Page images
PDF
EPUB

dels, some of them insisted that they only were to be regarded as wise and consistent Christians. They were clearing away the rubbish by which Christianity had been obscured, and laboring to restore it to its primitive purity. Even Voltaire “ always professed himself a Christian, and continued to do so on his death-bed. He seldom enters into direct and serious argument against the gospel, which he did not understand, but throws the shafts of his ridicule all around him, and treats Judaism with the utmost contempt.”

The same also may be said of Rousseau. He was first a Protestant, then a Catholic, and afterwards a Protestant again ; and all this confessedly to answer a sinister, secular design.

The same policy, or rather hypocrisy, is still practised extensively in Germany. Not a few of the Christian teachers and theological professors of that once favored land are at this moment Deists, if not Atheists. One of them tells us that “the prophets delivered the offspring of their own brains, as divine revelations.” Another says, “the narrations in the New Testament, true or false, are only suited for ignorant, uncultivated minds, who cannot enter into the evidence of natural religion." A third speaks of St. John's portion of the New Testament as “inconsistent with itself, and made up of allegories.” A fourth glories in having given " a little light to St. Paul's darkness ; a darkness," he thinks, “industriously affected.” A fifth represents Joshua's account of “ the conquest of Canaan as fictitious ;" the books of Sam. uel as "containing a multitude of falsehoods;" and Daniel as “ full of stories, contrived, or exaggerated by superstition.” A sixth insists, that “God could not have required of Abraham so horrible a crime as the offering up of his son, and that there can be no palliation or excuse for this pretended command of the Deity." A seventh explains the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost as an electric gust, and the effects which followed as enthusiasm. An eighth suggests that Peter stabbed Ananias, which, says he, “ does not at all disagree with the vehement and easily exasperated temper of Peter.” A ninth teaches, that “the Pentateuch was composed about the time of the captivity ; that the Jewish ritual was of gradual formation, accessions being made to it by superstition; and that the books of the Chronicles, which are filled with scraps and inconsistencies, were foisted into the canon by some of the priesthood, who wished to exalt their own order." I surely need not adduce farther evidence, that many of the professed teachers of religion in Germany, in the last age and in the present, are no better than infidels.

I might here advert to the acknowledged fact, that no small part of the educated Romish clergy in France, and in other parts of the world, are disguised infidels. They know no other Christianity than that of Rome, and they soon come t) adopt the sentiment of Leo Xth, that this is a fable, though to them a gainful one.

Thomas Paine was one of the first, in modern times, who set the example of open, avowed infidelity. His example was soon followed by the political infidels of France, under whose direction the Bible was burnt, in a public square, by the common hangman; the Christian Sabbath was abolished; the houses of public worship were shut up; the sacramental vessels were mounted on the back of an ass, and paraded through the streets; and an inscription was written on the gate of their burying-place, “Death is an eternal sleep."

The writings of Paine, and the example of the revolutionary infidels of France, exerted a powerful influence in this country. At the commencement of the present century, infidelity was decidedly popular and alarmingly prevalent in the United States. The chief magistrate of the Union was well known to be an infidel. Dr. Franklin was generally believed to be a secret supporter of the same doctrine. In many of our colleges, infidelity not only existed, but triumphed ; in consequence of which a large proportion of our educated young men came forth into the world infidels.

It is said, in the life of the late Dr. Dwight, that at the time of his inauguration to the Presidency, “infidelity was decidedly fashionable and prevalent in Yale College. A considerable proportion of the students had assumed the names of the principal English and French Infidels, and were more commonly known by them, than by their own. An impression 'existed generally among the students, that Christianity was supported by authority, and not by argument, and that their instructers were afraid to meet the question of the inspiration of the Scriptures, in the field of open and fair discussion.” This impression Dr. Dwight took care very early and effectually to dissipate ; and it is due to

the memory of this great man to say, that he did more, probably, than any other individual, to check the growth of infidelity in this country.

There is undoubtedly much lurking infidelity still existing in Great Britain and the United States. It gives me pleasure, however, to be able to say, that I think there is less of it, than there was forty years ago. Certainly it appears with a less imposing aspect—with a less bold and open front. It shuns, rather than seeks the light, and prefers to be known by some name more respectable than its own. It becomes those who are set for the defence of the gospel to bear in mind, however, that the enemy is not dead, but sleepeth. Or perhaps I might better say, he does not sleep. He merely watches his opportunity to come forth, join battle under more favoring auspices, and retake the strong holds from which he has been driven.

