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ced a delightful exhibition of that temper, which is so consonant with the genius and requirements of the gospel. Men are not now ready to shed the blood of their fellow men, or to offer other outrage against their persons, because they differ in opinion, as has been too much the feeling in some former ages.
The disposition to persecute in any gross manner for conscience sake, seems very much to have relaxed within a few years past; though doubtless individuals indulge it, in opposition to the clear decisions of public sentiment. As to overt acts of violence, the law would generally be adequate to their prevention, were they not held in check by the stronger influence of correct notions respecting religious liberty. But not merely have we been delivered from a spirit so utterly and palpably wrong in itself, and so obnoxious to public reprobation. We have attained to something positively good, in the important matter of religious toleration. The evangelical denominations need no longer, for consistency's sake, or for honest attachment to their own views, to be arrayed in hostility against each other. They may, and they do more or less act together, in the great measures of christian benevolence-in supplying the destitute with bibles, in sending abroad tracts, in patronizing sabbath schools, in preparing indigent pious young men for the ministry, and in promoting temperance, the observance of the sabbath, and other branches of public morality. Towards all other denominations, and towards the world at large, they entertain more kind and brotherly feelings, than appeared to exist formerly as a general fact. Doubtless there was much error, until of late, among good men on this subject. An attractive charity, as a part of practical christian ethics, was not held in its just importance; nor certainly is the spirit now prevalent, as lovely and pure as it should be. The mere outward act of accommodation towards the views of others, may be carried sufficiently far; but the love which sanctifies and endears the act is not always, it is to be feared, so cordial and unhesitating as strict christianity demands. It seems to be mingled with a sort of wariness and distrust, which represses the stronger aspirations of brotherly affection. Possibly in regard to this attribute, that common perfection which is attainable in other christian graces, is not often to be expected in the present world, where peaceable men in being bound to be both true in belief, and catholic in spirit,—both firm in their own views and conciliating towards those of others, would be apt in adhering to the one, to fall off in the same proportion from the other. Ån unusual share of the spirit of piety and heavenly wisdom is requisite to observe the exact medium, in its beautiful consistency and winning sweet
Christians need to study the precepts of the gospel with more especial reference to this virtue, and to contemplate deep those models of it, which are scattered along the history of the
is church-more than all the rest, however, that great model, the Lord
Jesus, who was also the archetype of every perfection.
4. The power of public opinion is a feature that distinguishes the times in which we live. We speak not here of mankind under despotic governments, where restraints are imposed on religious opinion and action, as well as in all the concerns of political and common life; though even among large portions of people in such a condition, there is more of that which looks like public opinion, than formerly existed. At least despots respect the feelings of their subjects more ; and it is certain in regard to the latter, that the fires of the volcano burn within, though overlaid with mountains, and it is not improbable that the superincumbent mass may be suddenly upheaved from its base. Not of these do we now speak, but of mankind under milder forms of government. Among this portion - constantly increasing one-of the human family, public opinion pronounces with an authority more decisive, than has been known before. Indeed it has become the great law-the controlling influence in the religious, as well as in the political body. Acting in various forms, and conveyed through different channels, it causes itself to be felt, and brings every thing to bow to its supremacy: On the subjects of religion, morals, education, government, and political economy, the measures pursued are substantially at the dictation of public opinion. This is an influence infinitely to be preferred to force—the arbitrary sway of one, or a few individuals ; inasmuch as the interest and bappiness of the community must be sought, where public opinion suggests and urges the plans that are adopted. One individual may sometimes judge correctly but he will be extremely apt to seek' his own private gratification, which must, in all probability, be inconsistent with the good of the whole. Whereas the people at large cannot but know what they want, or conceive to be most conducive to their own welfare. "To them, therefore, rightly belongs the expression of their feelings and views, on all matters of common and public interest. The influence thus exerted is a good and sound influence, provided the people themselves are correct and enlightened—sufficiently informed respecting that which constitutes their true happiness, or the means of its attainment. This is truly an important proviso; but an adequate illumination of the public mind is perhaps best secured by leaving the people free to learn its importance, and to seek it in their own way. It is probable also, that here will be supplied the strongest incentive, to the acquisition of a correct and enlightened public
The characteristic of the age here brought into view, is of more consequence than can well be conceived. This power, for the most part so newly started into existence, will achieve wonders whether of good or of evil, though we trust that the good will
greatly preponderate in the end. This seems to us the more probable result, if not altogether in view of that law of human conduct, which leads the community to desire and seek their true interest when left free to do so; yet in connection with the apparent designs of divine providence. These seem to be shaped in reference to a coming better era of the world. All that has been hitherto propitiously effected by human exertions, will seem inconsiderable, in comparison with that which public opinion, fully enlightened, will achieve, when it is concentrated on its appropriate objects, and exercised in accordance with the rule of right. A striking instance of the power of public opinion and its probable happy results
, may be pointed out in the long struggle which has terminated so favorably in Great Britain on the question of reform in parliament. Here, authority, rank, wealth, prescription, vested rights, contended to the last gasp, and yet availed nothing against a power, which, hitherto kept down by circumstances, felt itself strong enough to wield the political elements, and knew that it would triumph when time and providence gave it an opportunity for exertion. Our own condition as a nation has long borne the impress of the energy
of public opinion. It is stamped, like the head of liberty on our coin, upon the government, institutions, habits, literature and religion of the land. Indeed it is interwoven with our very existence as a people, and without it the American nation itself would be an anomaly.
