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MATTHEW xxvi. 8. — “To what purpose is this waste ?"
This question of avarice, prompted by seeing a box of precious ointment poured on the head of the Savior, is common to all those, whose calculations of profit and loss, in the various enterprises of men, are confined to mere dollars and cents. To Judas it seemed that any expenditure, which did not directly put money in the bag that he bore, was a dead loss; and hence that the ointment expended on the head of Jesus, by a forgiven sinner, as an expression of her gratitude, and which might have been sold for three hundred pence, was so much wasted. In his estimation, penitence and gratitude, generosity and kindness, were of far less value than the pence which might have been realized by the sale of the ointment.
The same question is still asked in view of expenditures for which the making of money is not the immediate object; and especially is this true in relation to the support of Public Worship. In this connection, there are many who ask, “ To what purpose is this waste ?"
“ Will the money expended for the education and support of the Christian ministry, be as valuable to the people, as
VOL. XIII. No. 11.
if it had been well invested in merchandise or the stocks ?" And because the money so devoted is supposed to be wasted, there are multitudes in this Christian land who have retired altogether from the institutions of the gospel, and refused to take any responsibility in regard to their support.
It becomes, then, the duty of Christians to consider whether this complaint be well founded -- whether the worldly and the avaricious consult even their best temporal interests in thus refusing to support the religion of the gospel. That godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come, the Bible distinctly declares ; and surely, if the gospel is thus benign on the interests of the present life; if its institutions, wherever vigorously supported and cordially loved, are vitally connected with man's best good for time, as well as for eternity, the fact can be demonstrated; for the experiment has been repeatedly made in all the varieties of human condition, and the fruits of that experiment
now before the world, furnishing indubitable proof for or against the gospel, as the friend of man in his present relations. And it is for the purpose of removing the charge of wastefulness from this expenditure, and of drawing all hearts more warmly around the Pulpit, and every evangelical institution, that I shall confine the discussion mainly to this single aspect of the case - to the fruits of the experiment, which the gospel has made for the elevation and happiness of man in the present world.
The proposition which I shall attempt to illustrate is this — THE PULPIT IS WORTH
IT COSTS FOR ITS SUP
I. Because it increases the value of every kind of useful property.
This is a matter of fact, even though I should fail to account for it. That property was worth more in Jerusalem, at the time of David and Solomon, than during the reign of the unprincipled Ahab, is a fact, apparent to the dullest apprehension. Nor would the reason seem to be less obvious. There was, in the one case, a strong moral influence, resulting solely from religious institutions, which threw around the heart of depravity such restraints, that it dared not become aggressive on the rights and property of
others; while in the other, a false religion was substituted for the true, and thus the restraints, arising from the fear and love of God, were generally removed from the public mind. Was the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, as valuable to him, as it would have been, if a man that feared God, and loved righteousness, had sat on the throne, instead of the self-seeking Ahab? And what shall we say of the people of Sodom, where Lot could not exercise the rites of hospitality to his angel guests, by reason of the surrounding depravity and licentiousness, compared with the community over which Abraham presided ? Had religion, or the want of it, nothing to do in enhancing or diminishing the value of property in the two places ? What was Lot's house in Sodom worth, liable, as it was, every night, to be broken open, and himself and family exposed to all the horrors of unbridled licentiousness? Would this state of things have existed, had the spirit of Abraham generally prevailed in that community? But how came Abraham to be iu possession of a better spirit? Had religion nothing to do in making this difference ?
