The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


"Say not," says the wise man, "Why were the former days better than these?" For it is not wise of you to ask this." Eccles. 7:10. This language could not have intended such comparisons as are cautiously made for the sake of promoting improvement—but only such as are peevishly instituted to cherish discontent. It has been common for good men of every age to complain of the degeneracy of their times, both as regards the world and the church. "Had it all along been true, it is impossible to conceive, as bad as the world is, how much worse it must have been. The truth is we are on many accounts exceedingly incompetent judges. There is much difficulty in taking a comparative view that shall be sufficiently comprehensive and impartial of our own and other times. We are extremely apt to confine our estimate to particular descriptions of character and deportments of conduct, which happen, whether from accidental circumstances, or from our peculiar mental temperament, to have more particularly attracted our attention and impressed our minds, and to overlook the endless variety of modifications and aspects under which the corruption of our nature displays itself; to forget that in human society, there is a fashion in morality, as there is in everything else, of which it is the very essence to fluctuate and to show in successive periods capricious and changeful predilections; that religion and virtue, though declining in the quarter of the country which forms the immediate sphere of our observation, may be reviving and making progress in another; that when the prevalence of any particular vice has been the occasion of suffering to ourselves, we naturally feel and speak strongly under the irritation of self-love, magnifying to our imagination, both the intrinsic enormity of the evil, and the extent to which it is practiced. So much do these and other causes affect the judgment, that two people, differing in circumstances and in mental constitution and moral sentiment, shall produce from the very same scene of life and manners, descriptions so unlike each other, as that we shall be at a loss to believe the identity of the subject; just as two painters, following each his own taste and fancy, may, from the same assortment of objects, by variety of grouping and arrangements, by the different degrees of retirement or of prominence given to each, and by their opposite styles of coloring and shadowing, present us with two pictures so totally dissimilar, as that we may look long and narrowly ere we discover the points of coincidence." (Wardlaw on Eccles. vol. 1, page 345.)

These remarks so true and so wise, should impose caution on anyone who attempts to institute a comparison between his own generation of professors, and those that have gone before. But still most ages have some features so broad, and so deeply marked, that any man with even moderate sagacity and impartiality, may venture to pronounce upon them. In speaking first, of the EXCELLENCIES of the present race of professors as compared with some that have preceded it, I may venture to mention as no unimportant or undistinguished one, a more marked and decided tone of religious sentiment; a more public and explicit avowal of evangelical doctrine. I do not mean merely a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and the great fundamental truth of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ; but in connection with these, the all-important doctrines of justification by faith alone, and the regeneration of the heart by the Holy Spirit. These are now not only held by the great body of orthodox Dissenters, and Wesleyan Methodists—but by a large proportion of the clergy of the church of England; and are put forward without hesitation or reserve, in bold and striking manner in their preaching. From the Restoration until within the past twenty years, these glorious and fundamental truths lay enshrined in most churches in the prayer-books of the Establishment; but they have now obtained a resurrection from the writer's desk, and an ascension into the pulpit, from whence they are exhibited and preached with divine success. A life-giving system of doctrine has taken the place of a dead theology and a cold morality—and the sentiments of Wickliffe, Cranmer, Hooper, and Ridley, are again heard in the scenes which formerly resounded with their voices. As to the Dissenters, a clear bright effulgence of the truth has broken forth from that cloudy divinity, which at one time too extensively prevailed, and seemed rather intended to conceal, than to reveal the Sun of Righteousness.

It must be admitted that a century ago there was a vagueness of sentiment among many of the non-conformist ministers; evangelical doctrines were merged in devotional feeling—the trumpet gave an uncertain sound from a number of their pulpits; and many of the people knew neither their own opinions nor those of their pastors on the person of Christ, or the work of the Spirit. Arianism or Sabellianism threw a dark cold shadow over many of our churches, in which piety drooped and zeal lived not at all. But the age of indifference and latitudinarianism is past—a zeal for the truth as it is in Jesus has sprung up; vague theological generalities have given place to definite Christian sentiments—no pastor is received, no preacher is heard, no member admitted to our fellowship whose orthodoxy is suspected. Confession both of evangelical doctrines and their vital influence upon the heart, is required of all who take the oversight, or enter into the communion of our churches.

It is delightful also to notice with how much greater clearness and precision the doctrines of grace, as they are called, are now put forth from the pulpit and the press, than they were at one time when enveloped in the clouds of those systems of theology which border so closely on Antimonianism. The writings of Williams, and Fuller, and Scott, and Wardlaw, have caused the truth to be seen in its own pure bright light, and delivered multitudes from the iron fetters of a hard, cold, and merciless theology.

