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lic profession of religion is attended, under ordinary circumstances, with no loss of life, or property, or character, but is rather a passport to respectability, that many will assume the profession without the vital principle. We are aware, that a difference of opinion exists among us as to the length of time which ought to elapse between the hour of hopeful conversion and uniting with the church. Many think there should be no delay, and quote apostolic example. But they should remember, that the making a public profession is not now a test of piety, as it was in those days of primitive christianity, when they went from the communion table to the sword and the stake. We do not say, that it is not the duty of him who entertains the hope of salvation, to apply for admission the moment he indulges it, but we do say, that those whose prerogative it is to grant or refuse his request, have a right to deny it until they have satisfactory evidence of genuine piety. Of this they must judge, having reference to the circumstances in each case. No rule as to the length of time can possibly be given,-it will depend, of course, on those circumstances.
The next chapter, " The young professor,” contains little more than President Edwards' advice to a young lady who had just commenced the life of faith, and Miss Beecher's “Directions to those commencing a religious life.” Both of these are excellent, and may be had at any depository of the American Tract Society. We most cordially recommend them to the church.
We now introduce our readers to perhaps the choicest portion of this interesting book. It is entitled, "An attempt to compare the present generation of professors, with others that have preceded them.” We wish, that it might be spread out before the eye of the church throughout christendom. Were our religious weekly periodicals to give it the desired circulation, they would not only benefit the world, but greatly enrich the columns of
In weighing the comparative merits and defects of christians, of the present and by-gone days, Mr. James holds the scales with a just hand, and comes to righteous results. He is evidently not one of those who, like many in the midst of us, are predicting the coming ruin of the churches because of their departure from some of the stereotyped views and customs of the ancients, and who are ready to brand every attempt at improvement in a theological system with heresy. He does not take it for granted, that all that can be learned from the bible has been learned. The motto to the chapter is, Ecc. vii: 10, "Say not, thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these, for thou dost not wisely concerning this." While, therefore, he most cautiously points out the defects and dangers of the present day, he glorifies God by showing, that “the spirit of the age is the morning star of the millennial day; a revival of primitive christianity, which will not fail to bring up the latter-day glory.” We will here insert, that they may be read in contrast and at a single glance, the points in which the present generation excels those of earlier days, and others in which they are inferior.
First. "In speaking of the EXCELLENCIES of the present race of professors as compared with some that have preceded it, I may venture,” says Mr. J., "to mention as no unimportant or undistinguished one,-a more marked and decided tone of religious sentiment; a more public and explicit avowal of evangelical doctrine."
A second is, that spirit of holy zeal for the propagation of religion both at home and abroad, which is so general and so active.
He discusses them at large, and then points out those things in which we have sunk beneath the church of the other centuries.
1. “Neglecting those parts of religion which are strictly personal, and substituting a social for an individual piety.”
2. A want of that high-toned piety and deep devotional feel ing which characterized the christians of some past ages."
3. “Perhaps a want of conscientiousness.”
4. “Conformity to the world, which is now one of the sins of God's professing people.”
5. “There is probably scarcely any deficiency of the church in the present day, as compared with preceding generations, more apparent than the neglect of domestic religion."
6. “ The last thing I shall mention as an inferiority of the present generation of professors to their ancestors, is a certain kind of fickleness in their religious profession,-a want of fixedness and gravity in their christian habits."
In reviewing this important chapter, we wish it was in our power to give more copious extracts than our limits will allow. The following, in his remarks upon the “spirit of holy zeal for the propagation of religion, both at home and abroad, so general and so active,” is full of beauty, and shows, that the author has a heart as well as a head:
What renders this missionary spirit the more remarkable in itself, and the more to be relied upon as a token for good, and a proof of its heavenly origin, is the extraordinary circumstances of the age during which it has carried on its operations. It commenced amidst the throes and convulsions of nations, that were caused by the French Revolution, and sent forth its first messages of peace and good will to the world, when the hearts of the people had scarcely ceased to palpitate with the enormities of the reign of terror. Who, at such a time, could think of the miseries of distant countries, when they were trembling for the existence of their own? Yet at such a time, amidst the dread of invasion from abroad, and the fear of intestine commotion at home, a society was formed for the conversion of the world. During all our national struggles with the Gallican conqueror, it held on its noble career as little diverted from its course as the angel flying through the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel for all nations, might be supposed to be by the noise of the winds, or the tumults of the ocean. It neither paused in war, nor relaxed in peace, nor lost its power to interest the public mind, amidst the greatest political excitement which ever agitated the nations of Europe. The poor Pagan living in sin, and dying in despair, was never forgotten, when kings were tumbling from their thrones, and crowns were rolling in the dust. National bankruptcy has threatened us, but still amidst the crash of falling banks and houses of commerce, no one ever dreamed of stopping the supplies necessary for missionary operations. Such a thought never entered the mind of our directors, as suspending our zeal till the storm had blown over. And now what is the aspect of the times? Was the contest of parties ever more fierce? Was the fever of excitement ever higher? Was there ever a time when so much animosity, ill-will, and engrossing party-spirit were in operation? And what has become of the missionary cause? There, there it is; floating like the ark over the depths of the deluge, safe and calm amidst the uproar of the elements, piloted by heaven, and bearing the destiny of earth. Owhat a spectacle does the kingdom at the present moment present, of glory on one hand, and disgrace on the other : all parties wrangling with each other, yet all struggling for the conversion of the world : retiring from the scenes of their common warfare, to pursue each in his private sphere the works of charity and peace! It was a glorious scene at one of the May meetings in the metropolis, when, upon the resignation of a popular ministry, the country was at the highest pitch of political enthusiasm, and the beam of our national destiny was trembling in the balance, to see with what abstraction of mind and unabated zeal the different societies went to their labor of love; and to behold how the evangelists of the world pursued their work, amidst events which almost paralyzed trade. And at this present moment, not a single missionary society is neglected, nor does any one party relax its missionary ardor for the sake of pursuing with greater single-mindedness any sectarian object. Nothing diverts the attention of the friends of missions from their object, nor damps their zeal, nor diminishes their liberality. The gospel is spreading abroad, while the friends of it are withdrawing from each other at home. Does it not look therefore as if God had indeed called us and keeps us to our work of converting the world, and bound us to it by a tie which nothing shall break? And what a delightful thing is it to think of, that though we VOL. X.