Thus too in France, during the reign of terror, every kind of property sunk in value, by reason of the insecurity afforded by the government. Whence came that insecurity ? Manifestly from the annihilation of all religious restraints, and from the substitution of a rampant and licentious infidelity. Nor did the public mind become settled, and property and life secure, till the re-establishment of the forms of religion, of order, and of law. Thus, also, the intrinsic value of the soil in Turkey is doubtless much greater than that of New England ; and yet the poorest acre of New England may be more valuable for purposes of permanent occupancy, than the same quantity of the richest land in Turkey, because in the one case you are protected in your rights by a vigorous conscience in the body politic, while in the other you are constantly exposed to a lawless rapacity, and know not in the morning but the bowstring may be applied to your neck, or the bastinado to your feet before night. Here, your fruitful fields and tasteful dwellings, affording evidence that you are in the direct road to wealth and prosperity, call forth tokens of approbation from your friends and neighbors; while there, such indications would be regarded as certain evidence that the time had come for your property to be confiscated, and yourself to perish by the hand of violence. But would this state of awful insecurity to life and property continue, think you, if the Pulpits of New England were transferred thither, rousing the people to the assertion of their rights, and impressing the public mind with the conviction of a personal responsibility to God? Would not the cross of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, exhibited in connection with the ministrations of the Pulpit, tame the ferocity of the Turk, and restore peace and safety to that distracted kingdom ?
There is another fact in this relation, which should not be overlooked : it is the remarkable one, that nowhere, except where Christianity prevails, can you find those partnerships in trade and commerce, which are indispensable in order to give to property its greatest value.
This fact, attested by travellers and missionaries in Pagan countries, speaks volumes in favor of Christianity, as the friend and promoter of earthly prosperity. Why cannot heathens, as well as Christians, combine their wealth, so as to give it greater value, by giving it greater power of accumulation ? It is because their religion, or rather the want of true religion, forbids the exercise of mutual confidence, creating universal distrust, and making every man an iceberg to his neighbor. Hence the reason why, in Pagan countries, you cannot find any associations for purposes of trade or commerce- of banking or benevolence. Hence their resources are crippled, and the public mind is stagnant. But let the Christian Pulpit be planted there, and the truth, as it is in Jesus, pervade the hearts and minds of the people, and the now dead mass would at once exhibit signs of life, and put on such an aspect of enterprise and prosperity as heathenism never saw, and can never produce. So true is this connection, that a distinguished instructer was accustomed to say to his pupils, "Give me the religion of a country, and I will tell you all the rest ;" -- the kind of religion determining the character of the people -- whether they were torpid or active-- ignorant or enlightened -- bondmen or free.
Further illustrations of this point might be gathered from not a few villages even in New England, where the experiment of abandoning the institutions of religion has been tried.
One only, how ever, will be given, because this one is a fair representative of all
the rest. In one of the towns of a neighboring county, the people voluntarily deprived themselves of a preached gospel for several years, till the difference between them and the adjoining towns in their want of thrift and prosperity became proverbial, and till they themselves were convinced that, in forsaking the Pulpit, they had forsaken their own mercies. At length, they repaired their weatherbeaten and almost ruined church, and settled a devoted minister of the gospel, with an effect so marked on the enterprise of the people, that one of their most intelligent men remarked, but a few weeks since, that their farms had increased fifty per cent. in value, and that an entirely new aspect had been put on the dwellings, as well as on the spirit of the people.
In view, then, of these and similar facts, are we not justified in saying, that the Pulpit increases the value of every kind of useful property, and therefore that it is worth more than it costs for its support?
II. The Pulpit is worth more than it costs, because the vices and crimes which it restrains cost more than the restraining influence.
This statement will commend itself at once to all who are familiar with the expenditures of vice. Indeed it is only another way of saying, that vice is more expensive than virtue ; that it costs more to support a drunkard than a sober man; more to sustain the licentious than the chaste; more to secure and convict a criminal than to have prevented him from becoming a criminal.
One of the shrewdest lawyers in the land, after a careful and laborious examination of the statistics of criminal jurisprudence, has authorized the following statements. In the State of New York, the actual convictions of criminals are one to every seven hundred inhabitants; and, taking the country at large, it will be safe to say one to every thousand inhabitants. At this rate, we have at least thirteen thousand criminals already convicted, and three thousand unconvicted. Here, then, are sixteen thousand accomplished villains. The expense of supporting a prudent man may be estimated at two hundred dollars annually—making the cost of supporting these sixteen thousand criminals three millions two hundred thousand dollars a year. Add to this, the loss occasioned by counterfeiting moneythe waste in dissipation and riots--the costs attending unsuccessful