Our land is vocal with the joyful sound of the preaching of Christ crucified, calling the dense population of our cities and great towns, and the inhabitants of our smaller towns and villages to the Cross for salvation. The Church, and the Meetinghouse echo to each other the name that is above every name, and the worshipers of both commingle with each other, as they pour forth from their respective places of worship, with their souls thrilling with the notes of the same heavenly music of redeeming love.

Nor ought I, while speaking of the pulpit, to omit the press, from which evangelical truth is flowing in the copious streams of its millions of publications. Infidelity, heresy, and irreligion, have not monopolized the glorious art of printing. To say nothing of other Institutions, I mention only the Religious Tract Society, that spiritual armory for the church of Christ, where the whole church may be supplied with the weapons of truth, and are furnished according to their ability, for the conflict with the powers of darkness. Who will deny that this zeal for the truth, clear, defined, evangelical truth, is a heart-reviving feature of the age?

Owen, after lamenting the decay of vital religion in his day, goes on to say—"There is yet another consideration rendering the present state of the Christian religion in the world yet more deplorable. The only principle of evangelical obedience, is sacred truth and our faith therein. That alone is the doctrine which is according to godliness, and all acceptable obedience to God is the obedience of faith. Whatever men do, or pretend unto in a way of duty unto him, whereof the truth of the Gospel is not the spring and measure, which is not guided and animated thereby, it is not what God at present requires, nor what he will eternally reward. Therefore, although men may, and multitudes do, under a profession of that truth, live in open rebellion against its power; yet the wounds of religion are not incurable, nor its stains indelible, while the proper remedy is owned, and needs only due application. But if this truth itself is corrupted or deserted, if its most glorious mysteries be abused or despised, and if its most important doctrines be impeached of error and falsehood, if the vain imaginations and carnal reasonings of the serpentine wits of men be substituted in their place, or exalted above them, what hope is there of recovery? The breach will grow like the sea, until there be none to heal it. If the fountains of the waters of the sanctuary be poisoned in their first rising, they will not heal the nations unto whom they come. Where the doctrine of truth is corrupted, the hearts of men will not be changed by it, nor their lives reformed."

This is strictly true. But blessed be God, I do not think that this dark omen is over us. No such portent, as the orb of truth sinking into the clouds of heresy, or the mists of latitudinarianism, now hangs on the horizon of the church of Christ. True, there are some things which if not checked, look with malign aspect on the spiritual brightening prospects of the Church of England. There is no lover of our Lord Jesus Christ—but what must unfeignedly and heartily rejoice in the wondrous revival of pure Christian doctrine within the pale of her communion; and none but what must tremble for the result of the attempt now being made by certain Oxford Professors and Divines, aided by some high church periodicals, to arrest the progress of what may be termed the second Reformation, and to arrest it by reviving, in part, the errors which the first was designed to abolish. But it will not succeed. If it should, then may it be safely affirmed, that the Establishment is destined to die, not by the hand of any of its foes—but by the matricidal violence of its own children. But there is far too much genuine, healthy, and determined Protestantism in the church of England to warrant any great apprehension of such a result.

Nor is it any considerable abatement from the statement I have made of the prevalence of sound Christian doctrine among the professors of religion in the present day, that the deluded followers of Irving have in some measure multiplied, and astounded the land by their extravagant absurdities. Fanaticism, in some form or other, is always sure to make its appearance, and do its mischief in an ardent and excited age; just as thunder storms gather and explode amidst the fervid heat of summer. The high temperature of 'religious feeling', when unchecked by sober thought, supplies the elements of such fantastic notions; but they must, in the nature of things, soon spend themselves, and leave the atmosphere calm, and clear, and bright.

Not, however, that I mean to say, that the Christians of our day are much given to the perusal of theological treatises, or are profoundly learned in the science of divinity. Far from it. Nothing but what is strictly orthodox in sentiment will be received—but then they are content with small portions of knowledge, and those must be such as can be obtained without the cost of much time, or the labor of much thinking. There was an era when the church of God thought herself much indebted to those devoted men, who furnished not their own times alone—but all coming ages with such admirable materials for thinking, and such abundant food for meditation, in their incomparable volumes—when private and even unlettered Christians were familiar with octavos and even quartos:, when Hall and Reynolds, Owen and Baxter, Howe and Bates, Doddridge and Watts, were the daily companions of the people of God. But who converses with these venerable fathers now? What is the current sacred literature of the pious in this age? Who now thinks of purchasing anything but magazines and reviews, memoirs, elementary treatises, and compendiums of truth? How strange it would be to find a serious friend or neighbor late at night studying Edwards on "the Freedom of the Will," Dwight's Theology, or Scott's Essays.

