by John Angell James, 1848
Inducements! Can it be necessary to offer any? What! is not the bare mention of piety enough to rouse every soul who understands the meaning of that momentous word, to the greatest intensity of action? Who needs to have exerted upon his mind the demonstrations of logic, or the persuasions of rhetoric--to move him to seek after wealth, rank, or honor? Who, when an opportunity presents itself to obtain such advantages, requires anything more than an appeal to his consciousness of their value to engage him in the pursuit? The very mention of riches suggests at once to man's avarice a thousand arguments to use the means of obtaining them. What intense longings does it raise in the heart; with what pictures does it crowd the imagination; what a spell does it throw over the whole soul! And why is not intensely more than all this felt at the mention of the word piety; that term which comprehends within its sublime and boundless meaning, heaven and earth, time and eternity, God and man? If we were as we ought to be, it would be enough only to whisper in our ears that word which should be of more than magic power to engage all our faculties, and all our energies, in the most resolute purpose, the most determined pursuit, and the most entire self-devotion. Inducements to earnestness in piety! Alas, how low we have sunk, how far have we been paralyzed, to need to be thus stimulated! But since this is our state, I am at no loss for considerations which, with every reflecting mind, will be found to supply motives of irresistible potency.
I. How, without such a state of mind, can we be satisfied that we have any personal piety at all?Where is our evidence that we are sincere Christians--if we are not earnest Christians? Understand, consider, ponder what it is we are seeking after and contending for. Let us recollect what it is we are professedly endeavoring to escape from. It is nothing less than eternal perdition--how can you not be earnest to flee from the wrath to come! Did any one, besides Lot's wife, whose doom is held up to us as a warning, flee from a burning house with lukewarmness and half a heart? Let us consider what we are professedly making objects of our desire and pursuit; even glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life--how can you not be earnestly seeking these? Did ever mortal yet, whose ambition led him to combat for a crown--engage with languor and slackness for the glittering prize? Is "the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, with eternal glory," an object so inconsiderable and of such little value, that a person can really be supposed to be pursuing it, when he is a stranger to any ardor of soul in reference to it? Is piety a contradiction to the usual maxim, that a man's activity in endeavoring to obtain an object is in exact proportion to the value and importance which he attaches to it? Are heaven, and salvation, and eternity, the only matters that shall reverse the maxim, and make lukewarmness the rule of action? It cannot be; it is impossible! If the slack and careless professor be sincere, all the principles, not only of revelation—but of our own nature, must be subverted.
Without earnestness you are not safe for eternity, and ought to conclude that you are not. Doubt and suspicion ought to rise at once in your mind, and you ought to fear you have never yet started for the incorruptible crown of life and glory. You are in the church only nominally. Your profession, it is to be feared, is hollow and false, and will be found utterly unavailing at last. You will add to the already countless multitude that have gone down to the pit with a lie in their right hand, and who prove that though men may be lost without earnestness, they cannot be saved without it. Would that I could alarm the careless, and awaken the slumbering professor. By what thunder shall I break in upon your deep and dangerous sleep? Oh, that it were possible to reverberate in your ears the echoes of the wailings of those who are mourning in the bottomless pit--the sin and folly of an insincere profession of religion!
And then even where there is sincerity, and therefore some degree of this intensity of mind, still it is your duty and privilege to go on increasing it. The more devoted you are, the clearer is your evidence of personal interest in the blessings of salvation. Your doubts and fears will be dissipated by such a state of mind, like the mists and clouds of the morning flying off before the rising sun. You will have the full consciousness that you have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ--by your joy and peace in believing, by your love to God, by your longings after holiness, by your spirituality, heavenly-mindedness, and habitual communion with God. Your piety will be self-evident to yourself and to others. You will feel that your citizenship is in heaven, and that you belong more to another world than to this. You will need no voice from heaven, no messenger from God, no searching for your name in the book of God's decrees--to convince you that you have passed from death unto life. The actings of the new, hidden and spiritual life, will be too strong and steady to leave you in any doubt that the principle of vitality is within. You will have the witness in yourself, and its testimony will be too loud and unequivocal to be unheard or mistaken.
Do, do consider, then, you professors of religion--the salvation of your immortal soul. Revolve often and deeply the infinite realities about which piety is conversant. Most subjects may with greater or less difficulty be made to assume the greater or less degree of importance which the preacher assigns to them. Pompous expressions, bold figures, lively ornaments of eloquence, may often supply a lack of dignity in the subject discussed; but every attempt to give importance to a motive taken from eternity, is more likely to enfeeble the doctrine than to invigorate it. Motives of this kind are self-sufficient. Descriptions the most simple, and the most natural, are always the most moving or the most terrifying; nor can we find an expression more powerful and more emphatic than that of Paul, "The things which are not seen are eternal." What more could the tongues of men, and the eloquence of angels say?
"Eternal things," oh what subjects are veiled under that expression! Nothing less than eternal salvation--or eternal perdition! Professing Christians, surmount your customary indolence; summon your faculties, and rouse your energies, to the consideration of this subject, and weigh the import of the phrase, "eternal things." The history of nations, the eras of time, the creation of worlds, all fade into insignificance, dwindle to nothing, fade to a shadow--compared with eternal things. Do you believe them? If not, recant your creed, abandon your Bible, and renounce your profession. Be consistent, and let the stupendous vision, which like Jacob's ladder rests its foot on earth and places its top in heaven, vanish in thin air.
But if you do believe, then say--what ought to be the conduct of him, who, in his own conviction, stands with hell beneath him, heaven above him, and eternity before him! Oh, could you spend but one hour in heaven and hell, (into one of which you may pass the next hour, and will pass some hour)--could you be only for so short a time the witness of ineffable glory and inconceivable misery; could you see "the solemn and sweet societies," of the celestial city, and the legions of accursed spirits which throng the dark domain of the infernal world—and then come back again to earth, would it be possible any more to attend to seen and temporal things, when such eternal things were before you? Politics would lose their fascination, business its importance, wealth its charms, fame its glory, pleasure its attractions, science its value, and even home its power to please. A due impression of heaven and hell, of the soul and eternity, would annihilate forever all the vain things which now please you most. To every temptation that would divert your mind from the salvation of your soul, you would say, "I cannot buy your bliss so dear, nor part with heaven for you." It seems necessary that these solemn and eternal realities should be thrown back into the distance, and be visible only to the eye of faith, in order to enable us to go on with the affairs of the present world.
By all the worth of the immortal soul, then, by all the blessings of eternal salvation, by all the glories of the upper world, by all the horrors of the bottomless pit, by all the ages of eternity, and by all the personal interest you have in these infinite realities, I implore you to be in earnest in personal piety.
II.As another inducement to this, may be mentioned the certain connection between a high state of piety in this world, and an exalted state of honor and happiness in the world to come; or, in other words, the different degrees of glory in the celestial kingdom. We are too much accustomed to conceive of heaven and hell as places where the happy inhabitants of the one, and the miserable criminals of the other, will be, respectively, all upon a level—the one, all equally happy, and the other, all equally wretched. This is neither the doctrine of Scripture, nor the deduction of reason. If we consult the Word of God, we find it declared in reference to the wicked, that "And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:47-48) So again it is said by the apostle, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked—for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." "He who sows sparingly, shall also reap sparingly—and he who sows bountifully, shall reap also bountifully."
Now the solemn truth conveyed in this language is this, that man's life is the seed time for eternity, and that as here he is always sowing, so he will hereafter be always reaping—and that the harvest, both as to the kind and the quantity, will be according to the seed. They that sow good seed will have, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred fold, according to the quantity sown—while they who sow the seed of bad things, will also have a harvest regulated by their seed, both in its quality and amount. God's rule of reward and punishment is a law of proportion. True it is, that in the case of the righteous and the wicked, there is on the part of God a different ground of procedure in reference to each, inasmuch as the punishment of the wicked is on the ground of their own desert, while the reward of the righteous is on that of Christ's merits; but this affects not the rule of distribution, since he who gives to a believer any measure of heavenly glory for the sake of Christ, may on the same ground give to another a far greater measure—he might do this in a way of pure sovereignty—but he has determined to do so according to the measure of holiness to which believers attain on earth.
