect singularity: but to aim at objects that are incompatible with each other, or, in other words, to seek to please God and the world, where their commands are really at variance, is the way to be neither respectable, nor good, nor happy. Continue to be ever aware of your own radical corruption and habitual weakness. Indeed, if your eyes be really opened, and your heart truly softened; if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” rising in your ideas of true holiness, and proving the genuineness of your hope by desiring “to purify yourself even as God is pure;” you will become daily more and more sensible of your own defects, and wants, and weaknesses; and more and more impressed by a sense of the mercy and long-suffering of that gracious Savior, “who forgiveth all your sins, and healeth all your infirmities.”

Humility enforced

This is the solution of what, to a man of the world, might seem a strange paradox; that in proportion as the Christian grows in grace, he grows also in humility. Humility is indeed the vital principle of Christianity; that principle by which from first to last she lives and thrives; and in proportion to the growth or decline of which, she must decay or flourish. This first disposes the sinner in deep self-abasement to accept the offers of the Gospel: this, during his whole progress, is the very ground and basis of his feelings and conduct, in relation to God, his fellow-creatures, and himself: and, when at length he shall be translated into the realms of glory, this principle shall still subsist in undiminished force: He shall “fall down, and cast his crown before the Lamb; and ascribe blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.” The practical benefits of this habitual lowliness of spirit are too numerous, and at the same time too obvious, to require enumeration. It will lead you to dread the beginnings, and fly from the occasions, of sin; as that man would shun some infectious distemper, who should know that he was predisposed to take the contagion. It will prevent a thousand difficulties, and decide a thousand questions concerning worldly compliances; by which those persons are apt to be embarrassed, who are not duly sensible of their own exceeding frailty, whose views of the Christian character are not sufficiently elevated, and who are not enough possessed with a continual fear of “grieving the Holy Spirit of God,” and of thus provoking him to withdraw his gracious influence. But if you are really such as we have been describing, you need not be urged to set the standard of practice high, and to strive after universal holiness. It is the desire of your hearts to act in all things with a single eye to the favor of God; and thus the most ordinary actions of life will be raised into offices of Religion. This is the purifying, the transmuting principle, which realizes the fabled touch, which changes all to gold. But to this desire of pleasing God, it is essential that we should be continually solicitous to discover the path of duty; that we should not indolently wait for such occasions of glorifying God, as are forced upon us, but pray earnestly to God for a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that we may be acute in discerning opportunities of serving him, judicious in selecting, and wise in improving them. It is essential also that you guard against the distraction of worldly cares; and cultivate heavenly-mindedness, and a spirit of continual prayer; and that you watch incessantly over the workings of your own deceitful heart. To this I must add, that you must be active also, and useful. Let not your precious time be wasted “in shapeless idleness;” an admonition which, in our days, is rendered but too necessary by the relaxed habits of persons even of real piety: but wisely husband and improve this fleeting treasure. Never be satisfied with your present attainments; but, “forgetting the things which are behind,” labor still to “press forward” with undiminished energy, and to run the race that is set before you without weariness or intermission.

Love enforced

Above all, measure your progress by your improvement in love to God and man. “God is Love.” This is the sacred principle, which forced, warms and enlightens the heavenly world, that blessed seat of God’s visible presence. There it shines with unclouded radiance. Some scattered beams of it are graciously transmitted to us on earth, or we had been benighted and lost in darkness and misery; but a larger portion of it is infused into the hearts of the servants of God, who thus “are renewed in the divine likeness,” and even here exhibit some faint traces of the image of their heavenly Father. It is the principle of love which disposes them to yield themselves up without reserve to the service of him, “who bought them with the price of his own blood.”

Base nature of the religion of the bulk of nominal Christians

Servile, and base, and mercenary, is the notion of Christian practice among the bulk of nominal Christians. They give no more than they dare not withhold; they abstain from nothing but what they must not practice. When you state to them the doubtful quality of any action, and the consequent obligation to desist from it, they reply to you in the very spirit of Shylock, “they cannot find it in the bond.” In short, they know Christianity only as a system of restraints. She is despoiled of every liberal and generous principle: she is rendered almost unfit for the social intercourses of life, and is only suited to the gloomy walls of a cloister, in which they would confine her. But true Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude. Theirs accordingly is not the stinted return of a constrained obedience, but the large and liberal measure of a voluntary service. This principle, therefore, prevents a thousand practical embarrassments, by which they are continually harassed, who act from a less generous motive; and who require it to be clearly ascertained to them, that any gratification or worldly compliance, which may be in question, is beyond the allowed boundary line of Christian practice.* This principle regulates the true Christian’s choice of companions and friends, where he is at liberty to make an option; this fills him with the desire of promoting the temporal welfare of all around him, and still more with pity and love, and anxious solicitude for their spiritual happiness. Indifference indeed in this respect is one of the surest signs of a low or declining state in Religion. This animating principle it is, which in the true Christian’s happier hour inspirits his devotions, and causes him to delight in the worship of God; which fills him with consolation, and peace, and gladness, and sometimes even enables him “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

But this world is not his resting place: here, to the very last, he must be a pilgrim and a stranger; a soldier, whose warfare ends only with life, ever struggling and combating with the powers of darkness, and with the temptations of the world around him, and the still more dangerous hostilities of internal depravity. The perpetual vicissitudes of this uncertain state, the peculiar trials and difficulties with which the life of a Christian is checkered, and still more, the painful and humiliating remembrance of his own infirmities, teach him to look forward, almost with outstretched neck, to that promised day, when he shall be completely delivered from the bondage of corruption, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. In the anticipation of that blessed period, and comparing this churlish and turbulent world, (where competition, and envy, and anger, and revenge, so vex and agitate the sons of men,) with that blissful region where Love shall reign without disturbance, and where all, knit together in bonds of indissoluble friendship, shall unite in one harmonious song of praise to the Author of their common happiness; the true Christian triumphs over the fear of death; he longs to realize these cheering images, and to obtain admission into that blessed company.—With far more justice than it was originally used, he may adopt the beautiful exclamation—“O præclarum illum diem, cum ad illud divinum animorum concilium cœtumque proficiscar, atque ex hac turba et colluvione discedam!”

Falsehood of the objection, that we make Religion a gloomy service

What has been now remarked, concerning the habitual feelings of the real believer, may suggest a reply to an objection common in the mouths of nominal Christians, that we would deny men the innocent amusements and gratifications of life; thus causing our Religion to wear a gloomy, forbidding aspect, instead of her true and natural face of cheerfulness and joy. This is a charge of so serious a nature, that although it lead into a digression, it may not be improper to take some notice of it.

In the first place, Religion prohibits no amusement or gratification which is really innocent. The question, however, of its innocence, must not be tried by the loose maxims of worldly morality, but by the spirit of the injunctions of the word of God; and by the indulgence being conformable or not conformable to the genius of Christianity, and to the tempers and dispositions of mind enjoined on it professors. There can be no dispute concerning the true end of recreations. They are intended to refresh our exhausted bodily or mental powers, and to restore us, with renewed vigor, to the more serious occupations of life. Whatever therefore fatigues either body or mind, instead of refreshing them, is not fitted to answer the designed purpose. Whatever consumes more time, or money, or thought, than it is expedient (I might say necessary) to allot to mere amusement, can hardly be approved by any one, who considers these talents as precious deposits, for the expenditure of which he will have to give account. Whatever directly or indirectly must be likely to injure the welfare of a fellow-creature, can scarcely be a suitable recreation for a Christian, who is “to love his neighbor as himself;” or a very consistent diversion for any one, the business of whose life is to diffuse happiness.

But does a Christian never relax? Let us not so wrong and vilify the bounty of Providence, as to allow for a moment that the sources of innocent amusement are so rare, that men must be driven, almost by constraint, to such as are of a doubtful quality. On the contrary, such has been the Creator’s goodness, that almost every one of our physical and intellectual, and moral faculties (and the same may be said of the whole creation which we see around us) is not only calculated to answer the proper end of its being, by its subserviency to some purpose of solid usefulness, but to be the instrument of administering pleasure.

… Not content

With every food of life to nourish man,

Thou mak’st all nature beauty to his eye

And music to his ear.…

Our Maker also, in his kindness, has so constructed us, that even mere vicissitude is grateful and refreshing—a consideration which should prompt us often to seek, from a prudent variation of useful pursuits, that recreation, for which we are apt to resort to what is altogether unproductive and unfruitful.

Yet rich and multiplied are the springs of innocent relaxation. The Christian relaxes in the temperate use of all the gifts of Providence. Imagination, and taste, and genius, and the beauties of creation, and the works of art, lie open to him. He relaxes in the feast of reason, in the intercourses of society, in the sweets of friendship, in the endearments of love, in the exercise of hope, of confidence, of joy, of gratitude, of universal good-will, of all the benevolent and generous affections; which, by the gracious appointment of our Creator, while they disinterestedly intend only happiness to others, are most surely productive of peace and joy to ourselves. O! little do they know of the true measure of man’s enjoyment, who can compare these delightful complacencies with the frivolous pleasures of dissipation, or the coarse gratifications of sensuality. It is no wonder, however, that the nominal Christian should reluctantly give up, one by one, the pleasures of the world; and look back upon them, when relinquished, with eyes of wistfulness and regret: because he knows not the sweetness of the delights with which true Christianity repays those trifling sacrifices; and is wholly unacquainted with the nature of that pleasantness which is to be found in the ways of Religion.

It is indeed true, that when any one, who has long been going on in the gross and unrestrained practice of vice, is checked in his career, and enters at first on a religious course, he has much to undergo. Fear, guilt, remorse, shame, and various other passions, struggle and conflict within him. His appetites are clamorous for their accustomed gratification; and inveterate habits are scarcely to be denied. He is weighed down by a load of guilt, and almost overwhelmed by the sense of his unworthiness. But all this ought in fairness to be charged to the account of his past sins, and not to that of his present repentance. It rarely happens, however, that this state of suffering continues very long. When the mental gloom is the blackest, a ray of heavenly light occasionally breaks in, and suggests the hope of better days. Even in this life it is found an universal truth, that “They that sow in tears,” provided they be really tears of penitence and contrition, “shall reap in joy.” “The broken and contrite heart God never did, nor ever will, despise.”

Neither, when we maintain, that the ways of Religion are ways of pleasantness, do we mean to deny that the Christian’s internal state is, through the whole of his life, a state of discipline and warfare. Several of the causes which contribute to render it such, have been already pointed out, together with the workings of his mind in relation to them: but if he has solicitudes and griefs peculiar to himself, he has “joys also with which a stranger intermeddles not.”

“Drink deep,” however, “or taste not,” is a direction full as applicable to Religion, if we would find it a source of pleasure, as it is to knowledge. A little Religion is,” it must be confessed, apt to make men gloomy, as a little knowledge is to render them vain: hence the unjust imputation often brought upon Religion by those, whose degree of Religion is just sufficient, by condemning their course of conduct, to render them uneasy; enough merely to impair the sweetness of the pleasures of sin, and not enough to compensate for the relinquishment of them by its own peculiar comforts. Thus these men bring up, as it were, an ill report of that land of promise, which, in truth, abounds with whatever in our journey through life, can best refresh and strengthen us.

We have enumerated some sources of pleasure which men of the world may understand, and must acknowledge to belong to the true Christian; but there are others, and those of a still higher class, to which they must confess themselves strangers. To say nothing of a qualified, I dare not say an entire, exemption from those distracting passions and corroding cares, by which they must naturally be harassed, whose treasure is within the reach of mortal accidents; the Christian has a humble quiet-giving hope of being reconciled to God, and of enjoying his favor; he has a solid peace of mind, (which the world can neither give nor take away,) resulting from a firm confidence in the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, and in the unceasing care and kindness of a gracious Savior; and he has persuasion of the truth of the divine assurance, that all things shall work together for his good.

When the pulse indeed beats high, and we are flushed with youth, and health, and vigor; when all goes on prosperously, and success seems almost to anticipate our wishes; then we feel not the want of the consolations of Religion: but when fortune frowns, or friends forsake us; when sorrow, or sickness, or old age, comes upon us, then it is, that the superiority of the pleasures of Religion is established over those of dissipation and vanity, which are ever apt to fly from us when we are most in want of their aid. There is scarcely a more melancholy sight to a considerate mind, than that of an old man, who is a stranger to those only true sources of satisfaction. How affecting, and at the same time how disgusting, is it, to see such an one awkwardly catching at the pleasures of his younger years, which are now beyond his reach; or feebly attempting to retain them, while they mock his endeavors and elude his grasp! To such an one, gloomily indeed does the evening of life set in! All is sour and cheerless. He can neither look backward with complacency, nor forward with hope: while the aged Christian, relying on the assured mercy of his Redeemer, can calmly reflect, that his dismission is at hand, and that his redemption draweth nigh: while his strength declines, and his faculties decay, he can quietly repose himself on the fidelity of God: and at the very entrance of the valley of the shadow of death, he can lift up an eye, dim perhaps, and feeble, yet occasionally sparkling with hope, and confidently looking forward to the near possession of his heavenly inheritance, even “to those joys which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”

Never were there times which inculcated more forcibly, than those in which we live, the wisdom of seeking a happiness beyond the reach of human vicissitudes. What striking lessons have we had of the precarious tenure of all sublunary possessions! Wealth, and power, and prosperity, how peculiarly transitory and uncertain! But Religion dispenses her choicest cordials in the seasons of exigence, in poverty, in exile, in sickness, and in death. The essential superiority of that support which is derived from Religion is less felt, at least it is less apparent, when the Christian is in full possession of riches, and splendour, and rank, and all the gifts of nature and fortune. But when all these are swept away by the rude hand of time, or the rough blast of adversity, the true Christian stands, like the glory of the forest, erect and vigorous; stripped indeed of his summer foliage, but more than ever discovering to the observing eye the solid strength of his substantial texture;

Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aëra ramos

Attollens, trunco non frondibus efficit umbram.

sect. ii

Advice to some who profess their full Assent to the fundamental Doctrines of the Gospel

IN a former chapter, we largely insisted on what may be termed the fundamental practical error of the bulk of professed Christians in our days; their either overlooking or misconceiving the peculiar method, which the Gospel has provided for the renovation of our corrupted nature, and for the attainment of every Christian grace.

