The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


Among the various talents with which God has entrusted to us, and for the use of which a strict account will be required at the day of judgment, INFLUENCE sustains a very high place. Made for society, and placed in the midst of it—our influence is always acting upon others; and their influence is always acting upon us! This is a solemn consideration, which we should never forget for a single hour. This applies universally. We are all perpetually sending forth, and receiving influence. Our spheres of operation are of very different dimensions, enlarging, of course, according to the number, publicity, and importance of the relations in which we stand to the social system; but all people, not excepting the poor widow in an almshouse, have a circle within which they move, and of which they are the center.

Least of all can it be supposed that the professor of religion is without influence. Consider what it is he professes in the way of privilege; that he is a member of Christ, a child of God, a traveler to immortality, and an heir of glory. Consider what it is he professes in the way of duty; that he is a saint, a lover of God, an imitator of Christ, a friend of man, the law of God incarnate, a living commentary on the Bible, the religion of the New Testament embodied. Such a man must have influence of some kind. He, from the very nature of his character and avowed principles, must be acting upon others for good—or for harm. Whoever has a negative impact on others, it should not be a Christian.

Think also of the kind of influence a professing Christian exerts; it is not literary, it is not political, it is not scientific, it is not merely moral—but it is spiritual, it is a pious influence. It is an influence not for time only—but for eternity; not for earth merely—but for heaven or hell. It is an influence which will in some instances go before him into eternity, and in other instances it will outlive him on earth, and then follow him into his everlasting inheritance of torment or of bliss, in the torment or bliss of those to whose ruin or salvation he has been accessory; he is ever and everywhere aiding men to perdition or to glory. Whether he intends it or not; whether he considers it or not; he is sending out an influence which either withers or nourishes the interests of immortal souls. How much then does it behoove him, to consider well his momentous situation, and the account he shall have to render at last for the results of his conduct.

1. I shall consider the influence of professors upon each other.

This may be applied either to the members of the SAME CHURCH, to those of different churches of the same denomination, or to those of different denominations. As regards the first, it cannot be questioned or unnoticed, that they act powerfully on each other. The word of God abounds with remarks, precepts, and examples, which imply this. In Scripture, we have the excellencies and the faults of the people of God set before us, that we may avoid the one and imitate the other. We are called upon to let our light shine before men; to provoke one another unto love and good works; to do good to all; to edify one another. This reciprocal influence of professors may be seen exemplified as well as proved, in various points of view; such for instance as the following—

In their spirituality and heavenliness of mind. True religion is not, as you know, a mere round of ceremonies, or a mere set of opinions. True religion is a state of holy affection, a principle of divine life in the soul; it is faith, hope, love; a minding of the things of the Spirit—righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is evident, therefore, that those who profess it, must be always doing something to raise or depress each other's piety, fanning or damping the flame of each other's divine love. One lively, ardent, active Christian is a blessing to the circle in which he moves, and sometimes to the whole church of which he is a member. His prayers at the meetings for social devotion, and his conversation in the companies of Christian friends, tend not only to stop the spreading lukewarmness of many others—but to kindle a similar spirit to his own, in the hearts of those with whom he associates. He keeps up the spiritual atmosphere of the church, and makes it amiable and reviving.

While on the other hand, one worldly-minded, political, convivial professor, whose spiritual affections, if not wholly extinguished, are smoldering under a heap of earthly cares and tastes, depresses and chills the piety of all who come near him. He is a hindrance to pious conversation, an interruption to the fellowship of the saints, and an extinguisher upon the devotion of the church. However profitable the fellowship of a company may have been before he entered the room, he soon contrives, by anecdote, politics, or business, to turn the current into some low and earthly channel.

It is of immense consequence that we should all consider this subject; that we should ask the question of ourselves—"what would I wish the church to be to which I belong; would I have it resemble that of Philadelphia, which the Lord accused of nothing bad; or that of Laodicea, which he did not praise for anything good? What I wish the church to be, that by divine grace, will I seek to be myself; for that in fact which I am in my spirit and temper, that am I in reality seeking to make the whole body."

