Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

a

a

the truths on which it is founded. Education and habit have a great power of hardening the heart and inuring it to view the most solemn subjects without emotion. The youth educated in a a christian land becomes acquainted with the existence and truths of the cbristian faith before his mind is matured. His belief is rendered it, before he perceives the grounds on which it claims to be believed. He also is accustomed to the language of scripture and of seriousness before he knows its true meaning and weight, and admits the truth of statements, of whose extent and application he is ignorant. Thus religion is to him a matter of sound, not of feeling, something to which custom has rendered him in. different, as we frequently pass by the beautiful in nature with neglect, if it has been familiar to us from our childhood, when the stranger would stop in admiration. The young man among us views the subjects of eternity with little interest, for they are a story often told. As he grows up into manhood, the momentous and affecting truths of religion having lost their novelty, lose their power over him, and he is perhaps a regular attendant on the services of the sanctuary from habit, and an indistinct sense of duty impressed upon his mind in childhood, without receiving any bene- . fit. His faith is historical, not practical. It is a belief of facts, not a principle of action.

3. The first cause of religious indifference which has been mentioned, is of universal application, the second has particular force in this part of our country, where the means of early religious instruction are so generally possessed. There is one other, which peculiarly affects the present period, and which arises from the degree to which theological controversy has prevailed among us for some time. With however good a spirit this controversy may have been conducted, the necessary consequence of it has been to draw the attention of readers in a special degree to the points in dispute, the controverted doctrines of different sects. These doctrines have indeed an important influence upon the affections and conduct, but we are apt in discussion to give them an independent and exclusive weight, and to lose sight of christian character in our pursuit of christian faith, In examining the arguments for particular systems, we forget the grand principles which are common to all, and which are the foundation of morality and piety. The very study of theology as a separate branch of pursuit may have a noxious influence. The revelation which we investigate with the critical spirit of a scholar, becomes too much a mere object of speculation and criticism. While we find fresh proofs of its heavenly origin, we have less of its heavenly temper. It is true that this effect is confined to a small portion of society, the reading class ; but when we remember what

[ocr errors]

an influence they exert over the whole body, how much the tone of moral feeling and the standard of moral action depend upon them, and especially when we consider how directly the clergy, to whom these remarks are especially applicable, are the guardians of religious sentiment and character in the community, we may be ready to acknowledge that theological controversy is immediately prejudicial to practical religion.

There are other circumstances of a more or less general dature, which, in their connexion with those already mentioned, may affect the state of public feeling on religious subjects. Progress in wealth, increase of commerce, and that attention to the elegancies and arts of life which follows, as they occupy a greater portion of our thoughts will detract from the attention bestowed upon more important pursuits. Devotion to literature and science may engross the mind to the exclusion of other things, and political dissensions may fasten the attention on the bickerings and prejudices that are excited by the very blessings of liberty. Preparation for heaven should be the great business of moral beings in a state of probation, and when from local or temporary causes any other subjects occupy their minds so as to drive away this, we must expect a correspondent degeneracy in morals and religion. But we by no means conceive that the present time is remarkable among us for its profligacy, or its carelessness with regard to eternal things. However true and lamentable it may be that the religion of Christ has not greater influence over the hearts of its professors, that its spirit is not more apparent in their lives, and that its profession is not more universal, still these are not the peculiar marks of this generation. The generations that have

gone

before us had their vices, as we have ours, and our pious forefa hers while they gave to the character of NewEngland that religious temperament which has continued to the present day, stamped upon it a stern and uncharitable exterior, as inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel as it was unattractive. With us, religion has lost its sternness, and perhaps something of its strength. Though we would object to those indiscriminate censures which are passed upon the irreligion of modern times, yet there is much occasion for the charge of indifference and worldly mindedness, and much room for a general revival of practical religion. How is this to be effected?

If we listen to the language and practice of a great portion of christians among us, this inquiry seems to be immediately answered. We must produce what are technically called revivals of religion. But we think that such revivals should not be encouraged, for

1. They are not revivals of practical religion. The attention of persons at such times is drawn not so much to the practice as to the profession of christianity. They are treated as disbelievers in the great truths of the gospel, and the object is to awaken them to a sense of the high value of what are supposed to constitute the peculiar doctrines of our holy faith. Hence an acknowledgement of these as of vital importance, and a professed applicátion of them to his own case are all that is required, and all that can be obtained of the sinner thus converted; for there is no opportunity of displaying the influence of christian principles upon the heart or conduct in what are termed times of religious excitement. A state of feeling is produced, the permanence and efficacy of which cannot be tested till the ordinary business of life is resumed, and the exciting causes have ceased. And supposing the doctrines inculcated to be true, from the way in which they are presented, they make men practical christians no more than to state some of the most abstract principles of mathematical science without explaining their application to the affairs of life, would render a person a competent practical mathematician. Observation will show us not only that the essential part of religion, that which relates to well-doing, is comparatively kept out of sight, but that immorality and licentiousness are the frequent attendants upon revivals of religion as they are commonly conducted. They afford a cloak for the hypocrite, a place of action for the artful and designing, opportunity for the corrupt. The excitement which has been produced is unnatural, and cannot continue. The minds of men have been raised to a momentary excess of religious feeling, and when they descend from it, they may pass to indifference or depravity. In the heat of religious excitement the weeds of vice will spring up as readily as better plants. If we visit a town after such a revival has died away, we shall find some who may have been made good christians, and some who have been made hardened sinners. We sball hear of vice which was fostered in these scenes, and we shall discover a spirit of indifference and listlessness generally prevailing, that will form a striking, but not an unaccountable contrast to the past excitement.*