This principle of different degrees of glory does not at all interfere with, nor in the least oppose, the doctrine of justification by faith—nor does it affect the perfect happiness of the blessed ones in heaven. It will excite neither envy, jealousy, nor ill-will of any kind, since these passions will be all rooted out from the spirits of just men made perfect—and no other disposition than that of perfect love to God and our fellows will have any place in us. A being possessed of this perfect love, though the least and lowest in the scale of blessedness, will look up to all above him without the smallest taint of malevolent feeling. All will be perfectly contented, and, therefore, perfectly happy—and he who is perfectly contented, knows nothing of envy—these states of mind are incompatible with each other. There may be vessels of an indefinite number of capacities--yet all may be full. Thus we can conceive of different degrees of glory, and yet no disturbance of the felicity of those who are the subjects of them.
Now the scale by which these varieties will be regulated will be, as I have already supposed, the attainments in personal piety, and the degrees of usefulness of Christians upon earth—and this will help us better to conceive of the whole subject. We may imagine that every effort of vital godliness, every successful resistance of temptation, every reach after holiness, every mortification of sin, every aspiration after conformity to God, may have some effect upon the moral constitution of our nature, analogous to the exercise of our understanding or of our body--in strengthening our intellectual and physical frame. There may be an expansion, so to speak, of the spiritual nature, an increasing receptivity of glory and honor, ever going on--by our growth in grace on earth. The child of God may here by his good habits in the school of Christ, and by his holy exercises, be preparing for a larger stature of the perfect man in heaven. There can be little doubt that the society of Paradise will be well constructed and orderly. There may be varieties of rank, station, and employment; for anything we can tell, there may be rule, subjection, and government—and therefore the different degrees of grace may be the discipline, the education, the fitness--for the different situations to be filled up, the posts to be occupied, in the celestial kingdom. There are intimations of this in the word of God.
Besides, let it be remembered that we shall carry our memory with us to heaven, and will it be no bliss to remember what we did for God on earth, and how we attempted to serve Christ? Why, the apostle Paul felt this even on earth—and if the retrospect then afforded him such delight, how much more when he saw the results of all he did, spread out before him in the celestial world. With what rapture would he there say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." How precious would be the recollection of all his sufferings, and all his labors! How it would delight him to look back, and recall to recollection his sacrifices and his services, not in a spirit of pharisaic pride—but of deep humility and adoring gratitude and love. There he would realize the truth of his own words, "For who is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy!" (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) Every soul he had been the instrument of saving would be a separate jewel to enrich and adorn his diadem of glory. Just thus will it be with all others. Memory will add to their felicities also. The whole multitude of the redeemed will remember all they did for Christ, and think of it with delight—and they who shall have most to think of, will have most bliss in the remembrance of it. The souls which they have been the instruments of saving will all be present to swell their rapture, and augment their bliss.
Nor will the enjoyment stop here. The blissful reminiscence will be enhanced by a divine eulogy, for Christ will add his testimony of approbation to all they did. Even a cup of cold water, if given to a disciple in his name, will not lose its reward. He will pass over nothing. He keeps a book of remembrance of those who even 'think upon his name'—and he will mark with his special and personal commendation all we have done for him—and they who have served him best, will, of course, receive most of his gracious notice and commendation.
Professors, I appeal to you, then, on this deeply interesting and important view of our subject. True it is, that to be just within the threshold of your Father's house, to occupy the lowest room, and to perform the humblest service, will be amazing and unutterable grace—but this ought not to be an excuse for indolence, an apology for lukewarmness. If it be lawful for you to long for heaven, because there you will enjoy the presence of your Lord--it is surely lawful for you to desire to press as near to your Lord as possible. The outer circle, the distant glimpse, the remote dwelling--ought not to be enough to satisfy your desire, or fill your heart. If it is lawful for you to covet heaven at all, because you will there serve God, surely it is lawful for you also to aspire to the honor of doing more for him than you could do in one of the lowest posts. Call not this a spiritual selfishness, or an unauthorized ambition—it is no such thing; it is a legitimate yearning of the soul after the glory to be revealed.
This, this, is your business on earth, you are training for heaven; this is your work in the church militant, to be preparing for some post and place in the church triumphant. Is not this enough to make you in earnest? Can you believe this, and not be in earnest? Awake, arouse, put aside your earthly-mindedness, mortify your corruptions! "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ!" (1 Peter 1:13)
III. And without this intensity of mind--what is your religion?Certainly not a source of pleasure—but of misery. An earnest religion is that alone which is a happy one. To drink into the pleasures of piety, we must drink deeply of piety itself. It is with the happiness of piety, as it is with ore in a mine, it lies far below the surface, and we must make a laborious descent to reach the treasure; but when reached, it is worth all the digging and toiling to get at it. Many professors, if they were honest, would say their religion is an encumbrance, rather than a privilege—it yields them no delight; they are strangers to the peace which passes understanding, and to the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. They occupy a position half-way between the church and the world, and do not enjoy the pleasures of either; they are spoiled for the one, without being fitted for the other. They have given up many of the fashionable amusements of the mirthful, and have received nothing in return—and hence they throw back many a longing look on what they have left. They were happier as they once were—they begin to think, and others think so too, that they are in their wrong place in being in the church of God, and were it not for the shame of retreat, they would be glad to be back again amidst former scenes. How much are they to be pitied, as well as blamed. There are many who thus have just religion enough to make them miserable.
IV. We live in an earnest age, and piety cannot be expected to maintain its ground without corresponding decision and resoluteness of character.The human mind was never more active than it is now; the human heart never more engrossed—and in consequence, human scenes never came more thickly or rapidly crowding upon the public attention. There have been times when some one object has seized with a more absorbing power, and a more giant grasp, the intellect of the nation; such as a season of internal commotion, of the dread of foreign invasion, of the prevalence of the plague, or other forms of pestilence; but these excitements have been of a kind which, while they occupied the mind, did not draw men away from piety—but drove them to piety, for support and support. An awe of God, and a sense of the need of his interposition, came, in such circumstances, over the nation. While the tempest was rolling over them, and men's hearts were failing them for fear, they seemed to see Jehovah riding in the whirlwind, and directing the storm. God was recognized as coming near to them, wrapped in cloud, and speaking in thunder!
But it is not so now—the personal excitement to a great extent, tends to shut out God, and keep out God from men's thoughts—and partakes, in some views and directions, of an atheistic character. Politics, both national and municipal, are engrossing, without being alarming; no spectral forms of national danger sober the minds of men. Trade is a passion, as well as a pursuit. Science is all but miraculous in its discoveries, and is keeping our mind upon the stretch, in admiration of what it has done, and in expectation of what it may yet do. Art is continually surprising us with new inventions. The railway system of travel has almost changed our mode and habits of existence. We seem scarcely to be inhabiting the same planet as our forefathers. The press is astounding us with the rapid multiplication of its products.
Our minds, hearts, hands, are all full--and what but an earnest piety can prevent our being totally swallowed up in the vortex, and carried away by the stream? If we have not an earnest piety in the midst of this earnestness for everything else, we can have no piety at all. Men are so full of action as to have scarcely time to think—and what thinking they do carry on, is all of the earth, and therefore earthly. The idolatry of genius, the worship of talent, the ennoblement, almost the deification of man, characterizes our day. This generation seems in danger of thinking, or of acting, as if they believed there is nothing higher than human intellect. A sort of unacknowledged, unsuspected Pantheism is coming over us. God is by many shut out of his own world—nature is everything, its Creator nothing.
