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And not only is it necessary to the success of such ministry of the press, that it should make the crucified Saviour the great theme of its teachings; it should also present this theme, as far as possible, in a scriptural manner. By this we mean, not a mere iteration of the words of sacred writ, but that the mind of the writer should be so imbued with the spirit of the Scripture, and so possessed by its doctrines, and so haunted by its imagery and illustrations, as to present, naturally and earnestly, the great truths of the scheme of salvation, in that proportion and with those accompaniments which are found in the inspired volume. His thoughts must all be habited, as far as it may be, in the garb, and breathe the spirit of that only book to which we can ascribe unmingled truth.
That the works of the American Tract Society are thus evangelical in their character, would seem scarce needing froof, since none, as far as we know, have yet questioned it. Amid the fierce and embittered controversies, from which the church has never been exempt, (and certainly not in our own times,) we know not that any, among the several bodies of Christians generally recognized as evangelical, have arisen to impugn in this respect the character of the Society's issues. This has not been because these books have been secretly circulated. They have been found everywhere, dropped in the highway and lodged in the pastor's study, distributed in the nursery, the railcar, the steam-boat, and the stage-coach, as well as exposed on the shelves of the book-store, and they have challenged the investigation of all into whose hands they have come. Denominations of Christians, divided from each other by varying views as to the discipline and polity of the church of Christ, and even holding opposite sentiments as to some of the more important doctrines of the Gospel, have yet agreed in recognizing in these publications the great paramount truths of that Gospel, and have co-operated long, liberally, and harmoniously, in their distribution and use.
The names of the authors whose volumes are found in friendly juxtaposition, standing side by side on the shelves of the libraries the Society has provided for the Christian household and school, seem to furnish another strong pledge to the same effect. Doddridge, Baxter, Edwards, Owen, Flavel, and Bunyan, are names that seem to belong less to any one division of the Christian host than to the whole family of Christ. They are the current coin of the church, which have passed so freely from hand to hand, that the minuter superscription of the sects to which they may have belonged, the denominational imprint, seems to have been worn away in the wide, unquestioned circulation they have received. And they have been acknowledged by evangelical believers, wherever the English language and literature have gone, as faithful and most powerful preachers of the Gospel of Christ. They have received higher attestation even than that of having their “praise" thus “in all the churches." The Head of the church has not withholden his benediction and imprint. The influence of His Spirit has long and largely rested on the written labors of these his servants; and, while the authors themselves have been in the
their works are yet following them in lengthening and widening trains of usefulness. Multitudes have been converted, and thousands of others have traced to these books their own growth in Christian holiness. Some of these writers were, while upon the earth, not inactive or unsuccessful as preachers with the living voice; yet it may be questioned whether all the seals of their living ministry would equal the tithe of the seals which God has continued to set to their posthumous ministry in the volumes they have bequeathed to the world and the church.
II. But how far are they adapted to the wants of THE PRESENT GENERATION OF MANKIND ? We know that in the varying tastes and habits of society, and its ever-shifting currents of feeling, new channels of thought are scooped out, and new forms of expression become popular; and the writer whose compositions present not these forms and move not in these channels, may find himself deserted as obsolete. His works are consigned to the unmolested and dusty shelves of the antiquarian, while other and fresher rivals grasp the sceptre of popularity and usefulness that has passed from his hands. New conditions of society and new institutions also, may require another style of address and another train of instruction than those which, once indeed, were most salutary and seasonable, but are so no longer. If other classes of literature become antiquated, and the old give place to the new, may it not be so with religious literature ? may it not be so with much of the literature from which the American Tract Society is seeking to supply the Christians of the present
1. What then are the wants of the present age? Religion, it should be remembered, if true, must be in its great principles unchangeable, and the same in all eras of the world's history.
“Can length of years on God himself exact,
And make that fiction which was once a fact?". A revelation, from its source and the nature of its contents, possesses, therefore, a fixedness and constancy that can belong to no science of merely human origin. The Bible stands apart from all the literature of man's devising, as a book never to be superseded-susceptible of no amendment, and never to be made obsolete whilst the world stands. The book of the world's Creator and the world's Governor, the record of the world's history and the world's duty, the world's sin and the world's salvation, it will endure while that world lasts, and continue to claim its present authority as long as that government over the present world may continue. Religious works, therefore, the more profoundly they are imbued with the spirit of the Bible, will
the more nearly partake of its indestructibility. Hence the Confessions of Augustine, written so many centuries ago, are not yet an obsolete book, nor can be while the human heart and the Christian religion continue the same that they now are. In their religious literature, the church and the world in the nineteenth century must, therefore, in most respects, have the same wants as the church and the world in earlier ages.
