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ON THE MEANS TO BE EMPLOYED FOR THE COUNTERACTION
Every improvement in society is brought about by exertion, and by the diligent use of those means which are best calculated to promote the end intended. Christianity was introduced into the world, and rapidly extended over many nations, by the unwearied labours of the apostles, who travelled into remote countries, submitting to numerous hardships, dangers, and privations, and “counted not their lives dear to them, so that they might testify the gospel of the grace of God," and promote the salvation of men. Had the same holy ardour which animated those first ambassadors of the Prince of Peace, been displayed by their successors, the world would have been in a very different state from that in which we now behold it. It is owing to our apathy and inactivity as Christians, that so many immoralities and unholy principles are to be found displaying their baneful effects around us, and that so little has been done for the advancement of society, and the evangelization of heathen nations. If we wish to behold a work of reformation going forward, and Zion beginning to appear “beautiful and glorious in the eyes of the nations,” we must arouse ourselves from our indolence, and seize upon every means by which vice and every malignant principle may be counteracted and thoroughly subdued. And as covetousness lies near the foundation of most of the evils connected with general society, and with a profession of Christianity, it becomes us to use every rational and Christian mean, which may have a tendency to crush its power, and to promote the exercise of opposite affections. Some of the means by which this unholy principle may be subdued, have already been alluded to, and embodied in the form of motives and arguments addressed to the consciences of professors of religion. In addition to these, I shall suggest only two or three particulars.
1. Frequent preaching on this subject, and occasional public sermons for the purpose of illustrating it, should be resorted to for the purpose of counteracting this malignant affection.
There is, perhaps, no mode by which so powerful an impression may be made on any subject, on the minds of Christians in general, as by the viva voce discourses of a respected, eloquent, and enlightened preacher, especially if his discussions be enlivened by vivid representations of sensible objects, and appeals to striking facts connected with his subject. Such appeals can scarcely be altogether resisted by persons impressed with religious principle; and it is to be regretted that Christians have not more frequently, in this way, been stirred up to a performance of their duty. Nor ought it to be considered as deviating from the preaching of the gospel, when such subjects are introduced into the pulpit. For they are intimately connected with the progress of Divine truth; and the gospel can never extensively take effect, nor its principles be fully acted upon in Christian society, till such subjects be pointedly and publicly brought forward, and undergo the most serious and solemn consideration. But it requires to be carefully attended to, that no preacher come forward publicly to denounce covetousness, and to attempt to stir up Christians to liberality, who is himself known, or suspected to be under the influence of a worldly or avaricious disposition. The most vivid representations, and the most pathetic appeals of such a preacher would only rebound from the hearts of his audience, like an arrow from a wall of marble. For how can a man who is continually aspiring after wealth, living in splendour, yet grumbling on account of the smallness of his income, and who seldom gives in proportion to his ability to any philanthropic object; how could such a one expect, by the most splendid oration, to produce a deep and moral impression upon his hearers? For example, in this, as well as in every other case, would have a more powerful effect than precept.
A few months ago, I was conversing with a gentleman on this subject, who mentioned several honourable examples of liberality connected with the congregation of which he is a member; some of whom, who only occupied a medium station in life, contributed to the amount of twenty and thirty pounds yearly for public religious purposes, so that the whole congregation raised £500 or £600 annually, for missionary and other purposes, besides the regular maintenance of the gospel among themselves. His minister, he said, maintained the principle, that every Christian should, at least, devote the one-tenth of his income for religious purposes. I asked him the amount of the minister's stipend, and was informed that it was at least £450 per annum. I then inquired if his minister set an example to his hearers, and by acting in accordance with his own principle, and if it was a fact that he devoted £45 per annum to religious and philanthropic objects? The reply was, “I am sure he does not.” “ To what amount, then, does he contribute for such purposes ?" “ About eight or ten pounds annually, at the utmost.' this be the case," I replied, " I should scarcely have had the effrontery to inculcate such a principle upon others ;" and I was given to understand, that, in this case, the discrepancy between his conduct and the principle admitted, was beginning to be particularly marked. Why should ministers, particularly those who have handsome incomes, consider themselves as exceptions to a general rule? If they do not set an example of liberality in their conduct, all their instructions on this point will go for nothing, and be only as “a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.”
2. Christian churches should strictly investigate the conduct of their members, in relation to the portion of wealth they devote to religious objects.
Those members of a Christian church whose incomes are generally known, and who are remiss on this point, ought to be calmly reasoned with as to their duty in this respect, on scriptural grounds, and in accordance with the principles and obligations they admit as Christians. And if they obstinately resist every argument and admonition addressed to them, and refuse to give a fair proportion of their substance to the service of Him from whom they derived it, they ought to be suspended from the peculiar privileges of Christian society. The church of Christ has undoubtedly a right to take cognizance of its members, as to this point, as well as when they are chargeable with a breach of duty in any other respect, or found guilty of a direct violation of the laws of God. We are too apt to imagine (and custom has long sanctioned the opinion) that the censures of the church are only to be inflicted on those who are guilty of what the world terms scandals; and many professors of religion are thus led to consider themselves as acting a dutiful part in Christian society, if no such scandals can be proved against them. But the non-performance of duty is equally sinful, and as regularly denounced in scripture, as the direct commission of vicious actions. “ If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain ; doth not He who pondereth the heart consider it ?” “ Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth
his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” The unprofitable servant who hid his talent in the earth, is not accused of drunkenness, uncleanness, licentiousness, or any similar crime, yet, because he misimproved the talent committed to his trust, he is doomed to the same punishment as the most flagrant workers of iniquity. “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is by the regular performance of duty, more than by freedom from vicious practices, that the reality of Christian principle is displayed. There is, perhaps, nothing that brings a man's Christian character to a more decisive
test, both to his own conscience, and in the eyes of others, than the circumstance of his voluntarily and perseveringly devoting a fair proportion of his wealth to the service of God, and the benefit of mankind. A worldly-minded man may continue for a considerable time to attend Divine ordinances, and make a fair profession of religion, while no regular demands are made upon his purse; but when called upon to contribute regularly, at least the tenth part of his income, it is more than probable he would display the latent avarice of his heart, by mustering up a host of carnal arguments against such a demand, and would soon take his station, where he ought to be, among the men of the world. But, if a man of wealth devote one-third, fourth, or even one-tenth of his riches to the cause of God and religion, and act a consistent part in other respects, a Christian church possesses, perhaps, the most tangible evidence they can demand of such a man's religious principle.
There is a certain false delicacy which some religious communities seem to feel in meddling with the pecuniary affairs or allotments of individuals, and especially of those who are wealthy, or who move in the higher spheres of society. They are afraid lest the pride of such persons should be hurt by such plain dealing-lest they should fly off at a tangent from their community, and lest the funds of their society should be injured by their withdrawment. But, although it is proper to use the greatest prudence and delicacy in such matters, yet, if such persons refuse to listen to calm reasoning and scriptural arguments and admonitions, they give evidence of a spirit which is inconsistent with Christian principle; and it is no honour to any church to have such enrolled among the number of its members. A church of Christ is a society whose members are animated by holy principles and affections ; but most of our churches require to be sifted and purified —to be purified from the communion of those who are actuated by a worldly spirit, and who have little more of religion than the name; and, I know no better external test that could be applied for this purpose, than that which