Now we, as Christians, are in danger of being infected by this prevailing spirit. Men never needed more piety, than we do now. Upon us depends whether the Supreme Being shall be any longer acknowledged by his creatures, or his very name sunk in oblivion—and we are not in the best state to resist the assault upon the foundations of our piety. Earnestness is going out of the church into the world—and unless it can be revived among us, the church will go on sinking into a state of feebleness and decay. Instead of the church permeating the world with its own spirit--it is receiving the spirit of the world into itself. Instead of directing, controlling, and sanctifying the spirit and manners of the age--it is itself directed, controlled, and contaminated by them. Its own light has become pale, and is in danger of being extinguished by the mighty beams of a more intense luminary blazing from without. Earnest men of the world are crowding past, and thrusting aside, the professors of piety. Christians, in such a state of things, cannot stand their ground, much less advance, without a robust and athletic piety. They will be borne down, lose their spirituality, become spiritless and weak, and soon cast off their religion as having none of the life with which all things around them are instinct.
And then what chance have they, unless they are as flames of fire, of kindling a single spark in the souls of others? Men of the world are too busy, too much pre-occupied, too intent on other objects--to be broken in upon and arrested, except by a most vigorous piety. They love excitement, and they will have it—they will go with the men who are alive and active. What do they care for a poor, dull, sleepy religion--a mere name, a half dead profession? "Yes," they say, "I am in earnest for this world, and I must be in earnest. I am made for activity. I have a vast fund of energy in my nature, which must be called out and employed, and I cannot put up with your drowsy tinklings, while the trumpets are sounding and calling me to the field. Show me a piety that is full of life, and vigor, and enjoyment, and I may then hearken to you—but not until then."
We must meet this demand, and exhibit a piety that surpasses in earnestness even the energy of their pursuits. Every Christian church should be the region of life, a hive without any drones, all busy for eternity, all engaged upon their own salvation and the salvation of the world—a scene which exhibits the union of activity and repose; where the one is without weariness, and the other without listlessness; where the true secret of happiness is found in hope without disappointment, energy without exhaustion--happiness without satiety; and life is in its fullest vigor and richest enjoyment. Such should be every church, a peaceful haven inviting men to retire from the tossings and perils of the unquiet ocean of worldly troubles, to a sacred enclosure, a sequestered spot, which the storms and tempests of earthly interests are not permitted to invade—and yet where the happiest employment is combined with the sweetest and safest tranquility.
V. Consider the combined and deleterious influence which is likely to come upon Christianity, from the engrossing power of some things, good in themselves, and evil only by their association with other matters--such as science, philosophy, and politics—and the increasing influence of others, such as Popery and infidelity, which are evil, only evil, and that continually.
SCIENCE of itself would lead to God, if men would but give themselves up to its legitimate deductions, and would allow themselves to be guided where it would conduct them, since its conclusions would infallibly direct them to the temple of revealed religion. But, alas, how rarely is this the case—the most distinguished of our scientific men stand outside, or reach only the vestibule of the temple—and instead of pressing on to adore the Deity enshrined in the holy of holies--are contented to admire the fair proportions and stupendous magnitude of the sacred edifice. Science cannot, of course, be made to speak of God the Savior and the Sanctifier—but it may be made a teacher of God the Creator. But how rarely is even this done; for the little that is said of the supreme, intelligent, and benevolent First Cause, by many of our great teachers of nature's laws--we would be left to conclude that we lived in a godless world, and that we saw around us either the works of chance, or, at any rate, the productions of a Being whom it was not thought worth while to inquire after.
Nor does the matter rest here, for many are endeavoring by science to lead us away from God, and are thus making the very works of the Infinite Intelligence a blazing galaxy to eclipse the glory of their Eternal Creator, and lure us to atheism or pantheism. And where this is not done; where neither the teacher nor the taught has any intention or wish to go astray from God amidst the boundless fields of a universe ever widening upon the exploring and astonished mind; yet how much danger is there, lest the surprising discoveries which are ever and always bursting upon our view, should by their novelty and their grandeur render the old and long-established truths of Scriptural revelation tame and insipid. How imminent, to cultivated minds, is the peril, when engaged amidst the all but overwhelming studies of geology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, electricity, and medicine--of passing by, with heedless step and averted eye, that cross on which the Savior loved and died! How sad, and yet how true, is it, that the more God reveals himself through the discoveries of science, the more he is forgotten, and even denied--as he reveals himself in the pages of his Word! What else can this be, but the ancient disposition of not liking to retain the knowledge of God, and the ancient request, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of your ways!"
But even with pious people, who, in their more serious moments, trace up all science to God, and find in his works cause for adoring wonder, gratitude, and love--there is need of caution, watchfulness, and prayer, lest a love for general reading, and the constant occupation of the mind in the fields of knowledge which are ever opening before it, should lead the heart away from God. Not a few, in soaring to the stars, or delving into the earth, or analyzing substances and ascertaining properties, or studying theories of trade, population, and other matters connected with the wealth of nations, have lost their relish for the truths of the kingdom of God, and instead of feeling any longer the attractions of those things which the angels desire to look into--are wholly taken up with the objects of this material and visible world. This is the snare of our age, such an occupancy of the mind by the varieties of knowledge which are ever presenting themselves, as that there shall be neither room, nor time, nor taste, for piety.
"The value, the uses, the pleasures, of KNOWLEDGE, and the best means of acquiring it," is the cry of the age, and a very good one, in measure, it is. But then it is crowding out piety! It is insidiously alienating men's minds from piety, by throwing the great moral truths of revelation into the shadow of a material philosophy—and making them feel as if the tree of knowledge were the tree of life, or at any rate as if by eating the fruit of the former, they could dispense with the fruit of the latter; and could either do without heaven hereafter, or were fitted for it by the science they gain upon earth. Christians, as well as others, are in danger from this source, and instead of growing in grace and in general knowledge, which they may and should do, have grown in earthly knowledge—but declined in grace.
Let me not be misconceived or misrepresented, as if I were writing against knowledge, or supposed it were an enemy to revelation and piety. No such thing. I am only pleading against it as the substitute for piety, as that which would be sufficient for man's moral and immortal self--without piety.
I adopt the noble language of Mr. Wells in his lecture upon the instruction of the laboring class: "If it be asked, What limits would you place on the education of the working classes? The answer is, 'none.' Teach them all you can by any means induce or enable them to learn. How far would you carry the instruction of the working classes? As far as possible. But, apart from this, who is afraid of knowledge, of sound, healthful intelligence? Of knowledge, the light and joy of souls! Of knowledge, the object for which minds were made, and their faculties given! Of knowledge, in capacity for which, man resembles his Maker—and in acquiring which he communes with all created things! Of knowledge, the foe of everything infidel, sensual, and brutal! What page of history, science, or genuine poetry, must we close from any man, saying--'Here knowledge is perilous, here ignorance alone is safety?' Of what discovered facts in nature, of what refined productions of genius, must we say, 'These are the luxuries of the few alone?' If, indeed, only of the few, these few are the select in mind, and these may be found among the working classes in as large proportion as among the privileged classes—and wherever they may be found, there they should be sought, that at this uncostly and noble banquet of mind they may be welcome guests and joyful partakers. Lift up the people, cheer on the people, to as much acquisition of knowledge as possible. Raise everywhere the standard of the mind. If some, as encouraged and helped, press upwards into higher departments and circumstances in society, so much the better. They will bring health and power with them into the ranks by which they will be hailed as brothers, not scowled upon as intruders. No, teach the people all they can learn, all they will learn."
