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Even the imaginary disrepute which a licentious humour had contrived to associate with the higher degrees, at least, of practical Christianity, is in no small degree done away with. As matters now stand, the man of piety may rigid in his adherence to the law of his God as he will: he may have as much zeal for the purity of his profession—as much shyness of conformity to the world—as much spirituality, and intensity, and elevation in his aspirations, as his nature can sustain, without the fear of molestation from any thing in human form.
True, indeed, there are still scoffers among usand scoffers there will be, so long as there is ungodliness: for Christianity is too decided a thing; its genius is too holy, its demands too reasonable, its denouncements too fearful, and its spirit too powerful and searching, to be simply let alone by those to whom it is announced. It interferes much too far with the weightiest of human interests, to be viewed with absolute neutrality. It puts itself forth upon every man who lives under its administration, and he must have to do with it in one way or other. He must embrace it, or take care to be ignorant of it, or commit himself to a warfare against it. not love it, he must hate it-if he cannot bow to its authority, he must exert himself to nullify that authority, in its influence upon his own mind; and as there is no way of effecting this, which is easier in itself, more congenial to his inclinations, or better fitted to stupify his moral feelings, than by working up the whole subject with ludicrous and scornful associations
If he can
-he therefore resorts to this as its readiest mode of attack. This species of assault upon Christianity
. is not the peculiarity of an age, or a district, or a given state of society, although it may be modified by these; it is one of the native elements of human depravity, which, in some degree, displays itself in every age and every district, and every state of society, according as circumstances are favourable or adverse to its operations. But, although the spirit of scepticism, and profane derision, its first-born, be always in hostile array against goodness and piety, yet they have their seasons of comparative impotency-and the present is one of these seasons. Their shafts are not flying so thickly, nor wounding so deeply, nor lacerating the feelings so wofully, nor obstructing the march of Christianity so powerfully as in former times. The point of these missiles has been blunted, and their force diminished, by the descent of a milder spirit upon general society.
Nor is this all. A profession of Christianity has not only thus far ceased to be persecuted; it has become reputable. Instead of sinking a man into ignominy, it, in many cases, raises him to honour. The transforming efficacy of the gospel is rising, as it were, from the under current of society, and beginning to appear on its glittering surface. Wealth, and learning, and political influence, and even princely power, are looking with complacency on the disciples of Jesus, and gradually becoming their allies. How far this may proceed, or at what point in the scale of ascension it may be arrested or repelled, we know not—the inquiry is unpleasant, and may be forborne—but we speak of the existing fact, the evidences of which are brightening and multiplying to the eye of every intelligent observer. Now að
all his is most auspicious. It is producing a mighty change in the aspect of society; it is clearing away the clouds which lowered so long, or floated in such ominous variety over the religious world; and it is opening to us a prospect from which we derive the most refreshing anticipations. It tells the man who, in other circumstances, would have sat down and counted the cost, and made up his mind to continue as he was, rather than venture on so precarious a transition, that now he has little cost to count; that the balance, in point of secular advantage, is on the side of a change, or at the very worst, not greatly against it. In short, if it has not gilded the exterior of a Christian profession with positive attractions, it has at least diminished the repulsiveness of its appearance, and rendered it more compatible with the ease, and the securities, and the ordinary enjoyments of human life.
In these circumstances, it is to be counted on, that those who wear the badge of Christianity shall be more numerous, and less select than they otherwise would have been—that many are joining themselves outwardly to the church, who, had the ordeal through which they pass into her fellowship been more fiery, would have kept their place in the ranks of her enemies. We do not
say there are too many who have “ named the name of Jesus” in outward profession; for the doing of this is, in itself, a good thing; and the amount of undisguised profanity in our land, is
still alarmingly great. Nor do we think it better for the church that ungodly men should appear in their ungodliness, rather than be hid in the mask of hypocrisy: for it is not to be denied, that a goodly exterior in religion, even where there is, nothing more, is one of the instruments of which the Most High avails himself, for carrying on his work of mercy.
Such a mask may be so artfully put on, and so well sustained, as to conceal a multitude of iniquities, which would otherwise prove contagious, but are thus rendered harmless to all but the deceiver himself. But what we deprecate is, the extent of individual delusion which the causes hinted at are likely to produce, and the fearful disappointment which must ensue when characters are scrutinized. It is in the absence of the storms of nature, and under the genial influence of her dews and sunshine, that the weeds which are destined to destruction spring up and multiply in the fields of the husbandman; and who does not know that there is something analogous to this in the moral region of the church. A name to live, at any time, is apt to be mistaken for that which the name implies; but at no time is this error so likely to be committed, as when there is little or nothing externally in operation to bring professions to the test.
Nor is any man so unwilling to suspect himself of such an error as he who ought most to fear it. It is painful to think of the complacency with which some people call themselves Christians, and seem to count on it, as a thing undoubted, that whatever Christianity can do for man is theirs by inheritance; while, from all that is seen about them, there is reason to suspect, that if but a tenth of the sacrifice exacted for it from the men of other times, and cheerfully paid by these men, were exacted from them, they would cast the inheritance behind their back.
Such persons can converse on the general principles of Christianity with intelligence and decorum; they can show a mannerly respect for its forms and institutions, but if you go down with them into the interior of the subject, and point out to them its peculiar feelings, its conflicts, and its consolations, they are out of their element. They have no experience of these things; they are conscious of no internal affinity with them; but still they retain the conviction that they are the disciples of Jesus Christ.
We have no right to indulge a censorious humour, or to speak suspiciously of an age in which there is so much to admire and eulogize. Nor will we do so, for in the movements of its men and its measures, we see an impulse given to Christianity by the Spirit of its great Author, which is awakening feelings, and tending to results the most illustrious and cheering. But it is no reflection on the age, as a season of special goodness from the God of providence, to forewarn man, that the very goodness which is diffused around him in such abounding variety, may be converted by him into an occasion of evil. Nay, since the history of our wayward nature sustains the assertion, that times such as ours have been almost uniformly distinguished for such perversity-since existing circumstances among us are undeniably favourable to a delusion which involves