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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 6 Bookmark

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)

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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