Liberalism in POLITICS, also, however excellent in itself, is sometimes made, by an abuse of it, to exert an influence far from friendly to genuine piety. The love of freedom is, or ought to be, with every Englishman, both a principle and a passion—and he who does not wish to liberate the constitution of his country from the last remnant of servility which degrades or oppresses a free man, dishonors the soil which has been consecrated by the blood of patriot martyrs. But it must be confessed, at the same time, that the liberalism of our days has been seen too nearly allied, in some cases, with a spirit hostile to piety. There is no necessity it should be so; the very genius of Christianity is a spirit of freedom, and all its precepts are opposed to tyranny. It defends with impartiality the palace and the cottage, the prerogative of the monarch, and the rights of the subject—but unhappily the priest and the altar have been so often on the side of oppression, that the cause of freedom has been thrown too much into the hands of infidels. There is no doubt that, in modern times at least, nearly the whole force of infidelity has been on the side of freedom. This proves the duty and necessity of all the friends of piety rallying around the standard of liberty, and not leaving such a cause in the hands of the foes of revelation. It is pre-eminently their cause; they have suffered more than any others from the iron heel and bloody sword of tyranny—and that which has trodden them down, has trampled their principles and their cause with them in the dust; so that liberty is to them not only a source of enjoyment—but a means of usefulness.
The least leaning in them to the side of intolerance or servility is a sin against their holy religion, in it prospect and its hopes, as well as an offence against their own dignity and honor. Happily for themselves, happily for their cause, and no less happily for their country and the world, they now live in an age when the principles of religious freedom are better understood and appreciated than in any preceding period of the world. It behooves them more and more to take heed not to let it be the boast of infidels, that they are the staunchest friends of liberty. Their liberalism goes to the destruction of religion altogether. Man, in their view, is not free as long as he is bound by, what they are pleased to call, the fetters of superstition. He is a slave while he bows to the yoke of God, and from this they are eager and officious to liberate him. Let any one read the publications of the extreme Chartist party, and he will see this is no false accusation. And even many of those who would spurn with disdain and loathing these infidel liberals, hold opinions of a very loose character on the subject of religion.
The tendency of much of modern argument, policy, and legislation, is to represent all religions, as they are called, as equally good; that is, in the opinion of many, equally worthless. Instead of endowing none, and thus leaving truth to its own strength, to fight its own battles under the protection and blessing of the God of truth, they would endow all, as being all equally deserving of public patronage and support. If by religious equality, nothing more were meant than the equality of all religious denominations in political rights, this is nothing more than justice; but if the 'equality of all religious sentiments' be meant, as it is by many--this is concealed infidelity. When such a state of public opinion prevails among a large portion of those who have embraced liberal views in politics, is there not a danger of some corrupting influence coming over the minds of those professors of religion who having also embraced liberal opinions, are brought by that association into contact with the infidel party? Is there not need of a vigorous piety to resist the insidious influence of this mischievous leaven? Is it not necessary for them to look up by prayer for Divine grace, that their politics may not be permitted to weaken and corrupt their piety? Liberalism is a good thing, and has a good object—but like other good things may be abused to a bad purpose—and that is certainly a bad use of it which either damps the ardor of pious affection, or loosens the hold of pious opinions.
It is quite unnecessary, after what has been advanced upon this subject in a former chapter, for me to advert at any length to the prevalence of the INFIDEL spirit, in its open, avowed, and studious endeavors to undermine the foundations of our faith—I therefore now only refer to it, as another inducement to seek after a vigorous and manly piety to grapple with this foul spirit.
There is another enemy of our faith more plausible, more insidious, and therefore more dangerous, with which the church will soon have to contend, and the conflict with which is indeed already begun—and that is the philosophy of RATIONALISM, which is coming over us from Germany. This, aided by the works of a popular English writer, is likely to diffuse itself over the cultivated minds of this country. It is already in some measure corrupting our orthodoxy, and in its progress will do yet more mischief--if not resisted by the teachers of our colleges, and the editors of our religious periodicals, (with some of whom it finds too much favor,) by our influential pastors, and by the well-instructed members of our churches. The pith of this system is the old dogma of the early English free-thinkers, somewhat differently presented--that reason rather than faith, is our guide in pious matters. Its tendency is to prove that Christianity is a worn-out system of superstition, and must now give place to something more rational and more accordant with the spirit and advancement of the age.
The progress of this system is written in fearful characters by Dr. Merle D'Aubigne, in his interesting work lately issued, entitled, "Germany, England, and Scotland." After describing the progress of this system from the old Unitarian neology, to downright atheism, he remarks: "Thus Germany has exhibited within the last few years a terrible, yet no doubt a salutary, spectacle. The great lesson to be derived from it is, to yield nothing when the truth of God is concerned. If we take but one step backwards, we give the first impulse to go a hundred, a thousand, and we know not what will be the end. Infidelity in Germany has not been confined to a few obscure writers, obliged to hide themselves in some corner, and reduced to communicate their blasphemies to a small number of contemptible adepts. Such may be the case in England—but it is far otherwise in Germany. These men have been listened to with favor by the cultivated classes. In the course of the summer (1845) while I was in Germany, a great meeting of German writers, for the most part infidel, was held at Leipsic—and there, one Mr. Jordan, at a dinner of these literary men, proposed to toast The Atheists! .... I will not repeat the terms, their impiety makes me shudder—an icy coldness and dead silence pervaded the assembly.
"This modern impiety of Germany has been accompanied by great immorality. Just as faith is manifested by works of charity, so does atheism show itself by the grossest materialism and immorality. The young German generation have declared in one of their publications that they will be free—that they throw off, as oppressive bonds, all laws of civil order, of ecclesiastical and religious institutions, and finally emancipate themselves from the yoke of moral principles.
"It is whispered that a young German party, forming at Oxford, is desirous of planting in England the doctrines of Hegel and Strauss. I do not know the opinions of that school; but if it belongs to the modern German philosophy, it is easy to see the course it will follow, and where it will lead England. Oxford would thus pass from the extreme of 'superstition and formality', to the extreme of 'unbelief and materialism'. I trust the British good sense, the practical sense of Englishmen, will confine these follies to a few men in a few colleges. Yet let us beware. If all the friends of Christian religion and morality do not increase in decision, holiness, and zeal--we may perhaps see these rationalistic philosophers raising their heads in every quarter."
It is not, however, the gross and extreme development of German philosophy which is to be expected and dreaded in this country. English individuality is too strongly marked not to impress upon it a peculiar stamp—its tendency will be greatly resisted and modified by our more practical understanding--and its grosser, and more polluted and polluting elements will be arrested in passing through the filter of our common sense. But even then, it is to be feared, it will come out strongly impregnated in many cases with neological principles. It may, as I have remarked in my work on "An Earnest Ministry," exert a baneful influence upon our young ministers, and though it may not corrupt their orthodoxy with positive error, may becloud it with the abstractions of metaphysics—and instead of leading them to seek the salvation of souls, by the simple yet powerful exhibition of truths that come home to the heart--may make them desire to excite admiration by novelties of speculation, which surprise and amuse the intellect.
Nor is this the only danger, for many of their more intelligent and less pious hearers, especially the young, finding their 'taste for novelty' gratified, their love of what is intellectual pleased, and their conscience hitherto not altogether easy, tranquilized by something not quite so pungent and searching as that which they have been accustomed to hear--will take up with these new views, and push them on to a point much beyond that where the preacher has placed them. Even the more pious are in danger of having their minds too much alienated from the simplicity that is in Christ, of losing their relish for the substantial verities of the gospel, and acquiring a taste for something fresh, which they may deem more intellectual than the doctrines of grace. The life of faith is thus imperilled by substituting for that which alone can nourish its vital principle, a system which appeals exclusively to the reason.
