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THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD.
Christianity does not operate as a charm. The use of it does not resemble that of a badge, or a certificate, to entitle a man to any privilege. It is of no use but so far as it enters into the sentiments, contributes to form the habits, and directs the conduct of men; and to do this, it must really occupy the mind, and engage its closest attention: so that the maxims of it may instantly occur the moment that they are called for; and therefore in whatever it be that the true Christian and the mere man of the world really differ, the difference could not fail to appear. If there was any gratification or pursuit, that did not suit the Christian character, though others might indulge in it without scruple, and despise all who did not; the true Christian would be unmoved by such examples, or such ridicule. His habitual fear of God, and his respect for the commands of Christ, would at all times render him superior to any such influence. Whatever his Christian principles called him to do, or to suffer, he would be at all times ready to obey the call.
For any principles to have their practical influence, they must at least be familiar to the mind, and this they cannot be unless they be voluntarily cherished there, and be dwelt upon with pleasure, when other objects do not necessarily obtrude themselves. Consider, then, how many objects are perpetually occupying the minds of men in the present state of things in the Christian world, and how forcible their hold is upon them, and consequently, how difficult it must be to prevent their all-prevailing influence, to the exclusion of that of Christianity.
The age in which we live, more than any that have preceded it, may be said to be the age of trade and commerce. Great wealth is chiefly to be acquired by this means. It is, at least, the most expeditious way of acquiring a fortune, with any regard to the principles of honor and honesty. But to succeed to any great extent in mercantile business of any kind, especially now that such numbers of active and sensible men are engaged in the same, a man must give almost his whole attention to it, so that there will be little room for any thing else to occupy his mind. If he do not literally, in the language of Scripture "rise up early," and " sit up late," it will occupy his thoughts when his head is upon his pillow. His anxiety will often keep him awake. Even at that season of rest he will be considering whether it will be prudent to make this or that purchase, whether this or that man may be safely trusted, whether there will not be too much hazard in this or that undertaking, and a thousand things of this nature. If such a person's business allow him any leisure he is fatigued, and wants amusement, and cannot bear any thing that makes him serious. He therefore engages in parties of pleasure, and various entertainments, that, even more than business, exclude all thoughts of religion. And in this course of alternate business and mere amusement or feasting, do many men of business proceed day after day, and year after year, till Christianity is as foreign to their thought as if they had been heathens.
If the man of business have any turn for reading, and that not for mere amusement, it is history, or politics, something relating to the topics of the day, but not the Bible that he reads. To this, if he have not read at school, many a man of business is an utter stranger; and though in this book, God himself speaks to men, concerning their most important interests, their duties here, and their expectations hereafter, they will not listen even to their Maker. On Sundays, which the laws of most Christian countries prevent men from giving to business, many never go to any place of Christian
worship; but to relieve themselves from the fatigues of the week, make that their day of regular excursion, in company with persons of similar occupations; and their conversation, if not irreligious and profane, is at least on topics altogether foreign to religion.
# * * The times in which we live may, in a very remarkable degree, be said to be the age of politics, and, from the very extraordinary state of the world, it is in some degree necessarily so. Greater events are now depending than any that the history of any former age can show; and the theory and practice of the internal government of countries, the circumstances that tend to make governments stable, and the people prosperous and happy, concerning which there is endless room for difference of opinion, occupy the thoughts of all men who are capable of any reflection. No person can even read the common newspaper, or see any mixed company, without entering into them. He will, of course, form his own opinion of public men and public measures; and if they be different from those of his neighbours, the subjects will be discussed, and sometimes without that temper which the discussion of all subjects of importance requires. Consequently, the subject of politics, in the present state of things, is with many as much an enemy to religion as trade and commerce, or any other pursuit by which men gain a livelihood. Many persons who read, find nothing that interests them but what relates to the events of the time or the politics of the day.
This state of things might lead men to look to the hand of God, and a particular providence, which is evidently bringing about a state of things far exceeding in magnitude and importance, any thing that the present or any former generation of men has seen. And a person of an habitually pious disposition, who regards the hand of God in every thing, will not take up a newspaper without reflecting that he is going to see what God has wrought; and considering what it is that he is apparently about to work. To him, whatever wishes he may, from his imperfect view of things, indulge himself in, (which, however, will always be with moderation and submission,) all news is good news. Every event that has actually taken place, as it could not have been without the permission (which is in fact the appointment) of God, he is persuaded is that which was most fit and proper for the circumstances, and will lead to the best end; and though for the present it may be calamitous, the final issue, he cannot doubt, will be happy.
But mere men of the world look no farther than to men, though they are no more than instruments in the hand of God; and consequently, as the events are pleasing or displeasing to them, promising or unpromising, their hopes and fears, their affections or dislikes, are excited to the greatest degree; so as often to banish all tranquillity of mind and cool reflection. And certainly, a mind in this state is not the proper seat of religion and devotion. All the thoughts of such persons are engaged, and their whole minds are occupied by objects, which not only exclude Christianity, but such as inspire a temper the very reverse of that of a Christian, which is peculiarly meek, benevolent, even to enemies, and heavenly-minded, — a disposition of mind which we should in vain look for in the eager politician of these times. # » #
In this state of things can we wonder at the progress of infidelity 1 Those who are entire strangers to it, see that it has little influence on the hearts and lives of those with whom they converse; so that whether it be true or false, they think it to be of little consequence, and not worth the trouble of a serious investigation. And many persons who had nominally Christian parents, giving no more serious attention to Christianity than they see their parents and others give to it; observing none of its exercises, or only in the most superficial manner; seldom attending public worship; never reading the Scriptures, or any book relating to religion, either explaining its evidences, or enforcing its duties, which they find to interfere with their inclinations, get a dislike to tb»J subject; and in this state of mind a mere cavil or a jest, such as are to be found in the writings of Voltaire and other modern unbelievers, has the force of argument. With many persons, too, in the upper ranks of life, Christianity being the belief of the common people, on whom they look down with contempt, has more weight in their rejection of it than they will acknowledge, or than they may even be aware of themselves.
Now, as I observed before, Christianity, though not absolutely and expressly rejected, is of no use, unless it influence the temper of our minds and our conduct in life; if it lays no restraint on the love of pleasure, the love of gain, or the pursuits of ambition, but leaves men as worldly-minded in all respects as those who never heard of it; as much as if they had never heard of that future state which is brought to light by it, and which in the gospel is held up as a constant and most interesting object of attention and contemplation, to all Christians. We should never forget that religion is only a means to a certain end; and if we do not make this use of it, it would have been better for us never to have had it, or to have known it; since, then, we should have had one talent less than we now have to be accountable for. And if it be true that God has revealed his will to men, and sent messenger after messenger to promote the virtue and happiness of his rational offspring, he knew that such an extraordinary dispensation was necessary for us, and we cannot be innocent if we neglect to attend to it, and to make the proper use of it; unless we be so situated as never to have heard of it, • * * And certainly it requires no small degree of fortitude and resolution to appear so singular, as a sincere and zealous Christian must sometimes do, among persons of a different character. He must be content to be thought righteous over much; to be considered as a man of a weak mind, and devoid of spirit, and of those qualities which recommend men to the admiration of the world. For though virtue, as it is commonly understood, has the sanction of general estimation, and