But there are mistakes on the right hand and on the left; and our general proneness, when we are flying from one extreme to run into an opposite error, renders it necessary to superadd another admonition. The generally prevailing error of the present day, indeed, is that fundamental one which has been already pointed out. But while we attend, in the first place, to that, and, on the warrant both of Scripture and experience, prescribe hearty repentance and lively faith, as the only foundation of all true holiness; we must at the same time guard against a practical mistake of another kind. They who, with penitent hearts, have humbled themselves before the cross of Christ; and who, pleading his merits as their only ground of pardon and acceptance with God, have resolved henceforth, through the help of his Spirit, to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, are sometimes apt to conduct themselves as if they considered their work as now done; or at least, as if this were the whole they had to do, as often as, by falling afresh into sin, another act of repentance and faith may seem to have become necessary. There are not a few in our relaxed age, who thus satisfy themselves with what may be termed general Christianity; who feel general penitence and humiliation from a sense of their sinfulness in general, and general desires of universal holiness; but who neglect that vigilant and jealous care, with which they should labor to extirpate every particular corruption, by studying its nature, its root, its ramifications, and thus becoming acquainted with its secret movements, with the means whereby it gains strength, and with the most effectual methods of resisting it. In like manner, they are far from striving with persevering alacrity, for the acquisition and improvement of every Christian grace. Nor is it unusual for ministers, who preach the truths of the Gospel with fidelity, ability, and success, to be themselves also liable to the charge of dwelling altogether in their instructions on this general Religion: instead of tracing and laying open all the secret motions of inward corruption, and instructing their hearers how best to conduct themselves in every distinct part of the Christian warfare; how best to strive against each particular vice, and to cultivate each grace of the Christian character. Hence it is, that in too many persons, concerning the sincerity of whose general professions of Religion we should be sorry to entertain a doubt, we yet see little progress made in the regulation of their tempers, in the improvement of their time, in the reform of their plan of life, or in ability to resist the temptation to which they are particularly exposed. They will confess themselves, in general terms, to be “miserable sinners:” this is a tenet of their creed, and they feel even proud ill avowing it. They will occasionally also lament particular failings: but this confession is sometimes obviously made, in order to draw forth a compliment for the very opposite virtue: and where this is not the case, it is often not difficult to detect, under this false guise of contrition, a secret self-complacency, arising from the manifestations which they have afforded of their acuteness or candor in discovering the infirmity in question, or of their frankness or humility in acknowledging it. This will scarcely seem an illiberal suspicion to anyone, who either watches the workings of his own heart, or who observes that the faults confessed in these instances are very seldom those, with which the person is most clearly and strongly chargeable.

We must plainly warn these men, and the consideration is seriously pressed on their instructors also, that they are in danger of deceiving themselves. Let them beware lest they be nominal Christians of another sort. These persons require to be reminded, that there is no short compendious method of holiness; but that it must be the business of their whole lives to grow in grace, and, continually adding one virtue to another, as far as possible, “to go on towards perfection.” “He only that doeth righteousness is righteous.” Unless “they bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,” they can have no sufficient evidence that they have received that “Spirit of Christ,” “without which they are none of his.” But where, on the whole, our unwillingness to pass an unfavorable judgment may lead us to indulge a hope, that “the root of the matter is found in them;” yet we must at least declare to them, that instead of adorning the doctrine of Christ, they disparage and discredit it. The world sees not their secret humiliation, nor the exercises of their closets; but it is acute in discerning practical weaknesses; and if it observe that they have the same eagerness in the pursuit of wealth or ambition, the same vain taste for ostentation and display, the same ungoverned tempers, which are found in the generality of mankind; it will treat with contempt their pretenses to superior sanctity and indifference to worldly things, and will be hardened in its prejudices against the only mode, which God has provided for Our escaping the wrath to come, and obtaining eternal happiness.

Let him, then, who would be indeed a Christian, watch over his ways and over his heart with unceasing circumspection. Let him endeavor to learn, both from men and books, particularly from the lives of eminent Christians, (a) what methods have been actually found most effectual for the conquest of every particular vice, and for improvement in every branch of holiness. Thus whilst he studies his own character, and observes the most secret workings of his own mind, and of our common nature; the knowledge which he will acquire of the human heart in general, and especially of his own, will be of the highest utility, in enabling him to avoid or to guard against the occasions of evil: and it will also tend, above all things, to the growth of humility, and to the maintenance of that sobriety of spirit and tenderness of conscience, which are eminently characteristic of the true Christian. It is by this unceasing diligence, as the Apostle declares, that the servants of Christ must make their calling sure: and it is by this only that their labor will ultimately succeed: for “so an entrance shall be ministered unto them abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

sect. iii

Brief Observations addressed to Sceptics and Unitarians

THERE is another class of men, an increasing class, it is to be feared, in this country, that of absolute unbelievers, with which this little Work has properly no concern: but may the writer, sincerely pitying their melancholy state, be permitted to ask them one plain question? If Christianity be not in their estimation true, yet is there not at least a presumption in its favor, sufficient to entitle it to a serious examination; from its having been embraced, (and that not blindly and implicitly, but upon full inquiry and deep consideration,) by Bacon, and Milton, and Locke, and Newton, and much the greater part of those, who, by the reach of their understandings, or the extent of their knowledge, and by the freedom too of their minds, and their daring to combat existing prejudices, have called forth the respect and admiration of mankind? It might be deemed scarcely fair to insist on Churchmen, though some of them are among the greatest names this country has ever known. Can the sceptic in general say with truth, that he has either prosecuted an examination into the evidences of Revelation at all, or at least with a seriousness and diligence in any degree proportioned to the importance of the subject? The fact is, and it is a fact which redounds to the honor of Christianity, that infidelity is not the result of sober inquiry and deliberate preference. It is rather the slow production of a careless and irreligious life, operating together with prejudices and erroneous conceptions concerning the nature of the leading doctrines and fundamental tenets of Christianity.

Progress of Infidelity

Take the case of young men of condition, bred up by what we have termed nominal Christians. When children, they are carried to church, and thence they become acquainted with such parts of Scripture as are contained in our Public Service. If their parents preserve still more of the customs of better times, they are taught their catechism, and furnished with a little farther religious knowledge. After a while, they go from under the eyes of their parents; they enter into the world, and move forward in the path of life, whatever it may be, which has been assigned to them. They yield to the temptations which assail them, and become, more or less, dissipated and licentious. At least they neglect to look into their Bible; they do not enlarge the sphere of their religious acquisitions; they do not even endeavor, by reflection and study, to mature their knowledge, or to turn into rational conviction the opinions, which in their childhood they had taken upon trust.

They travel perhaps into foreign countries; a proceeding which naturally tends to weaken their nursery prejudice in favor of the Religion in which they were bred, and, by removing them from all means of public worship, to relax their practical habits of Religion. They return home, and commonly are either hurried round in the vortex of dissipation, or engage with the ardor of youthful minds in some public or professional pursuit. If they read or hear anything about Christianity, it is commonly only about those tenets which are subjects of controversy; and what reaches their ears from their occasional attendance at church, though it may sometimes impress them with an idea of the purity of Christian morality, contains much, which, coming thus detached, perplexes and offends them, and suggests various doubts and startling objections, which a farther acquaintance with the Scripture would remove. Thus knowing Christianity chiefly by the difficulties it contains; and sometimes tempted by the ambition of showing themselves superior to vulgar prejudice, or prompted by the natural pride of the human heart, to cast off their subjection to dogmas imposed on them; disgusted too, perhaps, by the immoral lives of some professed Christians, by the weaknesses and absurdities of others, and by what they observe to be the implicit belief of numbers, whom they see and know to be equally ignorant with themselves; they are filled with doubts and suspicions, which, to a greater or less extent, spring up within them. These doubts enter into the mind at first almost imperceptibly: they exist only as vague, indistinct surmises, and by no means take the precise shape or substance of a formed opinion. At first, probably, they even offend and startle by their intrusion: but by degrees the unpleasant sensations which they once excited, wear off; and the mind grows more familiar with them. A confused sense (for such it is, rather than a formed idea) of its being desirable that their doubts should prove well founded, and of the comfort and enlargement which would be afforded by that proof, lends them much secret aid. The impression becomes deeper; not in consequence of being reinforced by fresh arguments, but merely by dint of having longer rested in the mind; and as they increase in force, they creep on and extend themselves. At length they diffuse themselves over the whole of Religion, and possess the mind in undisturbed occupancy.

It is by no means meant that this is universally the process. But, speaking generally, this might be termed, perhaps not unjustly, the natural history of skepticism. It approves itself to the experience of those who have with any care watched the progress of infidelity in persons around them; and it is confirmed by the written lives of some of the most eminent unbelievers. It is curious to read their own accounts of themselves, the rather as they accord so exactly with the result of our own observation.—We find that they once perhaps gave a sort of implicit hereditary assent to the truth of Christianity, and were what, by a mischievous perversion of language, the world denominates believers. How were they then awakened from their sleep of ignorance? At what moment did the light of truth beam in upon them, and dissipate the darkness in which they had been involved? The period of their infidelity is marked by no such determinate boundary. Reason, and thought, and inquiry, had little or nothing to do with it. Having for many years lived careless and irreligious lives, and associated with companions equally careless and irreligious; not by force of study and reflection, but rather by the lapse of time, they at length attained to their infidel maturity. It is worthy of remark, that where any are reclaimed from infidelity, it is generally by a process much more rational than that which has been here described. Something awakens them to reflection. They examine, they consider, and at length yield their assent to Christianity on what they deem sufficient grounds.

From the account here given, it appears plainly that infidelity is generally the offspring of prejudice, and that its success is chiefly to be ascribed to the depravity of the moral character. This fact is confirmed by the undeniable truth, that in societies, which consist of individuals, infidelity is the natural fruit, not so much of a studious and disputatious, as of a dissipated and vicious age. It diffuses itself in proportion as the general morals decline; and it is embraced with less apprehension, when every infidel is kept in spirits, by seeing many around him who are sharing fortunes with himself.

To any fair mind this consideration alone might be offered, as suggesting a strong argument against infidelity, and in favor of Revelation. And the friends of Christianity might justly retort the charge, which their opponents often urge with no little affectation of superior wisdom; that we implicitly surrender ourselves to the influence of prejudice, instead of examining dispassionately the ground of our faith, and yielding our assent only according to the degree of evidence.

In our own days, when it is but too clear that infidelity increases, it is not in consequence of the reasonings of the infidel writers having been much studied, but from the progress of luxury, and the decay of morals: and, so far as this increase may be traced at all to the works of skeptical writers, it has been produced, not by argument and discussion, but by sarcasms and points of wit, which have operated on weak minds, or on nominal Christians, by bringing gradually into contempt opinions, which, in their case, had only rested on the basis of blind respect and the prejudices of education. It may therefore be laid down as an axiom, that infidelity is in general a disease of the heart more than of the understanding. If Revelation were assailed only by reason and argument, it would have little to fear. The literary opposers of Christianity, from Herbert to Hume, have been seldom read. They made some stir in their day: during their span of existence they were noisy and noxious; but, like the locusts of the east, which for a while obscure the air, and destroy the verdure, they were soon swept away and forgotten. Their very names would be scarcely found, if Leland had not preserved them from oblivion.

Unitarians

The account which has been given of the secret but grand source of infidelity, may perhaps justly be extended to those also who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel.

In the course which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity, Unitarianism (a) is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person indeed finally stops, but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while, and then pursues his progress.

The Unitarian teachers by no means profess to absolve their followers from the unbending strictness of Christian morality. They prescribe the predominant love of God, and an habitual spirit of devotion: but it is an unquestionable fact, a fact which they themselves almost admit, that this class of Religionists is not in general distinguished for superior purity of life; and still less for that spirituality of mind, which the word of God prescribes to us as one of the surest tests of our experiencing the vital power of Christianity. On the contrary, in point of fact, Unitarianism seems to be resorted to, not merely by those who are disgusted with the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, but by those also who are seeking a refuge from the strictness of her practical precepts; and who, more particularly, would escape from the obligation which she imposes on her adherents, rather to incur the, dreaded charge of singularity, than fall in with the declining manners of a dissipated age.