It has frequently occurred, that young converts in the ardor of their first love, and while much unacquainted as yet, with what is called the 'religious world', have looked upon the church as a 'sacred enclosure', within which dwelt a kind of heavenly inhabitants, who could think or speak of little else than the glory which awaited them. In the church, these novices expected to find the sweetest and holiest fellowship, an almost unearthly spirituality, and an uninterrupted strain of pious conversation.

But alas! What a woeful disappointment did the reality produce! In the 'sacred enclosure' they found worldly minded professors--almost as intent upon seen and temporal things, as those they had left out in the world! In the 'vestibule of heaven', they beheld professors covered with the 'earthly dust', disordered with worldly concerns, and given up to worldly amusements! In the church members, they saw little but worldly conduct, and heard little else but worldly conversation! A cold chill fell upon their hearts, which checked the ardor of their pious affections; and even they, lately so fervent, soon sunk and settled down into the lukewarmness of those among whom they had come to dwell.

It is true they expected too much; they had formed a standard for the church militant too nearly approaching that of the church triumphant; but still, even people with a more correct knowledge of professing Christians, and with more sober expectations of what was to be derived from them, have upon coming among them experienced much less of the benefits of fellowship than they expected. This should not be. Happily it is not always thus. In our churches are to be found some, who by their knowledge, piety, and experience, are nursing fathers and mothers of the young Christian, and who, by the blessing of God, breathe into him their own spirit.

Our influence upon each other is very great in promoting or discouraging an attendance upon the means of grace, especially on week days. A diligent and constant resort to the house of God, both for hearing the word and social prayer, is of incalculable importance to the spirit of piety. If we would grow in grace, and keep up the principle and exercise of faith, we must avail ourselves of all possible, or at least, attainable helps. An irregular attendant upon these advantages discourages others, lends the influence of his example to dissuade them from going to the place of instruction, and says to them, in effect, "there is no need of so much diligence." Fearful is the injury thus done, and especially by deacons and leading members, when they are inconsistent. On the contrary, how influential for good, is he whose place is never vacant, who, as he passes the house of the less regular attendant, says, by his example, "come with us," and who, as he meets a negligent brother in the street, causes him to turn and accompany him to the house of God.

Our morality is materially affected by each other. I need not say how refined, how pure, how rigid, are the morals of the New Testament, forbidding not only the outward act—but also the inward feeling of sin; commanding not only whatever things are true, pure, just and honest—but also whatever things are lovely and of good report. A professing Christian should be not only eminent in the church for his piety—but as eminent also in the world for his morality. We should excel the worldling on his own ground; who is apt to boast of his morals, while he sneers at us for our piety. We, then, should be above and beyond him, in our morals. His summit should be our lowest level; his goal should be our starting place.

It is evident, notwithstanding the boast of some, that morals, so far as truth, honesty, and justice are concerned, are at a very low ebb in the world, and I am alarmed and concerned, lest the tide should sink in the church. The loose maxims, and looser practices, of modern trade, are finding their way among professed Christians, and principles are now adopted and acted upon, which, if tested by the word of God, cannot be justified; and yet they extensively prevail. Here again, the reciprocal influence of believers is great, and dangerous. Had the church from the beginning, taken its stand upon the scriptures, and repudiated everything condemned by that, there would not have been exhibited in the practices of modern professors, such a mass of questionable conduct as we are often pained to behold. One Christian makes a small deviation from the "whatever things are lovely," another sees it, and goes a step further, to infringe upon the "whatever things are of good report," a third is emboldened by their sanction to neglect the "whatever things are true," and so the matter goes on. Some things are avoided as long as they are confined to the world; but once seen in the church, they are practiced under the consideration that if not actually right, they cannot be far wrong, if done by professors. Thus the church goes on lowering the standard of morals, and corrupting itself.

