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PERSONAL INTEREST IN RELIGION.
"One said unto Jesus, Lord, are there few that be saved? and he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate.' As if he had replied,-Be careful to secure your own salvation, this is your chief concern ; leave the fate of others to a merciful God, but remember that your own safety depends on individual effort; and not only remember, but regard this truth in your daily life. Adopt the principles of religion as your own, apply its rules to your practice, see that you are partakers of the spirit of holiness. This should be your aim, labor, employment. The nature of a personal interest in Religion, will be the subject of remark.
Let us be understood. We wish to enforce the duty of making religion the property of each one; which indeed no individual and no class of men can monopolize, but of which every one may, and should, appropriate to himself as much as will answer all his wants as a moral being a moral being, possessing capacities of excellence, placed in a state of discipline, and destined to an impartial retribution. Every member of the community should behold himself in the midst of relations through which he is connected with God and eternity; should view his connexion with them as intimate and direct, not as the mere result of the fact, that he is a part of the universe.
An error opposed to this judgement of our condition,
and one which is not uncommon, grows out of the habit of generalizing that belongs to the age. General principles, general truths, are objects of search; and this is well. But to stop here is as foolish as it would be to collect water into a reservoir, from which it should never be distributed. General principles are of no use excepting as they furnish a guide for individual conduct. Of what importance is it to know the most comprehensive formulas in mathematics, if we never apply them to examples? Suppose we find a few primary truths, or even one central doctrine, around which all others revolve as satellites, what benefit shall we derive from the discovery, unless we can make it touch our own characters? Simplify, generalize in theory as far as reason and scripture will permit; but if you would render theory useful, you must individualize its application. Its value must be seen by its influence on yourself.
A kindred error is committed by them who are mainly anxious to ascertain the nature or weight of Christian doctrines, who evince a stronger desire to know than to obey the truth. They have a sort of intellectual curiosity about religion, very different from that thirst after righteousness, which our Lord included among the beatitudes. They are believers, staunch believers perhaps, and so far they are to be approved; or they are ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth,' and then they are to be pitied. But in either case their religion is speculative, their faith rests in the letter, their souls are not warmed
by the spirit. Such Christians you find in every sect, and in every church. They have not yet felt that personal interest in the gospel which is the substance of salvation. Their religion is more a matter of opinion than of practice, of belief than of use, of the head than of the heart; they are destitute of vital godliness, and of this essence of the christian character, we may say as the apostle said of charity, though I understand all knowledge, and have all faith, and have not this, I am nothing.'
Others run into the mistake of expending their religious feeling upon the community. It is exhausted by sympathy. They complain of the low tone of morals, of the languor of Christians, the worldliness of disciples, and the wickedness of scoffers. They grieve for the sins of the land, they deplore the neglect of religious institutions, they are shocked at the impiety, and amazed at the thoughtlessness of men. Society is in their view a vast hospital, crowded with patients ignorant of their disease; the world is a collection of the insane. Alas, it is so, there is far more and worse insanity walking our streets every day than can be found in all the asylums of Christendom. And such a fact should awaken pity. But they of whom we speak make this general wickedness the chief subject of their notice. Their religious feelings are social in their origin, support, and aim, ending where they begin, in lamentation over public degeneracy. They seem to forget, that they are members of society, and that it is therefore not improba
ble that the reproach of sin cleaves to them. They are diseased, they are insane as well as the bulk of mankind. Is there, in fact, any circumstance in which moral insanity more plainly discovers itself, than in the observation of that in others of which though one be afflicted with it, he is unconscious? Let all feel a tender interest in the condition of those about them, but let no one forget that his own virtue is his particular trust, and that he does more towards reforming society by a good though a silent example, than by censures or prayers, which leave his own character unimproved.
Many persons deprive themselves of the benefit of religion by a method not very dissimilar to this last, and yet worthy of distinct notice. They lament not the state of society at large, but that of certain portions or members of it. The sins of their friends or their neighbors awaken their sorrow. They wonder how the rich can be so extravagant, or the poor so indolent. The dissipation of this one, and the miserly habits of that one, levity here, and censoriousness there, call forth their indignant rebuke. To hear them talk, one might think they were responsible for every body's virtue-but their own. They seem disposed, in opposition to the language of Cain, to say, Am I not my brother's keeper? Now this class of Christians, like those whose errors we before noticed, sin through excess. They allow one branch of duty to occupy their whole attention. We ought to watch over each other's goodness, and help each other forward; and the
rebuke of a friend is often like the knife of a skilful surgeon, the means of our safety. But to scrutinize others' conduct and to overlook our own, is like profuse almsgiving while we are oppressed by debt. A man's first and chief care should be over his soul. He is the guardian of his character, and woe is to him who neglects this office for any other employment.
There are yet others who are religious, so far as they are religious, not for their own sakes, but from a regard to their situation in life; parents who consider the good of their children, and men, who belong to the higher classes of society, who are mindful of their influence on those below them. They ought to respect their domestic and social relations, and they do right in presenting a virtuous example, even if their hearts are not sanctified by piety. But while they remember their duty to others, they should not forget their duty to themselves, nor neglect the weightier matter of personal religion because they attend to their social obligations. Are there not some who wish their families to have more religion than they are conscious of possessing, yet whose only effort is to exhibit a correct deportment?-as if the evil of sin consisted in its disclosure, or as if a man might ruin his soul if he did not harm any one else.
In contrast and in opposition to these and similar mistakes, a personal interest in religion causes every man to feel that his soul is his treasure and his charge, that its purity is his supreme good, and that its salvation is his business. This feeling produces accordant
VOL. I.-NO IV.