Page images
PDF
EPUB

soon.

It is the will of our Creator that we should approach to perfection through suffering, but we cannot for a moment suppose that our sufferings are for their own sake acceptable in the sight of Him whose name is Love. • Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. May we not interpret this, because they will be comforted—blessed, not for the mourning, but that it has given them a facility for receiving joy ?

With this view of the manner in which suffering conduces to perfection of character, we can never be harrassed by a fear that we are interfering with the discipline of Providence by receiving consolation readily ourselves, or bestowing it too freely upon others. In sorrow, as well as in other states, the mind is liable to be injured by being encouraged to indulge itself in false pleasures; but if we be certain that the sources of enjoyment we point out are the true well-springs of happiness, we cannot offer their refreshing waters too earnestly or too

Neither is there the least ground for apprehension that any danger can accrue from the attempt to lessen the aggregate of evil. It by no means follows that if suffering diminish, the perfection which cometh by suffering will diminish also. If it could be shown that there is no pang which does not produce a corresponding degree of virtue, there might be cause for such a fear; but that is not the case. Suffering, especially if it do not meet with alleviation and sympathy, may lead to recklessness and depravity, rather than to perfection.

When all that philanthropy can do has been achieved, there will, from the very constitution of man, remain enough of pain and sorrow to answer the ends for which these evils were admitted into the plan of Providence. A just sense of the efficacy of suffering will prepare us, not only to submit to the Divine will, but to acquiesce in it; yet it can never lead us to doubt that it is our highest duty, as well as our highest happiness, to mitigate suffering wherever it is found.

There is not, in the whole list of Christian charities, one so difficult to fulfil perfectly as that of affording consolation to the bereaved. We may be able to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but to those who suffer the fever-thirst of the affections, we know not what to offer, even from the fountain of love. The wretched in heart require to be soothed, allured, invited back to happiness; and blessed is he who can give the welcome with the gentlest hand and the most touching voice.

It adds not a little to the difficulty of relieving sorrow, that its ravages are so often made in secret; and, if we would meet it where it may most need alleviation, we must learn to discern its vestiges where a casual observer might see only the evidences of sin. It is often the hidden cause of that irritability, distrust, and recklessness, which we are more inclined to censure than to compassionate; yet even where it has had such effects, it may still have left the mind in a state to be led on by kindness to that improvement it was intended to produce.

The work of consoling the afflicted is an arduous and delicate task; it is also a glorious one. If it be true that the forbearance, sympathy, and attention, which are shown to all, but especially to the sorrowing, by every kindly spirit, are often the means by which sorrow is made a blessing, then are the best affections of our nature instruments which God unites with the influence of his Spirit in the work of bringing his children to perfection.

If our own afflictions have taught us how to minister to our fellow-beings, this is one of those mighty sources of enjoyment which, perhaps, nothing but suffering could have revealed to us. We cannot hope that while we are mortal creatures we can become perfect, even through suffering; but if we have learned that from the treasury of our affections, it is more blessed to give than to receive,' we have tasted of the spring from which cometh perfection; then has our Heavenly Father made us so far kindred with his own Spirit, that, like him, we receive our happiness from the act of conferring happiness upon others.

S. J. W.

SOBER THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF THE TIMES, ADDRESSED TO

THE UNITARIAN COMMUNITY.

(Continued from p. 445.) At no period of the world was it ever more important to insist on the necessity of thus sustaining the institutions of the Gospel. Never were they more endangered, or their holy influences more put in jeopardy, than by the hazardous experiments, and rash and worldly confidence, and various divisions, of these unsettled and broken times. The agitations of society have disturbed the foundations and weakened the strength of the churches in all parts of the land, and threatened some of them even with extinction. In many humble and impoverished parishes, numbers are few, means are small, and the Gospel is costly. It is an alarming problem yet to be solved, what shall be done to keep alive the fire on those lesser altars; and now that the law has forsaken the church-door in this as well as in the other States, a new era has arrived, when the wise must contrive how the Gospel shall be supported among the thinly scattered and feeble, so that its light shall continue to burn, and our children of the coming generations shall be born to the enjoyment of Christian worship. Let those who are able, devise; let the favoured and wealthy be ready to contribute ; let all ponder and pray; and God forbid, that, through our remissness, one cottage shall remain upon our blessed fields, whose inmates are beyond the reach of the Sabbath-bell and the pulpit exhortation. There are some who do not feel this aright; some, blessed by God with property as well as liberty, who fancy that both are for themselves only, and who meanly withdraw from the support of his worship. There are congregations made up, in considerable part, of men who are more willing to live without the preaching of the Word, than to tax themselves so much for the means of salvation as they do for sugar in their tea, or for needless ornaments on the dress of their daughters. This is a crying enormity. No one who values religion, can refuse the little sacrifice which would be necessary for its support. Better give up half the luxuries of civilized life, than suffer the public means of religion to decay. Those luxuries may be spared, and no suffering will ensue.