A Christian ought to tremble at the idea of venturing one single step beyond the line of propriety, and especially in any new case of commercial casuistry; for there are among his brethren, many waiting first to imitate him, and then to plead his example for going one step farther than he did. Thus he acts the part of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, of whom it is so emphatically and repeatedly said, "he made Israel to sin.'' One single act of doubtful morality performed by a professing Christian, may be observed by many, and copied by some, who until that time, never questioned its sinfulness; and who, from that moment, felt all the safeguards of their character, all the defences of their integrity give way before the influence of one, whom they had been accustomed to look up to, not only as an older and a wiser—but also a holier Christian than themselves; until at length they went on from one state of delinquency to another, until they made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience together.

On the contrary, how noble, how honorable, and how useful is the man, whose stern and steadfast integrity stands firm amidst the shifting and fluctuating tides of modern commerce, and commercial devices, like a rock against the billows and currents of the ocean. There he is among his brethren, the relic of a more just and more honorable age, the type of what a Christian tradesman should be, and the means of still restraining others prone to wander within the boundaries of truth and honesty.

Nor is our influence upon each other inconsiderable, as regards zeal and liberty. There are few things to which the remark, that men are influenced more by imitation than conviction, is so applicable as it is to these. "What will others do?" is the question often asked, instead of what ought I to do? Let a plan be presented to them of some new effort for extending the Redeemer's kingdom in the world—some fresh and just demand upon the energies and property of his friends, and instead of examining its merits, they scrutinize its supporters—instead of reading the prospectus, they run over the list of contributors—instead of saying to themselves, what ought I to do, they ask the bearer what their neighbors have done. This is a shameful way of supporting God's cause, and yet it is far too extensively prevalent. What responsibility, therefore, does it entail on professors, first to give their names, since names are arguments and recommendations—and next to couple with their names, a liberal and proportionate donation; proportionate to the merits of the cause, and proportionate also to their own station and means of assisting it.

Especially does this prove the responsibility of rich professors. Their contributions fix the scale of donations, and determine, in effect, whether much or little shall be done. They open or close the hearts and hands of the rest; they cause the stream of liberality to flow full and rapidly, or to stagnate; they, in many cases, determine whether the scheme shall succeed or fail. There are frequently to be found liberal minds who devise liberal things—but who, on being informed that some richer neighbor had done much less than they intended to do, are prevented from fulfilling their own purposes although they know they are within their ability, because it would appear either like ostentation or ambition, to surpass one so much better able to give than themselves; and thus the cause of Christ is doubly robbed, by covetousness on the one hand, and unsanctified modesty on the other. Away with such unsanctified modesty—let each man accomplish the desires of his own heart, and obey the dictates of his own conscience, regardless of the conduct of the rich niggard, remembering that his example may work upward, and shame him out of his detestable covetousness.

Members of DIFFERENT CHURCHES of the same denomination, do each other much good, by cultivating friendly fellowship, by reciprocal interest and sympathy, and by good neighborhood and co-operation; or much harm by a spirit of alienation and hostility, of envy and jealousy, of detraction and division. Yes, different churches act upon each other, as well as different individuals in the same church; and this not only in the way I have already glanced at—but in many others. The Apostle tells us that even in primitive times, the zeal and liberality of one church provoked another to love and good works; and he actually proposed the example of one church for the imitation of the rest. Every community of Christians has an influence upon others, and an influence of course in the ratio of its magnitude, wealth, and publicity. This is a circumstance which ought to be well and solemnly considered by all large and affluent congregations, whether in London or in the country. They are to the church at large what the places in which they are located are to the empire. The metropolis, other cities, and large towns, give the tone, in a great measure, to the smaller towns and villages. Hence, lukewarmness, worldly-mindedness, and covetousness, in the larger churches, are almost sure to infect others; while their spiritual life, activity, and liberality, are very likely to be communicated to the body, of which they are the greater limbs.