If Christians read today, it must be something sound, and this is a cause of gratitude; but it must be also short. Something that is new and moving—something that may be read without much thought. A considerable portion of the religious reading of Christians in the present day is religious news—it lays hold not merely of the imagination—but of the holiest and most philanthropic feelings of the heart—it is happily become abundant in consequence of the operations of our religious institutions; it is cheapened down to the financial resources of almost the poorest individual; and moreover, it supplies the great stimulus which not only sustains but increases benevolent exertion. He that would attempt to stop these sources of information would not only rob myriads of Christians of some of the purest joys they will ever taste this side of heaven—but would cut off the streams of beneficence which flow through the channels of our societies to irrigate the moral deserts of the world. But still we must take care that even this species of reading may not become engrossing. If zeal increases, knowledge should increase with it. An exclusive or prevailing taste for religious news will be followed by some of the lamentable effects which result from the reading of works of fiction. The mind will in both cases be gradually unfitted for deep and patient investigation. A constant and intent application of the mind to exciting facts, will indispose it for the contemplation of Scriptural principles, and produce an unceasing demand for something new and striking, which will go on increasing the appetite for novelty, until what is old, and plain, and simple, will become utterly tasteless and insipid.

I mention now another excellence by which the professors of the present age are distinguished, and it is indeed a noble one—I mean that spirit of holy zeal for the propagation of religion, both at home and abroad, which is so general and so active. The Puritans, and first Non-conformists, it must be admitted, did little in this way, for indeed they had little or no opportunity—the ruthless, bloody, and remorseless spirit of persecution, left them no other way of diffusing Christianity, than by the example of their suffering patience, or by flying before the storm of oppression, and carrying the gospel into the land of their exile. This they neglected not to do, and the gigantic Republic of the United States of America is in great measure the result of their migration; a country destined to share with the fatherland, the honor of converting the world to Christ.

But coming forward half a century in the history of the churches of our own order, we find them when protected by the act of Toleration, drawing the curtains around them, and lying down to slumber upon their newly obtained liberty. More than a century was given to their inglorious repose—more than a century was lost to the world—during which, probably, millions of immortal souls went into eternity, unpitied and unsanctified. It is melancholy now to look back, and think of the silence and inactivity which reigned over the Christian world before the present missionary spirit arose. The valley of dry bones spread out before our forefathers—but none went forth to prophesy to the slain. There were no Sunday schools, no Tract societies, no Bible societies, for our own country; and no Missionary societies for foreign nations, except such as had little else than the name. The state of the poor at home, and of heathen nations abroad, was almost as well known then as now; there were printing-presses then as there are now, and also ships, colonies, and commerce—but next to nothing was done for the conversion of the world.

Blessed be the God of love and truth things are different now—he has poured out the beginnings of his grace upon this age, and has awakened and called his people to the work of evangelizing the world. They begin to understand and to feel that the spirit of Christianity is essentially a proselyting spirit; that to diffuse the gospel is no less a duty than to believe it; and that no man can really fulfill all his duties as a Christian, who does not in some way or other seek to make his neighbors such. Look around on the Christian church. Every denomination has its Missionary Society, and every congregation its missionary organization. Every object on which the eye of benevolence can rest which needs its exertions has its separate and appropriate confederacy of mercy for its relief—so that it is almost difficult to mention a subject of sorrow, ignorance, or wickedness, which is not found in his own special classification, with the provision for relief suited to his peculiar circumstances. Let anyone visit our Metropolis in the month of May—that beautiful season of the year, so wisely selected to harmonize the appearances of the world of nature and of grace, when the budding hopes and springing prospects of both are put forth together; let him witness the signs of holy activity which are conspicuous even amidst the teeming population and multitudinous pursuits of that wondrous city; let him read the long list of public meetings occupying a large portion of the whole month; let him sum up the number of societies for diversified objects, all connected with the spread of religion through one channel, and over one part of the world or other; let him count the stations occupied, and the agents employed; let him compute the money collected, and hear the reports read—and then let him say if God has not granted in his sovereign mercy, one rich and glorious distinction to the professors of the age in which he lives.

