« AnteriorContinuar »
FOR THE HOPKINSIAN MAGAZINE,
SIGNS OF THE TIMES; CR, TAE BEARING OF THE BENEVOLENT OPERATIONS OF THE AGE
ON THE CAUSE OF TRUTH. Tat existing system of operations, whose object is the diffusion of Gospel light, and the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom, must de regarded as the grand characteristic of the age. If one of the integral parts of this system is viewed separately, the Bible Society, for instance, or the Education Society, it appears with an imposing aspect, and challenges the expectation of an important result. When therefore, the chole system is contemplated, comprising several parts co legs important in their probable results, and all coinbining to increase the strength and energy of each, it needs not the spirit of prophecy to predict, that the whole result will be vastly important, and that it will much affect the cause of truth.
But it is necessary to come bearer the operations of the age, in or.. der to have a distinct view of their tendency. The first striking feature to be noticed, is the concert of action by which their operations are carried on. Each department has its nucleus, consisting cither of the founders of its organized existence, or of their successors in energy and zeal, and to which are attached all that can be induced to aid the cause.
Those who constitute the body become more and more numerous, and in their united capacity they cperate by a concert of action. It is evident, that this is an essential principle in the benevolent operations of the age. Without this union, and concert of action, the design could not be accomplished. Indeed, who would attempt to accomplish that, at which any one of the great Societies of the day aiins, or cherish the design of accomplishing it, if such a den sign had been conceived, except by means of concerted and united effort! Must not the Bible Society relinquish their object, must not the Education Society, and each Missionary Society do the same, the moment that concerted effort ceases ? If, then, the object is one at which the church ought to aim, or if the design of these Societies is to be accomplished by means of human instrumentality, it must be admitted, that concert of action is an essential principle. It is essential to the operations of the day, and it is essential to any other operations, of which man is capaple, and by which the same object can be secured.
Nearly allied to this, is the second feature to be noticed in the be. nevolent operations of the age, consisting in combined moral influence. These operations are wholly voluntary. Neither civil nor ecclesiastical authority is exercised in originating or promoting them. It is, therefore, by moral influence, that all this concerted action is excited. Moral influence is the life-blood of the whole system. Without it, all activity and motion would cease, and the gyetem Tould fall into e,
state of decomposition. And while it is by this influence, that the operations are originated and continued, there is a combination of influence. In addition to those motives which exist before the image ination of societies, and by which individuals are excited to pray for the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom, there are motives resulting from the union which organization constitutes, and which, in connexion with the pre-cxisting motives, excite men to exertion. It is evident, that this is a combination of moral influence. It is the un. jon of the influence of individuals, by which that of each individual is increased, and which operates with more power than that to which all the individual powers added together would amount. It is an influence resulting froin the consideration of union. The whole body of a society is viewed as if it were one being. Each individual feels an influence resulting from such a view of it. If he is a member, this influence excites a person to exertion. If not a member, it affecis hiin much more than the influence of individuals, either inducing him to unite and aid the common cause, or making him feel, that he incurs the disapprobation, and loses the considence of those who do unite.This combined moral influence being in proportion to the extent of the operations to which it pertains, is very great. If we consider that all the principal benevolent societies constitute one system, and that the moral influence is proportionate to the extent of the system, it will appear evident, that it is exceedingly powerful. And while it is so in theory, we have a demonstration of the same in fact. We see the effects of this influence in Great-Britain, and in other parts of Europe; we see it in this country; we see it in our churches and societies, and we feel it in our own souls. It is true, that the moral influence which we are contemplating does not constitute the principal motive from which all act who unite in benevolent exertions.-Doubtless there are many, and it is hoped very many, who act from higber and purer motives; but where is the man who acts at all in aid of the common cause, and does not feel the influence resulting from his union with others ?
ficace, we may notice a third feature in the benevolent operations of the age, consisting in their tendency to an amalgamation of religious sentiments,
Concert of action on an extensive scale, being, as it has been shown, essential to accomplish the grent design, those who have the princlpal agency in their operations, are induced to effect a union between all who are disposed to aid their cause. Many of this description are found, who are of different shades of religious sentient. from the thoroughly orthodox, down to the most lax of the moderate, who assunic the title of orthodox, and even down to that class who are afraid of the title. They who constitute these, and all the intermediate classes, are friendly to the promotion ci undefined Chrise ianity
By means of the indefiteness with which are employed the general terms, “religion,” “ the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom,"
the propagation of the gospel,” &c. these various classes are led 10 feel, that they have a common cause, and they are induced to unite in the general measures adopted to promote it.
Of these classes those individuals who have the most zcal, energy and influence, take the most conspicuous part in forming plans, and in giving them efficacy. They are brought together; and though, were they assembled to form articles of faith, or to decide what are the essential principles of Christianity, it would soon appear, that there would be no fellowship between them as a body, yet having as. sembled for a more general and indefinite purpose, and their minds being possessed with the exceeding magnitude of the object, they are induced to waive the consideration of essential principles. Or if they pay any respect to the subject, union is so essential to the grand design in view, that they are careful to exclude every doctrine which they do not in common profess, and to adopt, as the symbols of their union, a few general principles, expressed in a very cautious and in definite manner. They, who are more orthodox, descend to those who are less. It is true, that in this practical illustration of the facilis descensus, there is no explicit sacrifice of principles—no express relinquishment or surrender of sentiments. There is ostensibly a iraiving only of points of difference, with a view to the common causi
While this mode of procedure is practised by those who take the lead in the great exertions of the day, it is easy to see what must be the effect of their example on all classes whom they enlist under their banners. There is in the whole system of these transactions a prac. tical declaration that these doctrines which they profess to believe in common, constitute all that is essential to faith. They do not, indeed, explicitly make this declaration ; but what else can be the practical import of their measures, and of the principles on which they are adopted ?
