True State of the Church in 1825
By Gary Amirault
As some of you know I have spent a great deal of effort gathering writings which, hopefully, one day I will be able to put into electronic format and given away freely. It takes much time to find these writings and once found, often they are beyond my means to purchase. Even photocopying them is sometimes beyond my budget. I hope the next generation has access to these writings without having to go through the effort I had to go through to gather them.
Recently, a reader from Florida sent me several writings from the 1800s so that I could photcopy them. Along with the books were some old tracts and a few newspapers from the early 1800s. One of the newspapers was entitled The Telescope published by William Burnett & Co. These newspapers contained some very interesting articles.
I have been told that those of us who were raised in Christian homes get a good dose of teaching about how religious our forefathers were. There are many movements aimed at returning us to the mythical "faith of our forefathers." Patriotism and religion are often bedfellows. Below is a reprint of an article in The Telescope concerning the "True State of the Church." It is dated 'Saturday, March 26, 1825. The newspaper was published in New York. You might find it interesting. You might also discover that what you learned in Sunday School Church History might be a little different than what it was really like. Let us go back 170 years and let them tell us with their very own words about the condition of the church in 1825.
The religion of the different sects and denominations at the present day, is so much like the religion of the Jews at the time of Christ's coming among them, (which was near the time of their destruction,) that people cannot avoid being forcibly struck with the similarity of character; unless they willfully shut their eyes against the light of truth; which, no doubt, is the case with many thousands of professors, of all ranks and parties; the Methodists (with whom I am connected) not excepted; that people, once so highly favored of the Lord, and whose labors have been so abundantly crowned and blessed.--"light maketh manifest," and he that loveth the light, cometh to the light: and then is he able to discern good and evil. Who does not know, that the cold, format, heartless worship of the Jews; the hypocrisy and ostentation of the Scribes and Pharisees; and the abominations with which their temple was filled, are applicable to the great body of professing Christians now in the world? Saith Christ, "it is written my house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." Lo, now the Gospel is made merchandise of! The visible church, or temple, is filled with buyers and seller, who wish to get gain to themselves, in some way or other; and whoever dares to oppose them, and bring to light their ungodly practices, is most sure to be charged with having a devil, being mad, or an enemy to the Cause of Christ; which they feign would have people believe. They in reality say, "how dare you call in question the sincerity of our motives? Or charge us with selfishness and hypocrisy?--Do you not see--does not all the world see, our good deeds; how we support the Gospel, at home and abroad; how much we give to build churches, and theological seminaries, and to send missionaries to all parts of the world?" And also, each sect is ready to say, "the temple of the Lord are we; we are Abraham's children; and we are the people the Lord hath chosen.--Yea, we are right, and all others are wrong." Thus we see a spirit of selfishness, and sectarianism, is the predominant and ruling principle within them.--And if any should ask why so few converts have been made, and so little good done, by the numerous missionaries of these days; (which actually is the case, notwithstanding all the flattering accounts to the contrary,) I should answer, by giving two grand and important reasons. The 1st is, that a spirit and desire of proselytizing to each one's particular creed, more than of gaining converts to God, is reigning in each denomination, and in those sent by them. The 2nd is, that those who are sent as missionaries, have more of the love of self, and the love of money at heart, than they have of the love of god, and the love of souls. However, I would not be understood, to condemn all; for I believe that God hath some faithful followers, who have not bowed the knee to the shrine of idolatry, nor received the mark of the beast in their foreheads, and who are both public and private members of his spiritual church.--But I believe the number is very small, compared with the great heterogeneous mass of professors. The Lord owneth none but such as are meek, humble, and obedient, and free from selfishness--and where shall we find this characteristic? God commanded the Jews, not to join affinity, with the nations that were round them, for they (the heathen) were idolaters, and He knew that they would soon become contaminated, for they were naturally exceedingly prone to idolatry: but they would not obey; therefore, he let them go into captivity, and finally destroyed them from being a nation. And as it respects the visible church of the present age, God has commanded them to love one another, and be united: but they would not obey: for they have built up partition walls, so that they cannot be united. They are joined with the world, and the things of the world, in express violation of the command of Heaven, and have become idolaters; for covetousness, the love of the world, or an undue attachment to any particular sect, is idolatry. Therefore are they gone into captivity. Their Christian liberty is taken from them, and they grope in darkness, and cannot see the true light, although it shines all around them. God has given them into the hands of their enemies, for their disobedience--hence the true church is no longer visible, but is driven into the "wilderness from the face of the serpent." But the time I believe is rapidly approaching, when she shall come forth from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved, "clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners." These sectarian walls--these baseless fabrics of man's invention--with all the various abominations with which men have hedged themselves in, shall be swept in one broad deluge of the purifying spirit of the Lord, into the gulf of oblivion, "and leave not a wreck behind." Then will pure and undefiled religion flourish and spread, from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth. Then will Christians love one another with a pure heart, fervently; and every eye be single to the glory of God. O Lord, roll on the glorious and happy period, when the "stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, shall become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth."
