Christianity excludes malignity, subdues selfishness, regulates the passions, subordinates the appetites, quickens the intellect, exalts the affections. It promotes industry, honesty, truth, purity, kindness. It humbles the proud, exalts the lowly, upholds law, favors liberty, is essential to it, and would unite men in one great brotherhood. It is the breath of life to social and civil well-being here, and spreads the azure of that heaven into whose unfathomed depths the eye if faith loves to look.
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The moral government of God is a movement in a line onwards towards some grand consummation, in which the principles, indeed, are ever the same, but the developments are always new--in which, therefore, no experience of the past can indicate with certainty what new openings of truth, what hew manifestations of goodness, what new phases of the moral heaven may appear.
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The patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian dispensations, are evidently but the unfolding of one general plan. In the first we see the folded bud; in the second the expanded leaf; in the third the blossom and the fruit. And now, how sublime the idea of a religion thus commencing in the earliest dawn of time; holding on its way through all the revolutions of kingdoms and the vicissitudes of the race; receiving new forms, but always identical in spirit; and, finally, expanding and embracing in one great brotherhood the whole family of man! Who can doubt that such a religion was from God?
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Nothing but the cross of Christ can so startle the spiritual nature from its torpor, as to make it an effectual counterpoise to the debasing and sensual tendencies of the race. Favored by temperament and education, individuals may measurably escape; but if the race is to triumph in the conflict between the flesh and the spirit, between the lower propensities and the higher nature, they must, as Constantine is said to have done, see the cross, and on it the motto, "In hoc signo vinces." By this sign we conquer.
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In Christ we see the strength of achievement, and the strength of endurance. He moved with a calm majesty, like the sun. The bloody sweat, and the crown of thorns, and the cross, were full in His eyes; but He was obedient unto death. In His perfect self-sacrifice we see the perfection of strength; in the love that prompted it we see the perfection of beauty. This combination of self-sacrifice and love must be commenced in every Christian; and when it shall be in its spirit complete in him, then will he also be perfect in strength and beauty.
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Guided by His wisdom, strong in His strength, there maybe for you struggle and suffering, the darkness and the storm. "The disciple is not above His Master." There may be weeping that shall endure for a night, but joy shall come in the morning. If the night cometh, so also the morning, "a morning without clouds," the morning of an eternal day.
To be energetic and firm where principle demands it, and tolerant in all else, is not easy. It is not easy to abhor wickedness, and oppose it with every energy, and at the same time to have the meekness and gentleness of Christ, becoming all things to all men for the truth's sake. The energy of patience, the most godlike of all, is not easy.
No, there is nothing on the face of the earth that can, for a moment, bear a comparison with Christianity as a religion for man. Upon this the hope of the race hangs. From the very first, it took its position, as the pillar of fire, to lead the race onward. The intelligence and power of the race are with those who have embraced it; and now, if this, instead of proving indeed a pillar of fire from God, should be found but a delusive meteor, then nothing will be left to the race but to go back to a darkness that may be felt, and to a worse than Egyptian bondage.
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We say then, that Christianity is adapted to the intellect, because its spirit coincides with that of true philosophy; because it removes the incubus of sensuality and low vice; because of the place it gives to truth; because it demands free inquiry; because its mighty truths and systems are brought before the mind in the same way as the truths and systems of nature; because it solves higher problems than nature can; and because it is so communicated as to be adapted to every mind.
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We are to regard the mind, not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statue by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel -- and to dare, to do, and to suffer.
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Everywhere the tendency has been to separate religion from morality, to set them in opposition even. But a religion without morality is a superstition and a curse; and anything like an adequate and complete morality without religion is impossible. The only salvation for man is in the union of the two as Christianity unites them.
The very act of faith by which we receive Christ is an act of the utter renunciation of self, and all its works, as a ground of salvation. It is really a denial of self, and a grounding of its arms in the last citadel into which it can be driven, and is, in its principle, inclusive of every subsequent act of self-denial by which sin is forsaken or overcome.