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It is our duty to observe and scrutinize the aspects of the passing age, and as occasion may invite or demand, we should utter our fears, or express our convictions. The present is a season strongly marked in its characteristics. There is much in the aspect of the times to delight and encourage the friends of human improvement. But who can deny-what wise or good man will deny,—that there are serious evils by which the age is oppressed? After all the progress that has been made, and with all the high impulses that are now in action, who does not perceive the existence of some great defect? Society needs some essential change, in its habits, its principles or its purposes. The christian world is not what it should be. This indeed is not a new complaint. At no time since the apostolic age has the church presented that appearance of spiritual health,
VOL. I.-NO. III.
which should belong to the body, of which, in the figurative language of scripture, Christ is the head. Different maladies have seized on it; ignorance, superstition, bigotry, and pride, have fastened themselves upon it with united force, and once it nearly sunk under their power. The diseases of former periods we can discover,-may we not ascertain the nature of those which are at present counteracting the influences of the gospel? What is the fault of the times? what is it that prevents the developement of those energies which Christianity carries in its spirit.
If our readers acknowledge that there is some great defect in society, they will be as anxious as we for its discovery and correction. But some persons may doubt its existence. Look then into the christian world, and compare the actual effects of the gospel with its inherent power. Where are the proofs of its mighty energy? where its achievements that indicate its divine origin? In the breasts of its disciples, do you reply? We acknowledge its efficacy in thousands of hearts; but the number of them who bear the christian name is estimated as more than two hundred millions. Where is the evidence that Christianity acts powerfully on these souls? There are said to be sixty million Protestants. Does Christianity accomplish its purposes among them? A few striking facts will not afford an answer to this question. What is the general character of society? what its prevailing tone? what the predominant tendency of its action? To these points must observation be directed; and when it is
faithfully bestowed, no man of sound judgement can affirm that he is satisfied with the influence which Christianity exerts. When one considers the character of the religion of the New Testament; when he examines its truths, its purposes, its sanctions; and when he views it in connexion with human capacities and wants, he may think that he beholds an instrument which must convert every mind that it touches into the abode of angelic virtue. And then, when he surveys our own country, and sees the worldliness that prevails in all classes, the selfishness that everywhere discovers itself, here thoughtless or desperate extravagance and there miserable parsimoniousness, bold crime and mean vice, irreligion and false religion, religion that is meant to deceive others, and religion that tries to deceive itself; when he sees fashion and folly, error and sin, sharing the spoils of intellect and heart which they gather in their walks through the land, he must perceive that Christianity is hindered and thwarted by causes, which, if he be a lover of his country or his fellowmen, he will be anxious to penetrate. True, he will be delighted with examples of high worth, he will find many in whom divine Truth is a living principle of power and beauty; he will meet with noble institutions, and be continually reminded of the fruits of the gospel, which have sprung up in the paths of domestic and social life. But he will expect and require something more. There are souls in whom the fire of liberty burns intensely in Spain, and there are free institutions in South America; but they who understand the na
ture and operation of rational liberty ask for other proofs that its spirit pervades the mass of the people. It is by the general condition of the land, and not by the state in which we find a portion of its inhabitants, who, though they be scattered over the whole country, and positively constitute a large number, are yet comparatively few, that we must estimate the power of any one of the springs of improvement.
We might arrive at the same result by a comparison of our times with those which have been gathered into the bosom of the past. Great progress has been made in many of the pursuits in which the human faculties should be occupied, and the religious character of the age has felt the impulse of improvement. But how great has been the advance made in this, by far the most important department of human interests? Does it not fall vastly behind that which has been secured in other respects? Have we realized the benefits which might be expected to follow the increase of light? Is there probably very much more of earnest, sincere, practical religion in the world now, than in ages on which we look back with wonder or pity? Do you believe that there is very much more of inflexible principle, of devout sentiment, of christian love, in action or in being on earth now, than existed a century ago? Without doubt, we repeat, there is more now than formerly. But with present advantages, or if moral keep pace with intellectual progress, there should be
very much more.
Admitting the fact which is the occasion of these
remarks, if we investigate its causes, what shall we find them to be? We have hinted at advantages possessed by the present over other periods. Many of the circumstances, against which Christianity has been compelled to struggle, no longer exist, at least among us. Ignorance does not weigh down the mind; the chains of authority have been thrown off: men think and speak as they please. The civilized world is not sunk in intellectual or moral slumber. It is full of excitement and effort. Men are searching for truth wherever there is a glimpse of its existence; they are pressing after utility wherever there is a hope that it may be found. Probably more mind is at work at this moment in the world than ever before. It is not then from indifference or fear of change that the people do not secure the full blessing of religion.
Neither is it because the means of improvement are not within their reach. They need not even stretch forth their hands to lay hold on them; for they are already in their possession. Never were so great facilities for acquiring a knowledge of duty, or for performing its offices, enjoyed by the multitude. Books, of every size and every price, abound; those who cannot buy, may have them without money, and those who will not read them must hear of their contents, for the conversation and the writing of the age reflect each other.
If there be less genuine religion than we could wish to see, the cause cannot be an absence of religious discussion; for there is more perhaps of this than is