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RELIGIOUS AND MORAL DISCUSSIONS.
OF APOSTATE ANGELS.
No. IV. The members of a religious congregation had frequently met to deliberate on measures which involved their comfort and even their existence; but a troublesome person, whose popular eloquence gave him a dangerous influence, repeatedly defeater every attempt to carry these measures into effect. At one of these meetings, a member, who had the welfare of the society much at heart, appeared, while his antagonist was in the heat of debate, to be fast asleep; the friends of the society, astonished at his indifference, at length roused him up. He started, rubbing his eyes, saying, in apparent agitation, “ I have had a strange dream.” Every eye was turned to him, and every ear open: “ A dream! what was it?” “I dreamed,” said he, “ that I was in hell, where I saw the devil, who inquired, what news from the earth? I told him I came from this place, where the congregation were met to decide on business which had long distracted them. This information threw the devil into a great bustle; · I must instantly go there,' said he, and was making ready to set off immediately. But just as he was departing he asked me whether his friend was at the meeting or not. I assured him he was not only there, but very active. • Well, well, then, said Satan, I will not go after all; my presence is unnecessary. I know that my friend will do my business as well as I could do it myself.” This apologue produced an effect which nothing else could produce. It silenced the noisy orator, and the measures, which he had hitherto successfully opposed, were readily adopted. I introduce the story, as founded in a sad truth, that wicked persons are agents of Satan, whom, in punishment for their wickedness, he is permitted to enslave. Great indeed is the influence which he often exerts over mankind, whether taken collectively or individually.
It is a most mournful, but faithful representation, which the apostle Paul gives of the heathen world, in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. What darkness! what folly! what corruption! what debasement of human nature! what shocking and abominable crimes!
The heathen received their ideas of religion from the same source, from which, at first, issued streams pure and refreshing; but in their progress through the different ages of the world, and among the various nations of men, they became polluted by the admixture of human inventions and satannic suggestions, till at length they were waters of death, fatal to all who tasted them. The enemy of souls has never shown any aversion at mere forms of religion; nay, he is willing that these should be infinitely multiplied, provided he can divert the attention of men from holiness of heart and life. More zealous worshippers than idolators cannot be mentioned; but their profligacy of manners, perfectly consistent with their worship, demonstrates the nature of their devotion. When the worshippers of Baal cut themselves with knives; when children, in honour of Moloch, were cast alive into the midst of burning fire; when the Spartan youth were scourged in a cruel, and often fatal manner, at the altar of Diana; when the Babylonian women sacrificed their modesty and virtue in rites in honour of Benoth; when whole nations, at the return of regular periods, abandoned themselves to intemperance and lust, in reverence for pretended deities, we cannot for one moment hesitate to pronounce from what source such extravagancies and follies spring. “ The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God.”
The worship of the heathen world was chicanery and deceit, the contrivance of the evil one, to keep the nations ignorant of God, and to set them at ease in their impurities and wicked practices. To attach men to such acts of folly and wickedness, under the semblance of religion, required all the wiles and artifices of which the enemy of souls is possessed; and since they prevailed, to the degradation and ruin of multitudes, some of them of the best natural capacities, and of the greatest attainments, well may he “who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
We have reason to believe, that since the introduction of christianity evil spirits are subject to greater restraints and limitations than they had been under before; but still the wickedness of men affords advantages, which they eagerly and advantageously seize; changing the nature and form of their temptations, and adapting them to the present state of knowledge and of society. They mould the christian, as they have done former, systems of religion, to their vile purposes. This the apostle foresaw, and of this he prophesies, “ Let no man decieve you by any means: for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition: who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped ; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is a God. Remember ye not, that, when I.was yet with
you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thes. ji. 3–12. This passage has been generally applied by protestants to the corruptions of the church of Rome; and of the justness of the application, those who have leisure and opportunity to examine the matter attentively, may easily satisfy themselves. But the passage extends to all corruptions, of every kind, which subvert the great design of christianity, and those who receive and propagate such corruptions, may dread that God will give them up to their own delusions, and leave them a prey to the powers of darkness.