are breaking from each other, we cannot break away from helping a perishing world? Is not this a token for good, a bright omen shedding, a lustre upon many dark signs ? pp. 74–76.
It would be delightful, were we permitted to dwell much longer upon the contents of this interesting chapter. We cannot, however, leave it without expressing our coincidence of opinion with the author, when in speaking of the defects in the piety of the present generation, he particularly designates “the neglect of private and domestic religion.”
'It is a day of association and organization; men act much with others, and there is an imminent danger of losing sight of religion as a personal, private, and individual concern. We are too much drawn away from our closets and ourselves. Our eye is taken off from our own hearts and diverted to others; we lose the habit of silent meditation in that of discussion ; we have become inapt for self-conference; we are so accustomed to excitement, that there is a dullness in solitude; we are so wont to lean upon others that our piety seems scarcely able to walk or stand alone. We find it difficult to detach ourselves from our fellows, and make ourselves the first and separate object of our solicitude, and to carry on what belongs to us in an isolated state. Private prayer is neglected for that which is social; the Bible for the sermon; and the closet for the committee-room. The great system of revealed truth is not sufficiently brought before us in its grandeur, glory, and demands, as a matter for our individual contemplation, reception, and application. pp. 77, 78.
On this side of the Atlantic we have to mourn over the same defect. And we would here suggest to the churches, whether the modern mode of conducting our revivals of religion is not very faulty in this respect. And further, whether we have not reason to believe, that on account of this substitution of social for personal, public for private devotion, our revivals are not so often marked by that depth of conviction, and that solidity of conversion, which characterized revivals of former days. And may we not also trace to the same source, the ephemeral continuance of religious excitements. It is a fact, that revivals, fifteen or twenty years ago, were signalized by a more awful sense of the character and presence of God, -by more humbling views of the depravity of the heart,—by more joyful hopes of salvation,by deeper solemnity in the converts, and by a much longer duration. It is equally true, that our public meetings were then less frequent; there were not as many sermons; christians were urged to closet duties, and felt, that the kingdom of God cometh not with observation, but was within them. The anxious were told, that God was to be found in solitude. The result was, that when there was a sermon preached, it was devoured with avidity, and treasured up with fidelity. The mind did not become exhausted by over-action. Religious duties did not habitually interfere with the necessary claims of life; nor were the congregation forced to give up their closet piety, that they might have more time for social religion. It is true, there was often much excitement, but then it was so blended with healthful bodily exercise, that it did not necessarily prey upon the health, and thus prepare the way for a relapse into stupidity. Revivals then lasted long, and left the pulse of religion among the converts beating healthfully, even when conversion among the impenitent had ceased. Then we had accounts of their continuing from six months to two years. But now revivals are more fitful and spasmodic. The excitement of public meetings, continued without interruption for days,—sometimes for weeks,-begets a distaste for the sober realities of self-examination and private prayer. We begin to loathe this light food; and what are the consequences? Why, human nature, worn out, unable any longer to endure the pressure, begins to droop, and then retires from the field to recruit. Piety, too, having lost its native aliment, or not having time to digest it in the retirement of the closet, withers and almost despairs. In an instant a dead calm ensues. The minister feels it, and tries to lash his church into feeling. But all is vain. The body ecclesiastical has lost its excitability, and, ignorant of the cause, begin to lash their minister. When this fails, all agree to fall asleep, and rest in their stupidity for the remainder of the year. The revival dies away, and the spectator, who has witnessed the excitement, perceiving it, reports, that it was spurious and fanatical,—the mere work of man.
Thus God is dishonored, and revivals sink into contempt. We would then ask our christian brethren whether it is not time to urge upon the churches the duty of cultivating closet religion more. Surely, if any form of devotion is to be given up, it is not that of the closet.
We also accord with what Mr. J. says in reference to domestic religion.
It is a fact extensively acknowledged, that to an alarming extent parents have relinquished the religious education of their children to the sabbath school teacher, and then as they imagine, discharged their high responsibility as the heaven-appointed guardians of their offspring. The time was when, in New England, the father “acted as the prophet, as well as the priest and the king of his household.” The close of the sabbath found him encircled by his family, questioning them with