The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
THE INFLUENCE OF TRUE RELIGION UPON THE
TEMPORAL INTERESTS OF ITS POSSESSOR
Godliness has the promise of the life that is to come—it conducts to glory, honor, immortality—this is its chief commendation. Scripture has drawn aside the veil which hangs over the unseen state, and urged you, my children, upon the great business of true religion—by a contemplation of the dark world of hell—and of the splendors of the celestial city. It might seem that, after such an appeal, every other were useless, and that to speak of other advantages than eternal life, were only adding a drop to the ocean—or a candle to the sun. But there are people who are more regulated by present good, however small, than any future prospect of the greatest gain—who are more governed by illustrations borrowed from things seen and temporal, than by those which are derived from things unseen and eternal. In this respect also, and on this ground, true religion can plead its advantages, for it has "the promises of the life that now is" as well as that which is to come. I do not assert, that true religion will conduct all its followers to wealth, honor, and health. No! Still, however, it exerts a friendly influence on all the temporal interests of mankind, and protects them from many evils to which, without it, they are exposed.
1. Piety exercises and improves the UNDERSTANDING.
From beginning to end, true religion is an intellectual process. Whatever raises man above the dominion of the animal senses, and renders him independent of these, as sources of gratification, must have a salutary influence upon the mind. Now the objects which true religion exhibits, are such as the mental faculties alone can converse with; and the moment a man begins to feel solicitude about spiritual things, he begins to experience a considerable elevation of character.
Also, the subjects of divine truth are of the most sublime and lofty kind. They form the Alps in the world of mind. The existence and attributes of the great God; the system of Providence, embracing all worlds and all ages; the scheme of redemption, planned from eternity for the salvation of millions of sinful creatures; the immortality of the soul; the solemnities of judgment; the everlasting states of the righteous and the wicked—these are the everyday topics of thought to a Christian. Can a man live in the daily contemplation of these vast ideas—and not feel an elevating influence upon his understanding? It will probably be said, that science will have the same effect. This is admitted in part. But how many are there to whom philosophical pursuits are utterly inaccessible! Besides this, it may be replied that nothing but true piety will infallibly guard the soul from being debased by wicked indulgences.
Read the missionary records, and learn by these interesting details, what true religion has done for the Negroes of the West Indies, the Hottentots of South Africa, the Eskimos of Labrador, the fur-clad Greenlanders of the Arctic regions, and the voluptuous cannibals of the South Sea Islands. It has raised them from savages into rational creatures; it has awakened their dormant understanding; sharpened their powers of perception; taught them the art of reasoning; and invested them with the power of eloquence.
But why do I go to distant countries, while our own furnishes illustrations so numerous, and so striking? How many people are there, who were educated in our Sunday-schools, and who are now filling stations of importance, honor, and usefulness, who—but for true religion, would never have risen in the scale of society, or ascended above the lowest level of poverty. Education, it is true, gave the first impulse to their minds—but it was an impulse which would have soon spent its force, had it not been continued and increased by true religion. It was this that gave the sober, serious, and reflective turn of mind which has led to such mental improvement; and they who but for the power of godliness, would have been still earning their bread at the plough or the anvil, are filling the place of tradesmen or clerks; or are raised to the distinction of preaching with ability and success, the truths of salvation!
As a proof of the influence which true religion has in strengthening and elevating the powers of even the most cultivated understanding, I may give the following quotation from the life of Henry Martyn, a book which I most emphatically recommend to the perusal of all young people, as one of the most interesting publications that modern times have produced. "Since I have known God in a saving manner," he remarks, "painting, poetry, and music have had charms unknown to me before. I have received what I suppose is a taste for them—for true religion has refined my mind, and made it susceptible of impressions from the sublime and beautiful. O how true religion secures the heightened enjoyment of those pleasures which keep so many from God, by their becoming a source of pride!"
And it may be fairly argued, that the sublimity of Milton's genius was owing, in no small degree, to the influence of true religion upon his mind. This is at once far more direct and obvious in its tendency, than any natural scenery, however bold and striking may be its features—since piety not only brings the mind into the region of sublime mental scenery—but fixes the eye most intently upon it.
2. True religion guards the HEALTH.
I do not mean to say that the rose will always bloom upon the countenance of piety—but I will affirm, that where it already displays its beauty, and sheds its fragrance—true religion will prevent those vices, which, like worms at the root of a flower, consume its strength, and shorten its existence. How many diseases are generated by sin! It is calculated that even in time of war, there are more who perish by drunkenness and licentiousness than by the sword! "You victims of voluptuousness, you victims of lusts, who formerly tasted the pleasures of sin for a season—but now are beginning to feel the horrors of it forever; you serve us for demonstration and example. Look at those trembling hands, that shaking head, those disjointed knees, that faltering resolution, that feeble memory, that worn-out body—all putrefaction; these are the dreadful rewards which vice bestows now, as pledges of what Satan will bestow presently, on those on whom he is preparing to exhaust his fury."
