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Infidelity has perhaps spent her best efforts in that frightful struggle which she made, during the latter part of the last century, in a neighbouring country, to subvert the moral and social system of the world, and cast all classes of its civilized creatures into the cheerless gloom of natural religion. We have seen the appalling effects of her temporary ascendancy, and though hurled from her pernicious elevation, she still continues formidable, and is, alas! but too easily armed for mischief. Europe has already witnessed, nay, she has felt, through the wide extent of her circuit, those mighty convulsions in the moral world, the consequences of those desperate principles which a hybrid philosophy for a while so successfully propagated. Many still live who can recollect the frightful horrors of a period when, under the cloak of freedom, the most wanton atrocities were committed, which are to be found in the annals of crime. Religion was banished from the societies of the new reformers ; LIBERTY was their watch-word; and, under the banners of a monster which they consecrated with her name and title, they gave way to all the ferocity of demons, and tracked their footsteps in the merciless carnage of those who subscribed not to their impious creed. The vain and daring pretensions of a hollow but dextrous philosophy superseded for a while, among many profligate and deluded men, the sober dictates of reason and religion. The seductive doc
trine of universal freedom, which furnished a palliative for every vice, was subtly expounded and greedily received until infidelity seemed about to triumph upon the ruins of civil and religious government. The reign of terror, it is true, was short, but, during the melancholy period of its continuance, the just execrations of the virtuous were lavished upon its desperate supporters. It is only memorable for deeds of atrocity, which time can never obliterate from the records of human events. They will ever remain a signal memorial of the horrors of unbelief, and prove to every generation of mankind, that where there is no religion, there can be no virtue.
Let us recur to the words of Jeremiah against the false prophets among the Jews. “By sword and famine shall these prophets be consumed, and the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, because of the famine and the sword ; and they shall have none to bury them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters, for I will pour their wickedness upon them.” When we recall to our recollections the end of nearly all the most sanguinary promoters of that rash system of unbelief, which for awhile convulsed a neighbouring kingdom, we might be almost tempted to think, that there was in their fate, and that denounced against the false prophets, with their deluded adherents, something more than an accidental coincidence.
Though the poisonous stream which so lately polluted France has been arrested in its pernicious course, its effects are still visible, and that to a deplorable extent, among the living descendants of those who opened the fountains of that sweeping torrent:—nay, indeed, these sad effects are to be traced throughout the nation, whose frivolities, to give them no harsher name, it is but too much the fashion among the more opulent classes of these kingdoms to admire and imitate.
It is not to be assumed, because infidelity is at this moment openly professed by few, and because it is now so generally execrated, that it is, therefore, not to be feared. “Let him that thinketh
“ . he standeth take heed lest he fall;" and who is there that may not be induced by false arguments to renounce the truth, unless the pure principles of religion be deeply rooted in his mind and heart? Equivocal believers are always in danger of imbibing the tenets of those for whose talents they happen to have a high respect; and, if these latter be unbelievers, their authority in matters of faith and practice will be too apt to influence their admirers, who, though they may not imbibe all, will, nevertheless, be likely to imbibe many of the principles of their corrupters, especially if they have once allowed themselves to grow lax in the pursuit of religion; and where one false principle is admitted, it is impossible to say how many may follow it. Such principles, too, can have all but one tendency, for
error wantonly persisted in, can only slope the way to wretchedness and ruin: these principles will infallibly be the promoters of iniquity; they will engender endless difficulties, confusions, miseries, for “all iniquity is as a two-edged sword, the wounds whereof cannot be healed."
If we once suffer ourselves to relax in our affiance towards God, from whom alone “cometh our help in time of need,” our own strength will be insufficient to secure us against the influence of sophistry; and there are never wanting those who would feel a malignant delight in misleading us. But “I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them; for they are such as serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
If religion, as it really does, affords us the highest consolations which can be derived to man in this chequered existence; if it alleviates our sufferings, assuages our grief, reconciles us to calamity, supports us under an adverse, and secures us from the dangers of a prosperous condition ; if it exalts our hopes, subdues our despair, promotes our joys, and corrects our sorrows; if it disarms our terrors at the prospect of death, awakens our fortitude, fortifies our patience, stifles our discontent, and establishes peace
within our bosoms ; if, in short, it be the only source of true happiness upon earth, as it will ultimately be of everlasting happiness in Heaven ; what shall be said of those profane and audacious theorists, who, under the mask of zeal for the reformation of mankind, would neutralize those powerful resourses of the soul under her temporal trials, and cut it off at once from all its dependencies, its consolations, and its hopes? And, perhaps, in every religious community some such impure members are to be found, but they are “false apostles, deceitful workers, whose end shall be according to their works.” “They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
It is difficult to account for the malignant—the horrible emotions which sometimes agitate the human heart, when God is excluded from its affections, and it is made the idol of its own worship. But that heart certainly betrays the most callous indifference to the welfare of its kind, and, at the same time, the most daring rebellion against the supremacy of Heaven, which seeks to involve another in its own impiety, and accumulate upon it its own self-inflicted miseries. Such, however, is the depravity of human nature, when fallen into the excess of sin, that it is ever eager to seduce others into guilt, and is best satisfied when it can involve them in its own eternal ruin. “Let no man, then, deceive you with vain words, for, because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience."