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has for a long time, been received. This is indeed true but it militates nothing with the preceding assertion, which is, that "when this religion is introduced into a community or nation, it produces a moral reformation, commensurate with the attention it receives, and to the degree, in which it is suffered to influence the character." That christianity has abrogated many national customs, which were hostile to virtue, and introduced others of an opposite tendency, is too obvious to be denied. That it has raised the standard of morality in every nation, where its authority has been acknowledged, may be asserted with equal confidence. Of this no man can be doubtful, who contemplates those enormities, which have been already alluded to, as practised among the heathen; which were not only tolerated, but justified by public opinion, and some of them by established laws. But christianity is a religion of choice, and not of compulsion. It is not answerable for those, who do not yield to its authority. Its pre-eminence over every other religion is sufficiently shown, if its moral tendency is superi or to theirs; and if individuals and nations are distinguished for virtue in proportion, as they are sensible to its motives, and obedient to its precepts. Now, to any person, who has read the New Testament, an appeal may be safely made, as to its moral tendency, and as to the dispositions and behavior of any man, or body of men, who should, with conscience and good fidelity, adopt its principles as the rule of life.
We next proceed to show, as was intended, that the effect of christianity has been displayed in converting many among nominal christians from a life either of open vice or religious insensibility.
Previous presumption against this will be diminished, or entirely removed by a recurrence to the early history of the church.
St. Paul has informed us, as to the change, which religion produced in the character of some,who were afterwards members of the Corinthian church. Having enumerated idolaters,
effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extor tioners, he subjoins, "and such were some of you; but ye are washed; but ye are sanctified; but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God.
As public morals, in a christian community, are far better, than they were before the introduction of christianity, it is not to be expected, that its visible effect on character should ordinarily be as striking among ourselves, as it was in the instances just cited. Religion imposes restraint, in a greater or less degree, on every individual of a christian nation. It produces the appearance of convalescence, in a thousand instances, where the source of the disease is not removed. It renders the maniac less wild and ferocious, even where the empire of reason is never regained. On the other hand, a real change of character, by which I mean renovation of heart, may be effected, either at so early a period, or under such circumstances, as to prevent the change from being im mediately obvious, either to the subject of it, or to those around him. Still it is a fact, perfectly well established, that in those christian countries, where the doctrines of religion are fairly exhibited,-in our own country, at every period of its history, the gospel has effected, in the character of great numbers, an obvious and permanent change. The fact, now mentioned, is of as palpable a kind, and as fairly exposed to observation, as any appearances of nature, or as any of those events, which are recorded in civil history. Persons, who have been as little restrained by the moral precepts of christianity, as attached to its appropriate sentiments and duties, have manifested an entire change of taste, habits, and character; engaging ardently, and from inclination, in pursuits, which they previously viewed, not merely with indifference, but with strong aversion.
But a change of character may be distinctly visible in persons, who were never chargeable with habits of vice. Many of this descriptic are so conscious, that their characters are not formed according to the standard of christianity, that they would be surprised, and perhaps offended,
were they suspected of having imbibed the christian temper. In the minds of many individuals among this class of nominal believers, a change has been produced, scarcely less evident to an attentive observer, than that, which we have just described. New views have been obtained as to the condition and responsibility of man, the obligations of virtue, and the whole christian economy.
That the gospel is entitled to praise for having produced a great melioration of temper and habits in some men of a character decidedly vicious, will, perhaps, be granted, without seeming reluctance. Such persons need to become, in almost all things, the reverse of what they now are. They ought, indeed, to be made "new creatures." In reference to such, who set every principle of virtue at defiance, “old things" should indeed "be done away,and all things should become new." But you are not ready, perhaps, to allow, that it redounds to the honor of christianity, to have been instrumental of producing sorrow, penitence and a broken heart, in persons, whose characters have exhibited nothing peculiarly defective, or reprehensible. In these instances, it may be, religion appears to you more obtrusive, than benefi cent,-interposing a severe authority, where nothing was wanting, but mild correctives.
To this complaint against religion, I would, by no means, reply with petulance, or precipitation. If the complaint is well founded, it will endure rational discussion. But if it shuns examination, it should not be reiterated.
What, permit me to ask, are the prominent traits, in the life of a rational man? Are not these, that he prefers the greater to the less; that his regard to objects is apportioned to their intrinsic value;-that good characters are preferred to bad; and, that, among the former, those are most loved, whose goodness is pre-eminent? If these are sound principles, you cannot be misled by any inferences, to which they fairly give rise. From the first of these; namely, the greater is to be preferred to the less, it follows, that no man lives a rational life, who does no make the salvation of his
soul an object of principal attention. That this is done by all men, who are chargeable with no very distinct breaches of morality, will not, I presume, be asserted. It is a fact, too obvious to require proof, that even among those, in whose deportment civil laws find nothing to censure, thousands have almost as little reference to a future state, as if the soul's immortality were not an article of their creed. Far from feeling anxiety as to salvation, they would consider such anxiety as evincing a mind, either inflamed by enthusiasm, or darkened by superstition. Among even those, therefore, whose morals are in no high degree exceptionable, there are many, who cannot be said to live conformably to the dictates of reason. Our language is, indeed, much too feeble for the occasion. For what can be more dangerous; what a greater outrage on all principles of prudence and rational self love, than for a being, conscious of possessing immortal powers,-a mind, vastly capacious both of pleas ure and pain, to concentrate his affection on a world, which he may this night be called to abandon, and contemn that immeasurable existence, which religion has taught him to expect?
It is another trait in the character of a rational man, that his estimate of objects should be apportioned to their value. Is this proof of intellectual sanity wanting to none, but those whose lives are polluted with gross profligacy? Consider the nature of those discoveries, which religion makes,—their purity, their grandeur, and awful sublimity. Consider what is implied in sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God;" in being associated with "an innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect:"-in being admitted to the "presence of Jesus, the Mediator of the new.covenant, and of God, the Judge of all." In addition to this, consider what is implied in the loss of the soul,-banishment from God,-in " being punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power!" Now let what is habitually passing in the mind, and displaying itself in the
character of innumerable inoffensive persons of either sex, and of every condition, be compared with that train of thinking and feeling, which corresponds with those solemn, commanding, and, (if I may be allowed to speak so,) those absorbing objects, which, by the gospel of Christ, are forced upon our observation ;-and then let any man determine, whether merely an abstinence from palpable vice necessarily implies a character, founded on the basis of reason.
It is further implied in the character of a rational man, that in his estimate of moral beings, the good should be preferred to the bad, and that among the former, those should be most highly esteemed, whose goodness is pre-eminent.— One part of the proposition results from the other. If it is reasonable to love virtue, they are to be most loved, in whom virtue is most conspicuous. The virtue, that is, the holiness of the Supreme Being, is transcendent and perfect. He is therefore, to be regarded, not merely with the approbation of the intellects, but with the highest affection of the heart; agreeably to the words of our Saviour, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." Now, is a principle of divine love as extensive in its influence on hu man character, as it is rational in itself? But none, in whom this principle is not predominant, can be said to live rationally.
It has now been proved, I conceive, that many, besides such as have rendered themselves conspicuous for vice, may yet need an alteration of character, a change of heart, or spiritual renovation. Nor is any thing more common than to find individuals of decent deportment and many interesting qualities, who are conscious, nevertheless, of not being actuated by christian motives,-of not having imbibed the christian spirit. That power, which belongs to the christian religion;-that energy, of which our Saviour speaks, when he says, concerning his own doctrines, "They are spirit and they are life," is therefore, as truly excellent, though less observable, when it produces affections of piety,