« AnteriorContinuar »
with ceremonies those whom it deprives of instruction, and suggests no solid hope of happiness beyond the grave.
You will witness with indignation that monstrous alliance between impurity and devotion, obscenity and religion, which characterizes the popular idolatry of all nations, and which, in opposition to the palliating sophistry of infidels, sufficiently evinces it to be, what the Scriptures assert—the worship of devils, not of God.
When we consider that moral causes operate on free agents, we shall not be surprised to find their effects are less uniform than those which result from the action of material and physical powers, and that human minds are susceptible of opposite impressions from the same objects.
On such as have neither been established in the evidences nor felt the efficacy of revealed religion, a residence in a pagan country has usually a most pernicious effect, and matures latent irreligion into open impiety. The absence of Christian institutions and Christian examples leaves them at liberty to gratify their sensual inclinations without control, and the familiar contemplation of pagan manners and customs gradually wears out every trace and vestige of the religion in which they were educated, and imboldens them to consider it in the light of a local superstition. They are no further converts to the Brahminical faith than to prefer it to their own; that is, they prefer the religion they can despise with impunity to one that afflicts their consciences, that which leaves them free to that which restrains them. As the secret language of their heart had always been, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from among us, in the absence of God, of his institutes, and his worship, they find a congenial element, nor are they at all displeased at perceiving the void filled with innumerable fantastic shapes and chimeras; for they contemplate religion with great composure, providing it be sufficiently ridiculous.
You, I am persuaded, will view the condition of millions who are involved in the shades of idolatry, originally formed in the image of God, now totally estranged from their great Parent, and reposing their trust on things which cannot profit, with different emotions, and will be anxious to recall them to the Bishop and Shepherd of their souls. Instead of considering the most detestable species of idolatry as so many different modes of worshipping the One Supreme, agreeable to the jargon of infidels, you will not hesitate to regard them as an im. pious attempt to share his incommunicable honours : as composing that image of jealousy which he is engaged to smite, confound, and destroy. When you compare the incoherence, extravagance, and absurdiiy which pervade the systems of polytheism with the simple and sublime truths of the gospel, the result will be an increased attachment to that
mys. tery of godliness. When you observe the anxiety of the Hindoo devotee to obtain the pardon of sin, and the incredible labours and sufferings which he cheersully undergoes to quiet the perturbations of conscience, the doctrine of the cross will rise, if possible, still higher in your esteem, and you will long for an opportunity of crying in his cars, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world,
When you witness the immolation of females on the funeral pile of their husbands, and the barbarous treatment of aged parents left by their chiidren to perish on the banks of the Ganges, you will recognise the footsteps of him who was a murderer from the beginning, and will be impatient to communicate the mild and benevolent maxims of the gospel. When you behold an immense population held in chains by that detestable institution the caste, as well as bowed down under an intolerable weight of Brahminical superstitions, you will long to impart the liberty which Christ confers, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
The cultivation of a wilderness, however, requires a more robust and vigorous industry than is necessary to preserve in a good condition the ground which is already reclaimed. The noxious produce of a long tract of time must be extirpared, the stubborn and intractable soil broken up, marshes drained, irregularities levelled, and much persevering labour employed, ere the ordinary operations of agriculture can commence, or the seed be cast into the earth. In attempting to evangelize the inhabitants of pagan countries, you must expect to encounter peculiar difficulties: you will meet in the natives with the ignorance and mental imbecility of children, without the candour, simplicity, and freedom from prejudice which are among the charms of that tender age. To efface erroneous impressions, to eradicate false principles, and reduce them even to a natural state, defective and corrupt as that state is, will be no inconsiderable task, since there is not only an immense void to be filled and great deficiencies to be supplied, but principles and prejudices to contend with, capable of the most active resistance.
In recommending the principles of Christianity to a pagan nation, I would by no means advise the adoption of a refined and circuitous course of instruction, commencing with an argumentative exposition of the principles of natural religion, and from thence advancing to the peculiar doctrines of revelation; nor would I advise you to devote much time to an elaborate confutation of the Hindoo or Mahometan systems. The former of these methods would be far too subtle and intricate for popular use; the latter calculated to irritate. Great practical effects on the populace are never produced by profound argumentation; and every thing which tends to irritation and disgust should be carefully avoided. Let your instruction be in the form of a testimony: let it, with respect to the mode of exhibiting it, though not to the spirit of the teacher, be dogmatic. Testify repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It might become a Socrates, who was left to the light of nature, to express himself with diffidence, and to affirm that he had spared no pains in acting up to the character of a philosopher,—in other words, a diligent inquirer after truth; but whether he had philosophized aright, or attained the object of his inquiries, he knew not, but left it to be ascertained in that world on which he was entering. In him such indications of modest distrust were graceful and affecting, but would little become the disciple of revelation or the Christian minister, who is entitled to say with St. John, we know that the whole world lieth in wickedness, and that the Son of God is come,
and hath given us an understanding to know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.
After reminding them of their state as guilty and polluted creatures, which the ceremonies of their religion teach them w consess, exhibit to the inhabitants of Kindostan the cross of Christ as their only refuge. Acquaint them with his incarnation, his character as the Son of God and the Son of man, his offices, and the design of his appearance; not with the air of a disputer of this world, but of him who is conscious to himself of his possessing the medicine of life, the treasure of immortality, which he is anxious to impart to guilty men.
Insist fearlessly on the futility and vanity of all human methods of expiation, on the impotence of idols, and the command of God to all men every where to repent, inasmuch as he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness. Display the sufferings of Christ like one who was an eyewitness of those sufferings, and hold up the blood, the precious blood of atonement, as issuing warm from the cross. · It is a peculiar excellence of the gospel, that in its wonderful adaptation to the state and condition of mankind as fallen creatures, it bears intrinsic marks of its divinity, and is supported not less by internal than by external evidence. By a powerful appeal to the conscience, by a faithful delineation of man in his grandeur and in his weakness, in his original capacity for happiness, and his present misery and guilt, present this branch of its evidence in all its force. Seize on every occasion those features of Christianity which render it interesting; and by awakening the fears and exciting the hopes of your hearers, endeavour to annihilate every other object, and make it appear what it really is, the pearl of great price, the sovereign balm, the cure of every ill, the antidote of death, the precursor of immortality. In such a ministry, fear not to give loose to all the ardour of your soul, to call into action every emotion and every faculty which can exalt or adorn it. You will find ample scope for all its force and tenderness; and should you be called to pour your life as a libation on the offering of the Gentiles, you will only have the more occasion to exult and rejoice.
In order to qualify yourself for the performance of these duties, it is above all things necessary for you to acquaint yourself with the genuine doctrines of Christianity in their full extent; but it will be neither necessary nor expedient to initiate your converts into those controversies which, through a long course of time, have grown up among Christians. Endeavour to acquire as extensive and perfect a knowledge as possible of the dictates of inspiration, and by establishing your hearers in these, preclude the entrance of error rather than confute it. Be always prepared to answer every modest inquiry into the grounds of your faith and practice; and that you may be more capable of entering into their difficulties and anticipating their objections, place yourself as much as possible in the situation of those whom you are called to instruct. When we consider the permanent consequences likely to result from first impressions on the minds of pagans, the few advantages they possess for religious discussion, and the extreme confidence they are likely to repose in their spiritual guides, you must be
conscious how important it is to plant wholly a right seed. Your defective representations of truth will not soon be supplied, nor the errors you plant extirpated, since we find societies of Christians in these parts of the world, where discussion and controversy abound, retain from generation to generation the distinguishing tenets of their leaders. In forming the plan and laying the foundation of an edifice which it is proposed shall last for ever, it is desirable that no materials should be admitted but such as are solid and durable, and no ornaments introduced but such as are chaste and noble. As it would be too much to expect you should perfectly succeed in imparting the mind of Christ, might I be permitted to advise, you will lean rather to the side of defect than excess, and in points of inferior magnitude omit what is true rather than inculcate what is doubtful; since the influence of religion on the heart depends not on the multiplicity, but on the quality of its objects.
