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The Greatest Thing in the World

The Greatest Thing in The World

Tho I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, &c.—1 Cor. 13.

Everyone has asked himself the great question of antiquity as of the modern world: What is the summum bonum—the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?

We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. That great word has been the key-note for centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been told that, we may miss the mark. I have taken you, in the chapter which I have just read, to Christianity at its source; and there we have seen, “The greatest of these is love.” It is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of faith just a moment before. He says, “If I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” So far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “Now abideth faith, hope, love,” and without a moment’s hesitation the decision falls, “The greatest of these is love.”

And it is not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love was not Paul’s strong point. The observing student can detect a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening all through his character as Paul gets old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” when we meet it first, is stained with blood.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as the summum bonum. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it. Peter says, “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves.” Above all things. And John goes further, “God is love.” And you remember the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their passage to heaven by keeping the ten commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. “Take not his name in vain.” Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal—how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbor. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbors had. He would rather that they possest it than himself. In this way “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.

Now, Paul had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the most wonderful and original account extant of the summum bonum. We may divide it into three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analyzed; toward the end, we have love defended as the supreme gift.

Paul begins contrasting love with other things that men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.

He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And we all know why. “We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies no love.

He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is love. Hence faith, the means, is in order to love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of love, one of the innumerable avenues of love, and there may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper’s cost. It is too cheap—too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of would-be missionaries—and I have the honor to call some of you by this name for the first time—to remember that tho you give your bodies to be burned, and have not love, it profits nothing—nothing! You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language of love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among the great lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw before—David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labor, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and your life-work must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is not worth while going if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not love, it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.

After contrasting love with these things, Paul, in three verses, very short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism broken up into its component colors—red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colors of the rainbow—so Paul passes this thing, love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we have what one might call the spectrum of love, the analysis of love. Will you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day, that they are things which can be practiced by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum, is made up?

The spectrum of love has nine ingredients:

Patience—“Love suffereth long.”

Kindness—“And is kind.”

Generosity—“Love envieth not.”

Humility—“Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

Courtesy—“Doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness—“Seeketh not her own.”

Good temper—“Is not easily provoked.”

Guilelessness—“Thinketh no evil.”

Sincerity—“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity—these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

There is no time to do more than to make a passing note upon each of these ingredients. Love is patience. This is the normal attitude of love; love passive, love waiting to begin; not in a hurry; calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things. For love understands, and therefore waits.

Kindness. Love active. Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things—in merely doing kind things? Run over it with that in view, and you will find that He spent a great proportion of His time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping; but what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.

“The greatest thing,” says someone, “a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children.” I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How superabundantly it pays itself back—for there is no debtor in the world so honorable, so superbly honorable, as love. “Love never faileth.” Love is success, love is happiness, love is life. “Love,” I say, with Browning, “is energy of life.”

For life, with all it yields of joy or wo

And hope and fear,

Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love—

How love might be, hath been indeed, and is.

Where love is, God is. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Generosity. “Love envieth not.” This is love in competition with others. Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better. Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to those who are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness and detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection against unchristian feeling! That most despicable of all the unworthy moods which cloud a Christian’s soul assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing truly needs the Christian envy, the large, rich, generous soul which “envieth not.”

And then, after having learned all that, you have to learn this further thing, humility—to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done. After you have been kind, after love has stolen forth into the world and done its beautiful work, go back into the shade again and say nothing about it. Love hides even from itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. “Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

The fifth ingredient is a somewhat strange one to find in this summum bonum: Courtesy. This is love in society, love in relation to etiquette. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” Politeness has been defined as love in trifles. Courtesy is said to be love in little things. And the one secret of politeness is to love. Love cannot behave itself unseemly. You can put the most untutored persons into the highest society, and if they have a reservoir of love in their hearts, they will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply cannot do it. Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer gentleman in Europe than the plowman-poet. It was because he loved everything—the mouse, the daisy, and all the things, great and small, that God had made. So with this simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter courts and palaces from his little cottage on the banks of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the word “gentleman.” It means a gentle man—a man who does things gently with love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentle man cannot in the nature of things do an ungentle and ungentlemanly thing. The ungentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic nature cannot do anything else. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness. “Love seeketh not her own.” Observe: Seeketh not even that which is her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted, and rightly, to his rights. But there come times when a man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights. Love strikes much deeper. It would have us not seek them at all, ignore them, eliminate the personal element altogether from our calculations. It is not hard to give up our rights. They are often external. The difficult thing is to give up ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek things for ourselves at all. After we have sought them, bought them, won them, deserved them, we have taken the cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then perhaps to give them up. But not to seek them, to look every man not on his own things, but on the things of others—id opus est. “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” said the prophet; “seek them not.” Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things cannot be great. The only greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all, than, having sought it, to give it up. I must take that back. It is only true of a partly selfish heart. Nothing is a hardship to love, and nothing is hard. I believe that Christ’s yoke is easy. Christ’s “yoke” is just His way of taking life. And I believe it is an easier way than any other. I believe it is a happier way than any other. The most obvious lesson in Christ’s teaching is that there is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only in giving. I repeat, there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. And half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It consists in giving and serving others. He that would be great among you, said Christ, let him serve. He that would be happy, let him remember that there is but one way—it is more blessed, it is more happy, to give than to receive.

The next ingredient is a very remarkable one: good temper. “Love is not easily provoked.” Nothing could be more striking than to find this here. We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature.

The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered, or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is, there are two great classes of sins—sins of the body, and sins of the disposition. The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of the first, the Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever as to which of these is the worse. Its brands fall without a challenge, upon the Prodigal. But are we right? We have no balance to weigh one another’s sins, and coarser and finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature may be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye of Him who is love, a sin against love may seem a hundred times more base. No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to unchristianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone. Look at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful—let him get all credit for his virtues—look at this man, this baby, sulking outside his own father’s door. “He was angry,” we read, “and would not go in.” Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal—and how many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside? Analyze, as a study in temper, the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother’s brow. What is it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, touchiness, doggedness, sullenness—these are the ingredients of this dark and loveless soul. In varying proportions, also, these are the ingredients of all ill temper. Judge if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in, and for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did Christ indeed not answer the question Himself when He said, “I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.” There is really no place in heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only make heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is perfectly certain—and you will not misunderstand me—that to enter heaven a man must take it with him.

You will see then why temper is significant. It is not in what it is alone, but in what it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking of it with such unusual plainness. It is a test for love, a symptom, a revelation of an unloving nature at bottom. It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products of the soul dropped involuntarily when off one’s guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred hideous and unchristian sins. For a want of patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of temper.

Hence it is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change the inmost nature, and the angry humors will die away of themselves. Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in—a great love, a new spirit, the spirit of Christ. Christ, the spirit of Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all. This only can eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate and regenerate, and rehabilitate the inner man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does. Therefore, “Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Some of us have not much time to lose. Remember, once more, that this is a matter of life or death. I cannot help speaking urgently, for myself, for yourselves. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That is to say, it is the deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not to live than not to love. It is better not to live than not to love.

Guilelessness and sincerity may be dismissed almost without a word. Guilelessness is the grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret of personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up; but in that other atmosphere they expand, and find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love “thinketh no evil,” imputes no bad motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every action. What a delightful state of mind to live in! What stimulus and benediction even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them. For the respect of another is the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.

“Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” I have called this sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorized Version by “rejoiceth in the truth.” And, certainly, were this the real translation, nothing could be more just. For he who loves will love truth not less than men. He will rejoice in the truth—rejoice not in what he has been taught to believe; not in this Church’s doctrine or in that; not in this ism or in that ism; but “in the truth.” He will accept only what is real; he will strive to get at facts; he will search for truth with an humble and unbiased mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But the more literal translation of the Revised Version calls for just such a sacrifice for truth’s sake here. For what Paul really meant is, as we there read, “Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth,” a quality which probably no one English word—and certainly not sincerity—adequately defines. It includes, perhaps more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses to make capital out of others’ faults; the charity which delights not in exposing the weakness of others, but “covereth all things”; the sincerity of purpose which endeavors to see things as they are, and rejoices to find them better than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.

So much for the analysis of love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things in our characters. That is the supreme work to which we need to address ourselves in this world to learn love. Is life not full of opportunities for learning love? Every man and woman every day has a thousand of them. The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love. What makes a man a good cricketer? Practice. What makes a man a good artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practice. What makes a man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practice. What makes a man a good man. Practice. Nothing else. There is nothing capricious about religion. We do not get the soul in different ways, under different laws, from those in which we get the body and the mind. If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if he does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber nor beauty of spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character—the Christlike nature in its fullest development. And the constituents of this great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practice.

What was Christ doing in the carpenter’s shop? Practicing. Tho perfect, we read that He learned obedience, and grew in wisdom and in favor with God. Do not quarrel, therefore, with your lot in life. Do not complain of its never-ceasing cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work with. Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practice. That is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do not grudge the hand that is molding the still too shapeless image within you. It is growing more beautiful, tho you see it not, and every touch of temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe’s words: Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character in dem Strom der Welt. “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.” Talent develops itself in solitude—the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.

How? Now how? To make it easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But these are only elements. Love itself can never be defined. Light is a something more than the sum of its ingredients—a glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love is something more than all its elements—a palpitating, quivering, sensitive, living thing. By synthesis of all the colors, men can make whiteness, they cannot make light. By synthesis of all the virtues, men can make virtue, they cannot make love. How then are we to have this transcendent living whole conveyed into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch. We pray. But these things alone will not bring love into our nature. Love is an effect. And only as we fulfill the right condition can we have the effect produced. Shall I tell you what the cause is?

If you turn to the Revised Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these words: “We love because he first loved us.” “We love,” not “We love him.” That is the way the old version has it, and it is quite wrong. “We love—because he first loved us.” Look at that word “because.” It is the cause of which I have spoken. “Because he first loved us,” the effect follows that we love, we love Him, we love all men. We cannot help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love everybody. Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ, and you will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ’s character, and you will be changed into the same image from tenderness to tenderness. There is no other way. You cannot love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and fall in love with it, and grow into likeness to it. And so look at this perfect character, this perfect life. Look at the great sacrifice as He laid down Himself, all through life, and upon the cross of Calvary; and you must love Him. And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love. It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, and that piece of iron for a time becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the mere presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a permanent magnet, a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw all men unto you; like Him you will be drawn unto all men. That is the inevitable effect of love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced in him. Try to give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law, or by spiritual law, for all law is divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room he just put his hand on the sufferer’s head, and said, “My boy, God loves you,” and went away. And the boy started from his bed, and called out to the people in the house, “God loves me! God loves me!” It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him, melted him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him. And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in man, and begets in him the new creature, who is patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is no other way to get it. There is no mystery about it. We love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us.

Now I have a closing sentence or two to add about Paul’s reason for singling out love as the supreme possession. It is a very remarkable reason. In a single word it is this: it lasts. “Love,” urges Paul, “never faileth.” Then he begins one of his marvelous lists of the great things of the day, and exposes them one by one. He runs over the things that men thought were going to last, and shows that they are all fleeting, temporary, passing away.

“Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” It was the mother’s ambition for her boy in those days that he should become a prophet. For hundreds of years God had never spoken by means of any prophet, and at that time the prophet was greater than the king. Men waited wistfully for another messenger to come, and hung upon his lips when he appeared as upon the very voice of God. Paul says, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” This book is full of prophecies. One by one they have “failed”; that is, having been fulfilled their work is finished; they have nothing more to do now in the world except to feed a devout man’s faith.

Then Paul talks about tongues. That was another thing that was greatly coveted. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” As we all know, many, many centuries have passed since tongues have been known in this world. They have ceased. Take it in any sense you like. Take it, for illustration merely, as languages in general—a sense which was not in Paul’s mind at all, and which tho it cannot give us the specific lesson will point the general truth. Consider the words in which these chapters were written—Greek. It has gone. Take the Latin—the other great tongue of those days. It ceased long ago. Look at the Indian language. It is ceasing. The language of Wales, of Ireland, of the Scottish Highlands is dying before our eyes. The most popular book in the English tongue at the present time, except the Bible, is one of Dickens’ works, his “Pickwick Papers.” It is largely written in the language of London street-life, and experts assure us that in fifty years it will be unintelligible to the average English reader.

Then Paul goes further, and with even greater boldness adds, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The wisdom of the ancients, where is it? It is wholly gone. A schoolboy to-day knows more than Sir Isaac Newton knew. His knowledge has vanished away. You put yesterday’s newspaper in the fire. Its knowledge has vanished away. You buy the old editions of the great encyclopedias for a few cents. Their knowledge has vanished away. Look how the coach has been superseded by the use of steam. Look how electricity has superseded that, and swept a hundred almost new inventions into oblivion. One of the greatest living authorities, Sir William Thompson, said the other day, “The steam-engine is passing away.” “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” At every workshop you will see, in the back yard, a heap of old iron, a few wheels, a few levers, a few cranks, broken and eaten with rust. Twenty years ago that was the pride of the city. Men flocked in from the country to see the great invention; now it is superseded, its day is done. And all the boasted science and philosophy of this day will soon be old. But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the university to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: “Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.” Sir James Simpson was a great authority only a few years ago; men came from all parts of the earth to consult him; and almost the whole teaching of that time is consigned by the science of to-day to oblivion. And in every branch of science it is the same. “Now we know in part. We see through a glass darkly.”

Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it “passeth away.” There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while. Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the immortal things are: “Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Some think the time may come when two of these three things will also pass away—faith into sight, hope into fruition. Paul does not say so. We know but little now about the conditions of the life that is to come. But what is certain is that love must last. God, the eternal God, is love. Covet therefore that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand, that one coinage which will be current in the universe when all the other coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonored. You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to love. Hold things in their proportion. Hold things in their proportion. Let at least the first great object of our lives be to achieve the character defended in these words, the character—and it is the character of Christ—which is built round love.

I have said this thing is eternal. Did you ever notice how continually John associates love and faith with eternal life? I was not told when I was a boy that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should have everlasting life.” What I was told, I remember, was, that God so loved the world that, if I trusted in Him, I was to have a thing called peace, or I was to have rest, or I was to have joy, or I was to have safety. But I had to find out for myself that whosoever trusteth in Him—that is, whosoever loveth Him, for trust is only the avenue to love—hath everlasting life. The gospel offers a man life. Never offer men a thimbleful of gospel. Do not offer them merely joy, or merely peace, or merely rest, or merely safety; tell them how Christ came to give men a more abundant life than they have, a life abundant in love, and therefore abundant in salvation for themselves, and large in enterprise for the alleviation and redemption of the world. Then only can the gospel take hold of the whole of a man, body, soul, and spirit, and give to each part of his nature its exercise and reward. Many of the current gospels are addressed only to a part of man’s nature. They offer peace, not life; faith, not love; justification, not regeneration. And men slip back again from such religion because it has never really held them. Their nature was not all in it. It offered no deeper and gladder life-current than the life that was lived before. Surely it stands to reason that only a fuller love can compete with the love of the world.

To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever. Hence, eternal life is inextricably bound up with love. We want to live forever for the same reason that we want to live to-morrow. Why do we want to live to-morrow? It is because there is some one who loves you, and whom you want to see to-morrow, and be with, and love back. There is no other reason why we should live on than that we love and are beloved. It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live; because to live is to love. Be it but the love of a dog, it will keep him in life; but let that go and he has no contact with life, no reason to live. He dies by his own hand. Eternal life is to know God, and God is love. This is Christ’s own definition. Ponder it. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Love must be eternal. It is what God is. On the last analysis, then, love is life. Love never faileth, and life never faileth, so long as there is love. That is the philosophy of what Paul is showing us; the reason why in the nature of things love should be the supreme thing—because it is going to last; because in the nature of things it is an eternal life. It is a thing that we are living now, not that we get when we die; that we shall have a poor chance of getting when we die unless we are living now. No worse fate can befall a man in this world than to live and grow old all alone, unloving and unloved. To be lost is to live in an unregenerate condition, loveless and unloved; and to be saved is to love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God; for God is love.

Now I have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his whole life. You might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the perfect character. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.” Get these ingredients into your life. Then everything that you do is eternal. It is worth doing. It is worth giving time to. No man can become a saint in his sleep; and to fulfil the condition required demands a certain amount of prayer and meditation and time, just as improvement in any direction, bodily or mental, requires preparation and care. Address yourselves to that one thing; at any cost have this transcendent character exchanged for yours. You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those around about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide. Everything else in all our lives is transitory. Every other good is visionary. But the acts of love which no man knows about, or can ever know about, they never fail.

In the Book of Matthew, where the judgment day is depicted for us in the imagery of One seated upon a throne and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a man then is not, “How have I believed?” but “How have I loved?” The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but love. I say the final test of religion at that great day is not religiousness, but love; not what I have done, not what I have believed; not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to Him to be seized with the spell of His compassion for the world. It means that

I lived for myself, I thought for myself,

For myself, and none beside—

Just as if Jesus had never lived,

As if He had never died.

It is the Son of Man before whom the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of humanity that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped; or there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other witness need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not deceived. The words which all of us shall one day hear sound not of theology but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. Thank God the Christianity of to-day is coming nearer the world’s need. Live to help that on. Thank God men know better, by a hairbreadth, what religion is, what God is, who Christ is, where Christ is. Who is Christ? He who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick. And where is Christ? Where?—Whoso shall receive a little child in My name receiveth Me. And who are Christ’s? Every one that loveth is born of God.[1]

 

 

[1] Drummond, H. (1908). The Greatest Thing in The World. In G. Kleiser (Ed.), The World’s Great Sermons: Drummond to Jowett (Vol. 10, pp. 3–35). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 27

Psalm 27

A sufferer, surrounded by enemies intent on his destruction, and deprived of human help, implores divine assistance and expresses his assured hope of obtaining it. The expression of confidence occurs at the beginning and the end, the description of the danger and the prayer for deliverance in the body of the psalm. If God be for him, and admit him to his household, he is satisfied and safe, ver. 1–6. With this persuasion he implores that God will interpose for his deliverance from present danger, ver. 7–12. If he did not believe that God would grant his request he must despair; but as he does believe it, he encourages himself to wait for it, ver. 13, 14. There is no apparent reference to any particular historical occasion, but an obvious intention to provide a vehicle of pious sentiment for all God’s people under the form of trial here described.

1. By David. Jehovah (is) my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid? Jehovah (is) the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be in dread? As darkness is a common figure for distress, and light for relief from it, the same idea is here twice expressed, first in a figurative form as light, and then more literally as salvation. These terms are applied to God, by a natural and common figure of speech, as the source or dispenser of light and salvation. Compare Micah 7:8. The interrogations imply negation of the strongest kind. The form of expression is imitated in Rom. 8:31–35.—The noun מָעזוֹ is sometimes used as an abstract, strength; but its proper meaning, as its very form denotes, is local. The stronghold or fortress of my life, that which makes my life as safe as walls and fortifications. The variation of the verbs in the two clauses is merely rhetorical, without any change in the idea.

2. In the drawing near against me of evil-doers, to devour my flesh, (in the drawing near of) my adversaries and my enemies to me, (it is) they (that) have stumbled and fallen. Even in the most imminent dangers which have hitherto befallen me, the divine protection has enabled me to see those who sought to overwhelm me overwhelmed themselves. Evil-doers, not only against me, but in general. It was not because they were his enemies merely, but because they were the enemies of God, that he so easily subdued them.—To eat my flesh, a figure borrowed from the habits of wild beasts. Compare Job 19:22, Ps. 14:4, 35:1.—To me is to be construed not with enemies, but with the verb, as in Job 33:22. See below, on Ps. 55:19. The pronoun expressed in the last clause is emphatic, “They themselves, not I, as they expected, fell.”

3. If there encamp against me an encampment, my heart shall not fear; if there arise against me war, (even) in this (case) I (am) confident. With the sentiment of this verse compare Ps. 3:7 (6). The primary meaning of the noun in the first clause is retained in the translation for the sake of its assonance with the verb, which is lost in the common version, although marked in the original. By encampment, however, must be understood the men encamped, the host, the army.—In this, even in this extremity. Compare Lev. 26:27, Job 1:22. The common version, in this will I be confident, although ambiguous, appears to mean, “I will confide in this, i.e. in the fact that Jehovah is my light and my salvation.” This construction is grammatical, and yields a good sense, but the other is more pointed and emphatic, and the absolute use of בּוֹטֵחַ in the sense of safe, secure, is justified by Judges 18:27, Jer. 12:5, Prov. 11:15.

4. One (thing) have I asked from Jehovah, (and) that will I (still) seek, that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah, to gaze at the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in his temple. To dwell in the house of the Lord is not merely to frequent his sanctuary as a place of worship, but to be a member of his household, and as such in intimate communion with him. See above, on Ps. 15:1, 23:6.—Beauty, loveliness, desirableness, all that makes God an object of affection and desire to the believer. See below, on Ps. 90:17. Some take the last verb in the secondary sense of meditating; but the proper one of inquiring is entirely appropriate.—Temple, properly palace, the earthly residence of the great King, and therefore equally appropriate to the temple and the tabernacle. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7).