In support of all these Institutions, think of the money, the time, the gratuitous labor, and the influence that are bestowed; and think also of the increasing spirit of liberality going through our churches; the poor give now what the rich gave formerly, and some of the rich give in a year what their wealthy ancestors scarcely contributed in a whole life. The single guinea is multiplied into tens, and into hundreds. There is a continual expansion of the heart going on, which is preparing for the time when "holiness to the Lord shall be written on the merchandise of Tyre and the bells of the horses." Sums are contributed which would astonish those who have gone to their rest, if they could visit earth again. And when money cannot be given in this proportion, how many are giving their time, and for that purpose taking it from domestic enjoyment, literary leisure, innocent recreation, and necessary repose. People of all ranks, and all ages, and both sexes, are engaged. Evangelization is the cry of the day, the watchword of the age—so that the person who gives nothing, and does nothing, is charged with being deficient, and suspected of questionable piety.

Not that we have yet reached the height of our duty, and are doing all we ought to do—far, very far from it. We are vastly below our obligations. Those who come after us, will smile at our notions of liberality, and our grand-children will be ready to question whether we rightly understood the meaning of the term. What we are beginning, they will carry on and improve. Ours is but the spring, which by the time it reaches them, will have swollen into a stream; but still through God's grace, we are doing something and must do more. The tradesman must give a larger share of his profits, and the rich man dip far deeper into his purse. There must be a prevailing willingness to practice self-denial, and to make sacrifices for the cause of Christ. We are yet immeasurably below our principles and professions, in what we do for the conversion of men's souls.

If we really believe that the loss of one human soul is a greater catastrophe than the wreck of an empire, or a world, what are we doing to prevent the loss of millions of such souls? Our zeal ought to be and must be more fervent, and it should also become more pure. There is in this day far too much blowing of trumpets; too much display; too much parade and ostentation; too much noise and bustle; too much "come, see my zeal for the Lord," too much individual and congregational vanity; and too much forbidden incense and strange fire in the censers of those who minister at the altar. This is to be regretted as well as acknowledged; and should be amended as well as acknowledged. God will not give the full measure of his blessing until we serve him in a better spirit—with deeper humility, and a more devout mind.

But still, the spirit of the age is an active and a liberal one. The great principle begins to be reorganized, that every church is, or ought to be, a home, and foreign missionary society in itself, and every member of every church, in one way or other, a missionary. It begins to be felt that each Christian is put in trust with the gospel for the benefit of the world, and that he is an unfaithful trustee, abusing his trust, and incurring a solemn responsibility if he does nothing to spread Christianity in the world. I look upon this spirit as the morning star of the millennial day; it is a revival of primitive Christianity, and will not fail to bring up the latter day glory. It is of more consequence than all the organizations of religions zeal, all the noble institutions of the day; for if these were all by any means destroyed tomorrow, this missionary spirit would cause them all to be rebuilt on a larger and an improved scale. The spirit is abroad, which is to lead all nations into the fold of Christ; and after making every deduction from the zeal of the present day which is demanded on account of impure motive, there must be a vast mass of genuine piety in existence, to draw forth so much liberality and effort for extending the kingdom of Christ. There has been nothing like it since the days of the apostles. God has shed upon us some of his choicest gifts and richest honors; may we not be insensible to our high distinction.

What renders this missionary spirit the more remarkable in itself, and the more to be relied upon as a token for good, and a proof of its heavenly origin, is the extraordinary circumstances of the age during which it has carried on its operations. It commenced amidst the throes and convulsions of nations that were caused by the French revolution, and sent forth its first messages of peace and goodwill to the world, when the hearts of the people had scarcely ceased to palpitate with the enormities of the reign of terror. Who, at such a time, could think of the miseries of distant countries, when they were trembling for the existence of their own? Yet at such a time, amidst the dread of invasion from abroad, and the fear of internal commotion at home, a society was formed for the conversion of the world. During all our national struggles with the Gallican conqueror, it held on its noble career as little diverted from its course as the angel flying through the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel for all nations, might be supposed to be by the noise of the winds, or the tumults of the ocean. It neither paused in war, nor relaxed in peace, nor lost its power to interest the public mind, amidst the greatest political excitement which ever agitated the nations of Europe. The poor Pagan living in sin, and dying in despair, was never forgotten, when kings were tumbling from their thrones, and crowns were rolling in the dust. National bankruptcy has threatened us—but still amidst the crash of falling banks and houses of commerce, no one ever dreamed of stopping the supplies necessary for missionary operations. Such a thought never entered the mind of our directors, as suspending our zeal until the storm had blown over.

