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CHRISTIANITY has now subsisted in the world throughout the lapse of eighteen hundred years. During the first periods of its existence when its facts and doctrines were propagated in their native purity and simplicity, uncontaminated with Pagan ceremonies and worldly maxims ; its progress was rapid, and was accompanied with many astonishing and auspicious results. The empire of the Prince of Darkness was shaken to its centre, the altars of Paganism were overturned, its oracles struck dumb, its worship forsaken, and its temples levelled with the ground. The word of the Lord had free course and was glorified,” and multitudes both of men and women, of the higher and the lower ranks of society, formerly immersed in all the vices and abominations of heathenism, were
66 turned from darkness to light, and from the worship of dumb idols to the service of the living God.” By the unwearied labors of the Apostles and their successors, the knowledge of the true God was communicated to the inhabitants of the Grecian Islands, Asia Minor, the Northern coasts of Africa, the Southern shores of Europe, and throughout the greater part of the widely extended Roman Empire, where the abominations of Pagan Idolatry had, for ages, debased and demoralized
the minds of men. The darkness of heathenism be. gan gradually to vanish before the light of the “ Sun of Righteousness,” and a new and happier era appeared to dawn upon the world. The influence of Christian principle was felt in all its force; love knit together, in “the bond of perfection," the various members of the Church; a spirit of holy fortitude, and of nonconformity to the world, pervaded the minds of the disciples of Jesus, and the “ Just of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life,” were considered as unworthy the pursuit of those who accounted themselves “ strangers and pilgrims upon earth,” and travellers to a blessed immortality.
Little more than two centuries, however, had elapsed, before a worldly spirit, and a "love of pre-eminence, began to appear, and to diffuse their malign influence throughout every department of the visible church, which prepared the way for the unhappy. dissensions which afterwards arose, and for the long reign of Antichrist over the nations. During the period of more than a thousand years,“ darkness” again“ covered the earth, and gross darkness the people.” Pagan maxims and ceremonies began to be blended with the pure precepts and sublime doctrines of the Gospel; vain speculations were indulged on questions which the limited faculties of man are unable to resolve ; a multitude of unmeaning rites were substituted in the room of love to God and man; pride, and a desire of domination, usurped the place of meekness and humility; the power of the clergy was augmented; the bishops aspired after wealth, magnificence, and splendor, and their avarice, extortion, and licentiousness, at length became notorious even to a proverb. Errors in religion, whether real or supposed, were punished by civil penalties and bodily tortures; and the select few who adhered to the cause and " testimony of Jesus," and lifted up their voice against such abominations, were reproached and persecuted, and obliged to seek for shelter in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Hence it happened, that the spirit of genuine religion was almost evaporaled ; carnal max
ims and policy were introduced; the love of riches and aggrandizement began to gain the ascendancy ; and thus a barrier was interposed to the propagation of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the renovation of the world. Even since the time of the Reformation from Popery, it is amazing how little practical influence Christianity has obtained over the nations who profess to have submitted to its authority. While its leading principles and precepts are not called in question, as matters of mere opinion, the great majority of professing Christians seem to act as if they were to be left entirely out of view in their ordinary deportment, or as if there were no specific difference between Christian principles and the corrupt maxims of the world.
It is a fact which cannot be denied, that, considering the long period which has intervened since its first promulgation, Christianity has never yet produced all the practical and beneficent effects which might have been expected from a religion introduced by the authority of heaven, and confirmed by a series of the most august and striking miracles,-nor has its empire been extended throughout the nations in any degree proportionable to the zeal of its first propagators, and to the rapidity and the extent of its progress after it was first announced to the world. This is a fact which has filled its sincere friends with deep regret, and which has been held up by its adversaries as a presumptive proof that its claims to a Divine origin are unfounded. Although there are, doubtless, to be found, in the principles of the Divine government, reasons inscrutable by us, why Christianity has been so slow in its progress and so limited in its effects; yet, I presume, that one grand reason is to be found in the fact, that the great majority of its professors have paid more attention to its theory than to its practical requisitions—that its original record has been too much neglected, and human systems substituted in its place, and that contentions about matters of “ doubtful disputation” have occupied the room of fervent piety and practical godli
No nation under heaven has yet recognized its
principles and maxims, in all their extent, in its civil and criminal code, in its legislative enactments, in its colonial transactions, and in its intercourse with other nations. No Christian church has yet been formed on the principle of a full and unreserved recognition of its precepts and laws, in all their bearings and practical applications; and even the most exemplary Christians, in their general deportment, and particularly in the application of their wealth, fall far short of what the religion of the Bible inculcates.
It is now high time that Christianity were recognized in all its holy principles and preceptive requirements, and that its votaries show to the world that they have imbibed its heavenly spirit, and are determined to rise superior to the grovelling affections and the carnal policy of worldly men, and to follow the footsteps of their divine leader, and of his holy prophets and apostles. If we expect to behold the moral world regenerated, and Zion appear “ beautiful and glorious in the eyes of the nations," we must exhibit our religion, not merely in theory, but in its renovating and beneficent effects. If we ask surrounding nations to embrace its doctrines, and introduce among their people its divine institutions ; if we entreat the tribes of the heathen world to listen to its stupendous facts and to receive its ordinances and laws; or if we urge the infidel to examine with attention the evidences of its divine original, they have a right to demand from us proofs and examples of its benignant tendency and of its harmonious and beneficent effects. If we could show, that, wherever it is professed, it uniformly produces love, brotherly affection, forgiveness of injuries, peace and harmony, philanthropy, temperance, charity, and a spirit of noble generosity; if we could say with Lactantius, one of the early Apologists, "give me a man that is wrathful, malicious, revengeful
, and, with a few words of God, I will make him calm as a lamb, give me one that is a covetous, niggardly miser, and I will give you him again liberal, bountiful, and dealing out of his money by handfuls ; give me one that is fearful of pain and death, and immediately he shall despise
racks and crosses, and the most dreadful punishments you can invent"-—could we, with truth and sincerity, propose to the world such arguments and examples in behalf of our holy religion,-could we show that in every case where a Christian or a Christian society is to be found, such virtues are uniformly displayed ; the progress of Christianity over the globe would soon be accelerated, and “ righteousness and praise would,” ere long, “spring forth before all the nations.” And, I verily believe, that, till we can exhibit our religion in all its amiable and beneficent effects, its progress will be comparatively feeble, and its enemies numerous and powerful
. We have been long engaged in controversies about theological opinions; and, in such contentions, have too frequently overlooked the grand practical objects which it is the design of Christianity to accomplish. The government of the temper, the regulation of the affections, and the mortification of the principle of sin and corruption, have been, in a great measure, lost sight of, amidst the fiery zeal which has sometimes been displayed in the propagation of dogmas and opinions, which do not enter into the essence of our holy religion. While we have endeavored to display our bravery as champions in the cause of orthodoxy, we have too frequently given vent to unhallowed passions, and aspired after worldly emolument and applause, instead of " the honor which cometh from God alone.”
Of all the practical requisitions of Christianity, there is none which seems to be so much overlooked as the duty of contributing, with liberality, for the extension of the Gospel, the diffusion of knowledge, and the general improvement of mankind. This has been owing to the prevalence of that most vile and unchristian propensity, designated in Scripture by “COVETOUSNESS, which is IDOLATRY”—a propensity which has affected all ranks of men, from the highest to the lowest, and which is characteristic of multitudes who make a glaring profession of evangelical religion. Were this single affection either undermined or extirpated, a deluge of miseries would soon be swept away from our suf