5. For he will hide me in his covert in the day of evil; he will secrete me in the secrecy of his tent; on a rock he will set me high. This verse assigns his reason for wishing to be still a member of Jehovah’s household, namely, because there he is sure of effectual protection.—The word translated covert means a booth or shelter made of leaves and branches, such as the Jews used at the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:42). It is here used as a figure for secure protection in the day of evil, i.e. of suffering or danger.—Secrete and secrecy are used in the translation to represent the cognate verb and noun in Hebrew.—By his tent, as appears from the preceding verse, we are to understand the tabernacle, not considered merely as a place of public worship, but as Jehovah’s earthly residence, his mansion. In the last clause the idea of protection is conveyed by an entirely different figure, that of a person placed upon a high rock beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:14 (13), 18:49 (48).

6. And now shall my head be high above my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in his tabernacle sacrifices of joyful noise; I will sing and make music to Jehovah. And now may either be a formula of logical resumption, as in Ps. 2:10, 39:8 (7), or be taken in its strict sense, as denoting that he not only hopes for future safety, but is ready in the meantime, even now, to thank him publicly for his protection as already realized. The first clause merely amplifies the last of the preceding verse. The next adds the promise of a thank-offering at the tabernacle, which implies an assured hope of deliverance and prosperity. By a joyful noise some understand the blowing of trumpets which accompanied certain offerings (Num. 10:10, 29:1); but as this is never mentioned in connection with private sacrifices, it seems more advisable to rest in the general sense of the expression.

7. Hear, O Jehovah! (with) my voice I will call, and do thou have mercy on me and answer me. The Psalmist here descends from the tone of confident assurance to that of strong desire, prompted by a sense of urgent need.—With my voice, not merely with my mind, but audibly, aloud. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).

8. To thee hath said my heartSeek ye my facethy face, Jehovah, will I seek. The general meaning of this verse is obvious enough, although its syntax is exceedingly obscure. The best solution is to take “seek ye my face” as a citation of God’s own words. “My heart has said to thee—(whenever thou hast said) Seek ye my face,—thy face,” &c. Or, “my heart has said to thee—(in answer to thy words) Seek ye my face—thy face,” &c.—My heart hath said, i.e. I have said with or from the heart. See above, on Ps. 11:1. There may be an allusion to Deut. 4:29, from which the expression seek God (2 Sam. 12:16, 2 Chron. 20:4), and seek his face (Ps. 24:6, 105:4) seems to be derived. The idea is that of seeking admission to his presence for the purpose of asking a favor. See above, on Ps. 24:6.

9. Hide not thy face from me, put not away in wrath thy servant; my help thou hast been; forsake me not, and leave me not, (O) God of my salvation! The first petition is that God will not withhold from him the manifestation of his love or favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—Put not away, or thrust aside, as one unworthy to be noticed.—Thy servant, and as such entitled to thy kind regard.—My help, i.e. the source and author of my help, my helper. Thou hast been; the past tense is here essential: what thou hast been, continue to be still.—God of my salvation, my Savior God, or God my Savior; see above, on Ps 18:47 (46).

10. For my father and my mother have left me, and Jehovah will take me in. Parents are here put for the nearest friends, whose loss or desertion is frequently complained of in the Psalms as one of the most painful signs of desolation. See Ps. 31:12 (11), 38:12 (11), 69:9 (8), 88:9 (8), and compare Job 19:13. The first clause may also be translated, when my father and my mother have left me, then the Lord will take me in.—The last expression is applied to the compassionate reception of strangers or wanderers into one’s house. See Josh. 20:4, Judges 19:15, and compare Mat. 25:35, 43. The case described is an ideal one, and may be thus expressed in paraphrase: “The kindness of the nearest earthly friends may cease by death or desertion (for the verb to leave may comprehend both); but the Lord’s compassions cannot fail.”

11. Guide me, Jehovah, (in) thy way, and lead me in a straight (or level) path, because of my adversaries. The way in which he here desires to be led, is not the way of duty but of providence, which he calls a straight or smooth path, as distinguished from the rough or crooked ways of adversity. See above, on Ps. 25:4, 26:12.—Because of my enemies, that they may have no occasion to exult or triumph. Of the many Hebrew words applied to enemies, the one here used is supposed by some to signify malignant watchers for the errors or calamities of others. The one used in the next verse means oppressors or causers of distress.—With this clause compare Ps. 26:12.

12. Give me not up to the will of my enemies; for risen up against me are witnesses of falsehood, and a breather forth of cruelty. The word translated will properly means soul, and is here used for the ruling wish or heart’s desire, as in Ps. 35:25. The second clause assigns the ground or reason of this prayer. As if he had said, I have reason to ask this, for there have risen up, &c.—One breathing violence or cruelty, a strong but natural expression for a person, all whose thoughts and feelings are engrossed by a favorite purpose or employment, so that he cannot live or breathe without it. Compare the description of Saul’s persecuting zeal in Acts 9:1, and the Latin phrases, spirare minas, anhelare scelus.

13. Unless I believed (or fully expected) to look upon the goodness of Jehovah in the land of life. This is an instance of the figure called aposiopesis, in which the conclusion of the sentence is suppressed, either from excitement and hurried feeling, or because of some unwillingness to utter what is necessary to complete it. Thus in this case the apodosis would probably have been, I would despair, or I must have perished. (Compare Ps. 119:92.) Of the other cases usually cited, that in Gen. 31:42 especially resembles this, because the sentence opens with a similar conditional expression.—To look upon, not merely to behold, but to gaze at with delight. See above on Ps. 22:18 (17).—The land of life, as opposed to that of darkness and the shadow of death (Job 10:21), seems to be a more correct translation than the common one, land of the living.

14. Wait thou for Jehovah; be firm, and may he strengthen thy heart; and wait thou for Jehovah! Instead of finishing the inauspicious sentence which he had begun, he interrupts himself with an earnest exhortation to await the fulfilment of God’s promises, to hope in him. See above, on Ps. 25:3.—The optative and causative senses of the third verb (יַֽאֲמֵץ) are both determined by its form, which equally forbids the versions, let thy heart be strong, and he will strengthen it.—The repetition, wait for the Lord, and wait for the Lord, implies that this is all he has to enjoin upon himself or others, and is more impressive, in its native simplicity, than the correct but periphrastic version of the last clause in the English Bible, wait, I say, upon the Lord.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 120–123). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 26

Psalm 26

An appeal to God’s justice and omniscience, ver. 1–3, enforced by a disavowal of all sympathy and communion with the wicked, ver. 4–6, and a profession of devotion to God’s service, ver. 7, 8, with an earnest prayer to be delivered from the death of those whose life he abhors, ver. 9, 10, and an expression of strong confidence that God will hear his prayer, ver. 11, 12. There is a certain similarity of form between this psalm and the foregoing, which, together with their collocation in the Psalter, makes it not improbable that they were designed to constitute a pair or double psalm.

1. By David. Judge me, Jehovah, for I in my integrity have walked, and in Jehovah I have trusted; I shall not swerve (or slip). The correctness of the title is confirmed by the resemblance of the psalm itself to several, the authorship of which is undisputed, more especially Ps. 15. 17. 18. 24.—Judge me, do me justice, vindicate or clear me. See above, on Ps. 17:1, 2.—In my integrity of purpose and of principle. To this is added its inseparable adjunct, trust in God.—Walked, lived, pursued a certain course of conduct. See above, on Ps. 1:1. The last clause is by some explained as the expression of a wish, let me not be moved. But there is no reason for departing from the strict sense of the future, as expressing a confident anticipation. Swerve, as in Ps. 18:37 (36), 37:31.

2. Try me, Jehovah, and prove me; assay my reins and my heart. The first verb is supposed by etymologists to signify originally trial by touch, the second by smell, and the third by fire. In usage, however, the second is constantly applied to moral trial or temptation, while the other two are frequently applied to the testing of metals by the touchstone or the furnace. This is indeed the predominant usage of the third verb, which may therefore be represented by the technical metallurgic term, assay. See above, on Ps. 17:3, where two of the same verbs occur.—Reins and heart are joined, as seats of the affections. See above, on Ps. 7:10 (9).—The prayer of this verse is an appeal to God’s omniscience for the psalmist’s integrity of purpose, which agrees much better with the context than the explanation of צרופה as a participle, and of the last clause as an affirmation, purified (or purged) are my reins and my heart.

3. For thy mercy (is) before my eyes, and I have walked in thy truth. This verse assigns a reason for his confident persuasion that he shall not slide, to wit, because God’s mercy is before his eyes, literally, in front of them, i.e. constantly in view, as an object of memory and ground of hope. He is also encouraged by his previous experience of God’s truth or faithfulness. See above, on Ps. 25:5. The verb translated walked is an intensive form of that used in ver. 1 above, and ver. 11 below. It means properly to walk about or to and fro, and expresses more distinctly than the primitive verb, the idea of continuous habitual action. “My constant experience of thy mercy and thy faithfulness assure me that I shall not fall away hereafter.”

4. I have not sat with men of falsehood, and with hidden (men) I will not go. He is further encouraged to believe that he will be sustained because he has not hitherto espoused the cause of those who hate God.—Men of falsehood, liars or deceivers, which appears to suit the context better than the wider sense of vain men, i.e. destitute of all moral goodness, good for nothing, worthless. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6), 24:4. The same class of persons are described in the last clause as masked, disguised, or hypocritical.—Sat, not merely in their company, but in their councils, taking part in their unlawful machinations. The change of tense is anything rather than unmeaning. “I have not sat with them in time past, and I will not go with them in time to come.” The form of expression is borrowed from Gen. 49:6.

6. I will wash in innocence my hands, and will compass thy altar, O Jehovah! To the negative professions of the two preceding verses he now adds a positive declaration of his purpose. Not content with abstaining from all share in the counsels of the wicked, he is fully resolved to adhere to the service of the Lord. He will cleanse himself from all that would unfit him for that service, and then cleave to the sanctuary where God dwells. The expression in the first clause seems to be copied from Gen. 20:5, and the symbol or emblem from Deut. 21:6. (Compare Mat. 27:24.) Whether compassing the altar be explained to mean going round it in procession, or embracing it, the idea expressed is still that of close adherence and devoted attachment.

7. To make known with a voice of thanksgiving, and to recount all thy wondrous works. The object of the acts described in the preceding verse was to promote God’s glory. To make known, literally to cause to hear or to be heard. The clause admits of several constructions. 1. To publish thanksgivings with the voice. 2. To publish with a thankful voice, without expressing what. 3. To publish and recount all thy wondrous works with a voice of thanksgiving. The last is on the whole entitled to the preference.—The last word in the verse is a passive participle, meaning wonderfully made or done. The plural feminine is used indefinitely like the neuter in Greek and Latin, to mean things done wonderfully, which is also the idea of the common version, wondrous works.

8. Jehovah, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place of the dwelling of thy glory. This verse expresses more directly and literally the idea of ver. 6 above, and shews that his compassing the altar was intended to denote his love for the earthly residence of God, the altar being there put for the whole sanctuary, which is here distinctly mentioned. The habitation of thy house might be understood to mean a residence in it; but the usage of the first noun and the parallelism shew that it rather means the place where thy house dwells, perhaps in allusion to the migratory movements of the ark and its appendages before the time of David. So too in the last clause, Hebrew usage would admit of the translation, thy glorious dwelling-place, as in Ps. 20:7 (6); but the use of כָּבוֹד, in the Pentateuch, to signify the visible presence of Jehovah (Exod. 24:16, 40:34, 35), seems decisive in favor of explaining it the place where thy glory dwells, i.e. where the glorious God is pleased to manifest his presence.

9. Take not away my soul with sinners, and with men of blood my life. The primary meaning of the first verb is to gather, as a harvest or as fruit, a figure not unfrequently applied in various languages to death, here described as the taking away of the life or soul. This verse and the next contain a prayer that he may die as he has lived; that since he has had no community of interest or feeling with ungodly men in life, he may not be united with them in his death.—Men of blood, literally bloods, i.e. murderers, either in the strict sense or by metonymy for sinners of the worst class. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6). Another idiomatic plural in this sentence is the word lives at the end, which is used as an abstract simply equivalent to life in English.

10. In whose hands is crime, and their right hand is filled with a bribe. The first clause exhibits the peculiar construction of the relative in Hebrew with the personal pronoun expressed, of which it is the substitute in other languages. Who (or as to whom)—in their hands (is) crime. This last word (זִמָּה) is a very strong one, used in the Law to denote specifically acts of gross impurity, but signifying really any wicked act or purpose The common version, mischief, is too weak. The last word in the verse denotes especially a judicial bribe (Ps. 15:5), and may be intended to suggest that the whole description has reference to unrighteous rulers, or to wicked men in public office.

11. And I in my integrity will walk; redeem me and be merciful to me. The use of the conjunction and emphatic pronoun is the same as in Ps. 2:6 above. Our idiom would require an adversative conjunction, but I, in opposition to the sinners just described, but as for me, I will still walk as I have done in sincerity and simplicity of purpose. The obvious contrast of the tenses here and in ver. 1, may serve to shew how seldom they are used promiscuously or confounded.—That the Psalmist’s perfection or integrity was neither absolute nor inherent, is clear from the petition of the last clause. He expects still to be perfect, not because he is without sin, but because he hopes to be redeemed from its dominion through the mercy of Jehovah.

12. My foot stands in an even place; in the assemblies will I bless Jehovah. As a state of danger and distress might be compared to a precipitous and rugged path, so one of ease and safety is denoted by a smooth or level path. My foot (now) stands, or has (at last) stood, found a resting-place, implying previous wanderings and hardships.—The assemblies primarily meant are no doubt the stated congregations at the sanctuary. The determination to praise God implies a strong assurance that the occasion for so doing will be granted. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7). The whole verse indeed is an expression of confident belief that God will hear and answer the foregoing prayers, and thus, as in many other psalms, we are brought back at the conclusion to the starting-point. Compare the last clause of ver. 1.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 117–120). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 25

Psalm 25

The first of the alphabetical psalms, in which the verses begin with the different Hebrew letters in their order, an arrangement peculiar to those psalms, in which a single theme or idea is repeated under various forms, and, as it were, in a series of aphorisms. Now and then, in order to complete the expression of the thought, the series of the letters is neglected, either by repeating or omitting one. In this psalm, for example, two successive verses begin with א, and two with ר, while ו and ק are left out. The first verse, however, does not properly belong to the alphabetical series, but constitutes one sentence with the short verse at the end, which is added after the completion of the alphabet. The theme which runs through this psalm is deliverance from enemies, occasionally blended with a prayer for the divine forgiveness.

1. By David. Unto thee, Jehovah, my soul will I lift up, or as some explain it, bring or carry. All agree, however, that the essential idea is that of confident desire. See above, on Ps. 24:4, and compare Ps. 86:4, 143:8, below, where the phrase occurs again. The sentiment expressed is that of settled confidence in God, to the exclusion of all other helpers.

2. My God, in thee have I trusted, let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me, or more exactly, with respect to me. As the future verb of the preceding verse implies a fixed determination to confide in God hereafter, so the preterite in this verse indicates that such trust has been exercised already. The present is included under both forms.—Ashamed, disappointed, defeated in my plans and expectations. See above, on Ps. 22:6 (5).—The last clause shews that suffering from enemies was in the Psalmist’s mind throughout.

3. Likewise all (those) waiting for thee shall not be ashamed, ashamed shall be the traitors without cause. He does not ask for any special dispensation in his own behalf, but merely for a fair participation in God’s customary mode of dealing with the whole class of which he is a member, here described as those waiting for God, i.e. hoping in him, awaiting the fulfilment of his promises. The modern English sense of waiting on is too restricted, though the phrase once exactly corresponded to the Hebrew.—The position of the verbs, at the end and the beginning of successive clauses, gives a peculiar turn to the sentence, which is lost in some translations.—Without cause qualifies the word immediately preceding, and describes the enemy not only as perfidious, but as acting so gratuitously, and without provocation. See above, on Ps. 7:5 (4), and below, on Ps. 35:19, 38:20 (19), 69:5 (4).

4. Thy ways, Jehovah, make me know; thy paths teach me. As the ways of God, throughout this psalm, are the same as in Deut. 32:4, namely his dispensations towards his people, the way in which he orders their condition and disposes of their lot, the teaching prayed for must be that of experience. “Let me know in my own case what it is to be guided and protected and provided for by God himself.” This meaning suits the context better than that of moral guidance, which however is implied, if not expressed.

5. Make me walk in thy truth and teach me, for thou (art) the God of my salvation; for thee have I waited all the day. The obvious meaning of this verse, interpreted according to New Testament and modern usage, would be that of a prayer for divine instruction in religious truth or doctrine. But the usage of the Psalms, and the preceding context, are in favor of explaining truth to mean the veracity of God, or the faithful performance of his promises. See Ps. 30:10 (9), 71:22, 91:4. The teaching asked is then experimental teaching, or the actual experience of God’s faithfulness.—The God of my salvation, or my Savior God. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46).—I have waited. This is no new or untried exercise of faith, to be attempted for the first time, but one with which I have been long familiar.—All the day, continually, always.

6. Remember thy mercies, O Jehovah, and thy favors, for from eternity are they. The prayer for future favors is here founded upon those experienced already.—Of old is an inadequate translation of מֵעוֹלָם, and even in the stronger form, ever of old, less exact and expressive than the literal translation from eternity, to which there is the less objection here, as the words relate not merely to God’s acts but to his attributes.

7. The sins of my youth and my transgressions (O) remember not; according to thy mercy remember thou me, for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! Among the mercies which he craves, the most important is the pardon of his sins, not only in itself considered, but as that without which all the others must be worthless. The sins of his youth are mentioned as the earliest in date, and probably as those committed with the least restraint, at an age when reflection is subordinate to passion. Compare Job 13:26, 2 Tim. 2:22. Besides the obvious reference to the youthful sins of individuals, there may be also an allusion to the national iniquities of Israel, committed in the period of their childhood as a people, namely, that of their sojourn in the wilderness. See below, on ver. 22, and compare Deut. 9:7.

8. Good and upright (is) Jehovah; therefore will he guide sinners in the way. Not only the goodness, but the rectitude of the divine nature requires the exercise of covenanted mercy. The second epithet is borrowed from Deut. 32:4.—The way meant in the last clause is the way of safety or salvation. What is meant may be either that God guides sinners into it by converting them, or that he guides those sinners in it who are still his people, as the same person claims to be both righteous and a sinner in Ps. 41:5, 13, (4, 12). Hence perhaps he uses the indefinite term sinners, not the distinctive phrase the sinners, or the more emphatic epithet, the wicked.

9. He will guide humble (sinners) in justice, and teach humble (sinners) his way. The common version of ענוים, meek, is too restricted and descriptive of mere temper. The Hebrew word is the nearest equivalent to humble in its strong religious sense. The omission of the article may be explained as a poetic license, and the word translated the humble, so as to include the whole class. But the intimate connection between this verse and the one before it, makes it more natural to take ענוים as a description of the sinners mentioned in ver. 8, who are then of course to be regarded as penitent believing sinners, i.e. as true converts. In justice, i.e. in the exercise of justice, as before explained. The way and the teaching are the same as in the foregoing context, namely, those of Providence.

10. All the paths of Jehovah (are) mercy and truth to the keepers of his covenant and his testimonies. The paths of Jehovah are the paths in which he walks himself, in other words, the ways in which he deals with his creatures.—Truth, veracity, fidelity. See above, on ver. 5. A similar combination occurs, John 1:14. The last clause shews that the preceding promises are limited to those who are in covenant with God.—Keepers, observers, those obeying.—His covenant, the commands to which his promise is annexed. The same are called his testimonies against sin and in behalf of holiness. See above, on Ps. 19:8 (7).

11. For the sake of thy name (wilt thou do this), and wilt pardon my iniquity because it is great. The form of the verb (וְסָלַחְתַּ) is one that is commonly preceded by a future, which may here be readily supplied, so as to make the first clause refer to the preceding promises. For thy name’s sake, for the honor of thy nature and thy attributes, as heretofore revealed in act. See above on Ps. 23:3. The emphatic pronoun at the end (רֵב־הוּא) may possibly refer to the remoter antecedent, as in Ps. 22:18 (17). The sense will then be, “and forgive my iniquity because that name is great.” (Compare Mal. 1:11.) There is nothing ungrammatical, however, in the usual construction, which also agrees better with the usage of the adjective (רַב), as denoting rather quantity than elevation, and with the parallel phrase, much transgression (פֶּשַׁע רַב), in Ps. 19:14 (13).

12. Who (is) the man fearing Jehovah? He will guide him in the way he shall choose. In the first clause the form of the original is highly idiomatic; who (is) this, the man, a fearer of Jehovah? See above, on Ps. 24:8.—The ellipsis of the relative in the last clause is common to both idioms.—He guides him, and will guide him. There is not only an affirmation, but a promise. The way, as in the foregoing context, is the providential way in which God directs the course of a man’s life. His choosing it implies not only sovereign authority, but a gracious regard to the interests of his servant.