2. These revivals are grounded on false and injurious doctrines. They are false because inconsistent with what we know of the intellectual and moral constitution of man. Character is gradually formed, and slowly altered. The whole train of sentiment and feeling on any subject is seldom changed at once. bits of indolence cannot be overcome in a few days, a love of sinful pleasures cannot be converted into a relish for innocent or holy employments in a few hours-self-command, temperance, sobriety are the effect of persevering endeavours. The understanding that has been darkened by prejudices admits the light slowly; the heart that has been corrupted by vicious inclination requires time and exercise to raise it to a healthful state. The supposition of sudden conversion is not only contradicted by in. tellectual philosophy; the system of doctrines with which it is associated, we deem contrary to the spirit and teaching of scripture. It is connected with the idea of man's natural depravity, of his inability to recover himself from moral corruption, of the irresistible influence of divine grace, and of the arbitrary imparting of this grace. These views of human nature, and of God's goodness we conceive to be neither taught nor warranted by revelation, and yet these are the statements which are urged upon the subject of modern revivals, and are the ground work and es. sential support of such revivals. But these doctrines we have said are not merely false, but injurious, highly injurious to morality. If such representations of the character of man, and the government of God were allowed to have their natural influence, unchecked by their connexion with the true and solemn declarations of the bible, they would tend directly to licentiousness and carelessness. The sinner who owes his evil dispositions to his natural constitution and who cannot alter that constitution, has an excuse for every sin, and good reason for continuance in wickedness. His endeavours to reform will be unavailing unless God sees fit to change his heart; and when God does see fit to do this, his opposition will be equally powerless. If, in the purposes of the divine will he is to be saved, his salvation is secure, whatever course of conduct he may pursue; and if he is not to inherit eternal life, it is in vain for him to seek it. Can doctrines more pernicious to the good of society, or of the individual, be imagined? We do not see their full effect, because they are never allowed to act alone on the mind. They are neutralized by the truths to which they are strangely joined--but their pure and legitimate consequences appear to us fatal to practical religion.

* We would not have our remarks on this subject misunderstood. We believe that what are termed revivals of religion are generally pernicious, and that the evils necessarily attending them are sufficient to prove their impropriety. But that they may be the means of awakening an attention to religious subjects, and of producing in some a lasting impression we have no doubt. They are for the most part commenced from pure motives, and a sincere, though a mistaken faith. We ihink that we can discern the influence of more enlightened views acting upon this subject. The preaching and conduct of recent revivals as far as we have observed, eyince the power which more correct modes of thinking in one part of the community neces. sarily have upon its other portions,

3. These objections to ordinary revivals of religion lie against them when managed in the best manner. The evils mentioned do not attend the abuse of what is in itself good, but they belong to the very character, and constitute the life and spirit of such revivals. It seems then at first view, singular that so much success should accompany the endeavours made in this way, to awaken an attention to religion. We think this success can be explained without supposing the correctness of the means used; and this circumstance is another objection to their exercise. The two great instruments which are directed to this end, are the principles of fear and of sympathy implanted in our nature; and we well know, that when these are brought into action upon any subject, they produce mighty effects. The persons most affected at such times, are those, who from natural temperament, or cir. cumstances of education or condition, are most alive to the influence of these emotions; the young, the illiterate, the timid, children who are easily alarmed, and females whose minds are susceptible of impressions from the wonderful and the terrible, and on whom, sympathy acts with the greatest power. Upon such persons, is urged the necessity of a total and immediate change of character; the terrors of an offended God are portrayed in glowing language ; and the certainty of everlasting condemnation is denounced against those who do not awake from their vain trust in any acquired goodness. The sincerity and earnestness of the preacher demand attention; perhaps the prejudices of early instruction are on his side, and the whisperings of a tender conscience are in harmony with the denunciations that he utters. A regular systematic plan is pursued, and a religious awakening is now as much a matter of preparation and well-digested efforts as any of the business of life. A most important aid is derived from inculcating the necessity of immediate profession of christianity; not so much from the uncertainty of life as from the presence of divine favour, manifested to a certain town, or people. The returns of God's mercy are represented as occasional, or periodical, and when God graciously visits a place with the effusion of his Spirit, the inhabitants are told, that years may pass before he will again grant them these influences, and listen to their repentance. The favour of heaven.seems like the manna of the children of Israel, if they sought for it when the Lord appointed not, they sound none. The present is urged as the only time for repentance.

Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation, and those who do not listen now, are warned that the season of divine forbearance will soon be past, the influences of divine grace be withdrawn, and the chance of salvation lost. Yet, we are told in scripture, that the Lord will wait that he may be gracious.'

When such means of exciting the feelings are employed, when the energy of sincere belief and anxious regard, is engaged to enforce them, when those to whom they are directed, are taken away from the

« ForrigeFortsæt »