Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση


slide along, as he might, into the perfection of this great faculty. The teacher, the parent, would not be content with saying, that he wished his child to be intelligent; that he intended now and then, on proper occasions, to remind him of the importance of possessing this character ; that intelligence, like the sunshine, ought to be every where, and that there is danger of locating and confining it, or that it is a free principle, and that there is danger of enslaving or biasing it.' Ño; 'the vision and faculty divine,' - divine though it be, he would train ; he would guard; he would edu

And the question is, Why shall he not do the same thing with the religious nature ?

But we must urge something farther with regard to the case just stated. This gliding along in the moral course without any definite purpose, without any distinct landmarks, realizes to our view one of the most alarming representations of spiritual negligence. It is thus that childhood glides into youth, and youth into manhood, and manhood into declining years, and the man sinks to moral perdition, because he was never led at any one point to inquire whither he was going; because no stated hour of meditation and prayer, no season of self-examination, po appointed and solemn recognition of religion, ever called him to consider what he was, or for what he was preparing. The parent, with this vague feeling about religion, has no definite plan for the religious instruction of his child; unless it be a plan to exclude every thing definite. No lessons must be set for him ; no evening prayers must rise by his couch of rest; nor is the place of these supplied by frequent and earnest conversation with the child, on the great themes of piety. What, now, is, and must be, the result? Childhood steals away, with its bright dream, and with no more distinct track. As it knows nothing but what it is taught, and is taught no religion, no impressions on this momentous theme mark the footsteps of early years. Youth comes, but is signalized by no memorials of piety. If some religious impressions are felt, in entering upon the threshold of life, and this is not uncommon at that interesting period, yet nothing is done to fix or confirm these impressions; the mind is not led to habitual, daily prayer, or to that solemn profession of religious purposes which is so becoming and beautiful, as an inaugural act, a consecration to the great duties of a moral existence. With no moral fixtures, with no distinct mementos, with no holy pledges, this early susceptibility of religious impression yields to the power of active employments; there is no landmark or barrier lifted up amidst the tide of business or pleasure ; and negligent youth sinks almost unconsciously into worldly manhood. And thus life passes on, and passes away; and comes to its close, perhaps, with the astounding conviction, that little or nothing has been distinctly done or even determined, with regard to the great end for which life was given.

Would it not, probably, have been otherwise, if religious impressions had had their due importance and prominence distinctly and openly assigned to them; if there had been visible memorials of the religious life to mark its progress.; if the traveller in his moral pilgrimage had, from time to time, set up altars, and worshipped the God of life? We cannot possibly doubt, that stated meditations and solemn pledges, justly regarded, would be of great moral service ; that the gathering up of religious purposes, in daily prayer, or in the communion season, would help, and strengthen, and further many, who are now faltering in the right way, or forgetting what that way is.

Let it not be thought that we would set any usages in competition with the importance of individual conviction. The question is, How is individual conviction most likely to be awakened, and how can it best be sustained ? It is undoubtedly a delicate question. There should not be too much form nor too little, if we can find the medium. But our conviction is, that the public mind is leaning to a neglect of forms which is inexpedient aud dangerous.

The forms of religion are forms of avowal; and this, as we have stated, it is our object to urge. With reference to this object, let us now dwell for a moment on the other general consideration ; namely, the influence upon every man of an assumed character.

Men are commonly treated with decided reference to the character in which they choose to pass in the world. It is usually thought the part of politeness to do so. The employments or the amusements which their friends devise to occupy or to entertain them will be influenced, in general, by this consideration of their taste and habits. Especially will this be true of the conversation addressed to them. If the topics of a man's discourse are always worldly or trifling; if he never says any thing on religion; if he rather avoids the subject; if it is difficult to draw him into any free and hearty discussion of it; if, so far from professing religion, he rather professes, by his manner, and perhaps by his words, to be out of his proper sphere when speaking of it; he will, in almost all cases, be treated accordingly. And although he may feel a strong interest in the subject at times, he must expect to forego the advantages of frequent and friendly intercourse upon it. It is indeed a serious loss. How many friendly interviews are there, and especially with the young, in which all free and kind interchange of thought on this holy and heart-awakening theme are avoided, from certain foolish, almost unaccountable, and chilling reserves that prevail with regard to it !

But if a man is treated by others, as he chooses to be considered, it is still more important to observe, that his own treatment of himself is in a great measure governed by the same rule. There is scarcely any thing from which a man more habitually acts, than from reference to this assumed character. If any one would be thought to possess courage, he almost insensibly puts on the manner indicative of that quality, and strives, almost without knowing it, to possess the quality itself. Or, if he is ambitious, if he would be thought to be distinguished for talents, or wealth, or influence, his manners insensibly take that tone; and they tend directly and strongly to form the very character which he assumes.

