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I. RELIGION MAY BE MOST SUCCESSFULLY PROPAGATED, WHERE IT IS PERFECTLY FRBE FROM ALL HUMAN AUTHORITY.
For, since religion has its seat in the soul, and is a matter of conviction and feeling, no man can possibly be a Christian, any farther than he voluntarily and heartily embraces the truth, and feels its sanctifying power.
But every man's heart rises in opposition to constraint. It is universally felt, that he who attempts to impose it, is doing what he has no right to do. And when even the truth itself is urged by human authority or force, it has to encounter not only the natural resistance of the corrupt heart, but the repugnance superadded by the absurd attempt to compel conviction and force the conscience. None can tell how much influence the church has lost by such preposterous measures.
Again ; whenever religion is shackled by human policy, there is always some entangling alliance between it and “the powers that be.” The state, for instance, engages to support the church : but it is on the condition that the church will submit to the authority of the state. Now, the rulers of this world, generally, have purposes of their own to accomplish, by means of religion : so far they support it ; but no farther. It enters not at all into their plans, to submit themselves and their greatness to the power of the gospel. Nor are they willing, that its divine authority over others should be pushed too far. Accordingly, the wily politician has always invented checks and balances, by which to lessen the force, and control the influence, of Christian doctrines, and ordinances, and teachers. The most solemn rites of religion, connected as they are with truths of the most affecting and awful character, have often been desecrated by an application to measures of state policy. The temporal head of the church prescribes the methods to be pursued for the promotion of piety : the officers of the church are appointed by patronage : no public prayers must be offered, no doctrine preached, but such as the ruling power has previously approved. Who does not see, that in this case, the main-spring of religious action is greatly weakened ?
But if the nature of the alliance between state and church is such, that none are too high for her discipline ; then every expedient, which long practice in the wiles of courts and stratagems of law can suggest, is resorted to for the purpose of corrupting doctrine, and destroying discipline : and the state is felt as an incubus on the bosom of the church, causing her life-blood to stagnate, and difusing a benumbing influence through every member.
The whole history of religion supports these positions ; and fully warrants the general conclusion, that although superstition may greatly prevail, where no religious liberty is enjoyed, yet evangelical piety most abounds where the freedom of religion is most fully secured.
But, while we“ prize beyond all price ' this privilege, we wish to be fully understood, when we speak of freedom of conscience. It is not the right to cast off all religious obligation, and live as we list; the right to set at naught the authority of God, and renounce allegiance to Heaven ; to take from his parental throne the Father of all; to make the universe without object or end, and man a being without hope, or reason of existence;-in a word, it cannot mean a right to have no conscience at all.–Nevertheless, it is admitted, that if one resolves so to degrade his own nature, and blight all his best hopes, and suppress all his finest feelings, he can do so;—and if no overt act of his disturb the order and peace of society, there is no rightful authority in man, to inflict punishment to restrain these baleful opinions. Religion disowns all carnal weapons for arresting even these portentous evils-She opposes them only by truth and love.
But by freedom of conscience we mean, the unrestrained enjoyment, by one who feels his obligations to his gracious and almighty Maker, of the right to worship him according to his convictions of truth and duty; and to do whatever he may think incumbent on him, both in his individual and social capacity, for promoting piety and good will on earth: provided that in so doing, he interferes not with the rights of others.
Now, when this is the happy lot of the Christian, he is precisely in the condition to feel, in full force, all the powerful motives of Christianity. Believing the Bible to be God's truth, without mixture of error, he feels as though God were speaking in his word, directly to his conscience : the truth comes to him clothed with divine authority; and no inventions of men intervene to lessen its force.—The awe of God's majesty pervades him ; the sanctions of eternity press his conscience; the worth of the soul, the misery of fallen man, a Saviour's redeeming love, the joys of salvation, the glories of heaven, the horrors of perdition, apply their highest and holiest stimuli to his heart. Yet fully understanding that God's religion, is a religion of beneficent action, his excitement is not expended in mere effusions of feeling, but in doing good-the utmost possible good. The truths of the gospel, in all their awful grandeur and eternal majesty, are his motives; the honour of his Redeemer, and the happiness of his fellow-men, are his objects.
Now this is precisely the condition contemplated by the Apostle, when he says,
“ The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty.” The Christian freeman is not only, as was said, in a situation
to fee, the fullest power of Christian motives ; but is accustomed to act under their influence. His whole course is one of voluntary agency, prompted by enlightened views of truth, and a deep feeling of its value.--He understands the worth of religion for himself, his family, his country, the world :-and, therefore, cheerfully bestows his money, his time, and his influence, to support religious institutions, and enlarge the sphere of Christian benevolence. It is all, with him, a matter of deep reflection ; of profound consideration of human interests ; of hearty good will. Similar views and feelings draw men together. They take counsel, deliberate calmly, and act in concert, under convictions of truth and duty. They act too with energy. The power of eternal truth conspires with the vigour of voluntary action ; the whole strength is put forth in every effort-and the labour is not in vain. The history of Bible and Missionary Societies, as voluntary associations, formed within the last thirty years, shows, better than a thousand arguments, the truth and value of our principle. And here, brethren, is the true secret of evangelizing the world. The mighty work is to be done by voluntary associations, formed on the unalterable principle of using no carnal weapons ; of preaching nothing but the simple gospel of Christ; in no spirit but that of Christian love.
