6. It is indeed by no means clear that Christianity has at any time been of any great spiritual advantage to the world at large. The general temper of mankind, taking man individually, is what it ever was, restless and discontented, or sensual, or unbelieving. In barbarous times, indeed, the influence of the Church was successful in effecting far greater social order and external decency of conduct than are known in heathen countries; and at all times it will abash and check excesses which conscience itself condemns. But it has ever been a restraint on the world rather than a guide to personal virtue and perfection on a large scale; its fruits are negative.

7. True it is, that in the more advanced periods of society a greater innocence and probity of conduct and courtesy of manners will prevail; but these, though they have sometimes been accounted illustrations of the peculiar Christian character, have in fact no necessary connexion with it. For why should they not be referred to that mere advancement of civilisation and education of the intellect, which is surely competent to produce them? Morals may be cultivated as a science; it furnishes a subject-matter on which reason may exercise itself to any extent whatever, with little more than the mere external assistance of conscience and Scripture. And, when drawn out into system, such a moral teaching will attract general admiration {41} from its beauty and refinement; and from its evident expediency will be adopted as a directory (so to say) of conduct, whenever it does not occasion any great inconvenience, or interfere with any strong passion or urgent interest. National love of virtue is no test of a sensitive and well-instructed conscience,—of nothing beyond intellectual culture. History establishes this: the Roman moralists write as admirably, as if they were moral men.

8. And, if this be the case, as I think it is, do we not compromise the dignity of Christianity by anxiously referring unbelievers to the effects of the Gospel of Jesus in the world at large, as if a sufficient proof of its divine origin, when the same effects to all appearance are the result of principles which do not "spring from the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit"? For it is not too much to say, that, constituted as human nature is, any very wide influence and hearty reception of given principles among men argues in fact their earthly character,—"they are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them." [1 John iv. 5.] The true light of the world offends more men than it attracts; and its divine origin is shown, not in its marked effects on the mass of mankind, but in its surprising power of elevating the moral character where it is received in spirit and in truth. Its scattered saints, in all ranks of life, speak of it to the thoughtful inquirer: but to the world at large, its remarkable continuance on the earth is its witness,—its pertinacity of existence, confronting, as it has in turn, every variety of opinion, and triumphing over them all. To the multitude it does not manifest itself;—not that it willingly is hid from them, but that the perverse freedom of their will keeps them at a distance from it.