Was the contest of parties ever more fierce? Was the fever of excitement ever higher? Was there ever a time when so much animosity, ill-will, and engrossing party spirit were in operation? And what has become of the missionary cause? There, there it is—floating like the ark over the depths of the deluge, safe and calm amidst the uproar of the elements, piloted by heaven, and bearing the destiny of earth. O what a spectacle does the kingdom at the present moment present, of glory on one hand, and disgrace on the other—all parties wrangling with each other, yet all struggling for the conversion of the world—retiring from the scenes of their common warfare, to pursue each in his private sphere the works of charity and peace. It was a glorious scene at one of the May meetings in the metropolis, when, upon the resignation of a popular ministry, the country was at the highest pitch of political enthusiasm, and the beam of our national destiny was trembling in the balance, to see with what abstraction of mind and unabated zeal the different societies went to their labor of love; and to behold how the evangelists of the world pursued their work, amidst events which almost paralyzed trade. And at this present moment, not a single missionary society is neglected, nor does anyone party relax its missionary ardor for the sake of pursuing with greater single-mindedness any sectarian object. Nothing diverts the attention of the friends of missions from their object, nor damps their zeal, nor diminishes their liberality. The gospel is spreading abroad, while the friends of it are withdrawing from each other at home. Does it not look therefore as if God had indeed called us and keeps us to our work of converting the world, and bound us to it by a tie which nothing shall break? And what a delightful thing is it to think of, that though we are breaking from each other, we cannot break away from helping a perishing world. Is not this a token for good, a bright omen shedding a luster upon many dark signs?

II. I now go on to point out our DEFECTS and BLEMISHES, and show wherein we come short of others that have gone before us.

1. Professors are in danger, and in too many instances fall into it, of neglecting those parts of religion which are strictly personal, and substituting a social religion, for an individual piety. True religion, in the first and most important view of it, is essentially a personal and individual concern. It is an affair between God and a man's own soul. Each person has to transact with Jehovah through Christ for himself.

In the midst of the church, and as a member of it, he is still dealt with by God personally and alone. He has individual privileges. He is singly as much the object of the divine love of the Father, the purchase of the Son's blood, and the communication of the Spirit's influence—as if the whole scheme of redemption were contrived and executed for him! He may, without hesitation or presumption, say, "God is my God; Christ is my Savior; the Spirit is my Sanctifier; mine is the covenant of grace, with all its varied, rich, eternal blessings; mine the promises of the word—heaven, glory, immortality are all mine!" Yes! it is with each Christian in the world of grace as it is with each man in the world of nature; the latter has the whole effulgence of the sun pouring upon him, as much so as if there was not another eye but his to behold the splendor; and the former has the whole plenitude of divine grace descending upon his soul—as truly as if there were no others that needed or shared it. Blessed thought! he has individual and personal dealings with God, and does not derive it all merely from his association with the church.

But then he has individual duties, as well as privileges. The whole and entire obligations of the moral law; of the rule of Christian love; of the duty of mortification of sin, rest upon him; he is to believe, to hope, to love, to pray for, and by himself. He has his own soul to be saved; his own heart to be renewed and sanctified; his own temper to be rendered meek, gentle, and benevolent; and nothing can release him from the obligations to do all this, no, not even the most assiduous attention to the welfare of others; for zeal cannot be a substitute for piety. The attendance at the committee-room cannot be an excuse for neglecting the closet; and the support of a society can be no apology for neglecting to mortify a corruption. Yet there is a tendency in this day to forget this. It is a day of association and organization; men act much with others, and there is an imminent danger of losing sight of religion as a personal, private, and individual concern. We are too much drawn away from our closets and ourselves. Our eye is taken off from our own hearts and diverted to others; we lose the habit of silent meditation in that of discussion; we have become inapt for self-conference; we are so accustomed to excitement, that there is a dullness in solitude; we are so used to lean upon others, that our piety seems scarcely able to walk or stand alone. We find it difficult to detach ourselves from our fellows, and make ourselves the first and separate object of our solicitude, and to carry on what belongs to us in an isolated state. Private prayer is neglected for that which is social; the Bible is neglected for the sermon; and the closet is neglected for the committee-room. The great system of revealed truth is not sufficiently brought before us in its grandeur, glory, and demands, as a matter for our individual contemplation, reception, and application. This is one defect.