It deserves to be remarked, too, and remembered, that associations, counsels, united efforts, such as these, promote intelligence, order, peace,
and in a word, all that blesses and adorns human nature. One may see their happy influence spreading through the youth, the manhood, and the old age, of every community where they exist. There all is healthful and active;-all is life, and hope, and joy.
But if one asks, why this scene is not fully realized in our country, where religion is perfectly free; I answer—it is going on to be so. But, from the nature of man, moral causes operate slowly ; and time must be allowed for the production of their full effect—especially where counteracting causes are in full activity. Our forefathers, unavoidably, brought with them many of the habits, feelings, and principles of the countries from which they came : they brought, with their good things, the fatal policy of using carnal weapons ; of mingling the church and state ; of employing human authority instead of the authority of the Bible : they brought the spirit of fierce contention for doctrine, and with it, in many instances, that deathlike coldness in regard to vital religion, which had, during a long period, spread through the churches of Europe. Now all these evils were to be done away; and the people brought right under the full influences of Bible truth, before they would pursue the course marked out by the Apostles, and trodden by their immediate disciples. This was not the work of a day.
The spirit of infidelity, too, has been imported into our country; and that dread of the influence of religion, which has arisen from its perversion and abuse in other lands. These have been so great, as, in the minds of many, to justify the natural repugnance of the human heart to religion. And opposition has been made-it is still made– to its propagation, both in this country and abroad. Suspicions are entertained of its friends, and sinister objects are attributed to all their plans of Christian bene volence.
But-everlasting praise be given to God !--this opposition has been overruled for good : and still greater good will hereafter be educed from it. It was, perhaps, the very thing which the church needed, to make her see and feel, that carnal weapons cannot be safely or efficiently used in her warfare ; and that, although invincible and invulnerable, when clad in the armour of righteousness, she is weak and defenceless, without it. In other countries, when pressed by her enemies, and feeling her weakness, she looks to the arm of flesh for protection. Here she is pressed by the wholesome necessity of putting “ to silence the ignorance of foolish men, by well doing;” she is obliged to act in such way, that if her enemies speak evil of her, they must speak falsely. She can do nothing, but go forth in the spirit of her redeeming Lord, and proclaim the truth in love, and stretch out her hands in prayer for the blessing of the Almighty. And this is the very thing which God intended she should do. In the sure, but silent operation of moral causes, this truth will yet be more clearly seen, more deeply felt, and more fully acted on, in this country : and there will be great improvements in the measures adopted for promoting religion in the world ; and great increase in the efficiency of the means employed. No new truth indeed will be discovered in religion. That which was heard from the beginning, which the eyes of apostles saw, and which their hands handled of the word of life, will be proclaimed through every age, until Jesus Christ shall come the second time: nor will there be a discovery of any new principles of action, in pulling down the strong holds of sin, and building up the kingdom of Christ. But the disciples of Christ will just do, what the Saviour has always told them to do : and the ministers of religion will go and tell the people what the Bible means, and thus make them understand what God has said, and done, and requires. And they will so breathe the love of God, that the people will feel its heavenly warmth ;--and God will honour his own word ;-and it shall have free course and be glorified.
Is it presumptuous to suppose, that one great end which God had in view, in--I had almost said revealing this country to our forefathers, and freeing it from all foreign authority, and establishing here complete religious liberty, was, that the church might be restored to her primitive purity, and have a full opportunity of learning again the true method of promoting religion ; and that the Bible might recover all its lost honours ? Did not God intend, by sustaining the cause of rational liberty, during the revolutions and fearful convulsions of half a century, to afford new facilities for discovering the entire energy of true religion ; and showing by what instrumentality, and by what mode of using that instrumentality, every strong hold in the whole empire of sin is to be pulled down; and the city of God built up, in all its beauty and glory? And is not this work going on? Do we not see that, wherever liberty is enjoyed, there also is now displayed, in some degree, the energy of the Bible and Missionary cause ? And that wherever men go, with the simple purpose of declaring the truth of God; and where they clearly state the meaning of the Bible, there sound revivals of religion take place ? God is teaching us important lessons: and it is every day becoming more apparent, that they who are contending for the mere dry bones of theology, or the outward fo'ms of religion, or for ecclesiastical authority, are digging the grave for their own favourite systems—while, every where, the blessing of Heaven attends efforts made in the true spirit of the gospel.
Providence has placed us in a situation very peculiar, in a country, where, as far as the mighty influences of religion are concerned, nothing has authority or power but the Bible. This is more and more seen, every year.
And when it shall be fully understood, that among the teeming millions of our country there is nothing to regulate the awful energies of the religious principle, but the authority of the word of God, the Bible will be studied with an intensity of interest, and used with a fidelity of application, as yet unknown in these latter days. And it will carry its authority more entirely through every department of the church, than has ever been witnessed since the days of the Apostles. The truth will then go with lightning glance and electric force, from heart to heart, and from land to land-and the earth be soon filled with the knowledge and glory of the Lord.
This leads to a second general proposition, deduced as an inference from the preceding.
II. IT IS PECULIARLY THE DUTY OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANS, TO ENLIST AND COMBINE THEIR ENERGIES FOR EVANGELIZING THE WORLD.
1. We owe it to Him, who is both King in Zion, and Lord of the whole earth, to perform our part of this service.--It is his gracious providence, which has placed us in the peculiarly favourable situation which we