True religion will prevent all this; that passion which wastes the strength as with a fever; that ambition which wears out the frame faster than hard labor; that malice which robs of sleep; that gambling which hurries a man backward and forward between the delirium of hope and the torture of fear; that gluttony which brings on morbid obesity; that drunkenness which preys as a slow fire on the organs of life; that debauchery which corrupts the whole mass of the blood, and brings the infirmities of age on the days of youth—are all kept off by true religion. "The fear of the Lord prolongs days—it is a fountain of life to guard us from the snares of death." But of the drunkard and the fornicator it may be said, "his bones are full of the sins of his youth, which lie down with him in the dust. He enjoyed the taste of his wickedness, letting it melt under his tongue. He savored it, holding it long in his mouth. But suddenly, the food he has eaten turns sour within him, a poisonous venom in his stomach." Job 20:11-14
3. True religion builds up and protects the REPUTATION.
It prevents those sins which render a man dishonorable and despicable; it promotes all those virtues which raise and cherish esteem. How despised is the liar, the extortionate and deceptive tradesman, the unfaithful servant, the unkind husband, the cruel oppressive master! Who respects the individual that is notoriously addicted to vice, and flagrantly neglectful of the plainest obligations of virtue? Whereas, a man of consistent piety, who is known to be a real Christian, and whose Christianity renders him scrupulously true, honest, and upright—such a man is always universally esteemed. The wicked may laugh at a saint—but is he not the very man with whom they love to trade; in whose character they find sufficient warrant for the propriety of his conduct; and in whose fidelity they can repose unbounded confidence?
This was remarkably exemplified in the instance of the missionary Schwartz, who labored to spread the gospel in the southern part of the Indian peninsula. Such was the repute in which this holy man was held by the native princes of Hindostan, that when Tippoo Saib was about to enter into a treaty with the Company, not being disposed to place much confidence in their agents, he exclaimed, "Send to me the missionary Schwartz, I will deal with him, for I can confide in his trustworthiness."
How many people has the lack of true religion brought to an untimely end! No man would ever have been exiled as a felon, or executed as a malefactor—if he had lived under the influence of piety. No jail would have been needed, no gallows erected—if all men were pious. Godliness may not, indeed, guard us from poverty—but it will certainly save us from vice and infamy. It may not advance us to wealth—but it will assuredly raise us to respectability.
4. True religion protects our SECULAR interests.
I do not pretend that piety bears into the church the cornucopia of worldly wealth, to pour down showers of gold on all who court her smiles and bend to her sway—but still there is a striking tendency in her influence, to improve our worldly circumstances.
It certainly prevents those vices which tend to poverty. Poverty is often the effect of vice. How many have hurled themselves and their families from the pinnacles of prosperity to the depths of adversity—by a course of wicked and profligate extravagance. Multitudes have spent all their substance, like the prodigal son, upon harlots and riotous living. Pride has ruined thousands—and indolence its tens of thousands! It is an observation of Franklin, "that one vice costs more to keep, than two children." True piety is the most economical thing in the world—and sin the most expensive thing in the world. How much do the drunkard, debauchee, and frequenter of theaters—pay for their sinful gratifications! What is spent in this nation every year in the grosser sensual indulgences, would pay the remainder of the national debt. Piety would save all this to the nation.
Piety not only prevents the vices which tend to poverty—but enjoins and cherishes the virtues which lead to prosperity. It makes a man industrious—and is not this the way to wealth? It renders him sober—and does not sobriety tend to advance our fortune? It enforces a right improvement of time—and surely this is advantageous to everyone. It prescribes frugality—which tends to increase. If a young man is in the service of another, piety, by causing him to speak the truth, and adhere to the principles of honesty—renders him trustworthy and confidential.
We have a most striking and instructive instance of this in the history of Joseph, of whom the historian thus writes—"And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had, he put into his hand. And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he knew not anything he had, save the bread which he did eat." This is one of the most lively and convincing cases on record of the influence of true religion on our temporal interests. It was his piety that secured to Joseph this elevation and prosperity—it was true religion that exalted him from a menial slave to a steward.
Innumerable are the cases in which people, who set out on the journey of life without property, and without support, have by the force of those virtues which true religion enjoins, risen to respectability and affluence. They were first probably in a state of servitude, where by their steadiness and good conduct they so attached themselves to their employers, as to become in their estimation almost essential to the future success of the business; and, the result has been a share, and, in some cases, the whole of the trade, which they had contributed so materially to establish.
A friend of mine was once walking in the neighborhood of a large manufacturing town on a very cold winter's morning, when he overtook a plain man, decently clad, and wrapped in a comfortable great coat. After the usual salutations, my friend said to the stranger, "I am glad to see you with such a good warm covering this cold morning."—"It was not always thus," the man replied. "I was once a poor miserable creature, and had neither good clothes nor decent food; now I have both, and surplus money in the bank."—"What produced this favorable change?" continued my friend. "True religion, sir. I used to spend half my time, and all my wages nearly at the public-house. I was of course always poor, and always wretched. By God's direction I was led to hear the gospel, when by divine grace the word reached my heart. I repented of my sins, and became a new creature in Christ Jesus—old things passed away, and all things became new. True religion made me industrious and sober—no money and time now went for sin; and the result is, that I am comfortable, and comparatively rich."