Advantage possessed by Deists and Unitarians, in contending with their Opponents

Unitarianism, where it may be supposed to proceed from the understanding rather than from the heart, is not unfrequently produced by a confused idea of the difficulties, or, as they are termed, the impossibilities, which orthodox Christianity is supposed to involve. It is not our intention to enter into the controversy: (a) but it may not be improper to make one remark, as a guard to persons in whose way the arguments of the Unitarians may be likely to fall; namely, that one great advantage possessed by Deists, and perhaps in a still greater degree by Unitarians, in their warfare with the Christian system, results from the very circumstance of their being the assailants. They urge what they state to be powerful arguments against the truth of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and then call upon men to abandon them, as posts no longer tenable. But they, who are disposed to yield to this assault, should call to mind, that it has pleased God so to establish the constitution of all things, that perplexing difficulties and plausible objections may be adduced against the most established truths; such, for instance, as the being of a God, and many others both physical and moral. In all cases therefore it becomes us, not on a partial view to reject any proposition, because it is attended with difficulties; but to compare the difficulties which it involves, with those which attend the alternative proposition which must be embraced on its rejection. We should put to the proof the alternative proposition in its turn, and see whether it be not still less tenable than that which we are summoned to abandon. In short, we should examine circumspectly on all sides; and abide by that opinion which, on carefully balancing all considerations, appears fairly entitled to our preference. Experience, however, will have convinced the attentive observer of those around him, that it has been for want of adverting to this just and obvious principle, that the Unitarians in particular have gained most of their proselytes from the Church, so far as argument has contributed to their success. If the Unitarians, or even the Deists, were considered in their turn as masters of the field, and were in their turn attacked, both by arguments tending to disprove their system directly, and to disprove it indirectly (by showing the high probability of the truth of Christianity, and of its leading and peculiar doctrines,) it is most likely that they would soon be found wholly unable to keep their ground. In short, reasoning fairly, there is no medium between absolute Pyrrhonism and true Christianity: and if we reject the latter on account of its difficulties, we shall be still more loudly called upon to reject every other system which has been offered to the acceptance of mankind. This consideration might perhaps with advantage be more attended to than it has been, by those who take upon them to vindicate the truth of our holy Religion: as many, who from inconsideration, or any other cause, are disposed to give up the great fundamentals of Christianity, would be startled by the idea, that, on the same principle on which they did this, they must give up the hope of finding any rest for the sole of their foot on any ground of Religion, and not stop short of unqualified Atheism.

Half-Unbelievers

Besides the class of those who professedly reject Revelation, there is another, and that also, it is to be feared, an increasing one, which may be called the class of Half-Unbelievers, who are to be found in various degrees of approximation to a state of absolute infidelity. The system (if it deserve the name,) of these men is grossly irrational. Hearing many who assert, and many who deny, the truth of Christianity, and not reflecting seriously enough to consider that it must be either true or false, they take up a strange sort of middle opinion of its qualified truth. They conceive that there must be something in it, though by no means to the extent to which it is pushed by orthodox Christians. They grant the reality of future punishment, and even that they themselves, if grossly immoral, cannot altogether expect to escape it: yet, “they trust it will not go so hard with them as the churchmen state:” and, though disbelieving almost every material doctrine which Christianity contains, they by no means conceive themselves to be inlisted under the banners of infidelity, or to have much cause for apprehension respecting the final issue of their doubts.

But let these men be reminded, that there is no middle way. If they can be prevailed on to look into their Bible, and do not make up their minds absolutely to reject its authority, they must admit, that there is no ground whatever for this vain hope, which they suffer themselves to indulge, of escaping but with a slight measure of punishment. Nor let them think their guilt inconsiderable. Is it not grossly criminal to trifle with the long-suffering of God, to despise alike his invitations and his threatenings, and the offer of his Spirit, and the precious blood of the Redeemer? Sure we are that this is the Scripture estimate of their conduct: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment,” than for them, who voluntarily shut their eyes against that full light, which the bounty of Heaven has poured out upon them. These half-unbelievers are even more reprehensible than downright sceptics, for remaining in this state of careless uncertainty, without endeavoring to ascertain the truth or falsehood of Revelation. The probability which they admit, that it may be true, imposes on them an additional and an undeniable obligation to inquiry. But both to them and to decided sceptics it must be plainly declared, that they are in these days less excusable than ever, for not looking into the grounds and proofs on which the truth of Christianity is established: for never before were these proofs so plainly, and at so easy a rate, offered to the consideration of mankind. Through the bounty of Providence, the widely spreading poison of infidelity has in our days been opposed by more numerous and more powerful antidotes. One of these has been already pointed out: and it should be matter of farther gratitude to every real Christian, that in the very place on which modern infidelity had displayed the standard of victory, a warrior in the service of Religion, a man of the most acute discernment and profound research, has been raised up by Providence to quell their triumph. (a) He was soon taken from us; but happily for him and or ourselves, not till he had announced, that, like the Magi of old, he had seen the star of Christ in the East, and had fallen down and worshipped him. Another should be mentioned with honor, who is pursuing the track which that great man had pointed out. (b) Henceforth let all objectors against Christianity, on the ground of its being disproved by the oriental records, be put to silence. The strength of their cause consisted in their ignorance, and in our own, of oriental learning. They availed themselves for a while of our being in a state of darkness; but the light of day has at length broken in upon us, and exposed to deserved contempt their superficial speculations.

The infatuation of these unbelievers would be less striking, if they were able altogether to decline Christianity; and were at liberty to relinquish their pretensions to its rewards, on condition of being exempted from its punishments. But that is not the case; they must stand the risk of the encounter and their eternal happiness or misery is suspended upon the issue. (a) What must be the emotions of these men, on first opening their eyes in the world of spirits, and being convinced, too late, of the awful reality of their impending ruin? May the mercy and the power of God awaken them from their desperate slumber, while life is yet spared, and there is yet space for repentance!

sect. iv

Advice suggested by the state of the times to true Christians

TO those who really deserve the appellation of true Christians, much has been said incidentally in the course of the present Work. It has been maintained (and the proposition will not be disputed by any sound or experienced politician,) that they are always most important members of the community. But we may boldly assert, that there never was a period, wherein, more justly than in the present, this could be affirmed of them; whether the situation of our own country in all its circumstances, be considered, or the general state of society, in Europe. Let them on their part seriously weigh the important station which they fill, and the various duties which it now peculiarly enforces on them. If we consult the most intelligent accounts of foreign countries which have been recently published, and compare them with the reports of former travelers, we must be convinced, that Religion and the standard of morals are everywhere declining, abroad even more rapidly than in our own country. But still, the progress of irreligion, and the decay of morals at home, are such as to alarm every considerate mind, and to forebode the worst of consequences, unless some remedy can be applied to the growing evil. We can depend only upon true Christians for effecting, in any degree, this important service. Their system is that of our national church: in proportion therefore as their system prevails, or as it increases in respect and estimation, from the manifest good conduct of its followers, in that very proportion the church is strengthened in the foundations, on which alone it can be supported, the esteem and attachment of its members and of the nation at large. Zeal is required in the cause of Religion; and they only can feel it. The charge of singularity must be incurred; and they only will dare to encounter it. Uniformity of conduct, and perseverance in exertion, will be requisite; but among no others can we look for those qualities.

Let true Christians, then, with becoming earnestness, strive in all things to recommend their profession, and to put to silence the vain scoffs of ignorant objectors. Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christians are ashamed of Him: and let them consider as devolved on Them the important duty of serving, it may be of saving, their country, not by busy interference in politics (in which it cannot but be confessed there is much uncertainty;) but rather by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of Religion, and of raising the standard of morality.

Let them be active, useful, generous towards others; manifestly moderate and self-denying in themselves. Let them be ashamed of idleness, as they would be of the most acknowledged sin. When Providence blesses them with affluence, let them withdraw from the competition of vanity; and, without sordidness or absurdity, show by their modest demeanor, and by their retiring from display, that, without affecting singularity, they are not slaves to fashion; that they consider it as their duty to set an example of moderation and sobriety, and to reserve for nobler and more disinterested purposes, that money, which others selfishly waste in parade, and dress, and equipage. Let them evince, in short, a manifest moderation in all temporal things; as becomes those whose affections are set on higher objects than any which this world affords, and those who possess within their own bosoms a fund of satisfaction and comfort, which the world seeks in vanity and dissipation. Let them cultivate a catholic spirit of universal good-will, and of amicable fellowship towards all those, of whatever sect or denomination, who, differing from them in non-essentials, agree with them in the grand fundamentals of Religion. Let them countenance men of real piety wherever they are found; and encourage in others every attempt to repress the progress of vice, and to revive and diffuse the influence of Religion and Virtue. Let their earnest prayers be constantly offered, that such endeavors may be successful, and that the abused long-suffering of God may still continue to us the invaluable privilege of vital Christianity.

Let them pray continually for their country in this season of national difficulty. We bear upon us but too plainly the marks of a declining empire. Who can say but that the Governor of the universe, who declares himself to be a God who hears the prayers of his servants, may, in answer to their intercessions, for a while avert our ruin, and continue to us the fullness of those temporal blessings, which in such abundant measure we have hitherto enjoyed. (a) Men of the world, indeed, however they may admit the operation of natural causes, and may therefore confess the effects of Religion and Morality in promoting the well-being of the community; may yet, according to their humor, with a smile of complacent pity, or a sneer of supercilious contempt, read of the service which real Christians may render to their country, by conciliating the favor, and calling down the blessing of Providence. It may appear in their eyes an instance of the same superstitious weakness, as that which prompts the terrified inhabitant of Sicily to bring forth the image of his tutelar saint, in order to stop the destructive ravages of Ætna. We are however sure, if we believe the Scripture, that God will be disposed to favor the nation to which his servants belong; and that, in fact, such as They have often been the unknown and unhonored instruments of drawing down on their country the blessings of safety and prosperity.

But it would be an instance in myself of that very false shame which I have condemned in others, if I were not boldly to avow my firm persuasion, that to the decline of Religion and Morality our National difficulties must both directly and indirectly be chiefly ascribed; and that my only solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her fleets and armies, not so much on the wisdom of her rulers, or the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion, that she still contains many, who love and obey the Gospel of Christ; that their intercessions may yet prevail; that for the sake of these, Heaven may still look upon us with an eye of favor.

Let the prayers of the Christian reader be also offered up for the success of this feeble endeavor in the service of true Religion. God can give effect to the weakest effort; and the writer will feel himself most highly honored, if, by anything which he has written, a single fellow-creature should be awakened from a false security; or a single Christian, who deserves the name, be animated to more extensive usefulness. He may seem to have assumed to himself a task which he was ill-qualified to execute. He fears he may be reproached with arrogance and presumption, for taking upon him the office of a teacher. Yet, as he formerly suggested, it cannot be denied, that it belongs to his public situation to investigate the state of the National Religion and Morals; and that it is the part of a real patriot to endeavor to retard their decline, and promote their revival. But if the office in which he has been engaged, were less intimately connected with the duties of his particular station, the candid and the liberal mind would not be indisposed to pardon him. Let him be allowed to offer in his excuse, a desire, not only to discharge a duty to his country, but to acquit himself of what he deems a solemn and indispensable obligation to his acquaintance and friends. Let him allege the unaffected solicitude which he feels for the welfare of his fellow-creatures. Let him urge the fond wish he gladly would encourage, that while in so large a part of Europe a false philosophy has been preferred before the lessons of Revelation; while Infidelity has lifted up her head without shame, and walked abroad boldly and in the face of day; while the practical consequences are such as might be expected, and licentiousness and vice prevail without restraint; here at least there might be a sanctuary, a land of Religion and Piety, where the blessings of Christianity might still be enjoyed; where the name of the Redeemer might still be honored; where mankind might be able to see what is, in truth, the Religion of Jesus, and what are its blessed effects; and whence, if the mercy of God should so ordain it, the means of religious instruction and consolation might be again extended to surrounding countries and to the world at large.[1]

 

 

* “Neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God,” (says David) “of that which doth cost me nothing.” 2 Sam. 24:24.

“They” (the Apostles) “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.” Acts 5:41. See also 1 Thess. 1:6, Heb. 10:34, James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:13, 14.

Such are the marks exhibited in Scripture of a true love to God: and though our regard for our common Lord is not put to the same severe test, as that of the Apostles and first Christians was; yet, if the same principle existed in us also, it would surely dispose us to act in the spirit of that conduct; and prompt us rather to be willing to exceed in self-denials and labors for Christ’s sake, than to be so forward as we are to complain, whenever we are called upon to perform or to abstain from anything, though in an instance ever so little contrary to our inclinations.

a It may not be amiss to mention a few useful publications of this sort. Walton’s Lives, particularly the last edition by Mr. Zouch; Gilpin’s Lives; the Lives of Bishop Bedel and Bishop Bull; of Archbishop Usher; Fell’s Life of Hammond; Archdeacon Hamilton’s Life of Mr. Bonnel, Accomptant General of Ireland, recommended by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishops of Meath, Derry, Limerick, Clogher, and Downe; some extracts, from Burnet, of the Life of the incomparable Leighton, prefixed to a volume of the latter’s Sermons; Passages of the Life of Lord Rochester, by Burnet; the Life of Sir Matthew Hale; of the excellent Doddridge, by Orton; of Henry, father and son; of Mather; of Halyburton; Hanson’s and Whitehead’s Life of Wesley; Life of Baxter, by himself; the Life of the Rev. Thomas Scott, lately published by his son; the Lives of the Rev. David Brown of Calcutta; of the Rev. Dr. Buchanan and Henry Martyn; of Col. Gardiner, of Governor Melville; &c. &c. &c.

a The author is aware that he may perhaps be censured for conceding this term to the class of persons now in question, since orthodox Christians equally contend for the unity of the Divine Nature; and it perhaps may hardly be a sufficient excuse, that, it not being his object particularly to refute the errors of Unitarianism, he uses the term in its popular sense, rather than give needless offence. He thus guards, however, against any false construction being drawn from his use of it.

a The author of this treatise has, since its completion, perused a work, entitled, Calvinism and Socinianism compared, by A. Fuller, &c.: and, without reference to the peculiarities of Calvinism, he is happy to embrace this opportunity of confessing the high obligation which, in common with all the friends of true Religion, he owes to the author of that highly valuable publication, for his masterly defense of the doctrines of Christianity, and his acute refutation of the opposite errors.

a It is almost superfluous to state, that Sir William Jones is here meant, who, from the testimony borne to his extraordinary talents by Sir John Shore (now Lord Teignmouth) in his first address to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, appears to have been a man of most extraordinary genius and astonishing erudition.

b Mr. Maurice.

a This argument is pressed with uncommon force in Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion; a work highly valuable, though not in every part to be approved, abounding in particular with those deep views of Religion, which the name of its author prepares us to expect.

a Vide some exquisitely beautiful lines in the last book of Cowper’s Task, wherein this sentiment is introduced.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 266–308). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

Brief Inquiry Into The Present State Of Christianity In This Country, With Some Of The Causes Which Have Led To Its Critical Circumstances. Its Importance To Us, As A Political Community; And Practical Hints For Which The Foregoing Considerations Give Occasion

IT may not be altogether improper to remind the Reader, that hitherto our discussion has been merely concerning the prevailing religious opinions of professed Christians: but now, no longer confining ourselves to persons of this description, let us extend our inquiry, and briefly investigate the general state of Christianity in this country.