The unnecessary multiplication of articles of faith gives a character of littleness to Christianity, and tends in no small degree to impress a similar character on its professors. The grandeur and efficacy of the gospel results, not from an immense accumulation of little things, but from its powerful exhibition of a few great ones. If you are determined to initiate your hearers into the subtleties and disputes which have prevailed in the Western world, I would recommend you, in imitation of the church of Rome, to dispense with the New Testament as the basis of instruction, and to betake yourself to the writings of the schoolmen ; for that divine volume, rightly interpreted, supplies no aliment to a disputatious humour, which has never ceased, since it was first introduced, to be the scoff of infidels, and the plague of the church.
Among the indirect benefits which may be expected to arise from missions, we may be allowed to anticipate a more pure, simple, apostolical mode of presenting the gospel, which it may be doubted whether any of the various denominations under which the followers of Christ have been classed have exhibited precisely as he and his apostles taught it. In consequence of the collision of disputes, and the hostile aspect which rival sects bear to each other, they are scarcely in a situation to investigate truth with perfect impartiality. Few or none of them have derived their sentiments purely from the sacred oracles, as the result of independent inquiry; but almost universally from some distinguished leader, who at the commencement of the Reformation formed his faith, and planned his discipline, amid the heat and fury of theological combat. Terms have been invented for the purpose of excluding error, or more accurately defining the truth, to which the New Testament is a stranger, and on those terms associations and impressions ingrafted which, in some instances perhaps, little correspond with the divine simplicity of the gospel. It is far from my intention to insinuate that serious and fundamental errors may justly be imputed to the classes of Christians to whom I reser; I am fully convinced of the contrary :—but it may be worth while to inquire whether we have not all in our turn receded somewhat from the standard, if not by the adoption of positive error, yet by a disproportionate attention to some parts of revelation, to the neglect of
others equally important, in consequence of an undue partiality to our respective peculiarities.
The situation of a missionary retired from the scene of debate and controversy, who has continually before his eyes the objects which presented themselves to the attention of the apostles, is favourable to an emancipation from prejudice of every sort, and to the acquisition of just and enlarged conceptions of Christianity. It will be your lot to walk the same wards in this great hospital, and to prescribe to the same class of patients that first experienced the salutary and renovating power of the gospel. The gods which are worshipped at this time in India are supposed by Sir William Jones to be the very same, under different names, with those who shared the adoration of Italy and Greece when the gospel was first published in those regions ; so that you will be an eyewitness of the very evils and enormities which then prevailed in the Western hemisphere, and which the sword of the Spirit so effectually subdued. You will be under great advantages for ascending to first principles—for tracing the stream to its head and spring, by having incessantly to contemplate that state of things in a moral view of which every page of Scripture assumes the existence, but of which the inhabitants of Europe have no living experience. It is with great satisfaction accordingly I have observed the harmony of doctrine, the identity of instruction which has pervaded the ministry of Protestant missionaries, who have been employed under the auspices of different denominations of Christians.
If to survey mankind in different situations, and under the influence of opposite institutions, civil and religious, tends to elevate the mind above vulgar prejudice, by none is this advantage more eminently possessed than by Christian missionaries. In addition to the advantages usually anticipated from foreign travel, their attention is directly turned to man in the most interesting light in which he can be viewed. An intelligent missionary, in consequence of daily conversing with the natives on the most momentous subjects, and at the most affecting moments, has opportunities of becoming acquainted, not merely with the surface of manners, but with the interior of the character, which can rarely fall to the lot of any other person ; besides that Christianity, it may be justly affirmed, is the best decipherer of the human heart, and is that alone which can solve its contradictions and explain its anomalies. Hence it may be fairly expected, nor will the expectation disappoint us, that an experienced missionary, possessed of the talent and habit of observation, will, in every country, deserve to be classed
among the most enlightened of its inhabitants. Few things more powerfully tend to enlarge the mind than conversing with great objects and engaging in great pursuits. That the object you are pursuing is entitled to that appellation will not be questioned by him who reflects on the infinite advantages derived from Christianity to every nation and clime where it has prevailed in its purity, and that the prodigious superiority which Europe possesses over Asia and Africa is chiefly to be ascribed to this cause. It is the possession of a religion which comprehends the seeds of endless improvement, which maintains an incessant struggle with whatever is