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ecutes with his might whatever revenge his own rash choler dictates; let him know that he inherits a passion which a benevolent God will never suffer to be at large and unrestrained in the kingdom which He has set up in the universe, and for the security of which He has made timely provision in the eternal prison of despair. But, though man is not the proper person to exercise revenge, though he has no right to withhold forgiveness from his offending fellow, is there not a reason for his transgressing this rule of propriety and justice, which will form an honourable apology for him in the estimation of the world? An evil generation will find excuses for the indulgence of almost every depraved inclination of the heart, in the plea of fashion, of pleasure, of interest, or of necessity. Yet when ingenuity, the subtle patron of iniquity, has exhausted all these sources, nothing is found to extenuate the folly of the revengeful man, or to lighten the shade of his guilt.
A retaliating spirit is not fashionable in society. For, though it prevails so much as to be common, yet it wants that popular complacency which is necessary to complete the meaning and propriety of the term fashionable. A practice so much at variance with the dictates of reason and policy, a feeling so hostile to every generous sentiment of the heart, can never be indulged with the approbation of an unimpassioned community.
The pleasure which an unforgiving spirit gives to the breast that feels it, will never be adduced, by those who plead for the innocence of erring human nature, as an apology for this vice. It is, indeed, the only real one that can be offered; but to acknowledge it, would be to disclose the infernal origin of revenge, and to fix deeper upon it the universal odium.
Considerations of self-interest also, which are the secret springs of so many of the base and unjust actions of men, seem to have little or no agency in prompting them to retaliation. The only claim an injured man has on him who has wronged him, is in direct return for the injury sustained. But it cannot be imagined how revenge is a reparation of injury, or an alleviation of suffering, or any real equivalent to either. The revengeful man has no interest to promote by its exercise. A bleeding wound is not soothed nor cicatrized by battering the knife that gave it; neither is a wounded spirit consoled by the sufferings of another. The disposition, therefore, that seeks revenge that refuses to forgiven-is malevolence; unmingled and disinterested malevolence!
An apology for some kinds of wickedness, among which is included the one under consideration, is sometimes drawn from a supposed necessity a man may be under to perpetrate them, from the constitutional depravity of his nature. A person, it is said, is not in fault for being provoked; this sin, if any is here, lies wholly at the door of him who offers the provocation. And when anger is excited, its demands must be gratified. How frequently do we hear it presented as an extenuation of crime, that it was committed under the influence of passion : as though wickedness were less and less heinous the more inveterate it grows, and quite blameless when it becomes outrageous!
But no such necessity exists. Besides that it would be obviously inconsistent with a state of complete accountability, daily observation may teach us with what facility, especially by the assistance of grace, this strong feature in human nature may be modified and transformed. This assertion is confirmed by the testimony of many a shining example, which has excited the amazement and admiration of all.
Let those know, then, who will not forgive the trespasses of their fellow beings, but who cherish a vindictive temper towards them, that their conduct admits not of the common palliations of a mistaken charity; and let them see that in this respect they resemble the fallen spirits, who sin because it affords them their best gratification.
How widely different in their nature and effects are the rules of conduct which the law of God contains, from the maxims of the world! A character modelled on the divine precepts presents a strong contrast to that which is accommodated to the wayward inclinations of men. And in all its parts it appears more noble, beautiful, and complete, than even that which worldly wisdom has successfully refined. What author of human philosophy has ever honoured his own system, as Jesus Christ, by his life and example, honoured the law of God? What man ever sustained such an accumulated burden of suffering and contempt? And yet how did each new provocation of his persecutors stimulate his benevolence and compassion into a readier and more lively exercise in their behalf, till on Calvary, where they crowned the climax of their indignities, his soul burst forth in the prevailing prayer, Father, FORGIVE them!
Such, in an imperfect measure, have been many of His followers, who have learned of Him to bear the reproaches of men, to desire sincerely the good of their enemies, and even to invoke the forbearance of Heaven for their murderers.* And such should be all those who have named the name of Christ, and who profess to have attached themselves to that spiritual community whence an unforgiving sense of injury, retaliation and revenge are excluded. Alas! christians · are apt to lose sight of their standard of excellence, and to be conformed to this world. But such a conformity will always wound the peace of those who have ever felt the pleasure that springs from a heavenly temper. It dishonours Christ, retards the interests of His visible kingdom, and mars its beauty of holiness. Shun it then, ye disciples of Jesus especially, whose virtue is the salt of the earth, whose example is the light of the world! What! shall such things be complained of among brethren who are related by that inost endearing tie of love, which enjoins the forgiveness of each other, not only until seven times, but until SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN!
* See Frontispiece.
RELIGIOUS COMMUNICATIONS.—No. I.
YOU have commenced your labours at a very interesting period in the history of the church. Much is doing in aid of the cause of our Lord and Master in the world. And among the means employed to great advantage at the present day, are religious periodical publications. These have increased within a few years in a manner unexampled in the history of the American Churches, and are important auxiliaries in promotion of true piety. . The wonders of divine grace, displayed in the multiplied revivals of religion in our own land, and in other christian lands, the union of the friends of religion in the various benevolent associations of the age, the operations, resources, and success of these associations, and particularly of that branch of them, which more immediately have respect to the extension of the gospel in heathen lands, as embodied in perio. dical papers, in form of religious intelligence, are read with great avidity by the christian public. The demand for this kind of reading has excelled the most sanguine expectation of the friends of religion, and is still increasing. This intelligence, from week to week, and month to month, gladdens the hearts of christians, enlarges their views of the operations in the divine kingdom, animates their faith, and stirs them up to persevering efforts in the cause of benevolence. It must be regarded, therefore, as one of the modes which God has chosen, and which he blesses for the edification of his own children, and the furtherance of the gospel in the world.
