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troductory dispensation, such as those which have preceded it?
The more common opinion is, that this is the final dispensation, and that, by a more copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it will magnify itself, and swell into the universal blessedness predicted by the prophets, carrying with it Jews and Gentiles, even the whole world, in one glorious flock, under one shepherd, Jesus Christ the Lord. This is reiterated from pulpit, press, and platform. It is the usual climax of missionary exhortation, or rather missionary prophecy.
On the supposition that this is the truth, it must be admitted, that the accomplishment of the promise has advanced, and is still advancing, very slowly; and that even now, after eighteen centuries, comparatively little has been done ; for, although Christianity established itself on the downfall of the most cultivated Paganism, with sufficient rapidity to convince every candid mind, that it was from God; yet in reference to the great promise affecting the whole world, its progress has hitherto been slow indeed. This, however, would of itself be no argument against our dispensation being the final one; because slowness in the eye of man, is not necessarily slowness in the proceedings of God.
But supposing this to be the final dispensation, the dawn of the day of universal blessedness, we might expect to find the advance of the light, though slow, yet progressive. Now it must in fairness be admitted, that the history of the Church of Christ does not answer to this expectation. Christianity has not been holding her ground in the world while she advanced to further conquests. Her course resembles the emigrations of a pilgrim, rather than the triumphant establishments of a conqueror. From many places, where once she presided in her beauty, she has departed without leav. ing even her name behind : from others all that was valuable about her is gone, and only a name remains. For look along her wake! Where is the apostolical church of Jerusalem over which James presided in the sober dignity of inspired wisdom ? Gone! The holy city is trodden down of the Gentiles. The crescent of the false prophet of Arabia waves over its walls. Where are the churches of Ephesus, of Smyrna, of Pergamos, of Thyatira, of Sardis, of Philadelphia, of Laodicea, to whom the Spirit spake by the beloved disciple ? Gone! all gone! The name of Christian is indeed retained in some of those districts, but it is an empty name. Where are the churches of Carthage and Hippo Regius ? Gone! The voices of Cyprian and Augustin find no kindred spirit to prolong their echos on the shores of north-eastern Africa : even the very name of Jesus has been eradicated from the barbarous soil. Where is the fair daughter of heaven, who appearing in the hired
lodging of Saul of Tarsus, and making her way into Cæsar's household, shone so long with simple beauty in imperial Rome? She retains indeed the name of Christian, and usurps the name of Catholic; but, alas ! how grievously is she defiled by the fornication of the kings of the earth! her native purity is gone, and abomination, yea, Mother of Abominations is written upon her forehead. Where are the churches of Wittemburg and Geneva, those lights from the Lord which burst upon the darkness of Europe by the instrumentality of Luther and Calvin ? Gone! Reasoning infidelity, under various well-sounding names, presides over the fountains of instruction, poisoning the streams; while darkness has again covered the land, and gross darkness the people. In our own favoured country what has been the progress of Christianity ? Thanks be unto God, the candlestick has not been removed from the churches established in these islands. We have and hold in our articles of faith a true confession : but it is painful to ask and answer the question, has true scriptural religion increased among us? For omitting that portion of our population which is infidel in creed, or openly ungodly in practice, or both, (a portion of fearful magnitude,) and confining our observation to the more regular, formal, and apparently Christian members of our community, what shall we say ? Information has indeed increased an hundredfold. Education has spread her benign embrace around the length
and breadth of our land. Decency, and order, and harmony, and peace, delightfully prevail. But need you be reminded, brethren, that all these things may be where true scriptural religion is not? That the gospel, by its collateral effects, may civilize, and reform, and polish a whole community, while it directly evangelizes and saves only a very small remnant ? That (to use the language of Luther) it may produce Reguluses and Fabriciuses, upright and righteous men according to man's judgment, and yet have nothing in it of the nature of genuine righteousness before God? And is it not true, at this moment, that the prevailing tone of Christianity has so subsided into a good-natured quietness, a plausible profession of individual humility slily praising itself, while, at the same time, it affects too much diffidence to find fault with any other; and an indiscriminate charity, which kindly implies that all creeds are equally safe at last? I repeat, is not the prevailing tone of Christianity in this country so infected with the atmosphere of this fashionable liberality, that any thing approaching the spirit, and fire, and zeal, and faith of primitive piety, is denounced as fanaticism; as unholy, because unhumbled impetuosity, or, at least, shrunk from and shunned as enthusiasm, needlessly offensive, and therefore exceedingly injudicious ? And is not this the secret of the great apparent increase of religion among us? The church has relaxed in both her doctrine and practice. She occupies a lower and
broader platform than is meet; and having laid aside, as ultra and unnecessary, much of what is forbidding to the carnal mind; she has enticed multitudes to join hands with her, whose hearts are not right with her Lord, and who would never have made a show of joining her, had she adhered to the faithfulness of her Lord's truth, and the holiness of her Lord's example. It is not so much that genuine Christianity has increased ; as that a spurious mixture, diluted down to the palate of the world, is passing current for the true.
But granting the full extent of what some contend for, as to the increase of true religion in England; still, it cannot be maintained that Christianity has been progressive, acquiring and retaining influence over the families of the earth. And in reference to the promise of universal blessedness, the fulfilment of which is anticipated under this dispensation, it is worthy of remark, that the inspired description of what all the families of mankind shall be, is not yet applicable (neither has it ever been) to even one single family in the most favoured city or village of Christendom: so that in order to complete the glorious work, the effects produced must not only be enlarged in degree, but also become different in kind.
I do not say that these considerations contain a proof of this dispensation not being the final one: but I certainly think that they are, at least, calculated to excite in unprejudiced minds a suspicion