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and encouragement, which tends to promote the intellectual, moral, and civil improvement of that vast portion of the population, in which the majority of numbers and physical strength resides, and which virtually includes the destiny of the nation; that broad basis of the pyramid of society, which, while it continues sound, affords stability to the whole, but by a rent in which the entire fabric must be endangered. Nothing in nature can be conceived more frightful, nothing more fatal to the existence of an empire, than an unprincipled, profligate, irreligious, turbulent populace ; quiet perhaps at the present moment, but ready on the first occasion to break out into fury and violence. It is a volcano, covered with a surface of verdure, but prepared to scatter desolation around on the first eruption that may disturb its fearful quiescence: it is an edifice raised upon a mine, and constantly exposed to the peril of an explosion from the precarious ground and terrible materials beneath! We have witnessed, in a neighbouring kingdom, an example of the horrors to which a nation may be subjected by the unrestrained depravity of an uninstructed and irreligious populace horrors, which Heaven avert from ourselves! which exceed the conception of the most gigantic imagination! For nothing, in the most savage part of the brute creation, can parallel those fiery excesses of popular passion, which desolate whatever is social, whatever is sacred, in the institutions of mankind! But, on “the evils of popular ignorance,” it is the less necessary to enlarge here, as
the subject has been recently illustrated by a living writer, * whose genius pours new light over every topic that engages his notice.
3. A third, and a most favourable characteristic of the present times, is the improved state of preaching, and the more abundant supply of the public means of grace. The preaching of the gospel has been appointed and acknowledged by God as the grand instrument of converting sinners and saving souls: the doctrine of Christ crucified (however it may be regarded by the disputers of this world) has been proved, in every age, to be “ the power of God to the salvation of every one that believes;” to be the weakness of God, which is stronger than men, the foolishness of God, which is wiser than men. During the latter part of the last century, and down to the present time, there has been a manifest increase and improvement of christian instruction. Evangelical truth has been administered in a purity and abundance to which preceding ages bear no proportion. And here, in justice to the established clergy of the realm, I cannot but remark the great advance in piety and diligence which they have exhibited during the last half century. They have gone forth in numbers, rekindling the lamp of heavenly truth where before it had burned with a dim and sickly ray; they have explored and cultivated many a neglected spot, into which other labourers could not (for obvious reasons) gain admission with equal facilities of influence; and far be it from any of their dissenting brethren to regard their success with any other than a godly jealousy, a holy emulation !
* Rev. John Foster.
Turning from our own country to heathen lands, we behold yet more striking indications of an improving age. The present is the very era of missions: all the various denominations of christians, as with one great simultaneous impulse, have started up from their long slumber of missionary inaction, awakened on a sudden to the magnitude and obligation of this neglected enterprise. There seems to be a universal feeling among christians that the time is come for fulfilling our Saviour's last command, going forth into all the world, and teaching all the nations; and that, if we should any longer hold our peace, the very stones in our streets would cry out against us! The Spirit of Christ no longer contains itself within its accustomed bounds : it breaks forth from its undue confinement, and spreads its influence in every direction. No part of the earth so remote, so forsaken, that has not begun to be invaded, that is not at least proposed to be attempted, by some of those devoted champions who have gone forth in the peaceful warfare of the gospel. Nor are the symptoms of preparation less favourable among the heathen themselves : a general spirit of readiness appears to be presented in the islands of the Pacific, in the districts of the Cape, of India, and America. Every thing seems to announce that though the labourers are as yet but few, the fields are already white for the approaching harvest.
4. The advancement of the Bible as the great and only standard of christian faith and practice, is a fourth remarkable feature of our times. The Scriptures have always been professedly received as the highest authority among christians; but never was that authority so publicly and completely recognized as in the present age. The church of Rome early impaired, and at length almost entirely abolished, the authority of the sacred volume, by her multiplied additions to its contents, as well as by her extreme ignorance of its genuine instructions. Her priests were exalted from humble ministers of the word into arbitrary legislators : for he that has the power of annexing to the law whatever interpretation he may please, is not an administrator of the law, but a tyrant. As an instance of the disuse and oblivion into which the Scriptures had fallen among the Romish clergy, it is related of the celebrated missionary, Xavier, that, having met with a copy of part of the New Testament before his going out to India, he resolved to take it with him, as he thought it might be of use in his missionary labours. What a change in the state of the christian world, with regard to the estimation in which the Scriptures are held, has taken place since the days of Xavier ! That eminent person—who possessed, one would hope, amidst all his errors, some real pietythought he might as well take part of the New Testament with him when he went as a missionary to India ; he conceived it might possibly be of some use! The Bible is now carried abroad in
the front of the ministry ; and the missionary preachers aim, as much as possible, to lose themselves in the effulgence of its heavenly light. It is a remarkable fact, that the most devoted, the most successful advocate, beyond comparison with any other, which the Bible Society has yet found, is himself a priest of the Romish church; who presents the extraordinary phenomenon of a popish clergyman protesting, in the very bosom of his church, against her iniquities; and declaring his determination to persevere, in spite of the devil and the prophetic beast, in diffusing those Scriptures, of which he has already circulated several hundred thousand copies.
Such exertions, it is reasonable to believe, will prove instrumental to the purifying of Christendom from papal corruptions at no very remote period. In the event of a persecution among the Romish clergy being occasioned by such exertions, a secession, similar to that of the protestant reformers, might probably once more take place within their own body. God grant that such may be the issue! Would to God that the apocalyptic warning might be heard and obeyed by multitudes of that corrupted hierarchy, which owes the perpetuation of its influence to the suppression of the Scriptures,—“Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues !” Never before was there such a universal consent among christians as to the supremacy and sufficiency of the Bible in all
* Leander Van Ess.