« VorigeDoorgaan »
and connexions ; and has consequently given to the cause of religion, a degree of worldly respectability and magnificence, previously unknown in modern times.” Here is reason for devout exultation ; but here is danger too : danger of retrenching the grand characteristics of the gospel to accommodate the taste of the world.
Let me suppose all the subscribers to the funds of a missionary society, to be collected in one assembly.
The question is fairly put, what is the object of this · Society? To spread the gospel, is the answer. But what is the gospel? It is a system of religion which declares that man is in a state of moral ruin; that the “carnal mind is enmity against God ;"—that no man can be saved except through the merits of the Redeemer, and by the sovereign, sanctifying efficacy of his grace; and that though we “should give all our goods” in public charities, and our bodies to be burned,” without holy love, we are “ nothing."
I plead for no dogmas of technical theology. Let bickerings about names and forms be buried forever. But I plead for the gospel itself. And I ask, are there not many who promote the cause of missions on the general assumption that religion is a good thing, is friendly to the interests of philanthropy, and civilization, and social order; who, the moment you avow your belief of the gospel, as Jesus and his apostles gave it to the world, will abandon your society, and
stigmatize it with the charge of sectarian narrowness ?
Blessed be God, that the hostility respecting minor subjects, which has so long armed the disciples of Christ against each other, and disgraced the religion they profess, is passing away ; and that ages of angry speculation are succeeded at length by an age of fraternal feeling and action. Every step in the advance of genuine catholicism, I would hail as auspicious to the cause of Zion. Still we should remember that there is another extreme. Union is a delightful word. Union in a good cause, and from good principles is a good thing. But we should not give up the gospel for the sake of union; nor be so civil to each other, as to forget the respect that is due to our Master. Action too is valuable, only so far as it is directed by intelligence and truth. Other stimulants, independent of religious knowledge may move the church, but without promoting her beauty or strength. In the material universe, "a system of motion without light would make gloomy worlds.”
A compromise, call it what we will, that rests on the basis of an indefinite charity, and that overlooks or deliberately sacrifices the grand essentials of Christianity, is a building of hay, wood, and stubble ; it will not stand fire. Let the experiment be tried for a few generations, on this ground, consecrated by the faith and sufferings of our Puritan ancestors, and the
glory of these churches would depart. Let the religious institutions, the pulpits, and the books of Christendom sink out of sight the peculiar doctrines of the cross, for a century, and what new achievement under the banner of the gospel would signalize the period ? The vanquished foe would return to the charge. Every inch of territority conquered by the armies of Emmanuel 'must be abandoned, and paganism would roll back its tide of darkness on the world.
But your Society must have funds, and therefore it must have contributors, and therefore your doctrinal views must not be repulsive to popular taste. Is there no tendency in this to sink the tone of religious sentiment? Let the conversation of professed Christians, in their promiscuous circles, testify. Let the prevailing spirit of those charity sermons, and addresses, and reports, whose great object is to swell the list of names and sums, testify.
From the same principle, the religion of the heart and closet is in danger.
To the question which was put to our Saviour, 6 When the kingdom of God should come ?” he answered,—“ The kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” (that is, outward show,)“neither shall they say lo here ! or lo there! for behold the kingdom of God is within you.” The unostentatious religion of the gospel, did not please those who expected the
reign of Messiah to be characterized by state and parade.
Now when the humble disciple of Jesus, at this day, finds the religion of his Master invested with an array of splendour, to give it acceptance with the world; is there no danger to his heart? When he finds himself associated in efforts to promote religion, with the great, and the gay, and the fashionable, many of whom would think it rudeness in him to mention, in their presence, any subject of serious piety ;
-is there no danger to his heart? When he recollects that his name is to be published, and that every dollar he gives, and every effort he makes, is to be proclaimed through the press ;-is there no danger to his heart ?* :
Brethren, the taste of the times is to cry,“ lo here! and lo there!" But the Christian who delights only in the bustle and whirl of public engagements, and neglects his communion with God in secret, “ wrongs his own soul.” The plant of piety cannot be permanently fair, Aourishing, and fruitful, unless its root is watered in the retirement of the closet. And even here too, the habit of undue respect for public opinion, may have become so inwrought into our feelings, as to follow us with its baneful influence, into the little sanctuary, which ought to be free from intrusions of the world. A journal of religious experiences, kept by some humble saint, solely for his own spiritual improvement, has often been published with great utility to others. But when such a journal of private exercises is written with a view to public inspection, when the eye looks out from the closet window at the great world, while the pen describes the secret movings of the heart, this circumstance may greatly tend to modify the description, if not the exercises themselves. In such a case I fear the record of the closet will not always correspond with the record of omniscience.*
* I would not be understood to sanction the unreasonable interpretation often given to our Saviour's precept concerning alms and other charities. Absolute secrecy is no more demanded in respect to such charities, than in respect to prayer and fasting, as any one must see, who reads the passage in its connexion. Each class of these duties must sometimes be performed publicly, but never with a view “ to be seen of men.” Ostentation is what Christ condemns. It is not wrong, in itself, to desire the approbation of good men, any more than to desire the approbation of God or of conscience. The special danger to be guarded against, in respect to acts of charity is, that here, a vain love of applause is more likely to insinuate itself than in almost any other duty. Yet while we watch against this tendency, with all due vigilance, we must not be so cautious lest our left hand should know what is done by our right, that nothing shall be done by either.
* These remarks may appear to some invidious. But the eager interest with which a few excellent things of this sort have been read, doubtless has influenced many individuals to think that they could in no way benefit the world so much as in preparing similar accounts of their own" devout exercises.” To my feelings however, there is something not a little repulsive in a diary, which professes to delineate the secret workings of the heart, but is obviously designed for the public eye. And in respect to the value of such compositions, feeble and tedious as they often are, it is not strange