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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 Evange"list Saint John."
The doctrine of the Evangelist St. John accords with that of our Saviour before mention* ed: namely,
That God the Father is Love.—" God is "Love. Herein is Love, not that we loved "God, but that He loved us, and sent his M 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 brethren."— *' We know," saith he, " that we have passed "from death to life, because we love the bre"thren." 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 Saint "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, and at 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 Infidelity, which had appeared long before, first began to shew itself in strong and general operation. It was at a time when the light of Christianity was very feeble, and it was apprehended that this new adversary would totally extinguish it. But behold the providence of God! At this very period, there was a revival of religion in England, commencing in the bosom of our own church. Distinguished preachers arose in succession; men possessing the spirit and eloquence of the first Reformers, and " the doctrine of the "Blessed Apostle, and Evangelist St. John," was preached with great energy and effect; multitudes of the people bearing witness, by their repentance and conversion, to its truth and heavenly power. And it was soon found to be the pure and operative faith of the Primitive Church, and of the Reformation; differing as much from the mere profession of Christianity, as the substance from the shadow; and bearing the true character, which 1
cannot be feigned, namely, *< righteousness in "life, and peace in death." At the very time when the spirit of Infidelity wa9 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, inflamed with cupidity and lust of dominion, invaded other na-, tions, deluged them with blood, and at last, having acquired the temporal 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 excellent Virtues (some 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 them* selves, 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 Scriptures. 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.
■S. But this revival of rel igion has been pro2 J