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be preceded by the personal appearance of Christ descending in the clouds of heaven, and coming to exercise his proper kingdom.
This second coming of Christ, and the commencement of the millenium, we are led by a whole series of prophecies to expect immediately after the overthrow of the present European monarchies, which are evidently tottering to their base. Judging also by what we see, there is no prospect of the general conversion of the Jews but in such a manner as the apostle Paul was converted, that is, by the personal appearance of Christ himself; when, and not before, they will say, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
According to the same spirit of prophecy, the destruction of popery, or Paul's man of sin, is not to be effected but by the appearance of Christ himself; and this event may not be very distant. In short, all things seem to be approaching in an extraordinary manner, but by the operation of natural causes, to the very state that was foretold so many ages ago, as to precede those glorious and happy times, when "the whole earth" will be filled with "the knowledge of the Lord;" when there will be, though in fact here below, "new heavens and a new earth, in which will dwell righteousness."
In the mean time, Christianity will serve to discriminate the characters of men. It will in general be cheerfully embraced by the worthiest and the best of men, and it will be the means of making them worthier and better, while it will be rejected by the unworthy; and this rejection, accompanied with a less restrained indulgence of their appetites, and their giving with more eagerness into a variety of worldly pursuits, will tend to debase their character still more. And, from the knowledge that I have of men, it is evident to me that this is the case in fact.
That Christianity should have this twofold effect is not extraordinary. It is necessarily the case, in the wise plan of Providence, with every other means of virtuous improvement. Neither prosperity nor adversity are ever sent in vain, never leaving any man as they found him, but always making him either better or worse. Prosperity may either make a man more grateful to God, and more benevolent to man; or it may make him proud, insolent, and unfeeling; and adversity may either make him humble and resigned, or fretful, peevish, and malevolent.
The intelligent Christian will also see a valuable purpose answered by the present prevalence of infidelity. It is a striking fulfilment of the prophecies of our Saviour; who, though he foretold that his church should never fail, likewise intimated that, at his second coming, he should not find much faith (or a general belief and expectation of his coming) in the earth. It is likewise a confirmation of what the apostles have written concerning the apostacy of the latter days. In the mean time, the prevalence of infidelity is the most efficacious means of purifying our religion from the abuses and corruptions which at present debase it; and especially of overturning the civil establishments of Christianity in all Christian countries, whereby the kingdom of Christ has been made a kingdom of this world, having been made subservient to the corrupt policy of men, and in every respect the reverse of what it originally was.
Thus are unbelievers employed by Divine Providence to reform the Christian church. They will do it far more effectually than its friends would have done; and this will pave the way for its universal prevalence hereafter. Thus the corruptions and abuses of Christianity produce infidelity; and this infidelity is the means, in the wise order of Providence, of the complete cure of those corruptions and abuses, with only a temporary and partial injury to that religion, of which they are so great an incumbrance,
DUTY OF CHRISTIANS RESPECTING THE PRESENT PREVALENCE OF INFIDELITY.
In this state of the open rejection of Christianity by so many persons of the most conspicuous characters, it is the peculiar duty of every Christian to make the most open profession of his religion, without being moved by the apostacy of ever so great a number, or the obloquy or ridicule to which he may be exposed on that account; remembering the awful denunciation of our Saviour, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words — of him also will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels."
In order to make this open profession of Christianity to the most advantage, it is necessary that Christians should assemble for the purpose of public worship, though in the smallest numbers; letting it be known that there is such worship, and that others may attend if they please. A Christian who is not known to be such, except by the general uprightness of his conduct, will no doubt be respected, but not as a Christian. It will not be known on what principles he acts, and therefore others will be but little wiser or better by his means. But a Christian church, a number of persons regularly meeting as such, to encourage and edify one another, reading the Scriptures, and administering Christian ordinances, is, as our Saviour said, "a city set on a hill," which "cannot be hid ;" and when our light thus shines before men, others will not only see our good works, but also the principles from which they proceed, and thus be led to glorify our Father who is in heaven. For the same,reason, when a spurious and corrupt Christianity is most prevalent, the more intelligent Christians should separate themselves, and form other societies for public worship, that unbelievers may have an opportunity of judging between them, and not be led to take it for granted that there is no Christianity, but such as they perhaps justly reject.
Every Christian should, as far as possible, make himself master of the arguments in favor of his religion, that he may appear not to be governed by a principleof implicit faith, but, as the apostle Peter says, "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him." And the main argument for the truth of Christianity (but from the discussion of which all unbelievers have hitherto shrunk) is very plain and intelligible. It is the certain belief of the great facts on which it is founded, by those who must have known the truth of the case, and who were most nearly interested to ascertain it. If, on such undeniable evidence, it be true, that Christ wrought real miracles, that he died and rose from the dead, the Christian religion is true; and we may depend upon it that, according to his repeated declarations, he will come again, to raise all the dead, to judge the world, and to give to every man according to his works, (which is all that is of most consequence in Christianity,) whatever unbelievers may find to object to the system in other respects.
But we should most carefully bear in mind, that in the defence of Christianity, as in our whole conduct, we should show a disposition worthy of it. Besides that uniform superiority of mind to this world, which removes us to the greatest distance from every thing mean and base; besides that spirit of habitual devotion and universal benevolence which raises the human character to the highest pitch of moral excellence, (of the most important elements of which, unbelievers, who have not the enlarged views that Christianity opens are necessarily destitute,) let our behaviour towards
unbelievers themselves be the reverse of what theirs generally is towards Christians, and which is so conspicuous in the writings of Voltaire and others. Let there be nothing in it of their sarcastic turn of mind, which implies both contempt and malevolence. Let it be with that meekness and benevolence which the apostles so strongly recommended. (1 Peter, iii. 15; 2 Tim. ii. 25.) Let every thing we say on the subject, or do with respect to it, discover the greatest good-will and friendly concern for those who differ from us, though in a matter of so much consequence. Let us consider them as persons who are unhappily misled by false views of things, and whom, if they be of a candid disposition, ajusterview will set right; but whom an angry or contemptuous opposition would irritate and alienate more than ever.
Let us regard Christianity itself as only a means of virtue and moral improvement, and therefore let us rejoice if infidelity do not (as, however, it is too apt to do), lead men into vice. Unbelievers may be men of decent and valuable characters, though destitute of the more sublime virtues which give the greatest dignity to human nature, and fit them in a more eminent manner for the peculiar employment, and the peculiar happiness, of a future state. Let us also indulge the pleasing hope, that hereafter, though not at present, their minds, if not essentially depraved, wanting only that farther light which will irresistibly burst upon them hereafter, they will be every thing that we can wish for them; and therefore that, though we differ at present, we shall sometime hence rejoice together. We are all brethren, children of the same Father; and though differing ever so much in other respects, should regard and love one another as such. Besides, how can we show our superiority or greater comprehension of mind, arising from a habit of attending to great and distant objects and looking beyond ourselves, but by greater meekness, forbearance, candor, and benevolence towards men; as well as by greater resignation, and habitual devotion with