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DUTY OF CHRISTIANS RESPECTING THE PRESENT PREWALENCE 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 principle of 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 to us, 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. (I 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, a juster view 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
respect to God, and a greater command over our appetites and passions in general 7 We should ever bear in mind, that superior knowledge implies superior obligations. As to believe in a God, and yet live as without God in the world, is worse than being an atheist; so to profess Christianity, while its principles have no influence upon us, not improving our dispositions and conduct, is much worse than not to believe it at all. A profligate unbeliever is much more excusable than a worldlyminded, immoral Christian, a Christian destitute of candor and benevolence. Christians surrounded by unbelievers, perhaps without any opportunity of attending public worship, and the received custom of the times excluding the mention of any thing relating to religion in conversation, should be careful to confirm and strengthen their own faith by a voluntary attention to the principles and evidences of it. Faith, as Dr. Hartley has shown, admits of degrees; and between a merely rational faith (or the simple assent of the mind to a speculative truth), and practical faith (or that cordial reception of it which warms the heart and influences the conduct), the difference is almost infinite. The former, as it respects Christianity, is of very little value, as we see in the generality of Christians, who being wholly immersed in the affairs of the world, and giving little or no attention to their Christian principles, are little, if at all, the better for them. Nay, they are the more criminal on this account; being possessed of so great a treasure, and making no proper use of it. The latter only is that faith which the apostle says, works by love, which purifies the heart and reforms the life; and it cannot be formed and kept up in the actual circumstances of life, without great and unremitted attention. A person, therefore, who wishes to be a Christian to any good purpose, must make it his daily practice to read the Scriptures, and other books which tend to interest him in their contents. Much of the time that his necessary business, whatever it be, allows for reading, he will with peculiar satisfaction devote to this; and he will not satisfy himself with saying that, having once read the Scriptures and well enough remembering their general contents, he has no occasion to look into them any more. The consequence of the frequent reading of the Scriptures, and books relating to Christianity, will be, that his religion, or something relating to it, will be the subject to which his thoughts will naturally turn, whenever the business of life does not call them another way; and even in the midst of business he will have many moments of pleasing and serious reflection, which will have a happy effect in preserving that equanimity which is so desirable amidst the vicissitudes of this life, preventing undue elation in prosperity, and depression in adversity; from that sense of the wise and impartial providence of God superintending all events, and the happy termination to which all things are tending, which this practice will naturally impress upon his mind. If a Christian have any friends, whose views of things are similar to his own, he will naturally resort to them, and they will strengthen each other's faith, hope, and joy, by conversing on the subject of religion; as persons of the same sentiments and views in politics, inflame their ardor in a common cause by frequent intercourse and conversations. I am even not altogether without hope, that this open rejection of Christianity by such great numbers, and the contempt with which it is treated by them, will operate like persecution of other kinds, and animate the zeal of its rational and steady friends; and also, that this zeal may lead to methods of extending the knowledge of Christianity and its evidences, to others who are but imperfectly acquainted with them, which may end in the rechristianizing of the world, and that on principles better founded, and therefore more stable than ever. But to effect this desirable end, it is necessary, that Christians make their religion a primary object, and consider every