A Friend in Truth. New York, 15th March, 1825
Well, it seems things haven't changed much in the last 170 years. Another misconception we often have about ages past is the belief that dreams, visions, prophesies, miracles, etc., were things that have been restored only in the last 90 years or so. There seems to be this belief that the "outpouring of the Holy Spirit" in 1906 was the beginning of the restoration of spiritual things.
The article below was in the same newspaper as the article above. I found it was very much "up to date." It is entitled, Mental Telescope.
"I fell asleep, and was at length presented by a celestial visitant with a species of telescope quite different from any hitherto invented by philosophers, a description of which was to be attempted only by detailing the miraculous discoveries to which it led. Wondering at the powers it was said to possess, examining its curious workmanship, and considering how it was to be used, I had proceeded by heedless steps to the end of the glade in which I wandered. When casting my eyes on the country which opened to my view, I perceived a large building at a distance, with crowds thronging it entrance. I immediately understood it was a church, and resolved on going thither to try the powers of my telescope. Their introductory exercises were just over as I arrived. The minister read his text from Jeremiah 17:9, and through the whole seemed to be very animated. But I can give no account of his doctrine, for to attend to it was not then my business. But, placing myself in such a position as not to disturb the audience by making my observation, I immediately set about using my telescope. The first that attracted my notice was a man of middle age. He had a sedate countenance, and seemed very thoughtful. I was entirely prepossessed in his favor, and had not the least doubt of finding him devoutly exercised. So I immediately turned my tube to him. I was at first confounded at the strange scene which was presented to me. Ideas appeared in bodily shapes, and were eminent from a small aperture in the heart never yet discovered by the microscope of the anatomist; and after remaining a while visible, they totally disappeared. Upon considering the texture and shape of his ideas, I perceived he was a merchant, and now engaged in reflecting on his success in business the by-gone week. I was not a little astonished at finding him thus exercised, but was disposed to look upon it as one of those wanderings of the heart to which even the most pious are sometimes subject, and expected that his attention would soon be recalled; so I still kept my tube to him. I soon perceived that there was a turn in his ideas; but instead of finding it to be what I expected, I soon understood that he had begun to sum up his bad debts. I could not help feeling a degree of indignation on this discovery, and turned from him, saying, "Poor worm of the earth! Thou hadst far better be now in thy counting room, than in this worshipping assembly." The next thing I singled out for observation, was a gentleman in the prime of life. There was much animation and vivacity in his face. I had scarcely so great hope of him as of the one I had examined; yet I could not help being somewhat interested about him, and hoping the best, I immediately turned my tube to him. At the very first sight, I perceived that our worshipper was a country squire, and now enjoying a second time the sports of a fox chase. But understanding that the whole train of his reflections consisted merely of beating coverts, hazardous leaps, and hard whipping, I turned with disgust from such insipid entertainment. I was scarcely now so sanguine in my expectations of finding real piety. Yet still I singled out another of whom I had great hopes. He was a youth not 20. But though young, I could perceive his face marked with the lines of thinking. He for the present too seemed very pensive. Surely, I said, years teach not wisdom; I will find in this youth that devotion which I looked for in vain in the heart of the aged. Applying to my telescope, I at once know from the cast of his ideas that he was a student. But how was I disappointed, when instead of finding his attention fixed on the doctrines of the preacher, he was considering the Newtonian theory of light, and collecting arguments for its refutation! Being thus disappointed, I began to despair of that which I looked for--true devotion. But remembering that I had examined none of the exercises of the fair sex, my hopes began to revive. They, I said within myself, are given more to devotion. They are endowed with natures less stubborn, and are more influenced by the objects around them. And in this place, where every thing wears a venerable