It is far from our design to divert the attention of the christian public from this kind of reading, to detract from the influence which religious intelligence has on the cause of true piety, or to check the demand for it in the public mind : at the same time, we would suggest our fears, which are not indulged without some observation, lest the christian system should not be sufficiently explained, and guarded against the attacks of unbelievers. It is to be remembered that doctrines lay the foundation for practice, and that practical godliness is merely an exemplification of christian doctrine. The demand for religious intelligence therefore should not be so great as to exclude doctrinal instruction. He who is not well read and established in his belief in the peculiar doctrines of the christian system, is constantly exposed to the influence of error, and is in danger of perverting religious intelligence to improper uses. This age of active benevolence is an age in which the enemies of the cross are vigilant and persevering. It is an age in which error is coming in like a flood, in which its progress is often unperceived, and in which it assumes its most specious forms, and exerts its influence on the minds of men in those points in which they are the inost secure, and at the same time the most vulnerable.
Multitudes are educated under the light of the gospel, in a belief of the christian system, whose minds have never been turned either to the external evidences, or the internal economy of this system. They are of course unable to give the reasons for their belief, or to
trace the truths in their connections, to weigh their evidence, and meet the objections of unbelievers. The result is, they are inadequate to the defence of the gospel. When the first principles of christianity, the truths which they have long believed, and 'whose influence they have long felt, are called in question by designing and wicked men, and assailed by plausible objections, they are perplexed, confounded, and as the case may be, and often is, are shaken in their belief. In this manner, error in religious sentiment is gaining ground in some sections of our common country; it is taking advantage of the unprepared state of the friends of truth to defend their cause, influencing them in the first place to distrust their own principles, and in the second place to renounce them.
We are bold to assert, that Christianity, both in its external and internal character, rests on evidence, not to be shaken by any arguments, which it is in the power of its enemies to employ. We are firm in the belief, that common readers, plain common-sense men, are capable of perceiving, arranging and employing this evidence, so as to maintain their principles, and silence gainsayers. Nothing more is required than to turn their thoughts to this subject, and give it an interest in their minds. To establish men in the belief of true doctrine, and to put into their hands weapons with wbich to defend it, form one of the best preservatives against error. It is indeed painful to behold those, who have been educated in the belief of true doctrine, undermined in their principles and seduced into error, by the cunning of those who have made shipwreck of the faith. The time has arrived, when men must know the principles of their belief, and the evidences on which they rest. The friends of truth are in too defenceless a state to meet and resist with success the advocates of false doctrine.
We have long been desirous to see a periodical paper, which should take a bold stand in defence of the doctrines of grace, and maintain that ascendancy in the public estimation, which will look down opposition to truth. We want to see the doctrines of revelation presented with clearness of apprehension, with all their native loveliness and authority, in a form adapted to the capacities of the common reader. Perhaps the conductors of our periodical papers have been too cautious in entering boldly on this subject. “They have perhaps feared on the one hand of provoking controversy, and on the other, of rendering their papers dry and uninteresting to the mass of their readers, by devoting much room to doctrinal discussion. Hence it has happened, in many instances, that this discussion, when introduced, has been in a style above the common reader, or in so general and indistinct a form as to fail of interesting his feelings. Truth, to have influence, must be perceived and felt by the reader: and of course, as the inass of readers are not accustomed to much mental discipline, it must be so plain as not to be misapprehended, so forcible as not to be resisted, and so glowing as to warm the heart and interest the feelings. We are confident that the doctrines of revelation can be made exceedingly interesting to common minds, and that it is high time the conductors of religious periodical papers should aim more at this. It is true, that in a
sense doctrinal instruction is found in religious intelligence, in allegories, dialogues and in miscellaneous items of news, and it is likewise true, that these forms of instruction and kinds of reading are very properly blended'in periodical papers; while the doctrines of revelation may be learnt from this kind of reading, they are not necessarily received and understood. It is therefore often the case, that they who read those parts of religious publications with avidity. are found lamentably deficient in doctrinal knowledge. The reason is, that in these forms the doctrines of the Bible are not expressed with that prominence which is at once seen, nor with that force of argument which irresistibly carries conviction to the reader, and furnishes him with materials of defending his faith. Let the peculiar doctrines of the Bible be received and maintained in their weight of evidence, and the christian public will have a safeguard against the seductive influence of false teachers and their doctrines. A monthly paper, like yours, Mr. Pilgrim, with one department richly stored with doctrinal discussion, were it to be generally circulated and read in families, would do much towards supplying the deficiency of knowledge, which we have alluded to, as well as in checking the progress of error in religious sentiment.
We have been led to make these remarks from the great want of doctrinal knowledge, which we have discerned in common minds. This is not peculiar to one town or church; it is general in our religious congregations. Where the gospel has been preached with peculiar charms for a long course of years, we have been surprised to find great ignorance of christian doctrine, and grieved to see how easily common christians may be perplexed and stumbled by the enemies of the truth. We look now to periodical religious papers to aid the ministry of the Word in supplying this deficiency of knowledge; and we sincerely hope, that this subject will be viewed by others in the same light in which we view it; and that it will secure the co-operation of those who are able and ready to take a high and bold stand in defence of the faith.
CONVERSATION WITH AN INFIDEL.
IN my last I gave you an account of some conversation, which I had with an infidel. Before we separated at that time, I saw some appearance of relenting in his mind, from which I hoped a favorable issue. Continuing my travels since that time, I have witnessed inany things, but nothing more worthy of notice than the following: About ten days since, as I was travelling in my usual manner, alone and on foot, I overtook a man who was going in the same direction, with his head down, as if musing on some important subject. As * soon as I came up with him I discovered my old friend the infidel, and glad was I to see him, you may depend. We immediately entered upon conversation. He began as follows: