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and most solemn duty of its ministers, is, to rescue it from such perversions; to see that it be not condemned for doctrines for which it is in no respect responsible; and to vindicate its character, as eminently a rational religion; that is, a religion consistent with itself, with the great principles of human nature, with God's acknowledged attributes, and with those indestructible convictions, which spring almost instinctively from our moral constitution, and which grow stronger and stronger as the human mind is developed. A professed revelation, carrying contradiction on its front, and wounding those sentiments of justice and goodness, which are the highest tests of moral truth, cannot stand ; and those who thus exhibit Christianity, however pure their aim, are shaking its foundations more deeply than its open and inveterate foes.
But free inquiry not only generates occasional scepticism, but much more a diversity of opinion among the believers of Christianity; and to this the ministry must have a special adaptation. In such an age, the ministry must in a measure be controversial. In particular, a minister, who after serious investigation attaches himself to that class of Christians, to which we of this religious society are known to belong, cannot but feel that the painful office of conflict with other denominations is laid upon him; for, whilst we deny the Christian name to none who acknowledge Jesus as their saviour and Lord, we do deliberately believe, that, by many who confess him, his religion is mournfully disfigured. We believe, that piety at present is robbed in no small degree of its singleness, energy, and happiness, by the multiplication in the church of objects of supreme worship; by the division of the One God into three persons, who sustain different relations to mankind; and, above all, by the dishonourable views formed of the moral character and administration of the Deity. Errors relating to God seem to us among the most pernicious that can grow up among Christians; for they darken, and, in the strong language of Scripture, “turn into blood” the Sun of the Spiritual Universe. Around just views of the Divine Character, all truths and all virtues naturally gather; and although some minds of native irrepressible vigour may rise to greatness, in spite of dishonourable conceptions of God, yet as a general rule, human nature cannot spread to its just and full proportions under their appalling, enslaving, heart-withering control. We discover very plainly, as we think, in the frequent torpor of the conscience and heart in regard to religious obligation, the melancholy influences of that system, so prevalent among us, which robs our heavenly Father of his parental attributes. Indeed it seems impossible for the conscience, under such injurious representations of the Divine character, to discharge intelligently its solemn office of enforcing love to God as man's highest duty; and, accordingly, when religious excitements take place under this gloomy system, they bear the marks of a morbid action, much more than of a healthy, restorative process of the moral nature.
These errors a minister of liberal views of Christianity will feel himself bound to withstand. But let me not be understood, as if I would have the ministry given chiefly to controversy, and would turn the pulpit into a battery for the perpetual assault of adverse sects. no! Other strains than those of warfare should predominate in this sacred place. A minister may be faithful to truth, without brandishing perpetually the weapons of controversy. Occasional discussions of
disputed doctrines, are indeed demanded by the zeal with which error is maintained. But it becomes the preacher to remember, tliat there is a silent, indirect influence, more sure and powerful than direct assault on false opinions. The most effectual method of expelling error, is, not to meet it sword in hand, but gradually to instil great truths, with which it cannot easily coexist, and by which the mind outgrows it. Men who have been recovered from false systems, will generally tell you, that the first step of their deliverance, was the admission of some principle which seemed not to menace their past opinions, but which prepared the mind for the entrance of another and another truth, until they were brought, almost without suspecting it, to look on almost every doctrine of religion with other eyes, and in another and more generous light. The old superstitions about ghosts and dreams were not expelled by argument, for hardly a book was written against them; but men gradually outgrew them; and the spectres, which had haunted the terror-stricken soul for ages, fled before an improved philosophy, just as they were supposed to vanish before the rising sun. And, in the same manner, the errors which disfigure Christianity, and from which no creed is free, are to yield to the growth of the human mind. Instead of spending his strength in tracking and refuting error, let the minister, who would serve the cause of truth, labour to gain and diffuse more and more enlarged and lofty views of our religion, of its nature, spirit and end. Let him labour to separate what is of universal and everlasting application, from the local and the tempoiary; to penetrate beneath the letter, to the spirit; to detach the primary, essential, and all-comprehending principles of Christianity from the incrustations, accidental associations, and subordinate appendages by which they are often obscured; and to fix and establish these in meu's minds as the standard by which more partial views are to be tried. Let lim especially set forth the great moral purpose of Christianity, always teaching, that Christ came to deliver from the power still more than froin the punishment of sin; that his more important operation is within us ; and that the highest end of his mission, is the erection of God's throne in the soul, the inspiration of a fervent filial piety, a piety founded in confiding views of God's parental character, and manifested in a charity corresponding to God's unbounded and ever active love. In addition to these efforts, let him strive to communicate the just principles of interpreting the Scriptures, that men, reading them more intelligently, may read them with new interest, and he will have discharged his chief duty in relation to controversy.
It is an interesting thought, that, through the influences now described, a sensible progress is taking place in men's conceptions of Christianity. It is a plain matter of fact, that the hard features of that religious system, which has been “received by tradition from our fathers,” are greatly softened; and that a necessity is felt by those who hold it, of accommodating their representations of it more and more to the improved philosoplıy of the human mind and to the undeniable principles of natural and revealed religion. Unconditional Election is seldom heard of among us. The Imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, is hastening to join the exploded doctrine of Transubstantiation. The more revolting representations of man's state by nature, are judiciously kept out of sight; and what is of still greater importance,
preaching is incomparably more practical than formerly. And all these changes are owing, not to theological controversy so mueh as to the general progress of the human mind. This progress is especially discernible in the diminished importance now ascribed to the outward parts of Christianity. Christians, having grown up to understand that their religion is a spirit and not a form, are beginning to feel the puerility as well as guilt of breaking Christ's followers into factions, on such questions as these, How much a Bishop differs from a Presbyter? and, How great a quantity of water shou'd be used in baptism? And whilst they desire to ascertain the truth in these particulars, they look back on the uncharitable heat with which these and similar topics were once discussed, with something of the wonder which they feel, on recollecting the violence of the Papists during the memorable debate, Whether the Virgin Mary were born with original sin? It is a consoling and delightful thought, that God, who uses Christianity to advance civilization and knowledge, makes use of this very advancement to bring back Christianity to a purer state, thus binding together and carrying forward by mutual action, the cause of knowledge and the cause of religion, and strengthening perpetually their blended and blessed influences on human nature.
IV. The age is in many respects a corrupt one, and needs and demands in the ministry a spirit of reform. The age, I say, is corrupt; not because I consider it as falling below the purity of past times, but because it is obviously and grossly defective, when measured by the Christian standard and by the lights and advantages which it enjoys. I know nothing to justify the cry of modern degeneracy, but rather incline to the belief, that here at least the sense of religion was never stronger than at present. In comparing different periods as to virtue and piety, regard must be had to difference of circumstances. It would argue little wisdom or candour, to expect the same freedom from luxury and dissipation in this opulent and fourishing community, as marked the first settlement of our country, when the inhabitants, scarcely sheltered from the elements, and almost wholly cut off from intercourse with the civilized world, could command little more than the necessaries of life ; and yet it is through superficial comparisons in such particulars, that the past is often magnified at the expense of the present. I mean not to strike a balance between this age and former ones.
I look on this age in the light of Christianity, as a minister ought to look upon it; and whilst I see much to cheer and encourage, I see much to make a good man mourn, and to stir up Christ's servants to prayer and toil. That our increased comforts, improved arts, and overflowing prosperity, are often abused to licentiousness; that Christianity is with multitudes a mere name and form; that a practical atheism, which ascribes to nature and fortune the gifts and operations of God; and a practical infidelity, which lives and cares and provides only for the present state, abound on every side of us; that much which is called morality, springs from a prudent balancing of the passions, and a discreet regard to worldly interests; that there is an insensibility to God, which, if our own hearts were not infected by it, would shock and amaze us; that education, instead of guarding and rearing the moral and religious nature as its supreme care, often betrays and sacrifices it to accomplish
ments and acquisitions which relate only to the present life; that there is a mournful prevalence of dissoluteness among the young, and of intemperance among the poor ; that the very religion of peace is made a torch of discord; and that the fires of uncharitableness and bigotry, fires kindled from hell, often burn on altars consecrated to the true God;that such evil exists, who does not know? What Christian can look round him and say, that the state of society corresponds to what men may and should be, under the light of the Gospel, and in an age of advanced intelligence? As for that man, who, on surveying the world, thinks its condition almost as healthy as can be desired or hoped; who sees but a few superficial blots on the general aspect of society; who thinks the ministry established for no higher end, than to perpetuate the present state of morals and religion; whose heart is never burdened and sorrow-smitten by the fearful doom, to which multitudes around him are thoughtlessly hastening; oh, let not that man take on him the care of souls. The physician, who should enter an hospital, to congratulate his dying patients on their pleasant sensations and rapid convalescence, would be as faithful to his trust as the minister who sees no deep moral maladies around him. No man is fitted to withstand great evils with energy, unless he be impressed by their greatness. No man is fitted to enter upon that warfare with moral evil, to which the ministry is set apart, who is not pained and pierced by its extent and woes ; who does not burn to witness and advance a great moral' revolution in the world.
Am I told, that “the romantic expectations of great changes in society will do more harm than good; that the world will move along in its present course, let the ministry do what it may; that we must take the present state as God has made it, and not waste our strength in useless lamentation for incurable evils ?" I hold this language, though it takes the name of philosophy, to be wholly unwarranted by experience and revelation. If there be one striking feature in human nature, it is its susceptibleness of improvement; and who is authorised to say, that the limit of Christian improvement is reached ? that whilst science and art, intellect and imagination, are extending their domains, the conscience and affections, the moral and religious principles of our nature, are incapable of increased power and elevation? Have we not pledges, in man's admiration of disinterested, heroic love; in his power of conceiving and thirsting for unattained heights of excellence; and in the splendour and sublimity of virtue already manifested in not a few who * shine as lights” in the darkness of past ages, that man was created for perpetual moral and religious progress? True, the minister should not yield himself to romantic anticipations ; for disappointment may deject him. Let him not expect to break in a moment chains of habit, which years have rivetted, or to bring back to immediate intimacy with God, souls which have wandered long and far from him. This is romance; but there is something to be dreaded by the minister more than this; I mean, that frigid tameness of mind, too common in Chris. tian teachers, which confounds the actual and the possible ; which cannot burst the shackles of custom; which never kindles at the thought of great improvements of human nature; which is satisfied if religion receive an outward respect, and never dreams of enthroning it in men's souls ; which looks on the strongholds of sin with despair ; which utters
by rote the solemn and magnificent language of the Gospel, without expecting it to "work mightily ;” which sees in the ministry a part of the mechanism of society, a useful guardian of public order, but never suspects the powers with which it is armed by Christianity.
The ministry is indeed armed with great powers for great effects. The doctrines which Christianity commits to its teachers, are mighty engines. The perfect character of God; the tender and solemn attributes which belong to him as our Father and Judge; his purposes of infinite and everlasting mercy towards the human race; the character and history of Christ; his entire, self-immolating devotion to the cause of mankind; his intimate union with his followers; his sufferings, and cross, his resurrection, ascension, and intercession, the promised aids of the Holy Spirit; the immortality of man; the retributions which await the unrepenting, and the felicities and glories of heaven;-here are truths, able to move the whole soul and to war victoriously with its host of passions. The teacher, to whom are committed the infinite realities of the spiritual world, the sanctions of eternity, “ the powers of the life to come,” has instruments to work with, which turn to feebleness all other means of influence. There is not heard on earth a voice so powerful, so penetrating as that of an enlightened minister, who, under the absorbing influence of these mighty truths, devotes himself a living sacrifice, a whole burnt offering, to the cause of enlightening and saving his fellow-creatures.
No; there is no romance in a minister's proposing, and hoping to forward, a great moral revolution on the earth; for the religion, which he is appointed to preach, was intended and is adapted to work deeply and widely, and to change the face of society. Christianity was not ushered into the world with such a stupendous preparation; it was not fore shown through so many ages by enraptured prophets; it was not proclaimed so joyfully by the songs of angels; it was not preached by such holy lips and sealed by such precious blood, to be only a pageant, a form, a sound, a show. Oh no. It has come from heaven, with heaven’s life and power,—come to make all things new,” to make " the wilderness glad and the desert blossom as the rose,” to break the stony heart, to set free the guilt-burdened and earth-bound spirit, and to “present it faultless before God's glory with exceeding joy.” With courage and hope becoming such a religion, let the minister bring to his work his concentrated powers of intellect and affection, and God, in whose cause he labours, will accompany and crown the labour with an almighty blessing
My brother, you are now to be set apart to the Christian ministry. I bid you welcome to its duties, and implore for you strength to discharge them, a long and prosperous course, increasing success, and everlasting rewards. I also welcome you to the connexion which is this day formed between you and myself. I thank God for an associate, in whose virtues and endowments I have the promise of personal comfort and relief, and, still more, the pledges of usefulness to this people. I have lived too long, to expect unmingled good in this or in any relation of life; nor am I ignorant of the difficulties and trials, which are thought to attend the union of different minds and different hands in the care of the same church. God grant us that singleness of