2. Another, and which is akin to it, is a lack of that high-toned piety and deep devotional feeling, which characterized the Christians of some past ages. This remark will apply to the professors of all denominations. The life of faith, and hope, and prayer, is too low with them all. Engrossed too much by trade, politics, and social entertainments, with the exception of a little time redeemed for the public institutions of the day, they have scarcely any leisure for the exercises of the closet, and the high communings with God in which those who have gone before us indulged. Thus the diaries, memoirs, and funeral sermons, which have been handed down to us from past times, seem to indicate, that if we excel in diffusing religion, our ancestors did in exemplifying it—and that if we are above them in active zeal, they were our superiors in serious, humble and spiritual piety. "The increasing demand of the great Christian public," says Humphrey, "is for excitement—for something that will produce strong feeling, and gratify an over-craving curiosity. Like the Athenians, and the strangers who were there, how many would apparently be glad to spend their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear something new. Hence the religious dissipation of large towns—the eagerness of inquiry after new preachers, and the running from one place of worship to another, for the mere gratification of a vain curiosity. Hence the growing aversion of anything weighty and serious in the pulpit, and the increasing demand for what are called popular discourses—so that unless the preacher makes some strong appeals to the sympathies and passions of his hearers; unless he takes them out into the graveyard, or carries them to the abode of recent widowhood, and supperless orphanage; or transports them to Juggernaut or the Ganges; he is dry and heartless, or plodding and metaphysical, and, of course, scarcely to be tolerated. To sit, as our fathers of the last century used to do, Sabbath after Sabbath, under sound doctrinal discussion, and to see the hourglass turned before the improvement of the sermon, who could endure it?" The excitement of the passions, rather than the elevation of the soul to God and the cultivation of the heart, seems to be the religion of a great many of the present day. Of the crowded and deeply affected audiences that hang in breathless silence upon the popular preachers in the church, the chapel, and the meeting-house, and fancy themselves so powerfully impressed by the discourses of their favorite minister, how few, comparatively, are found spending their hours in the closet, plying the work of mortification of sin, promoting the spirit of charity, communing with God, and rising on the wings of faith and hope—to the contemplation of eternity. My opinion, then, is, that the number of real Christians is greatly increased—but that in general they are not eminent ones, so far as relates to the higher class of devotional and personal excellences. Religion is spread over a wider surface—but in these things it has lost in depth what it has gained in breadth; it is the religion of activity rather than of meditation—of the imagination rather than the heart; of the place of public resort rather than the retirement of the closet; and with the bustling spirit of proselytism, does not blend enough of the deep conviction, elevated devotion, and patient self-denial.

3. Perhaps a lack of conscientiousness may be charged upon many of the professors of the present day. I occupy no narrow sphere of observation, and am acquainted, either personally or by report, with many Christians of various denominations, and I am compelled to believe that there is among them all a sad deficiency of that exquisite tenderness of conscience, which is the most unequivocal sign and expression of eminent piety. Bright and illustrious examples, I allow, there are many in every section of the church, at this day, of Christians watchful and jealous over themselves, even unto trembling, lest they should sin against God or man; sensitive even to painfulness on the subject of transgression; and whose whole life is a holy mixture of vigilance, penitence, and prayer.

But, ah! how many are there of an opposite character, whose conscience, though sufficiently alive to the greater acts of transgression, has neither vision to discern the criminality of little sins, nor susceptibility to feel them. Where are the men who, by the indulgence of a single feeling contrary to purity or love, or the utterance of a single word opposed to truth or kindness, or the performance of a single act, which in the smallest degree infringes the law of justice, honor, or mercy—would feel an instant wound in the spirit, which nothing could mollify or heal, but a fresh exercise of repentance and faith? Where are the men who have placed their consciences in the light of revelation, and who live both in reference to small things and great, in habitual reverence of this faithful monitor and solemn judge? There are some such—but they are too few in any section of the Christian church in this day. This lack of conscientiousness is strikingly apparent in the mode of conducting the affairs of business. This, however, will be enlarged upon in a subsequent part of the volume, as will also—

4. Conformity to the world, which is now one of the sins of God's professing people.

5. There is probably scarcely any deficiency of the church in the present day, as compared with preceding generations, more apparent than the neglect of domestic piety. This, I believe, is generally admitted, and not without reason. In addition to the devout and regular performance of family prayer, night and morning, the evenings of the Sabbath were by our forefathers a consecrated season for the catechetical instruction of the children. The father, with patriarchal grace, acted as the prophet as well as the priest and king of his household; and as a consequence naturally to be looked for, the churches were principally replenished from the families of the righteous—is it so now? Are the communicants at the Lord's table, either in the Church of England, among the Methodists, or the Dissenters, chiefly composed of "the children of the kingdom?" How is this—but from a relaxation of domestic piety?