It is this then that we have to fear, the 'elevation of reason', and the 'depression of faith'. Observant minds have already perceived signs of this, not to be doubted or mistaken, among some of the more intelligent members of our churches. The roots of our evangelical system are in danger of being eaten into by this cankerworm, and the heart of our experimental piety of being organically diseased, by this cold and paralyzing intellectuality. Even some of our educated religious young men are beginning to crave after something newer than the gospel, something more speculative than the doctrines of salvation, and something more rational than faith. Those who are not acquainted with the workings of the popular mind, and the progress of opinion, may smile at the apprehensions which are here expressed; but others, more attentive to the course of events, and therefore better acquainted with them, will be most ready to admit there is some ground for alarm, and abundant reason for caution.
Another source of danger must also be mentioned—and that is, the growing taste, in an opposite direction to that I have just adverted to, for FORMALISM and SUPERSTITION--a religion of forms and ceremonies, a devotion which shall have more to do with the imagination and the fancy, than with the understanding, the heart, and conscience; and which shall gratify the possessor of it in the allowed indulgence of his own self-delight. This religion in its more modified forms, is Puseyism; and, in its full development, Popery.
The illusion that POPERY can only flourish in dark ages, and in enslaved countries, begins to be dispelled by the facts that have lately transpired amidst the light of the nineteenth century, and the freedom of England. The increase of Popery in this country is no longer a matter of doubt—and it is an astounding and somewhat alarming fact, that its efforts have kept pace with the extension of education, the circulation of Bibles and tracts, and the formation of institutions for its destruction. How shall we account for this? As Protestants we cannot for a moment allow that there is more in Romanism than in true Christianity, to commend itself to the unbiased judgment of the impartial inquirer. No, it is to be accounted for by the greater earnestness of its advocates. And what a deep disgrace, an indelible blot is it, upon the advocates of Protestantism, that they should be exceeded in zeal by the votaries of Romanism—that the crucifix should be the fount of a deeper inspiration than the cross! How are we to account for that extraordinary fact, and solve that hard problem, that error, at least in very many cases according to appearances, excites in its abettors more fervid enthusiasm, than truth does in hers?
Such, then, are the influences, powerful when viewed separately, how much more so when combined, which are exerted in this extraordinary age against piety! How are they to be resisted and vanquished? How shall the church bear up against such opposition? We know her Divine Head lives. The infallible, omnipotent Pilot is at her helm, and though the tempest rages, and the deep is stirred up from its very bottom, the holy vessel is safe. Yes—but even this divine Pilot demands the attention, the subjection, and the cooperation of the crew, and employs their instrumentality for the preservation of the sacred bark.
The danger is not to be warded off by mere systems of ecclesiastical polity—these, in proportion as they are brought into conformity with the Word of God, may do something—and may, and should be sustained with a zeal proportioned to their importance; but of themselves, without a pervading spirit of evangelical piety, they will be no better defense against Popery, infidelity, and an anti-Christian philosophy, than would be a wall of sand, against the Atlantic ocean in a storm. Nor will any mode of worship, whether arranged according to liturgical order, or left free for the occasion, be more effectual. No, nor the most approved orthodox systems of theology; the most noble, and even scriptural confessions of faith; nor creeds that can boast the highest antiquity, and the consent of the whole Christian church. The spirit that is coming against Christendom laughs at all these things, when left to themselves, like leviathan at "the shaking of a spear, "esteeming iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood."
What did creeds, catechisms, and symbols, accomplish for Switzerland, where rationalism and unitarianism, in spite of them, have covered the scene of Calvin's labors; or in Germany, where they have desolated the garden of the Lord, planted by Luther and Melancthon? A cold and heartless orthodoxy, however clear, wins no more respect from infidelity or philosophy--than the gorgeous rites of superstition. An effete and languid church; a church of which the pulse of experimental piety is low, of which the pulse beats feebly and slowly; of which, whatever deceptive show of health there may be upon the countenance, the vitals are diseased; of which it may be said, You have a name to live and are dead--such a church cannot stand the shock which may be made upon our faith.
What is it then which we must oppose to the swelling tide of opposition, should it rise against the evangelism of the New Testament, and by which we may invest the church with a power, not only to stand her ground—but to advance? What? Earnest piety! A church in earnest can never be vanquished, or even effectually opposed. It is the union of two things which ought never to be separated, I mean sound doctrine and the spiritual life; an intelligent, public, courageous profession of evangelical truth, and the inward power of that truth upon the affections; the clearness of a martyr's intellect to perceive the nature and the value of Christian doctrine; the ardor of his zeal in espousing it; the love of his heart in embracing it—and the resolute tenderness of his conscience in being willing to die for it. An enthusiasm of feeling which is not fed by an intelligent apprehension of doctrine, will soon expire of itself, or be extinguished by the breath of opposition. An emotionless, and merely scientific profession of doctrine, which leaves the heart without warmth, and the life without holiness, is scarcely worth retaining, and in the hour of trial will be thought scarcely worth contending for, and either thrown away in contempt, or yielded up to the foe.
Let the orthodoxy of our churches be well and vigorously maintained—let there be no relaxation here—let the doctrines of the Trinity; the fall and inherent depravity of man; the atonement; justification by faith; regeneration by the Spirit—and the sovereignty of divine grace in man's salvation, be considered as the very life's blood of our piety; let these great fundamental doctrines or facts, (for such undoubtedly they are and as such should be considered,) be held fast by us, not as cold, dry dogmas—but as living principles of the heart, imparting and maintaining a new and vigorous existence to the soul. Only then we may confidently and triumphantly bid defiance to the combined forces of all the enemies of piety and the church. There has come upon us of late years a kind of creed-hatred, so intense that many shudder at the idea of catechisms, confessions, and articles, as if, under all circumstances, they were a fetter upon our liberty, and a snare for our conscience. But is not this alarm groundless?
Merle D'Aubigne's words on this subject are full of wisdom—"As for those who know what salvation in Christ really is, what harm can the articles do them? None! indeed rather the reverse. Every true Christian has a spiritual life, an inward history, composed of distinct phases--faith, repentance, justification, conversion, sanctification, peace, joy, and hope. It is requisite both for the sake of others, as for his own, that he should profess the great doctrines to which his inner life corresponds. Poor and ignorant Christians, and these are the greater number, would not know how to do this. If the church to which they belong presents to them an evangelical confession of faith, at once plain and profound, it renders them a very useful assistance. Theologians could, no doubt, without a creed, easily give utterance to their faith—but we must think first of the poor and simple of the flock. Men of the world regard the Articles of Faith of the Reformation as antiquated forms, become unnecessary in the present age. This error arises from their having never experienced in their hearts that faith in Christ which is the same in every age. Those confessions of Christian hope which our fathers made even in the face of Rome, and for the sake of which so many martyrs have ascended the scaffold, can never grow old, can never lose that Divine fire which the Holy Spirit imparted to them. It has been said, 'The creeds are useless to the church--the Bible is sufficient.' But most frequently, those who will not have confessions of faith, will not have the Bible either. Very lately, one of the most eminent Protestant clergymen of Germany, Dr. Ammon, a rationalist—but yet an enlightened theologian, made this candid avowal, 'Experience teaches us that those who reject a creed, will speedily reject the Holy Scriptures themselves.' The importance given to doctrine in the church of England is her safeguard. Without it, she would long ago have fallen beneath the assaults, not of rationalism—but of traditionalism and superstition. Let the ministers and members of the church set forth and maintain once more the pure doctrines of grace, as contained in the Bible, and stated in the thirty-nine articles; let them raise on high, and firmly wave that glorious standard, and the evil spirits will flee away."
