THE TEMPORAL ADVANTAGES OF CHRISTIANITY. REV. R. MOREHEAD, A. M.
EPHESIANS, iv. 8.
Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on highy he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto
1 HESE words, my brethren, express very beautifully the nature of those blessings which have been conferred on the human race by the Son of God. " When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive;' he rescued men from the bondage of sin
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and death ; overcame the rulers of the spiritual darkness of this world ; and open1
ed up that new and living way, by which the pure in heart may draw near to God, as children to an indulgent parent.
It is to the concluding words of the text, however, that I wish at present to confine your attention. " He gave gifts unto men. 1 ' The apostle explains immediately to what kind of gifts he refers : " he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ : till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:'
The extraordinary providence of God, in the early progress of the gospel, naturally attracted the peculiar attention of
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the apostle. The spirit of God was visibly moving upon the face of the waters, and dividing the light from the darkness. The beauty of the moral world was now breaking forth into view, and the great Parent of all was seen looking upon it also, and beholding it to be very good. The mind of the apostle evidently labours with the mighty scene that was before him ; and here, as in many other passages of his writings, he seems incapable of finding words to express the magnitude of his conceptions. It was his lot to behold the infant church striking root, the grain of mustard seed thrown into the earth. He saw the hand of him who planted it pouring upon it the dew of heaven ; and his prophetic eye looks forward to the time when it should become a great tree, and the birds of the air should lodge in its branches.
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It was impossible, therefore, in those times, to avoid perceiving the constant presence of Christ with his church, or to overlook the gifts which he was so liberally dispensing among men. But now the case is different ; the religion of Jesus has long been established; the miraculous gifts of the spirit have ceased ; the tree has become great, and the birds are now lodging in its branches. The object is in fact greater and more stupendous than it was in the days of the apostle, but we naturally give it less of our attention. The magnificent arrangement of the heavens, and the beauties so liberally scattered over the face of the earth, are proofs of the divine wisdom and goodness, no less now than on the first day of creation, " when the morning stars sang
logether, and all the sons of God shouted for joy ;" but custom has so enured our minds to the splendid spectacle, that we
scarcely contemplate it with admiration. In like manner, having been born and educated under the influence of Christianity, we lose sight of many of the advantages which we have derived from it ; and are apt to impute most of the blessings which we enjoy to nature, and to the course of events, which yet, when rightly understood, are to be ascribed to our religion.
To this subject I beg leave at present shortly to direct your attention, both as* it is very interesting in itself) and as it
will naturally lead me to speak of that charitable * institution, to which we have this day been invited to contribute.
It is very generally acknowledged, that the state of the world is, on the whole, greatly improved since the introduction of the gospel ; and whatever may be said of the mischiefs occasioned by supersti-
* The Public Dispensary.
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tious and perverted views of Christianity, it cannot be denied, that the natural tendency of a religion which declares all men to be the children of one common parent, and which speaks of charity as the end of the commandment, must ever have been to produce " glory to God in the highest* and on earth peace and good will tmvard.
These effects have followed from Christianity in no common degree. Even in the times of the darkest superstition, there have been men who caught the true spirit of the gospel, and were as cities set upon a hill, that could not be hid." How much happiness was disseminated among men in the worst of times, by the faith and charity of those individuals who have been true followers of Christ, it is impossible lor us to calculate ; hut we may be assured that, although we meet not in the page of history with any detail of
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their humble but glorious efforts, yet the effect produced was not inconsiderable ; and that, while in those gloomy periods, we are acustomed to discern nothing but
superstition and misery, still the footsteps of the Son of God were to be traced among the dwellings of men, and the light from above was still cheering and animating many an honest heart.
The ad vantages of the gospel, however, are more apparent in times of civilization and knowledge. We then find Christianity promoting and sanctifying every exertion which is made for the benefit of the human race. We find it giving an impulse to. every sound and liberal inquiry, and extending the bounds of the science and the wisdom of man. We find its spirit entering into the counsels of nations, and gradually striving to appease the animosities by which they are divided. We find it unbinding the chains
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of the captive, and breathing over the whole world the maxims of impartial justice and of enlightened benevolence.
Are these distinguishing characteristic^ of the Christian world to be ascribed solely to the progress of civilization and philosophy ? Why, then, were they not to be found in the ancient world ? Some of the nations of antiquity were greatly advanced in all the arts and improvements by which social life is benefited and adorned ; but they were far from possessing the same principles of wisdom, of humanity, and of justice, which are now understood at least, if they are but imperfectly brought into action. We are in 'the habit of boasting greatly of our advantages in point of civilization and philosophy ; bwt we are not always very willing to acknowledge the source from which these advantages are derived to us. I will not, however, hesitate to affirm, that
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unless a steady beam from heaven had opened up to man the path of truth and of wisdom, the world would still have exhibited the melancholy spectacle of the blind leading the blind ; and instead of that fair and increasing fabric of knowledge and of improvement which we now behold rearing around us, which is founded upon the rock of ages, and w r hich the winds and the rains of time assail in vain, we should still have beheld the efforts of man wasted on some tower of Babel, beginning in extravagance, and terminating in confusion.
