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teaching the doctrines of the gospel. The influence of the human fall freezes mind, and binds it in motionless fixation : the influence of the recovery seems destined chiefly to thaw the soul, and to give currency to its thoughts; with some qualification we may say, “ As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive,” intellectually as well as morally.
This state of mind may have its political and moral danger, yet we hesitate not to pronounce it an improvement : life may be mischievous, but who does not prefer it to death ? and it is gratifying to learn that the same wisdom of God, which could come down to the ignorance of the uncultivated mind, and like the mother of Alfred, encourage it to seek knowledge, is adapted, in every respect, to the present condition of intellectual improvement. Thus the same river which slakes the thirst of the lamb, can satisfy that of the elephant; the same principle which accounts for the falling of a stone, is applicable to the vast system of planets. “Here is wisdom!"
This assertion will be supported, by a view of some of the present traits of mental character, and by seeing how the gospel of Jesus Christ adapts itself to each and to all of those states of mind.
Boldness of investigation is one of the characteristics of the present age. Former generations have, like the companions of Columbus, been afraid of going too far in an unchartered course; they have been in search of precedent, have clothed their ignorance in the names of accredited ex. amples, and have thought in the leading-strings of some mental dry-nurse. Galileo and the sun must be false, if they agree not with the dicta of Aristotle. Mind is now generally daring, disposed to handle the ghost, and reckless even to wantonness of precedent and authority, to investigate for itself the subject, and to bring its pretensions to a severe test. Now the gospel has a very favourable aspect on such a state of mind, guiding its enterprise, while challenging the most rigid examination. The scheme of salvation, through faith in the atonement made for sin by Jesus Christ, is so admirably formed in its parts, and constituted as a whole, and presents such indubitable proofs of Divine wisdom, and such high credentials, that the more the saying which announces it is investigated, the more will it be seen to be faithful and worthy of all acceptation. The testimony of universal history, and especially of the history of the Jews, the fulfilment of prophecy, the authentic record of miracles, the variety, yet substantial agreement of its writings, the doctrines it establishes, the bearing of those doctrines on the state of the world and of individuals, with a vast accumulation of argnment,-all reply to the question, “ Is the gospel from God ?” with an emphasis proportionate to the patient investigation to which they are submitted, and to the equity with which they are weighed. Christianity has nothing to conceal: she proclaims her mysteries on the house-top, and leaves the dark places for the oracular mutterings of heathenism, and the ravings of infidelity. Had France, under the guidance or Voltaire and his associates, examined the gospel of God, instead of the pageantry of Rome, she would have arrived at a very different conclusion.
The boldness of the age may expose and demolish corrupt forms of Christianity, but Christianity herself defies exposure, conscious that she shall stand a rock in the ocean, cleared of weeds and encumbrance, when the roaring of the waves and the tumult of the people shall have subsided.
The gospel presents itself to such a state of mind full of advantage, defining the line in which this boldness is to act It allows, it encourages indeed the most determined search into its credentials, the most studious attention to the letter of its records, whether of fact or of principle: but when the mind has arrived at the conclusion that the gospel is the word of God, and not the word of inan, and when the meaning of its particular clauses is evident, it says, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.” It permits not the mind to invent new doctrines, or to expect new revelations; but demands the exercise of docility now, as it did that of boldness before. Faith is reason so far as it demands evidence: faith is obedience, when, evidence being furnished, it receives and practises the principles which are divinely established. As therefore Christianity teaches us to fear God, and to fear none else; as it gives the utmost liberty to every fair and legitimate exercise of mind, and as, at the same time, it marks out the path in which it is to travel, and the submission which it owes to an indubitable, divinely revealed authority, it is peculiarly adapted to the present age.
Nearly allied to this disposition boldly to investigate every important subject, is that which demands clear and decisive proof, that claims are legitimate and well established. The nature of evidence, though yet not sufficiently considered, is nevertheless much more extensively known than it formerly
The distinction between mathematical and moral evidence, is becoming more generally noticed; the force and conclusiveness of moral evidence is allowed, and few would now have the effrontery to impugn credible testimony, because it is not mathematical demonstration. Now Christianity chiefly claims the attention and faith of the age on the basis of moral evidence : its facts are the subjects of testimony, for we should be sorry to attach weight to any miracles pretended to be at present in a course of performance; yet that testimony is of such a character, that no series of facts belonging to any other time, can be supported by evidence more strong and overwhelming. The character, the circumstances, and foreseen sufferings of the apostles and first Christians, render them witnesses of the greatest credibility; and no sophistry can invalidate the train of argument pursued by Paley in his Evidences of Christianity. It is also worthy of remark, that as common-sense witnesses of fact are always considered perfectly competent, so the subject of their testimony is cognizable to common sense; and thus the unlearned may judge of the evidence of evangelical truth, as well as of the doctrines, and duties, and privileges, which that truth reveals and establishes. In this respect therefore, Christianity has a favourable aspect on the intellectual improvement of society; and since the providence of God has permitted the state of public mind which we here observe, we have reason to hope that his grace will extensively incline men to investigate topics, and their evidence, which are afraid of nothing but ignorance and inattention.
