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ed, to stand as the chief position. The present inquiry pertains directly to the Gospel, and the ministers of the Gospel; but if it did not, the position would be the same, and essential. A Christian community may be presumed to come under the Christian dispensation. Every Christian age is to be judged by the Christian standard, as to its government, its church, society, and individuals. It had been better for all, if this rule had been applied to all ages since Christ came. It might have prevented some of their own errors and iniquities, and might at least have saved subsequent ages, and the present, from much of the foolish talk about the character of the age' being made the rule, and the only rule of judgment. As if a people, whatever their religion or opportunity, may be as bad as they will, and their very badness shall be the rule by which they are to be judged; a kind of reasoning, that has been made to cover a larger multitude of sins, than the largest charity. But whatever may be thought of the past, we are clear as to the present. The nineteenth Christian century is late enough to make it safe to say, that the Christian law is to be supreme; and that any principle of individual or social action which contravenes that law, is self-condemned. How this is to be determined, in any particular case, is a part of the inquiry which I cannot pursue; except to say, that if individual minds and consciences are not competent to decide, there is not, there never has been, and there never can be, a competent tribunal on the earth. The attempt, in State or Church, to find a tribunal which does not consist of individual opinions and involve individual accountableness, - the idea of an irresponsible and infallible judgment to be found in some body of men, or some one man, near or remote, -is beyond my power of comprehension, and therefore of discussion. I am content to take the simple fact, that the principles which are to guide us, the first, indisputable, and universal principles of Reform, are to be found in the Gospel of Christ.
From this position, common and indefinite as it may seem, important inferences might be drawn. The following are the most obvious and pertinent. That every reform must stand on the Christian basis; that every reformer is amenable to the Christian law; that every individual is bound to use Christian motives and means, for his own and
Presumed Necessary Evils.
others' highest improvement; that every evil is to be adjudged an evil, according to its violation of the Christian law, or its distance from it, and the obstacles it interposes ; that for the removal of all evils, we are required to use Christian means, and forbidden to use unchristian means; that we are personally accountable, to some degree, for the prevalence of those evils, to which we have failed to apply Christian truth and influence, and are not accountable at all, where we have applied them faithfully, however ineffectually.
These several points need not be separately considered. They may be comprised within the general statement, that Christianity proposes the reform of all moral evils; and that our responsibility in this work relates to means and efforts, rather than results. These truths I am the more willing to urge here, from the persuasion that they affect our whole position and duty as ministers, without reference to times or special objects.
Christianity proposes reform; reform, in the Scriptural sense of inward regeneration, and in the highest sense of personal, social, universal progress toward perfection. This is so self-evident, that one would feel ashamed to assert and attempt to show it, but for facts which intimate a forgetfulness, if not a denial, of the statement. Few facts stand out more boldly on the front of Christian history, than a disposition to take men and things as they are, on the presumption that they either need not or cannot be changed. There would seem to have grown up with Christianity itself (though before, it was never wanting) a kind of acquiescence in the evils of society and character, as well as in the events of life. This, as time has advanced, has been confirmed by the very antiquity of evil, and by that reverence for antiquity, which, with all the truth and usefulness that belong to it, often magnifies one part of the Apostle's injunction, “hold fast that which is good," so as to lose even the thought of the other and the first,“prove all things.” It is not extravagant to say, that that in which all Christians of all ages and sects have most agreed, has been an absolute faith in “ necessary evils”; an expression, which of itself is as likely to confound as to convey truth. But our quarrel is not with words. The evils usually covered by the phrase in question will be found, I think,
to be nearly all the evils that exist. Sin, in all its Protean forms, with all its direct and indirect effects; the passions and appetites, in every degree of indulgence and violence; human nature, in its total depravity or inordinate selfishness, with every manifestation - wrath, cruelty, revenge, murder, fraud, licentiousness, drunkenness, slavery, and that most, which best expresses, because it creates and comprises all
, war ; — these all have been specially marked as “necessary.” But these are the very evils, whether as causes or effects, which Christianity proposes to reform, of which it requires the reform, and whose reform it commits to its ministers and disciples as their great work. Have they made it their great work? Admitting all that can be fairly asked, for the high aim of Christians, for the changes which they have actually produced, and for the fact that they are doing the work whenever they preach the Gospel faithfully, there is still room for the question, whether they have commonly proposed to themselves the correction of evils, and the reform of society, as a distinct and commanding object. Nay, more than this; — has there not been, and is there not now, in a large proportion of Christian minds, so far as we can judge, a settled and very easy conviction, that the race and the world are not to be materially changed, in regard to practical and prevalent evils ?