The tendency of Religion in general to promote the temporal welfare of political communities, is a fact which depends on principles so obvious and even undeniable, and is so forcibly inculcated by the history of all ages, that there can be no necessity for entering into a formal proof of its truth. It has indeed been maintained, not merely by schoolmen and divines, but by the most celebrated philosophers and moralists and politicians of every age.

The peculiar excellence in this respect also of Christianity, considered independently of its truth or falsehood, has been recognized by writers, who, to say the least, were not disposed to exaggerate its merits. Either of the above propositions being admitted, the state of religion in a country at any given period, (not to mention its connection with the eternal happiness of the inhabitants) immediately becomes a question of great political importance: and in particular it must be material to ascertain, whether Religion be in an advancing or a declining state; and, if the latter be the case, whether there be any practical means for preventing at least its farther declension.

If the foregoing representations of the state of Christianity among the bulk of professed Christians be not very erroneous, they may well excite serious apprehensions in the mind of every reader, considered merely in a political view. And these apprehensions would be increased, if there should appear reason to believe, that, for some time past, Religion has been on the decline amongst us, and that it continues to decline at the present moment.

Preliminary consideration: general tone of moral practice

When it is proposed, however, to inquire into the actual state of Religion in any country, and, in particular, to compare that state with its condition at any former period, there is one preliminary observation to be made, if we would not subject ourselves to gross error. There exists, established by tacit consent in every country, what may be called a general standard or tone of morals, varying in the same community at different periods, and differing at the same period in the different ranks of society. Whoever falls below this standard (and, not unfrequently, whoever also rises above it) offending against this general rule, suffers proportionally in the general estimation. Thus a regard for character, (which is commonly the governing principle among men) becomes to a certain degree, though no farther, an incitement to morality and virtue. It follows of course, that where the practice does no more than come up to the required level, it will be no sufficient evidence of the existence, much less will it furnish a means of estimating the force, of a real internal principle of Religion. Christians, Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics, persons of ten thousand different sorts of passions and opinions, being members at the same time of the same community, and all conscious that they will be examined by this same standard, will regulate their conduct accordingly, and, with no great difference, will all adjust themselves to the required measure.

It must also be remarked, that the causes which tend to raise or to depress this standard, commonly produce their effects by slow and almost insensible degrees; and that it often continues for some time nearly the same, when the circumstances, by which it was fixed, have materially altered.

It is a truth which will hardly be contested, that Christianity, whenever it has at all prevailed, has raised the general standard of morals to a height before unknown. Some actions, which among the ancients were scarcely held to be blemishes in the most excellent characters, have been justly considered by the laws of every Christian community as meriting the severest punishments. In other instances, virtues formerly rare, have become common; and, in particular, a merciful and courteous temper has softened the rugged manners, and humanized the brutal ferocity, prevalent among the most polished nations of the heathen world. But from what has been recently observed, it is manifest, that, so far as external appearances are concerned, these effects, when once produced by Christianity, are produced alike in those who deny, and in those who admit, her divine original; I had almost said, in those who reject, and those who cordially embrace, the doctrines of the Gospel: and these effects might and probably would, remain for a while, without any great apparent alteration, however her spirit might languish, or even her authority decline. The form of the temple, as was once beautifully remarked, may continue, when the dii tutelares have left it. When, therefore, we are inquiring into the real state of Christianity at any period, if we would not be deceived in this important investigation, we must be so much the more careful not to take up with superficial appearances.

Present state of Christianity among us investigated

It may perhaps help us to ascertain the advancing or declining state of Christianity in Great Britain at the present moment, and still more to discover some of the causes by which that state has been produced, to employ a little time in considering, what might naturally be expected to be its actual situation; and what advantages or disadvantages such a religion might be expected to derive from the circumstances in which it has been placed among us, and from those in which it still continues.

Experience warrants, and reason justifies and explains, the assertion, that Persecution generally tends to quicken the vigor, and extend the prevalence, of the opinions which she would eradicate. For the peace of mankind, it has grown at length almost into an axiom, that “her devilish engine back recoils upon herself.” Christianity especially has always thriven under persecution. At such a season she has no lukewarm professors; no adherents, concerning whom it is doubtful to what party they belong. The Christian is then reminded at every turn, that his Master’s kingdom is not of this world. When all on earth wears a black and threatening aspect, he looks up to Heaven for consolation; he learns practically to consider himself as a pilgrim and stranger. He then cleaves to fundamentals, and examines well his foundation, as at the hour of death. When Religion is in a state of external quiet and prosperity, the contrary of all this naturally takes place. The soldiers of the church militant then forget that they are in a state of warfare. Their ardor slackens, their zeal languishes. Like a colony long settled in a strange country, (a) they are gradually assimilated in features, and demeanor, and language, to the native inhabitants, till at length almost every vestige of peculiarity dies away.

If, in general, persecution and prosperity be respectively productive of these opposite effects, this circumstance alone might teach us what expectations to form concerning the state of Christianity in this country, where she has long been embodied in an Establishment which is intimately blended with our civil institutions, and is generally and justly believed to have a common interest with them all—which is liberally (though by no means too liberally) endowed; and (not more favored in wealth and dignity) has been allowed “to exalt her mitered front in courts and parliaments:” an establishment, the offices in which are extremely numerous; and these, not like the priesthood of the Jews, filled up from a particular race, or, like that of the Hindus, held by a separate caste in entailed succession; but supplied from every class, and branching, by its widely extended ramifications, into almost every individual family in the community—an establishment, of which the ministers are not, like the Roman Catholic clergy, debarred from forming matrimonial ties, but are allowed to unite themselves, and multiply their holdings to the general mass of the community by the close bonds of family connection; not like some of the severer of the Religious orders, immured in colleges and monasteries, but, both by law and custom, permitted to mix without restraint in all the intercourses of society.

Such being the circumstances of the pastors of the church, let the community in general be supposed to have been for some time in a rapidly improving state of commercial prosperity; let it also be supposed to have been making no unequal progress in all those arts and sciences, and literary productions, which have ever been the growth of a polished age, and are the sure marks of a highly finished condition of society. It is not difficult to anticipate the effects likely to be produced on vital Religion, both in the clergy and the laity, by such a state of external prosperity as has been assigned to them respectively. And these effects would infallibly be furthered, where the country in question should enjoy a free constitution of government. We formerly had occasion to quote the remark of an accurate observer of the stage of human life, that a much looser system of morals commonly prevails among the higher, than in the middling and lower orders of society. Now, in every country of which the middling classes are daily growing in wealth and consequence by the success of their commercial speculations; and, most of all, in a country having such a constitution as our own, where the acquisition of riches is the possession also of rank and power; with the comforts and refinements, the vices also of the higher orders are continually descending, and a mischievous uniformity of sentiments, and manners, and morals, gradually diffuses itself throughout the whole community. The multiplication of great cities also, and, above all, the habit, ever increasing with the increasing wealth of the country, of frequenting a splendid and luxurious metropolis, would powerfully tend to accelerate the discontinuance of the religious habits of a purer age, and to accomplish the substitution of a more relaxed morality. And it must even be confessed, that the commercial spirit, much as we are indebted to it, is not naturally favorable to the maintenance of the religious principle in a vigorous and lively state.

Causes from which the peculiarities of Christianity slide into disuse

In times like these, therefore, the strict precepts and self-denying habits of Christianity naturally slide into disuse; and even among the better sort of Christians, are likely to be so far softened, as to become less averse to the generally prevailing disposition towards relaxation and indulgence. In such prosperous circumstances, men, in truth, are apt to think very little about Religion. Christianity, therefore, seldom occupying the attention of the bulk of nominal Christians, and being scarcely at all the object of their study, we should expect, of course, to find them extremely unacquainted with its tenets. Those doctrines and principles indeed, which it contains in common with the law of the land, or which are sanctioned by the general standard of morals formerly described, being brought into continual notice and mention by the common occurrences of life, might continue to be recognized. But whatever she contains peculiar to herself, and which should not be habitually brought into recollection by the incidents of every day, might be expected to be less and less thought of, till at length it should be almost wholly forgotten. Still more might this be naturally expected to become the case, if the peculiarities in question should be, from their very nature, at war with pride and luxury and worldly-mindedness, the too general concomitants of rapidly increasing wealth: and this would be the more likely to happen (particularly among the laity) if the circumstance of their having been at any time abused to purposes of hypocrisy or fanaticism, should have prompted even some of the better disposed of the clergy (perhaps from well intentioned, though erroneous motives) to bring them forward less frequently in their discourses on Religion.

When so many should thus have been straying out of the right path, some bold reformer might, from time to time, be likely to arise, who should not unjustly charge them with their deviation; but, though right perhaps in the main, yet deviating himself also in an opposite direction, and creating disgust by his violence, or vulgarity, or absurdities, he might fail, except in a few instances, to produce the effect of recalling them from their wanderings.

Still, however, the Divine Original of Christianity would not be professedly disavowed; but, partly from a real, partly from a political deference for the established faith, but most of all, from men being not yet prepared to reject it as an imposture, some respect would still be entertained for it. Some bolder spirits indeed might be expected to despise the cautious moderation of these timid reasoners, and to pronounce decisively, that the Bible was a forgery: while the generality, professing to believe it genuine, should, less consistently, be satisfied with remaining ignorant of its contents; and, when pressed, should discover themselves by no means to believe several of the most important particulars, contained in it.

When, by the operation of causes like these, any country has at length grown into the condition which has been here stated; it is but too obvious, that, in the bulk of the community, Religion, already sunk very low, must be hastening fast to her entire dissolution. Causes energetic and active like these, though accidental hindrances may occasionally thwart their operation, will not ever become sluggish and unproductive. Their effect is sure; and the time is fast approaching, when Christianity will be almost as openly disavowed in the language, as in fact it is already supposed to have disappeared from the conduct of men; when infidelity will be held to be the necessary appendage of a man of fashion, and to believe will be deemed the indication of a feeble mind and a contracted understanding.

Something like what have been here premised are the conjectures which we should naturally be led to form, concerning the state of Christianity in this country, and its probable issue, from considering her own nature, and the peculiar circumstances in which she has been placed. That her real condition differs not much from the result of this reasoning from probability, must, with whatever regret, be confessed by all who take a careful and impartial survey of the actual situation of things, among us. But our hypothetical delineation, if just, will have approved itself to the reader’s conviction, as we have gone along, by suggesting its archetypes; and we may therefore be spared the painful and invidious task of pointing out in detail, the several particulars wherein our statements are justified by facts. Everywhere we may actually trace the effects of increasing wealth and luxury, in banishing one by one the habits, and new modelling the phraseology, of stricter times; and in diffusing throughout the middle ranks those relaxed morals and dissipated manners, which were formerly confined to the higher classes of society. We meet indeed with more refinement, and with more of those amiable courtesies which are its proper fruits; those vices also have become less frequent, which naturally infest the darkness of a ruder and less polished age, and which recede on the approach of light and civilization.

Defluxit numerus Saturnius, & grave virus

Munditiæ pepulere:

But, on the other hand, with these grossnesses, Religion also has declined: God is forgotten; his providence is exploded; his hand is lifted up, but we see it not; he multiplies our comforts, but we are not grateful; he visits us with chastisements, but we are not contrite. The portion of the week set apart to the service of Religion, we give up without reluctance to vanity and dissipation. And it is much if, on the periodical return of a day of national humiliation, we do not avail ourselves of the certainty of an interval from public business to secure a meeting for convivial purposes; thus insulting the Majesty of Heaven, and deliberately disclaiming our being included in the solemn services of this season of penitence and recollection.

Christianity reduced to a system of ethics, and a cause assigned which has especially operated in producing this effect

But even when there is not this open and shameless disavowal of Religion, few traces of it are to be found. Improving in almost every other branch of knowledge, we have become less and less acquainted with Christianity. The preceding chapters have pointed out, among those who believe themselves to be orthodox Christians, a deplorable ignorance of the Religion they profess, an utter forgetfulness of the peculiar doctrines by which it is characterized, a disposition to regard it as a mere system of ethics, and, what might seem an inconsistency, at the same time a most inadequate idea of the nature and strictness of its practical principles. This declension of Christianity into a mere system of ethics, may partly be accounted for, (as has been lately suggested) by considering what Christianity is, and in what circumstances she has been placed in this country. But it has also been considerably promoted by one peculiar cause, on which, for many reasons, it may not be improper to dwell a little more particularly.