But if religious institutions cease, barbarism and profaneness will come over the land, and the happy charities of life perish. And certainly in these days of abundance and growing ease—when persecution is known but in name, and suffering for Christ's sake is a thing only of history—it is an inconceivable meanness to refuse the little self-denial which would enable one to double the former parish-tax, and, instead of this, to pay over to the dancing-master or the milliner, the few dollars which might ensure the preaching of the Gospel.

The avarice and selfishness of the nominal, the worldly, the indifferent, and the unbelieving, and the subdivisions of sectarian zeal which multiply churches by dividing worshippers, have seriously affected the regular means of supporting religious institutions. But what then? They must none the less—rather the more—be supported; and it presents a fresh opportunity to the faithful to evince their attachment to the truth by some extra effort in its behalf. Many have so regarded it, and have met the emergency with alacrity-have exhibited the most praiseworthy readiness, and poured out bountifully to satisfy the demands of the times. Let them receive a hearty tribute of applause for their faithful work. But let a decided and open expression of disapprobation and contempt be awarded to those selfish worldlings, who count their shillings more dear than instruction, and can afford themselves any luxury but that of going to church. Let a severer rebuke await those arrogant and despicable impostors, (of whom it is said there are some, though surely they must be few,) who make a boast of their enlightenment, and presume to take on their lips the advocacy of liberal truth, and yet close their hearts against all appeals for aid in spreading and sustaining the light they glory in. Truly, the light of such men is but darkness-darkness that may be felt. They are strangers to the truth which they profess to know; and, loud as they talk, if they could have their way, it would cease in another generation to shine upon world.

It is not easy to use a gentler word in reference to those, who, with the same confidence in their own superior light, yet absent themselves one half the time from the worship which they support. These are mostly your luxurious citizens—your genteel religionists—who go to church for example's sake, and because religion is an excellent thing for the poor; who kneel on cushions of down, and confess their sins in all attitudes of languor and grace ;-great admirers of beautiful style and poetical imagery ;-—who divide their religious feelings between the sermon of the morning, and the dinner of the noon-day, and the con

the

[ocr errors]

versation or slumbers of the afternoon. This race of accommodating Christians is principally the growth of larger towns, and may be found in all our cities patronizing the fashionable church-no matter what the denomination may chance to be. It flourishes well among those whose weeks are given to amusement. It exhibits its striking sense of the contrast which should exist between religion and the world, by the crowded condition of its cotillion-rooms, and the emptiness of its churches. Doubtless it would be too much to expect of those who are wearied out with the pleasures of the week, that they should have spirit or strength to worship God as much on Sunday as common people who have no such weighty cares ; it would be unreasonable to require them in the afternoon to attend church, when they can hardly find time to get through their courses and drink their wine. In every great city there are a few congregations composed of these privileged personsthese lights of the world—these patterns and benefactors of society, who have made such advancement in religion, that it is wholly unnecessary for them to worship God on Sunday afternoon; and their ministers have the opportunity of looking without interruption directly upon the rich caparisons of their elegant pews. They would probably not think it perfectly fair that he also should leave the church, and disappoint the few who venture to do so vulgar a thing as keep him in countenance in the worship of God; he must adhere to the fashion of preaching all day, just as much as they to their fashion of leaving him to preach alone.