From these extensive views, let us turn to the more familiar consideration of the influence of Christianity on the habits of private life ; how beautifully have these been improved by it ! How
much have the grosser vices been extir* pated, or driven into obscurity ! There is a sanctity and purity in the private
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life of good men, and by a kind of necessity in the domestic life of all men, which was far from prevailing in the world before the introduction of the gospel. Even politeness, and the manners of good society, however artificial they may be, are yet, in a great measure, produced by the influence of Christianity on the public mind. The amusements of men are regulated by the same spirit. There is a decency prevalent, which is expressive of innocence, and which cannot with impunity be greatly violated. Thus luxury has been restrained within bounds; the higher orders of society are prevented from carrying a licence of manners far beyond the
limits of propriety ; and while they are indulged in those elegancies of life which are suited to their station, they are yet kept in check by the warning voice, that they must " use these things as not abusing them"
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If the manners of the affluent have thus been improved, the interests and happiness of the lower orders of society have met, in the progress of the gospel, with a regard and an attention which was quite unexampled in the former history of the world. It is impossible, my brethren, that within my present limits I can do any justice to this most distinguishing feature of Christianity. That it was one great object of our Saviour's mission, appears from his declaration, that he came to " preach the gospel to the poor :" it appears
from the constant application which he gave, when on earth, to the relief of the infirmities of the lowest of the people : it appears stHl more from the striking fact, that he was himself a poor man, who had " not where to lay his head!' I know not any conceivable circumstance which could have had a more powerful influence in raising and dignifying the condition of
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poverty ; in making it respectable in the eyes of the proudest and most affluent ; in making them zealous to relieve the distresses to which it is liable, than this most astonishing fact, that the same person, before whom the potentates of the earth now bow the knee ; whose name in every Christian land is classed with the highest which is named ; whose dignity is so lofty, that the imagination of man loses it amidst the
splendours of Deity ; that he, when he lived among men, should have appeared in the obscurest condition, and with the fewest external advantages. That all these circumstances have had a prodigious effect in removing the worst prejudices which arise from the inequalities of rank in society appears, in the first place, from the comparative freedom and importance to which the lower orders have attained in every Christian country ; and, secondly, from the many institutions which, where-
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ever Christianity is disseminated, have been established for removing the wants, and for relieving the diseases of the poor. It is thus, my brethren, that our Saviour has bestowed present gifts upon men, and that the same divine person who undertook and accomplished their eternal
salvation, is, in the present life, their greatest benefactor and friend. This reflection, pursued through all the departments of human life, in which Christianity has been beneficial, either by its precepts or its spirit, restores us again, in some measure, to the times of its origin, and makes us still partake in the benefit of our Saviour's presence. When we accustom ourselves to behold his hand spreading abroad happiness among nations, or pointing out to men the paths of peace in private life, we can still fancy that we are enjoying his company, and listening to his sublime instructions. We even are witnesses of his miracles ; we see the wor<t
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diseases of body or of mind healed or relieved in those institutions which his Spirit inspired, and over which it presides ;
and, like the disciples of old, we hear his voice sending us forth to be fellow-workers with him in these labours of love, with him" " to preach the gospel to the poor ; to heal the sick; to cleanse the lepers ; and freely to give, as freely we have received"
On the subject of the institution, which at present claims our assistance, my words shall be few. It is most evidently a Christian institution, and breathes the genuine spirit of the gospel. It supplies the poor of our people with aid and advice, under the pressure of disease ; restores to their families the labour of fathers and of sons; and smooths the bed of death to the infirm and the aged. " It suffers likewise the little children to come unto it ;" and by the application of that blessed discovery *, which
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has in our day been " a gift unto men" and which has for ever freed the anxious minds of parents from one of their heaviest alarms, it preserves to the poor man those children to whom he yet looks forward for his future support, and whom he hopes to render a blessing to their country. I need not add one farther word of recommendation. You have here, my brethren, an opportunity of co-operating with your heavenly master in his benevolent designs for the good of mankind. You have lately risen from his altar, where you beheld him " ascending up on high, and leading captivity captive" He now sends you forth to be the ministers of " his gifts to men" Go, then, and rejoice that you are thought worthy to be so employed ; and remember with gratitude, " that, inasmuch as ye do good to one of the least of these his brethren" he esteems it done " unto him /"
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