In reference to the reciprocal influence of professors of DIFFERENT DENOMINATIONS, far more might be said than can be said in this chapter. They must and do act upon each other, and that powerfully too. The knowledge and piety, the love and zeal of one section of the Christian church can no more be confined within the pale of its communion, than the air it breathes, or the light it enjoys—nor are the bad influences of party spirit, sectarian bitterness, and political animosity, more likely to be pent up within the community that indulges them, than the pestilential atmosphere of a contagious epidemic within the house where the disease originates.

There is a continual action and reaction going on between the different divisions of the Christian Church. If a revival of piety takes place in one, it will, in all probability, extend to others. The Methodists and Dissenters were doubtless the means of kindling the flame of evangelical religion in the Church of England; and it may be hoped that the flame of piety which is now spreading in the Church of England will react upon its source, and cause that to burn with still greater intensity. It ought to be felt by each party to be a solemn obligation to promote the spirit of pure and undefiled religion, not only for its own sake—but for the sake of all. Our books, our examples, the records of our zeal and liberality overleap the boundaries of party, and circulate among each other in spite of prejudice and bigotry; I say in spite of prejudice and bigotry, for such bigotry there is, of which I have myself been the object. God has honored me by enabling me to write a little work—"The Anxious Inquirer," which, in his infinite condescension, he has blessed to an extent which fills me with astonishment and gratitude. It has obtained favor in the eyes of many, very many pious clergymen of the Church of England, from some of whom I have received testimonies to its usefulness, as honorable to their candor as they are gratifying to my heart. Such men, intent upon the objects of their high and holy calling, and willing, by any proper means, to save souls, have not scrupled to avail themselves of an instrument which they thought was made ready to their hands, though constructed by a Dissenter.

Not so, however, with all, for instances have come to my knowledge of evangelical clergymen, having acknowledged the useful tendency of this book, and yet refused to circulate it, because of the author's name on the title page. In one case of this kind, a lady was so much hurt by its being refused admission into a religious library, that she immediately purchased a considerable number for circulation. I know not whether I ought to make such a concession to bigotry, as the suppression of my name—but if it would at all aid the usefulness by extending the circulation of the book, I would, perhaps, consent to the Tract Society's doing so, to whom it now belongs. I can, I believe, most unhesitatingly declare, on behalf of the body to which I belong, that they are entire strangers to the feeling which would lead them to refuse to circulate any useful book, because it bears the name of a churchman. As regards the prejudice against myself, for such prejudice I do know exists in some quarters, I can descend to nothing servile, nothing base, nothing below what becomes a man, or a Christian, to remove it; remembering what was once said by a bishop of the Church of England, "that prejudice has neither eyes nor ears." I am a Dissenter; nor would I give up my principles for the wealth that all the endowed churches in Christendom have to offer—and I have written for the cause of dissent; not, however, from factious motives, in a rancorous spirit, or with a reviling pen. What I have written is in existence, and still in circulation, and let any man show me a sentence which is contrary to charity or courtesy, and I will blot it from my page. In one instance, and which was the principal cause of the prejudice against me, in certain quarters, I was not merely misunderstood—but grossly and wickedly misrepresented, and made to say the very reverse of what I did say. Instead of affirming, as was reported, "that we ought to forget our Christianity in our dissent," I actually said that we ought not to do so! How much of the bad feeling which now exists between different religious parties is to be traced up to some of the organs of public opinion. Let us, however, not carry our antipathies, if any exist, so far as to refuse the circulation of each other's useful books; for this is worse than exclusive dealing, and is deliberately to abandon the church of Christ at large to the ruthless havoc of party spirit, unchecked by one of the most likely means to preserve from utter extinction, the last embers of expiring charity.

Wherever and on whoever God bestows his gifts and graces, he intends them as the common blessings of the church; and it is impossible for prejudice and bigotry altogether to restrain or resist their influence. We get good in some cases, unconsciously to ourselves, from the very men whom we oppose; just as we should catch a sweet and rich perfume with which an individual might be scented with whom we wrestled. The lamp that lights my neighbor's house, though he be an enemy, lends its friendly illumination to mine. There is a communion of spiritual benefits from the influence of others. I want a greater revival of religion among the Dissenters, that it might do good to the Church of England; and I want a greater revival of it in the Church of England, that it may do good to the Dissenters; I want it in the Methodists, to do good to both the others, and in both the others to do good to the Methodists. Wherever it begins, it will not, cannot stop. The Spirit of God will not be limited by our narrow views and selfish policy—but will make us blessings to each other, in spite of ourselves.

