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"WHICH IS MOST BENEFICIAL TO THE CAUSE OF CHRISTIANITY, BIBLE, MISSIONARY, OR TRACT SOCIETIES?"
I HAVE listened, sir, with no little pleasure to the remarks which have just been made upon the importance of Bible and Missionary Societies. It is a happy circumstance, that among the jarring opinions and conflicting pursuits of human life, there is one subject on which all may agree, one point to which all efforts may be directed,—the cause of human improvement. Whatever may be our opinions on other subjects, however widely separated by our speculations in religion or politics, we here meet on common ground. We all wish well to our race; and it is our happiness, as well as our interest, to promote their moral and intellectual improvement.
If we take a rapid glance at the history of man, we find that his conduct, his habits of thinking as well as of acting, are intimately connected with his religious belief. While, under other systems of religion, he has been stationary or degraded, it is grateful to remark, that under the Christian dispensation, man has been progressive; his future and perpetual progress is provided for, and encouraged, and en
joined by it. While it raises him above the mere enjoyment of his senses, it opens to him whatever can enlarge the affections, or purify the taste, or excite the imagination, or mature the reason. All the institutions of Christianity operate directly to produce the greatest amount of virtue and happiness, and the highest degree of intellectual improve
And here it may be remarked, that in all religious communities a principle of life and activity exists, that is not found in political ones. The members are more active, in proportion as their sense of duty is stronger, and the sanctions of their law are more powerful. The leaders of such a community have an influence, which political leaders can never attain. "Their hold is upon the heart of man, upon his hopes and fears, the weakness and the strength of his nature."
Whether, therefore, we regard the effects which it has actually produced, or the means which it has of influencing human conduct, we are justified in looking to religion, rather than to political establishments, as the great agent in producing knowledge and happiness. The cause of Christianity, then, is the cause of human improvement.
But how to extend this blessing, how to make the ignorant understand its sublime doctrines, the vicious receive its moral precepts, the doubting submit to its solemn sanctions; how to gain access to the heart of the prejudiced, or to the mind of the barbarian; these are questions upon which we may well pause. There have been times, when, to the disgrace of Protestant Christianity, the duty of doing some
thing for the improvement of the world, seems never to have occurred. But now it is far otherwise; and the intellectual and moral excitement of the present age is not one of the least benefits, that have attended, or followed, the tremendous revolutions we have witnessed. The question now is, not whether we shall do any thing for mankind, but how we shall act with the most effect.
And here the friends of the Bible Society rise, and tell us-Put the Scriptures into the hands of every man; translate them into every language; let "all kingdoms and nations and tongues" unite in reading the word of God. This is indeed a sublime conception; and worthy of that religion, which teaches that "all nations are made of one blood," and are children of the same common Father. But we must not suffer our imaginations to be so much dazzled by the splendor of the project, as to overlook its practical difficulties. Have these gentlemen duly considered what the Bible is, that they should send it forth alone, and expect it to convert the world? The Bible contains upwards of sixty distinct writings, composed by at least thirty-four different authors, some of whom lived more than sixteen hundred years apart. It was written originally in different languages; one of which is now lost, except in the Bible itself; so that no other book exists with which it can be compared, or by which its meaning can be ascertained. It presents a history of more than four thousand years, and records the actions of a nation distinguished from all others, not only by its rites, ceremonies, and religious opinions, but by its political government, its strange vicissitudes, its striking misfor
tunes, and its more wonderful preservation. It contains writings which darkly shadow out the fortunes, not only of the people to whom they were addressed, but of the whole human race; and that to the end of the world. It is full of allusions to the manners, customs, and institutions of nations, that have long since been swept from the earth; it refers to books, whose former existence is known only by the reference itself; it contains warnings and prohibitions, and prescribes rites and ceremonies, which have been abrogated for two thousand years, and the reason of which can now be only conjectured. The Bible too is full of poetry, not only of sublime conceptions and lofty poetical images, but of verse in its literal meaning. Biblical critics of the last century, have succeeded in restoring the metre, not only of the Book of Psalms, but of Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the greater part of the Minor Prophets. Some of these are concise, sententious, and abrupt like Pindar; others exhibit the generous indignation of Juvenal, and rebuke the luxurious and reprove the unjust, with the force and dignity and eloquence of the Roman satirist; others again have the sublimity, and ardor, and boldness of Homer; while in all, there are occasional passages of tenderness and pathetic simplicity.
Those who are conversant with the writings of antiquity, need not be told that a book so old as this, and upon so great a variety of subjects, must necessarily present many difficulties. If there are passages in Homer, which we cannot understand, with all the aid of the philosophers, historians, and poets of ancient Greece; if there are laws of the Twelve Tables, which are unintelligible even when cited by Cicero
and Pliny; how much more difficulty should we expect to find in the institutes of Moses, or the poetry of Joel.
And such is the fact. Which of us, with all the advantages of early Christian education, and of weekly instruction, will say, that he fully understands any one of the numerous writings contained in this wonderful book? It has been well remarked by a most pious and eloquent Baptist, John Foster, that no intelligent man can read the Bible for ten minutes, without wishing to ask a hundred questions, which can only be answered from other books than the Bible. And will you put this volume, thus requiring so much previous knowledge, into the hands of a Caffre, or a New-Zealander, and expect him, alone, unassisted, and unenlightened, to extract from it a system of rational faith? To suppose this, would be to suppose that the mere present of a Bible is accompanied with a miraculous agency, that enables the receiver to understand it, and to value it.
Besides, how is he
to be made acquainted with the external evidences of Christianity? How is he to know that it is a book sent from God?
I trust, sir, I am not misunderstood in these remarks. I am making no attempt to depreciate the value of the Scriptures. On the contrary, I approach them with the humble sentiment of Erasmus; "In this book alone, I reverence even what I cannot understand.”
But, sir, the principles of our common faith are few and simple; I mean the essential, the elementary principles. When the first Gentile converts were baptized by Peter, the number of truths, in which they were instructed, was very