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Protestants into the frowning wilderness! Is not Puritanism, in its very stronghold, fast verging to downright infidelity ?
Look at New York, our great commercial emporium. Each succeeding year the infidels hold there a national convention, for the purpose of organizing themselves for a regular crusade against Christianity. The convention conducts its proceedings unblushingly, in the open light of day; it is held, as if in defiance, during the very week of the great religious anniversaries; and even women participate in its deliberations ! The public press, too, spread out before the community the speeches and resolutions of this assembly, with a nonchalance really ominous. What, but a few years ago, would have sent a thrill of horror from one end of this union to the other, now causes comparatively but a slight sensation, and passes off almost without a rebuke!
If all these, and many similar signs of the times, fail to convince us of the strong infidel tendency of our age, the startling fact revealed by the religious statistics of the American Almanac can not fail to rivet that conviction on the minds of the most skeptical. It is estimated, from authentic sources of information, that, of all our adult population, over twenty-one years of age, MORE THAN HALF BELONG TO NO RELIGIOUS DENOMINATION WHATEVER! That is, that more than half of our grown population is composed either of downright unbelievers, or of persons indifferent on the subject of religion, or, at least, of those who have not up their minds as to the sect they mean to embrace.
And yet this is the age of boasted enlightenment, and this is the land of open Bibles, of tract and missionary societies, and of religious knowledge !
In view of all these facts, we must believe that there is something grievously and radically wrong in the whole religious complexion and tendency of our age. Effects so startling must have an adequate cause, and it requires no wizard to tell what that cause is. The fatal source of all this mischief is THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT IN MATTERS OF RELIGION, IN OPPOSITION TO THAT OF AUTHORITY. The distracting and disorganizing principle of individuality has set itself up against the great conservative principle of an authority, based on antiquity, and secured from error by Divine promise. Hence the prolific brood of jarring sects which overspread our land; hence the unsettling of religious belief; hence indifferentism and infidelity.
The truth is, the leading Protestant sects employ against the distinctive doctrines of Catholicity the self-same arguments that the infidel employs against Christianity. The doctrine of the real presence is unreasonable and absurd, therefore it must be rejected. The doctrine of confession is too humiliating to man, and gives too much power and influence to the priesthood ; therefore it, too, must be discarded. The hierarchy and the papal supremacy fetter individual freedom of opinion, therefore they must be abolished. Catholicity imposes too many painful restraints on human nature ; it is antiquated, and no longer adapted to the growing wants and exigencies of our enlightened age; therefore Catholicity must be put
down. What ther species of logic than this does the infidel employ against Christianity itself? What other weapons are wielded against the Bible, with its astonishing miracles and inco:n prehensible mysteries ?
So long as Protestantism will continue to adopt a system of logic flattering human pride, and pandering to human passion, so long will it lend weapons to infidelity to be wielded with murderous effect against Christianity itself. In its present distracted condition, and with its present worldly armor, it must prove utterly powerless in the warfare with unbelief. It occupies a false position ; it began wrong, and has continued wrong; it must retrace its steps, and re-occupy the old Catholic vantage ground, ere it can hope to battle successfully in the sacred cause of truth. The experience of full three hundred years has already proved the ruinous tendency of the principle which was its great starting point; till that principle be discarded, infidelity will and must continue to reap an abundant harvest, wherever Protestantism is prevalent. It has ever been so ; it will ever be so ; in the very nature of things it must be so.
The religious opinions of our age and country oscillate between two extremes, fanaticism and indifferentism. On the one hand we behold an extreme of religious excitement, on the other, an almost total apathy or a lurking sneer. On the one side, we hear an endless cant about the sabbath and the Bible, about revivals and getting religion," about tract societies and missionary societies, about money to support the missionaries, and their wives and children ; on the other, we are chilled by an ominous silence, as of the grave. Fanaticism makes the most noise ; but indifferentism gains the most proselytes. We seem to be on the eve of beholding the full verification of that awful prophecy uttered by Christ: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on the Earth ?” 1
We repeat, then, the declaration of our firm conviction, that the great coming struggle in our age and country will not be between Catholicity and Protestantism, so much as between Catholicity and indifferentism or infidelity. The present desperate effort of Protestantism to put down Catholicity in this free republic is evidently spasmodic, and can not last long; it is a fierce and animated skirmishing, which is but the forerunner of the great coming struggle between Catholicity and unbelief. But Catholicity has already come out victorious from too many fierce contests with infidelity, in every possible form and shape, to fear the issue of this great struggle. Her brow is already decorated with too many laurel wreaths of victory, to allow her to anticipate or fear defeat in her old age. He that could not err has said: “ The gates of hell skall nor prevail against her."
II. The second position which we proposed to establish, viz., that modern society forgets religion and heavenly things in the all-absorbing interest which it takes in the paltry concerns of this earth, need not detain us long. This general worldly-mindedness of our age is but too
1 St. Luke, xviji, 8.
apparent, and it is one other fruitful source of that religious indifference which we have just been deploring. With the men of our age this world is everything, the world to come is nothing. They think on time and its short-lived and ever-changing interests; they forget eternity with its never-ending rewards and punishments. Or if they think of eternity at all, it is only at long intervals, and with but little attention. The world, with its bustling scenes and busy pursuits, engrosses everything.
