« AnteriorContinuar »
bors than others who are not allowed, or do not choose to claim, this reputation. Some one has said, — and there is certainly too much occasion for the remark,—that, though we hear such a person is a religious man, we have still to inquire, Is he an honest man? The idea is, that religion and moral goodness are regarded as different and distinct things, having no necessary connexion one with the other.
Another evil resulting from this mistaken view of religion, is, that it furnishes an opportunity for hypocrisy and counterfeits. It can be made a cloak to cover up and even recommend a character that is actually unworthy and dishonest. The religion which is now current in the world, may, with the greatest ease, be counterfeited; and we do fear that more of it in this spurious form is circulated, than of the genuine coin. Whilst religion is regarded as something distinct from actual goodness of heart and character, the profession may be assumed as a sort of passport to the confidence, favor, and honor of the public. Now, if religion were everywhere made to consist in purity of heart and in deeds of benevolence, there could be but little danger of impositions of this kind. The world, bad as it has been represented, and bad as it may really be, will always do homage to virtue, and will seldom judge amiss when it makes the conduct of individuals the rule of its opinion concerning them. When we judge a tree by its fruit, the judgment is always correct; but when we judge it by its foliage or its flowers, we often get deceived. Herein we perceive the excellency of our Saviour's rule, to judge the tree by its fruit, or to judge as to the religion of mankind, not by their professions, but by the actual good tliey do in society. 'Every one that doeth righteousness, is righteous, even as He is righteous.'
Another evil resulting from a religion of the passions, is, that it deals chiefly in the marvellous and the mysterious, and generates excitements and tumults in society, which leave people little time, and it may be as little inclination, to prosecute the domestic, social and relative duties of life. In this way, it not only supersedes the necessity of that genuine religion which consists in a faithful attention to the duties of life, but is indirectly at war with it. Men who decide and act under the influence of excitement. generally go beyond the proper sphere of duty. Those who give up to passion what was meant for the understanding, are in danger of becoming intoxicated, and then behaving unseemly.
Now, too much of the religion of the present day is the creature of excitement, the offspring of heated and inflated passions. Indeed, the passions are about the only mental properties which are addressed in the attempt to convert people to religion. The passion of fear, particularly, is operated upon by all the imaginary terrors which ingenuity can invent. And though St. John says, 'he that feareth is not made perfect in love,' that is, in religion; and that, ' fear hath torment;' modern religionists act as if fear was the only thing by which men can be made perfect in religion, and that a religion without ' torment' is nothing worth. No doubt a rational fear, a fear of what is really to be apprehended, a fear which understanding, and not the imagination, begets, may be profitable, if held under the restraints of reason and propriety. But frightened men seldom act under the influence of sound discretion. In religion, if anywhere, the mind should be free to investigate and act according to the dictates of a clear understanding. Here, if anywhere, extravagance and dissipation should find no countenance; for religion itself is a very serious and important concern. It requires calm, cool, deliberate thought and action.
Most men are fond of the marvellous, and have a propensity to some extreme. They are enamored with the relations of the wonderful and mysterious, and plain common sense they regard as hardly deserving attention. It is to this propensity, no doubt, that we are to trace the origin of those tumults which almost periodically arise in different parts of our country, and which sweep over the land like, what Dr. Beecher once honestly and pertinently denominated 'moral desolation.' Excitements of this sort, like excitements of almost all other kinds, are contagious. Especially is an excitement created by fear and terror, calculated to communicate itself, like the shock from an electric battery, to all kindred minds. There are mental as well as bodily contagions, and in their effects, the former are often as disastrous and fatal as the latter. We could put up with the existence of these mental disorders better, if the spiritual physicians were as anxious as are those whose profession it is to heal the diseases of the corporeal system, to arrest their progress and effect a cure. But strangely and unfortunately, such is not the fact. While in the one case, the physician applies all his skill to check the spread of the disease, and to cure, or mitigate its severity, in the other, none are thought deserving of the doctorate who do not regard it as a paramount duty to aid in extending the infection and inflaming the causes which contribute to its blackest type. Well would it be for society, would the ' physicians of souls' take a lesson from the physicians of bodies. We might then hope to see religion exist in a more healthy state among us. Instead of endeavoring to increase the fever, we should then find them applying something to cool and subdue it. As it is now, excitement is the order of the day; and the more violent and extravagant the better. In such a state of things, we cannot reasonably expect that real religion will flourish in the community.