Christianity in its best days (for the credit of our representations we wish this to be remembered by all who object to our statement as austere and contracted) was such as it has been delineated in the present Work. This was the Religion of the most eminent Reformers, of those bright ornaments of our country who suffered martyrdom under queen Mary; of their successors in the times of Elizabeth; in short, of all the pillars of our Protestant church; of many of its highest dignitaries; of Davenant, of Jewell, of Hall, of Reynolds, of Beveridge, of Hooker, of Andrews, of Smith, of Leighton, of Usher, of Hopkins, of Baxter, (a) and of many others of scarcely inferior note.

In their pages the peculiar doctrines of Christianity were everywhere visible, and on the deep and solid basis of these doctrinal truths were laid the foundations of a superstructure of morals proportionally broad and exalted. Of this fact, their writings, still extant, are a decisive proof: and they who may want leisure, or opportunity, or inclination, for the perusal of these valuable records, may satisfy themselves of the truth of the assertion, that such as we have stated it, was the Christianity of those times, by consulting our Articles and Homilies, or even by carefully examining our excellent Liturgy. But from that tendency: to deterioration lately noticed, these great fundamental truths began to be somewhat less prominent in the compositions of many of the leading divines before the time of the civil wars. During that period, however, the peculiar doctrines of Christianity were grievously abused by many of the sectaries, who were foremost in the commotions of those unhappy days; who, while they talked copiously of the free grace of Christ, and the operations of the Holy Spirit, were by their lives an open scandal to the name of Christian. (b)

Towards the close of the last century, the divines of the established Church (whether it arose from the obscurity of their own views, or from a strong impression of former abuses, and of the evils which had resulted from them) began to run into a different error. They professed to make it their chief object to inculcate the moral and practical precepts of Christianity, which they conceived to have been before too much neglected; but without sufficiently maintaining, often even without justly laying, the grand foundation of a sinner’s acceptance with God, or pointing out how the practical precepts of Christianity grow out of her peculiar doctrines, and are inseparably connected with them. (a) By this fatal error, the very genius and essential nature of Christianity was imperceptibly changed. She no longer retained her peculiar characters, or produced that appropriate frame of spirit by which her followers, had been characterized. Facilis descensus. The example thus set was followed during the present century, and its effect was aided by various causes already pointed out. In addition to these, it may be proper to mention as a cause of powerful operation, that for the last fifty years the press has teamed with moral essays, many of them published periodically, and most extensively circulated; which, being considered either as works of mere entertainment, or, in which at least entertainment was to be blended with instruction, rather than as religious pieces, were kept free from whatever might give them the air of sermons, or cause them to wear an appearance of seriousness inconsistent with the idea of relaxation. But in this way the fatal habit, of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines, insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight; and, as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment, began to wither and decay. At length, in our own days, these peculiar doctrines have almost altogether vanished from the view. Even in the greater number of our sermons, scarcely any traces of them are to be found.

But the degree of neglect into which they are really fallen, may perhaps be rendered still more manifest by appealing to another criterion. There is a certain class of publications, of which it is the object to give us exact delineations of life and manners; and when these are written by authors of accurate observation and deep knowledge of human nature, (and many such there have been in our times) they furnish a more faithful picture, than can be obtained in any other way, of the prevalent opinions and feelings of mankind. It must be obvious that Novels are here alluded to. A careful perusal of the most celebrated of these pieces would furnish a strong confirmation of the apprehension, suggested from other considerations, concerning the very low state of Religion in this country; but they would still more strikingly illustrate the truth of the remark, that the grand peculiarities of Christianity are almost vanished from the view. In a sermon, although throughout the whole of it there may have been no traces of these peculiarities, either directly or indirectly, the preacher closes with an ordinary form; which if one were to assert that they were absolutely omitted, would immediately be alleged in contradiction of the assertion, and may just serve to protect them from falling into entire oblivion. But in novels, the writer is not so tied down. In these, people of Religion, and clergymen too, are placed in all possible situations, and the sentiments and language deemed suitable to the occasion are assigned to them. They are introduced instructing, reproving, counselling, comforting. It is often the author’s intention to represent them in a favorable point of view, and accordingly he makes them as well informed, and as good Christians, as he knows how. They are painted amiable, benevolent, and forgiving; but it is not too much to say, that if the peculiarities of Christianity had never existed, or had all been proved to be false, the circumstance would scarcely create the necessity of altering a single syllable in any of the most celebrated of these performances. It is striking to observe the difference which there is in this respect in similar works of Mahometan authors, wherein the characters, which they mean to represent in a favorable light, are drawn vastly more observant of the peculiarities of their religion. (a)

Other bad symptoms, as to the practical state of Christianity

It has also been a melancholy prognostic of the state to which we are progressive, that many of the most eminent of the literati of modern times have been professed unbelievers; and that others of them have discovered such lukewarmness in the cause of Christ, as to treat with especial good-will and attention and respect those men, who, by their avowed publications, were openly assailing or insidiously undermining, the very foundations of the Christian hope; considering themselves as more closely united to them by literature, than severed from them by the widest religious differences. (a) Can it then occasion surprise, that under all these circumstances, one of the most acute and most forward of the professed unbelievers (b) should appear to anticipate, as at no great distance, the more complete triumph of his skeptical principles? and that another author of distinguished name, (c) not so openly professing those infidel opinions, should declare of the writer above alluded to, whose great abilities had been systematically prostituted to the open attack of every principle of Religion, both natural and revealed, “that he had always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”

Can there then be a doubt, whither tends the path in which we are travelling, and whither at length it must conduct us? If any should hesitate, let them take a lesson from experience. In a neighboring country, several of the same causes have been in action; and they have at length produced their full effect; manners corrupted, morals depraved, dissipation predominant, above all, Religion discredited, and infidelity, grown into repute and fashion, (d) terminating in the public disavowal of every religious principle which had been used to attract the veneration of mankind; the representatives of a whole nation publicly witnessing, not only without horror, but without the smallest disapprobation, an open unqualified denial of the very existence of God; and at length, as a body, withdrawing their allegiance from the Majesty of Heaven.

Objection, that the author’s system is too strict; and that if it were to prevail, the world could not go on

There are not a few, perhaps, who may have witnessed with apprehension, and may be ready to confess with pain, the gradual declension of Religion; but who at the same time may conceive that the writer of this tract is disposed to carry things too far. They may even allege, that the degree of Religion for which he contends is inconsistent with the ordinary business of life, and with the well-being of society; that if it were generally to prevail, people would be wholly engrossed by Religion, and all their time occupied by prayer and preaching. Men not being sufficiently interested in the pursuit of temporal objects, agriculture and commerce would decline, the arts would languish, the very duties of common life would be neglected; and, in short, the whole machine of civil society would be obstructed, and speedily stopped. An opening for this charge is given by an ingenious writer (e) alluded to in an early period of our work; and is even somewhat countenanced by an author since referred to, from whom such a sentiment justly excites more surprise. (f)

The charge refuted

In reply to this objection it might be urged, that though we should allow it for a moment to be in a considerable degree well founded, yet this, admission would not warrant the conclusion intended to be drawn from it. The question would still remain, whether our representation of what Christianity requires, be agreeable to the word of God? For if it be, surely it must be confessed to be a matter of small account to sacrifice a little worldly comfort and prosperity, during the short span of our existence in this life, in order to secure a crown of eternal glory, and the enjoyment of those pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore. It might be added also, that our blessed Savior had plainly declared, that it would often be required of Christians to make such a sacrifice; and had forewarned us, that in order to be able to do it with cheerfulness whenever the occasion should arrive, we must habitually sit loose to all worldly possessions and enjoyments. And it might further be remarked, that though it were even admitted, that the general prevalence of vital Christianity should somewhat interfere with the views of national wealth and aggrandizement, yet that there is too much reason to believe that, do all we can, this general prevalence needs not to be apprehended, or to speak more justly, could not be hoped for. But indeed the objection on which we have now been commenting, is not only groundless, but directly contrary to truth. If Christianity, such as we have represented it, were generally to prevail, the world, from being such as it is, would become a scene of general peace and prosperity; and, abating the chances and calamities “which flesh is inseparably heir to,” would wear one uniform face of complacency and joy.

On the first promulgation of Christianity, it is true, some of her early converts seem to have been in danger of so far mistaking the genius of the new Religion, as to imagine, that in future they were to be discharged from an active attendance on their secular affairs. But the Apostle most pointedly guarded them against so gross an error, and expressly and repeatedly enjoined them to perform the particular duties of their several stations with increased alacrity and fidelity, that they might thereby do credit to their Christian profession. This he did at the same time that he prescribed to them that predominant love of God and of Christ, that heavenly-mindedness, that comparative indifference to the things of this world, that earnest endeavor after growth in grace and perfection in holiness, which have already been stated as the essential characteristics of real Christianity. It cannot therefore be supposed by any who allow to the Apostle even the claim of a consistent instructor, much less by any who admit his Divine authority, that these latter precepts are incompatible with the former. Let it be remembered, that the grand characteristic mark of the true Christian, which has been insisted on, is his desiring to please God in all his thoughts, and words, and actions; to take the revealed word to be the rule of his belief and practice, to “let his light shine before men;” and in all things to adorn the doctrine which he professes. No calling is proscribed, no pursuit is forbidden, no science or art is prohibited, no pleasure is disallowed, provided it be such as can be reconciled with this principle. It must indeed be confessed, that Christianity would not favor that vehement and inordinate ardor in the pursuit of temporal objects, which tends to the acquisition of immense wealth, or of widely spread renown: nor is it calculated to gratify the extravagant views of those mistaken politicians, the chief object of whose admiration, and the main scope of whose endeavors for their country, are, extended dominion, and commanding power, and unrivalled affluence, rather than those more solid advantages of peace, and comfort, and security. These men would barter comfort for greatness. In their vain reveries, they forget that a nation consists of individuals, and that true national prosperity is no other than the multiplication of particular happiness.

Good effects to us as a political community from the prevalence of vital Christianity

But in fact, so far is it from being true that the prevalence of real Religion would produce a stagnation in life, it would infallibly produce the very reverse: a man, whatever might be his employment or pursuit, would be furnished with a new motive to prosecute it with alacrity, a motive far more constant and vigorous than any which merely human prospects can supply: at the same time, his solicitude being not so much to succeed in whatever he might be engaged in, as to act from a pure principle, and leave the event to God, he would not be liable to the same disappointments, as men who are active and laborious from a desire of worldly gain or of human estimation. Thus he would possess the true secret of a life at the same time useful and happy. Following peace also with all men, and looking upon them as members of the same family, entitled not only to the debts of justice, but to the less definite and more liberal claims of fraternal kindness; he would naturally be respected and beloved by others, and be in himself free from the annoyance of those bad passions, by which they who are actuated by worldly principles are so commonly corroded. If any country were indeed filled with men, each thus diligently discharging the duties of his own station without breaking in upon the rights of others, but on the contrary endeavoring, so far as he might be able, to forward their views, and promote their happiness; all would be active and harmonious in the goodly frame of human society. There would be no jarring, no discord. The whole machine of civil life would work without obstruction or disorder, and the course of its movements would be like the, harmony of the spheres.

Such would be the happy state of a truly Christian nation within itself. Nor would its condition with regard to foreign countries form a contrast to this its internal comfort. Such a community, on the contrary, peaceful at home, would be respected and beloved abroad. General integrity in all its dealings would inspire universal confidence: differences between nations commonly arise from mutual injuries, and still more from mutual jealousy and distrust. Of the former, there would be no longer any ground for complaint; the latter would find nothing to attach upon. But if, in spite of all its justice and forbearance, the violence of some neighboring state should force it to resist an unprovoked attack, (for hostilities strictly defensive are those only in which it would be engaged) its domestic union would double its national force; while the consciousness of a good cause, and of the general favor of Heaven, would invigorate its arm, and inspirit its efforts.

Position, that Christianity Is hostile to patriotism, opposed

It is indeed the position of an author, to whom we have had frequent occasion to refer, and whose love of paradox has not seldom led him into error, that true Christianity is an enemy to patriotism. If by patriotism is meant that mischievous and domineering quality which renders men ardent to promote, not the happiness, but the aggrandizement of their own country, by the oppression and conquest of every other; to such patriotism, so generally applauded in the Heathen world, that Religion must be indeed an enemy, whose foundation is justice, and whose compendious character is “peace,—and good-will towards men.” But if by patriotism be understood that quality which, without shutting up our philanthropy within the narrow bounds of a single kingdom, yet attaches us in particular to the country to which we belong; of this true patriotism, Christianity is the most copious source, and the surest preservative. The contrary opinion can indeed only have arisen from not considering the fullness and universality of our Savior’s precepts. Not like the puny productions of human workmanship, (which at the best can commonly serve but the particular purpose that they are specially designed to answer;) the moral, as well as the physical, principles established by the great Governor of the universe, are capable of being applied at once to ten thousand different uses; thus, amidst infinite complication, preserving a grand simplicity, and therein bearing the unambiguous stamp of their Divine original. Thus, to specify one out of the numberless instances which might be adduced; the principle of gravitation, while it is subservient to all the mechanical purposes of common life, keeps at the same time the stars in their courses, and maintains the harmony of worlds.