aspect, their gentler souls can be no otherwise engaged than in the most pious exercises. In this frame of mind, I singled out a young lady of a very prepossessing appearance. I indeed perceived a smile in her face, but that, I confess did not in the least prejudice me against her; for, said I , when the heart rejoices in God, why should not a smile enliven the features? But on making my observations, I perceived that my fair one was anticipating the pleasures of a ball; She was triumphing immoderately over her revels, receiving many a fine compliment, had in reality the most engaging youth present for her partner, and was saying many a smart and witty thing. I could not help pitying the vanity of the girl, and began to look out for one more sober. I soon cast my eyes upon such a one as I wished. She was a lady yet in the prime of life. I thought I could observe in her face a great deal of anxiety, mingled with a certain sorrowful air; the tear even stood in her eye. I immediately construed these into the effects of devotion. Surely, I thought, she hangs on the lips of the speaker, and feels a godly sorrow. But on turning my tube to her, how great was my astonishment, when the first idea that appeared was a person in great distress. But recovering from my surprise, and considering the concomitant and succeeding ideas, I understood that my fair object had been at the play the preceding evening, and was now in church indulging those feelings which had been excited in the theater. At this, I could not help heaving a sigh, and saying to myself, Alas! What is a man? His exterior seems fair as the temple of god, but his heart is a cage of unclean birds. By such a series of disappointments, my anxiety to discover devout worshippers had entirely subsided. So that I now became quite careless whether I found them rightly exercised or not. In this easy frame of mind, I made a great many more observations. One I found to be a tailor, with his ingenuity on the rack, in inventing a new cut for the coat of a first-rate beau. A young lady, I found consulting with her milliner; another was ruminating on a novel which had engaged her attention the preceding evening. An old belle was selecting a cord party. But after making above thirty observations, I had only found two who were listening with any attention to the speaker. I had by this time ample proof of the powers of the telescope; and, discontinuing my observations, I began to reflect on the advantages I enjoyed, by having such a valuable instrument in my possession; and justly concluded, that now no person could deceive me. But after pleasing myself with these reflections, I found myself possessed with a desire to examine the parson himself, and see if he spoke the language of the heart. Turning my tube toward his reverence, I found his heart swelling with vanity, and a studious desire to please his hearers, to make his own sect appear the very best, and thus to gain all the proselytes possible; besides, he was anxious to hear it said that he was a great preacher. Another thought all the time seemed to press itself through his heart, viz. These persons are all fools, or they would not be gazing up at me, and hire me to teach them the way to Heaven, which is so plain, that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. If they would not pay us for preaching, these pulpits would come down, and instead of being led by "blind leaders," and worshipping us, they would all meet together as the primitive Christians did, and then there would be no distinct order of men set apart for the priesthood; but every one who had a gift, and was full of faith and the Holy Ghost, would prophesy, both men and women. But by this craft we have our gain and living, and it is our policy to keep the people in the dark. Then I turned my tube from one society to another, from preacher to people, and found all much alike, though they all quarreled with each other, yet in one thing they all resembled each other, viz. in a spirit of selfishness, covetousness, worldly mindedness, &c. and when turning my tube toward many honest industrious persons, who made no pretensions to religion, I found them far better, and I believe more acceptable to God that the generality of professors.
Well, I don't know about you, but I enjoy this kind of history. This is not what I got in my high school American history class and I don't think you probably got this kind of view from your Sunday school classes, if you attended any. As some of you know, we hope to be able to advance some of this kind of material into the twentieth century by putting it into electronic formats. Those of you who would enjoy participating in such a project should write or call for information.