On the other hand, if benefits be communicative, so is evil—and if, in one way, the different sections of the church of Christ are doing each other good; they are in another doing each other great harm. They are provoking each other to love and good works, as their different religious institutions can testify; but they are also provoking each other to strife, contention and enmity, as their controversies and periodicals bear witness. Never was the warfare of brethren so fierce and so rancorous as it is now. Their tongues are sharp swords, and their pens are spears. One party is attacking what they believe to be a corrupt system; the other in defending it, are reviling the men that are engaged in the assault. The conflict cannot yet terminate, for it is for truth; but still it should be carried on in the spirit of love. We must still contend, for neither party dare quit the field—but let it be like Michael the Archangel, who, when contending even with the devil about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a railing accusation—but said, "the Lord rebuke you."

Let the accuser, and reviler, and defamer of his brethren, remember this; and like the serpent who is fabled to spit out her venom before she drinks, cast away the poison of his malice, and then drink of the water of Christian controversy. Let the religious incendiaries of all parties, whose tongues are set on fire of hell remember this, and consider, that like other incendiaries, they have no power to stop the flames they have kindled, which may not only consume their neighbor's homestead—but reach their own. Every hot, turbulent, and defamatory professor, though not a preacher, or a writer—but only a talker, is a mischief maker in the church, who not only does what in him lies to drive away charity from his own party—but also to expel it from that of his opponents. He is an enemy to all churches, by the manner in which he defends his own; and by offering up love in sacrifice, at the shrine of what he calls truth, destroys one-half, and that the better half, of what is worth contending for in Christianity. He provokes others to join him in destroying that holy, heavenly temper, which is of infinitely greater value than all the forms of polity, and all the ceremonies ever devised by man, or ever instituted by God; which these forms and ceremonies were granted and designed to promote; and which shall survive and flourish, infinite ages after they have ceased to be remembered.

I have my opinion, of course, where the most active cause, and the chief blame of this unhappy state of things are to be found—but as I would not add one particle of inflammable matter to the unholy fire, which is raging like a conflagration, I shall abstain from uttering my convictions. I cannot, however, forbear to express my persuasion, that a great part of the anger that is felt by one of the parties, is produced by an entire misconception of the object of the others; I would not aver, that either of the parties is without all blame—but I cannot think that in this respect they are both equal. O for a truce to everything but dispassionate dialog, and the charitable use of those methods for obtaining the redress of grievances, which the constitution puts within our reach!

When shall that sweet and holy voice be heard throughout the land, which, learning its melody, and borrowing its theme from the angel's song, has called the church to unity of spirit, in notes, which He who came to give peace on earth must approve, as the echo of his natal anthem? When shall that dear servant of his Master, whom so many admire, and so few imitate, find that by his heavenly music, he has tamed the fierceness of bigotry, and exorcized the evil spirit of intolerance? "O God, do in your great mercy to your distracted church, bless the circulation, even as I believe you did help the composition of that invaluable tract." I scarcely need say, I refer to the Baptist Noel's tract, entitled, "The Unity of the Church."

Such, then, is the influence of professors on each other; a subject, I am persuaded, too little, far too little considered. We have seen the necessity, and felt the importance of converting the world; but have we seen the necessity, and felt the importance of improving the church? We have been engaged to extend Christianity abroad; but have we been brought to refine and exalt it at home? We have acknowledged the claims that aliens have had upon us—but have we not withheld ourselves from our brethren? Is the church the better or the worse for us? Have we done it good or harm by our union with it? Have we increased the fervor of its piety, or added to its lukewarmness? Have we raised or depressed the standard of morality? Have we drawn our fellow Christians to the sanctuary, or led them away? Have we warned or paralyzed the zeal of others; expanded or contracted their liberality? We have been doing something. We have stood neither idle or neutral. Our fellow professors are either better or worse for our association with them. What has been, will be. We shall still continue to send out influence, and receive it too. May we therefore consider well our situation and our obligations.

II. But I now go on to consider the influence of professors upon their FAMILIES.

The power of influence is regulated by three circumstances. By the opportunity which those over whom it is exerted have of observing us; by the affection they bear to us, and the habit which they have acquired of looking up to us for imitation. What, then, must be the influence of parents? Their children are almost continually with them; they are seen by them in nearly all they do, in their habitual conduct, and in the exposure of their character at home. When they little reflect upon it, they are heard in what they say, seen in what they do, studied in their various phases of behavior—by little ears, and eyes, and minds, that are scarcely ever closed. Affection prepares the child to receive impressions from paternal conduct; it warms the heart, and makes it soft and pliable to a father's or a mother's hand. And then, whom has the child been taught to regard with reverence and imitation but his parents? Their constant influence has been molding him from the dawn of reason. He knew them first, and sees them most, and loves them best—and therefore is likely to yield to them with deepest submission. What, then, ought to be the behavior at home of a professing Christian? It is not my design to enter at large into the subject and plan of a religious education; I would merely say, that the whole cultivation, and direction, and management of a child's mind, from the very dawn of reason, and the development of moral emotions, should be carried on with special reference to the formation of Christian character. This should be the one thing, in reference to his children, of every professor, to which all other things should be subordinate and subsidiary. Schools, business, situations, teachers—all should be selected with reference to this. There should be no doubt about this matter, no hesitation nor stopping in this course.

But I now refer more particularly to the silent influence of parental conduct; and it is an undoubted fact, that this is far greater, either for good or for evil, than most parents are aware of. They teach by what they say, they influence by what they do, and also by what they do not say, and do not perform. The father, who, in the best sense of the word, is the prophet, priest, and king of his family; and the mother, whose piety is as warm and as consistent as her affection; this godly couple, who embody a meek, benevolent, ardent, and consistent religion in their character; who are known by their piety to be saints, as well as felt to be parents, exert an influence over the minds of their children, not to be calculated by numbers, or described in language.

But oh! the dreadful contrast in the case of those whose unsanctified tempers, worldly associations, gay and extravagant parties, political antipathies, trifling conversation, and lack of all seriousness and spirituality, often lead their children to ask the question wherein their father and master differ from those who make no profession at all. Oh! what can be expected from such parents—but children that regard their religion with insufferable disgust? When surprise is expressed by children, at their parents being church members, we may be very sure that they ought not to be such. But should it be their conviction and testimony, that if there be a consistent Christian in the world, their father is one, we may be tolerably sure they are right. Every man is best known at home, and if he has established a belief in all who know him there, that he is a godly Christian, it is a strong confidence that he is sincere and consistent. He may be a hypocrite—but it is not probable, for the disguise of hypocrisy is rarely worn at home. Hypocrisy is the great coat which is put on when the hypocrite goes abroad—but which is to be taken off on his return to the bosom of his family.

I knew a gentleman, and I have alluded to the fact in another of my works ("The Family Monitor; or a Help to Domestic Happiness"), whose history furnished a striking proof and illustration of the power of parental influence. His father was a professor of eminent piety. The son, when a youth, was worldly, though not openly wicked; he disliked the restraints of religion, which were imposed upon him under the parental roof and wished to be free from the obligations of piety altogether. His easiest way was to persuade himself that religion was but a name, and that all who made a profession of it, were hypocrites. He was determined to test the subject by the conduct of his father. He knew him to be esteemed a saint above most saints; he resolved, therefore, to watch him most closely, with the resolution, that if by reason of any inconsistency, he saw ground to doubt his sincerity, he would conclude that religion was all gross delusion, for if his father was a hypocrite, all others must be so. He began the scrutiny almost with a wish to find some evidence on his own side—but after a microscopic examination, nothing could he find in the smallest degree at variance with good father's profession. The result was, that it had a favorable influence upon his own mind, and led to a decision in favor of true godliness, and he became an eminent Christian. He became a judge, a man of unusual power of mind; a public blessing to the large town in which he lived; and equally distinguished for the extent of his knowledge, and his talents as a public speaker. Here was the influence of professors at home.