Thus also in the case before us: society consists of a number of different circles of various magnitudes and uses, and that circumstance, wherein the principle of patriotism chiefly consists, whereby the duty of patriotism is best practiced, and the happiest effects upon the general weal are produced, is, that it should be the desire and aim of every individual to fill well his own proper circle, (as a part and member of the whole) with a view to the production of general happiness. This our Savior enjoined when he prescribed the duty of universal love, which is but another term for the most exalted patriotism. Benevolence, indeed, when not originating in Religion, dispenses but from a scanty and precarious fund; and therefore, if it be liberal in the case of some objects, it is generally found to be contracted towards others. Men, who, acting from worldly principles, make the greatest stir about general philanthropy or zealous patriotism, are often very deficient in their conduct in domestic life; and very neglectful of the opportunities, fully within their reach, of promoting the comfort of those with whom they are immediately connected. But true Christian benevolence is always occupied in producing happiness to the utmost of its power, and according to the extent of its sphere, be it larger or more limited: it contracts itself to the measure of the smallest; it can expand itself to the amplitude of the largest. It resembles majestic rivers, which are poured from an unfailing and abundant source. Silent and peaceful in their course, they begin with dispensing beauty and comfort to every cottage by which they pass. In their further progress, they fertilize provinces and enrich kingdoms. At length they pour themselves into the ocean; where, changing their names, but not their nature, they visit distant nations and other hemispheres, and spread throughout the world the expansive tide of their beneficence.

It must be confessed, that many of the good effects, of which Religion is productive to political societies, would be produced even by a false Religion, which should prescribe good morals, and should be able to enforce its precepts by sufficient sanctions. Of this nature are those effects which depend on our calling in the aid of a Being who sees the heart, in order to assist the weakness, and in various ways to supply the inherent defects of all human jurisprudence. But the superior excellence of Christianity in this respect must be acknowledged, both in the superiority of her moral code, and in the powerful motives and efficacious means which she furnishes for enabling us to practice it; and in the tendency of her doctrines to provide for the observance of her precepts, by producing tempers of mind which correspond with them.

But, more than all this; it has not perhaps been enough remarked, that true Christianity, from her essential nature, appears peculiarly and powerfully adapted to promote the preservation and healthfulness of political communities. What is in truth their grand malady? The answer is short; Selfishness. This is that young disease received at the moment of their birth, “which grows with their growth, and strengthens with their strength;” and through which they at length expire, if not cut off prematurely by some external shock or intestine convulsion.

The disease of selfishness, indeed, assumes different forms in the different classes of society. In the great and the wealthy, it displays itself in luxury, in pomp, and parade; and in all the frivolities of a sickly and depraved imagination, which seeks in vain its own gratification, and is dead to the generous and energetic pursuits of an enlarged heart. In the lower orders, when not motionless under the weight of a superincumbent despotism, it manifests itself in pride, and its natural offspring, insubordination in all its modes. But though the external effects may vary, the internal principle is the same; a disposition in each individual to make self the grand center and end of his desires and enjoyments; to overrate his own merits and importance, and of course to magnify his claims on others, and to underrate theirs on him; a disposition to undervalue the advantages, and overstate the disadvantages, of his condition in life. Thence spring rapacity, and venality, and sensuality. Thence imperious nobles, and factious leaders; thence also an unruly commonalty, bearing with difficulty the inconveniences of a lower station, and imputing to the nature or administration of their government, the evils which necessarily flow from the very constitution of our species, or which perhaps are chiefly the result of their own vices and follies. The opposite to selfishness, is public spirit; which may be termed, not unjustly, the grand principle of political vitality, the very life’s-breath of states, which tends to keep them active and vigorous, and to carry them to greatness and glory.

The tendency of public spirit, and the opposite tendency of selfishness, have not escaped the observation of the founders of states, or of the writers on government; and various expedients have been resorted to and extolled, for cherishing the one, and for repressing the other. Sometimes a principle of internal agitation and dissension, resulting from the very frame of the government, has been productive of the effect. Sparta flourished for more than seven hundred years under the civil institutions of Lycurgus; which guarded against the selfish principle, by prohibiting commerce, and imposing universal poverty and hardship. The Roman commonwealth, in which public spirit was cherished, and selfishness checked, by the principle of the love of glory, was also of long continuance. This passion naturally operates to produce an unbounded spirit of conquest, which, like the ambition of the greatest of its own heroes, was never satiated while any other kingdom was left to be subdued. The principle of political vitality, when kept alive only by means like these, merits the description once given of eloquence: “Sicut flamma, materia alitur, & motibus excitatur, & urendo clarescit.” But, like eloquence, when no longer called into action by external causes, or fomented by civil broils, it gradually languishes. Wealth and luxury produce stagnation, and stagnation terminates in death.

To provide, however, for the continuance of a state, by the admission of internal dissensions, or even by the chilling influence of poverty, seems to be in some sort sacrificing the end to the means. Happiness is the end for which men unite in civil society; but in societies thus constituted, little happiness, comparatively speaking, is to be found. The expedient, again, of preserving a state by the spirit of conquest, though even this has not wanted its admirers, (a) is not to be tolerated for a moment, when considered on principles of universal justice. Such a state lives, and grows, and thrives, by the misery of others, and becomes professedly the general enemy of its neighbors, and the scourge of the human race. All these devices are in truth but too much like the fabrications of man, when compared with the works of the Supreme Being; clumsy, yet weak in the execution of their purpose, and full of contradictory principles and jarring movements.

I might here enlarge with pleasure on the unrivalled excellence, in this very view, of the constitution under which we live in this happy country; and point out how, more perhaps than any which ever existed upon earth, it is so framed, as to provide at the same time for keeping up a due degree of public spirit, and yet for preserving unimpaired the quietness, and comfort, and charities of private life; how it even extracts from selfishness itself many of the advantages which, under less happily constructed forms of government, public spirit only can supply. But such a political discussion, however grateful to a British mind, would here be out of place. It is rather our business to remark, how much Christianity in every way sets herself in direct hostility to selfishness, the mortal distemper of political communities; and consequently, how their welfare must be inseparable from her prevalence. It might indeed be almost stated as the main object and chief concern of Christianity, to root out our natural selfishness, to rectify the false standard which it imposes on us, and to bring us not only to a just estimate of ourselves, and of all around us, but to a due impression also of the various claims and obligations resulting from the different relations in which we stand. Benevolence, enlarged, vigorous, operative benevolence, is her master principle. Moderation in temporal pursuits and enjoyments, comparative indifference to the issue of worldly projects, diligence in the discharge of personal and civil duties, resignation to the will of God, and patience under all the dispensations of his Providence, are among her daily lessons. Humility is one of the essential qualities which her precepts most directly and strongly enjoin, and which all her various doctrines tend to call forth and cultivate; and humility lays the deepest and surest grounds for benevolence. In whatever class or order of society Christianity prevails, she sets herself to rectify the particular faults, or, if we would speak more distinctly, to counteract the particular mode of selfishness to which that class is liable. Affluence she teaches to be liberal and beneficent; authority, to bear its faculties with meekness, and to consider the various cares and obligations belonging to its elevated station as being conditions on which that station is conferred. Thus, softening the glare of wealth, and moderating the insolence of power, she renders the inequalities of the social state less galling to the lower orders, whom also she instructs, in their turn, to be diligent, humble, patient; reminding them, that their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties, and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the present state of things is very short; that the objects about which worldly men conflict so eagerly, are not worth the contest; that the peace of mind, which Religion offers indiscriminately to all ranks, affords more true satisfaction than all the expensive pleasures which are beyond the poor man’s reach; that in this view the poor have the advantage; that, if their superiors enjoy more abundant comforts, they are also exposed to many temptations from which the inferior classes are happily exempted; that “having food and raiment, they should be therewith content,” since their situation in life, with all its evils, is better than they have deserved at the hand of God; and finally, that all human distinctions will soon be done away, and the true followers of Christ will all, as children of the same Father, be alike admitted to the possession of the same heavenly inheritance. Such are the blessed effects of Christianity on the temporal well-being of political communities.

But vital Christianity alone can produce these effects; and, still more, we must either have this, or none at all

But the Christianity which can produce effects like these must be real, not nominal; deep, not superficial. Such therefore is the Religion we should cultivate, if we would realize these pleasing speculations, and arrest the progress of political decay. But, in the present circumstances of this country, a farther reason for cultivating this vital Christianity, (still considering it merely in a political view) is, that, according to all human appearance, we must either have this or none: unless the prevalence of this be in some degree restored, we are likely, not only to lose all the advantages which we might have derived from true Christianity, but to incur all the manifold evils which would result from the absence of all religion.

In the first place, let it be remarked, that a weakly principle of Religion, which, in a political view, might be productive of many advantages, though its existence may be prolonged if all external circumstances favor its continuance, can hardly be kept alive, when the state of things is so unfavorable to vital Religion, as in our condition of society it appears to be. Nor is it merely the ordinary effects of a state of wealth and prosperity to which we here allude. Much also may justly be apprehended from that change which has taken place in our general habits of thinking and feeling, concerning the systems and opinions of former times. At a less advanced period of society, indeed, the Religion of the State will be generally accepted, though it be not felt in its vital power. It was the Religion of our forefathers: with the bulk, it is on that account entitled to reverence; and its authority is admitted without question. The Establishment in which it subsists, pleads the same prescription, and obtains the same respect. But, in our days, things are very differently circumstanced. Not merely the blind prejudice in favor of former times, but even the proper respect for them, and the reasonable presumption in their favor, has abated. Still less will the idea be endured, of upholding a manifest imposture, for the sake of retaining the common people in subjection. A system, if not supported by a real persuasion of its truth, will fall to the ground. Thus it not unfrequently happens, that in a more advanced state of society, a religious establishment must be indebted for its support to that very Religion which in earlier times it fostered and protected; as the weakness of some aged mother is sustained, and her existence lengthened, by the tender assiduities of the child whom she had reared in the helplessness of infancy. So, in the present instance, unless there be reinfused into the mass of our society, something of that principle which animated our ecclesiastical system in its earlier days, it is vain for us to hope that the establishment will very long continue: for an establishment, the actual principles of whose members, and even teachers, are, for the most part, so extremely different from those which it professes, is an anomaly which will not much longer be borne. But in proportion as vital Christianity can be revived, in that same proportion the Church establishment is strengthened; for the revival of vital Christianity is the very reinfusion of which we have been speaking. This is the very Christianity on which our Establishment is founded; and that which her Articles, and Homilies, and Liturgy teach throughout.

Appeal to experience

But if, when the reign of prejudice, and even of honest prepossession, and of grateful veneration, is no more, (for by these almost any system may generally be supported, before a state, having passed the period of its maturity, is verging to its decline;) it be thought, that a dry, unanimated Religion, like that which is now professed by nominal Christians, can hold its place, and much more, that it can be revived among the general mass of mankind; it may be affirmed, that, arguing merely on human principles, they know little of human nature. The kind of Religion which we have recommended, independent of all consideration either of the grace that it imparts, or even of its truth, must at least be conceded to be that which is most of all suited to make an impression upon the lower orders, since it so strongly interests all the passions of the human mind. If it be thought that a system of ethics may regulate the conduct of the higher classes, such an one is altogether unsuitable to the lower, who must be wrought upon by their affections, or they will not be wrought upon at all. The ancients were wiser than ourselves, and never thought of governing the community in general by their lessons of philosophy. These lessons were confined to the schools of the learned; while for the million, a system of Religion, such as it was, was kept up, as alone adapted to their grosser natures. If this reasoning fail to convince, we may safely appeal to experience. Let the Socinian and the moral teacher of Christianity come forth, and tell us what effects they have produced on the lower orders. They themselves will hardly deny the inefficacy of their instructions. But, blessed be God, the Religion which we recommend, has proved its correspondence with the character originally given of Christianity, that it was calculated for the poor; it has proved this, I say, by changing the whole condition of the mass of society in many of the most populous districts in this and other countries; and by bringing them from a state of almost unexampled wickedness and barbarism, to a state of sobriety, decency, industry, and in short, to whatever can render men useful members of civil society.

Political good effects from the revival of vital Christianity; and bad ones from its further decline

If indeed, through the blessing of Providence, a principle of true Religion should in any considerable degree gain ground, there is no estimating the effects on public morals, and the consequent influence on our political welfare. These effects are not merely negative: though it would be much, merely to check the further progress of a gangrene, which is eating out the very vitals of our social and political existence. The general standard of morality formerly described would be raised, it would at least be sustained and kept for a while from farther depression. The esteem which religious characters would personally attract, would extend to the system which they should hold, and to the establishment, of which they should be members. These are all merely natural consequences. But to those who believe in a superintending Providence, it may be added, that the blessing of God might be drawn down upon our country, and the stroke of his anger be for a while suspended.