13. His soul in good shall lodge, and his seed shall possess the land. The parallelism between soul and seed seems to shew that by his soul we are to understand himself, for which the Hebrew has no appropriate expression. The promise, then, includes both himself and his posterity. To lodge, to be at home, to dwell at ease, and by implication, to abide or continue undisturbed. In good, not goodness, but good fortune or prosperity. The verb, translated shall possess, denotes specifically to inherit, or possess as an inheritance, i.e. from generation to generation, in perpetual succession. The land, to wit, the land of Canaan; and as this was the standing promise of the law, uttered even in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:12), it became a formula for all the blessings implicitly embraced in the promise of Canaan to the ancient Israel, and is so used even by our Lord himself, (Mat. 5:5.)

14. The friendship of Jehovah is to (those) fearing him, and his covenant to make them know. The word translated friendship means originally a company of persons sitting together, Ps. 111:1; then familiar conversation, Ps. 55:15 (14); then confidential intercourse, intimacy, friendship, Prov. 3:32; then a confidence or secret, Prov. 11:13. The last sense is commonly preferred in the English version, even when one of the others would be more appropriate, as in this case, where the sense of intimacy, friendship, seems required by the context. The last clause is ambiguous, and may either mean, his covenant is designed to be known by them, or his covenant is designed to make them know, i.e. his way; or in general, to give them knowledge. To make them know his covenant is a forced construction, and forbidden by the collocation of the Hebrew words. The meaning of the whole verse seems to be, that Jehovah condescends to hold familiar intercourse with those who fear him, and enters into covenant relation with them, for the purpose of making them know all that they need know for his service or their own advantage.

15. My eyes (are) always towards Jehovah; for he will bring out from the net my feet. The first clause expresses settled trust and constant expectation. The figure of a net is a favorite one for dangers arising from the craft and spite of enemies. See above, on Ps. 9:16 (15), 10:9.

16. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, for lonely and distressed (am) I. The prayer to turn implies that his face was before averted, a common figure in the Psalms for the suspension or withholding of God’s favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—The word translated lonely is the same that occurs above, Ps. 22:21 (20).

17. The troubles of my heart have they enlarged; from my distresses do thou bring me out. The plural of the first clause is indefinite, equivalent to a passive construction in English, are enlarged. (Compare the common version of Luke 12:20.) It does not refer even to his enemies specifically, but to all others, as distinguished from his lonely self, and from his sole deliverer.

18. See my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. So long as God leaves him to endure, he is conceived of as not seeing his condition. The prayer that he will see includes the prayer that he will save. The renewed prayer for forgiveness in the last clause seems again to recall to mind the intimate connection between suffering and sin.

19. See my enemies, for they are many, and (with) hatred of violence have hated me. The agency of wicked foes in causing his distresses, which had been referred to in ver. 2, 15, 17, is here again brought into view. The word translated violence is very strong, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 11:6 (5), 18:49 (48).—The past tense represents the enmity as something of long standing.

20. (O) keep my soul and deliver me; let me not be ashamed, for I have trusted in thee. To keep is here to keep in safety, to preserve.—Ashamed, confounded, disappointed. See above, on ver. 2. The word translated trusted is not that employed in ver. 2, but the one which occurs in Ps. 2:12, and which originally means to seek a refuge or a hiding-place. See above, on Ps. 11:2 (1).

21. Integrity and rectitude shall preserve me, because I have waited for thee. The first word means completeness or perfection (integritas), i.e. freedom from essential defect. See above, on Ps. 18:21, 24 (20, 23). Here, however, it may signify the perfect rectitude of God, which will not suffer him to cast off or forsake those who wait for him, i.e. trustfully expect the fulfilment of his promises.

22. Redeem, O God, Israel out of all his troubles! As the psalm was designed, from the first, to be a vehicle of pious feeling and desire for the whole church, it is here wound up with a petition shewing this extent of purpose. The Psalmist prays no longer for himself, but for all Israel. The peculiar name, Jehovah, which had hitherto been used exclusively, is here exchanged for the generic name of God, perhaps in opposition to the human adversaries of the Psalmist, and his total destitution of all human help. This verse forms no part of the alphabetical series, but begins with the same letter as ver. 16. Like the first verse, it consists of a single clause, as if the two together were designed to constitute one sentence.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 113–117). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Practical Hints to Various Descriptions of Persons

Difference between nominal and real Christians, of the first importance

THUS have we endeavored to trace the chief defects of the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians in this country. We have pointed out their low idea of the importance of Christianity in general; their inadequate conceptions of all its leading doctrines, and the effect hereby naturally produced in relaxing the strictness of its practical system: more than all, we have remarked their grand fundamental misconception of its genius and essential nature. Let not therefore the difference between them and true believers be considered as a trifling difference; as a question of forms or opinions. The question is of the very substance of Religion; the difference is of the most serious and momentous amount. We must speak out: Their Christianity is not Christianity. It wants the radical principle. It is mainly defective in all the grand constituents. Let them no longer, then, be deceived by names in a matter of infinite importance; but, with humble prayer to the Source of all wisdom, that he would enlighten their understandings, and clear their hearts from prejudice, let them seriously examine, by the Scripture standard, their real belief and allowed practice; and they will become sensible of the shallowness of their scanty system.

Helps in self-examination—Frequent sources of self-deception, pointed out

If, through the blessing of Providence on anything which has been here written, any should feel themselves disposed to this important duty of self-inquiry, let me previously warn them to be well aware of our natural proneness to think too favorably of ourselves. Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to overrate our good qualities, and to overlook or extenuate our defects. The corruption of human nature therefore being admitted, it follows undeniably, that in all our reckonings, if we would form a just estimate of our character, we must make an allowance for the effects of selfishness. It is also another effect of the corruption of human nature, to cloud our moral sight, and blunt our moral sensibility. Something must therefore be allowed for this effect likewise. Doubtless, the perfect purity of the Supreme Being makes him see in us stains, far more in number and deeper in dye, than we ourselves can discover. Nor should another awful consideration be forgotten: When we look into ourselves, those sins only, into which we have lately fallen, are commonly apt to excite any lively impression. Many individual acts of vice, or a continued course of vicious or dissipated conduct, which, when recent, may have smitten us with deep remorse, after a few months or years leave but very faint traces in our recollection; at least, those acts alone continue to strike us strongly, which were of very extraordinary magnitude. But the strong impressions which they at first excited, not the faded images which they subsequently present to us, furnish the juster measure of their guilt: and to the pure eyes of God, this guilt must always have appeared far greater than to us. Now to the Supreme Being, we must believe that there is no past or future: as whatever will be, so whatever has been, is retained by him in present and unvarying contemplation, continuing always to appear just the same as at the first moment of its existence. Well may it then humble us in the sight of that Being “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” to remember, that, unless through true repentance and lively faith we have obtained an interest in the satisfaction of Christ, we appear before him at this moment clothed with the sins of our whole lives, in all their original depth of coloring, and with all the aggravations which we no longer particularly remember; but which, in general, we perhaps may recollect to have once filled us with shame and confusion of face. The writer is the rather desirous of enforcing this reflection, because he can truly declare that he has found no consideration so efficacious in producing in his own mind the deepest self-abasement.

In treating of the sources of the erroneous estimates which we form of our religious and moral character, it may not perhaps be without its uses to take this occasion of pointing out some other common springs of self-deception. Many persons, as was formerly hinted, are misled by the favorable opinions entertained of them by others: many also, it is to be feared, mistake a hot zeal for orthodoxy, for a cordial acceptance of the great truths of the Gospel: and almost all of us, at one time or other, are more or less misled, by confounding the suggestions of the understanding with the impulses of the will, the assent which our judgment gives to religious and moral truths, with a hearty belief and approbation of them.

Outgrowing, or merely changing our vices, mistaken for forsaking of all sin

There is another frequent source of self-deception, which is productive of so much mischief in life, that, though it may appear to lead to some degree of repetition, it would be highly improper to omit the mention of it in this place. That we may be the better understood, it may be proper to premise, that certain particular vices, and likewise certain particular good and amiable qualities, seem naturally to belong to certain particular periods, and conditions of life. Now, if we would reason fairly in estimating our moral character, we ought to examine ourselves with reference to that particular “sin which does most easily beset us,” not to some other sin to which we are not nearly so much liable. In like manner, on the other hand, we ought not to account it matter of much self-complacency, if we find in ourselves that good and amiable quality which naturally belongs to our period or condition; but rather look for some less ambiguous sign of a real internal principle of virtue. But we are very apt to reverse these rules of judging: we are apt, on the one hand, both in ourselves and in others, to excuse “the besetting sin,” and take credit for being exempt from others, to which we are less liable; and, on the other hand, to value ourselves extremely on our possession of the good or amiable quality which naturally belongs to us, and to require no more satisfactory evidence of the sufficiency at least of our moral character. The bad effects of this partiality are aggravated by the practice, to which we are sadly prone, of being contented, when we take a hasty view of ourselves, with negative evidences of our state; thinking it very well if we are not shocked by some great actual transgression, instead of looking for the positive marks of a true Christian, as laid down in the holy Scripture.

But the source of self-deception, which it is more particularly our present object to point out, is, a disposition to consider the relinquishment of any particular vice as an actual victory over the vice itself; when, in fact, we only forsake it on quitting the period or condition of life to which that vice belongs, and probably substitute for it the vice of the new period or condition on which we are entering. We thus mistake our merely outgrowing our vices, or relinquishing them from some change in our worldly circumstances, for a thorough, or at least for a sufficient, reformation.

But this topic deserves to be viewed a little more closely. Young people may, without much offence, be inconsiderate and dissipated; the youth of one sex may indulge occasionally in licentious excesses; those of the other may be supremely given up to vanity and pleasure: yet, provided that they are sweet tempered, and open, and not disobedient to their parents or other superiors, the former are deemed good-hearted young men, the latter innocent young women. Those who love them best have no solicitude about their spiritual interests: and it would be deemed strangely strict in themselves, or in others, to doubt of their becoming more religious as they advance in life; and still more to speak of them as being actually under the divine displeasure; or, if their lives should be in danger, to entertain any apprehensions concerning their future destiny.

They grow older, and marry. The same licentiousness, which was formerly considered in young men as a venial frailty, is now no longer regarded in the husband and the father as compatible with the character of a decently religious man. The language is of this sort; “they have sown their wild oats, they must now reform, and be regular.” Nor perhaps is the same manifest predominance of vanity and dissipation deemed innocent in the matron; but if they are kind respectively in their conjugal and parental relations, and are tolerably regular and decent, they pass for mighty good sort of people: and it would be altogether unnecessary scrupulosity in them to doubt of their coming up to the requisitions of the divine law, as far as in the present state of the world can be expected from human frailty. Their hearts, however, are perhaps no more than before supremely set on the great work of their salvation, but are chiefly bent on increasing their fortunes, or raising their families. Meanwhile they congratulate themselves on their having renounced vices, which they are no longer strongly tempted to commit, and the renunciation of which forms no just criterion of the religious principle, since the commission of them would prejudice their characters, and perhaps injure their prospects in life.

Old age has at length made its advances. Now, if ever, we might expect that it would be deemed high time to make eternal things the main object of attention. No such thing! There is still an appropriate good quality, the presence of which calms the disquietude, and satisfies the requisitions both of themselves and of those around them. It is now required of them that they should be good natured and cheerful, indulgent to the frailties and follies of the young; remembering, that when young themselves, they gave into the same practices. How opposite this to that dread of sin, which is the sure characteristic of the true Christian; which causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow; and which, instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless, as a privilege belonging to their age and circumstances, prompts him to warn them against what had proved to himself matter of such bitter reflection! Thus, throughout the whole of life, some means or other are devised for stifling the voice of conscience. “We cry peace, while there is no peace;” and both to ourselves and others that complacency is furnished, which ought only to proceed from a consciousness of being reconciled to God, and a humble hope of our possessing his favor.

Uncharitableness, and true Charity

I know that these sentiments will be termed uncharitable; but I must not be deterred by such an imputation. It is time to have done with that senseless cant of charity, which insults the understanding, and trifles with the feelings, of those who are really concerned for the happiness of their fellow-creatures. What matter of keen remorse and of bitter self-reproaches are they storing up for their future torment, who are themselves the miserable dupes of such misguided charity, or who, being charged with the office of watching over the eternal interests of their children or relations, suffer themselves to be lulled asleep by such shallow reasonings, or be led into a dereliction of their important duty by a fear of bringing on themselves a momentary pain! Charity, indeed, is partial to the object of her regard; and where actions are of a doubtful quality, this partiality disposes her to refer them to a good, rather than to a bad motive. She is apt also somewhat to exaggerate merits, and to see amiable qualities in a light more favorable than that which strictly belongs to them. But true charity is wakeful, fervent, full of solicitude, full of good offices, not so easily satisfied, not so ready to believe that everything is going on well as a matter of course; but jealous of mischief, apt to suspect danger, and prompt to extend relief. These are the symptoms by which genuine regard will manifest itself in a wife or a mother, in a case of the bodily health of the object of her affections. And where there is any real concern for the spiritual interests of others, it is characterized by the same infallible marks. That wretched quality by which the sacred name of charity is now so generally and so falsely usurped, is no other than indifference; which, against the plainest evidence, or at least where there is strong ground of apprehension, is easily contented to believe that all goes well, because it has no anxieties to allay, no fears to repress. It undergoes no alternation of passions; it is not at one time flushed with hope, nor at another chilled by disappointment.

Women naturally more disposed to Religion than men

To a considerate and feeling mind, there is something deeply afflicting, in seeing the engaging cheerfulness and cloudless gaiety incident to youth, welcomed as a sufficient indication of internal purity by the delighted parents; who, knowing the deceitfulness of these flattering appearances, should eagerly avail themselves of this period, when once wasted never to be regained, of good humored acquiescence and dutiful docility: a period when the soft and ductile temper of the mind renders it more easily susceptible of the impressions we desire; and when, therefore, habits should be formed, which may assist our natural weakness to resist the temptations to which we shall be exposed in the commerce of maturer life. This is more especially affecting in the female sex, because that sex seems, by the very constitution of its nature, to be more favorably disposed than ours to the feelings and offices of Religion; being thus fitted by the bounty of Providence, the better to execute the important task which devolves on it, of the education of our earliest youth. Doubtless, this more favorable disposition to Religion in the female sex was graciously designed also to make women doubly valuable in the wedded state: and it seems to afford to the married man the means of rendering an active share in the business of life more compatible than it would otherwise be, with the liveliest devotional feelings; that when the husband should return to his family, worn and harassed by worldly cares or professional labors, the wife, habitually preserving a warmer and more unimpaired spirit of devotion, than is perhaps consistent with being immersed in the bustle of life, might revive his languid piety; and that the religious impressions of both might derive new force and tenderness from the animating sympathies of conjugal affection. Can a more pleasing image be presented to a considerate mind, than that of a couple, happy in each other and in the pledges of their mutual love, uniting in an act of grateful adoration to the Author of all their mercies; recommending each other, and the objects of their common care, to the divine protection; and repressing the solicitude of conjugal and parental tenderness by a confiding hope, that, through all the changes of this uncertain life, the Disposer of all things will assuredly cause all to work together for the good of them that love and put their trust in him; and that, after this uncertain state shall have passed away, they shall be admitted to a joint participation of never-ending happiness? It is surely no mean or ignoble office which we would allot to the female sex, when we would thus commit to them the charge of maintaining in lively exercise whatever emotions most dignify and adorn human nature; when we would make them as it were the medium of our intercourse with the heavenly world, the faithful repositories of religious principle, for the benefit both of the present and of the rising generation. Must it not then excite our grief and indignation, when we behold mothers, forgetful at once of their own peculiar duties, and of the high office which Providence designed their daughters to fulfil, exciting, instead of moderating in them, the natural sanguineness and inconsiderateness of youth; hurrying them night after night to the resorts of dissipation; thus teaching them to despise the common comforts of the family circle; and, instead of striving to raise their views, and to direct their affections to their true object, acting as if with the express design studiously to extinguish every spark of a devotional spirit, and to kindle in its stead an excessive love of pleasure, and, perhaps, a principle of extravagant vanity, and ardent emulation?

Innocent young people—term much abused

Innocent young women! Good-hearted young men! Wherein does this goodness of heart and this innocence appear? Remember, that we are fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart, but in the remission of sin, and in the effects of the operation of divine grace. Do we find in these young persons the characters, which the holy Scriptures lay down as the only satisfactory evidences of a safe state? Do we not, on the other hand, discover the specified marks of a state of alienation from God? Can the blindest partiality persuade itself that they are loving, or striving “to love God with all their hearts, and minds, and souls, and strength?” Are they “seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness?” Are they “working out their salvation with fear and trembling?” Are they “clothed with humility?” Are they not, on the contrary, supremely given up to self-indulgence? Are they not at least “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God?” Are the offices of Religion their solace, or their task? Do they not come to these sacred services with reluctance, continue in them by constraint, and quit them with gladness? And to how many of these persons may not the prophet’s language be applied; “the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands?” Are not the youth of one sex often actually committing, and still more often wishing for the opportunity to commit, those sins, of which the Scripture says expressly, “that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” Are not the youth of the other sex principally intent on the gratification of vanity; and looking for their chief happiness to the resorts of gaiety and fashion, and to all the multiplied pleasures, which public places, or the still higher gratifications of more refined circles, can supply?

And then, when the first ebullitions of youthful warmth are over, what is their boasted reformation? They may be decent, sober, useful, respectable, as members of the community, or amiable in the relations of domestic life. But is this the change of which the Scripture speaks? Hear the expressions which it uses, and judge for yourselves—“Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—“The old man—is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” an expression but too descriptive of the vain delirium of youthful dissipation, and of the false dreams of pleasure which it inspires; but “the new man” is awakened from this fallacious estimate of happiness; “he is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”—“He is created after God in righteousness and true holiness.” The persons of whom we are speaking are no longer indeed so thoughtless, and wild, and dissipated, as formerly; so negligent in their attention to objects of real value; so eager in the pursuit of pleasure; so prone to yield to the impulse of appetite. But this is no more than the change of which a writer of no very strict cast speaks, as naturally belonging to their riper age;

Conversis studiis, ætas, animusque virilis

Quærit opes, & amicitias: inservit honori:

Commisisse cavet, quod mox mutare laboret.

Hor.

This is a point of infinite importance: let it not be thought tedious to spend even yet a few more moments in the discussion of it. Put the question to another issue, and try it upon this principle, that life is a state of probation; (a principle true indeed in a certain sense, though not exactly in that which is sometimes assigned to it;) and you will still be led to no very different conclusion. Probation implies resisting, in obedience to the dictates of Religion, appetites which we are naturally prompted to gratify. Young people are not tempted to be churlish, interested, covetous; but to be inconsiderate and dissipated, “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” People again in middle age are not so strongly tempted to be thoughtless, and idle, and licentious. From excesses of this sort they are sufficiently withheld, particularly when happily settled in domestic life, by a regard to their characters, by the restraints of family connections, and by a sense of what is due to the decencies of the married State. Their probation is of another sort; they are tempted to be supremely engrossed by worldly cares, by family interests, by professional objects, by the pursuit of wealth or of ambition. Thus occupied, they are tempted to “mind earthly rather than heavenly things;” to forget “the one thing needful;” to “set their affections” on temporal rather than on eternal concerns; and to take up with “a form of godliness,” instead of seeking to experience the power thereof: the foundations of this nominal Religion being laid in the forgetfulness, if not in the ignorance, of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. These are the ready-made Christians formerly spoken of, who consider Christianity as a geographical term, properly applicable to all those who have been born and educated in a country wherein Christianity is professed; not as indicating a renewed nature, or as expressive of a peculiar character, with its appropriate desires and aversions, and hopes, and fears, and joys, and sorrows. To people of this description, the solemn admonition of Christ is addressed; “I know thy works; that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”

Hints to such as, having been hitherto careless, wish to become true Christians

If there be any one who is inclined to listen to this solemn warning, who is awakened from his dream of false security, and is disposed to be not only almost but altogether a Christian—O! let him not stifle or dissipate these beginnings of seriousness, but sedulously cherish them as the “workings of the Divine Spirit,” which would draw him from the “broad” and crowded “road of destruction, into the narrow” and thinly peopled path “that leadeth to life.” Let him retire from the multitude—Let him enter into his closet, and on his bended knees implore, for Christ’s sake and in reliance on his mediation, that God would. “take away from him the heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh;” that the Father of light would open his eyes to his true condition, and clear his heart from the clouds of prejudice, and dissipate the deceitful medium of self-love. Then let him carefully examine his past life, and his present course of conduct; comparing himself with God’s word; and considering how any one might reasonably have been expected to conduct himself, to whom the Holy Scriptures had been always open, and who had been used to acknowledge them to be the revelation of the will of his Creator, and Governor, and Supreme Benefactor: let him there peruse the awful denunciations against impenitent sinners: let him labor to become more and more deeply impressed with a sense of his own radical blindness and corruption: above all, let him steadily contemplate, in all its relations, that stupendous truth, the incarnation and crucifixion of the only-begotten Son of God, and the message of mercy proclaimed from the cross to repenting sinners,—“Be ye reconciled unto God.”—“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

When he fairly estimates the guilt of sin by the costly satisfaction which was required to atone for it, and the worth of his soul by the price which was paid for its redemption, and contrasts both of these with his own sottish inconsiderateness; when he reflects on the amazing love and pity of Christ, and on the cold and formal acknowledgements with which he has hitherto returned this infinite obligation, making light of the precious blood of the Son of God, and trifling with the gracious invitations of his Redeemer; surely, if he be not lost to sensibility, there will rise within him mixed emotions of guilt, and fear, and shame, and remorse, and sorrow, which will nearly overwhelm his soul; and he will smite upon his breast, and cry out in the language of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But, blessed be God, such an one needs not despair—it is to persons in this very situation, and with these very feelings, that the offers of the Gospel are held forth, and its promises assured; “to the weary and heavy laden” under the burthen of their sins; to them who thirst for the water of life; to them who feel themselves “tied and bound by the chain of their sins;” who abhor their captivity, and long earnestly for deliverance. Happy, happy souls! whom the grace of God has visited, “has brought out of darkness into his marvelous light,” and “from the power of Satan unto God.” Cast yourselves then on his undeserved mercy: he is full of love, and will not spurn you from his footstool: surrender yourselves into his hands; and solemnly resolve, through his Grace, to dedicate henceforth all your faculties and powers to his service.

