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bow themselves beneath it, and, as supplication and thanksgiving go up, they feel the sanctity of the place, and take the attitude of devotion. Nay, they give tokens into which hypocrisy can even less easily enter than into these, that they are sincere. They combine and use effort for the maintenance of these institutions. They support these forms. Wealth counts out something from its treasures ; avarice unlocks its griping hand ; toiling poverty sets apart the precious mite from its scanty earnings ; comfortable independence makes generous bestowments ; — all to uphold and perpetuate these institutions. And now, why? Why is it? Men are not wont to make sacrifices, and yield up their resources, without cause. Some cause there must be to move and actuate thus the sober and sturdy heart of practical, thrifty, gain-getting humanity. The only rational explanation of the matter is, that in these same institutions is felt to be embodied a vital truth. When we heed them thus, then, and sustain them, and honor them, we do an act that has meaning in it, and a weighty meaning. We commit ourselves ; and the thing to which we are committed is no less a thing than the Christian life, Christian obedience, a religious spirit living and beating in the heart, and shining out in all virtuous, self-sacrificing endeavours. We admit by these practices, and in a thousand ways, that Christianity is true. Then, if it is true, we are bound to heed its whole message, and take home to ourselves its vast and mighty instructions. We must study its commandments; we must listen to its teachings ; we must be renewed, purified, and saved by its spiritual influences. It must be a personal concern working in
tensely upon our souls, and regenerating our affections. The general religion of the community is not to be enough for us ; the popular virtue is not to exempt us from individual virtue ; there can be no public salvation, except through the salvation from sin of each single soul. If the Gospel means any thing distinctly, and declares any thing intelligibly, it is this. If it is a reality at all, then it enjoins upon us the necessity of personal righteousness and a spiritual faith in every heart and life. And that it is a reality, we are admitting, as I have shown, by our daily conduct. What then remains for us, but to resolve and to strive with new earnestness, by communion with our Master, and trust in God, and struggles against temptation, to be truer to our heavenly calling and our immortal destiny ; to walk in newness of life and be alive, indeed, to righteousness; to be brought into harmony with that law of the spirit of life in Christ, which shall make us free from the law of sin and death?
I can perceive but two other courses to be taken. We may hard-heartedly and shamelessly confess that all our apparent deference to religious observances, all our church-going and church-supporting, is but a cold mockery ; that it is done, from no regard to any supposed sacredness in it, or any revelation or presence of Divinity behind it, merely to be seen of men, or to enact a solemn farce, or to gratify an irreverent caprice, -all a trifling frivolity, a hollow pretence, a sheer lie. But this none of us is ready to believe. We have too much confidence, I hope, in the providence of God and in the nature of that humanity that is formed in his image.
Then, the other resort is to assume the principle that
the external performance of such rites, the mere acting of the part, is all that Christianity requires or intends, and that the institution has no reference to the spiritual nature whatever, and no basis in the soul. But this statement, brought in its naked shape before the understanding, will be found to be about as difficult to be accepted, I suppose, as the last. We shall not be able to grant it a moment, with unblushing countenance, - that this churchgoing, this handling and tasting of sacraments, this uncovering the head, this kneeling and moving the tongue, is the beginning and the end of religious duty ; that it has all no farther and deeper purpose than to exhibit a pompous parade. We are not ready to go back, surely, to the worst mistakes of the fifteenth century ; to plunge ourselves into the blackest corruptions and the shallowest impositions of the age of Pope Alexander the Sixth and his inhuman son ; to admit that the mumbling of unintelligible sounds, and the burning of wax-candles, and the changing of vestments, and the carrying about of images, and the lifting into the air of a wafer of flour, and bowing and crossing the body, - that these things comprise the whole circle of Christian duties, while men may grovel in basest immorality for a price in money, and buy pardon and indulgence in iniquity beforehand. The world has grown too old for this, and we rejoice that it has. Then the only frank, honorable, consistent course to be taken is, to own that Christianity is fairly dealt by only when it is welcomed into the heart ; to show by living examples that its just work is fulfilled only when it converts and keeps the entire man to holiness. We have no right to cry out in horror when these ancient institutions -No. 235.
are openly attacked and set at naught, if their legitimate effects are not wrought out in the secrecy of our own breasts, and the recesses of our own characters. Nor is it a manly or a decent choice to seek to get the credit of perpetuating the visible outside body of the church, tasting never a drop of her spiritual nourishment, giving never an impulse of strong exertion to her real, internal activity.
There are still other and perhaps less observable signs, that show how generally the common practices and common expressions of mankind take for granted the propriety of nominal Christianity. Now nominal Christianity is either a superstition, or a hypocritical pretence, or else it proves the truth of the Christian idea. But mankind would not probably be quite willing to be arraigned either for gross dishonesty or absurd self-deception. What follows, then, but that nominal Christianity is a conclusive argument for actual and personal Christianity ?
IV. Most of us would say, undoubtedly, that those are the best thinkers on the subject, who pronounce the greatest agent of human improvement to be the New Testament. We call that the best philosophy of civilization, which makes civilization the child of Christian faith. We look on the present flourishing aspect of the nations, their enterprise, their industrial achievements, their allconquering physical science, and ascribe it all, or chiefly, to Christianity. Our happy social condition, and even our political advantages, we trace up to the same great
In our systems of education, in schools and universities, we seek to enthrone our religion as the supreme idea, the master-principle, the guiding light. Our whole population would detect the peril instantly, they would be shocked and affrighted, if they should hear there were no recognition of God or of Christ, no prayer, no worship, in our public and private seminaries of learning. And yet how much of such recognition, how much real and heartfelt prayer, how much "worship in spirit and in truth," is there in their own deep souls? They cannot certainly undertake to affirm, that the highest and proper end of Christian truth is to create a prosperous civilization, or carry along pleasantly the improvement of the intellect. They cannot think it a mere machine for constructing good governments; for providing us with better dwellings and clothes ; for building railroads and contriving ingenious novelties in the skill of manufacture ; for making discoveries to subdue material nature.
These are, of course, but its secondary results. Its primal energy is to be spent upon our souls, in planting the love of goodness there. If we confess its authority at all, we must take it as the renewing influence that is to cleanse, strengthen, expand, our weak, sinning, wandering spirits.
V. There are seasons, too, in the changing experience of each one of our lives, seasons of darker and more fearful import. There are times of loneliness and affliction, of pain and death, that try our endurance, and bend us down in bitter weeping and desolation. There are long hours of agonizing sickness, - hours of suspense, and watching, and fearful apprehension, for those who stand by the side of the sufferer, and see the life slowly loosening itself from the worn-out body. And then, afterwards, come often, and come to us all, -- for have not all been mourners? - the still lonelier days, that seem like years,