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of the last generation, who have but just descended to the grave, who had the most intelligent conviction of the prominent truths of the Bible, and the warmest attachment to them. They used to speak of the conversions which occurred in their youthful days, as the result, so far as human agency was concerned, of long-continued, personal, solitary application to the truths of the gospel. With them, feeling flowed from contemplation. Anxiety of mind was caused by clear apprehensions of their duties towards God. They had but few books, and the large quarto Bible, with the imprimatur of Oxford, was the one great and inestimable treasure in every house. The books, (generally sermons or treatises on divinity, *) which they did possess, were thoroughly read and digested. Every leaf bore the markspossibly caused by the fallen tear of some venerable octogenarian-of the earnest perusal, perhaps, of several successive generations. Our fathers listened, not merely without weariness, but with great delight, to the protracted three hours' service of the sanctuary, intending to carry away, not a momentary impression produced by an impassioned hortatory appeal, but the body of the long sermon, with its scores of heads and subdivisions.
It scarcely need be remarked how entirely diverse is the existing fashion. By a reaction from the old habit, by the stirring influence of our large cities, by the multiplication of practical duties on the Sabbath, and, in general, by the spirit of the times, we are in no little danger of becoming visionary, inconstant, superficial Christians, instead of being like the doctrinal, patient, thorough disciples of past generations. No reasonable man can object to the strong personal appeal, to the direct, pungent application which characterize many of the sermons of the present day; they are indispensable, and, not unfrequently, very effective. But it seems to be forgotten that the mind needs something more substantial ; that in certain states it is satisfied with nothing except the clear delineation of such subjects as the eternity and immutability of God, and the glory of Christ, in what used to be called, significantly, his “office-work.” An indirect exhibition
* Such as Boston's Fourfold State, the Berry-street Sermons, Stoddard's Safety of appearing in the Righteousness of Christ, Flavel's Touchstone, etc.
of such topics is, sometimes, practical preaching in the best
3. General intelligence is a characteristic of the age. This proposition is obviously true. The deep intellectual interest awakened in some parts of the continent of Europe, in portions of the most despotic governments on the globe, and in the United States, is worthy of all commendation. Still, however, but little has been done except to reveal how much needs to be done. The benefits of knowledge are yet but partially enjoyed, even in some of the most highly civilized countries. The proportion of persons in France who can read and write, has been stated to be but thirty-eight in one hundred. In the county of Devon, England, it was found, two or three years since, that it was not the poor only who could not write, but one-fourth of the overseers of the poor were in the same singular predicament. In large parts of Buckinghamshire, only ten in one hundred of the adults can read, and but one person in ninety is able to write. Large districts in and around London are in this condition of semi-barbarism. Mr. W. C. Johnson, M. C. from Maryland, stated in his place in Congress, that onethird of the voters, who gave evidence in a contested election in North Carolina, were marksmen, i. e. men who made their mark. Mr. J. gave many other startling facts in proof of the great destitution, in respect to the simplest rudiments of education, in some of the oldest states.
It is worthy of particular inquiry, how far the education of the present day is under the control of Christian principles. It has been made a serious question, whether mere intellectual education exerts any restraining influence upon the bad passions of men The following facts have been adducedhow far conclusive, we do not pretend to decide—to show that it does exert some beneficial effect, at least for a time. Out of 4,222 criminals subjected to punishment in France, in the year 1833, all but 454 belonged to the classes either wholly without education, or who had received only the lowest degree of instruction. Out of fifty persons sentenced to death, not one belonged to the educated classes. From a population of more than thirty-two millions, only forty-nine well-educated persons were considered as deserving of punishments in any degree severe. The examples of ancient Greece and Rome, it is said, are not in point to prove the contrary to that which the above facts imply, as immensely the largest part of the population of those countries were sunk in the most stupid ignorance.
Still, we are no believers in the efficacy of mere intellectual education. It may prevent, or diminish the more gross and notorious forms of depravity, but it cannot dry up the fountain, or put any effectual check on the streams. Possibly, some of the well-educated criminals in France were not arrested, or could not have been brought to trial, if they had been. One of the French literati, like Victor Hugo, the great novel writer, may have done more to corrupt the public mind than hundreds of the canaille, who throw themselves into the Seine, or who perish on the scaffold, merely because they but carry out the principles which some Hugo has seducingly recommended.
