Another danger to which the public cast of our religion exposes us, is that of identifying the cause of Christianity with ourselyes.

It results from the constitution of our minds that action is enjoyment. This intrinsic enjoyment of action, the Christian may mistake for pious feeling. There is special danger that he will thus mistake, when the object which awakens his efforts is religion ; and when it is a great religious object. In such a case, it is of course, a public object, in which numbers are engaged ; and his excitement is heightened by social sympathies. This object in its progress, perhaps associates him with respectable men, and presents him advantageously to his own view, and the view of others. Perhaps some prominent and responsible service is allotted to him, which puts in requisition his energy, and enterprise, and influence over his fellow men. Certainly, the ardor of his heart may rise with these circumstances, on purely benevolent principles. But it may rise too, on other principles. The secret spring of his zeal may be, that the prosperity of this good cause, is honorable to his own efforts. The elevation of this good object, makes himself conspicuous.

Nay, brethren, shall we blush on this occasion to acknowledge the whole truth? In organizing our charitable societies, male and female, in what instance

that the estimate of those who are tasked with the perusal, should differ widely from that of the writers.

does not the suggestion intrude itself upon us, that the multiplication of offices, is indispensable to success ? Certainly there is nothing in the gospel at variance with the innocent courtesies of life. So far as this expedient is adopted with a view to draw the attention of an individual to a good object, by attaching to him some personal agency in its promotion, there is nothing in it inconsistent with the simplicity and dignity of Christian principles. But how often is this measure, with others like it, nothing more in fact, and designed to be nothing more, than an undisguised appeal to the vanity of the individual concerned. Yes, in this boasted nineteenth century, this age of overflowing benevolence,-this dawn of the millennium, Christians must be flattered by votes of thanks, by a. cautious respect to their pride and their opinions, and must be complimented with offices, to secure their cooperation in the cause of their Redeemer. O Jesus, Master! give us thy spirit; that we may be worthy to be called thy disciples.

In connexion with this last topic, the disposition to identify ourselves with the great objects of benevolence, it is time for Christians to' perceive,' that in the same way, these objects themselves are exposed to dangers, of very serious aspect.

From this source results the tendency of individuals to exalt in their regard, one part of a grand system, at the expense of other parts. Our conceptions


and our capacities of action, I know are limited by the very laws of our being. Nothing short of an infinite mind can embrace the interests of this moral universe that surrounds us. But though we must act in a contracted sphere, we are not obliged to act on narrow and selfish principles. We are not obliged to estimate the absolute or comparative importance of a charitable society, by the relation we have sustained to it, and the services we have rendered in its behalf. The very fact that it is our society, may disqualify us to judge impartially in the case. Hence the coldness, shall I say hostility, (if so incongruous a term can be admitted here,) with which some good men regard important societies, in the management of whose concerns they have no individual agency. Hence their alternations of zeal and indifference towards the same object, at different times. Hence one becomes an exclusive advocate for this charity, and another for that. One perhaps would have all religious efforts concentrated in promoting missions to the heathen. Another prefers the same claims for domestic missions. Another, for Education societies ;-another for Bible .societies. .

Hence also, good men contract localities of feeling. The interest of their neighborhood, of their party, of their College, of their periodical publication, (or whatever happens to be the favorite object,) because it is theirs, is magnified into preeminent importance.

Hence minor and temporary objects of benevolence, that concern only one village, or family, or individual, are exalted into a competition with the paramount interests of the church. Hence public attention is distracted ; and the little streams of charity, which ought to fall into a common current, and swell the tide of that mighty river, which is to make glad the city of God, become so many counter-currents, crossing each other's course in every direction.*

Now, they who are Christians indeed, must rise above all this littleness, to more adequate views of what their religion requires. Their eyes must be opened with a broader vision, and their hearts swelled

* The repeated journeys, which the author has been called to make, on account of his health, have given him opportunity to observe extensively, the influence of multiplied applications for charity, towards small and distant objects. A few persons, for example, undertake to erect or repair a church, or to establish an academy. They possess no means of their own, but entertain no doubt that, in this period of liberality, sufficient aid can be obtained from the public. An agent is despatched to distant parts of the country, who presses his solicitation on strangers, perhaps with an untiring pertinacity, proportioned to his own want of intelligence, and delicacy of feeling. Now, if he succeeds to collect more than enough to defray the charges of his journey, it is done at the expense of confounding great with small objects of charity, or of alienating many minds from all such objects. The general principle applicable to such cases, doubtless is, that good objects of a local nature should seek help chiefly from their own region ; for the same reason that a necessitous individual should ask alms where he is known. And it is equally obvious that the resources of distant regions, should be promptly thrown into one common charity, in behalf of objects equally the concern of all :-objects that have no “ local habitation," but the hearts of Christians.

with more expansive benevolence. Though they occupy different apartments in the household of God, they are brethren of one family. They have a great, common interest,-a great, common work to perform. Away with rivalries and collisions. God speed to the man who labors for Christ. Let him forget himself, and sink his personal and local attachments in love to his Redeemer; and I say God speed to that man, whoever he is. Let his own conscience decide where and how he shall labor.

What conclusions then shall we draw from the admonitions of this subject ? Because our labors of benevolence are attended with difficulties, shall we fold our hands, and relapse into that slumber which has so long been the reproach of the church ? Shall we abandon our charitable societies, and our enterprises of benevolence, because they are connected with dangers ? As well might we give up our Yood, because we are warned against intemperance ; or our breath, to avoid the poisonous exhalations of the air. As well might we give up the sabbath, and the Bible, because they are liable to abuse :--and the church itself, because its glory is tarnished by the imperfection of its members. No, brethren ;-the work of this age is but just commenced. Christians of former days have slept supinely, and the long arrears of their neglected labors, fall upon our hands. We have slept too, and at this moment, notwithstanding the eulogies

« VorigeDoorgaan »