Imatges de pÓgina
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materially influenced, by the wickedness of a particular nation, at a particular period, much less by the crimes and atrocities of a few individuals. The important fact to be determined is, whether there be not a progress in human society, at present, towards further perfection, and whether the sum of moral, social, and religious worth be not, upon the whole, increas ing, instead of suffering diminution.

We have the authority of the wisest of men for affirming that it is; and they who persist in saying, "The former days were better than these, do not inquire wisely concerning this." If Solomon could fairly come to such a decision with relation to the times that preceded him, surely we may, with much better reason, form the same conclusion, who have enjoyed the benefits and blessings of Christianity. The prophets, indeed, announced the superior degree of knowledge, piety, and virtue, that should ac company the holy Gospel, under the most beautiful figures of oriental poetry. "The nations who sat in darkness were said to see a great light," and "the day-spring from on high visited them." It was expressly calculated, we read, "to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." Its ef

fects in softening the fierce and hostile passions of our nature are represented under the strik ing images of animals losing their natural propensities, and reposing in peace with such as they were accustomed to devour. "The wolf," says the inspired Isaiah, "shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."

Now, shall we for a moment suppose, that the Almighty has not, in this instance, as in all others, adapted his means to the end proposed? or, notwithstanding the wickedness of any particular period, shall we believe, that He would ultimately fail, in accomplishing the purpose, which his wisdom and his mercy intended? That would be presumptuous sin. But the great work of divine love must go on gradually. Sudden and miraculous effects are not in the ordinary course of God's providence. Even the improvement of an individual is represented by the slow process of vegetation, or the gradual operation of building. Hence we are exhorted to "grow in grace," and every step we advance in the scale of Christian perfection, is called "our edification."

All that we contend for, therefore, is the po sition in the text, that the former days were not better than these ;-that the world is not in a state of degeneracy; but that with Christians there is a progress, (however quickened, or occasionally retarded by external causes,) there is a progress towards further perfection. To imagine, indeed, that the glories of the Gospel of Christ should be diffused throughout the world, without producing a continual accession of knowledge and of goodness, would be as preposterous as to suppose that the sun, after his wintry retreat, dawns on the frozen regions of the north, without occasioning any additional light, or heat.

The position of the text may be amply illustrated and confirmed, I trust, by a reference to our own envied and happy country. Let this reference be made, however, not with a view to national flattery,-not to indulge vanity, and foster pride; but with the pious intention of shewing the gracious providence of God;-of marking the efficacy of his divine word, and the gradual manner, in which he is pleased to develope the plans of infinite wisdom, and to bestow his blessings on his intelligent creatures. Although there are numerous sins of omission

and transgression throughout the land, that call aloud for repentance, and amendment of life ;though no man can be permitted to say, I have fulfilled the measure of obedience that is required, and no effort to advance farther can be necessary; yet I am of opinion, that we are not so often shocked with the odious vices of drunkenness, swearing, and profane conversation as formerly. Our public amusements are divested of much of their grossness and immorality. The duties of public worship appear to be more generally and constantly fulfilled. The religion of Christ is no longer persecuting, or hostile; but is become mild, tolerant, and indulgent so much so indeed, that its establishments have more to fear from the excess of these good qualities, perhaps, than from any deficiency, or culpable neglect.

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The most superficial observer cannot but notice the gradual amelioration of our constitution and laws; the admirable manner in which justice, tempered with mercy, is administered throughout the land;-the public and truly patriotic spirit with which large sums are raised for any laudable purpose; the ample provision that is made for the poor;-and the numerous charitable institutions that are formed for the

mitigation, or relief, of every kind of suffering, wretchedness, and disease. Nor must I forget, as the best means of ensuring the further progress of Christian knowledge, and Christian duties, among us, the anxious care, the assiduity, and munificence, that have of late been manifested, in establishing the most practical and expeditious system of education for the children of all our poor brethren, in the rudiments of useful learning, and in the principles of true religion.

Satisfied, therefore, that "these things are so," let us consider that the gloomy and morose persuasion, which the text condemns, leads to a temper and disposition of mind, which is the very reverse of that " Charity which thinketh no evil; and which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." Nothing, perhaps, tends more effectually to corrupt the very principles of Christian duty, than harsh, gloomy, and unjust opinions respecting our fellow-creatures. Next to the love of God, is the love of our neighbour: but how can we love those, whose character and conduct we must condemn, and who, notwithstanding all the sanctions and provisions of divine wisdom, and divine mercy, are gradually verging on, as some

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