Let all those who stand on the walls of our Zion be ready for the onset. The weapons of their warfare have been often tested. Their shield and sword and helmet have been thoroughly proved. If the enemy is permitted to gain any new advantage, the fault will be all their own. ·

ARTICLE VII.

THE RELIGIOUS CHARACTER OF A NATION THE ELEMENT

OF ITS PROSPERITY.

By Rev. George Duffield, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Detroit, Michigan.

THE practical infidelity of modern times is nowhere more conspicuous, than among our public men, who have the direction of our great national interests. The dreamings of this and the other political economist are heeded, in preference to the sober maxims inculcated in the sacred Scriptures. To be swayed by the truths they teach, and to avow their influence on the opinions and judgments they form, with respect to the policy and administration of the government, are accounted weakness and superstition. The

al, bulusand mised am

valuable aid they furnish, and the sound principles they urge, for the efficient development of the resources of the country, are practically undervalued and disbelieved ; and that, notwithstanding the history of nations is one perpetual con. firmation and illustration of the great principles of political economy recognised and taught in them.

A thousand expedients may be adopted for the public weal, but all will prove abortive, or fail to secure permanent prosperity, where the religious character of a people is not prized and fostered. There can be no guaranty for public tranquillity, whatever may be a people's confidence in their fleets or armies, their legislation and judiciary, the policy and efficiency of their administration, if the laws and providence of God are disrespected. An attentive observer cannot fail to discover indications of evil, among the population of this land. The fears of many are awake for the future. The spirit of lawlessness and violence, the practical disrespect of God's law, and of the institutions of Christianity, which mark the signs of the times, cannot but excite solici. tude. Under the influence of such solicitude the following attempt is made to prove that the religious character of a people is the true element of their prosperity, and to trace some of the more striking indications of deterioration, in this respect, in the United States,

By the religious character of a people is meant the practical influence of true Christianity. Other religions have obtained credit in the world, and shaped the character of nations, but none possess equal power to promote the real and permanent improvement of a people :—the remark is made in reference to their temporal condition. Christianity commends itself to every class in society, and is the only effectual means of securing those healthful developments in which true social prosperity consists,

We propose not to enter at large upon the arguments in proof of this position, aiming more directly at the application ;-but there are two considerations, which every candid reader will acknowledge to be conclusive. If we can show that religion elevates the condition, and augments the happiness of society, beyond every thing else, we have done all that can be demanded of us. In what then, we ask, consists the elevation and happiness of a nation ? Not in the splendor of its government ? Not in the grandeur and superior

refinement of its rulers ? Not in the wealth and luxury of a privileged and noble class ? Not in the security and efficient control of a pampered aristocracy? Not in the strength and glory of its armies and navy? These may all be had, as history has proved, and yet the great mass of the people be oppressed, degraded, corrupt, and little of domestic peace and tranquillity be known.

The elevation and happiness of society can only be secured by the elevation and happiness of the different families and members composing that society. Nothing can be effectual for this end, which does not enter the household and the heart, and contribute to produce and promote intelligence, order, contentment and industry. These form the main elements of national prosperity. Wherever they exist diffusely among the mass, there must be both national happiness and national aggrandisement. We say nothing of the tendency of Christianity to elevate and bless, as it makes the subject of its influence aspire to the society of God, of the spirits of just men made perfect, of the angels who kept their first egtate, the loftiest intelligences—the best society in the universe, —as it thus, of necessity, expands and strengthens the mind, and as it throws in the radiance of hope and joy, by unfolding the prospect of future scenes, of high and ennobling immortality; but we speak only of its improvement of men's temporal condition.

Let the appropriate influence of religion find its way into the different families that compose a community, and there you will see the most effectual restraints imposed on discord and strife, and the most powerful incentives to promote order, intelligence, contentment and industry. For he that is actuated by religion is affected by the fear of God, and the fear of God is a much more powerful principle than the fear of human laws, or of the authorities intrusted with the execution of those laws. The ignorant and impoverished are apt to feel, that the laws and the government are their enemies, or at any rate, that, while society owes them a subsistence, it does by these means throw obstacles in the way of their receiving it. So far from having respect to the general order and happiness of society, they are willing to sacrifice all to their selfishness, and to prevent confusion and mischief, rapaciousness and crime, the strong hand of power, with all the accompaniments of courts and jails, penitentiaries and military force, must inspire terror,

« PreviousContinue »