Let parents consider this and weigh it well. It is a momentous subject. They are ever doing something to prejudice their children in favor of religion, or to prejudice them against it—doing something to draw them into the church, or to drive them into the world—lending a helping hand to lead then to heaven, or taking them by the hand and leading them to hell. What tone of expostulation is deep enough or tender enough, to address to those who are inconsistent, on such a subject as this? What note of alarm is loud enough, or startling enough to sound in their ears? Where, oh! where shall be found arrows sharp or barbed enough to pierce their hearts? Is it not sufficient that your influence is ruining the souls of those that have no connection with you—but you must also employ it to send your children to perdition? Oh! tremble at the interview you must have with them at the day of judgment—-and the dialog you must hold with them forever in the bottomless pit!!

III. I now dwell upon the influence of professors on the WORLD. This is both direct and indirect; either intentional, or involuntary. By the former, I mean that which is concentrated in schemes, efforts, and societies to do good to all men, either for their temporal or spiritual welfare. Professing Christians are to bless the world by their prayers, their property, and their energies. Who is to illuminate the dark places of the earth, to convert Pagans, Mohammedans, and Jews; to set up the kingdom of Christ on earth—but the church? We who profess Christ are to make him known. Ours is the solemn responsibility to have been put in trust with the Gospel. Every Christian's heart ought to contain a spring of blessing to the world, and what an influence is continually going forth from Zion, to change, and it will ultimately change, the moral and spiritual state of the whole earth.

But I now more particularly allude to the silent and indirect influence of example and conduct; and this is really so great either for the injury or benefit of others, that everyone ought to tremble for himself. Our responsibility on this ground, is truly solemn. Multitudes have staked the credit, and even the truth of Christianity, on the conduct of its professors. This, I admit, is not fair, since God has given it evidences of its own, apart from this. The Bible is true, whoever may prove false. But many will not go to the proofs of Christianity to ascertain its truth—but will do that which is at once more easy and more congenial with the enmity of the heart against God, they will go to the misconduct of Christians, to demonstrate its falsehood. Infidelity sharpens its sword and points its arrows on the stones of stumbling, cast in its way by men that call themselves believers. Its arguments would be dull and pointless—but for this. Minds that cannot comprehend the subtleties of Hume's argument on miracles, can feel the taunts and sneers of Gibbon against the follies and misconduct of Christians. But apart from infidelity, many receive a prejudice from such sources, who take no trouble at all about the question of the truth of religion—it is enough to satisfy them that it does not make its professors better than their neighbors; and they resolve to let it alone. Inconsistent professors, therefore, are the abettors of infidelity, of profanity, and irreligion; they are mere caricatures of piety, which they represent with hideous and distorted features, and commend to the ridicule and disgust of those who are already ill-disposed towards it; they are traitors in the camp, and betray the cause which they profess to defend; they are destroyers of other men's souls, while avowedly seeking the salvation of their own. No sins have so much power to do mischief as theirs; and none have been so successful and so destructive. Hell swarms with souls whom inconsistent professors have hurried on to perdition!

If a professor of religion is known, and acknowledged, and reported to be a man who never fails to make a hard bargain, always saying of an article he wishes to purchase, "Its bad! Its bad!" depreciating its value that he may diminish its price, and never content until he has got it into his possession, far lower than the market value; if he has thus acquired the reputation of a selfish, unscrupulous, haggling disposition; if he makes all sorts of pretexts, and all kinds of equivocation to induce a seller to favor him in the buying; if he is one whom his neighbors do not wish to deal with, if they can get another customer, and whom they feel a reluctance to have any transactions with, because of his deceptive, unscrupulous tricks; if he has the reputation either of a "sharp one," or a "hard one," then his influence upon the worldly part of the community is decidedly and unquestionably bad.

