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OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY.
PUBLIC teachers often refine the taste, improve the genius, civilize the manners, and promote the literary pursuits of a nation. The advantages of this kind derived from their labors, though much inferior to others afterwards to be mentioned, are yet important enough to demand our grateful notice and acknowledgment. It is chiefly in christian countries, that the valuable remains of Eastern, of Greek, and of Roman wisdom and eloquence, have been preserved, studied, imitated, and sometimes even excelled. Christian countries have produced the most complete and accurate books of history, geography, chronology, and antiquities, and the most judicious systems of natural religion, of morals, both as respecting individuals and nations, of jurisprudence, and of political knowledge. Christians have conducted philosophical inquiries with the best success, and improved them for the most useful and benevolent purposes. If these things are good and profitable to society, a large portion of the honor of such usefulness belongs to men set for the defence of the gospel, desirous by sound reasoning to convince gainsayers, and conscious what arms hu
man literature furnishes for this holy war. these defenders of the faith, many were clergymen, and laid the foundation of their knowledge in preparing for their sacred office; and many who were not clergymen, owed their education and their love of learning to those who were.
From the history of the primitive church, of the dark ages, of the reformation and revival of learning, and of modern times, what I have said might with ease be confirmed. I would however lead your attention to what immediately results from teachers of Christianity acting in that capacity, and publicly instructing others by their sermons or expositions of scripture. To. thousands, who have no leisure or opportunity to form their taste, to cultivate their rational powers, by conversation with the wise and enlightened, or by reading their works, a school is thus open, established indeed for higher purposes, where men of sound understandings, though low in rank, may, without expense, and almost without intending it, learn, from example, to distinguish or connect ideas, to infer one truth from another, and so to arrange and express their sentiments, as deeply to impress themselves and others. As, in a few years, the child gradually acquires the faculty of speaking his mother tongue with a considerable degree of ease, fluency, and perfection, without any formal lessons, merely by hearing it spoken; so there is
a natural logic and rhetoric, which some acquire without designing it, who go to church for nobler ends, by which they are enabled to detect the cunning craftiness whereby enemies of religion, or of public tranquillity, lie in wait to deceive. Indeed the culture of the talents, and the improvement of the intellectual abilities of that respectable class of men, who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, generally rises or falls, in proportion to the character and genius of their religious instructers. In those parts of Britain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and the American States, where a devout attendance on religious instruction is most general, good sense, sound judgment, and a discerning spirit, are most conspicuous. But where the reverse takes place, and churches are deserted, either from aversion to religion, or from dislike of its ministers, ignorance, rudeness, and contempt of the most necessary and useful knowledge, gradually become the prevailing character of the people.
What lover of mankind would not applaud an institution, by which, for more than seventeen hundred years, the poor have been taught to suffer want, the afflicted in patience to possess their souls, the anxious to be careful for nothing, and the fearful to hope in God? Exquisite pains have thus been softened, the heaviest griefs assuaged, and in nights of darkness, of perplexity,
and of terror, light has shined. Call not then an order pernicious or unprofitable, which has comforted thousands of mourners; call not men the poison or pest of society, from whose exertions so much good has followed. What! Is the nature of things changed? Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Can the apostles of scepticism, of infidelity. of atheism, can they boast that such blessings are the consequence of their labors? Go to the country where tyranny wears the iron mask, where there is no peace to him who cometh in, or to him that goeth out; ask the wretched inhabitants; and when thou returnest, if thou art permitted to return, tell thy friends whether, in the multitude of their sorrowful thoughts within them, the comforts of free thinking and irreligion supported their souls.
Alas! the path to inward peace, when without are fightings, and within are fears, they have not known. But, hast thou not seen, hast thou not heard, hath it not been told thee, with what eagerness and pleasure, sufferers, when lurking in the depths of distress, have listened to him who weeps with them that weep, and have learned, in the school of Christ, to pour what is infinitely better than oil or wine, into their painful wounds? Sympathy gives strength to the feeblest efforts for solacing sorrow. He who sincerely wishes the welfare of the afflicted, promotes it by a thousand
little attentions, the natural effects, without a moment's deliberation, of the disposition of his heart. Every look, every word, which indicates attachment and tenderness, touches the heart. Delicacy and compassion, without any formal design, brighten many an hour of sadness, by things which, in the moment of saying or doing them, they accounted trifles, and the next moment utterly forgot. What then may they not perform, when, divinely directed, they point out to the sons of sadness the Balm of Gilead, the Physician there, the consolations of God, which are neither few nor small? Often they are the instruments of appointing to the mourner beauty for ashes, and for the spirit of heaviness the garments of praise; and even sometimes make him forget his sorrows or remember them as waters that are past. Although affliction cometh not forth from the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground, yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. It is therefore an institution well calculated for diminishing and alleviating distress, that an order of men, qualified to comfort those in trouble, with the comfort whereby they themselves are comforted of God, should have it in charge to open to their brethren in tribulation, those views and prospects, through which they may greatly rejoice, though now, for a season, if need be, they are in heaviness through manifold trials.