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inently practical—that it is in a great measure stript of its technical and speculative character, and thus brought down to the comprehension and wants of the common mind. Many, doubtless, are allured to engage in the pursuit of knowledge, by the facilities in this manner afforded for its acquisition. We may, therefore, refer to a single disposition of the age much of the information which is diffused through the community, though it is heightened and improved by the conjoined influence of all the rest.
From the principles that now operate on the human mind, religious as well as other knowledge, is destined to find its way sooner or later into all those obscure nooks and corners—those unprivileged spots—those orders and departments of society, whence it has been mostly excluded in past ages. We rejoice to think that the sacred boon is to be put within the reach of every one—that it will bless the poor as well as add to the enjoyment of the rich—that it will refine the peasant as well as exalt the philosopher. This result has already been realized, to some extent, by means of numerous cheap publications, which the benevolent have thrown into cir. culation, and the incessant call for which, is one of the most encouraging tokens that they are producing the desired effect. The press glows with its useful labors.
It is true that an unsanctified literature has sprung up amidst all this movement—a giddy, licentious, infidel train of thought has been poured into the minds of many readers, and insinuated itself into some prominent works, as the dictator of public taste. In doing this it has observed the forms of decency, and exhibited, or affected to exhibit, a soft and sympathizing spirit. It has counterfeited the language and feelings of benevolence, and hypocritically rejoiced with those that rejoice, and wept with those that weep, while it has been really indurated itself, and indurating to others. A counteracting infuence, however, has been exerted against it in numerous spiritstirring pieces of a religious kind, especially in periodical works. These works, combining an elegant taste, with the exhibition of genuine philanthropy and ardent piety, have been happiiy adapted to the wants and dangers of the age, in this particular, as in many others.
We might complain of the superficial acquirements to which the general prevalence of knowledge has given birth-we might deprecate the general desire, so natural under these circumstances, to appear informed, even though the reality is wanting, were we not persuaded that this effect can scarcely be avoided, especially at the commencement of so new an order of things, and that the evil, so far as it is one, will in time correct itself. The appearance of knowledge, particularly of religious knowledge, when, owing to the exigencies of the church, every acquisition must be turned to a practical account, will not always be permitted to pass for the reality. Sounder acquisitions must take place. Indeed they are beginning to take place: and many children in sabbath schools are attaining to an information, on the topics embraced in the bible, which, for accuracy and extent, would do credit to the maturest years.
Another effect of the elements of thought and action now unfolding themselves, may be expected to be the multiplication of physical comforts, and the enlargement of man's dominion over nature. This effect has already been realized, in some considerable degree, and is destined to be more fully realized hereafter. We are authorised to believe, from the course of human affairs, that it will not be long, before the mass of the people, enlightened by knowledge, feeling their strength, and moved by impulses to which they are accessible from every quarter, will command at least all those physical resources, that are needed for their real good. Experience has shown that these are readily yielded to knowledge, power, and ardor of pursuit. Under such circumstances, and a favoring Providence, whatever other effects may follow, it is with strong assurance that the people may calculate, on a large extension of their comforts and means of enjoyment and usefulness in this world. Coextensive with these blessings, if not identical with them, is man's dominion over nature, which, under the operation of the principles spoken of, is rendered subservient to human use or embellishment, in proportion as that dominion is properly employed. But we need not dwell on this topic.
Another effect of the spirit and principles of the age, will be the correction of abuses that have been sanctioned by time. These will not always stand before the powerful influence which is abroad. They have already yielded to it, in some measure. This must continue to be the case, as long as abuses that have had their foundation in another spirit and other principles, are successively brought to light. Indeed all the tendencies, which we have marked above as constituting the traits of the age, are directed more or less conjointly, towards the detection of the mistakes and mismanagements of by-gone times, and whether judiciously or otherwise, towards the application of a remedy. Especially are they to be noticed, in the attempts made to rectify abuses in government and religion, though perhaps the disposition to root up, may
endanger some institutions or habits, which are less mischievous than inconvenient, or more useful than agreeable to human corruption. The spirit of innovation alone will insure the removal of many that are evil and obnoxious, though it may bring in others that are not harmless. Acting, however, in combination with other principles, we are confident that much good on the whole will be the result.
Another effect flowing from the attributes that mark the present age, is the tendency of all good men to coalesce—to unite in com
uzon measures for the common welfare. We mean all really good men; for they have strong reason to suspect their own moral and spiritual qualities, who cannot be brought to act in concert, with those who are seeking the advancement of human happiness, and the good of Zion. While, however, we scarcely doubt, that those belong to the class of God's enemies, who habitually decline a participation with good men in doing good; yet we have here no wish to press the thought. All that needs to be noticed now is the fact above stated. There is evidently a tendency to coalescence, and an effective coalescence. Liberality of sentiment, and the power of public opinion, particularly invite and constrain to a concert of feelings and measures. There is a common and mutual understanding among various bodies of philanthropists and christians, and they “see eye to eye” as the prophet expresses himself, more than has been witnessed in times past; while the distinctive character of the evangelical sects remains the same, and is probably as prominent as ever. On this ground of union in doing good, many who are not real christians are known to stand, partly from the influence of enlightend views, and partly from a natural benevolence—a situation of some danger to themselves, from the facilities afforded for self-deception, but in itself far preferable to hostility or indifference. While however, there exists such a tendency to coalescence among the good; there exists also much of the like tendency among the wicked, having in view the promotion of their own plans. At least there are in numbers of these people, who well understand one another, an excitation of feeling, and a determination of purpose, opposed to order and to truth, which are working great mischief to their own spiritual interests, and are detrimental to others in proportion as the progress of the gospel is hindered by this means. Between the opposing classes, the line of distinction is daily becoming more clear, in all the moral acts by which their character is exhibited; and thus the course for those who are disposed to do good, is more definitely marked, and can be less easily mistaken.