In his remarks on Scotland, the same author asks, "What has secured Scotland this eminent rank of being at the present period the vanguard of Christ's army? I hesitate not to reply, 'Her attachment to sound doctrine.' It is because doctrine is placed so high that the church meets with so much sympathy. Whenever doctrine is not cared for, the people care little for the church, and a miserable esprit de corps alone remains, which is the most opposed of any to a Christian spirit. The church itself is doctrine. The most characteristic distinction between the Christian church and Paganism, Mahomedanism and Deism, either pure or Socinian, is the Christian doctrine--as essentially different from the Pagan, Mahommedan, Deistical, or Socinian doctrines. This also distinguishes the Roman from the Protestant church. Observe, when I speak of doctrine, I do not mean a cold, arid, lifeless orthodoxy; I mean 'the doctrine which is according to godliness,' as the apostle says; 'that doctrine which produces life.' The Scottish theologian places himself at once in the center of the Christian doctrine; it is on faith in the reconciliation by the expiatory sacrifice that he takes his stand. This grand dogma, which tells us at once of the sin of man, and the grace of God; this fundamental doctrine, which contains on the one hand, the consciousness of our guilt, and on the other, the assurance of an irrevocable counsel of mercy and salvation, is the vivifying center of Scottish theology. Faith in the Lamb of God who has borne the sins of the world; this is the milk with which the Scottish child is fed in the schools of the towns, the mountains, and the small plains—and the strong meat, whose nourishing juices are dispensed by the theologians of Edinburgh or Glasgow to the future ministers of the church."
All this is admonitory to us, and should remind us of the fact, and deeply impress us with it also, that it is only by holding up the truth as it is in Jesus as the principle of faith and spiritual life, that we can hope to preserve the church from being imperilled by the spirit of the age. This is the true bulwark which alone can resist the billows of prevailing errors, and protect the vessels which lie peacefully at anchor in the harbor. Let our pastors diffuse these great doctrines among their flocks, and lift them on high in the pulpit.
Let there, I repeat, be no dallying with a false philosophy, and no complimenting, by the suppression of the truth, even a true one. The doctrines just before enumerated must be the very staple of their sermons. Let the people also look for, require, and live upon these truths. The man who habitually suppresses them, or studiously avoids them, with whatever of novelty, eloquence, or profundity of thought and expression he attempts to supply their place--should be viewed as a suspected man. He who sparingly introduces these glorious doctrines, should be viewed as a lukewarm man. He only, who dwells much and earnestly upon these glorious doctrines, is an acceptable man. In a philosophic age, and among an enlightened people, Paul "determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified," and it would be difficult for any man to find a reason why this rule of the apostolic ministry should be departed from in this day.
True it is, that ignorance would circumscribe the doctrine of the cross within narrower limits than the apostle intended, since every portion of revealed truth has its center there; but still, the doctrine of the cross must be the great theme of preaching in every age, and in ours among the rest. I say, with all possible deliberation, and with equal emphasis, to the churches--let nothing less than the cross of Christ, and nothing else than this, satisfy you. This is the bread of life which comes down from heaven for the nourishment of your souls; without which you will starve and perish. You can live on nothing else. Say therefore to your ministers, "Evermore give us this bread!" Do not accept of the 'stones of metaphysics or logic', instead of t bread of life; or the flowers of rhetoric, or even the fruits of science or literature. Let your request be for bread, the living bread, which is Christ. It is no favorable sign of health when the palate has ceased to relish bread and meat, and is ever craving after novelties, and can be pleased only with the appealing dishes of an inventive, artificial, and foreign cookery. Such a taste indicates incipient disease, and prognosticates its increase. The parallel case in spiritual things is to be found in those hearers of the word of God who have grown tired of Bible truth, the bread and meat of the gospel, and can relish nothing but poetic sentimentalism, rhetorical imaginativeness, or religious philosophy.
I do not mean to say that the whole system of Christ's mediation is to be brought into every sermon, for I am of opinion that the pulpit may be sometimes employed to explain and inculcate other subjects than such as are strictly and exclusively doctrinal—but its predominant character should be truly and richly evangelical. It will be a dark sign of the approach of an evil day (and there are not lacking such portents upon our horizon already), when our churches in choosing their pastors shall be guided rather by a regard to talent than to piety, by a love of eloquence, rather than of the gospel.
Not that piety and love of the truth constitute the only qualifications of an able minister of the New Covenant; or should be the sole ground on which a church should make their choice of a pastor. By no means. We must have men of talent, especially for our more important stations; men that will command attention; men that will have power over the public mind, and do some justice to the high themes on which they discourse. But when talent is the first thing, and piety and sound doctrine are viewed as quite secondary matters; when the declaration is not, "We want an able preacher of the gospel; a faithful shepherd; a vigilant watchman for our souls;" but "We must have a graduate, a scholar, an orator, a gentleman!" When this is the state of things, there is much reason for alarm in Zion. Let there be all these things; no man is the worse for them, and every man is the better for them, and the more he has of them, viewed as secondary qualifications, the better. But for Christ's sake, for the gospel's sake, for our denomination's sake, for the sake of immortal souls, and the salvation of a lost world, let them be viewed but as secondary, and the higher place be given to eminent piety and a love for the great truths which alone bring salvation.
It is affecting, and fearfully predictive of what is coming, to see the popularity, in some instances, of men who are grown wiser than the apostle Paul, as to the themes of their pulpit ministrations, and to hear the eulogies pronounced on sermons which would have made him weep. Woe, woe, woe to us, when an all but Christless ministry shall be welcome, because it happens to be eloquent—when the doctrines of the atonement, justification, regeneration, and grace, shall be set aside as puritanic themes which do not suit the circumstances or the taste of this philosophic age.
I will here repeat, and insist a little more at length upon the fact, that it is not doctrine alone that will meet and successfully oppose the infidel spirit of this generation. This alone never has been sufficient to keep down error--and never will be! This, at most, will be but as the corpse of the strong man armed, set up for the protection of the spiritual house. What is needed in addition, is the living soul, to supply the courage, the energy, and the power necessary for the defense. Infidelity will not run away in terror from the lifeless skeletons of our theological systems. All the Dissenting churches in this country had the Assembly's Catechism, and yet how many of them first lapsed into Arianism, and then into Socinianism. How was this? Just because there was doctrine—but no life. People were admitted to fellowship upon a profession of doctrine, without giving evidence that their doctrines had become the principle of spiritual life. Doctrine will not always preserve life—but life will always preserve doctrine. When religion is resolved into the reception of certain dogmas apart from their vital influence—and when this oneness of mere sentiment, rather than a principle of spiritual life, a sympathy of heart, and a congeniality of soul, are made the basis and ground of fellowship--the church must be weak, and in no state to meet the attacks that are made upon it. Indeed, it is very likely soon to give up a creed, which having lost its chief purpose in renewing, sanctifying, and comforting the soul, has ceased to be of any value, and therefore of any importance.
It is when the members all grow into Christ by a living faith, and into each other by love, that the body is strong both for defending itself, and carrying on aggressions upon the world. What is needed for all times—but especially for this, is the union of the contemplative with the active life. Every age, almost, has its characteristic vices and defects.
"The Ascetics and the Mystics went off into one extreme—they sought in retirement, in a contemplative abstraction, and in seraphic raptures, a high degree of holiness and joy. Their contest was, not with sinful appetites, only with innocent ones; their following Christ was not in the rough and arduous paths of outward service—but in the concentration of powerful and moving meditations upon his cross and passion. The arena of their conflict was wholly within—and a great part of the struggle consisted in resisting the languor of overdone attention, arresting the vagrancy of volatile thoughts, and rousing the ardor of feelings which had expended themselves by their very intensity."