Avarice is the besetting sin of the age. Ours is, emphatically, the enlightened age of dollars and cents! Its motto is ; Post NUMMOS VIRTUS; MONEY FIRST, VIRTUE AFTERWARDS! Utilitarianism is the order of the day. Everything is estimated in dollars and cents. Almost every order and profession our literature, our arts, and our sciences all worship in the temple of mammon. The temple of God is open during only one day in the week, that of mammon is open during six. Everything smacks of gold. The fever of avarice is consuming the very heart's blood of our people. Hence that restless desire to grow suddenly rich; hence that feverish agitation of our population ; hence broken constitutions and premature old age. If we have not discovered the philosopher's stone, it has surely not been for want of the seeking. If everything cannot now be turned into gold, it is certainly not for want of unceasing exertions for this purpose.
We have even heard of churches having been built on speculation ! And if the traveler from some distant clime should chance suddenly to enter one of our fashionable meeting-houses; if he should look at its splendidly cushioned seats, on which people are seen comfortably lolling, and then glance at the naked walls, and the utter barrenness of all religious emblems and associations in the interior of the building, he would almost conclude that he had entered, by mistake, into some finely furnished lecture-room, where the ordinary topics of the day were to be discussed. And if he were informed that this edifice had been erected and furnished by a joint stock company on shares, and that these shrewd speculators looked confidently to the income from the rent of the seats as a return for their investment, his original impression would certainly not be weaker.ed. But the conclusion would be irresistible, if he were told still farther, that, in order to secure a good attendance of the rich and fashionable, the owners of the stock had taken the prudent precaution to engage, at a high salary, some popular and eminent preacher! Those who have watched closely the signs of the times, will admit that this is not a mere fancy sketch, and that it is not even exaggerated.
Alas! alas ! for the utilitarianism, or rather materialism of our boasted age of enlightenment! In such a condition of things, can we wonder at the general prevalence of religious indifference, and of unblushing infidelity? As in the days of Horace, our children are taught to calculate, but not to pray. They learn arithmetic, but not religion.
The mischievous inaxim, that children must grow up without any distinctive religious impressions, and then, when they have attained the age of discretion, must choose a religion for themselves, is frightfully prevalent amongst us. This maxim is about as wise as would be that of the agriculturist who should resolve to permit his fields to lie neglected in the spring season, and to become overgrown with weeds and briers, under the pretext that, when summer would come, it would be time enough to scatter over them the good seed! It amounts to this · human nature is corrupt and downward in its tendency ; let it fester in its corruption, and become confirmed in its rottenness; and then it will be time enough to apply the remedy, or, rather, human nature will then re-act and heal itself!
Another cognate maxim, equally prevalent, is equally mischievous in its tendency. It is the latitudinarian doctrine, that it matters not what religion a man embraces, provided he endeavor to be a moral man and an upright citizen. As if light and darkness, truth and error, were indifferent to God! As if Christ would have died on the cross to seal His holy religion with His blood, and yet is wholly indifferent whether men embrace it or not! As if the divine Author of Christianity had left His religion vague and undefined, to be apprehended by each one according to his own judgment and fancy, or had made it a jumble of confused and jarring sects !
With all these pernicious maxims current in our community, and silently exercising their malign influence on successive generations, can we wonder at the dreadful and constantly increasing moral disorders which prevail ? Can we wonder that our youth, under such training, drink in vice like water, and become the bane of that society of which they should be the ornament and support? Raised without any intellectual or religious restraint, and with but little moral discipline, is it at all surprising that intemperance, quarrels, riots, and bloodshed, are the order of the day? Human nature is corrupt, and, when unrestrained by religion, it naturally runs into excesses of every kind. Unless children are trained up to govern their passions, how will they learn to restrain them when arrived at the age of manhood ? Scarcely a day passes, that we do not read of some dreadful deed of violence, homicide, or murder; and unless the evil be checked, our newspapers will become little better than Newgate Calendars! Alas, for the moral evils of our times !
Such, O Protestantism, are some of the bitter fruits thou hast bequeathed to the world! Such are some of the “ fantastic tricks” thou hast played off before high heaven! Thou art fairly responsible for the unsettling of religious faith, for the frightful multiplication of sects, for the wide-spread moral disorders, and for the extensive prevalence of religious indifference and infidelity in our land! And on the great day of the Lord, when the secrets of men shall be revealed by the Searcher of hearts, thou shalt be beld strictly to thy responsibility !
With all these mischievous maxims extensively prevalent, and with the canker of sectarianism preying on its very heart-strings, Protestantism can do little more than secure a mere external conformity and a lifeless
formalism, if it can even do that. It may succeed in preserving a fait exterior; it may “make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish,” but decay is at its bosom, and it is powerless for internal purification. It has been weighed in the balance, and has been found wanting. It has strained at the gnat of alleged abuses in the Catholic Church, and it has swallowed the camel of sectarianism. It has wasted its energies on trifles, and has "let alone the weightier things of the law : judgment, and mercy, and faith.”! It must return to "its first faith ;” it must seek the rock from which it was riven;" it must "stand by the way, and look, and ask for the OLD PATHS, which is the good way, and walk in it;" 2 else it can find no rest to its soul, and can effect no healing of the nations by its ministrations !
In conclusion, we repeat the opinion, that the great problem of our age will be, to decide between Catholicity and infidelity, and that the sooner this issue is clearly understood and fairly met, the better. Nothing but Catholicity can heal the disorders of the age, and give a wholesome impulse and direction to its tendencies. Protestantism has been tried, and it has failed; it has aggravated, instead of healing, the crying evils of the times.
1 Et. Matth. xxiii, 23, 25.
2 Jeremiah vi, 10.