One other result of the present peculiarities in human feelings and sentiments is, that new duties are imposed on the church of Christ, or new modes are indicated, in which she ought to address herself to her great work. The general obligations of religion and benevolence belong alike to all times. But the forms in which we are required to consecrate our energies to these objects, vary with particular eras—with the exigencies which arise with the fresh light which is poured on particular departments of inquiry. If it should be felt to be a subject of complaint, in the preaching of ministers-in addresses delivered on moral subjects--or in the serious communications of the press, that things do not proceed as was
once the case—that we do not tread over precisely the same ground, and insist on precisely the same topics—that the essential principles of the gospel are set forth with new illustrations, and even receive some slight modifications as to statement—that we hear of this cause and the other cause, of this enterprise and the other enterprise—that we are called to assist in the movements of benevolence, to give our mite for sending the gospel abroad, and our example to stay the progress of sabbath-breaking and intemperance at home :mit might be sufficient to say in reference to all these things, that the times are changed—that the age has advanced
- that errors in theory or practice have been discovered—and that it is useless and might be destructive to go back. It might be solemnly insisted on, that the inquiring turn of the age would prostrate the church, unless she meets it with increasing knowledge and labors and that to cease addressing herself in these new ways, to the objects of her high calling, and that to become what she was some half century since, would be too much like courting darkness in the room of light, and like going back to her alphabet, when she had learned to read. It might even be maintained that the spirit of light, liberty, and benevolence which is abroad, cannot be resisted and that you might as well attempt to bind the sea with chains, as one of old attempted to bind the Hellespont, and then whip its waves because it will not obey you.
On the whole, the age in which we live is favorable, in many respects, to the great interests that are or ought to be precious to man, immortal man—by which his mortal and immortal state is affected—the interests of knowledge, virtue, truth, piety, and happi
Although from the view which has been taken above, we cannot but be sensible of the alternations which take place in the civil, intellectual, and spiritual condition of the world—the rise and fall of the interests adverted to, particularly the last named—that they exist as really in religion as in other things, thus showing that the God of grace, in his dealings with mankind, is the same being as the God of nature; yet we may hope that this course of dispensations is nearly at an end, and that the moral elevation of the age has such a connection with the millenium, that it will continue and advance without material suspension, till every formidable evil shall be removed, and that blessed order of ages shall arise upon the world. All are bound to be grateful to God for being permitted to live at such a time. All should act worthy of the age in which they live, securing the advantages which it proffers, as well as avoiding the evils from which it is not exempted. Christians especially should feel that they are summoned to high obligations-obligations imposed by the age-that they should aim at a standard of spiritual attainments, far above the ordinary level. Solemnly should they
remember, that their spirit and their exertions must correspond 13 with the expectations now entertained, respecting all who profess
themselves the friends of God and his cause. They who notoriously come short, at such a crisis, can be considered as worthy neither of the name by which they are called, nor of any honorable mention, in connection with the brighter features of the age in which they lived.
Art. III.--A VIEW OF THE RELIGIOUS DECLENSION IN New
ENGLAND, AND OF ITS CAUSES, DURING THE LATTER HALF OF
In our number for June, 1830, we took a comprehensive view of a work of divine grace, which spread, in some degree, into nearly all the American colonies, but which existed in its greatest power in New England. It was preceded, in most places, by a long period of spiritual decline ; was instrumentally produced and conducted by some of the best ministers the world has ever seen; and was probably the most powerful revival that has been known in modern times. Though the happy influence of this work of grace is still felt in our land, and will be felt till the consummation of all things; we were compelled by historical fidelity to ştate, that in some places, it was attended with impurities almost from its commencement; that in all, it was more or less perverted within one year, by human frailty; and that, notwithstanding the able and timely correctives that were supplied by Edwards, Bellamy and others, the moral aspect of the subsequent times became truly alarming, long before Dwight, BACKUS, STRONG, and their many worthy associates entered the field, and opened a new era of revivals in our country.
Resuming our narrative, with an ultimate reference to this happy reaction, we shall now present a hasty view of the low state of religion throughout New England generally, during the latter half of the last century, and then glance at a portion of the causes of that wide-spread declension.
1. For fifty years after the revival of 1740, there was nothing like a general religious excitement in any considerable district. A few towns
, chiefly in Connecticut, were during that period, visited by the outpouring of the Spirit; but these were exempt cases. There were solitary instances of conversion, perhaps in every paFish
, notwithstanding the general coldness of the churches and the alarming apathy of the public mind. But even such cases were comparatively of rare occurrence.
A considerable proportion of