Let us be spared the painful task of tracing, on the contrary, the fatal consequences of the extinction of Religion among us. They are indeed such as no man, who is ever so little interested for the welfare of his country, can contemplate without the deepest concern. The very loss of our church establishment, though, as in all human institutions, some defects may be found in it, would in itself be attended with the most fatal consequences. No prudent man dares hastily pronounce, that its destruction might not greatly endanger our civil institutions. It would not be difficult to prove, that the want of it would also be in the highest degree injurious to the cause of Christianity; and still more, that it would take away what appears from experience to be one of the most probable means of its revival. To what a degree might even the avowed principles of men who are not altogether destitute of Religion, decline, when our inestimable Liturgy should no longer remain in use! a Liturgy justly inestimable, as setting before us a faithful model of the Christian’s belief, and practice, and language; as restraining us (as far as restraint is possible) from excessive deviations; as furnishing us with abundant instruction when we would return into the right path; as affording an advantage-ground of no little value to such instructors as still adhere to the good old principles of the Church of England; in short, as daily shaming us, by preserving a living representation of the opinions and habits of better times, like some historical record which reproaches a degenerate posterity, by exhibiting the worthier, deeds of their progenitors. In such a state of things, to what a depth public morals might sink, may be anticipated by those who consider what would then be the condition of society; who reflect, how bad principles and vicious conduct mutually aid each other’s operation, and how, in particular, the former make sure the ground which the latter may have gained; who remember, that, in the lower orders, that system of honour and that responsibility of character are wanting, which, in the superior classes, supply in some poor degree the place of higher principles. It is well for the happiness of mankind, that such a community could f not long subsist. The cement of society being no more, the state would soon be dissolved into individuality.

Let it not be vainly imagined that our state of civilization must prevent the moral degeneracy here threatened. A neighboring nation has lately furnished a lamentable proof, that superior polish and refinement may well consist with a very large measure of depravity. But to appeal to a still more decisive instance: it may be seen in the history of the latter years of the most celebrated of the Pagan nations, that the highest degrees of civilization and refinement are by no means inseparable from the most shocking depravity of morals. The fact is certain, and the obvious inference with regard to ourselves cannot be denied. The cause of this strange phenomenon (such it really appears to our view) for which the natural corruption of man might hardly seem to account sufficiently, has been explained by an inspired writer. Speaking of the most polished nations of antiquity, he observes; “Because when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, and were not solicitous (a) to retain him in their knowledge, he gave them over to a reprobate mind.” Let us then beware, and take warning from their example: let us not suffer our self-love to beguile us: let us not vainly persuade ourselves, that although prosperity and wealth may have caused us to relax a little too much in those more serious duties which regard our Maker, yet that we shall stop where we are; or, at least, that we can never sink into the same state of moral depravation. Doubtless we should sink as low, if God were to give up us also to our own imaginations. And what ground have we to think he will not? If we would reason justly, we should not compare ourselves with the state of the Heathen world when at its worst, but with its state at that period, when, for its forgetfulness of God and its ingratitude towards him, it was suffered to fall, till at length it reached that worst, its ultimate point of depression. The Heathens had only reason and natural conscience to direct them: we enjoy, superadded to these, the clear light of Gospel revelation, and a distinct declaration of God’s dealings with them, to be a lesson for our instruction. How then can we but believe that if we, enjoying advantages so much superior to theirs, are alike forgetful of our kind Benefactor, we also shall be left to ourselves? and if so left, what reason can be assigned why we should not fall into the same enormities?

Practical hints, for the conduct of men in power, in the case of Religion, suggested by the above statements

What, then, is to be done? The inquiries of the first importance, and the general answer to it is not difficult.—The causes and nature of the decay of Religion and morals among us sufficiently indicate the course, which, on principles of sound policy, it is in the highest degree expedient for us to pursue. The distemper, of which as a community we are sick, should be considered rather as a moral than a political malady. How much has this been forgotten by the disputants of modern times! and accordingly, how transient may be expected to be the good effects of the best of their publications! We should endeavor to tread back our steps. Every effort should be used to raise the depressed tone of public morals. This is a duty particularly incumbent on all who are in the higher walks of life; and it is impossible not to acknowledge the obligations, which in this respect we owe as a nation, to those exalted characters, whom God in his undeserved mercy to us still suffers to continue on the throne, and who set to their subjects a pattern of decency and moderation rarely seen in their elevated station.

But every person of rank, and fortune, and abilities, should endeavor in like manner to exhibit a similar example, and recommend it to the imitation of the circle in which he moves. It has been the opinion of some well-meaning people, that by joining, as far as they possibly could with innocence, in the customs and practices of irreligious men, they might soften the prejudices too frequently taken up against Religion, of its being an austere, gloomy service; and thus secure a previous favorable impression against any time, when they might have an opportunity of explaining or enforcing their sentiments. This is always a questionable, and, it is to be feared, a dangerous policy. Many mischievous consequences necessarily resulting from it might easily be enumerated. But it is a policy particularly unsuitable to our inconsiderate and dissipated times, and to the lengths at which we are arrived. In these circumstances, the most likely means of producing the revulsion which is required, must be boldly to proclaim the distinction between the adherents of “God and Baal.” The expediency of this conduct in our present situation is confirmed by another consideration, to which we have before had occasion to refer. It is this—that when men are aware that something of difficulty is to be effected, their spirits rise to the level of the encounter; they make up their minds, to bear hardships and brave dangers, and to persevere in spite of fatigue and opposition: whereas in a matter which is regarded as of easy and ordinary operation, they are apt to slumber over their work, and to fail in what a small effort might have been sufficient to accomplish, for want of having called up the requisite degree of energy and spirit. Conformably to the principle which is hereby suggested, in the circumstances in which we are placed, the line of demarcation between the friends and the enemies of religion should now be made clear; the separation should be broad and obvious. Let him, then, who wishes well to his country, no longer hesitate what course of conduct to pursue. The question now is not, in what liberties he might warrantably indulge himself in another situation; but, what are the restraints on himself, which the exigencies of the present times render it advisable for him to impose? Circumstanced as we now are, it is more than ever obvious, that the best man is the truest patriot.

Nor is it only by their personal conduct, (though this mode will always be the most efficacious) that men of authority and influence may promote the cause of good morals. Let them in their several stations encourage virtue, and discountenance vice, in others. Let them enforce the laws by which the wisdom of our forefathers has guarded against the grosser infractions of morals; and congratulate themselves, that in a leading situation on the bench of justice there is placed a man, who, to his honor be it spoken, is well disposed to assist their efforts. (a) Let them favor and take part in any plans which may be formed for the advancement of morality. Above all things, let them endeavor to instruct and improve the rising generation; that, if it be possible, an antidote may be provided for the malignity of that venom which is storing up in a neighboring country. This has long been to my mind the most formidable feature of the present state of things in France; where, it is to be feared, a brood of moral vipers, as it were, is now hatching, which, when they shall have attained to their mischievous maturity, will go forth to poison the world. But fruitless will be all attempts to sustain, much more to revive, the fainting cause of morals, unless you can in some degree restore the prevalence of Evangelical Christianity. It is in morals as in physics: unless the source of practical principles be elevated, it will be in vain to attempt to make them flow on a high level in their future course. You may force them for a while into some constrained position, but they will soon drop to their natural point of depression. By all therefore who are studious of their country’s welfare, more particularly by all who desire to support our ecclesiastical establishment, every effort should be used to revive the Christianity of our better days. The attempt should especially be made in the case of the pastors of the Church, whose situation must render the principles which they hold a matter of supereminent importance. Wherever these teachers have steadily and zealously inculcated the true doctrines of the Church of England, the happiest effects have commonly rewarded their labors. And it is worth observing, in the view which we are now taking, that these men, as might naturally be expected, are, perhaps without exception, friendly to our ecclesiastical and civil establishments; (a) and consequently, that their instructions and influence tend directly as well as indirectly, to the maintenance of the cause of order and good government. If any, judging with the abstract coldness of mere politicians, doubt whether, by adopting the measures here recommended, such a religious warmth would not be called into action, as might break out into mischievous irregularities; it may be well for them to recollect, what experience clearly proves, that an Establishment, from its very nature, affords the happy means of exciting a considerable degree of fervor and animation, and at the same time tends to restrain them within due bounds. The duty of encouraging vital Religion in the Church particularly devolves on all who have the disposal of ecclesiastical preferment, and more especially on the dignitaries of the sacred order. Some of these have already sounded the alarm; justly censuring the practice of suffering Christianity to degenerate into a mere system of ethics, and recommending more attention to the peculiar doctrines of our Religion. In our schools, in our universities, let encouragement be given to the study of the writings of those venerable divines who flourished in the purer times of Christianity. Let even a considerable proficiency in their writings be required of candidates for ordination. Let our Churches no longer witness that unseemly discordance, which has too much prevailed, between the prayers which precede, and the sermon which follows.

But it may be enough to have briefly hinted at the course of conduct, which, in the present circumstances of this country, motives merely political should prompt us to pursue. To all who have at heart the national welfare, the above suggestions are solemnly submitted. They have not been urged altogether without misgivings, lest it should appear as though the concern of Eternity were melted down into a mere matter of temporal advantage, or political expediency. But since it has graciously pleased the Supreme Being so to arrange the constitution of things, as to render the prevalence of true Religion and of pure morality conducive to the well-being of states, and the preservation of civil order; and since these subordinate inducements are not unfrequently held forth, even by the sacred writers; it seemed not improper, and scarcely liable to misconstruction, to suggest inferior motives to readers, who might be less disposed to listen to considerations of a higher order.

Would to God that the course of conduct here suggested might be fairly pursued! Would to God that the happy consequences which would result from the principles we have recommended, could be realized; and above all, that the influence of true Religion could be extensively diffused! It is the best wish which can be formed for his country, by one who is deeply anxious for its welfare:

Lucem redde tuam, dux bone, patriæ!

Instar veris enim vultus ubi tuus

Affulsit populo; gratior it dies,

Et soles melius nitent.[1]

 

 

a The author must acknowledge himself indebted to Dr. Owen, for this illustration.

a I must here express my unfeigned and high respect for this great man, who with his brethren was so shamefully ejected from the church in 1666, in violation of the royal word, as well as of the clear principles of justice. With his controversial pieces I am little acquainted; but his practical writings, in four massy folios, are a treasury of Christian wisdom; and it would be a most valuable service to mankind to revise them, and perhaps to abridge them, so as to render them more suited to the taste of modem readers. This has been already done in the case of his Dying Thoughts, a beautiful little piece, and of his Saint’s Rest. His Life also, written by himself, and in a separate volume, contains much useful matter, and many valuable particulars of the history of the times of Charles I. Cromwell, &c.—I take the earliest opportunity which is offered me by the publication of a new edition of the Practical View, &c. of correcting an error which has been pointed out in the “Christian Remembrancer” for February and March last. It was certainly incorrect to describe Mr. Baxter as a member of the Church of England; since though I believe he differed little, if at all, from the English church in matters of doctrine or principle, he urged many objections against her discipline and formularies, objections, some of which, with all the reverence I feel for his character, I cannot but consider as unworthy of so great a man. I cannot however, forbear expressing my regret, that the writer of the “Remarks on Baxter’s Life” in the article in question, should have appeared to feel so little reverence for a man, of whom, notwithstanding some alloy of human infirmities, it may perhaps be truly affirmed, that the writings of few, if any, uninspired men, have been the instruments of such great and extensive benefit to mankind, as those of Mr. Baxter.

b Let me by no means be understood to censure all the sectaries without discrimination. Many of them, and some who by the unhappy circumstances of the times became objects of notice in a political view, were men of great erudition, deep views of Religion, and unquestionable piety: and though the writings of the Puritans are prolix, and, according to the fashion of their age, rendered rather perplexed than clear, by multiplied divisions and subdivisions; yet they are a mine of wealth, in which any one who will submit to some degree of labor will find himself well rewarded for his pains. In particular, the writings of Dr. Owen, Mr. Howe, and Mr. Flavel, well deserve this character: of the first mentioned author, there are two pieces which I would especially recommend to the reader’s perusal; one, on Heavenly Mindedness, abridged by Dr. Mayo; the other, on the Mortification of Sin in Believers.—While I have been speaking in terms of such high, and, I trust, such just eulogium of many of the teachers of the Church of England, this may not be an improper place to express the high obligations which we owe to the Dissenters for many excellent publications. Of this number are Dr. Evans’s Sermons on the Christian Temper; and that most useful book, the Rise and Progress of religion in the Soul, by Dr, Doddridge; also his Life, by Orton, and Letters; and two volumes of Sermons, one on Regeneration, the Other on the Power and Grace of Christ. May the writer be permitted to embrace this opportunity of recommending two volumes, published separately, of Sermons, by the late Dr. witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey.

a Vide Section vi. of the ivth Chapter, where we have expressly and fully treated of this most important truth,

a No exceptions have fallen within my own reading, but the writings of Richardson.

a It is with pain that the author finds himself compelled to place so great a writer as Dr. Robertson in this class. But, to say nothing of his phlegmatic account of the Reformation, (a subject which we should have thought likely to excite in any one, who united the character of a Christian Divine with that of an Historian, some warmth of pious gratitude for the good providence of God:) to pass over also the ambiguity, in which he leaves his readers as to his opinion of the authenticity of the Mosaic chronology, in his Disquisitions on the Trade of India; his Letters to Mr. Gibbon, lately published, cannot but excite emotions of regret and shame in every sincere Christian. The author hopes, that he has so far explained his sentiments as to render it almost unnecessary to remark, what, however, to prevent misconstruction, he must here declare, that so far from approving, he must be understood decidedly to condemn, a hot, a contentious, much more an abusive manner of opposing or of speaking of the assailants of Christianity. The Apostle’s direction in this respect cannot be too much attended to. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men; apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2 Timothy, ch. 2. ver. 24, 25.)

b Mr. Hume.

c Vide Dr. A. Smith’s Letter to W. Strahan, esq.

d What is here stated, must be acknowledged by all, be their political opinions concerning French events what they may; and it makes no difference in the writer’s view of the subject, whether the state of morals was or was not, quite, or nearly, as bad, before the French revolution.

e Soame Jenyns.

f Paley’s Evidence.

a See especially that great historian, Ferguson, who in his Essay on Civil Society, endeavors to vindicate the cause of heroism from the censure conveyed by the poet:

“From Macedonia’s madman to the Swede.”

a Such seems to be the just rendering of the word which our Testament translates, “did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

a It is a gratification to the writer’s personal, as well as public feelings, to pay this tribute of respect to the character of Lord Chief Justice Kenyon.

a This is not thrown out rashly, but asserted on the writer’s own knowledge.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 230–266). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 5

Chapter V

On The Excellence of Christianity In Certain Important Particulars. Argument Which Results Thence In Proof of Its Divine Origin

THE writer of the present Work, having now completed a faint delineation of the leading features of real Christianity, may be permitted to suspend for a few moments the farther execution of his plan, for the purpose of pointing out some excellencies which she really possesses; but which, as they are not to be found in that superficial system which so unworthily usurps her name, appear scarcely to have attracted sufficient notice. If he should seem to be deviating from the plan which he proposed to himself, he would suggest as his excuse; that the observations which he is about to offer will furnish a strong argument, in favor of the correctness of his preceding representation of the nature and characters of that Religion which alone deserves to be called Christianity.

