« ZurückWeiter »
the bible, is the way to make him the dupe of crafty and ayaricious priests! The withholding of the sacred scriptures from the hands of the people, was the cause of that dark and dismal night which enveloped Europe during the period appropriately styled the dark ages. As soon as the bible was brought out of the cloisters, where it had been locked up in an unknown language, like the sun rising in his glory, it dispelled the darkness which enveloped the nations. They saw the chains with which they were bound, and they resolved to be free. I could as easily believe that the rising of the sun will enshroud the world in darkness, as that a knowledge of the truths of the bible can prepare men to be slaves. Despots may dread to see this heavenly light breaking in on their dark dominions. Demagogues, who hope to rise to power on the ignorance of the people, may raise the cry of priestcraft, when they see the bible every where circulated, and all classes of the community taught to read it. But the enlightened and honest statesman, who studies no concealment of his actions, will rejoice in every judicious and well directed effort to send gospel truth to every part of our extended territory; and he will hail the efforts of Bible Societies and Sun. day Schools as the brightest hope of his country's freedom.
The republics that were before us, have fallen: and what is there in our condition to lead us to hope that our existence as a free people will be of longer duration? The representative principle which we have introduced, and in which we differ from the ancient republics, will not justify our hopes. All the advantage which we derive from this principle, is, that it enables us to extend a popular government over a larger territory.
On looking around for some ground on which to found the delightful hope, that our free institutions shall exist ages and ages to come, I candidly confess that I see none except this: we have a purer and more benign religion; and we have the means of instructing the people both by the pulpit and by the press. By these means, that instruction which is more important than any other, may be given-instruction which purifies the heart, as well as enlightens the understanding which creates and cherishes moral principle—and which nerves the soul to resist the seductions of vice. “ Happy is that people, that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”
We close with two inferences. 1. If the gospel has a salutary effect on civil society, then it is the duty and interest of all who love their country, to use their influence in maintaining and extending the principles and spirit of the gospel. At this time, we do not urge the most powerful motive that can be offered; a regard to the eternal well-being of our fellow men. We present * only a subordinate consideration, the welfare of our country'the preservation of our free institutions. We call on all who feel an interest in the future destiny of their country, to maintain and extend the purifying spirit of the gospel-a means more efficacious than any other to check the corruption of morals, which always precedes the departure of national freedom.
And here we solemnly disclaim any intention of recommending an alliance between church and state. From the light of history, from the testimony of experience, we verily believe, that were such a union to take place, it would be the greatest curse that could fall on our country and on the church of God. We do not ask our legislators to enact laws in favor of any one christian sect; we do not even ask that they should maintain, by legislative enactments, Christianity itself without distinction of parties: all we ask of our rulers, as such, is that they preserve to us the rights of conscience that they do not disfranchize us, because we are Christians—that they do not compel us to renounce our privileges as citizens or to violate the most positive and sacred precepts of our religion.
But in his unofficial capacity, we ask every citizen to use his influence in favor of the religion of the bible, as the only efficacious means of instructing the people, of purifying the public morals, and of perpetuating the blessings of a free government.
We want the example of all classes of the community, and we would that this example should proceed not merely from motives of worldly policy, but from the feelings of genuine piety. 'And believe me, there is a spirit and energy in an example which proceeds from the heart, tenfold greater than in the cold exterior of a life regulated by considerations of worldly policy. And in this case why should you act hypocritically? If religion be good for others, it will not injure you. Do not, we beseech you, poison the minds and corrupt the morals of others, by profane conversation and licentious exaniple. The mischief resulting
from such an influence frequently far overbalances distinguished E public services.
For the reasons which we have stated, we recommend to all, especially to the young, to take an active and efficient part in every judicious plan to promote useful knowledge, and to improve private and public morals. The man who shall cause good and efficient schools to be established in his neighborhood, or who shall arrest the progress of a single vice, such, for example, as intemperance, will, we firmly believe, confer a greater benefit on his country than if he had repelled the invasion of a foreign foe. For, why may we not as well be conquered and subjugated by a foreign enemy, as corrupted and prostrated and ruined by one within our own bosom? For be assured, that the freedom and
well-being of a country cannot long survive the prostration of it private and public morals. Let every individual think himself at liberty to do whatever the laws of the land permit him to do with impunity, or whatever he thinks he can do without detection, and there will be an end to the security of property, and reputation, and life.
To diffuse useful knowledge among the great body of the people, and to invigorate the tone of public morals, no means more effectual can be devised, than the prevalence of the principles and spirit of the gospel. Make a man a good Christian, and you make him a good citizen.