Here then, is a proof and an illustration, that godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come. Nor are these proofs uncommon. Many people, now living in circumstances of high respectability, are willing to ascribe all they possess here, as well as all they hope for hereafter—to the influence of true religion.
All this is seen in the case of individuals—but if the subject be carried out to society at large, it will appear still more striking.
What but true religion can raise men from a savage to a civilized state? What else could have achieved the wonders which have been wrought in Africa—and taught the crudest barbarians to til the ground, to learn trades, to clothe themselves in decent apparel, to read, to keep accounts, to print books, to frame laws?
Godliness alone can expel from society the practice of cruelty, and introduce the reign and prevalence of mercy. The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. Rome and Greece in the zenith of their glory, had neither a hospital for the sick, nor an asylum for the poor; they treated their enemies with the most insolent cruelty; practiced the most vigorous slavery; instituted games, in which myriads of human beings were torn to pieces in fighting with wild beasts. What a blessing has Christianity been to the whole world—even in relation to its present comforts! It has suppressed polygamy, put a stop to the sale of children by their parents, and the abandonment and murder of aged parents, by their children; it has rescued women from their abominable degradation by the other sex, and raised them to their just rank in society; it has sanctified the bond of marriage, checked the licentiousness of divorce, destroyed slavery, mitigated the terrors of war, given a new sanction to treaties, introduced milder laws, and more equitable governments; it has taught mercy to enemies and hospitality to strangers—it has made a legal provision for the poor; formed institutions for instructing the ignorant; purified the stream of justice; erected the throne of mercy. "These, O Jesus, are the triumphs and the trophies of your gospel! Which of your enemies—Paganism, Islamism, or Infidelity—has done, or could do the like?"
Even the avowed and inveterate opponents of the gospel, have been reluctantly compelled to acknowledge, in this view, its excellence. Voltaire says expressly, "that religion is necessary in every community; the laws are a curb upon open crimes, and religion on those that are private." "No religion," says Bolingbroke, "ever appeared in the world, whose natural tendency was so much directed to promote the peace and happiness of mankind, as the Christian religion. The gospel of Christ is one continued lesson of the strictest morality, of justice, benevolence, and universal charity. Supposing Christianity to be a human invention, it is the most amiable and useful invention that ever was imposed upon mankind for their good." Hume acknowledges, "that disbelief in futurity, looses in a great measure the ties of morality, and may be supposed, for that reason, pernicious to the peace of civil society." Rousseau confesses, "that if all were perfect Christians, individuals would do their duty, the people would be obedient to the laws, the rulers just, the magistrates incorrupt, and there would be neither vanity nor luxury in such a state." Gibbon admits, "that the gospel discouraged suicide, advanced education, checked oppression, promoted the emancipation of slaves, and softened the ferocity of barbarous nations; that fierce nations received at the same time lessons of faith and humanity, and that even in the most corrupt state of Christianity, the barbarians learned justice from the law, and mercy from the gospel." (See an interesting work by Dr. Ryan, entitled, "The History of the Effects of Religion on Mankind in Countries Ancient and Modern, Barbarous and Civilized." I very particularly recommend the perusal of this volume to all young people who can procure it.)
And yet with such concessions, and after having paid such a tribute of praise to the excellence of Christianity, these miserable men have been so vile and perverse as to conspire for her destruction.
Thus has it been most demonstrably proved, that godliness exerts a powerful and favorable influence over the temporal interests of mankind. Neglect it, my children, and you know not what awaits you, either in this world or that which is to come. You may imagine that, provided you are moral and steady, although you are not pious, you are far enough removed from the probability of that wretchedness which vice brings with it. But, ah! in some unguarded moment, temptation may be successful to lead you astray—one vice makes way for another; and the dreadful progress described in the chapter on the deceitfulness of the heart, may be realized by you. Neglect true religion, and you will certainly be ruined for the world to come—and maybe for the life that now is. Vice certainly brings hell in its train—and sometimes a dreadful pledge of its future torments—in present poverty, disease, and misery!
I reflect with unutterable grief, as I now write, upon many young men, who were entering life with the greatest advantages, and the brightest prospects, whom, to use a common expression, fortune favored with her brightest smiles—but, alas! they would not be happy and respectable, for taking to the ways of sin, they dashed all the hopes of their friends, and wantonly threw away the opportunities which a kind providence had put within their reach. They went first to the theater, then to the brothel, then to the tavern. They became dissipated, extravagant, idle. Unhappy youths! I know not what they might have been—respectable tradesmen, prosperous merchants, honorable members of society. I know what they are—bloated rakes, discarded partners, bankrupts, miserable vagrants, a burden to their friends, a nuisance to the community, and a torment to themselves!
Seek true religion, then; for, as Solomon says, "Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding. For the profit of wisdom is better than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly." Proverbs 3:13-18.
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