It is matter for devout acknowledgment, that the Bible is used, to such an extent in Germany, and to some degree in our Union, as an indispensable reading-book, or text-book, in the common schools; and that many parents who make no pretensions to religion, desire to have their children attend a school where religious instruction is communicated. Even the duellist finds consolation in the fact that his family will be sustained in the orphanage, which his own murderous hands have caused, by that religious education to which he proves utterly recreant.
The multiplication of books, at the present day, is regarded by many as a serious evil, not more on account of that class of these publications which is positively pernicious, than because of the uncounted number of the superficial, of the frivolous, or the transcript for the thousandth time. Yet it seems to be forgotten that the number of readers is wonderfully increased, and that the supply is no larger than the demand. The multiplication of books is a natural consequence of the increased diffusion of education, and of the religious and missionary spirit. In the complaints which are sometimes made on the character of the publications of the present day, full justice is not done to them. Many of the English authors of the 17th century are re-published, not for the purpose of augmenting a library, but to be read and digested. Still, the amount of publications, either positively injurious, or excessively shallow, is very great. A style of composition is adopted which is at utter variance with all taste and sobriety, and which is fast corrupting the language. The records of Newgate, or the Tolbooth, are searched for terms, and the histories of Botany Bay 'for illustrations. The depth of debasement into which the popular press of France is sunk, almost defies belief. Hundreds of volumes are poured forth every year, the basis of which are the precious confessions of some condemned malefactor or scapegallows. The production is seasoned with wit, and made attractive by the most licentious language, closing with some diabolical catastrophe, where suicide, or adultery, or assassination, are made out to be virtues. This deluge of pernicious books, emanating from France, and spreading into Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany, is one of the crying enormities of the age.
A paramount and most solemn duty of the friends of Christ, in every civilized land, is to watch the press vigilantly, and make it what it ought to be. The amazing energies of this great engine are nowhere fully appreciated. A newspaper, like one or two in New-York, or London, or Paris, edited with great tact and talent, and going daily into ten thousand families, has a power of mischief which is unutterable. Nothing but omniscient foresight, and almighty power, can counteract an influence which is stamped and re-stamped every day in the year. It is this unintermitted action which renders the daily press so influential ; which makes the worse appear the better reason; which transmutes vice into virtue ; and, finally, peoples hell with its countless victims. Repeat a groundless and wicked story every day for a month, and you will at length be believed by sober, and Christian men too. The newspapers, and the literature of every land, should be pure, and be unifornily devoted to the well-being of man. Nothing can be more imperative upon intelligent Christians, than to uphold those works, and those men, that have this for their object. Laboring here, they labor in the very centre and focus of those means and influences which are to regenerate the world.
4. We will next remark upon the age as having an infidel tendency. The great cause of this tendency is the same in every period. Men do not like to retain God in their
knowledge, and he gives them up to a reprobate mind, It also seems to manifest itself in certain forms in all
ages. If these forms do not appear for a time, they soon manifest themselves in some other part of the world.
One of the most common and plausible forms of skepticism is founded on the opinion that the world is in a perpetual change, while yet no progress is made. There is a constant Aux and reflux; currents and counter-currents ; alternate barbarism and civilization. While the light of freedom goes out on one shore, it is rekindled on another. When one continent has lost the energy of its civilization, and its general spirit languishes, another continent is discovered. When a high degree of refinement has brought along its corresponding vices and degeneracy, then there is a fresh awakening in the ancient seats of learning and civilization. Thus all things change, and yet all things remain as they were from the beginning. Though there may be, at the first view, some plausibility in this theory, yet it wholly overlooks or denies the predictions of the Bible, as well as a great body of facts which have occurred for the last three hundred years.
Another of the common phases of infidelity is pantheism.* By this is understood, according to the most learned doctors of the sect, an infinite substance, comprehending all matter and mind in itself, with the attributes of infinite thought and infinite extension. All that exists is only a necessary suc. cession of modes of being in a substance for ever the same. In certain forms this doctrine has existed in all ages. It derives some countenance from a few popular modes of expression, and from the perversion of two or three passages of Scripture. It denies a personal God, who is independent of matter and of other beings, and who existed prior to matter and to all other beings. It of course destroys all accountability on the part of man, and renders a future judgment absurd. This is the atheism of philosophers and of reflecting men. If we are not much mistaken, there is no
* “Pantheism consists in this, that it considers the all of things, sò máy, or the world in the widest sense, as God, and admits, in its fundamental notion, no other being as separate from him. Consequently it identifies God and the world.”_ Germ. Convers. Lexicon, Ed. 1837, viii. 259.