Crispus. Good morning, my dear Gaius; I am glad to see you. The world is busy in grasping wealth, in discussing politics, and in struggling for dominion; all trifles of a moment: let us retire from the tumultuous scene, and discourse on subjects of greater importance.
Gaius. I am glad, my dear Crispus, to find your mind exercised on such subjects. The present agitated state of the world is doubtless a great temptation to many to let go their hold of heavenly things, and to bend their chief attention to subjects which originate and terminate in the present life.
C. My mind has of late been much engaged on Divine subjects. I find in them a source of solid satisfaction. Yet I must confess I feel as well a variety of difficulties which I should be happy to have removed. I have often found your conversation profitable, and should wish to avail myself of this and every other opportunity for improving by it.
G. Suitable conversation on Divine subjects is commonly of mutual advantage; and I must say there is something, I know not what, in the countenance of an inquisitive, serious friend, which, as iron sharpeneth iron, whets our powers, and draws forth observations where otherwise they never existed. I think I have been as much indebted to you for asking pertinent questions as you have been to me for answering them.
C. I have been lately employed in reading the works of some of our first Reformers: and, on comparing their times with the present, I have observed that a considerable difference has taken place in the state of the public mind. At the dawn of the Reformation the bulk of mankind were the devotees of superstition, and stood ready to extirpate all those who dared to avow any religious principles different from theirs. Even the Reformers themselves, though they inveighed against the persecuting spirit of the papists, yet seem to have been very severe upon one another, and to have exercised too little Christian forbearance, and too much of a spirit that savoured of unchristian bitterness, toward those whose ideas of reformation did not exactly coincide with their own. A great deal of their language, and some parts of their conduct, would, in the present day, be thought very censurable. How do you account for this change?
G. Were I to answer that the rights of conscience have of late years been more clearly understood, and that the sacred duty of benevolence, irrespective of the principles which men imbibe, has been more frequently enforced, I should so far speak the truth; and so far we have reason to congratulate the present age upon its improvement.
C. Do you suppose there are other causes to which such a change may be attributed?
G. I do. Scepticism, and a general indifference to religion, appear to me to have succeeded the blind zeal and superstition of former ages. It has been observed, I think by Dr. Goodwin, on that remarkable phrase of the apostle Paul, “Ye walked according to the course of this world,” First, That there is a course which is general and common to all ages and places, and which includes the gratifying of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, the laying up treasures on earth instead of heaven, &c. Secondly, That there is a course which is more particular, and which is incessantly varying according to times, places, and circumstances. Like the tide, it is ever rolling, but in different directions. In one age or country it is this, in another that, and in a third different from them both. The course of this world in the early ages was a course of idolatry. In this direction it ran until the days of Constantine, at which period the prince of darkness found it impracticable, in the civilized parts of the earth, any longer to support the pagan throne. The leaders in the Roman empire resolved to become Christians; and great numbers from various motives followed their example. The tide had then changed its direction; the profession of Christianity was fashionable, was honourable, was the high road to preferment. Satan himself, if I may so speak, could now have no objection to turn Christian. The external profession of religion became splendid and pompous; but religion itself was gradually lost, and a system of ignorance, superstition, and persecution was introduced in its place. For many centuries the course of this world (I speak of the European part of it) was a course of popery; and so powerful was it, that those who ventured to resist it did so at the expense of every thing that was dear to them on earth. In this direction it ran till the Reformation. Since that period there has been another turning of the tide. Several nations have become Protestant; and yet the course of this world goes on, and Satan has great influence among us. He has no objection to our laughing at superstition, provided that in any form we remain the slaves of sin. The world of late years has not directed its course so immediately towards superstition as towards a criminal carelessness and infidelity. Formerly the minds of men were so bent on uniformity in religion as to require it in civil society. Now they tend to the other extreme, and are for admitting any kind of sentiments even into religious society. In short, the propensity of the world in this day is to consider all religious principles whatever, and all forms of worship, even those which are of Divine institution, as of little or no importance. It is from this cause I am afraid, Crispus, and not merely from a better understanding of the rights of conscience, that a great part of the lenity of the present age arises.
Excerpt from: Dialogues and Letters between Crispus and Gaius, Dialogue 1, “The Peculiar Turn of the Present Age.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 647–648). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.