We do not undervalue the wisdom of statesmen in providing fortifications and an efficient navy, as means of defense against external enemies—in opening channels of easy communication, so as to connect distant parts of the country together by bonds of common interest. But these and similar measures do not guard against internal foes. They leave uncontrolled an enemy from which we have reason to apprehend the greatest danger. We want something which shall operate on man's moral constitution; which shall appeal to his sense of duty, as well as to his temporal interest; which shall point him to an invisible wit. ness, and to an impartial Judge of his conduct. The bible is the only instrument which possesses this power.
Take a survey of our extensive territory, and behold the moral desolations, the ignorance and vice which prevail, espe. cially in places destitute of the regular ministrations of the gospel,--and you will see much to alarm the fears of the patriot, who knows that the permanence of our free government ultimately. rests on the intelligence and virtue of the people. You will see thousands of families without schools, destitute of moral and religious instruction, and incapable of reading the bible recently offered to them. And are these the freemen who are to elect our legislators and virtually enact our laws? And how are the calamities, which must follow the prevalence of ignorance and sin, to be averted? We answer, by diffusing useful knowledge; by patronizing Sunday schools; by distributing the bible and religious tracts; by sending the gospel to every part of our extensive territory.
2. But the most important duty inculcated by our subject, and designedly mentioned last on account of its importance, is the attainment of that personal freedom, which the Lord Jesus Christ only can give.
We have shown, that man, from the constitution of his nature as a rational and accountable agent, cannot be free from an obligation to obey a law. He must have some rule by which
to govern his actions, or he must renounce his rational character, and, like an ideot or a madman, act without reason and without motive.
The will of God, manifested in his works, and more clearly and fully expressed in the holy scriptures, is the only infallible rule of duty. Every individual, whose moral powers are not so perverted that he confounds all distinctions of right and wrong, must be convinced that he has transgressed this law. And without supposing the reader worse than others, such, we say, is your condition. You are a sinner: and unless you have availed yourself of the gracious provision which God has made for the forgiveness of sin, you are under sentence of condemnation, by a power from which you cannot escape. With the claims of a holy and just God resting upon you unanswered, you cannot, in the full import of the expression, be said to be a freeman. The most pure and innocent among men has contracted a moral debt, which a life of spotless innocence and active usefulness cannot cancel. If at any time your conscience be awakened to feel the weight of your guilt, you will be able to appreciate the preciousness of a truth which you have often heard, and of which, perhaps, you have never felt the value, viz. that“ Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;"that by his obedience and death he made so complete a satisfaction for sin, that there is now no condemnation to them who believe in his name and obey his commands. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ gives deliverance from the curse of the divine law, and restores those who are penitent to the immunities and privileges of the sons of God. * You shall be free indeed.” Free in the highest and noblest sense of the term: citizens not merely of a free and powerful state, enjoying its protection, and having a right to participate in its honors; but citizens of heaven, destined to possess all its joys and all its glories.
But let it be remembered, that according to the wise constitution which God has established, no one is free from the guilt, who is not also free from the dominion, of sin; or, in other words, no one is justified in the sight of God, who is not also sanctified. For “ without holiness, no man shall see the Lord." The Son of God did not come into the world to proclaim an universal amnesty to rebels remaining opposed to the divine government: He came to “ save his people from their sins."
An opinion unhappily prevails with too many, that religion is an irksome drudgery; that it will deprive them of their liberty, and confine them within a space so contracted that their elastic powers can have no room to expand. Banish from your mind this erroneous opinion. Be assured it is false. The words of our Lord and Master are true. My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Every individual emancipated from the bondage of sin, has found this declaration to be strictly true. And if this deliverance from sin were perfect, Christians might enjoy on earth the blessedness of heaven. That moral renovation, which Jesus Christ effects by his word and spirit, is the restoration of the soul, so far as it is accomplished, to perfect freedom in volition and action. If a man invariably acted wisely; if he never suffered his appetites and passions to lead him astray; if he always followed the dictates of reason and conscience,---would you call it bondage? Or, rather, is not this the only real freedom? Now this is the precise state to which the religion of Jesus Christ aims to bring us. Listen not, then, to the suggestions of those, who promise you freedom in casting off the yoke of Jesus Christ. Their freedom is the perversion of reason; the suppres: sion of conscience; the elevation of the sensual and malignant passions, and consequently, the degradation of the whole moral man. Be assured, that real moral freedom consists in obeying the dictates of reason and conscience, enlightened and guided by the word of God. Beware of permitting any of your appetites and passions to obtain the mastery over you. They will bind you with cords not easily broken, and they will scourge you with a lash as pungent and as fatal as the sting of the scorpion.
If you would escape the most degrading bondage, and aspire to the citizenship of heaven, make the sacred scriptures the rule
of your conduct; read them attentively, imploring the aid of the · Holy Spirit, through whose agency only you can be made “ meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”