Hence, a fourth feature to be noticed in the benevolent operations of the age, is the declension of orthodoxy. The necessary result of the amalgamation of sentiment which has just been considered, is the yielding of distinguishing points. This may not be designed, or even anticipated by the persons concerned. Their attention being directed to the great object of the union which they form, and their feelings being ardently engaged in its behalf, their principal concern is, how the object shall be secured. But having consented to the only admissible terms of an extensive concert of action, they must ere long feel straitened in any attempt which they may make to vindicate those doctrines which are tacitly yielded in the terms of the general union. If they boldly assert and vindicate such doctrines, they are liable to incur the disapprobation of their brethren who differ from
them, and who are united with them, and to provokė a dissention among their ranks ;-they are liable apparently to endanger the interests of the great cause to which they have devoted themselves.They who are less orthodox, and who have implicitly yielded but little or nothing in falling in with the general union, are, in consequence of the practical submission of their more orthodox brethren, bolder and stronger in taking the ground of opposition against every attempt to vindicate truths which are not acknowledged by themselves. Here rises a powerful motive to induce the more orthodox to refrain from an open and decided vindication of truths in which they differ from others, and to hold them in silence.
Another important circumstance connected with these operations, and tending to produce a declension of orthodoxy, is the peculiar kind of religious publications which are their natural offspring. These, in order that they may be in the highest degree auxiliary to the common cause, must be of a peculiar character. They must be adapted to interest and please all classes of the community on whose aid any dependence can be placed. They must, therefore, be free from the savor of decided orthodoxy. They must exhibit those subjects only, which are adapted to perpetuate union, and excite exertion. And while they must possess this peculiar character, they must also be numerous ; presented in every attractive form ; and put into the hands of every individual, who can be induced to receive them. The consequence is, that a great proportion of the book-making talent in the religious community, is spent in this way, and but little strength is teft to explain and vindicate important doctrines. Or if there were talent enough remaining for this purpose, there would be but a discouraging prospect presented to the exercise of it. The taste of the Christian public is fitted to a different kind of reading. It has be. come so modified by the great exertions of the day, that doctrinal , dissertations, and argumentative treatises, are regarded as insipid.If publications, containing the best written illustrations and proofs of doctrinal theology are offered to the public, it is like offering wholesome food to children, who are already surfeited with sweetmeats.This, it is evident, is the prevailing state of the public mind; and such the declension of orthodoxy consequent on the benevolent enterprises which distinguish the present period of the church.
A difth feature in these enterprises is of a prospective kind, forebod. ing the existence of two parties. It is here assumed as a truth, or rather it is believed that prophecy warrants the expectation, that great effects will be produced by this system of operation. The Bible will be given to all nations in their respective languages. The gospel will be preached to every people. Then, it will cease to be a test of Christian character, to contribute in aid of propagating the gospel. Then, if not before, the inquiry will be seen and felt to be
important_"What is the meaning of the gospel? What are the essential doctrines which it contains ? or, what are the terms of salvation which it proposes ! Investigation will become prevalent. The spell of concerted action, and of an amalgamation of sentiment will be broken. The friends and the enemies, not of benerolent exertiou in the present indefinite sense of the term, but of the truth, will openly avow themselves,—will take decided ground, and form their respective ranks. Orthodoxy will rise from its state of declension. The doctrines and precepts of the gospel will be unequivocallyprofessed, and clearly exemplified, by the friends of truth. The wrath and enmity of the opposers of the truth will be awakened. And then will ensue a tremendous conflict,--the great prophetic battle, which is to result in the aniversal triumph of the truth; and the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.
P. I. B.
ORIGIN OF THE PROTESTANT MISSIONS. The zeal which Catholic countries displayed in propagating Christianity, excited a pious emulation in Protestant States to imitate so laadable an example, and in a much better cause. The Lutherans projected different schemes of this nature with an honest intention, but found the execution of them incumbered with insuperable difficulties, especially as very few of the Princes of that persuasion had either territories or colonies beyond the limits of Europe. This was got the case with respect to the other reformed kingdoms, particularly the English and Dutch, whose settlemerts are so extensive in America, Asia, and Africa. It must be acknowledged, that the grand objects in view are the enlargement of trade and commerce, the acquisition of foreign countries, the increase of wealth, power and im. portance; yet ought not religion by any means to be neglected.Neither, in fact, bas it been disregarded. Considerable attention has been paid, in Protestant States, to the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts; respectable Societies have been formed for this express purpose ; many missionaries have been employed and supported by them; the Holy Scriptures have been translated into different languages, published and distributed by them; their labours have been crowned with considerable success; frequent and numerous emigrations of well-intrusted people have contributed to second their religions endeavours; and in many countries, particularly in America, are reformed churches established, which enjoy the light of the Gospel in purity; and some of our Colonies are comfortably supplied with Protestant ministers. It is indeed no casy matter to polish and ipstruct the savage and raving Indians; yet, in the year 1683, Elliot, who has been denominated by some, the Apostle of the Indians, as he