In seeking an answer to this question for myself, taking it in its many forms and relations, I have endeavored to separate the true from the false, and be just to each. I know my own tendency, like that of all, to some favorite and exaggerated view. And I come to my brethren, not to inform, but to confer with them, as to this momentous question, which the past and the present are forcing upon our attention, -involving the duty, the practicability, and the best mode of carrying forward that work, for which Christ came and commissioned apostles and preachers to redeem and regenerate man. In those significant words, “redeem” and “regenerate,” which, all admit, express better than any other words the aim and end of Christianity, I can find no meaning, that does not require me to labor, directly and in faith, for the removal of all actual evils. In this conviction, there is nothing visionary. It has no alliance with new organizations, better institutions, social
perfectibility, or man's omnipotence. We need go into no rhapsodies about the intuitions of the soul, or that abused truth, the dignity of human nature. As the child of God, formed in his image, and called to share his perfection, the dignity of man cannot be easily over-stated; and they will never live worthily of themselves or their Maker, who disparage or forget it. But the danger and the depravity of man are to be remembered, as well
as the dignity. And it may be, that the whole truth, in this respect, is as well expressed in three lines of the poet Young, as in any entire system, others' or our own.
“Revere thyself - and yet thyself despise.
And none can underrate his merit.” Now it is the admission of both these truths, which may best serve to indicate the duty of the Christian minister. All Christians have admitted the one or the other; few, both. The vast majority of Christians have always asserted the depravity of man. But where have they placed that depravity ? In his nature, more than in his character; in original more than in actual transgression. Depravity has been theological, far more than practical ; general, not specific; universal and total, but not individual, acquired, free, and thus responsible and remediable. Hence the aim has been to correct opinions, rather than conduct; to reform errors, more than practical evils. The powers and anathemas of the Church have been reserved for heresy. Penalty, persecution, excommunication, extermination, have all been visited upon heresy. And in the past and the present, the heretic is in greater danger in most Christian churches, than the knave, the liar, the slanderer, the sensualist, even the open adulterer. True, there is a reason for this, and a professed principle, which we are not to overlook. They who thus think and act, believe that the source of all sin is in the heart, as we know it is. They also believe, that the source of all error is in the heart, and that the error is often the cause of the sin, therefore the greater evil and to be first eradicated. This is the theory. And it is virtually the reasoning of our own brethren, as well as others; at least in regard to the principle of reform. They aver, that admitting, as all do, that Christianity de
mands reform, it proposes to accomplish it only by the power of truth. It deals with principles. It lays its axe at the root of the tree, and cares not to amuse or expend itself in lopping the branches. Enlighten the mind, purify the heart, and you need not concern yourself with this evil or that crime. Let the soul be regenerated, and then, not before and no otherwise, will sin and evil cease.
Granted. But how is the soul to be regenerated ? It is clear enough, that if you make a man Christian, he will be no longer heathen, or vile. Convert the world to Christianity, and reform and reformers will be needless. This has always been known, and always been acted upon. But the world has not been converted. Christianity has been preached at home, and carried abroad. Its ministers and messengers have gone out over the whole earth, and yet little more than a fourth part of its inhabitants are even nominally Christians. And what is still more sad, the small proportion of the really Christian, abroad or at home, seems to cause less anxiety, and to call out less effort, than the extension of the name and the doctrine. The actual sins and known vices remain, and do not seem to be the objects of special regard or reform. The anxiety is still to bring in new converts to the nominal Church, rather than to make the Church itself morally pure, or the community wholly Christian.
It is said by many, that the Church is the divinely constituted agent of reform, the sufficient, and the only proper agent. If it be so, have we not a right to expect some proof of it, to look for results where the trial is fairly made? Are there any results which go to prove, that those churches that rely wholly on their own organization for moral influence, refusing all other associations or aids, refusing indeed to speak or act directly for special reforms, have secured, either for themselves or others, any peculiar share of moral excellence, or even exemption from gross offences? We think not. If indeed it be contended, that the best influences of religion are all unseen, and that outward immorality is no proof of inward corruption, there is little to be said. But if vices are sins, and reform, beginning in the heart, must declare itself in the life, beginning in the Church, must act upon society and the world, it will be difficult to show, that purely ecclesiastical action has