It is not mandatory that he should be regardless of his own interests, invite oppression, and surrender himself a victim into the fangs of sharpers to be torn to pieces and devoured. Such weakness exerts no influence in favor of piety—but would exhibit it in the contemptible form of a gullible fool. It is intelligence, sagacity, and firmness, combined not only with honesty—but with honor, generosity, and integrity, and which is able to detect and resist being taken advantage of; which knows and defends its own rights—but cannot allow itself even to seem to make an encroachment on the rights of others, and which makes a man desirable as one to transact with; it is this that gives to a Christian influence of the best kind in his interaction with the world.

But even this high-toned excellence, must be associated with an unostentatious, unobtrusive humility. A forward, pushing, ambitious man, whatever may be his honor in the transactions of business, will diminish the beauty and lessen the force of his Christian profession.

I shall recur to this subject again, when I speak of the professor in prosperity, and pass on to mention another virtue necessary to give to the Christian a right influence upon society in favor of religion; and that is, a transparency of character, an unstudied sincerity and artlessness of conduct. Men must be quite sure that they hear his heart speaking through his lips. There must be nothing which makes them suspect him; nothing which makes them say, "he is a tricky one," nothing which compels them to look cautiously behind him to see what he conceals in his shadow—this would strip him of all his influence, except it be an influence to produce a prejudice against true religion.

It is also of importance that a Christian should, if his circumstances allow it, be willing to co-operate with his fellow-townsmen in all the local institutions that may exist in the place for the instruction of ignorance, or the relief of misery. In reference to these things, he should be a public man, though not of course to such an extent as to interrupt his attention to business; an extreme into which some have fallen. His exertions in this way should, like all other parts of his conduct, bear the impress of his piety, and make his influence to be felt, as a man who fears God. All who see him should perceive that he is guided in his actions by conscience, and not by a regard to favoritism, party, or self-will.

Happily we can speak of many of this kind of professors, who exert only a good influence. Yes, millions, notwithstanding the imperfections which cleave to human nature in its best estate, have been the witnesses for God's religion in the world, and have borne a testimony for its holy and benevolent nature, before which the demon spirit of infidelity has stood abashed, and felt how solemn goodness is. The faith, and love, and holiness of believers, are one of God's ordinances for the conversion of sinners, and it is an ordinance that has been greatly blessed. The beauties of holiness displayed in all their symmetry and harmony, as they are embodied in the character of eminent Christians, have been employed by the Spirit of God to soften prejudice, and subdue enmity; and those who turned with disgust from religion as it was seen disfigured and deformed in some inconsistent church member, have, by a more pure and lovely manifestation of it, been charmed into admiration, affection, and imitation. "We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." 1 Thes. 2:12

Hence, then, a professor, go where he may, do what he may, and transact with whom he may, is sending out an influence for or against true piety. In his interaction with men of business, in his conferences with his fellow-townsmen, in his conduct in the social gathering, in his behavior to his family, in his spirit in the pursuits of commerce, and in his temper towards his friends, strangers, or enemies—he is acting out his principles, or opposing them; sustaining or abandoning his character; walking worthy or unworthy of his calling; and raising or sinking the credit of true religion. He is adding to the attractions of the cross, or to its accidental repulsions; is gathering out the stones from the way that leads to the cross, or making its avenues more difficult. His influence never ceases, and is never confined. He is not, cannot be neutral. Whatever road he takes, whether that of consistency or inconsistency, he must, to a certain extent, draw others with him. His, if he perishes, will not be the privilege of perishing alone; nor will it be his lament, if he be saved, that he has had no influence in saving others. Through all time he is exerting influence, and through all eternity he will be calculating its results; it goes forth from him unseen on earth, to be collected in enduring forms of happiness in heaven—or of torment in hell. Professors! never in any place, nor in any company, nor for one hour, forget your influence!!