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The negligent Conduct of Christians no real Objection against Christianity--The reason why its Effects are not more manifest to Worldly Men, is, because Believers do not lead Christian Lives.--Professors differ but little in their Practice from Unbelievers. -Even real Christians are too diffident and timid, and afraid of acting up to their Principles.-The Absurdity of the Charge commonly brought against religious People, that they are too strict.
It is an objection frequently brought against Chris
tianity, that if it exhibited so perfect a scheme, if its influences were as strong, if its effects were as powerful, as its friends pretend, it must have produced more visible consequences in the reformation of mankind. This is not the place fully to answer this objection, which (like all the other cavils against our religion) continues to be urged just as if it never had been answered.
That vice and immorality prevail in no small degree in countries professing Christianity, we need not go out of our own to be convinced. But that this is the case only because this benign principle is not suffered to operate in its full power, will be no less, obvious to all who are sincere in their enquiries: For if we allow (and who that examines impartially can help allowing) that it is the natural tendency of. Christianity to make men better, then it must be the
aversion from receiving it, and not the fault of the principle, which prevents them from becoming so.
Those who are acquainted with the effects which Christianity actually produced in the first ages of the church, when it was received in its genuine purity, and when it did operate without obstruction, from its professors at least, will want no other proof of its inherent power and efficacy. At that period, its most decided and industrious enemy, the emperor Julian, could recommend the manners of the Galileans to the imitation of his pagan high priest; though he himself, at the same time, was doing every thing which the most inveterate malice, sharpened by the acutest wit, and backed by the most absolute power, could devise, to discredit their doctrines.
Nor would the efficacy of Christianity be less visible now in influencing the conduct of its professors, if its principles were heartily and sincerely received. They would, were they of the true genuine cast, operate on the conduct so effectually, that we should see morals and manners growing out of principles, as we see other consequences grow out of their proper and natural causes. Let but this great spring have its unobstructed play, and there would be little occasion to declaim against this excess, or that enormity. If the same skill and care which are employed in curing symptoms, were vigorously levelled at the internal principle of the disease, the moral health would feel the benefit. If that attention which is bestowed in lopping the redundant and unsightly branches, were devoted to the cultivation of a sound and uncorrupt root, the effect of this labour would soon be discovered by the excellence of the fruits.
For though, even in the highest possible exertion of religious principle, and the most diligent practice of all its consequential train of virtues, man would still find evil propensities enough, in his fallen nature, to
make it necessary that he should counteract them, by keeping alive his diligence after higher attainments, and to quicken his aspirations after a better state; yet the prevailing temper would be in general right, the will would be in a great measure rectified; and the heart, feeling and acknowledging its disease, would apply itself diligently to the only remedy. Thus though even the best men have infirmities enough to deplore, commit sins enough to keep them deeply humble, and feel more sensibly than others the imperfections of that vessel in which their heavenly treasure is hid, they however have the internal consolation of knowing that they shall have to do with a merciful Father, who "despiseth not the sighing of the "contrite heart, nor the desire of such as be sorrow"ful;" who has been witness to all their struggles against sin, and to whom they can appeal with Peter for the sincerity of their desires" Lord! Thou "knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love
All the heavy charges which have been brought against religion, have been taken from the abuses of it. In every other instance, the injustice of this proceeding would be notorious: but there is a general want of candour in the judgment of men on this subject, which we do not find them exercise on other occasions; that of throwing the fault of the erring or ignorant professor on the profession itself.
It does not derogate from the honourable profession of arms, that there are cowards and braggarts in the army. If any man lose his estate by the chicanery of an attorney, or his health by the blunder of a physician, it is commonly said that the one was a disgrace to his business, and the other was ignorant of it; but no one therefore concludes that law and physic are contemptible professions.
Christianity alone is obliged to bear all the obloquy incurred by the misconduct of its followers; to sus
tain all the reproach excited by ignorant, by fanatical, by superstitious, or hypocritical professors. But whoever accuses it of a tendency to produce the errors of these professors, must have picked up his opinion any where rather than in the New Testament; which Book being the only authentic history of Christianity, is that which candour would naturally consult for information.
But as worldly and irreligious men do not draw their notions from that pure fountain, but from the polluted stream of human practice; as they form their judgment of divine truth from the conduct of those who pretend to be enlightened by it; some charitable allowance must be made for the contempt which they entertain of Christianity, when they see what poor effects it produces in the lives of the generality of professing Christians. What do they observe there which can lead them to entertain very high ideas of the principles which give birth to such practices?
Do men of the world discover any marked, any decided difference between the conduct of nominal christians and that of the rest of their neighbours, who pretend to no religion at all? Do they see, in the daily lives of such, any great abundance of those fruits by which they have heard believers are to be known? On the contrary, do they not discern in them the same anxious and unwearied pursuit after the things of earth, as in those who do not profess to have any thought of heaven? Do not they see them labour as sedulously in the interests of a debasing and frivolous dissipation, as those who do not pretend to have any nobler object in view? Is there not the same eagerness to plunge into all sorts of follies themselves, and the same unrighteous speed in introducing their children to them, as if they had never entered into a solemn engagement to renounce them? Is there not
the same self-indulgence, the same luxury, and the same passionate attachment to the things of this world in them, as is visible in those who do not look for another?
Do not thoughtless neglect, and habitual dissipatión answer, as to society, all the ends of the most decided infidelity? Between the barely decent and the openly profane there is indeed this difference,-That the one, by making no profession, deceives neither the world nor his own heart; while the other, by intrenching himself in forms, fancies that he does something, and thanks God that " he is not like this pub"lican." The one only shuts his eyes upon the danger which the other despises.
But these unfruitful professors would do well to recollect that, by a conduct so little worthy of their high calling, they not only violate the law to which they have vowed obedience, but occasion many to disbelieve or to despise it; that they are thus in a great measure accountable for the infidelity of others, and of course will have to answer for more than their own personal offences: For did they in any respect live up to the principles they profess; did they adorn the doctrines of Christianity by a life in any degree consonant to their faith; did they exhibit any thing of the "beauty of holiness" in their daily conversation; they would then give such a demonstrative proof, not only of the sincerity of their own obedience, but of the brightness of that divine light by which they profess to walk, that the most determined unbeliever would at last begin to think there must be something in a religion of which the effects were so visible, and the fruits so amiable; and might in time be led to "glorify," not them, not the imperfect doers of these works, but their Father which is in "heaven." Whereas, as things are at present cacried on, the obvious conclusion must bc, either that