To a candid and ingenuous mind, it is always painful to pass an unfavorable judgment on any class of people. Charity, which is a supreme law in Christian faith and morals, requires from us the most favorable opinion of others which facts will authorize. That most of the subjects of revivals, so called, are sincere and honest, we never had a disposition to doubt. At the same time, facts — palpable ones — are before the public, which compel us to fear, that the principal authors of these excitements are, too many of them at least, governed in their operations by selfish or sectarian considerations. We do fear that real, vital and practical goodness is made of less account in their calculation, than the gaining of numerical strength to rival parties and sects.
As one proof of this, we may remark, that when a new convert ' experiences religion,' we do not find that so much pains are taken by his spiritual tutors to induce him to go immediately forth to the honorable fulfilment of his long-neglected duties and obligations to his fellows, as to urge him forward into a connexion with the visible church. Having accomplished this, the great object seems to have been attained ; and being now secured in the fold, he is dieted to his new condition, and carefully chained to his place, whilst his shepherd saunters forth in quest of new proselytes. In due time, when the harvest is over, we see the religious journals filled with the wonderful accounts, not of the practical good which has been produced by the revival, but of the numbers who have joined the church. The numerical accessions obtained, are always called plainly, 'the fruits' of the excitement: a confession plain enough, that what are regarded as the chief good, the real ' fruits,' are the accessions which are made to a party.
If such are the motives, we hesitate not to say, they are dishonorable and unworthy. If revivals bear no better ' fruits' than the giving of strength to this or that party, we well may suspect their genuineness. The fruits of religion do not consist in party attachments and antipathies; in following after this man, and in avoiding and hating others. Far from this. They consist in practical goodness, in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, (Gal. v. 22, 23). When these fruits are not found, we are authorized, by the rule of Jesus Christ, to judge the tree corrupt and unprofitable.
We have remarked in another place, that a great deal is said in this age about religion. It is the subject of many a warm controversy, and the occasion of much bitterness and strife in society; often setting chief friends against each other, and sowing the seeds of discord in neighborhoods. And it has seemed strange to us, that it has not more frequently occurred to those concerned in such a religion, that the whole must be a deception and a counterfeit, whenever such fruits result from it. For it is impossible, in the nature of the thing, that real religion can be concerned in any effects like these.
But after all that is said and done about religion, is it not remarkable that people yet appear to be as much in the dark, as to what true religion is, as ever. Lo, here ! says one, Lo, there ! says another. A third points to the sanctuary, a fourth to the wilderness. Is it possible that people have never read a very full, plain and intelligible definition of religion, recorded in James i. 27? Or are they determined not to receive his exposition of this important word? This apostle, it seems to us, has put the question, as to what the real religion of the New Testament is, altogether beyond controversy. And what does he say it is? Let us hear: 'Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.' Need anything—can anything — be more plain and conclusive than this? Whence, then, all the controversy which has arisen on so intelligible and well-settled a subject?
We are sensible that such an explanation of religion as St. James has given, must be disagreeable to many warm tempered minds. It is, indeed, like a flood of cold waters poured upon a prairie of wildfire. Nevertheless, if we admit the apostle's authority, we must accept the definition, rational as it is, and suspicious as it may be to some minds on this account.
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, is benevolence. To keep one's self unspotted from the world, is uprightness of conduct. Benevolence, therefore, toward the afflicted and needy, and an unspotted character for uprightness, in itself, constitute the sum of religion, according to the apostolic sense of that important word. That such as are wedded to an impure and a denied religion, should be satisfied with a definition that so suddenly and so effectually puts to flight all their love of the marvellous and mysterious on the subject, is not to be expected. Not allowing it to be a test of Christian character in the individual, or a passport to Christian fellowship, it is not wonderful that they should cast it aside as altogether insufficient and unclean. It has nothing in it calculated to inflame the passions, or to draw the multitude away from the practical duties of life to run after those who are intent on making proselytes and building up a party. But those who would know and enjoy the benefits of pure and undefiled religion, will not be slow to accept the apostle's definition, and judge men to be religious only as they exhibit the deeds of benevolence and uprightness. This is the test of religion — we mean, of course, that which is pure and undefiled. All else we are safe in accounting spurious.
Would any know the power and enjoy the fruits of genuine religion? Let us, then, exhort them to maintain characters of benevolence and uprightness. Let them be satisfied with nothing short of actual, practical goodness. Depend upon it, nothing else,—not all the professions we may make, not all the outward service we may perform, will supply the place of this. And in the maintenance of such a character, though they may be denounced and disfellowshipped by others, they may be assured, not only of the approving voice of a good conscience, but also of the smiles and favor of Heaven. In the practical exercise of this religion they will merit the confidence of mankind, and secure the blessings of almighty God.
W. A. D.