Christians ought not to be moved by those uncommon appearances, which sometimes embarrass the mind on religious subjects. These have occurred in every age, and are permitted, that the characters of men may be brought to the test. Lo, Christ is here; or lo, he is there, has often been the cry. Light minds, like chaff, are lifted up, and tossed to and fro, by every wind of doctrine. But let the real christian “ prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” Try the spirits whether they be of God. Take it as the unerring and unalterable dictate of inspired truth, that a pretension to religion which leaves the heart destitute of love to God and man; of simplicity and godly sincerity; of justice, mercy, and humility, however strongly urged, or confidently maintained, is not of God, but of the devil. Christ will spurn from his person and his kingdom the boldest pretender to religion who indulges in impurity of heart and life. To suppose that he will not, is not charity, but a temper of mind which greatly exposes the possessor to be seduced himself. But, on the other hand, doubts concerning either the power or willingness of Christ to save sinners, when with penitence and faith they apply to him for salvation, are to be regarded as the suggestions of Satan in the opposite extreme. Such doubts have no foundation in scripture, but are temptations of the devil, who, when any are inclined to
flee to Christ, puts hell in motion to deter them from a step which he knows to be fatal to his kingdom. Let none listen to his suggestions, but let all learn to hold his rage in contempt. He leaves in peace the soul in love with sin, but when sin becomes a burden, afraid of losing his prey, he does every thing in his power to render an escape as difficult and painful as possible. Let sensible sinners rely on God's word, with a steady confidence, which may put every device and suggestion of the adversary to defiance. Faith quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one, overcomes the world, unites the soul to Christ, and insures it eternal rest.
From the moment men question an express declaration of scripture, or act in opposition to a plain command, from that moment the enemy begins to triumph: his opponent has laid down his arms and left his entrenchments. “ If thou eatest thou shalt surely die,” said God: “ Thou shalt not surely die,” said the deceiver; and his words, poisoning the mind of innocence, produced the fall and misery of man.
PHILOLOGOS. [To be continued.]
ON THE LOVE OF PRAISE AND FEAR OF SHAME. « The love of worldly praise,” many contend," is a good and useful principle: it prompts to generous actions: it is the main spring of virtue; or, at least, it is the handmaid to it.” The love of praise, it is perhaps added, is also a natural principle: whence some will proceed to argue that what is natural must be allowable, and even to question whether it would not be sinful to resist and deny it. Such as are disposed to maintain this argument would do well to consider the concluding verses of the 16th chapter of St. Matthew's gospel. We find, from this passage, that Peter, who no doubt loved his master, was ashamed of the disgrace which Jesus declared himself about to suffer. This was a very natural way of expressing his love; though probably he also felt that his own reputation was in some degree implicated with that of his Lord. Christ, however, does not applaud Peter for his friendly wish to spare him all disgrace and suffering; but, on the contrary, perceiving that the love of ease and of worldly reputation had been the foundation of Peter's speech, he rebukes him for it in the severest manner; “ Get the behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” And then he adds the following general observation. “ If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The phrase, “ let him take up his cross,” is very expressive. The world did not furnish at that day an object of greater degradation and contempt, than a malefactor carrying his cross (as was the custom) to the place of execution; and yet this is the image which Christ employs to describe that deadness to worldly praise by which all his followers were to be characterized, and to reprove that principle of self-exaltation, which is the principle of the world indeed, and of all men naturally, but which is also the very principle of the devil.
“ The love of praise,” say those reasoners to whose opinions I have already alluded, " is the handmaid to virtue. Formerly, perhaps some evil might have arisen from it, for then the world was in a heathen state; it was then against Christ; but times are changed.” Is it then to be supposed that Peter, and James, and John might not be influenced by worldly praise, but that we may? that the same principles can be proper in christians now, which formerly would have been a renunciation of christianity? Now, indeed, the christian name is more common; but the world, it is to be feared, is little less corrupt than in the days of Christ; and a corrupt world, it may be presumed, will always have a corrupt standard of goodness. If it be affirmed, that the world is now christian and no longer corrupt, I would only say that such an objection is so directly opposed to common experience, that it would be wasting time to attempt to remove it.
If, however, it be said, as it more probably will, “ True, the world is very wicked; but nevertheless wicked men respect and praise virtue, and it is only therefore by a virtuous course of conduct that the world's praise is to be obtained:” then why, it may be answered, did not a corrupt world respect and praise virtue in the time of Christ? “ Vicious men," it is said,“ respect and praise virtue.” Did the vicious men in Christ's days praise the virtue of Christ? No, they crucified him. But perhaps you think that this was the act of only a few peculiarly wicked men in a very wicked age; a sentiment, which, though it be prevalent among those who have but an imperfect sense of human corruption, is yet directly contrary to fact. No! it was both Jews and Gentiles, both the priests and the laity: it was verily both Herod and Pontius Pilate, and all the people who were gathered together against the holy child Jesus. How did all ranks and orders of worldly men unite against Christ? The scribes opposed him; the sadducees came forward also; the herodians endeavoured to entangle him in his talk; the chief priests accused him before the magistrate; the