Consistency between the leading doctrines and practical precepts of Christianity

It holds true, indeed, in the case of Christianity, as in that of all the works of God, that though a superficial and cursory view cannot fail to discover to us somewhat of their beauty; yet, when on a more careful and accurate scrutiny we become better acquainted with their properties, we become also more deeply impressed by a conviction of their excellence. We may begin by referring to the last chapter for an instance of the truth of this assertion. Therein was pointed out that intimate connection, that perfect harmony, between the leading doctrines and the practical precepts of Christianity, which is apt to escape the attention of the ordinary eye.

Between the leading doctrines of Christianity amongst each other

It may not be improper also to remark, though the position be so obvious as almost to render the statement of it needless, that there is the same close connection in the leading doctrines of Christianity with each other, and the same perfect harmony between them. It is self-evident, that the corruption of human nature, that our reconciliation to God by the atonement of Christ, and that the restoration of our primitive dignity by the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, are all parts of one whole, united in close dependence and mutual congruity.

Between the practical precepts amongst each other

Perhaps, however, it has not been sufficiently noticed, that in the chief practical precepts of Christianity, there is the same essential agreement, the same mutual dependency of one upon another. Let us survey this fresh instance of the wisdom of that system, which is the only solid foundation of our present or future happiness.

The virtues most strongly and repeatedly enjoined in Scripture, and by our progress in which we may best measure our advancement in holiness, are the fear and love of God and of Christ; love, kindness, and meekness towards our fellow-creatures; indifference to the possessions and events of this life, in comparison with our concern about eternal things; self-denial, and humility.

It has been already pointed out in many particulars, how essentially such of these Christian graces as respect the Divine Being are connected with those, which have more directly for their objects our fellow-creatures and ourselves. But, in the case of these two last descriptions of Christian graces, the more attentively we consider them with reference to the acknowledged principles of human nature, and to indisputable facts, the more we shall be convinced that they afford mutual aid towards the acquisition of each other; and that, when acquired, they all harmonize with each other in perfect and essential union. This truth may perhaps be sufficiently apparent from what has been already remarked, but it may not be useless to dwell on it a little more in detail. Take, then, the instances of loving-kindness and meekness towards others; and observe the solid foundation which is laid for them in self-denial, in moderation as to the good things of this life, and in humility. The chief causes of enmity among men are, pride and self-importance, the high opinion which men entertain of themselves, and the consequent deference which they exact from others; the over-valuation of worldly possessions and of worldly honors, and in consequence, a too eager competition for them. The rough edges of one man rub against those of another, (if the expression may be allowed;) and the friction is often such as to injure the works, and disturb the just arrangements and regular motions of the social machine. But by Christianity all these roughnesses are filed down; every wheel rolls round smoothly in the performance of its appointed function, and there is nothing to retard the several movements, or break in upon the general order. The religious system indeed of the bulk of nominal Christians is satisfied with some tolerable appearance of virtue: and accordingly, while it recommends love and beneficence, it tolerates pride and vanity in many cases; it even countenances and commends the excessive valuation of character; and at least allows a man’s whole soul to be absorbed in the pursuit of the object which he is following, be it what it may of personal or professional success. But though these latter qualities may, for the most part, fairly enough consist with a soft exterior and courtly demeanor, they cannot so well accord with the genuine internal principle of love. Some cause of discontent, some ground of jealousy or of envy will arise, some suspicion will corrode, some disappointment will sour, some slight or calumny will irritate and provoke reprisals. In the higher walks of life indeed, we learn to disguise our emotions; but such will be the real inward feelings of the soul, and they will frequently betray themselves when we are off our guard, or when we are not likely to be disparaged by the discovery. This state of the higher orders, in which men are scuffling eagerly for the same objects, and wearing all the while such an appearance of sweetness and complacency, has often appeared to me to be not ill illustrated by the image of a gaming table. There, every man is intent only on his own profit; the good success of one is the ill success of another, and therefore the general state of mind of the parties engaged may be pretty well conjectured. All this, however, does not prevent, in well-bred societies, an exterior of perfect gentleness and good humor. But let the same employment be carried on among the lower orders, who are not so well schooled in the art of disguising their feelings; or in places where, by general connivance, people are allowed to give vent to their real emotions; and every passion will display itself, by which the “human face divine” can be distorted and deformed. For those who never have been present at so humiliating a scene, the pencil of Hogarth has provided a representation of it, which is scarcely exaggerated; and the horrid name,* by which it is familiarly known among its frequenters, sufficiently attests the fidelity of its resemblance.

But Christianity is not satisfied with producing merely the specious guise of virtue. She requires the substantial reality, which may stand the scrutinizing eye of that Being, “who searches the heart.” Meaning therefore that the Christian should live and breathe in an atmosphere, as it were, of benevolence, she forbids whatever can tend to obstruct its diffusion, or vitiate its purity. It is on this principle that emulation is forbidden: for, besides that this passion almost insensibly degenerates into envy, and that it derives its origin chiefly from pride and a desire of self-exaltation; how can we easily love our neighbor as ourselves, if we consider him at the same time as our rival, and are intent upon surpassing him in the pursuit of whatever is the subject of our competition?

Christianity, again, teaches us not to set our hearts on earthly possessions and earthly honors; and thereby provides for our really loving, or even cordially forgiving, those who have been more successful than ourselves in the attainment of them, or who have even designedly thwarted us in the pursuit. “Mind not high things,” says the Apostle. How can he who means to attempt, in any degree, to obey this precept, and the many other passages of Scripture which speak a similar language, be irreconcilably hostile towards anyone who may have been instrumental in his depression?

Christianity also teaches us not to prize human estimation at a very high rate; and thereby provides for the practice of her injunction, to love from the heart those who, justly or unjustly, may have attacked our reputation, and wounded our character. She commands not the show, but the reality, of meekness and gentleness; and by thus taking away the aliment of anger and the fomenters of discord, she provides for the maintenance of peace, and the restoration of good temper among men, when it may have sustained a temporary interruption.

Another excellence of Christianity; a higher value by it set on moral than on intellectual attainments

It is another capital excellence of Christianity, that she values moral attainments at a far higher rate than intellectual acquisitions, and proposes to conduct her followers to the heights of virtue rather than of knowledge. On the contrary, most of the false religious systems which have prevailed in the world, have proposed to reward the labor of their votary, by drawing aside the veil which concealed from the vulgar eye their hidden mysteries, and by introducing him to the knowledge of their deeper and more sacred doctrines.

This is eminently the case in the Hindu, and in the Mahometan Religion, in that of China, and for the most part in the various modifications of ancient Paganism. In systems which proceed on this principle, it is obvious that the bulk of mankind can never make any great proficiency. There was accordingly, among the nations of antiquity, one system, whatever it was, for the learned, and another for the illiterate. Many of the philosophers spoke out, and professed to keep the lower orders in ignorance for the general good; plainly suggesting, that the bulk of mankind was to be considered as almost of an inferior species. Aristotle himself countenanced this opinion. An opposite mode of proceeding naturally belongs to Christianity, which without distinction professes an equal regard for all human beings, and which was characterized by her first Promulgator as the messenger of “glad tidings to the poor.”

But her preference of moral to intellectual excellence is not to be praised, only because it is congenial with her general character, and suitable to the ends which she professes to have in view. It is the part of true wisdom to endeavor to excel there, where we may really attain to excellence. This consideration might be alone sufficient to direct our efforts to the acquisition of virtue rather than of knowledge.—How limited is the range of the greatest human abilities! how scanty the stores of the richest human knowledge! Those who undeniably have held the first rank both for natural and acquired endowments, instead of thinking their pre-eminence a just ground of self-exaltation, have commonly been the most forward to confess that their views were bounded and their attainments moderate. Had they indeed been less candid, this is a discovery which we could not have failed to make for ourselves. Experience daily furnishes us with examples of weakness, and short-sightedness, and error, in the wisest and the most learned of men, which might serve to confound the pride of human wisdom.

Not so in morals.—Made at first in the likeness of God, and still bearing about us some faint traces of our high original, we are offered by our blessed Redeemer the means of purifying ourselves from our corruptions, and of once more regaining the image of our heavenly Father.* In love, the compendious expression for almost every virtue, in fortitude under all its forms, in justice, in humility, and in all the other graces of the Christian character, we are made capable of attaining to heights of real elevation: and, were we but faithful in the use of the means of grace which we enjoy, the operations of the Holy Spirit, prompting and aiding our diligent endeavors, would infallibly crown our labors with success, and make us partakers of a Divine nature. The writer has himself known some who have been instances of the truth of this remark. To the memory of one, now no more, may he be permitted to offer the last tribute of respectful friendship? His course short, but laborious, has at length terminated in a better world; and his luminous track still shines in the sight, and animates the efforts of all who knew him, and “marshals them the way” to Heavenly glory. Let me not be thought to undervalue any of the gifts of God, or of the fruits of human exertion: but let not these be prized beyond their proper worth. If one of those little industrious reptiles, to which we have been well sent for a lesson of diligence and foresight, were to pride itself upon its strength, because it could carry off a larger grain of wheat than any other of its fellow ants, should we not laugh at the vanity which could be highly gratified with such a contemptible pre-eminence? And is it far different to the eye of reason, when man, weak, short-sighted man, is vain of surpassing others in knowledge, in which at best his progress must be so limited; forgetting the true dignity of his nature, and the path which would conduct him to real excellence?

Excellence of the practical precepts of Christianity

The unparalleled value of the precepts of Christianity ought not to be passed over altogether unnoticed in this place, though it be needless to dwell on it; since it has been often justly recognized and asserted, and has in some points been ably illustrated, and powerfully enforced by the masterly pen of a late writer. It is by no means, however, the design of this little Work to attempt to trace the various excellencies of Christianity; but it may not have been improper to point out a few particulars, which, in the course of investigation, have naturally fallen under our notice, and hitherto perhaps may scarcely have been enough regarded. Every such instance, it should always be remembered, is a fresh proof of Christianity being a revelation from God.

It is still less, however, the intention of the writer, to attempt to vindicate the Divine origin of our Holy Religion. This task has often been executed by far abler advocates. In particular, every Christian, with whatever reserves his commendations must be qualified, should be forward to confess his obligations on this head to the author before alluded to; whose uncommon acuteness has enabled him, in a field already so much trodden, to discover arguments which had eluded the observation of all by whom he was preceded, and whose unequalled perspicuity puts his reader in complete possession of the fruits of his sagacity. Anxious, however, in my little measure, to contribute to the support of this great cause, may it be permitted me to state one argument which impresses my mind with particular force. This is, the great variety of the kinds of evidence which have been adduced in proof of Christianity, and the confirmation thereby afforded of its truth:—The proof from prophecy—from miracles—from the character of Christ—from that of his Apostles—from the nature of the doctrines of Christianity—from the nature and excellence of her practical precepts—from the accordance we have lately pointed out between the doctrinal and practical system of Christianity, whether considered each in itself or in their mutual relation to each other—from other species of internal evidence, afforded in the more abundance in proportion as the sacred records have been scrutinized with greater care—from the accounts of contemporary or nearly contemporary writers—from the impossibility of accounting on any other supposition, than that of the truth of Christianity, for its promulgation and early prevalence: these and other lines of argument have all been brought forward, and ably urged by different writers, in proportion as they have struck the minds of different observers more or less forcibly. Now, granting that some obscure and illiterate men, residing in a distant province of the Roman empire, had plotted to impose a forgery upon the world; though some foundation for the imposture might, and indeed must, have been attempted to be laid; it seems, to my understanding at least, morally impossible that so many different species of proofs, and all so strong, should have lent their concurrent aid, and have united their joint force in the establishment of the falsehood. It may assist the reader in estimating the value of this argument, to consider, upon how different a footing, in this respect, every other religious system, which was ever proposed to the world, has stood; and indeed, every other historical fact, of which the truth has been at all contested.[1]

 

 

* The Hell, so called, let it be observed, not by way of reproach, but familiarity, by those who frequent it.

The Rev. Matthew Babington, of Rothley, in Leicestershire, who died lately at Lisbon.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 220–229). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)


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