This influence of an assumed character is indeed of immense importance, because it acts with such a certain and almost blind fidelity ; because it accompanies a man, like a kind of presence, an unsought, but ever admonishing presence, which constantly says to him, 'Is this proper for you? is this suitable for such as you profess to be ? is this in character ??

Now to bring this principle in aid of religious culture, avowal is necessary. It is necessary that we should say, either in direct terms, or by the frequent tenor of our conversation, or else, by some more formal profession,- by some of these means or by all of them, it is necessary to say, that we hold religion to be a serious and important concern; that we purpose to make it an end; that we do not intend to consign it to the care of others, but to make it our own care. Nothing therefore, as it seems to us, can be of greater moral disser


vice to a man, than to be habitually saying, that he is not a religious man; that every body knows he is not a religious man; that he does not profess any thing of that sort.' And absolute silence, or absolute reserve may say this, as effectually as any set declaration. And certainly, nothing can be of worse consequence, for this reason among others, that man will rise above the measure of his deliberate intentions. If any man assumes for himself this negative character in religion, what has he to do, but to conform to it, and to follow it out? What more likely than that he will for ever be the negligent man that he chooses to be thought ? What more fatal though unworthy apology for his negligence than that he never pretends to any interest about these matters.

Such is this influence of a professed or adopted character, that rectitude itself is oftentimes not so strong a bond as consistency. How commonly will a man give up an argument, when his consistency is appealed to, without any attempt to plead the right or to question the wrong upon the absolute truth of the case. You have often said thus and thus,' or, you have always done this or that,' is final and decisive with most persons, though the matter in question be utterly indefensible by any better reason.

Now it is a dictate of wisdom, which we would urge, to bring this sense of the demands of consistency, this influence of a professed character, into the service of religion. Let any one who has come to feel the claims of this great subject upon him, who is conscious of his weakness at the same time, who feels the need of every lawful bond that will hold him to his duty, let him give pledges, in his conversation, and in more express and formal acts, of his interest in religion and of his purposed adherence to its ways.

Dwelling amidst a negligent generation, liable to fall by easy acquiescence into evil or worldly courses, let him openly and nobly say with Joshua, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.'

We will now proceed to consider, as we proposed, some of the proper methods of this avowal.

It is a mistake, as we regard it, to confine the idea of professing religion to a single act, the observance of the rite of the Lord's Supper. This is not the only form of avowal; and we intend to discuss others. But it is one form, and, indeed, it is the only public form of avowal; and as such demands attention.

It may not be improper here to refer to what has been formerly said in the Christian Examiner on the subject of the communion; since the essays referred to, not only contain nothing inconsistent with what we shall now advance, but are rather fitted, so far as they go, to aid our present purpose. It was maintained in the first place, that this ordinance is no holier, and intrinsically no more solemn, than other rites of Christianity, - no more strict or sacred, than other modes of attention to divine truth, than other forms of devotion, than other modes of communing with religion. It was contended, in the second place, that there is no mark of exclusion designed to be set upon this ordinance, that no minister nor church is authorized to step between any man and his conscience in this matter, that the table of the communion is spread for all Christians, as freely as the gates of the sanctuary are opened to them. And in the third place, an attempt was made to assign this form of religious meditation and worship its proper rank among the means of grace. The conviction was expressed that it does not, and did not originally, hold that first place, which is now commonly conceded to it, among the methods of religious influence. This opinion was supported by the Apostolic judgment, that the world is to be saved, not by the communion, but by preaching; "by the foolishness of preaching,' as it is modestly termed.

With these views of this ancient Christian ordinance, we have not been, of course, nor are we now, able to urge it as of the first importance. We have not been, nor are we now, able to urge it, as, among visible indications, the great dividing line between salvation and perdition. But it still holds a very prominent place as an avowal of religious affections and purposes, and in this light it deserves to be very seriously considered by all who would promote the cause of religion in themselves or others.

We see the world hurrying on, in the eager and almost exclusive pursuit of palpable and perishing objects. We see it forgetful to an extent that pains, and sometimes alarms us with fears for the very existence of religion, — forgetful, we say, of God and of eternity. What is all this coming to? Whither is this flood of cares and pleasures and vanities driving men ?

Where shall religion find some secure refuge,some ark of safety ? These are the agitating questions. Now, if we know that there are some who deeply feel the value or

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »