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CHAPTER XI.

HINTS ON THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TOWARDS THEIR

IRRELIGIOUS FRIENDS.

In the preceding chapter some remarks were suggested on the importance of making religion the basis of the voluntary relations, and of that alliance, more particularly, which is consummated at the nuptial altar. There is another view of the subject discussed in these pages, which cannot fail to engage the attention of the christian. We - refer to the light in which it places his obligations towards those of his friends and kindred, if such there be, who are destitute of the religious character. And this, it is obvious, is a topic into which none will fully enter but those who are the subjects of genuine Piety, and who accustom themselves to look at their duty as it stands revealed to them in the unerring word of trath. We have adverted already to the close connexion which there is between personal religion and the exercise of christian beneficence. If our religion be little more than an opinion,-if it consist merely in a regard to the common decencies of life,-and if, in short, it has not roused into action the strongest principles of our nature, there would be an obvious absurdity in expecting from us, in such a case, any affectionate solicitude, or sustained and well-directed effort for the spiritual welfare of others. Believers alone, indeed, possess the moral qualifications, which, with the divine blessing, peculiarly fit them for the work of turning sinners from the error of their ways. They only have the knowledge, sustain the character, and are alive to the sacred feelings and impressions which are requisite to this allimportant end; and, at the same time, their solemn engagements and unspeakable obligations to the Saviour, who has redeemed them by his blood and made them joint heirs with himself of eternal glory, make it their special and most imperious duty to labour, each in his station, for the salvation of souls and the general prosperity of the Christian church. The believer is not his own; and in proportion to his conformity to the will of the Divine Master he serves, will he dread the thought of claiming any independent dominion over himself. From the moment in which he becomes a true convert to the christian faith, he feels that he is “ bought with a price," and cannot be altogether a stranger to the spirit which the apostle of the Gentiles

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discovered, when, in obedience to the heavenly vision which arrested him on his way to Damascus, he said; “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The religion which he has embraced is every thing that is remote from a selfish principle. It teaches him to labour, not merely with a view to his own salvation and advancement in the paths of Piety, but to seek, that others may be brought into the fold of Christ, and participate in the same privileges with himself. It is not, therefore, a supposable case, that a regenerated man should be indifferent to so important an object as the conversion of sinners to God-an object which is peculiarly identified with the divine glory and all the ends of the Redeemer's mediation. But we are often very inadequately affected by the urgency of many an acknowledged duty; and, through ignorance or want of zeal, we may continue to live in the almost total neglect of it, or may satisfy ourselves with giving to it little of that seriousness and energy which it may imperiously demand at our hands. That this is too much the case with respect to the obligation which is imposed on all the disciples of Christ, to exert themselves, individually, for the conversion of sinners, is a melancholy fact, which can scarcely be questioned by those who are acquainted with the state of the religious world, and the personal habits of professing christians. There seems to

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be a too general impression, that this is a work which devolves almost exclusively upon those who sustain the ministerial office, while they ought rather to be regarded chiefly as leaders in the spiritual warfare, who can do comparatively nothing without the combined and personal efforts of those private christians who are enlisted under a common banner with themselves, and who are summoned to go forth with them to the help of the Lord against the mighty. This error has, perhaps, tended more than any other assignable cause to paralyze the energies of the church, and to impede the progress of pure and undefiled religion in the world. A mighty agency has thus been withheld, in a great degree, from the service of Christ, the amount of which is incalculably great, and which is by no means yet fully put in requisition to promote the general interests of Zion. Nor is it reasonable to expect that christianity will triumph over existing obstacles, and usher in the glory of the millennial period, until the great body of religious professors feel more intensely the importance of exerting themselves, each in his particular sphere, for the welfare of the unconverted portion of their fellow-creatures.

It requires little discernment to perceive, that the solicitude and active zeal of the christian for the salvation and spiritual welfare of his immediate friends and associates, are so far from being incompatible with the more public virtues and obligations, that they are essentially and closely connected with them. The benevolence which affects to be absorbed in the public good, and which, at the same time, runs counter to the private duties and affections, may have the appearance of the sublime and beautiful in morals; but the object which it professes to contemplate, is too indistinct to be clearly seen, too distant to be at once attained, and too vast in all its bearings to come within the full grasp of the human mind. The avowed and general regard, therefore, for the happiness of the species in which the advocates of modern infidelity declare moral excellence to consist, may afford a convenient subterfuge for the indolence and selfishness of the heart; but it amounts to a cold and chimerical speculation. The common good of society must, indeed, be of greater importance than the private welfare of any portion of its component parts.

It ought, therefore, to be pursued, whenever it comes before us, in the shape of a direct and attainable object, and should be preferred to interests of a more restricted nature which may happen to clash with it. But to do good on an extended scale, is in the power of a small proportion of our race; it is a privilege which belongs to those who are elevated to high official stations in the community, or to persons whose distinguished talents, rank, or

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