Our danger and defect lie in an opposite extreme. In this age of external activity, we want, could we but command it, more time, and more inclination to cultivate the hidden life, to strengthen its principle, and to allow its development in all its beautiful and appropriate exercises of spirituality of feeling, heavenly mindedness, and communion with God. The spiritual life with us is low and feeble, and for lack of retirement, reading the Scriptures, meditation, prayer, and rigid mortification--it is not in a state to resist the attacks that may be made upon our faith. It is the energy of the heart, which, in the human frame, nerves the arm to defend the head; so is it in the spiritual system.
Merle D'Aubigne, in the volume to which I have already so frequently alluded, furnishes by a recital of his own pious experience, a beautiful proof and illustration of this. After his conversion to God, and after he had begun to preach Christ with fullness of faith, he was so assailed and perplexed in coming into Germany, by the sophisms of Rationalism, that he was plunged into unutterable distress, and passed whole nights without sleeping, crying to God from the bottom of his heart, or endeavoring by his arguments and syllogisms without end, to repel the attacks of the adversary. In his perplexity he visited Kleuker, a venerable divine at Kiel, who for forty years had been defending Christianity against the attacks of infidel theologians. Before this admirable man, D'Aubigne laid his doubts and difficulties for solution—instead of doing this, Kleuker replied, "Were I to succeed in ridding you of them, others would soon rise up. There is a shorter, deeper, and more complete way of annihilating them. Let Christ be really to you the Son of God, the Savior, the Author of eternal life. Only be firmly settled in his grace, and then these difficulties of detail will never stop you—the light which proceeds from Christ, will disperse all darkness." This advice, followed as it was by the study with a pious fellow-traveler at an inn at Kiel, of Paul's expression, "Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think," relieved him of all his difficulties. After reading together this passage, they prayed over it.
"When I arose," says this distinguished man, "in that room at Kiel, I felt as if my wings were renewed as the wings of eagles. From that time forward I comprehended that my own syllogisms and efforts were of no avail; that Christ was able to do all by his power that works in us—and the habitual attitude of my soul was to be at the foot of the cross, crying to him, 'Here am I, bound hand and foot, unable to move, unable to do the least thing to get away from the enemy who oppresses me. Do all yourself. I know that you will do it, you will even do exceeding abundantly above all that I ask.' I was not disappointed. All my doubts were soon dispelled, and not only was I delivered from that inward anguish which in the end would have destroyed me, had not God been faithful—but the Lord extended unto me peace like a river. If I relate these things, it is not as my own history, nor the history of myself alone—but of many pious young men who in Germany, and even elsewhere, have been assailed by the raging waves of Rationalism. Many, alas! have made shipwreck of their faith, and some have even violently put an end to their lives."
This interesting narrative is a most instructive one, as teaching that the defense of the Christian, and therefore of the church, the establishment of the individual member, and of the whole of the church in the truth, depends more upon faith than upon reason, and is to be sought rather in the grace of the heart, than in the strength of the intellect, and that therefore to become feeble in piety is to let down our defences, and to expose ourselves to the enemy. He who is "strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man," and who is "rooted and grounded in love," though less skillful in argument, is in a far better condition to resist the subtleties of false doctrine, than he who is stronger in argument—but weaker in faith. The hidden life within him is vigorous—and rich in the enjoyment of divine love, he is strong in the Lord and the power of his might. And though the strength of the human intellect, the chain of sound reasoning, and the conclusions of a just logic, when employed in elaborate defences of our faith, are of inestimable worth; yet after all, it is to the blessing of God on the internal vigor of her own piety, that the church is indebted for her stability, more than to these outworks, which are cast up from time to time, by her ablest defenders.
VI.I now mention as another inducement to seek an earnest piety, the circumstances of the age, viewed in connection with the spread of Christianity, and as bearing upon the moral interests of the world. The church was never called to a greater work than she is at this moment, nor was the call of Providence upon her ever more loud, earnest, or unequivocal. There is no possibility of mistaking it, and there ought to be neither hesitation, delay, nor negligence in obeying it. That work is the conversion of the world—and for this, all possible facilities in the way of means, instruments, and appliances, have been, and are still being collected. Let us look at the sphere of operation opened to us, let us survey the territory that is added to our foreign empire—there is nearly all Hindostan with its hundred and fifty million inhabitants, nearly every portion of which is accessible to our Christian influence, then there are Burmah, Siam, China, all beginning to receive missionaries; next come our colonies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Van Dieman's Land, and the Cape of Good Hope. What a scope here for the energies and influence of the church, what a sphere to occupy and fill with our missionaries, our Bibles, and our churches! Let us dwell upon that most marvelous and glorious achievement of modern times, the opening into China by five doors, which no power but that of Omnipotence can ever close, and through which our piety may pass to the teeming millions of that vast hive of human beings. We may mention Madagascar, closed against us at present—but which at the death of the present Queen, who, for anything we can tell, may die the next hour, or may be dead while this is being penned--will be thrown wide open to our holy enterprise. Can we forget Polynesia, yielding up itself, with its hundreds of islands, to the influence of the gospel?
Next, let us consider the means of rapid and safe communication opened across the ocean by steam navigation, and to the interior of countries by railways so that oceans seem to be bridged over, and the extremities of continents to be brought near to each other. We may add to this that most surprising of all modern inventions, the electric telegraph, by which information might be conveyed, as upon the lightning's wing, in a few seconds to the end of the earth, if the wires could be laid or carried round the globe. Nor is this all, for we cannot but know how the arts have multiplied and cheapened all the means and instruments of the church's work; how chemistry, by its various appliances, has reduced the price of paper; how mechanics, by means of stereotype and the steam press, has lowered the cost of printing, until a bound copy of the whole Scriptures can be purchased for ten pence. Nor does the work of Providence stop here. What a marvelous progress has been made of late years in those researches which lie more remote from popular notice, and in their importance are less obvious to popular comprehension—but which have still a close connection with the spread of Christianity in the world, I mean the discoveries which have been made by learned and exploring minds concerning the origin, affinity, and ancestry of nations, their languages, customs, religion, and traditions. The hieroglyphics of Egypt, hidden from the ages and generations that are passed, have at length yielded their secrets; while from its pictured tombs its history has obtained a resurrection, confirmatory in various ways of the truth of Old Testament history. The cuneform inscriptions of Perseopolis, like the mystic characters in the temples on the Nile, are beginning to be understood and decyphered. The analogies of the various systems of idolatry are being traced and exhibited. There are inquisitive and profoundly learned men, who amidst the shadows of the Pyramids, in the circles of the Druids, or before the massive rock temple of Iran, "are thinking of the way, and showing it too, in which from the very first, man has been dealing with and corrupting the majesty of piety; and with him who of that religion, is the Author and the Object. Every church, every hieroglyphic, every ancient sculpture, and every curious legend, suggests some glorious truth, which man has labored to improve by his own imaginations—but which is buried in the lie which man has made."
Yes—but from that grave, dug by the hand of falsehood, shall those glorious truths arise, and be shown by missionaries competent for the work, to the people who in their own superstitions, have had the sepulchers of truth.
Now let all this accumulation of means and instruments be taken into account, in their number, variety, and adaptation, and we shall certainly and impressively see what advantages we possess for doing a great work for God upon earth.
It is not, however, simply in this light that I view these matters; that is, as furnishing the opportunity for labor—but as being a loud and impressive call from God to embrace it. Under whose administration has all this been done, and for what purpose has he done it, within so short a space of time? These questions are answered by the apostle where he says, "He is Head over all things to his church." Yes, science and the arts, commerce and war, philosophy and literature, are his pioneers for levelling mountains, filling up valleys, and preparing the way of the Lord in the desert--that his glory may be revealed, and all flesh see it. The engineers, craftsmen, and intelligentsia have had other objects in view—but who can for a moment doubt that he who raised up Cyrus of old to set free his people, has prepared these instruments to subserve his own purpose of civilizing and evangelizing all the nations?
From every part of the world, and from every scene of human activity; from India and China; from the islands in the South sea—and from the continent of Africa; from the colonies and the West Indies; the sound is heard pealing over the land, "I the Lord have given you power and wealth, empire and dominion, ships, colonies, and commerce—and have added to all this, steam navigation and railways, printing by stereotype and by steam—for this also comes from the Lord, who teaches man knowledge, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. And now, by all these things, glorify me, and set up my kingdom in the world."
Providence was never more conspicuous in its operations, never more intelligible and unmistakeable in its intentions, than at the present moment. Preparation is going on for some great moral revolution of our world—against which infidelity, popery, and false philosophy, are arraying themselves in an opposition fierce and determined. The forces on both sides are still moving to the conflict already begun, and raging in the valley of decision. To be negligent, dilatory, and indolent now; to hang back and give up ourselves to personal ease and enjoyment now, is to bring upon ourselves the ancient denunciation upon a Jewish city, of whom Jehovah said in righteous indignation, "Curse you Meroz, curse you bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty."
But for such a work how indispensable is the qualification of intense and earnest piety! The work without this may go on; yet it will go on but slowly. It is not enough for Christians, in common with their fellow-citizens, to stand and wonder at the progress of events, and congratulate themselves on being born in an age of deep interest and importance; they must see in all these events, so many incentives to a fervent piety, as indicating the intentions, and sounding forth the call of Providence—and as presenting to them the great object, which, amidst all their schemes and activities, must be recognized and pursued as the end of their existence.
VII. The political aspect of the timessupplies another motive to the church, for earnest and intelligent piety. I am now writing amidst the unlooked for and stupendous events which have occurred in France within the last few weeks, and which, as by an electric shock, have so rapidly extended their influence over the whole continent. In these tremendous convulsions we recognize the continuous throes of the fearful earthquake, which more than half a century ago convulsed all Europe to its center—and we behold after a temporary lull, the continuance of the hurricane, which in its progress subverted so many thrones, and devastated so many nations. As then, so now, the friends of liberty are exulting in the prospects which are opening before the world. We are forcibly reminded of the eloquent language of Mr. Hall, in surveying the first revolution in France;
"An attention to the political aspect of the world is not now the fruit of an idle curiosity, or the amusement of a dissipated and frivolous mind, but is awakened and kept alive by occurrences as various as they are extraordinary. There are times when the moral world seems to stand still—there are others when it is impelled towards its goal with an accelerated force. The present is a period more interesting, perhaps, than any which has been known in the whole flight of time. The scenes of Providence thicken upon us so fast, and are shifted with so strange a rapidity, as if the great drama of the world were drawing to a close. Events have taken place, and revolutions have been effected, which had they been foretold a very few weeks ago, would have been viewed as visionary and extravagant, and their influence is far from being spent. Europe never presented such a spectacle before, and it is worthy of being contemplated with the profoundest attention by all its inhabitants. The empire of darkness and of despotism has been smitten with a stroke that has sounded through the universe. When we see whole kingdoms, after reposing for centuries on the lap of their rulers, awake from their slumber, the dignity of man rising up from depression, and tyrants trembling on their thrones--who can remain entirely indifferent, or fail to turn his eyes to a theater so magnificent and extraordinary? These are a kind of throes and struggles of nature, to which it would be a sullenness to refuse our sympathy. Old foundations are breaking up—new edifices are being raised. Prospects are opening on every side of such amazing variety and extent, as to stretch further than the eye of the most enlightened observer can reach."
Alas, for the vicissitudes of earthly affairs, and the vanity of human hopes! These jubilant and exulting strains, penned in the year 1791, were soon succeeded by the following still more eloquent passage by the same writer, and in reference to the same events.
"It had been the constant boast of infidels, that their system, more liberal and generous than Christianity, needed but to be tried to produce an immense accession to human happiness—and Christian nations, careless and lethargic, retaining little of Christianity but the profession, and disgusted with its restraints--lent a favorable ear to their pretension. God permitted the trial to be made. In one country, and that the center of Christendom, Scriptural revelation underwent a total eclipse, while atheism, performing on a darkened theater its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age, rank, and gender, in indiscriminate slavery and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its center; that the imperishable memorial of these events might lead the last generations of mankind to consider piety as the pillar of society, the safeguard of nations, the parent of social order, which alone has power to curb the fury of the passions, and to secure to everyone his rights—to the laborious, the reward of their industry, to the rich, the enjoyment of their wealth, to the nobles, the preservation of their honors, and to princes, the stability of their thrones."
The contrast presented in these two splendid passages, between the expected and the real results of the first revolution in France, together with the disappointment experienced in the consequences of the second, should impose some caution in the anticipation of the effects of the third. A nation so slow to learn by the two previous visitations, affords but a feeble hope that it will profit much by the third opportunity of improvement which is now granted it. When it is considered that France is shared between a revived popery and a rampart infidelity, that there is a deplorable destitution of moral principle pervading all ranks, and that its political crimes against Algeria, Tahiti, and Spain, cry aloud to God for vengeance—and when to this it is added that its present situation is that of the most complete anarchy which ever exhibited in a civilized country, there is reason to apprehend that what we have yet witnessed may prove only the prologue of a repetition of the same awful drama in that irreligious land.
Let passing events issue as they may, either in the dreadful struggles of another war, or in the quiet extension of political freedom, there is a high and sacred duty resulting to the church of God from the present posture of affairs. Our obligations are obvious and imperative. It is ours to survey the progress of the storm, not merely with the feverish excitement and fluctuating hopes of the mere politician—but with the serene confidence of the Christian. We must remember that Jesus Christ is "Head over all things to his church," and feel assured that the rise and fall of empires are subservient to the accomplishment of his purposes. It is the extension, not merely of liberty, however valuable and important that may be—but of piety, that must be in our hopes. Our prayers should be continually ascending to God, for the subjugation of all these changes to the wider establishment of that kingdom which cannot be moved. Special meetings for prayer ought to be held with reference to these events. How important it is, that whether the nations are to be scourged by war, or blessed with liberty and peace, they should have their attention drawn to the church, as by her eminent piety--the seat of repose and the circle of bliss!
In what an attractive form, at once lovely and solemn, should she appear to the children of men struggling and wearying themselves by seeking after that happiness in political reforms--which piety only can supply! Perhaps new openings are about to be made for the evangelization of the continent of Europe. Popery has little to hope, and everything to fear, from the transactions which are going on in Italy, in France, and in Germany. The prospects of the Jesuits become more and more gloomy. The stability of the Papacy itself is coming into jeopardy. The very seat of the Beast totters. On the other hand, infidelity is becoming emboldened, even to audacity, by these changes—and there is no doubt that it has had some hand in bringing them about, for infidels have been often God's pioneers.
Christians, rarely has Providence addressed you with a voice more impressive than that by which it now speaks to you. It is possible that every obstruction in the way of spreading the gospel on the continent, may be about to be removed, by the proclamation of freedom of conscience, and the liberty of the press. You, therefore, should be preparing yourselves by a fresh baptism of the Spirit for your high vocation. Rise, O rise, above the region of politics, into that of piety. Connect with all that is going on, the idea of a grand development of God's plan of mercy for our apostate world. Feel as if you must for, and by these things--be men of stronger faith and more fervent prayer. Let it be a conviction deeply rooted in every mind, that there needs for such an age, and amidst such revolutions, a new and grander exhibition of the excellence of piety, and the power of the church. By the depth of your own convictions and the intensity of your own hope that all now going on is but a preparatory process to usher in an evangelical era of European history, labor to communicate this idea, and to awaken this expectation in the public mind. Endeavor to make all men feel, that for the world's happiness there is something to be obtained, better than even liberty, and without which freedom itself cannot be fully enjoyed, nor permanently secured. Let the church be seen as a light-house to guide the nations of the earth into the haven of safety and peace!