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ERAS OF LIGHT.
Gen, i, 3. Let there be Light.
AMONG the many pieces of sublime and beautiful composition with which the service of our church abounds, there is a prayer which I have always admired; and which will properly introduce the Era of Light, that is to be the subject of this discourse; I mean that collect in which we pray that our church may be "enlightened by the doctrine of the evangelist St. John'
The doctrine of the evangelist St. John accords with that of our Saviour before mentioned: namely,
That God the Father is love. “God is love. Here. in is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins," 1 John iv, 10.
Of God the Son he saith, that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: and that the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin," 1 John i, 7.
Of God the Holy Ghost he saith, “It is the spirit that beareth witness (to the Son of God,) because the spirit is truth;" and of its operation on the hearts of believers he saith, that "they have an unction from the Holy One;" and that this unction abideth in them; that they are thus born of God," and become "the children of God;” and, finally, that the evidence of their being thus born again, is the love of the breth.
“We know," saith he, “hat we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” 1 John iii, 14.
This is the doctrine of the blessed apostle and evangelist St. John, as expressed in his epistles, and confirmed by his gospel; and this is the heavenly doctrine which our church prays for in the following words:
“Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy church, that it being enlightened by the doctrine of thy blessed apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
This prayer was offered up continually during a long season of darkness, andat length was answered at the appointed time.
In our former discourse we stated that, while the protestant churches were declining in piety, a new enemy appeared.
“While men slept, the tares were sown,'
" Matt. xiii, 25. It was about the middle of the last century that in fidelity, which had appeared long before, first began to shew itself in strong and general operation. At the very time when the spi. rit of infidelity was fostering its strength, under the name of philosophy, and preparing for the awful revolutions which followed, the spiritual religion of Christ began to revive, and has since produced the most beneficial effects. True religion and infidelity have shown their proper fruits in our own time; and we can now contrast them with advantage. Let us therefore look back, and examine what have been the effects of each.
Infidelity first caused a whole nation to renounce christianity; and, by natural consequence, destroyed religious hope and moral obligation; that nation, inHamed with cupidity and lust of dominion, invaded other nations, deluged them with blood: and at last having acquired the teinporal power, would, like
papal Rome, enslave the world, by its despotism.And the principle of its despotism is the same; namely, “To keep the minds of men in the chain of darkness. Thus do infidelity and superstition lead to the same point, by different ways.
The spiritual religion of Christ hath, during the same period, produced very considerable effects.
1. It hath promoted a knowledge of the holy scriptures (the same effect which was produced at the reformation,) and hath thereby cultivated, to a great extent, the principles of the gospel. And, on this foundation hath been built the practice of many exsellent virtues (soine of them very seasonable in this age of revolution, such as, subordination, quiet conduct, loyalty, and contentment.
2. It hath promoted the instruction of the poor. The number of those among the lower classes, who, can read the scriptures for themselves, is supposed to have been more than doubled, within the last thirty years.
3. It hath promoted a more general worship of God. The volume of praise and thanksgiving which rises to the Most High from voices in this land, constitutes an acclamation, compared to the feeble sound at a period not very remote.
4. It hath cultivated very extensively a critical knowledge of the holy scpriptures. A reverence for Hebrew learning seems again to be restored to the nation; for persons, even in secular life, begin now to study the Bible in the original tongues; as we know was the case in a former age.
5. But this revival of religion has been more productive of another good, new and extraordinary in its nature; not confined to this country, or to the present time; but extending to reinote nations and distant ages.
Christianity hath again, after a lapse of many ages, assumed its true character as "the light of the world.” We now behold it animated by its original spirit,
which was to extend its blessings "to all nations." The scriptures are preparing in almost every language, and preachers are going forth into almostevery clime. Within the period of which we speak men have heard the gospel “in their own tongue, where in they were born,” in India, throughout many of its provinces; in different parts of Africa; in the interior of Asia in the western parts of America; in New Holland; and in the isles of the Pacific sea; in the West Indies, and in the northern regions of Greenland and Labrador. Malays, Chinese, Persians, and Arabians, begin now to hear, or read, in “their own tongues the wonderful works of God, Acts ii, 11.
III. It is with propriety then that we distinguish the present period as a third era of the light in the Christian dispensation. Yes, it is true, that while infidelity, like the pillar of the cloud hanging over the Egyptians, Exod. xiv, 20, is rising in awful form, threatening to involve the earth in darkness; the religion of Christ, on the other side, like "a pillar of fire,” is giving light to the world. While infidelity is prostrating thrones, and forging chains for mankind, the religion of the Messiah is diffusing its pure and free spirit like a copious stream, into the hearts of men; constraining them not only to cultivate its moral and benevolent principles in their own country, (whereby they resist infidelity with the best weapons) but to communicate them to others; and to enrich, with higher blessings than those of commerce, the most distant climes and nations.
Is it asked why this spirit for diffusing religious knowledge did not sooner appear in this nation; for it seems scarcely to have been thought of at the era of the reformation? The desire was not given, because we had not the means. Our commerce had not extended to the uttermost parts of the earth. We had no empire in the east. Another reason was, The Romish church held the world in chains. Its