It will be allowed, however, that there are certain peculiarities in the history and character of an age that may make one form of address and one style of discussion much more useful and reasonable in its religious literature than another. Has our country at this period any such peculiar wants? We might refer to many circumstances in its government and its people, their pursuits and their character, which distinguish, and as it were, individualize our land and our age. But to sum them all in one word, we suppose the main distinction and boast of our people is, that they are a practical race. Others theorize; they act. Visionary reforms and schemes of society, that might in other regions be nursed for centuries in the brains of philosophers, and be deemed practicable only because they have never been reduced to practice, if they find proselytes amongst us, are soon brought to the test of actual experiment; their admirers here act upon the theories, which, elsewhere, are but reasoned upon, and the system, exploding in the trial, refutes itself. Our countrymen, the colonists of a wide and fertile territory, the mariners whose keels vex every shore, and whose sails whiten the remotest seas, inherit the solid sense, the sober judgment, the energy, daring, and perseverance of the Anglo-Saxon race;
and their political institutions and the broad territory yet to be subdued and peopled, here give full scope to these traits of character. We are as yet, though a nation of readers, not a nation of students; but much more a nation of seamen, farmers, and traders. Our very studies are practical; and the cast of character which distinguished the Roman from the Greek mind, and which made the former the masters of the world—the practical character of the mind and its pursuits—belongs, in all climes and on every shore, to the Saxon race. If we, as a nation, have in this era of our history specific wants, we want then a practical literature in religion, as in other branches of knowledge—a religious literature, adapted, with practical wisdom, to the peculiar duties and snares, the prevalent errors and the popular institutions of our time. Has this Society furnished such ?
That portion of its publications which are of American origin, and which its exertions have been the means of calling out, or of diffusing more widely where they already existed, all its books that are of recent and domestic origin, may be supposed naturally to possess some tolerable degree of adaptation to our own national wants, the prevailing sins and follies of the times, and the peculiar responsibilities and privileges of Christian churches in the United States, in the nineteenth century. The writers are of us, and wrote for us, and we may suppose that these productions at least are not wanting in such adaptation. Their currency and their usefulness, the souls which, by the blessing of God, they have converted, and their influence on the saith, zeal, and purity of the churches, afford evidence of the same kind. Of the 430 pamphlet Tracts in the English language, issued by the Society, more than one half are of American origin. It was not so in the earlier years of the Society's history. Of the first one hundred Tracts on the lists of this Society, more than two thirds were republications from works of British Christians, of the richest character indeed, but they were the siftings of a rich religious literature more than two centuries old. Of the last one hundred of these 430 Tracts, on the other hand, more than three fourths were by American Christians. We have not pursued the investigation into the bound volumes of the Society; but we suppose that there a similar result would be reached, although the proportion of American authorship is not yet as large, perhaps, as in the pamphlet Tracts. Here also it is increasing, however, and one third of the volumes may be regarded as of domestic origin. It would be found, we suppose, that the Society, in the brief period of seventeen years, has done much to create a national religious literature.
To effect any literary changes, seventeen years, it should be remembered, is a very brief period. As far then as adaptedness to the special wants of this country can be decided by the domestic or foreign authorship of its publications, it would appear that the Society has, with great rapidity, exerted a most perceptible and powerful influence on the writers and readers of our churches. It has elicited and diffused a literature that is emphatically for us, inasmuch as it is from ourselves. The intelligent Christian can never wish to see his denomination or his country confining its sympathies and its studies to the literature of the sect itself, or of that one country, thus shut up in the narrow circle of its own writers. Christianity is free, genial, and philanthropic. It loves the race. Christianity is the only true citizenship of the world, and it hails the writings and the history of all lands and all kindreds, when imbued wih the spirit of the common Saviour.But yet there may be certain evident advantages in having, for some purposes and within certain limits, a denominational and also a national literature in our churches. For this object of a national literature the American Tract Society may claim to have done much, and to have done it well. They have furnished a body of Tracts, popular in style, pungent and faithful, pithy, brief, and striking, that are singularly adapted to the moral wants of our community, and many of which, from their high excellence, would bear transplantation into the literature of almost any other Christian country.
2. As to the adaptedness for usefulness amongst our churches and people of those volumes and Tracts which the Society has derived from the rich Christian literature of Great Britain, it may be deserving of remark, that the more distinguished of these works are derived mainly from three memorable eras in the religious history of that country.
The first of these was the age of the Purilans and Nonconformists. Into the merits of their controversy with the Established Church of England it is no part of our design here to enter. They were, by the admission of the candid in every party, men of powerful intellect and ardent piety, whose principles had been tried and strengthened in the fierce collisions of their age,
and whose character received in consequence an energy it might else have wanted. The measures of governSECOND SERIES, VOL. IX. NO. II.