Family prayer, though in few families omitted, is not performed with that constancy, solemnity, and fervor, which is calculated to interest and to edify; parental authority is not maintained with that steadiness which is adopted to inspire respect, and that affection which is likely to secure obedience; and as to the judicious, diligent, and engaging communication of religious instruction, which is necessary as well to inform the mind, to enlighten the conscience, and to form the character—it is in some families almost entirely neglected. I bring no false accusation, when I affirm that in many houses, both among Episcopalians and Dissenters, the heads of which stand high among the professors of the day, family religion is but the form of godliness without its power.

On the other hand, it is my happiness to have been the delighted witness, and that in many cases too, of the blessed and holy results of a good system of domestic religious instruction. But it cannot be said that this generally prevails in the religious world. Far more solicitude is felt, and far more pains are taken by many, to educate their children for this world than for the next, and to fit them to act their part well for time, than to prepare them for the scenes of eternity.

Catechetical instruction, I lament to think, has fallen too much into neglect, and has gone out of fashion with many. True, it is, that a judicious and well-informed parent can dispense with such helps, and leading his children at once to behold the wide expanse of religious truth, as it spreads out in boundless grandeur in the Bible, can point out the separate beauties and harmonious scenes of the whole prospect. But this is not the case with all. They need something more than the scriptures, and can do little except in the way of catechism. Besides, it is a question, whether the adoption of both plans is not, when both are well conducted, the most perfect method of conveying religious truth to the minds of the young. A catechetical answer, if well drawn, not only helps the memory of the learner—but aids his understanding too; it is the rays of many separate passages of scripture converging at a point, which reflects back its light upon the very source whence it is derived. It is the abuse of these helps, not their use, that is to be discouraged.

Our generation is rich in advantages of another kind—I mean those numerous interrogatory exercises upon the scriptures which have been published for the instruction of the young, and which leave the present generation of parents still more inexcusable if they neglect the religious education of their children.* It is to be recollected, however, that the communication of knowledge is only one part of a religious education. The head may be attended to, while the heart is neglected; and it is the obvious tendency of this age to carry on the one far in advance of the other. It is the mistake of the people of the world in the business of general education, to attach more importance to literature and physical science than to virtue; and no less the mistake of pious people in their systems of religious education, to be more earnest in communicating scriptural knowledge, than in forming the pious character. Here then is the defect to be supplied, a lack of deep concern, and judicious, persevering, and prayerful effort to train up our children in the way they should go, and to prepare them to become members first of the church on earth, and then of the church in heaven.

* Of the numerous works of this kind that have come under my notice, I have seen none superior to that of Mrs. Henderson, which I very cordially recommend both for the use of families and Bible classes.

6. The last thing I shall mention as an inferiority of the present generation of professors to their ancestors, is a certain kind of fickleness in their religious profession, a lack of fixedness, and gravity in their Christian habits. Often hastily assumed, it is of course lightly held, and easily changed or modified. It is painful to observe what very trivial causes in some instances, will induce an alteration in their whole conduct, and lead some to break their religious connections, to abandon the place where their fathers worshiped God, and forsake the minister who had been blessed to their conversion. Nor does the instability stop here, for they can shift themselves from one denomination to another with as much ease as they can their cushions and their books from one chapel to another. Continual migrations are going on from the Church of England to Dissenters, and from the Dissenters back to the Church of England; and between the different denominations and congregations of nonconformists. Where this is really the result of conviction, it must be approved and not condemned; for no man should consider his religious sentiments merely in the light of a hereditary possession—but as a matter of intelligent and conscientious preference; it is beneath the dignity of a man, much more the profession of a Christian, to have no other reason for our belief, than that it was held by our fathers before us. But how many cases are there in which people are neither held by hereditary prejudice, nor moved by an enlightened conscience—but actuated solely by fashion or convenience.

Some are carried about by the shifting tides and variable winds of political opinion and party spirit, others by friends, and more still by the impulses of imagination and variable preference. It is the loud and bitter lament of a splendid but papistical writer in the Quarterly Review, that a large portion of the members of the Church of England have lost much of their veneration for, and attachment to, the Church, as such, and are moved and influenced only by the weaker, and more variable affection for her formularies and her ministers; and are consequently sunk down from the feelings of high churchmen, to a level approaching that of dissent. Woeful apostasy! Sad degeneracy!

Perhaps, however, there may be found in all denominations too great a predominance of taste and feeling—over judgment and conscience in matters of religion, though not as in this case, a diminished reverence for the Church as an ecclesiastical abstraction. Observe the influence which one popular preacher has in large towns and cities over the members of his own denomination, whether it be the Establishment or the Dissenters. This fresh wonder, like the new moon, sets the whole ocean in movement, by the attraction of his genius, always causing a high tide to follow upon his appearance, and leaving the opposite shores proportionably deserted. Old and tried clergymen and pastors are forsaken for this youth of much rhetoric and a fine voice; and that not by young females only—but by those whom the veteran minister had been the instrument of converting from the error of their ways, and in laboring for whose spiritual edification he had brought on himself the increasing infirmities of a premature old age.

It does indeed appear to me and has to others, that religion has lost something of its steadiness, its seriousness, and its dignity, and has acquired too much of the flutter and the vanity of a thing of fashion and excitement. I do not want the 'chain of caste' to bind men to their hereditary opinions, nor 'family prejudice' to make them ecclesiastical fixtures in the place of their fathers, nor the 'gloom of superstition' to invest them with the air and deportment of spectral forms—but a profession of religion is the most solemn, though most joyful thing on earth, and ought to be sustained in all its exercises and habits, with an appropriate seriousness, dignity, and conscientiousness.

Such, then, is my own estimate of the state of professors in the present day. I have been anxious neither to charge them with faults of which they are not guilty, nor to extenuate such faults as truly belong to them—nor on the other hand to deny or to flatter their excellencies. I see many things to lament, and most of all the bitter animosity which exists between the two great bodies of Protestants in this kingdom, or at any rate in one of them towards the other. But I see much to inspire me with gratitude for the present, and hope for the future. I am not one of those who in the signs of the times see nothing but dark portents, and in the voices of passing events hear nothing but denunciations. Our position is that of nature in early spring, when there may be far more of cold wind, and biting frost, and drifting snow, than there was during many of the hybernal days; but withal, these signs of lingering winter are blended with symptoms of approaching summer.

I have pointed out what is wrong—with the hope of helping to set it right; and I have adverted to what is good—with the design of making it better. I have not uttered the language of complaining and discontent—for I feel there is no occasion for them. No age that has yet existed makes me regret that I was born in that which is now passing over us. I believe the world is not only growing older—but wiser and better; and that Christ's body, the church, is increasing not only in bulk—but in vigor. Many evils exist—but they will be, I hope, removed or subdued by the Spirit of God accompanying his truth. Nothing will be permitted to hinder the advance of Christ s kingdom. "Though," says South, "there be a lion, a bull, a venomous serpent, and a fiery scorpion in the Zodiac, yet still the sun holds on his way, goes through them all, brings the year about, [covers the fields with verdure, the trees with fruit, and the earth with yellow harvests,] finishes his course, shines and is glorious in spite of such opposition.'' So will it be with the orb of the moral world.

Still, however, as the record of the past is preserved for the improvement of the present, and the memorial of the present is to be kept for the benefit of what is now the future, if in looking back we find virtues in our ancestors which we have not, or which we possess in less degrees, let us add their excellences to our own; and if they are seen to possess faults which we find not in ourselves, let us be thankful for, though not proud of our superiority. If they excelled us in the devotional, and spiritual, and conscientious—and we excel them in the active, the liberal, and the diffusive; let it be our business instead of endeavoring to settle which is the more excellent way, to unite them both, which is unquestionably the most excellent. Let us feed the lamp of zeal which we are holding up amidst a dark world—with the oil of piety. Let the light of truth shine forth from a heart burning with the fire of holy love.

In the beautiful pyramid of Christian graces, which the Apostle has raised, he laid the foundation in faith, and placed charity at the apex, as if to remind us that the personal virtues must support the relative ones. As the priests of the Levitical economy, hallowed themselves for the work of the Lord in the temple, so must the Christian priesthood, the professors of Christ, sanctify themselves, not by animal sacrifices and ablutions of water to the purifying of the flesh—but by renewed faith in the Lamb of God, and the renewed filling of the Holy Spirit, for the greater work, to which God in his providence has called them in the conversion of the world.

We must separate ourselves from the love of the world, to this stupendous achievement, this high and holy service, by more of the life of faith, the power of prayer, and the self-denial of true godliness. A dispensation connected intimately with the scheme of redemption, the moral destinies of the world, and the glories of eternity, is come upon us, and committed to us—and it is to be feared we are not ready for it. We are going forth to our vocation—but it is rather in the feebleness than the fatness of our strength. Never, O never, may we forget that religious societies, however well supported with funds, are to us but as the hands and the arms of Samson were to that wondrous man when he did his mighty deeds; but that it is piety, humble, fervent, spiritual, believing, praying piety, that is as the lock of his strength, which enabled him in the name of God to triumph even in death, over Dagon and his idolatrous worshipers!