5. The age in which we live is characterized by the practical application of theoretical principles, and is consequently anageof action. The latter has often been asserted to be a fact, and although it may imply more self-commendation than is strictly modest, seems nevertheless to have been asserted with truth. It is apparent that the age deals not so much in speculation as some former ages have done, or rather as some few individuals who constituted the mind of those ages, have done. We are engaged in that which is more immediately advantageous, or which can be readily reduced to practice. The works which issue from the press at present, bear a business-like character, and are adapted to a business-like generation. The profound researches, the startling theories, the abstruse metaphysical niceties which were once almost alone expected in books, have given place to discussions that bear on the duties, the responsibilities of men, their relations in society, their interests, or their pleasures, as a direct object, and commonly in an alluring, exciting form. The speculations of former times were, however, many of them good in their place. They were in some important respects, the root of our improvements-ihe preparation for our labors—the foundation on which our commodious superstructure is built. We reap the fruit of such of them as could yield fruit There were indeed some theoretical-investigations concerning the
laws of mind and the moral nature of man, which included the
of all our achievements, and are the promise of those that may yet be won. The present age is under the deepest obligations to such speculatists as Locke, Reid and Edwards---the first having been styled the glory of theorists," the second “the Newton of metaphysicians,” and the last we may venture to call the high-priest of scriptural philosophy. Guided by their speculations we act, and act with the greater effect; besides that several original principles have been introduced in these times. The method, for instance, of studying the bible, by observing the established laws of interpretation, as applicable to other books, is chiefly a modern discovery, and is already reduced to the certainty of a science. In intellectual and natural philosophy, in legislation, in mechanic pursuits, in agriculture, in trade, theories are generally deemed of small consequence: the great object is to collect facts, make experiments, and turn every thing into the channel of practice. Men are less engaged in ascertaining the truth of speculative principles, than in thinking of the ways and means in which they may compass their ends at the shortest turn, and with the least delay-less concerned in constructing theories than in planning how they may realize the results of theories, the product of other minds in other ages.
In religion we meet with constant exemplifications of the same spirit. Let not a few sedate people, perhaps commendably fond of old things when these are not wrong, be alarmed that affairs are, in some respects, taking a new and different direction—that some hitherto unknown modifications of religious feelings are exhibited that measures are adopted to proinote the interests of morality and piety, which were never sanctioned by ancient usage. They should remember that all this engagement in the various benevolent projects of the day, is but the practical application of theoretical principles which the christian has learned, perhaps in bis nursery, but of which the state of the church or world has not before permitted the full development. Indeed it is the natural and delightful result of enlightened christianity, pouring itself into the whole soul, and opening before it continually brightening prospects, and encouraging the christian in his labors, with more immediate rewards, than faith has been accustomed to anticipate. All this missionary action, this bible and tract distribution, this temperance reform, and this sabbath school training, is but the element of scriptural knowledge happily developed and put into effective operation. We here find the metaphysics of Edwards, Bellamy, and Smalley, embodied in those practical effects, which truth clearly exhibited and influencing many minds in concert, has a direct tendency to produce. Let us rejoice, that we are permitted to witness such a result of the pure doctrines of religion--let us be grateful to God Vol. V.
on this account—and let us feel our obligations to co-operate with those, who are engaged in thus giving a practical direction to the truths and sanctions of holy scripture. And while there may not a be unmixed good, in this form in which the energies of men and of christians are now manifested, and though there may be danger of leaving too little time for our closets, our bibles, and our mind dissecting contemplations; yet we should find no adequate indemnity in a different employment of our powers, to the neglect of practical effort. The danger arising from this neglect might be more serious than that which results from deficiency of study or meditation—but they may both be avoided, and by conscientious diligence, the active as well as speculative principles of our nature may be exercised, and this without the infringement of the one upon the other.
In view of these traits of the age, it is easy to account for a state of things in the community, which, by superficial observers, would be apt to be erroneously judged of, and which they, who are slow to adopt real as well as imaginary improvements, are by no means slow to condemn. It will be proper, therefore, before concluding these remarks, to notice what is or may be expected to be, the result of the feelings and principles now at work in the minds of men, in their combination.
One effect is that knowledge is increased. Inasmuch as ma ny are running to and fro, and in respect to religion, are proclaiming the truth of God's word, this must be expected to be the result
. Knowledge is increased among the mass of the people—the knowledge of salvation, and indeed every other species of knowledge. Information on all subjects is extended and multiplied among the different classes of the community. Knowledge is increased through the vastly augmented numbers who participate in its benefits. To this effect, the spirit of inquiry, the fondness for innovation, the prevalence of liberality, the power of public opinion, and the practical turn of the age, are all directly or indirectly favorable. They certainly aid in producing an enlightened state of the public mind; and it is altogether probable, that an enlightened state of the public mind has contributed in its turn to the deepening of these characteristic features of the times. They naturally act on each other, and beget an increase through this mutual action. Not that marvelous specimens of intellectual greatness and profound learning are found, in greater proportional frequency, than was formerly the case, but the general mind, the community of minds is more enlightened. The stream of knowledge, though it does not flow in a deeper channel, is wider than before. It sweeps alas a broader expanse. Nile-like it overflows its banks on all sides sides, and fertilizes the whole land. Perhaps one principal why knowledge is more generally diffused, is, that it is made em