網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

more inward point of view than this-Man alone with God. God spoke in the times of old with the great lawgivers, with Moses and the prophets. It is our Christian, our joy-giving belief, that God at this day speaks individually to all and each of his children, as He, through Christ, spoke to Peter and Mary; that all and each of us may, in our most sacred moments, perceive His voice, and become both ear and tongue for his truth. Every thing in this respect depends on purity and obedience in the individual man. It may be unpardonable audacity to stand forth in the pretension of a higher knowledge; it may be criminal cowardice to remain silent; God alone can be the judge of this. The human being always stands at the last alone with God, and no one can then come between them. The Church can teach much, society can give much culture, but at the last they are insufficient. The human soul must converse alone with God. In this lies a great danger, but great strength and consolation likewise. The founders of sects in America have known both.

If you should inquire in what way this division of the Church into so many sects - exhibits itself in the New World, I would reply, firstly, in a large and universal love of the Church, and a powerful form of Church discipline. The number of churches--always well and handsomely built--in both the larger and smaller cities, must strike every traveler in the United States. Generally the churches are in proportion to the number of the inhabitants, one for each thousand persons, frequently each five hundred, sometimes for less. Each religious community governs itself, and takes cognizance of all its members, and of its poor, and exercises a salutary supervision of morals and general conduct. The minister is exclusively the shepherd of souls, and occupies himself with nothing except. ing the care of souls, by public preaching and private admonition and sympathy. The community, which elects its own minister, is generally very much attached to him,

[ocr errors]

and estimates him very highly if he deserves it. Much has been said in Europe on the fortune-hunting of the ministers in America; but I must say, that I found those ministers who were possessed of great Christian worth and great independence of character were always regarded with great affection by their congregations, supported by them, cared for and provided for as long as they lived. The ministers of religion constitute one portion of the aristocracy of America, and I have among them met with the most intelligent and interesting individuals.

The consequence of this liberty, which is extended to sects, exhibits itself still further by a large development of the religious mind. Each considerable sect has its own religious publication, in which its doctrines are developed by discussion with others, and the church relationship is contemplated in a many-sided manner. Hence the public mind is very much turned to these subjects, and a general comprehension of them is the result; and therefore it may be said of the American people, as Swedenborg, in his day, said of the English, in the “Vision of the Last Judgment,"

“ The better portion of this nation are at the central point before all Christians, and the cause of their being at the centre is, that they have developed the intellectual light. This light proceeds from the freedom which they have enjoyed in thought, and consequently in speaking and writing. Among the people of other nations this intellectual light is concealed, because it has had no outlet.”

You are of a certainty acquainted with a number of the more important religious sects in the United States. I will here, therefore, merely speak of that which distinguishes them in general, and is indicative of their inner congregational life. Some address themselves more immediately to the feelings, others to the intellect; all, how. ever, lay the greatest importance on works of love. The Catholic and the Quaker, on this broad ground, extend to each other their hands. No sect, however, it seems to me, has attained to a universal church consciousness, proportioned to the political consciousness of the United States, excepting in some of their highest representatives. I have heard genial ministers among the Calvinists, the Unitarians, the Baptists, who all open the Church of Christ to the wide world. Especially so in the old Presbyterian Congregational Church, which I will also call the Church of the Pilgrims, and in which every layman takes part in the affairs of the Church. This Presbyterian Church seems to be possessed of a strong, growing, and expansive life, i.e., in the free states; in the slave states that Church is in general enslaved and bigoted in character. In the free states it stands fixed on the Rock of Ages, but opens itself thence to embrace the whole world. Even nature, art, industry, and science are baptized to the service of God.

The so-called " Revivals" belong to the phenomena which are common to all the Protestant churches of the United States, and which are indications of their vitalizing principle. These revivals are times when persons, possessed of unusual gifts and impelled by burning zeal, go. about as missionaries into the cities and the country, uttering afresh the cry of John the Baptist, “ Be ýe converted !” Such times and seasons permeate the life of the Church like deep, fresh respirations from the sphere of religious life, and thousands of individuals date from such their new and better life.

One of the most beautiful circumstances of the general Church in the United States appears to me to be the great institution for the diffusion of popular literature of a moral and religious tendency, but without any sectarian spirit, which was established in New York about twenty years ago, and to which the adherents of many different sects equally extended support, continuing to work amicably and powerfully together to the present time. Twenty

steam-presses work off twenty-five thousand sheets daily, three thousand volumes, calculated to diffuse the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as the redeemer of sinners, and to promote living piety and sound morality by the circulation of works which will meet the approval of all evangelical Christians.

The American Tract Society has thus made the press subserve for the evangelizing of America. The best of the religious and moral literature of England and America is collected in these popular works, which are handsomely printed, and furnished with beautiful wood-cuts. Many hundred colporteurs are sent out to diffuse these over the whole Union, over its most remote portions, among foreigners, and in the wildernesses, and thus the evangelical Church continues to the present day to scatter a gentle rain of manna over the land, as seed from the hand of the Great Sower, and the good which is thereby produced, and which springs up especially in the hearts of childhood and youth, is incalculable.

And if we turn from this great institution for the scattering of evangelical seed—which has now been imitated in many of the Northern States—to popular schools, to establishments for neglected humanity, for the criminal, for the sick, for the unfortunate of society, and, above all, to the increasing attention to these, and the labor which is bestowed upon them in the United States, it can not be denied that these, above all, deserve the name of Christian States.

But you will say that this is merely one side of the picture; that you know very well that another life increases also in these states, a worship and a Church which are not of God. I know it well also. The Old Serpent lives also on the soil of the New World. And call it Mammonworship, slavery, despotism, mobocracy, or by whatever name you please, indicative of the principle of selfishness and lies, it lives, it grows there, as the tares among the

VOL. II.-Ee

wheat. Yes, it seems to me that the most essential impulses of the human spirit, for good as well as for evil, and which, during the ages of history, have sprung up and flourished in Asia and in Europe, have sprung up also in America, and will there ripen for harvest Frequently, during my residence in America, was I reminded of your words, in your article on the coming of the Lord and the completion of all things, in which you say,

“ The nearer history approaches to its close, the greater is the impetus attained by the wheel of time; the greater is the speed and the rapidity, the more quick the reve olution of dissimilar conditions hurrying onward development; and he may greatly miscalculate who conceives that in the present condition of the world there still re. mains as much to do as may require the labor of centu, ries, and that the end may still be very distant; for, if the Lord so will, it may be done in an eventful day, and without such a one it never will be accomplished. Neither, therefore, is it opposed to the doctrine of Scripture, if we conceive of the Millennium as a very short period—as one day which concentrates in itself a fullness and a glory which otherwise would extend over a century."

The life of North America exhibits such a hurrying ouward, such a concentration of the fullness of development in good and in evil. The vastness and comprehensiveness of this hemisphere, embracing the productions and peculiar beauties of every zone; the means of communication, their abundance and facility, which places them within the reach of every man; the extent of individual freedom, the unlimited scope for competition-nay, even the nervons temperament of the climate, and its stimulating effect upon a race whose inborn energy impels them onward, and, carrying all other people along with them, ever ac. celerates their speed with the force of the avalanche, onward to the goal, to the day of judgment; for, though I have already said it, I must repeat it here, we must not

« 上一頁繼續 »