It unfortunately happens, that this practice, selfish and indecent as it is, and inconsistent with all right views of the object of public worship, is yet-alas, for the corrupting power of thoughtless fashion !—easily embraced by many, who not only mean well in general, but who rightfully make some pretensions to religion. But in vain will you look to see religion flourish where this vice is prevalent. In vain will you expect that those will do much or care much for its purity and influence, who manifest so little interest in its institutions—who statedly, purposely, habitually, allow themselves in that practice, which, if general, would be the overthrow of public religious observances. Let it be especially noted—as what concerns especially the topics before us—that in these days of progressive reform, when in religion, as in all things else, old customs cease to be revered, and a departure from them is thought to be of course an improvement—when,' liberty' being the watch-word, the multitude are easily made to fancy that constancy is bondage, and to suppose that they advance into light just in proportion as they recede from their fathers or their old-fashioned neighbours—under such circumstances, it is necessary that special effort be made to retain a sober reverence for the house of God and his worship; that, in fact, uncommon pains be taken in every possible way to strengthen the habit of regarding them as sacred and divine. We are lost-I speak with solemn deliberation-we are lost, and our power to benefit and adrance great principles is gone, whenever we shall encourage or permit the public means of religion to be slighted. And no more mistaken or false friend to the cause of human liberty and improvement can be found, than he, whose conduct in this respect makes men think that he personally feels no interest in it, and whose example directly tends but to quench that interest in others. The cause of Episcopacy never was much promoted by those splendid buildings in which the boasted liturgy

is read every Sunday afternoon to empty seats. Methodism never spread itself by the agency of men whose hearts allowed them to prefer a dinner to a sermon. It was not such men that introduced, or helped to introduce, the Gospel, or started the Reformation; and we may depend upon it, that those will have no share in the completion of that glorious Reformation, however they may boast, who cast personal slight on the worship and preaching by which it is to be brought about.

I am aware that all this applies to but a small class; but it serves none the less to illustrate my positions, and it may indirectly give admonition to others. I am aware also, that all this relates but to the means of religion; but without the means, who will venture to guarantee the end? There are, I know, a few mystical, speculative men, who are possessed with the fancy that not themselves only, but that the world, has outgrown these leading-strings; who make light of all instrumental help; and who thus-with a good, but most mistaken intent -virtually join the scoffer in sapping the foundations of religion. It is enough to give a passing word to this. It is the error and sickness of the times, threatening serious disasters; for where one thoughtful and safe man lays aside this wholesome attachment to institutions, instruments, and helps, weaker men will do it in multitudes, and will shelter their indolence, worldliness, and selfishness, like their more enlightened brethren, beneath the plea of a spirituality which needs not the nourishment of these beggarly elements. It is one of the perils of the times. Let the strong watchmen be awake to it. Let them not cease, day nor night, to cry out against it with a loud and alarming cry. Let them Buffer none to sleep under the fatal notion that religion will grow up of itself in their hearts, without the culture which God and nature have ordained; or that a great truth will prevail because it is great, without any care to guard and enforce it. Let them pour scorn on these puerile and superficial conceits. Let them strangle this idle and mischievous folly. 'Let them silence those who profanely pretend a special trust in God and his ways, while in practice they contemn his purposes and neglect the way of his commandment. If this great work for the perfection of Christianity and of men is to be done, it must be done by men, putting in operation the necessary means. If you do not take your share in it—no matter what your plea—you will share none of the honour promised to those who do it-you will taste the bitter shame ordained for those who hinder it. If you fancy yourself already too enlightened to require the further aid of times and ordinances, the greater cause for using and honouring them, that you may bring others to the same advanced state. If you are sure that the great cause is in triumphant progress, the greater the reason that you should not hold back, but, if you love it, should pursue the triumph and partake the gale. If you think it by any thing encumbered, hindered, thwarted, the greater the cause that you should be awake and active-removing obstacles, encouraging friends, and swelling the tide of men and measures which is to sweep away the impediments of the truth.

It will be said by some, . Let the people be truly interested in religion, and they will both support and attend its institutions. Make them religious—that is what you have to do; until then, you in vain call for their contributions, or expect them to be present in the church.' Undoubtedly, this would be a remedy for all backwardness. The truly

« PreviousContinue »