We conceive too, that a cursory observer of the public mind must see, that there is a growing demand for operative, practical knowledge ; in fact, that wisdom, rather than mere knowledge, is in requisition. In our modern poetry, the mythological fictions which Pope and Milton employed, are disused, and the scene is peopled by beings, and the plot is worked out by an agency, consistent with the realities of nature ; and poetry itself is giving place, in the general taste, to history and philosophy. The question, What good will it accomplish ? is common. The pressure from without which condenses inflated establishments, forbids mind to pamper many idle fancies, and to seek such servants as will perform real business, or at least that which pretends to be real. Education in all the classes of society, from the infant school to the university, and private reading, from the mechanic to the noble, are now more anxious than ever they were before, to secure the utile. “These English,” said a barbarian, “make all work ; they make the fire and the smoke work, and the wind work, and the water work, and the steam work!” Now no knowledge is so useful, so operative and practical, as that of Christianity, as “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” It teaches the guilty to seek justification, not by works of law, but by faith in Jesus Christ; the unholy to implore the cleansing influence of his Spirit, and all the wisdom, and strength, and joy, and hope, which will fit them for life, and death, and eternity. No knowledge ever produced such a change, and such an improvement in human society, as that of the gospel; no instruction ever reformed the hearts and the conduct of individuals equally with this. (James iii. 17, 18.) And since this wisdom not only sheds blessings on a few years, but also on an endless duration, constituting the tree of life, as well as the tree of knowledge, its lessons in point of utility and practical advantage, must rise as far above all that mere art and science and literature can teach, as the manly investigation of facts, and application of inductive principles, are above the puerilities of mythologic and fictitious poetry.
The intellectual improvement of the age is not monopolized by the few, but enjoyed by the many; and society has arrived at that point where it is no longer a question whether the mass of the people shall be taught or not,—for they will learn; but whether the power which knowledge gives shall be under a still greater control. When knowledge was confined almost entirely to ecclesiastics and gentlemen, the etiquette of the order in the one, and the spirit of chivalry in the other, independently of gracious influence, gave to it a restraint and a delicacy highly beneficial to society; and in the superior ranks of life what is called good breeding at present occupies their places. But this cannot be the case with the greater part of mankind ; for though their taste and manners will improve with their intelligence, there will still, in general, be wanting not only the blandness and gentleness which give a polish to the point of thought, but also the habit of restraint and consideration. As knowledge, therefore, is let in among the people, something is needed to give it a happy direction, or it may spread the desolations of a flood rather than become a fructifying stream; and here you strikingly see the benign effect of Christianity on the social body. Humility and kindness are the elements both of good behaviour and of sound politics; and however deticient the true Christian may be in acquaintance with ceremony, and with national economy, he has an unction which teaches him to be humble and kind, while he possesses principle, and lives in the fear of God, and cannot easily be enticed to join in any social or political measures which involve injustice or cruelty, or disobedience to reasonably accredited authorities; or should he be hurried into them he is subject to a correcting power ; but without principle, and the social mfluence of the Gospel, it is impossible to say what may be the vagaries of half-cultivated minds,--of minds rich in knowledge, but poor in discipline, or to what extent they may push independency of the fear of man, and of the authority of precedent, when there is not the restraint of Him “ who seeth not as man seeth, but who looketh at the heart." France, in the history of her late revolutions, written in blood, furnishes an affecting proof of the hazard of a partially enlightened and infidel nation. Had that people not mistaken popery for Christianity, or atheism for liberty - ! Yet the butchery of a revolution is nothing, compared with the horrors of soul destruction and eternal ruin.
Since, therefore, Christianity excites and improves the social intelligence, and since it only can give a safe and effectual direction to its exercise, and make wise unto salvation, we maintain that it is the greatest blessing which God bestows on the human mind, and that it claims both the devout attention and the zealous recommendation of all who favour intellectual improvement; and for a man to promote human knowledge, however useful, and to frown on that which is divine, to be a scientific unbeliever, is contradictory and humbling. And he who yields to the claims of Christianity, in penitence and faith, receives its great doctrines, trusts to them, and works them out in his daily practice. Knowing, and feeling, and deploring that he is a guilty, helpless sinner, he renounces all dependence on personal merit, and on the mercy of God, without respect to a Mediator, and anxiously, prayerfully desires to be found in Him, “ who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Do you obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
And he who recommends the truth as it is in Jesus, deeply interested in its principles and privileges himself, and estimating the value of other souls by that which he forms of his own, exerts his influence with his family and friends, and with all on whom it may, under God, be likely to tell, to bring them out of darkness into “marvellous light”—to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life.
6 Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.”
THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRACT SOCIETY,
27, RED LION SQUARE.
J. & W.Rider, Printers, Bartholomew Close, London.