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The Caufe, Symptoms, and Cure, of Indifference to Religion.
By ANDREW GRAY, D. D.
Preached before the Commiffioner to the General Affembly, May 31. 1767.
PSAL. lxxxv. 6. ·
Will thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Tis generally agreed, that this pfalm was compofed after the return of the Jews from their captivity, or, at least, revised on that occafion; and delivered to the chief mufician, to be fung as a proper anthem of praife after fo fignal a deliverance. The hiftory of Ezra informs us of the violent op pofition made by the neighbouring people to the rebuilding of the city and temple, where by the work was for fome time greatly obftructed. To this there feems to be a plain allufion in the 4th and 5th verfes, where the pious author deprecates the difpleasure of the Almighty, to which he attributes the danger that threatened this people; and, in our text, he
he earnestly prays, that God, together with the re-establishment of their civil and ecclefiaftic conftitution, would revive a spirit of true piety and virtue, both among rulers and people, that their joy and happiness might ftand fecure on its true foundation: Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Thefe words, then, prefent a subject of the utmost importance to our ferious confideration: That the real happiness of any nation, enjoying the invaluable bleffings of peace and liberty, and profeffing the true religion, confifts in their being animated by its fpirit; without which the greatest national advantages are of little avail. This good man therefore, anxious for the happinefs of his country, prays, not only that the defigns of its enemies might be defeated, and its religion and liberty fecured; but likewife that God would inspire his people with a spirit suited to their advantages; that he would banifh from among them a cold indifference to religion, which, in truth, and in the pious man's judgement, bore a more threatening afpect to the public happinefs, than all the malice and violence of their foes; and that he would revive that spirit of piety and righteousness, which alone can fupport and exalt a nation.
IN difcourfing further upon this fubject, I fhall,
1. Point out fome of the principal caufes
that concur in producing a coldnefs and indif ference to religion in any society.
2. The visible symptoms of the prevalence and progress of this fatal disease amongst ourfelves.
3. The proper means of reviving, through the divine bleffing, a fpirit of piety and vir
I. I fhall first point out fome of the principal causes that concur in producing a coldnefs and indifference to religion in any fociety.
Indifference to religion, which is fo hurtful to the happiness of a nation, confists in the want of a due impreffion of its truth and importance. It stands directly oppofite to that principle which is termed faith, and defcribed as the bafis and foundation of all genuine and fubftantial virtue. Faith, in the fenfe and language of fcripture, does not fignify a mere affent to the truths of religion, as matter of opinion; but fuch a deep and penetrating conviction of their importance, and connection with our temporal and eternal happiness, as becomes a powerful principle of virtuous conduct. Every fyftem of religion, whether of divine original or human invention, has a peculiar fpirit and genius, which forms the diftinguishing character of its fincere votaries. This characteristical spirit is not fo much to be difcerned in its precepts or laws, as in the general tendency of its doctrines,
trines, and inftitutions of worship. Even in the most abfurd religious fyftem, there may be found many good and moral injunctions, blended with others of a trivial and corrupt nature. But no fyftem of laws, however excellent in themfelves, will be of any confider. able efficacy to form a truly pious and virtuous temper in the votaries of any religion, if they are enforced by doctrines, and fupported by institutions of worship, which are of a corrupting and immoral tendency. On the contrary, the general fpirit and temper, gradually infufed by an abfurd and falfe fystem of religious belief, will enervate its moral precepts, and render them of no effect. How greatly then do they mistake the cafe, who think it a matter of mere indifference, what scheme of religious principles men form to themselves, whether true or falfe: for the more fincere they are in their religious belief and profeffion, and the more deeply they are impreffed with a fenfe of its truth and importance, their temper and difpofitions will take a correfpondent tincture, either of purity or impurity, of excellence or depravity. It is only divine and moral truth which can enlighten the foul, and purify the heart. In a word, the gospel-revelation, which contains the nobleft fyftem of religion that was ever proposed to mankind; which exhibits the most just and amiable character of the Deity, and extenfive views of his moral government; which not only delineates the rule of
of duty in its fullest extent, but alfo enforces its obligation by the authority of the Supreme Legiflator, who is continually carrying on the most beneficent plan of our redemption, from a state of guilt and depravity, to happinefs and immortal life; does evidently evidently establish the practice of univerfal righteousness on the fureft bafis. Now, from all this it must appear, that the genuine spirit of the gospel is that of universal virtue, which can be the effect only of a juft view, and ferious belief, of its divine principles. When, therefore, the true fpirit of religion is declining in any Christian society, and, on the contrary, a fpiritual languor and infenfibility is growing apace, it must be in a great measure owing to the following caufes cooperating to produce it, viz. Ignorance of the truths and obligations of religion; or, Inattention to its importance, and connection with true happiness; An abfurd fpirit of scepticism, in fome, as to all religious principles in general; and, A factious and divifive fpirit, in others, about matters of lefs importance and doubtful interpretation.
1. Ignorance of the truths religion cannot fail to produce indifference to it, and effectually obftruct improvement in its genuine spirit and temper. And, indeed, it is furprifing what grofs mistakes and mifreprefentations of religion are to be met with amongft people favoured with the best inftitutions, and the best opportunities of attaining re