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and fanaticism that now deform and debase the religious character of so many christian communities?
Go to that rustic assemblage of a camp meeting,' which you hear, in a distant wood, breaking the sacred silence of night with outcries, under the name of christian worship, and ask them, Why this noise and commotion? You are answered, The Lord is among us; his special agency is operating on our minds. The philosopher beholds with scorn; the enlightened christian looks on with shame and tears; for he sees nothing but the working of human passion, or animal excitement, or, perhaps, worse, the machinery of fraud and imposture.
Ascend higher in the ranks of society, enter a village, during the season of a calvinistic revival, and mark the death-like gloom spread over all. Every countenance has assumed a funereal sadness. The common business of the world is suspended. noise of labor has ceased, and all is at a stand. why is this? Step into one of the thousand conference, inquiry, or prayer meetings, and you shall hear. The doctrine, which has produced this unnatural state of things, is, that in the language of a sect, The Lord is passing through this place. The cloud of his mercy is now overshadowing you. His spirit is striving in your hearts. Resist him but this once, and he will never return. And what is the consequence of this abuse of the doctrine of divine agency? The weaker part will believe it, and be thrown into all those violent emotions, which such a tremendous persuasion is calculated to produce. The imagination becomes violently excited. The nervous and intellectual systems become disor
dered; and dreams and fancies are magnified into divine interpositions, that whisper hope of immortal bliss, or condemn to the regions of the regions of despair.Others, with stronger nerves and less excitable temperaments, walk unhurt amid the flames of this supernatural fire. They escape from the heat and excitement of the religious assembly, and the calm majesty of the silent heavens, or the stillness of God's terrestrial works, dispels the phantoms which had flitted across their minds, and they learn to attribute all that they have seen and heard, to its true and proper cause, an overheated imagination. And it is well if they stop here. The more probable result is, that the contempt, which has thus been fastened on one form of religion, will be forever associated with every other. The mind having failed to be affected by the most violent stimulants, becomes insensible to anything less potent. Overrun with the fruit of fanaticism, it becomes barren of the fruits of righteousness. Those on the other hand, who have lost the balance of their minds, and imagined themselves the recipients of God's special influence, forever after become fixed in spiritual pride and censorious bigotry.
This false doctrine of God's special interposition has a mischievous tendency in another way. Taken, as it often is, in a retributory sense, it leads us to set up a false standard in judging of the character of actions, and of men. If God punishes and rewards individuals in this world, by special interference, as many suppose, we must consider success as the seal of his approbation; and misfortune the token of his displeasure. Job in the plentitude of his power and prosperity, is perfect
and upright, the favored of God; and Job sitting in desolation, among the ashes, is a wicked man, abandoned by the favor of heaven. Paul is a murderer, or a God, as the reptile fixes upon, or falls innoxious from his hand. Jesus at the bar of Pilate, or when hanging on the cross, is esteemed smitten of God, and afflicted, and his judges and murderers most virtuous and just. The cause of power is the cause of God; and the conquerer and the man of blood, the approved of the Judge of all the earth. So far has this doctrine been sometimes carried, that innocence or guilt has been made to depend on the supernatural interference of God. The civil magistrate has looked on to see the innocent tread unhurt upon burning plates of iron; or the laws of gravitation suspended, to prevent the falsely accused from sinking in the bosom of the waters. Why, I would ask the pious believer in the 'special retributory interference of God,' why will you thus throw an air of ridicule upon religion, by incumbering it with a false hypothesis?
By embracing other and more correct views of the divine government, several valuable practical purposes will be secured; purposes important to our virtue and our peace. We shall, in the first place, be freed from the bondage of superstition. By cherishing the persuasion that God is the only superhuman agent in the universe, and that all things take place according to the general laws of his kingdom, we shall act securely and quietly under his reign. We shall look with equal serenity upon the storm and the calm. We shall hear no fearful whisperings in the breeze, and start at no uncommon appearance in nature, as the harbinger of woe.
In the second place, our faith in the divine government will be strengthened and confirmed. The prosperity of the wicked, and the affliction of the just, will no longer raise a doubt in our minds, that a just God is at the head of the universe. We see that immediate retribution could not take place, without infringing higher and more important laws. The hand of the assassin could not be arrested without breaking the fundamental law of the moral world, the freedom of the will. Hereditary wealth could not be withheld from the hands of the profligate, without unsettling the grounds of property, and destroying one of the strongest motives.to individual exertion.
Finally, we shall be cured of considering outward prosperity as the symbol of happiness, or the evidence of divine approbation. We shall be cured of that besetting sin of ours, judging of the character by the external appearance. We shall no longer be dazzled by splendor and power, and pass by humble and unpretending merit. We shall believe that right is right, and wrong is wrong, though the united world assure us to the contrary. Conscience, the voice of God within us, tells us so. There is a Being who will finally vindicate the right and punish the wrong, though ages roll away, though the earth and the elements be dissolved.
LOVE TO THE INVISIBLE GOD.
Can we love one who is invisible and far from us, is the question asked. Invisible and far from us! Is the author of nature quite invisible? Is the preserver of our lives far from us? He is indeed invisible to those who will not see him. He is far, immeasurably far, from those who do not wish to feel a sense of dependance on him. But the devout man sees his Father every where in the traces of his creative majesty; and in the gladness of a thankful spirit, feels that He is not far from every one of us.' 'Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.' compasseth my path and my lying down.' shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I thy presence?'
But who is there that does not love something invisible? Is not each man's interest, in the general vague apprehension of the idea, an invisible, impalpable, less than airy, an imaginary thing—a personification of the mind? And yet do we not cling to it in devoted attachment, as if it stood up before us in all the reality of a solid impersonation?
Is not the object of every man's pursuit more or less invisible. He aspires to some great happiness which he sees not yet, nor knows exactly how to define. Fortune is to bestow some enviable lot upon him, but the mist of futurity has to roll away for many a day or year first. He is in love with that, therefore, which, not only is out of sight, but out of existence; it does not exist yet. The husbandman ploughs his ground,
Whither flee from