It is your’s now “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” relying on the fidelity of him who has promised to “work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Ever look to him for help; your only safety consists in a deep and permanent sense of your own weakness, and in a firm reliance on his strength. If you “give all diligence,” his power is armed for your protection, his truth is pledged for your security. You are enlisted under the banners of Christ—Fear not, though the world, and the flesh, and the devil, are set in array against you.—“Faithful is he that hath promised;”—“be ye also faithful unto death, and he “will give you a crown of life.”—“He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” In such a world as this, in such a state of society as ours, especially if in the higher walks of life, you must be prepared to meet with many difficulties:—arm yourselves, therefore, in the first place, with a determined resolution not to rate human estimation beyond its true value; not to dread the charge of particularity, when it shall be necessary to incur it; but let it be your constant endeavor to retain before your mental eye, that bright assemblage of invisible spectators, who are the witnesses of your daily conduct, and “to seek that honor which cometh from God.” You cannot advance a single step, till you are in some good measure possessed of this comparative indifference to the favor of men. We have before explained ourselves too clearly to render it necessary to declare, that no one should needlessly affect singularity: but to aim at objects that are incompatible with each other, or, in other words, to seek to please God and the world, where their commands are really at variance, is the way to be neither respectable, nor good, nor happy. Continue to be ever aware of your own radical corruption and habitual weakness. Indeed, if your eyes be really opened, and your heart truly softened; if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” rising in your ideas of true holiness, and proving the genuineness of your hope by desiring “to purify yourself even as God is pure;” you will become daily more and more sensible of your own defects, and wants, and weaknesses; and more and more impressed by a sense of the mercy and long-suffering of that gracious Savior, “who forgiveth all your sins, and healeth all your infirmities.”

Humility enforced

This is the solution of what, to a man of the world, might seem a strange paradox; that in proportion as the Christian grows in grace, he grows also in humility. Humility is indeed the vital principle of Christianity; that principle by which from first to last she lives and thrives; and in proportion to the growth or decline of which, she must decay or flourish. This first disposes the sinner in deep self-abasement to accept the offers of the Gospel: this, during his whole progress, is the very ground and basis of his feelings and conduct, in relation to God, his fellow-creatures, and himself: and, when at length he shall be translated into the realms of glory, this principle shall still subsist in undiminished force: He shall “fall down, and cast his crown before the Lamb; and ascribe blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.” The practical benefits of this habitual lowliness of spirit are too numerous, and at the same time too obvious, to require enumeration. It will lead you to dread the beginnings, and fly from the occasions, of sin; as that man would shun some infectious distemper, who should know that he was predisposed to take the contagion. It will prevent a thousand difficulties, and decide a thousand questions concerning worldly compliances; by which those persons are apt to be embarrassed, who are not duly sensible of their own exceeding frailty, whose views of the Christian character are not sufficiently elevated, and who are not enough possessed with a continual fear of “grieving the Holy Spirit of God,” and of thus provoking him to withdraw his gracious influence. But if you are really such as we have been describing, you need not be urged to set the standard of practice high, and to strive after universal holiness. It is the desire of your hearts to act in all things with a single eye to the favor of God; and thus the most ordinary actions of life will be raised into offices of Religion. This is the purifying, the transmuting principle, which realizes the fabled touch, which changes all to gold. But to this desire of pleasing God, it is essential that we should be continually solicitous to discover the path of duty; that we should not indolently wait for such occasions of glorifying God, as are forced upon us, but pray earnestly to God for a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that we may be acute in discerning opportunities of serving him, judicious in selecting, and wise in improving them. It is essential also that you guard against the distraction of worldly cares; and cultivate heavenly-mindedness, and a spirit of continual prayer; and that you watch incessantly over the workings of your own deceitful heart. To this I must add, that you must be active also, and useful. Let not your precious time be wasted “in shapeless idleness;” an admonition which, in our days, is rendered but too necessary by the relaxed habits of persons even of real piety: but wisely husband and improve this fleeting treasure. Never be satisfied with your present attainments; but, “forgetting the things which are behind,” labor still to “press forward” with undiminished energy, and to run the race that is set before you without weariness or intermission.

Love enforced

Above all, measure your progress by your improvement in love to God and man. “God is Love.” This is the sacred principle, which forced, warms and enlightens the heavenly world, that blessed seat of God’s visible presence. There it shines with unclouded radiance. Some scattered beams of it are graciously transmitted to us on earth, or we had been benighted and lost in darkness and misery; but a larger portion of it is infused into the hearts of the servants of God, who thus “are renewed in the divine likeness,” and even here exhibit some faint traces of the image of their heavenly Father. It is the principle of love which disposes them to yield themselves up without reserve to the service of him, “who bought them with the price of his own blood.”

Base nature of the religion of the bulk of nominal Christians

Servile, and base, and mercenary, is the notion of Christian practice among the bulk of nominal Christians. They give no more than they dare not withhold; they abstain from nothing but what they must not practice. When you state to them the doubtful quality of any action, and the consequent obligation to desist from it, they reply to you in the very spirit of Shylock, “they cannot find it in the bond.” In short, they know Christianity only as a system of restraints. She is despoiled of every liberal and generous principle: she is rendered almost unfit for the social intercourses of life, and is only suited to the gloomy walls of a cloister, in which they would confine her. But true Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude. Theirs accordingly is not the stinted return of a constrained obedience, but the large and liberal measure of a voluntary service. This principle, therefore, prevents a thousand practical embarrassments, by which they are continually harassed, who act from a less generous motive; and who require it to be clearly ascertained to them, that any gratification or worldly compliance, which may be in question, is beyond the allowed boundary line of Christian practice.* This principle regulates the true Christian’s choice of companions and friends, where he is at liberty to make an option; this fills him with the desire of promoting the temporal welfare of all around him, and still more with pity and love, and anxious solicitude for their spiritual happiness. Indifference indeed in this respect is one of the surest signs of a low or declining state in Religion. This animating principle it is, which in the true Christian’s happier hour inspirits his devotions, and causes him to delight in the worship of God; which fills him with consolation, and peace, and gladness, and sometimes even enables him “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

But this world is not his resting place: here, to the very last, he must be a pilgrim and a stranger; a soldier, whose warfare ends only with life, ever struggling and combating with the powers of darkness, and with the temptations of the world around him, and the still more dangerous hostilities of internal depravity. The perpetual vicissitudes of this uncertain state, the peculiar trials and difficulties with which the life of a Christian is checkered, and still more, the painful and humiliating remembrance of his own infirmities, teach him to look forward, almost with outstretched neck, to that promised day, when he shall be completely delivered from the bondage of corruption, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. In the anticipation of that blessed period, and comparing this churlish and turbulent world, (where competition, and envy, and anger, and revenge, so vex and agitate the sons of men,) with that blissful region where Love shall reign without disturbance, and where all, knit together in bonds of indissoluble friendship, shall unite in one harmonious song of praise to the Author of their common happiness; the true Christian triumphs over the fear of death; he longs to realize these cheering images, and to obtain admission into that blessed company.—With far more justice than it was originally used, he may adopt the beautiful exclamation—“O præclarum illum diem, cum ad illud divinum animorum concilium cœtumque proficiscar, atque ex hac turba et colluvione discedam!”

Falsehood of the objection, that we make Religion a gloomy service

What has been now remarked, concerning the habitual feelings of the real believer, may suggest a reply to an objection common in the mouths of nominal Christians, that we would deny men the innocent amusements and gratifications of life; thus causing our Religion to wear a gloomy, forbidding aspect, instead of her true and natural face of cheerfulness and joy. This is a charge of so serious a nature, that although it lead into a digression, it may not be improper to take some notice of it.

In the first place, Religion prohibits no amusement or gratification which is really innocent. The question, however, of its innocence, must not be tried by the loose maxims of worldly morality, but by the spirit of the injunctions of the word of God; and by the indulgence being conformable or not conformable to the genius of Christianity, and to the tempers and dispositions of mind enjoined on it professors. There can be no dispute concerning the true end of recreations. They are intended to refresh our exhausted bodily or mental powers, and to restore us, with renewed vigor, to the more serious occupations of life. Whatever therefore fatigues either body or mind, instead of refreshing them, is not fitted to answer the designed purpose. Whatever consumes more time, or money, or thought, than it is expedient (I might say necessary) to allot to mere amusement, can hardly be approved by any one, who considers these talents as precious deposits, for the expenditure of which he will have to give account. Whatever directly or indirectly must be likely to injure the welfare of a fellow-creature, can scarcely be a suitable recreation for a Christian, who is “to love his neighbor as himself;” or a very consistent diversion for any one, the business of whose life is to diffuse happiness.

But does a Christian never relax? Let us not so wrong and vilify the bounty of Providence, as to allow for a moment that the sources of innocent amusement are so rare, that men must be driven, almost by constraint, to such as are of a doubtful quality. On the contrary, such has been the Creator’s goodness, that almost every one of our physical and intellectual, and moral faculties (and the same may be said of the whole creation which we see around us) is not only calculated to answer the proper end of its being, by its subserviency to some purpose of solid usefulness, but to be the instrument of administering pleasure.

… Not content

With every food of life to nourish man,

Thou mak’st all nature beauty to his eye

And music to his ear.…

Our Maker also, in his kindness, has so constructed us, that even mere vicissitude is grateful and refreshing—a consideration which should prompt us often to seek, from a prudent variation of useful pursuits, that recreation, for which we are apt to resort to what is altogether unproductive and unfruitful.

Yet rich and multiplied are the springs of innocent relaxation. The Christian relaxes in the temperate use of all the gifts of Providence. Imagination, and taste, and genius, and the beauties of creation, and the works of art, lie open to him. He relaxes in the feast of reason, in the intercourses of society, in the sweets of friendship, in the endearments of love, in the exercise of hope, of confidence, of joy, of gratitude, of universal good-will, of all the benevolent and generous affections; which, by the gracious appointment of our Creator, while they disinterestedly intend only happiness to others, are most surely productive of peace and joy to ourselves. O! little do they know of the true measure of man’s enjoyment, who can compare these delightful complacencies with the frivolous pleasures of dissipation, or the coarse gratifications of sensuality. It is no wonder, however, that the nominal Christian should reluctantly give up, one by one, the pleasures of the world; and look back upon them, when relinquished, with eyes of wistfulness and regret: because he knows not the sweetness of the delights with which true Christianity repays those trifling sacrifices; and is wholly unacquainted with the nature of that pleasantness which is to be found in the ways of Religion.

It is indeed true, that when any one, who has long been going on in the gross and unrestrained practice of vice, is checked in his career, and enters at first on a religious course, he has much to undergo. Fear, guilt, remorse, shame, and various other passions, struggle and conflict within him. His appetites are clamorous for their accustomed gratification; and inveterate habits are scarcely to be denied. He is weighed down by a load of guilt, and almost overwhelmed by the sense of his unworthiness. But all this ought in fairness to be charged to the account of his past sins, and not to that of his present repentance. It rarely happens, however, that this state of suffering continues very long. When the mental gloom is the blackest, a ray of heavenly light occasionally breaks in, and suggests the hope of better days. Even in this life it is found an universal truth, that “They that sow in tears,” provided they be really tears of penitence and contrition, “shall reap in joy.” “The broken and contrite heart God never did, nor ever will, despise.”

Neither, when we maintain, that the ways of Religion are ways of pleasantness, do we mean to deny that the Christian’s internal state is, through the whole of his life, a state of discipline and warfare. Several of the causes which contribute to render it such, have been already pointed out, together with the workings of his mind in relation to them: but if he has solicitudes and griefs peculiar to himself, he has “joys also with which a stranger intermeddles not.”

“Drink deep,” however, “or taste not,” is a direction full as applicable to Religion, if we would find it a source of pleasure, as it is to knowledge. A little Religion is,” it must be confessed, apt to make men gloomy, as a little knowledge is to render them vain: hence the unjust imputation often brought upon Religion by those, whose degree of Religion is just sufficient, by condemning their course of conduct, to render them uneasy; enough merely to impair the sweetness of the pleasures of sin, and not enough to compensate for the relinquishment of them by its own peculiar comforts. Thus these men bring up, as it were, an ill report of that land of promise, which, in truth, abounds with whatever in our journey through life, can best refresh and strengthen us.

We have enumerated some sources of pleasure which men of the world may understand, and must acknowledge to belong to the true Christian; but there are others, and those of a still higher class, to which they must confess themselves strangers. To say nothing of a qualified, I dare not say an entire, exemption from those distracting passions and corroding cares, by which they must naturally be harassed, whose treasure is within the reach of mortal accidents; the Christian has a humble quiet-giving hope of being reconciled to God, and of enjoying his favor; he has a solid peace of mind, (which the world can neither give nor take away,) resulting from a firm confidence in the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, and in the unceasing care and kindness of a gracious Savior; and he has persuasion of the truth of the divine assurance, that all things shall work together for his good.

When the pulse indeed beats high, and we are flushed with youth, and health, and vigor; when all goes on prosperously, and success seems almost to anticipate our wishes; then we feel not the want of the consolations of Religion: but when fortune frowns, or friends forsake us; when sorrow, or sickness, or old age, comes upon us, then it is, that the superiority of the pleasures of Religion is established over those of dissipation and vanity, which are ever apt to fly from us when we are most in want of their aid. There is scarcely a more melancholy sight to a considerate mind, than that of an old man, who is a stranger to those only true sources of satisfaction. How affecting, and at the same time how disgusting, is it, to see such an one awkwardly catching at the pleasures of his younger years, which are now beyond his reach; or feebly attempting to retain them, while they mock his endeavors and elude his grasp! To such an one, gloomily indeed does the evening of life set in! All is sour and cheerless. He can neither look backward with complacency, nor forward with hope: while the aged Christian, relying on the assured mercy of his Redeemer, can calmly reflect, that his dismission is at hand, and that his redemption draweth nigh: while his strength declines, and his faculties decay, he can quietly repose himself on the fidelity of God: and at the very entrance of the valley of the shadow of death, he can lift up an eye, dim perhaps, and feeble, yet occasionally sparkling with hope, and confidently looking forward to the near possession of his heavenly inheritance, even “to those joys which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”

Never were there times which inculcated more forcibly, than those in which we live, the wisdom of seeking a happiness beyond the reach of human vicissitudes. What striking lessons have we had of the precarious tenure of all sublunary possessions! Wealth, and power, and prosperity, how peculiarly transitory and uncertain! But Religion dispenses her choicest cordials in the seasons of exigence, in poverty, in exile, in sickness, and in death. The essential superiority of that support which is derived from Religion is less felt, at least it is less apparent, when the Christian is in full possession of riches, and splendour, and rank, and all the gifts of nature and fortune. But when all these are swept away by the rude hand of time, or the rough blast of adversity, the true Christian stands, like the glory of the forest, erect and vigorous; stripped indeed of his summer foliage, but more than ever discovering to the observing eye the solid strength of his substantial texture;

Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aëra ramos

Attollens, trunco non frondibus efficit umbram.

sect. ii

Advice to some who profess their full Assent to the fundamental Doctrines of the Gospel

IN a former chapter, we largely insisted on what may be termed the fundamental practical error of the bulk of professed Christians in our days; their either overlooking or misconceiving the peculiar method, which the Gospel has provided for the renovation of our corrupted nature, and for the attainment of every Christian grace.

But there are mistakes on the right hand and on the left; and our general proneness, when we are flying from one extreme to run into an opposite error, renders it necessary to superadd another admonition. The generally prevailing error of the present day, indeed, is that fundamental one which has been already pointed out. But while we attend, in the first place, to that, and, on the warrant both of Scripture and experience, prescribe hearty repentance and lively faith, as the only foundation of all true holiness; we must at the same time guard against a practical mistake of another kind. They who, with penitent hearts, have humbled themselves before the cross of Christ; and who, pleading his merits as their only ground of pardon and acceptance with God, have resolved henceforth, through the help of his Spirit, to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, are sometimes apt to conduct themselves as if they considered their work as now done; or at least, as if this were the whole they had to do, as often as, by falling afresh into sin, another act of repentance and faith may seem to have become necessary. There are not a few in our relaxed age, who thus satisfy themselves with what may be termed general Christianity; who feel general penitence and humiliation from a sense of their sinfulness in general, and general desires of universal holiness; but who neglect that vigilant and jealous care, with which they should labor to extirpate every particular corruption, by studying its nature, its root, its ramifications, and thus becoming acquainted with its secret movements, with the means whereby it gains strength, and with the most effectual methods of resisting it. In like manner, they are far from striving with persevering alacrity, for the acquisition and improvement of every Christian grace. Nor is it unusual for ministers, who preach the truths of the Gospel with fidelity, ability, and success, to be themselves also liable to the charge of dwelling altogether in their instructions on this general Religion: instead of tracing and laying open all the secret motions of inward corruption, and instructing their hearers how best to conduct themselves in every distinct part of the Christian warfare; how best to strive against each particular vice, and to cultivate each grace of the Christian character. Hence it is, that in too many persons, concerning the sincerity of whose general professions of Religion we should be sorry to entertain a doubt, we yet see little progress made in the regulation of their tempers, in the improvement of their time, in the reform of their plan of life, or in ability to resist the temptation to which they are particularly exposed. They will confess themselves, in general terms, to be “miserable sinners:” this is a tenet of their creed, and they feel even proud ill avowing it. They will occasionally also lament particular failings: but this confession is sometimes obviously made, in order to draw forth a compliment for the very opposite virtue: and where this is not the case, it is often not difficult to detect, under this false guise of contrition, a secret self-complacency, arising from the manifestations which they have afforded of their acuteness or candor in discovering the infirmity in question, or of their frankness or humility in acknowledging it. This will scarcely seem an illiberal suspicion to anyone, who either watches the workings of his own heart, or who observes that the faults confessed in these instances are very seldom those, with which the person is most clearly and strongly chargeable.

We must plainly warn these men, and the consideration is seriously pressed on their instructors also, that they are in danger of deceiving themselves. Let them beware lest they be nominal Christians of another sort. These persons require to be reminded, that there is no short compendious method of holiness; but that it must be the business of their whole lives to grow in grace, and, continually adding one virtue to another, as far as possible, “to go on towards perfection.” “He only that doeth righteousness is righteous.” Unless “they bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,” they can have no sufficient evidence that they have received that “Spirit of Christ,” “without which they are none of his.” But where, on the whole, our unwillingness to pass an unfavorable judgment may lead us to indulge a hope, that “the root of the matter is found in them;” yet we must at least declare to them, that instead of adorning the doctrine of Christ, they disparage and discredit it. The world sees not their secret humiliation, nor the exercises of their closets; but it is acute in discerning practical weaknesses; and if it observe that they have the same eagerness in the pursuit of wealth or ambition, the same vain taste for ostentation and display, the same ungoverned tempers, which are found in the generality of mankind; it will treat with contempt their pretenses to superior sanctity and indifference to worldly things, and will be hardened in its prejudices against the only mode, which God has provided for Our escaping the wrath to come, and obtaining eternal happiness.

Let him, then, who would be indeed a Christian, watch over his ways and over his heart with unceasing circumspection. Let him endeavor to learn, both from men and books, particularly from the lives of eminent Christians, (a) what methods have been actually found most effectual for the conquest of every particular vice, and for improvement in every branch of holiness. Thus whilst he studies his own character, and observes the most secret workings of his own mind, and of our common nature; the knowledge which he will acquire of the human heart in general, and especially of his own, will be of the highest utility, in enabling him to avoid or to guard against the occasions of evil: and it will also tend, above all things, to the growth of humility, and to the maintenance of that sobriety of spirit and tenderness of conscience, which are eminently characteristic of the true Christian. It is by this unceasing diligence, as the Apostle declares, that the servants of Christ must make their calling sure: and it is by this only that their labor will ultimately succeed: for “so an entrance shall be ministered unto them abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

sect. iii

Brief Observations addressed to Sceptics and Unitarians

THERE is another class of men, an increasing class, it is to be feared, in this country, that of absolute unbelievers, with which this little Work has properly no concern: but may the writer, sincerely pitying their melancholy state, be permitted to ask them one plain question? If Christianity be not in their estimation true, yet is there not at least a presumption in its favor, sufficient to entitle it to a serious examination; from its having been embraced, (and that not blindly and implicitly, but upon full inquiry and deep consideration,) by Bacon, and Milton, and Locke, and Newton, and much the greater part of those, who, by the reach of their understandings, or the extent of their knowledge, and by the freedom too of their minds, and their daring to combat existing prejudices, have called forth the respect and admiration of mankind? It might be deemed scarcely fair to insist on Churchmen, though some of them are among the greatest names this country has ever known. Can the sceptic in general say with truth, that he has either prosecuted an examination into the evidences of Revelation at all, or at least with a seriousness and diligence in any degree proportioned to the importance of the subject? The fact is, and it is a fact which redounds to the honor of Christianity, that infidelity is not the result of sober inquiry and deliberate preference. It is rather the slow production of a careless and irreligious life, operating together with prejudices and erroneous conceptions concerning the nature of the leading doctrines and fundamental tenets of Christianity.

Progress of Infidelity

Take the case of young men of condition, bred up by what we have termed nominal Christians. When children, they are carried to church, and thence they become acquainted with such parts of Scripture as are contained in our Public Service. If their parents preserve still more of the customs of better times, they are taught their catechism, and furnished with a little farther religious knowledge. After a while, they go from under the eyes of their parents; they enter into the world, and move forward in the path of life, whatever it may be, which has been assigned to them. They yield to the temptations which assail them, and become, more or less, dissipated and licentious. At least they neglect to look into their Bible; they do not enlarge the sphere of their religious acquisitions; they do not even endeavor, by reflection and study, to mature their knowledge, or to turn into rational conviction the opinions, which in their childhood they had taken upon trust.

They travel perhaps into foreign countries; a proceeding which naturally tends to weaken their nursery prejudice in favor of the Religion in which they were bred, and, by removing them from all means of public worship, to relax their practical habits of Religion. They return home, and commonly are either hurried round in the vortex of dissipation, or engage with the ardor of youthful minds in some public or professional pursuit. If they read or hear anything about Christianity, it is commonly only about those tenets which are subjects of controversy; and what reaches their ears from their occasional attendance at church, though it may sometimes impress them with an idea of the purity of Christian morality, contains much, which, coming thus detached, perplexes and offends them, and suggests various doubts and startling objections, which a farther acquaintance with the Scripture would remove. Thus knowing Christianity chiefly by the difficulties it contains; and sometimes tempted by the ambition of showing themselves superior to vulgar prejudice, or prompted by the natural pride of the human heart, to cast off their subjection to dogmas imposed on them; disgusted too, perhaps, by the immoral lives of some professed Christians, by the weaknesses and absurdities of others, and by what they observe to be the implicit belief of numbers, whom they see and know to be equally ignorant with themselves; they are filled with doubts and suspicions, which, to a greater or less extent, spring up within them. These doubts enter into the mind at first almost imperceptibly: they exist only as vague, indistinct surmises, and by no means take the precise shape or substance of a formed opinion. At first, probably, they even offend and startle by their intrusion: but by degrees the unpleasant sensations which they once excited, wear off; and the mind grows more familiar with them. A confused sense (for such it is, rather than a formed idea) of its being desirable that their doubts should prove well founded, and of the comfort and enlargement which would be afforded by that proof, lends them much secret aid. The impression becomes deeper; not in consequence of being reinforced by fresh arguments, but merely by dint of having longer rested in the mind; and as they increase in force, they creep on and extend themselves. At length they diffuse themselves over the whole of Religion, and possess the mind in undisturbed occupancy.

It is by no means meant that this is universally the process. But, speaking generally, this might be termed, perhaps not unjustly, the natural history of skepticism. It approves itself to the experience of those who have with any care watched the progress of infidelity in persons around them; and it is confirmed by the written lives of some of the most eminent unbelievers. It is curious to read their own accounts of themselves, the rather as they accord so exactly with the result of our own observation.—We find that they once perhaps gave a sort of implicit hereditary assent to the truth of Christianity, and were what, by a mischievous perversion of language, the world denominates believers. How were they then awakened from their sleep of ignorance? At what moment did the light of truth beam in upon them, and dissipate the darkness in which they had been involved? The period of their infidelity is marked by no such determinate boundary. Reason, and thought, and inquiry, had little or nothing to do with it. Having for many years lived careless and irreligious lives, and associated with companions equally careless and irreligious; not by force of study and reflection, but rather by the lapse of time, they at length attained to their infidel maturity. It is worthy of remark, that where any are reclaimed from infidelity, it is generally by a process much more rational than that which has been here described. Something awakens them to reflection. They examine, they consider, and at length yield their assent to Christianity on what they deem sufficient grounds.

From the account here given, it appears plainly that infidelity is generally the offspring of prejudice, and that its success is chiefly to be ascribed to the depravity of the moral character. This fact is confirmed by the undeniable truth, that in societies, which consist of individuals, infidelity is the natural fruit, not so much of a studious and disputatious, as of a dissipated and vicious age. It diffuses itself in proportion as the general morals decline; and it is embraced with less apprehension, when every infidel is kept in spirits, by seeing many around him who are sharing fortunes with himself.

To any fair mind this consideration alone might be offered, as suggesting a strong argument against infidelity, and in favor of Revelation. And the friends of Christianity might justly retort the charge, which their opponents often urge with no little affectation of superior wisdom; that we implicitly surrender ourselves to the influence of prejudice, instead of examining dispassionately the ground of our faith, and yielding our assent only according to the degree of evidence.

In our own days, when it is but too clear that infidelity increases, it is not in consequence of the reasonings of the infidel writers having been much studied, but from the progress of luxury, and the decay of morals: and, so far as this increase may be traced at all to the works of skeptical writers, it has been produced, not by argument and discussion, but by sarcasms and points of wit, which have operated on weak minds, or on nominal Christians, by bringing gradually into contempt opinions, which, in their case, had only rested on the basis of blind respect and the prejudices of education. It may therefore be laid down as an axiom, that infidelity is in general a disease of the heart more than of the understanding. If Revelation were assailed only by reason and argument, it would have little to fear. The literary opposers of Christianity, from Herbert to Hume, have been seldom read. They made some stir in their day: during their span of existence they were noisy and noxious; but, like the locusts of the east, which for a while obscure the air, and destroy the verdure, they were soon swept away and forgotten. Their very names would be scarcely found, if Leland had not preserved them from oblivion.

Unitarians

The account which has been given of the secret but grand source of infidelity, may perhaps justly be extended to those also who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel.

In the course which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity, Unitarianism (a) is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person indeed finally stops, but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while, and then pursues his progress.

The Unitarian teachers by no means profess to absolve their followers from the unbending strictness of Christian morality. They prescribe the predominant love of God, and an habitual spirit of devotion: but it is an unquestionable fact, a fact which they themselves almost admit, that this class of Religionists is not in general distinguished for superior purity of life; and still less for that spirituality of mind, which the word of God prescribes to us as one of the surest tests of our experiencing the vital power of Christianity. On the contrary, in point of fact, Unitarianism seems to be resorted to, not merely by those who are disgusted with the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, but by those also who are seeking a refuge from the strictness of her practical precepts; and who, more particularly, would escape from the obligation which she imposes on her adherents, rather to incur the, dreaded charge of singularity, than fall in with the declining manners of a dissipated age.

Advantage possessed by Deists and Unitarians, in contending with their Opponents

Unitarianism, where it may be supposed to proceed from the understanding rather than from the heart, is not unfrequently produced by a confused idea of the difficulties, or, as they are termed, the impossibilities, which orthodox Christianity is supposed to involve. It is not our intention to enter into the controversy: (a) but it may not be improper to make one remark, as a guard to persons in whose way the arguments of the Unitarians may be likely to fall; namely, that one great advantage possessed by Deists, and perhaps in a still greater degree by Unitarians, in their warfare with the Christian system, results from the very circumstance of their being the assailants. They urge what they state to be powerful arguments against the truth of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and then call upon men to abandon them, as posts no longer tenable. But they, who are disposed to yield to this assault, should call to mind, that it has pleased God so to establish the constitution of all things, that perplexing difficulties and plausible objections may be adduced against the most established truths; such, for instance, as the being of a God, and many others both physical and moral. In all cases therefore it becomes us, not on a partial view to reject any proposition, because it is attended with difficulties; but to compare the difficulties which it involves, with those which attend the alternative proposition which must be embraced on its rejection. We should put to the proof the alternative proposition in its turn, and see whether it be not still less tenable than that which we are summoned to abandon. In short, we should examine circumspectly on all sides; and abide by that opinion which, on carefully balancing all considerations, appears fairly entitled to our preference. Experience, however, will have convinced the attentive observer of those around him, that it has been for want of adverting to this just and obvious principle, that the Unitarians in particular have gained most of their proselytes from the Church, so far as argument has contributed to their success. If the Unitarians, or even the Deists, were considered in their turn as masters of the field, and were in their turn attacked, both by arguments tending to disprove their system directly, and to disprove it indirectly (by showing the high probability of the truth of Christianity, and of its leading and peculiar doctrines,) it is most likely that they would soon be found wholly unable to keep their ground. In short, reasoning fairly, there is no medium between absolute Pyrrhonism and true Christianity: and if we reject the latter on account of its difficulties, we shall be still more loudly called upon to reject every other system which has been offered to the acceptance of mankind. This consideration might perhaps with advantage be more attended to than it has been, by those who take upon them to vindicate the truth of our holy Religion: as many, who from inconsideration, or any other cause, are disposed to give up the great fundamentals of Christianity, would be startled by the idea, that, on the same principle on which they did this, they must give up the hope of finding any rest for the sole of their foot on any ground of Religion, and not stop short of unqualified Atheism.

Half-Unbelievers

Besides the class of those who professedly reject Revelation, there is another, and that also, it is to be feared, an increasing one, which may be called the class of Half-Unbelievers, who are to be found in various degrees of approximation to a state of absolute infidelity. The system (if it deserve the name,) of these men is grossly irrational. Hearing many who assert, and many who deny, the truth of Christianity, and not reflecting seriously enough to consider that it must be either true or false, they take up a strange sort of middle opinion of its qualified truth. They conceive that there must be something in it, though by no means to the extent to which it is pushed by orthodox Christians. They grant the reality of future punishment, and even that they themselves, if grossly immoral, cannot altogether expect to escape it: yet, “they trust it will not go so hard with them as the churchmen state:” and, though disbelieving almost every material doctrine which Christianity contains, they by no means conceive themselves to be inlisted under the banners of infidelity, or to have much cause for apprehension respecting the final issue of their doubts.

But let these men be reminded, that there is no middle way. If they can be prevailed on to look into their Bible, and do not make up their minds absolutely to reject its authority, they must admit, that there is no ground whatever for this vain hope, which they suffer themselves to indulge, of escaping but with a slight measure of punishment. Nor let them think their guilt inconsiderable. Is it not grossly criminal to trifle with the long-suffering of God, to despise alike his invitations and his threatenings, and the offer of his Spirit, and the precious blood of the Redeemer? Sure we are that this is the Scripture estimate of their conduct: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment,” than for them, who voluntarily shut their eyes against that full light, which the bounty of Heaven has poured out upon them. These half-unbelievers are even more reprehensible than downright sceptics, for remaining in this state of careless uncertainty, without endeavoring to ascertain the truth or falsehood of Revelation. The probability which they admit, that it may be true, imposes on them an additional and an undeniable obligation to inquiry. But both to them and to decided sceptics it must be plainly declared, that they are in these days less excusable than ever, for not looking into the grounds and proofs on which the truth of Christianity is established: for never before were these proofs so plainly, and at so easy a rate, offered to the consideration of mankind. Through the bounty of Providence, the widely spreading poison of infidelity has in our days been opposed by more numerous and more powerful antidotes. One of these has been already pointed out: and it should be matter of farther gratitude to every real Christian, that in the very place on which modern infidelity had displayed the standard of victory, a warrior in the service of Religion, a man of the most acute discernment and profound research, has been raised up by Providence to quell their triumph. (a) He was soon taken from us; but happily for him and or ourselves, not till he had announced, that, like the Magi of old, he had seen the star of Christ in the East, and had fallen down and worshipped him. Another should be mentioned with honor, who is pursuing the track which that great man had pointed out. (b) Henceforth let all objectors against Christianity, on the ground of its being disproved by the oriental records, be put to silence. The strength of their cause consisted in their ignorance, and in our own, of oriental learning. They availed themselves for a while of our being in a state of darkness; but the light of day has at length broken in upon us, and exposed to deserved contempt their superficial speculations.

The infatuation of these unbelievers would be less striking, if they were able altogether to decline Christianity; and were at liberty to relinquish their pretensions to its rewards, on condition of being exempted from its punishments. But that is not the case; they must stand the risk of the encounter and their eternal happiness or misery is suspended upon the issue. (a) What must be the emotions of these men, on first opening their eyes in the world of spirits, and being convinced, too late, of the awful reality of their impending ruin? May the mercy and the power of God awaken them from their desperate slumber, while life is yet spared, and there is yet space for repentance!

sect. iv

Advice suggested by the state of the times to true Christians

TO those who really deserve the appellation of true Christians, much has been said incidentally in the course of the present Work. It has been maintained (and the proposition will not be disputed by any sound or experienced politician,) that they are always most important members of the community. But we may boldly assert, that there never was a period, wherein, more justly than in the present, this could be affirmed of them; whether the situation of our own country in all its circumstances, be considered, or the general state of society, in Europe. Let them on their part seriously weigh the important station which they fill, and the various duties which it now peculiarly enforces on them. If we consult the most intelligent accounts of foreign countries which have been recently published, and compare them with the reports of former travelers, we must be convinced, that Religion and the standard of morals are everywhere declining, abroad even more rapidly than in our own country. But still, the progress of irreligion, and the decay of morals at home, are such as to alarm every considerate mind, and to forebode the worst of consequences, unless some remedy can be applied to the growing evil. We can depend only upon true Christians for effecting, in any degree, this important service. Their system is that of our national church: in proportion therefore as their system prevails, or as it increases in respect and estimation, from the manifest good conduct of its followers, in that very proportion the church is strengthened in the foundations, on which alone it can be supported, the esteem and attachment of its members and of the nation at large. Zeal is required in the cause of Religion; and they only can feel it. The charge of singularity must be incurred; and they only will dare to encounter it. Uniformity of conduct, and perseverance in exertion, will be requisite; but among no others can we look for those qualities.

Let true Christians, then, with becoming earnestness, strive in all things to recommend their profession, and to put to silence the vain scoffs of ignorant objectors. Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christians are ashamed of Him: and let them consider as devolved on Them the important duty of serving, it may be of saving, their country, not by busy interference in politics (in which it cannot but be confessed there is much uncertainty;) but rather by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of Religion, and of raising the standard of morality.

Let them be active, useful, generous towards others; manifestly moderate and self-denying in themselves. Let them be ashamed of idleness, as they would be of the most acknowledged sin. When Providence blesses them with affluence, let them withdraw from the competition of vanity; and, without sordidness or absurdity, show by their modest demeanor, and by their retiring from display, that, without affecting singularity, they are not slaves to fashion; that they consider it as their duty to set an example of moderation and sobriety, and to reserve for nobler and more disinterested purposes, that money, which others selfishly waste in parade, and dress, and equipage. Let them evince, in short, a manifest moderation in all temporal things; as becomes those whose affections are set on higher objects than any which this world affords, and those who possess within their own bosoms a fund of satisfaction and comfort, which the world seeks in vanity and dissipation. Let them cultivate a catholic spirit of universal good-will, and of amicable fellowship towards all those, of whatever sect or denomination, who, differing from them in non-essentials, agree with them in the grand fundamentals of Religion. Let them countenance men of real piety wherever they are found; and encourage in others every attempt to repress the progress of vice, and to revive and diffuse the influence of Religion and Virtue. Let their earnest prayers be constantly offered, that such endeavors may be successful, and that the abused long-suffering of God may still continue to us the invaluable privilege of vital Christianity.

Let them pray continually for their country in this season of national difficulty. We bear upon us but too plainly the marks of a declining empire. Who can say but that the Governor of the universe, who declares himself to be a God who hears the prayers of his servants, may, in answer to their intercessions, for a while avert our ruin, and continue to us the fullness of those temporal blessings, which in such abundant measure we have hitherto enjoyed. (a) Men of the world, indeed, however they may admit the operation of natural causes, and may therefore confess the effects of Religion and Morality in promoting the well-being of the community; may yet, according to their humor, with a smile of complacent pity, or a sneer of supercilious contempt, read of the service which real Christians may render to their country, by conciliating the favor, and calling down the blessing of Providence. It may appear in their eyes an instance of the same superstitious weakness, as that which prompts the terrified inhabitant of Sicily to bring forth the image of his tutelar saint, in order to stop the destructive ravages of Ætna. We are however sure, if we believe the Scripture, that God will be disposed to favor the nation to which his servants belong; and that, in fact, such as They have often been the unknown and unhonored instruments of drawing down on their country the blessings of safety and prosperity.

But it would be an instance in myself of that very false shame which I have condemned in others, if I were not boldly to avow my firm persuasion, that to the decline of Religion and Morality our National difficulties must both directly and indirectly be chiefly ascribed; and that my only solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her fleets and armies, not so much on the wisdom of her rulers, or the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion, that she still contains many, who love and obey the Gospel of Christ; that their intercessions may yet prevail; that for the sake of these, Heaven may still look upon us with an eye of favor.

Let the prayers of the Christian reader be also offered up for the success of this feeble endeavor in the service of true Religion. God can give effect to the weakest effort; and the writer will feel himself most highly honored, if, by anything which he has written, a single fellow-creature should be awakened from a false security; or a single Christian, who deserves the name, be animated to more extensive usefulness. He may seem to have assumed to himself a task which he was ill-qualified to execute. He fears he may be reproached with arrogance and presumption, for taking upon him the office of a teacher. Yet, as he formerly suggested, it cannot be denied, that it belongs to his public situation to investigate the state of the National Religion and Morals; and that it is the part of a real patriot to endeavor to retard their decline, and promote their revival. But if the office in which he has been engaged, were less intimately connected with the duties of his particular station, the candid and the liberal mind would not be indisposed to pardon him. Let him be allowed to offer in his excuse, a desire, not only to discharge a duty to his country, but to acquit himself of what he deems a solemn and indispensable obligation to his acquaintance and friends. Let him allege the unaffected solicitude which he feels for the welfare of his fellow-creatures. Let him urge the fond wish he gladly would encourage, that while in so large a part of Europe a false philosophy has been preferred before the lessons of Revelation; while Infidelity has lifted up her head without shame, and walked abroad boldly and in the face of day; while the practical consequences are such as might be expected, and licentiousness and vice prevail without restraint; here at least there might be a sanctuary, a land of Religion and Piety, where the blessings of Christianity might still be enjoyed; where the name of the Redeemer might still be honored; where mankind might be able to see what is, in truth, the Religion of Jesus, and what are its blessed effects; and whence, if the mercy of God should so ordain it, the means of religious instruction and consolation might be again extended to surrounding countries and to the world at large.[1]

 

 

* “Neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God,” (says David) “of that which doth cost me nothing.” 2 Sam. 24:24.

“They” (the Apostles) “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.” Acts 5:41. See also 1 Thess. 1:6, Heb. 10:34, James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:13, 14.

Such are the marks exhibited in Scripture of a true love to God: and though our regard for our common Lord is not put to the same severe test, as that of the Apostles and first Christians was; yet, if the same principle existed in us also, it would surely dispose us to act in the spirit of that conduct; and prompt us rather to be willing to exceed in self-denials and labors for Christ’s sake, than to be so forward as we are to complain, whenever we are called upon to perform or to abstain from anything, though in an instance ever so little contrary to our inclinations.

a It may not be amiss to mention a few useful publications of this sort. Walton’s Lives, particularly the last edition by Mr. Zouch; Gilpin’s Lives; the Lives of Bishop Bedel and Bishop Bull; of Archbishop Usher; Fell’s Life of Hammond; Archdeacon Hamilton’s Life of Mr. Bonnel, Accomptant General of Ireland, recommended by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishops of Meath, Derry, Limerick, Clogher, and Downe; some extracts, from Burnet, of the Life of the incomparable Leighton, prefixed to a volume of the latter’s Sermons; Passages of the Life of Lord Rochester, by Burnet; the Life of Sir Matthew Hale; of the excellent Doddridge, by Orton; of Henry, father and son; of Mather; of Halyburton; Hanson’s and Whitehead’s Life of Wesley; Life of Baxter, by himself; the Life of the Rev. Thomas Scott, lately published by his son; the Lives of the Rev. David Brown of Calcutta; of the Rev. Dr. Buchanan and Henry Martyn; of Col. Gardiner, of Governor Melville; &c. &c. &c.

a The author is aware that he may perhaps be censured for conceding this term to the class of persons now in question, since orthodox Christians equally contend for the unity of the Divine Nature; and it perhaps may hardly be a sufficient excuse, that, it not being his object particularly to refute the errors of Unitarianism, he uses the term in its popular sense, rather than give needless offence. He thus guards, however, against any false construction being drawn from his use of it.

a The author of this treatise has, since its completion, perused a work, entitled, Calvinism and Socinianism compared, by A. Fuller, &c.: and, without reference to the peculiarities of Calvinism, he is happy to embrace this opportunity of confessing the high obligation which, in common with all the friends of true Religion, he owes to the author of that highly valuable publication, for his masterly defense of the doctrines of Christianity, and his acute refutation of the opposite errors.

a It is almost superfluous to state, that Sir William Jones is here meant, who, from the testimony borne to his extraordinary talents by Sir John Shore (now Lord Teignmouth) in his first address to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, appears to have been a man of most extraordinary genius and astonishing erudition.

b Mr. Maurice.

a This argument is pressed with uncommon force in Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion; a work highly valuable, though not in every part to be approved, abounding in particular with those deep views of Religion, which the name of its author prepares us to expect.

a Vide some exquisitely beautiful lines in the last book of Cowper’s Task, wherein this sentiment is introduced.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 266–308). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

Brief Inquiry Into The Present State Of Christianity In This Country, With Some Of The Causes Which Have Led To Its Critical Circumstances. Its Importance To Us, As A Political Community; And Practical Hints For Which The Foregoing Considerations Give Occasion

IT may not be altogether improper to remind the Reader, that hitherto our discussion has been merely concerning the prevailing religious opinions of professed Christians: but now, no longer confining ourselves to persons of this description, let us extend our inquiry, and briefly investigate the general state of Christianity in this country.

The tendency of Religion in general to promote the temporal welfare of political communities, is a fact which depends on principles so obvious and even undeniable, and is so forcibly inculcated by the history of all ages, that there can be no necessity for entering into a formal proof of its truth. It has indeed been maintained, not merely by schoolmen and divines, but by the most celebrated philosophers and moralists and politicians of every age.

The peculiar excellence in this respect also of Christianity, considered independently of its truth or falsehood, has been recognized by writers, who, to say the least, were not disposed to exaggerate its merits. Either of the above propositions being admitted, the state of religion in a country at any given period, (not to mention its connection with the eternal happiness of the inhabitants) immediately becomes a question of great political importance: and in particular it must be material to ascertain, whether Religion be in an advancing or a declining state; and, if the latter be the case, whether there be any practical means for preventing at least its farther declension.

If the foregoing representations of the state of Christianity among the bulk of professed Christians be not very erroneous, they may well excite serious apprehensions in the mind of every reader, considered merely in a political view. And these apprehensions would be increased, if there should appear reason to believe, that, for some time past, Religion has been on the decline amongst us, and that it continues to decline at the present moment.

Preliminary consideration: general tone of moral practice

When it is proposed, however, to inquire into the actual state of Religion in any country, and, in particular, to compare that state with its condition at any former period, there is one preliminary observation to be made, if we would not subject ourselves to gross error. There exists, established by tacit consent in every country, what may be called a general standard or tone of morals, varying in the same community at different periods, and differing at the same period in the different ranks of society. Whoever falls below this standard (and, not unfrequently, whoever also rises above it) offending against this general rule, suffers proportionally in the general estimation. Thus a regard for character, (which is commonly the governing principle among men) becomes to a certain degree, though no farther, an incitement to morality and virtue. It follows of course, that where the practice does no more than come up to the required level, it will be no sufficient evidence of the existence, much less will it furnish a means of estimating the force, of a real internal principle of Religion. Christians, Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics, persons of ten thousand different sorts of passions and opinions, being members at the same time of the same community, and all conscious that they will be examined by this same standard, will regulate their conduct accordingly, and, with no great difference, will all adjust themselves to the required measure.

It must also be remarked, that the causes which tend to raise or to depress this standard, commonly produce their effects by slow and almost insensible degrees; and that it often continues for some time nearly the same, when the circumstances, by which it was fixed, have materially altered.

It is a truth which will hardly be contested, that Christianity, whenever it has at all prevailed, has raised the general standard of morals to a height before unknown. Some actions, which among the ancients were scarcely held to be blemishes in the most excellent characters, have been justly considered by the laws of every Christian community as meriting the severest punishments. In other instances, virtues formerly rare, have become common; and, in particular, a merciful and courteous temper has softened the rugged manners, and humanized the brutal ferocity, prevalent among the most polished nations of the heathen world. But from what has been recently observed, it is manifest, that, so far as external appearances are concerned, these effects, when once produced by Christianity, are produced alike in those who deny, and in those who admit, her divine original; I had almost said, in those who reject, and those who cordially embrace, the doctrines of the Gospel: and these effects might and probably would, remain for a while, without any great apparent alteration, however her spirit might languish, or even her authority decline. The form of the temple, as was once beautifully remarked, may continue, when the dii tutelares have left it. When, therefore, we are inquiring into the real state of Christianity at any period, if we would not be deceived in this important investigation, we must be so much the more careful not to take up with superficial appearances.

Present state of Christianity among us investigated

It may perhaps help us to ascertain the advancing or declining state of Christianity in Great Britain at the present moment, and still more to discover some of the causes by which that state has been produced, to employ a little time in considering, what might naturally be expected to be its actual situation; and what advantages or disadvantages such a religion might be expected to derive from the circumstances in which it has been placed among us, and from those in which it still continues.

Experience warrants, and reason justifies and explains, the assertion, that Persecution generally tends to quicken the vigor, and extend the prevalence, of the opinions which she would eradicate. For the peace of mankind, it has grown at length almost into an axiom, that “her devilish engine back recoils upon herself.” Christianity especially has always thriven under persecution. At such a season she has no lukewarm professors; no adherents, concerning whom it is doubtful to what party they belong. The Christian is then reminded at every turn, that his Master’s kingdom is not of this world. When all on earth wears a black and threatening aspect, he looks up to Heaven for consolation; he learns practically to consider himself as a pilgrim and stranger. He then cleaves to fundamentals, and examines well his foundation, as at the hour of death. When Religion is in a state of external quiet and prosperity, the contrary of all this naturally takes place. The soldiers of the church militant then forget that they are in a state of warfare. Their ardor slackens, their zeal languishes. Like a colony long settled in a strange country, (a) they are gradually assimilated in features, and demeanor, and language, to the native inhabitants, till at length almost every vestige of peculiarity dies away.

If, in general, persecution and prosperity be respectively productive of these opposite effects, this circumstance alone might teach us what expectations to form concerning the state of Christianity in this country, where she has long been embodied in an Establishment which is intimately blended with our civil institutions, and is generally and justly believed to have a common interest with them all—which is liberally (though by no means too liberally) endowed; and (not more favored in wealth and dignity) has been allowed “to exalt her mitered front in courts and parliaments:” an establishment, the offices in which are extremely numerous; and these, not like the priesthood of the Jews, filled up from a particular race, or, like that of the Hindus, held by a separate caste in entailed succession; but supplied from every class, and branching, by its widely extended ramifications, into almost every individual family in the community—an establishment, of which the ministers are not, like the Roman Catholic clergy, debarred from forming matrimonial ties, but are allowed to unite themselves, and multiply their holdings to the general mass of the community by the close bonds of family connection; not like some of the severer of the Religious orders, immured in colleges and monasteries, but, both by law and custom, permitted to mix without restraint in all the intercourses of society.

Such being the circumstances of the pastors of the church, let the community in general be supposed to have been for some time in a rapidly improving state of commercial prosperity; let it also be supposed to have been making no unequal progress in all those arts and sciences, and literary productions, which have ever been the growth of a polished age, and are the sure marks of a highly finished condition of society. It is not difficult to anticipate the effects likely to be produced on vital Religion, both in the clergy and the laity, by such a state of external prosperity as has been assigned to them respectively. And these effects would infallibly be furthered, where the country in question should enjoy a free constitution of government. We formerly had occasion to quote the remark of an accurate observer of the stage of human life, that a much looser system of morals commonly prevails among the higher, than in the middling and lower orders of society. Now, in every country of which the middling classes are daily growing in wealth and consequence by the success of their commercial speculations; and, most of all, in a country having such a constitution as our own, where the acquisition of riches is the possession also of rank and power; with the comforts and refinements, the vices also of the higher orders are continually descending, and a mischievous uniformity of sentiments, and manners, and morals, gradually diffuses itself throughout the whole community. The multiplication of great cities also, and, above all, the habit, ever increasing with the increasing wealth of the country, of frequenting a splendid and luxurious metropolis, would powerfully tend to accelerate the discontinuance of the religious habits of a purer age, and to accomplish the substitution of a more relaxed morality. And it must even be confessed, that the commercial spirit, much as we are indebted to it, is not naturally favorable to the maintenance of the religious principle in a vigorous and lively state.

Causes from which the peculiarities of Christianity slide into disuse

In times like these, therefore, the strict precepts and self-denying habits of Christianity naturally slide into disuse; and even among the better sort of Christians, are likely to be so far softened, as to become less averse to the generally prevailing disposition towards relaxation and indulgence. In such prosperous circumstances, men, in truth, are apt to think very little about Religion. Christianity, therefore, seldom occupying the attention of the bulk of nominal Christians, and being scarcely at all the object of their study, we should expect, of course, to find them extremely unacquainted with its tenets. Those doctrines and principles indeed, which it contains in common with the law of the land, or which are sanctioned by the general standard of morals formerly described, being brought into continual notice and mention by the common occurrences of life, might continue to be recognized. But whatever she contains peculiar to herself, and which should not be habitually brought into recollection by the incidents of every day, might be expected to be less and less thought of, till at length it should be almost wholly forgotten. Still more might this be naturally expected to become the case, if the peculiarities in question should be, from their very nature, at war with pride and luxury and worldly-mindedness, the too general concomitants of rapidly increasing wealth: and this would be the more likely to happen (particularly among the laity) if the circumstance of their having been at any time abused to purposes of hypocrisy or fanaticism, should have prompted even some of the better disposed of the clergy (perhaps from well intentioned, though erroneous motives) to bring them forward less frequently in their discourses on Religion.

When so many should thus have been straying out of the right path, some bold reformer might, from time to time, be likely to arise, who should not unjustly charge them with their deviation; but, though right perhaps in the main, yet deviating himself also in an opposite direction, and creating disgust by his violence, or vulgarity, or absurdities, he might fail, except in a few instances, to produce the effect of recalling them from their wanderings.

Still, however, the Divine Original of Christianity would not be professedly disavowed; but, partly from a real, partly from a political deference for the established faith, but most of all, from men being not yet prepared to reject it as an imposture, some respect would still be entertained for it. Some bolder spirits indeed might be expected to despise the cautious moderation of these timid reasoners, and to pronounce decisively, that the Bible was a forgery: while the generality, professing to believe it genuine, should, less consistently, be satisfied with remaining ignorant of its contents; and, when pressed, should discover themselves by no means to believe several of the most important particulars, contained in it.

When, by the operation of causes like these, any country has at length grown into the condition which has been here stated; it is but too obvious, that, in the bulk of the community, Religion, already sunk very low, must be hastening fast to her entire dissolution. Causes energetic and active like these, though accidental hindrances may occasionally thwart their operation, will not ever become sluggish and unproductive. Their effect is sure; and the time is fast approaching, when Christianity will be almost as openly disavowed in the language, as in fact it is already supposed to have disappeared from the conduct of men; when infidelity will be held to be the necessary appendage of a man of fashion, and to believe will be deemed the indication of a feeble mind and a contracted understanding.

Something like what have been here premised are the conjectures which we should naturally be led to form, concerning the state of Christianity in this country, and its probable issue, from considering her own nature, and the peculiar circumstances in which she has been placed. That her real condition differs not much from the result of this reasoning from probability, must, with whatever regret, be confessed by all who take a careful and impartial survey of the actual situation of things, among us. But our hypothetical delineation, if just, will have approved itself to the reader’s conviction, as we have gone along, by suggesting its archetypes; and we may therefore be spared the painful and invidious task of pointing out in detail, the several particulars wherein our statements are justified by facts. Everywhere we may actually trace the effects of increasing wealth and luxury, in banishing one by one the habits, and new modelling the phraseology, of stricter times; and in diffusing throughout the middle ranks those relaxed morals and dissipated manners, which were formerly confined to the higher classes of society. We meet indeed with more refinement, and with more of those amiable courtesies which are its proper fruits; those vices also have become less frequent, which naturally infest the darkness of a ruder and less polished age, and which recede on the approach of light and civilization.

Defluxit numerus Saturnius, & grave virus

Munditiæ pepulere:

But, on the other hand, with these grossnesses, Religion also has declined: God is forgotten; his providence is exploded; his hand is lifted up, but we see it not; he multiplies our comforts, but we are not grateful; he visits us with chastisements, but we are not contrite. The portion of the week set apart to the service of Religion, we give up without reluctance to vanity and dissipation. And it is much if, on the periodical return of a day of national humiliation, we do not avail ourselves of the certainty of an interval from public business to secure a meeting for convivial purposes; thus insulting the Majesty of Heaven, and deliberately disclaiming our being included in the solemn services of this season of penitence and recollection.

Christianity reduced to a system of ethics, and a cause assigned which has especially operated in producing this effect

But even when there is not this open and shameless disavowal of Religion, few traces of it are to be found. Improving in almost every other branch of knowledge, we have become less and less acquainted with Christianity. The preceding chapters have pointed out, among those who believe themselves to be orthodox Christians, a deplorable ignorance of the Religion they profess, an utter forgetfulness of the peculiar doctrines by which it is characterized, a disposition to regard it as a mere system of ethics, and, what might seem an inconsistency, at the same time a most inadequate idea of the nature and strictness of its practical principles. This declension of Christianity into a mere system of ethics, may partly be accounted for, (as has been lately suggested) by considering what Christianity is, and in what circumstances she has been placed in this country. But it has also been considerably promoted by one peculiar cause, on which, for many reasons, it may not be improper to dwell a little more particularly.

Christianity in its best days (for the credit of our representations we wish this to be remembered by all who object to our statement as austere and contracted) was such as it has been delineated in the present Work. This was the Religion of the most eminent Reformers, of those bright ornaments of our country who suffered martyrdom under queen Mary; of their successors in the times of Elizabeth; in short, of all the pillars of our Protestant church; of many of its highest dignitaries; of Davenant, of Jewell, of Hall, of Reynolds, of Beveridge, of Hooker, of Andrews, of Smith, of Leighton, of Usher, of Hopkins, of Baxter, (a) and of many others of scarcely inferior note.

In their pages the peculiar doctrines of Christianity were everywhere visible, and on the deep and solid basis of these doctrinal truths were laid the foundations of a superstructure of morals proportionally broad and exalted. Of this fact, their writings, still extant, are a decisive proof: and they who may want leisure, or opportunity, or inclination, for the perusal of these valuable records, may satisfy themselves of the truth of the assertion, that such as we have stated it, was the Christianity of those times, by consulting our Articles and Homilies, or even by carefully examining our excellent Liturgy. But from that tendency: to deterioration lately noticed, these great fundamental truths began to be somewhat less prominent in the compositions of many of the leading divines before the time of the civil wars. During that period, however, the peculiar doctrines of Christianity were grievously abused by many of the sectaries, who were foremost in the commotions of those unhappy days; who, while they talked copiously of the free grace of Christ, and the operations of the Holy Spirit, were by their lives an open scandal to the name of Christian. (b)

Towards the close of the last century, the divines of the established Church (whether it arose from the obscurity of their own views, or from a strong impression of former abuses, and of the evils which had resulted from them) began to run into a different error. They professed to make it their chief object to inculcate the moral and practical precepts of Christianity, which they conceived to have been before too much neglected; but without sufficiently maintaining, often even without justly laying, the grand foundation of a sinner’s acceptance with God, or pointing out how the practical precepts of Christianity grow out of her peculiar doctrines, and are inseparably connected with them. (a) By this fatal error, the very genius and essential nature of Christianity was imperceptibly changed. She no longer retained her peculiar characters, or produced that appropriate frame of spirit by which her followers, had been characterized. Facilis descensus. The example thus set was followed during the present century, and its effect was aided by various causes already pointed out. In addition to these, it may be proper to mention as a cause of powerful operation, that for the last fifty years the press has teamed with moral essays, many of them published periodically, and most extensively circulated; which, being considered either as works of mere entertainment, or, in which at least entertainment was to be blended with instruction, rather than as religious pieces, were kept free from whatever might give them the air of sermons, or cause them to wear an appearance of seriousness inconsistent with the idea of relaxation. But in this way the fatal habit, of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines, insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight; and, as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment, began to wither and decay. At length, in our own days, these peculiar doctrines have almost altogether vanished from the view. Even in the greater number of our sermons, scarcely any traces of them are to be found.

But the degree of neglect into which they are really fallen, may perhaps be rendered still more manifest by appealing to another criterion. There is a certain class of publications, of which it is the object to give us exact delineations of life and manners; and when these are written by authors of accurate observation and deep knowledge of human nature, (and many such there have been in our times) they furnish a more faithful picture, than can be obtained in any other way, of the prevalent opinions and feelings of mankind. It must be obvious that Novels are here alluded to. A careful perusal of the most celebrated of these pieces would furnish a strong confirmation of the apprehension, suggested from other considerations, concerning the very low state of Religion in this country; but they would still more strikingly illustrate the truth of the remark, that the grand peculiarities of Christianity are almost vanished from the view. In a sermon, although throughout the whole of it there may have been no traces of these peculiarities, either directly or indirectly, the preacher closes with an ordinary form; which if one were to assert that they were absolutely omitted, would immediately be alleged in contradiction of the assertion, and may just serve to protect them from falling into entire oblivion. But in novels, the writer is not so tied down. In these, people of Religion, and clergymen too, are placed in all possible situations, and the sentiments and language deemed suitable to the occasion are assigned to them. They are introduced instructing, reproving, counselling, comforting. It is often the author’s intention to represent them in a favorable point of view, and accordingly he makes them as well informed, and as good Christians, as he knows how. They are painted amiable, benevolent, and forgiving; but it is not too much to say, that if the peculiarities of Christianity had never existed, or had all been proved to be false, the circumstance would scarcely create the necessity of altering a single syllable in any of the most celebrated of these performances. It is striking to observe the difference which there is in this respect in similar works of Mahometan authors, wherein the characters, which they mean to represent in a favorable light, are drawn vastly more observant of the peculiarities of their religion. (a)

Other bad symptoms, as to the practical state of Christianity

It has also been a melancholy prognostic of the state to which we are progressive, that many of the most eminent of the literati of modern times have been professed unbelievers; and that others of them have discovered such lukewarmness in the cause of Christ, as to treat with especial good-will and attention and respect those men, who, by their avowed publications, were openly assailing or insidiously undermining, the very foundations of the Christian hope; considering themselves as more closely united to them by literature, than severed from them by the widest religious differences. (a) Can it then occasion surprise, that under all these circumstances, one of the most acute and most forward of the professed unbelievers (b) should appear to anticipate, as at no great distance, the more complete triumph of his skeptical principles? and that another author of distinguished name, (c) not so openly professing those infidel opinions, should declare of the writer above alluded to, whose great abilities had been systematically prostituted to the open attack of every principle of Religion, both natural and revealed, “that he had always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”

Can there then be a doubt, whither tends the path in which we are travelling, and whither at length it must conduct us? If any should hesitate, let them take a lesson from experience. In a neighboring country, several of the same causes have been in action; and they have at length produced their full effect; manners corrupted, morals depraved, dissipation predominant, above all, Religion discredited, and infidelity, grown into repute and fashion, (d) terminating in the public disavowal of every religious principle which had been used to attract the veneration of mankind; the representatives of a whole nation publicly witnessing, not only without horror, but without the smallest disapprobation, an open unqualified denial of the very existence of God; and at length, as a body, withdrawing their allegiance from the Majesty of Heaven.

Objection, that the author’s system is too strict; and that if it were to prevail, the world could not go on

There are not a few, perhaps, who may have witnessed with apprehension, and may be ready to confess with pain, the gradual declension of Religion; but who at the same time may conceive that the writer of this tract is disposed to carry things too far. They may even allege, that the degree of Religion for which he contends is inconsistent with the ordinary business of life, and with the well-being of society; that if it were generally to prevail, people would be wholly engrossed by Religion, and all their time occupied by prayer and preaching. Men not being sufficiently interested in the pursuit of temporal objects, agriculture and commerce would decline, the arts would languish, the very duties of common life would be neglected; and, in short, the whole machine of civil society would be obstructed, and speedily stopped. An opening for this charge is given by an ingenious writer (e) alluded to in an early period of our work; and is even somewhat countenanced by an author since referred to, from whom such a sentiment justly excites more surprise. (f)

The charge refuted

In reply to this objection it might be urged, that though we should allow it for a moment to be in a considerable degree well founded, yet this, admission would not warrant the conclusion intended to be drawn from it. The question would still remain, whether our representation of what Christianity requires, be agreeable to the word of God? For if it be, surely it must be confessed to be a matter of small account to sacrifice a little worldly comfort and prosperity, during the short span of our existence in this life, in order to secure a crown of eternal glory, and the enjoyment of those pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore. It might be added also, that our blessed Savior had plainly declared, that it would often be required of Christians to make such a sacrifice; and had forewarned us, that in order to be able to do it with cheerfulness whenever the occasion should arrive, we must habitually sit loose to all worldly possessions and enjoyments. And it might further be remarked, that though it were even admitted, that the general prevalence of vital Christianity should somewhat interfere with the views of national wealth and aggrandizement, yet that there is too much reason to believe that, do all we can, this general prevalence needs not to be apprehended, or to speak more justly, could not be hoped for. But indeed the objection on which we have now been commenting, is not only groundless, but directly contrary to truth. If Christianity, such as we have represented it, were generally to prevail, the world, from being such as it is, would become a scene of general peace and prosperity; and, abating the chances and calamities “which flesh is inseparably heir to,” would wear one uniform face of complacency and joy.

On the first promulgation of Christianity, it is true, some of her early converts seem to have been in danger of so far mistaking the genius of the new Religion, as to imagine, that in future they were to be discharged from an active attendance on their secular affairs. But the Apostle most pointedly guarded them against so gross an error, and expressly and repeatedly enjoined them to perform the particular duties of their several stations with increased alacrity and fidelity, that they might thereby do credit to their Christian profession. This he did at the same time that he prescribed to them that predominant love of God and of Christ, that heavenly-mindedness, that comparative indifference to the things of this world, that earnest endeavor after growth in grace and perfection in holiness, which have already been stated as the essential characteristics of real Christianity. It cannot therefore be supposed by any who allow to the Apostle even the claim of a consistent instructor, much less by any who admit his Divine authority, that these latter precepts are incompatible with the former. Let it be remembered, that the grand characteristic mark of the true Christian, which has been insisted on, is his desiring to please God in all his thoughts, and words, and actions; to take the revealed word to be the rule of his belief and practice, to “let his light shine before men;” and in all things to adorn the doctrine which he professes. No calling is proscribed, no pursuit is forbidden, no science or art is prohibited, no pleasure is disallowed, provided it be such as can be reconciled with this principle. It must indeed be confessed, that Christianity would not favor that vehement and inordinate ardor in the pursuit of temporal objects, which tends to the acquisition of immense wealth, or of widely spread renown: nor is it calculated to gratify the extravagant views of those mistaken politicians, the chief object of whose admiration, and the main scope of whose endeavors for their country, are, extended dominion, and commanding power, and unrivalled affluence, rather than those more solid advantages of peace, and comfort, and security. These men would barter comfort for greatness. In their vain reveries, they forget that a nation consists of individuals, and that true national prosperity is no other than the multiplication of particular happiness.

Good effects to us as a political community from the prevalence of vital Christianity

But in fact, so far is it from being true that the prevalence of real Religion would produce a stagnation in life, it would infallibly produce the very reverse: a man, whatever might be his employment or pursuit, would be furnished with a new motive to prosecute it with alacrity, a motive far more constant and vigorous than any which merely human prospects can supply: at the same time, his solicitude being not so much to succeed in whatever he might be engaged in, as to act from a pure principle, and leave the event to God, he would not be liable to the same disappointments, as men who are active and laborious from a desire of worldly gain or of human estimation. Thus he would possess the true secret of a life at the same time useful and happy. Following peace also with all men, and looking upon them as members of the same family, entitled not only to the debts of justice, but to the less definite and more liberal claims of fraternal kindness; he would naturally be respected and beloved by others, and be in himself free from the annoyance of those bad passions, by which they who are actuated by worldly principles are so commonly corroded. If any country were indeed filled with men, each thus diligently discharging the duties of his own station without breaking in upon the rights of others, but on the contrary endeavoring, so far as he might be able, to forward their views, and promote their happiness; all would be active and harmonious in the goodly frame of human society. There would be no jarring, no discord. The whole machine of civil life would work without obstruction or disorder, and the course of its movements would be like the, harmony of the spheres.

Such would be the happy state of a truly Christian nation within itself. Nor would its condition with regard to foreign countries form a contrast to this its internal comfort. Such a community, on the contrary, peaceful at home, would be respected and beloved abroad. General integrity in all its dealings would inspire universal confidence: differences between nations commonly arise from mutual injuries, and still more from mutual jealousy and distrust. Of the former, there would be no longer any ground for complaint; the latter would find nothing to attach upon. But if, in spite of all its justice and forbearance, the violence of some neighboring state should force it to resist an unprovoked attack, (for hostilities strictly defensive are those only in which it would be engaged) its domestic union would double its national force; while the consciousness of a good cause, and of the general favor of Heaven, would invigorate its arm, and inspirit its efforts.

Position, that Christianity Is hostile to patriotism, opposed

It is indeed the position of an author, to whom we have had frequent occasion to refer, and whose love of paradox has not seldom led him into error, that true Christianity is an enemy to patriotism. If by patriotism is meant that mischievous and domineering quality which renders men ardent to promote, not the happiness, but the aggrandizement of their own country, by the oppression and conquest of every other; to such patriotism, so generally applauded in the Heathen world, that Religion must be indeed an enemy, whose foundation is justice, and whose compendious character is “peace,—and good-will towards men.” But if by patriotism be understood that quality which, without shutting up our philanthropy within the narrow bounds of a single kingdom, yet attaches us in particular to the country to which we belong; of this true patriotism, Christianity is the most copious source, and the surest preservative. The contrary opinion can indeed only have arisen from not considering the fullness and universality of our Savior’s precepts. Not like the puny productions of human workmanship, (which at the best can commonly serve but the particular purpose that they are specially designed to answer;) the moral, as well as the physical, principles established by the great Governor of the universe, are capable of being applied at once to ten thousand different uses; thus, amidst infinite complication, preserving a grand simplicity, and therein bearing the unambiguous stamp of their Divine original. Thus, to specify one out of the numberless instances which might be adduced; the principle of gravitation, while it is subservient to all the mechanical purposes of common life, keeps at the same time the stars in their courses, and maintains the harmony of worlds.

Thus also in the case before us: society consists of a number of different circles of various magnitudes and uses, and that circumstance, wherein the principle of patriotism chiefly consists, whereby the duty of patriotism is best practiced, and the happiest effects upon the general weal are produced, is, that it should be the desire and aim of every individual to fill well his own proper circle, (as a part and member of the whole) with a view to the production of general happiness. This our Savior enjoined when he prescribed the duty of universal love, which is but another term for the most exalted patriotism. Benevolence, indeed, when not originating in Religion, dispenses but from a scanty and precarious fund; and therefore, if it be liberal in the case of some objects, it is generally found to be contracted towards others. Men, who, acting from worldly principles, make the greatest stir about general philanthropy or zealous patriotism, are often very deficient in their conduct in domestic life; and very neglectful of the opportunities, fully within their reach, of promoting the comfort of those with whom they are immediately connected. But true Christian benevolence is always occupied in producing happiness to the utmost of its power, and according to the extent of its sphere, be it larger or more limited: it contracts itself to the measure of the smallest; it can expand itself to the amplitude of the largest. It resembles majestic rivers, which are poured from an unfailing and abundant source. Silent and peaceful in their course, they begin with dispensing beauty and comfort to every cottage by which they pass. In their further progress, they fertilize provinces and enrich kingdoms. At length they pour themselves into the ocean; where, changing their names, but not their nature, they visit distant nations and other hemispheres, and spread throughout the world the expansive tide of their beneficence.

It must be confessed, that many of the good effects, of which Religion is productive to political societies, would be produced even by a false Religion, which should prescribe good morals, and should be able to enforce its precepts by sufficient sanctions. Of this nature are those effects which depend on our calling in the aid of a Being who sees the heart, in order to assist the weakness, and in various ways to supply the inherent defects of all human jurisprudence. But the superior excellence of Christianity in this respect must be acknowledged, both in the superiority of her moral code, and in the powerful motives and efficacious means which she furnishes for enabling us to practice it; and in the tendency of her doctrines to provide for the observance of her precepts, by producing tempers of mind which correspond with them.

But, more than all this; it has not perhaps been enough remarked, that true Christianity, from her essential nature, appears peculiarly and powerfully adapted to promote the preservation and healthfulness of political communities. What is in truth their grand malady? The answer is short; Selfishness. This is that young disease received at the moment of their birth, “which grows with their growth, and strengthens with their strength;” and through which they at length expire, if not cut off prematurely by some external shock or intestine convulsion.

The disease of selfishness, indeed, assumes different forms in the different classes of society. In the great and the wealthy, it displays itself in luxury, in pomp, and parade; and in all the frivolities of a sickly and depraved imagination, which seeks in vain its own gratification, and is dead to the generous and energetic pursuits of an enlarged heart. In the lower orders, when not motionless under the weight of a superincumbent despotism, it manifests itself in pride, and its natural offspring, insubordination in all its modes. But though the external effects may vary, the internal principle is the same; a disposition in each individual to make self the grand center and end of his desires and enjoyments; to overrate his own merits and importance, and of course to magnify his claims on others, and to underrate theirs on him; a disposition to undervalue the advantages, and overstate the disadvantages, of his condition in life. Thence spring rapacity, and venality, and sensuality. Thence imperious nobles, and factious leaders; thence also an unruly commonalty, bearing with difficulty the inconveniences of a lower station, and imputing to the nature or administration of their government, the evils which necessarily flow from the very constitution of our species, or which perhaps are chiefly the result of their own vices and follies. The opposite to selfishness, is public spirit; which may be termed, not unjustly, the grand principle of political vitality, the very life’s-breath of states, which tends to keep them active and vigorous, and to carry them to greatness and glory.

The tendency of public spirit, and the opposite tendency of selfishness, have not escaped the observation of the founders of states, or of the writers on government; and various expedients have been resorted to and extolled, for cherishing the one, and for repressing the other. Sometimes a principle of internal agitation and dissension, resulting from the very frame of the government, has been productive of the effect. Sparta flourished for more than seven hundred years under the civil institutions of Lycurgus; which guarded against the selfish principle, by prohibiting commerce, and imposing universal poverty and hardship. The Roman commonwealth, in which public spirit was cherished, and selfishness checked, by the principle of the love of glory, was also of long continuance. This passion naturally operates to produce an unbounded spirit of conquest, which, like the ambition of the greatest of its own heroes, was never satiated while any other kingdom was left to be subdued. The principle of political vitality, when kept alive only by means like these, merits the description once given of eloquence: “Sicut flamma, materia alitur, & motibus excitatur, & urendo clarescit.” But, like eloquence, when no longer called into action by external causes, or fomented by civil broils, it gradually languishes. Wealth and luxury produce stagnation, and stagnation terminates in death.

To provide, however, for the continuance of a state, by the admission of internal dissensions, or even by the chilling influence of poverty, seems to be in some sort sacrificing the end to the means. Happiness is the end for which men unite in civil society; but in societies thus constituted, little happiness, comparatively speaking, is to be found. The expedient, again, of preserving a state by the spirit of conquest, though even this has not wanted its admirers, (a) is not to be tolerated for a moment, when considered on principles of universal justice. Such a state lives, and grows, and thrives, by the misery of others, and becomes professedly the general enemy of its neighbors, and the scourge of the human race. All these devices are in truth but too much like the fabrications of man, when compared with the works of the Supreme Being; clumsy, yet weak in the execution of their purpose, and full of contradictory principles and jarring movements.

I might here enlarge with pleasure on the unrivalled excellence, in this very view, of the constitution under which we live in this happy country; and point out how, more perhaps than any which ever existed upon earth, it is so framed, as to provide at the same time for keeping up a due degree of public spirit, and yet for preserving unimpaired the quietness, and comfort, and charities of private life; how it even extracts from selfishness itself many of the advantages which, under less happily constructed forms of government, public spirit only can supply. But such a political discussion, however grateful to a British mind, would here be out of place. It is rather our business to remark, how much Christianity in every way sets herself in direct hostility to selfishness, the mortal distemper of political communities; and consequently, how their welfare must be inseparable from her prevalence. It might indeed be almost stated as the main object and chief concern of Christianity, to root out our natural selfishness, to rectify the false standard which it imposes on us, and to bring us not only to a just estimate of ourselves, and of all around us, but to a due impression also of the various claims and obligations resulting from the different relations in which we stand. Benevolence, enlarged, vigorous, operative benevolence, is her master principle. Moderation in temporal pursuits and enjoyments, comparative indifference to the issue of worldly projects, diligence in the discharge of personal and civil duties, resignation to the will of God, and patience under all the dispensations of his Providence, are among her daily lessons. Humility is one of the essential qualities which her precepts most directly and strongly enjoin, and which all her various doctrines tend to call forth and cultivate; and humility lays the deepest and surest grounds for benevolence. In whatever class or order of society Christianity prevails, she sets herself to rectify the particular faults, or, if we would speak more distinctly, to counteract the particular mode of selfishness to which that class is liable. Affluence she teaches to be liberal and beneficent; authority, to bear its faculties with meekness, and to consider the various cares and obligations belonging to its elevated station as being conditions on which that station is conferred. Thus, softening the glare of wealth, and moderating the insolence of power, she renders the inequalities of the social state less galling to the lower orders, whom also she instructs, in their turn, to be diligent, humble, patient; reminding them, that their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties, and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the present state of things is very short; that the objects about which worldly men conflict so eagerly, are not worth the contest; that the peace of mind, which Religion offers indiscriminately to all ranks, affords more true satisfaction than all the expensive pleasures which are beyond the poor man’s reach; that in this view the poor have the advantage; that, if their superiors enjoy more abundant comforts, they are also exposed to many temptations from which the inferior classes are happily exempted; that “having food and raiment, they should be therewith content,” since their situation in life, with all its evils, is better than they have deserved at the hand of God; and finally, that all human distinctions will soon be done away, and the true followers of Christ will all, as children of the same Father, be alike admitted to the possession of the same heavenly inheritance. Such are the blessed effects of Christianity on the temporal well-being of political communities.

But vital Christianity alone can produce these effects; and, still more, we must either have this, or none at all

But the Christianity which can produce effects like these must be real, not nominal; deep, not superficial. Such therefore is the Religion we should cultivate, if we would realize these pleasing speculations, and arrest the progress of political decay. But, in the present circumstances of this country, a farther reason for cultivating this vital Christianity, (still considering it merely in a political view) is, that, according to all human appearance, we must either have this or none: unless the prevalence of this be in some degree restored, we are likely, not only to lose all the advantages which we might have derived from true Christianity, but to incur all the manifold evils which would result from the absence of all religion.

In the first place, let it be remarked, that a weakly principle of Religion, which, in a political view, might be productive of many advantages, though its existence may be prolonged if all external circumstances favor its continuance, can hardly be kept alive, when the state of things is so unfavorable to vital Religion, as in our condition of society it appears to be. Nor is it merely the ordinary effects of a state of wealth and prosperity to which we here allude. Much also may justly be apprehended from that change which has taken place in our general habits of thinking and feeling, concerning the systems and opinions of former times. At a less advanced period of society, indeed, the Religion of the State will be generally accepted, though it be not felt in its vital power. It was the Religion of our forefathers: with the bulk, it is on that account entitled to reverence; and its authority is admitted without question. The Establishment in which it subsists, pleads the same prescription, and obtains the same respect. But, in our days, things are very differently circumstanced. Not merely the blind prejudice in favor of former times, but even the proper respect for them, and the reasonable presumption in their favor, has abated. Still less will the idea be endured, of upholding a manifest imposture, for the sake of retaining the common people in subjection. A system, if not supported by a real persuasion of its truth, will fall to the ground. Thus it not unfrequently happens, that in a more advanced state of society, a religious establishment must be indebted for its support to that very Religion which in earlier times it fostered and protected; as the weakness of some aged mother is sustained, and her existence lengthened, by the tender assiduities of the child whom she had reared in the helplessness of infancy. So, in the present instance, unless there be reinfused into the mass of our society, something of that principle which animated our ecclesiastical system in its earlier days, it is vain for us to hope that the establishment will very long continue: for an establishment, the actual principles of whose members, and even teachers, are, for the most part, so extremely different from those which it professes, is an anomaly which will not much longer be borne. But in proportion as vital Christianity can be revived, in that same proportion the Church establishment is strengthened; for the revival of vital Christianity is the very reinfusion of which we have been speaking. This is the very Christianity on which our Establishment is founded; and that which her Articles, and Homilies, and Liturgy teach throughout.

Appeal to experience

But if, when the reign of prejudice, and even of honest prepossession, and of grateful veneration, is no more, (for by these almost any system may generally be supported, before a state, having passed the period of its maturity, is verging to its decline;) it be thought, that a dry, unanimated Religion, like that which is now professed by nominal Christians, can hold its place, and much more, that it can be revived among the general mass of mankind; it may be affirmed, that, arguing merely on human principles, they know little of human nature. The kind of Religion which we have recommended, independent of all consideration either of the grace that it imparts, or even of its truth, must at least be conceded to be that which is most of all suited to make an impression upon the lower orders, since it so strongly interests all the passions of the human mind. If it be thought that a system of ethics may regulate the conduct of the higher classes, such an one is altogether unsuitable to the lower, who must be wrought upon by their affections, or they will not be wrought upon at all. The ancients were wiser than ourselves, and never thought of governing the community in general by their lessons of philosophy. These lessons were confined to the schools of the learned; while for the million, a system of Religion, such as it was, was kept up, as alone adapted to their grosser natures. If this reasoning fail to convince, we may safely appeal to experience. Let the Socinian and the moral teacher of Christianity come forth, and tell us what effects they have produced on the lower orders. They themselves will hardly deny the inefficacy of their instructions. But, blessed be God, the Religion which we recommend, has proved its correspondence with the character originally given of Christianity, that it was calculated for the poor; it has proved this, I say, by changing the whole condition of the mass of society in many of the most populous districts in this and other countries; and by bringing them from a state of almost unexampled wickedness and barbarism, to a state of sobriety, decency, industry, and in short, to whatever can render men useful members of civil society.

Political good effects from the revival of vital Christianity; and bad ones from its further decline

If indeed, through the blessing of Providence, a principle of true Religion should in any considerable degree gain ground, there is no estimating the effects on public morals, and the consequent influence on our political welfare. These effects are not merely negative: though it would be much, merely to check the further progress of a gangrene, which is eating out the very vitals of our social and political existence. The general standard of morality formerly described would be raised, it would at least be sustained and kept for a while from farther depression. The esteem which religious characters would personally attract, would extend to the system which they should hold, and to the establishment, of which they should be members. These are all merely natural consequences. But to those who believe in a superintending Providence, it may be added, that the blessing of God might be drawn down upon our country, and the stroke of his anger be for a while suspended.

Let us be spared the painful task of tracing, on the contrary, the fatal consequences of the extinction of Religion among us. They are indeed such as no man, who is ever so little interested for the welfare of his country, can contemplate without the deepest concern. The very loss of our church establishment, though, as in all human institutions, some defects may be found in it, would in itself be attended with the most fatal consequences. No prudent man dares hastily pronounce, that its destruction might not greatly endanger our civil institutions. It would not be difficult to prove, that the want of it would also be in the highest degree injurious to the cause of Christianity; and still more, that it would take away what appears from experience to be one of the most probable means of its revival. To what a degree might even the avowed principles of men who are not altogether destitute of Religion, decline, when our inestimable Liturgy should no longer remain in use! a Liturgy justly inestimable, as setting before us a faithful model of the Christian’s belief, and practice, and language; as restraining us (as far as restraint is possible) from excessive deviations; as furnishing us with abundant instruction when we would return into the right path; as affording an advantage-ground of no little value to such instructors as still adhere to the good old principles of the Church of England; in short, as daily shaming us, by preserving a living representation of the opinions and habits of better times, like some historical record which reproaches a degenerate posterity, by exhibiting the worthier, deeds of their progenitors. In such a state of things, to what a depth public morals might sink, may be anticipated by those who consider what would then be the condition of society; who reflect, how bad principles and vicious conduct mutually aid each other’s operation, and how, in particular, the former make sure the ground which the latter may have gained; who remember, that, in the lower orders, that system of honour and that responsibility of character are wanting, which, in the superior classes, supply in some poor degree the place of higher principles. It is well for the happiness of mankind, that such a community could f not long subsist. The cement of society being no more, the state would soon be dissolved into individuality.

Let it not be vainly imagined that our state of civilization must prevent the moral degeneracy here threatened. A neighboring nation has lately furnished a lamentable proof, that superior polish and refinement may well consist with a very large measure of depravity. But to appeal to a still more decisive instance: it may be seen in the history of the latter years of the most celebrated of the Pagan nations, that the highest degrees of civilization and refinement are by no means inseparable from the most shocking depravity of morals. The fact is certain, and the obvious inference with regard to ourselves cannot be denied. The cause of this strange phenomenon (such it really appears to our view) for which the natural corruption of man might hardly seem to account sufficiently, has been explained by an inspired writer. Speaking of the most polished nations of antiquity, he observes; “Because when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, and were not solicitous (a) to retain him in their knowledge, he gave them over to a reprobate mind.” Let us then beware, and take warning from their example: let us not suffer our self-love to beguile us: let us not vainly persuade ourselves, that although prosperity and wealth may have caused us to relax a little too much in those more serious duties which regard our Maker, yet that we shall stop where we are; or, at least, that we can never sink into the same state of moral depravation. Doubtless we should sink as low, if God were to give up us also to our own imaginations. And what ground have we to think he will not? If we would reason justly, we should not compare ourselves with the state of the Heathen world when at its worst, but with its state at that period, when, for its forgetfulness of God and its ingratitude towards him, it was suffered to fall, till at length it reached that worst, its ultimate point of depression. The Heathens had only reason and natural conscience to direct them: we enjoy, superadded to these, the clear light of Gospel revelation, and a distinct declaration of God’s dealings with them, to be a lesson for our instruction. How then can we but believe that if we, enjoying advantages so much superior to theirs, are alike forgetful of our kind Benefactor, we also shall be left to ourselves? and if so left, what reason can be assigned why we should not fall into the same enormities?

Practical hints, for the conduct of men in power, in the case of Religion, suggested by the above statements

What, then, is to be done? The inquiries of the first importance, and the general answer to it is not difficult.—The causes and nature of the decay of Religion and morals among us sufficiently indicate the course, which, on principles of sound policy, it is in the highest degree expedient for us to pursue. The distemper, of which as a community we are sick, should be considered rather as a moral than a political malady. How much has this been forgotten by the disputants of modern times! and accordingly, how transient may be expected to be the good effects of the best of their publications! We should endeavor to tread back our steps. Every effort should be used to raise the depressed tone of public morals. This is a duty particularly incumbent on all who are in the higher walks of life; and it is impossible not to acknowledge the obligations, which in this respect we owe as a nation, to those exalted characters, whom God in his undeserved mercy to us still suffers to continue on the throne, and who set to their subjects a pattern of decency and moderation rarely seen in their elevated station.

But every person of rank, and fortune, and abilities, should endeavor in like manner to exhibit a similar example, and recommend it to the imitation of the circle in which he moves. It has been the opinion of some well-meaning people, that by joining, as far as they possibly could with innocence, in the customs and practices of irreligious men, they might soften the prejudices too frequently taken up against Religion, of its being an austere, gloomy service; and thus secure a previous favorable impression against any time, when they might have an opportunity of explaining or enforcing their sentiments. This is always a questionable, and, it is to be feared, a dangerous policy. Many mischievous consequences necessarily resulting from it might easily be enumerated. But it is a policy particularly unsuitable to our inconsiderate and dissipated times, and to the lengths at which we are arrived. In these circumstances, the most likely means of producing the revulsion which is required, must be boldly to proclaim the distinction between the adherents of “God and Baal.” The expediency of this conduct in our present situation is confirmed by another consideration, to which we have before had occasion to refer. It is this—that when men are aware that something of difficulty is to be effected, their spirits rise to the level of the encounter; they make up their minds, to bear hardships and brave dangers, and to persevere in spite of fatigue and opposition: whereas in a matter which is regarded as of easy and ordinary operation, they are apt to slumber over their work, and to fail in what a small effort might have been sufficient to accomplish, for want of having called up the requisite degree of energy and spirit. Conformably to the principle which is hereby suggested, in the circumstances in which we are placed, the line of demarcation between the friends and the enemies of religion should now be made clear; the separation should be broad and obvious. Let him, then, who wishes well to his country, no longer hesitate what course of conduct to pursue. The question now is not, in what liberties he might warrantably indulge himself in another situation; but, what are the restraints on himself, which the exigencies of the present times render it advisable for him to impose? Circumstanced as we now are, it is more than ever obvious, that the best man is the truest patriot.

Nor is it only by their personal conduct, (though this mode will always be the most efficacious) that men of authority and influence may promote the cause of good morals. Let them in their several stations encourage virtue, and discountenance vice, in others. Let them enforce the laws by which the wisdom of our forefathers has guarded against the grosser infractions of morals; and congratulate themselves, that in a leading situation on the bench of justice there is placed a man, who, to his honor be it spoken, is well disposed to assist their efforts. (a) Let them favor and take part in any plans which may be formed for the advancement of morality. Above all things, let them endeavor to instruct and improve the rising generation; that, if it be possible, an antidote may be provided for the malignity of that venom which is storing up in a neighboring country. This has long been to my mind the most formidable feature of the present state of things in France; where, it is to be feared, a brood of moral vipers, as it were, is now hatching, which, when they shall have attained to their mischievous maturity, will go forth to poison the world. But fruitless will be all attempts to sustain, much more to revive, the fainting cause of morals, unless you can in some degree restore the prevalence of Evangelical Christianity. It is in morals as in physics: unless the source of practical principles be elevated, it will be in vain to attempt to make them flow on a high level in their future course. You may force them for a while into some constrained position, but they will soon drop to their natural point of depression. By all therefore who are studious of their country’s welfare, more particularly by all who desire to support our ecclesiastical establishment, every effort should be used to revive the Christianity of our better days. The attempt should especially be made in the case of the pastors of the Church, whose situation must render the principles which they hold a matter of supereminent importance. Wherever these teachers have steadily and zealously inculcated the true doctrines of the Church of England, the happiest effects have commonly rewarded their labors. And it is worth observing, in the view which we are now taking, that these men, as might naturally be expected, are, perhaps without exception, friendly to our ecclesiastical and civil establishments; (a) and consequently, that their instructions and influence tend directly as well as indirectly, to the maintenance of the cause of order and good government. If any, judging with the abstract coldness of mere politicians, doubt whether, by adopting the measures here recommended, such a religious warmth would not be called into action, as might break out into mischievous irregularities; it may be well for them to recollect, what experience clearly proves, that an Establishment, from its very nature, affords the happy means of exciting a considerable degree of fervor and animation, and at the same time tends to restrain them within due bounds. The duty of encouraging vital Religion in the Church particularly devolves on all who have the disposal of ecclesiastical preferment, and more especially on the dignitaries of the sacred order. Some of these have already sounded the alarm; justly censuring the practice of suffering Christianity to degenerate into a mere system of ethics, and recommending more attention to the peculiar doctrines of our Religion. In our schools, in our universities, let encouragement be given to the study of the writings of those venerable divines who flourished in the purer times of Christianity. Let even a considerable proficiency in their writings be required of candidates for ordination. Let our Churches no longer witness that unseemly discordance, which has too much prevailed, between the prayers which precede, and the sermon which follows.

But it may be enough to have briefly hinted at the course of conduct, which, in the present circumstances of this country, motives merely political should prompt us to pursue. To all who have at heart the national welfare, the above suggestions are solemnly submitted. They have not been urged altogether without misgivings, lest it should appear as though the concern of Eternity were melted down into a mere matter of temporal advantage, or political expediency. But since it has graciously pleased the Supreme Being so to arrange the constitution of things, as to render the prevalence of true Religion and of pure morality conducive to the well-being of states, and the preservation of civil order; and since these subordinate inducements are not unfrequently held forth, even by the sacred writers; it seemed not improper, and scarcely liable to misconstruction, to suggest inferior motives to readers, who might be less disposed to listen to considerations of a higher order.

Would to God that the course of conduct here suggested might be fairly pursued! Would to God that the happy consequences which would result from the principles we have recommended, could be realized; and above all, that the influence of true Religion could be extensively diffused! It is the best wish which can be formed for his country, by one who is deeply anxious for its welfare:

Lucem redde tuam, dux bone, patriæ!

Instar veris enim vultus ubi tuus

Affulsit populo; gratior it dies,

Et soles melius nitent.[1]

 

 

a The author must acknowledge himself indebted to Dr. Owen, for this illustration.

a I must here express my unfeigned and high respect for this great man, who with his brethren was so shamefully ejected from the church in 1666, in violation of the royal word, as well as of the clear principles of justice. With his controversial pieces I am little acquainted; but his practical writings, in four massy folios, are a treasury of Christian wisdom; and it would be a most valuable service to mankind to revise them, and perhaps to abridge them, so as to render them more suited to the taste of modem readers. This has been already done in the case of his Dying Thoughts, a beautiful little piece, and of his Saint’s Rest. His Life also, written by himself, and in a separate volume, contains much useful matter, and many valuable particulars of the history of the times of Charles I. Cromwell, &c.—I take the earliest opportunity which is offered me by the publication of a new edition of the Practical View, &c. of correcting an error which has been pointed out in the “Christian Remembrancer” for February and March last. It was certainly incorrect to describe Mr. Baxter as a member of the Church of England; since though I believe he differed little, if at all, from the English church in matters of doctrine or principle, he urged many objections against her discipline and formularies, objections, some of which, with all the reverence I feel for his character, I cannot but consider as unworthy of so great a man. I cannot however, forbear expressing my regret, that the writer of the “Remarks on Baxter’s Life” in the article in question, should have appeared to feel so little reverence for a man, of whom, notwithstanding some alloy of human infirmities, it may perhaps be truly affirmed, that the writings of few, if any, uninspired men, have been the instruments of such great and extensive benefit to mankind, as those of Mr. Baxter.

b Let me by no means be understood to censure all the sectaries without discrimination. Many of them, and some who by the unhappy circumstances of the times became objects of notice in a political view, were men of great erudition, deep views of Religion, and unquestionable piety: and though the writings of the Puritans are prolix, and, according to the fashion of their age, rendered rather perplexed than clear, by multiplied divisions and subdivisions; yet they are a mine of wealth, in which any one who will submit to some degree of labor will find himself well rewarded for his pains. In particular, the writings of Dr. Owen, Mr. Howe, and Mr. Flavel, well deserve this character: of the first mentioned author, there are two pieces which I would especially recommend to the reader’s perusal; one, on Heavenly Mindedness, abridged by Dr. Mayo; the other, on the Mortification of Sin in Believers.—While I have been speaking in terms of such high, and, I trust, such just eulogium of many of the teachers of the Church of England, this may not be an improper place to express the high obligations which we owe to the Dissenters for many excellent publications. Of this number are Dr. Evans’s Sermons on the Christian Temper; and that most useful book, the Rise and Progress of religion in the Soul, by Dr, Doddridge; also his Life, by Orton, and Letters; and two volumes of Sermons, one on Regeneration, the Other on the Power and Grace of Christ. May the writer be permitted to embrace this opportunity of recommending two volumes, published separately, of Sermons, by the late Dr. witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey.

a Vide Section vi. of the ivth Chapter, where we have expressly and fully treated of this most important truth,

a No exceptions have fallen within my own reading, but the writings of Richardson.

a It is with pain that the author finds himself compelled to place so great a writer as Dr. Robertson in this class. But, to say nothing of his phlegmatic account of the Reformation, (a subject which we should have thought likely to excite in any one, who united the character of a Christian Divine with that of an Historian, some warmth of pious gratitude for the good providence of God:) to pass over also the ambiguity, in which he leaves his readers as to his opinion of the authenticity of the Mosaic chronology, in his Disquisitions on the Trade of India; his Letters to Mr. Gibbon, lately published, cannot but excite emotions of regret and shame in every sincere Christian. The author hopes, that he has so far explained his sentiments as to render it almost unnecessary to remark, what, however, to prevent misconstruction, he must here declare, that so far from approving, he must be understood decidedly to condemn, a hot, a contentious, much more an abusive manner of opposing or of speaking of the assailants of Christianity. The Apostle’s direction in this respect cannot be too much attended to. “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men; apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2 Timothy, ch. 2. ver. 24, 25.)

b Mr. Hume.

c Vide Dr. A. Smith’s Letter to W. Strahan, esq.

d What is here stated, must be acknowledged by all, be their political opinions concerning French events what they may; and it makes no difference in the writer’s view of the subject, whether the state of morals was or was not, quite, or nearly, as bad, before the French revolution.

e Soame Jenyns.

f Paley’s Evidence.

a See especially that great historian, Ferguson, who in his Essay on Civil Society, endeavors to vindicate the cause of heroism from the censure conveyed by the poet:

“From Macedonia’s madman to the Swede.”

a Such seems to be the just rendering of the word which our Testament translates, “did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

a It is a gratification to the writer’s personal, as well as public feelings, to pay this tribute of respect to the character of Lord Chief Justice Kenyon.

a This is not thrown out rashly, but asserted on the writer’s own knowledge.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 230–266). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 5

Chapter V

On The Excellence of Christianity In Certain Important Particulars. Argument Which Results Thence In Proof of Its Divine Origin

THE writer of the present Work, having now completed a faint delineation of the leading features of real Christianity, may be permitted to suspend for a few moments the farther execution of his plan, for the purpose of pointing out some excellencies which she really possesses; but which, as they are not to be found in that superficial system which so unworthily usurps her name, appear scarcely to have attracted sufficient notice. If he should seem to be deviating from the plan which he proposed to himself, he would suggest as his excuse; that the observations which he is about to offer will furnish a strong argument, in favor of the correctness of his preceding representation of the nature and characters of that Religion which alone deserves to be called Christianity.

Consistency between the leading doctrines and practical precepts of Christianity

It holds true, indeed, in the case of Christianity, as in that of all the works of God, that though a superficial and cursory view cannot fail to discover to us somewhat of their beauty; yet, when on a more careful and accurate scrutiny we become better acquainted with their properties, we become also more deeply impressed by a conviction of their excellence. We may begin by referring to the last chapter for an instance of the truth of this assertion. Therein was pointed out that intimate connection, that perfect harmony, between the leading doctrines and the practical precepts of Christianity, which is apt to escape the attention of the ordinary eye.

Between the leading doctrines of Christianity amongst each other

It may not be improper also to remark, though the position be so obvious as almost to render the statement of it needless, that there is the same close connection in the leading doctrines of Christianity with each other, and the same perfect harmony between them. It is self-evident, that the corruption of human nature, that our reconciliation to God by the atonement of Christ, and that the restoration of our primitive dignity by the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, are all parts of one whole, united in close dependence and mutual congruity.

Between the practical precepts amongst each other

Perhaps, however, it has not been sufficiently noticed, that in the chief practical precepts of Christianity, there is the same essential agreement, the same mutual dependency of one upon another. Let us survey this fresh instance of the wisdom of that system, which is the only solid foundation of our present or future happiness.

The virtues most strongly and repeatedly enjoined in Scripture, and by our progress in which we may best measure our advancement in holiness, are the fear and love of God and of Christ; love, kindness, and meekness towards our fellow-creatures; indifference to the possessions and events of this life, in comparison with our concern about eternal things; self-denial, and humility.

It has been already pointed out in many particulars, how essentially such of these Christian graces as respect the Divine Being are connected with those, which have more directly for their objects our fellow-creatures and ourselves. But, in the case of these two last descriptions of Christian graces, the more attentively we consider them with reference to the acknowledged principles of human nature, and to indisputable facts, the more we shall be convinced that they afford mutual aid towards the acquisition of each other; and that, when acquired, they all harmonize with each other in perfect and essential union. This truth may perhaps be sufficiently apparent from what has been already remarked, but it may not be useless to dwell on it a little more in detail. Take, then, the instances of loving-kindness and meekness towards others; and observe the solid foundation which is laid for them in self-denial, in moderation as to the good things of this life, and in humility. The chief causes of enmity among men are, pride and self-importance, the high opinion which men entertain of themselves, and the consequent deference which they exact from others; the over-valuation of worldly possessions and of worldly honors, and in consequence, a too eager competition for them. The rough edges of one man rub against those of another, (if the expression may be allowed;) and the friction is often such as to injure the works, and disturb the just arrangements and regular motions of the social machine. But by Christianity all these roughnesses are filed down; every wheel rolls round smoothly in the performance of its appointed function, and there is nothing to retard the several movements, or break in upon the general order. The religious system indeed of the bulk of nominal Christians is satisfied with some tolerable appearance of virtue: and accordingly, while it recommends love and beneficence, it tolerates pride and vanity in many cases; it even countenances and commends the excessive valuation of character; and at least allows a man’s whole soul to be absorbed in the pursuit of the object which he is following, be it what it may of personal or professional success. But though these latter qualities may, for the most part, fairly enough consist with a soft exterior and courtly demeanor, they cannot so well accord with the genuine internal principle of love. Some cause of discontent, some ground of jealousy or of envy will arise, some suspicion will corrode, some disappointment will sour, some slight or calumny will irritate and provoke reprisals. In the higher walks of life indeed, we learn to disguise our emotions; but such will be the real inward feelings of the soul, and they will frequently betray themselves when we are off our guard, or when we are not likely to be disparaged by the discovery. This state of the higher orders, in which men are scuffling eagerly for the same objects, and wearing all the while such an appearance of sweetness and complacency, has often appeared to me to be not ill illustrated by the image of a gaming table. There, every man is intent only on his own profit; the good success of one is the ill success of another, and therefore the general state of mind of the parties engaged may be pretty well conjectured. All this, however, does not prevent, in well-bred societies, an exterior of perfect gentleness and good humor. But let the same employment be carried on among the lower orders, who are not so well schooled in the art of disguising their feelings; or in places where, by general connivance, people are allowed to give vent to their real emotions; and every passion will display itself, by which the “human face divine” can be distorted and deformed. For those who never have been present at so humiliating a scene, the pencil of Hogarth has provided a representation of it, which is scarcely exaggerated; and the horrid name,* by which it is familiarly known among its frequenters, sufficiently attests the fidelity of its resemblance.

But Christianity is not satisfied with producing merely the specious guise of virtue. She requires the substantial reality, which may stand the scrutinizing eye of that Being, “who searches the heart.” Meaning therefore that the Christian should live and breathe in an atmosphere, as it were, of benevolence, she forbids whatever can tend to obstruct its diffusion, or vitiate its purity. It is on this principle that emulation is forbidden: for, besides that this passion almost insensibly degenerates into envy, and that it derives its origin chiefly from pride and a desire of self-exaltation; how can we easily love our neighbor as ourselves, if we consider him at the same time as our rival, and are intent upon surpassing him in the pursuit of whatever is the subject of our competition?

Christianity, again, teaches us not to set our hearts on earthly possessions and earthly honors; and thereby provides for our really loving, or even cordially forgiving, those who have been more successful than ourselves in the attainment of them, or who have even designedly thwarted us in the pursuit. “Mind not high things,” says the Apostle. How can he who means to attempt, in any degree, to obey this precept, and the many other passages of Scripture which speak a similar language, be irreconcilably hostile towards anyone who may have been instrumental in his depression?

Christianity also teaches us not to prize human estimation at a very high rate; and thereby provides for the practice of her injunction, to love from the heart those who, justly or unjustly, may have attacked our reputation, and wounded our character. She commands not the show, but the reality, of meekness and gentleness; and by thus taking away the aliment of anger and the fomenters of discord, she provides for the maintenance of peace, and the restoration of good temper among men, when it may have sustained a temporary interruption.

Another excellence of Christianity; a higher value by it set on moral than on intellectual attainments

It is another capital excellence of Christianity, that she values moral attainments at a far higher rate than intellectual acquisitions, and proposes to conduct her followers to the heights of virtue rather than of knowledge. On the contrary, most of the false religious systems which have prevailed in the world, have proposed to reward the labor of their votary, by drawing aside the veil which concealed from the vulgar eye their hidden mysteries, and by introducing him to the knowledge of their deeper and more sacred doctrines.

This is eminently the case in the Hindu, and in the Mahometan Religion, in that of China, and for the most part in the various modifications of ancient Paganism. In systems which proceed on this principle, it is obvious that the bulk of mankind can never make any great proficiency. There was accordingly, among the nations of antiquity, one system, whatever it was, for the learned, and another for the illiterate. Many of the philosophers spoke out, and professed to keep the lower orders in ignorance for the general good; plainly suggesting, that the bulk of mankind was to be considered as almost of an inferior species. Aristotle himself countenanced this opinion. An opposite mode of proceeding naturally belongs to Christianity, which without distinction professes an equal regard for all human beings, and which was characterized by her first Promulgator as the messenger of “glad tidings to the poor.”

But her preference of moral to intellectual excellence is not to be praised, only because it is congenial with her general character, and suitable to the ends which she professes to have in view. It is the part of true wisdom to endeavor to excel there, where we may really attain to excellence. This consideration might be alone sufficient to direct our efforts to the acquisition of virtue rather than of knowledge.—How limited is the range of the greatest human abilities! how scanty the stores of the richest human knowledge! Those who undeniably have held the first rank both for natural and acquired endowments, instead of thinking their pre-eminence a just ground of self-exaltation, have commonly been the most forward to confess that their views were bounded and their attainments moderate. Had they indeed been less candid, this is a discovery which we could not have failed to make for ourselves. Experience daily furnishes us with examples of weakness, and short-sightedness, and error, in the wisest and the most learned of men, which might serve to confound the pride of human wisdom.

Not so in morals.—Made at first in the likeness of God, and still bearing about us some faint traces of our high original, we are offered by our blessed Redeemer the means of purifying ourselves from our corruptions, and of once more regaining the image of our heavenly Father.* In love, the compendious expression for almost every virtue, in fortitude under all its forms, in justice, in humility, and in all the other graces of the Christian character, we are made capable of attaining to heights of real elevation: and, were we but faithful in the use of the means of grace which we enjoy, the operations of the Holy Spirit, prompting and aiding our diligent endeavors, would infallibly crown our labors with success, and make us partakers of a Divine nature. The writer has himself known some who have been instances of the truth of this remark. To the memory of one, now no more, may he be permitted to offer the last tribute of respectful friendship? His course short, but laborious, has at length terminated in a better world; and his luminous track still shines in the sight, and animates the efforts of all who knew him, and “marshals them the way” to Heavenly glory. Let me not be thought to undervalue any of the gifts of God, or of the fruits of human exertion: but let not these be prized beyond their proper worth. If one of those little industrious reptiles, to which we have been well sent for a lesson of diligence and foresight, were to pride itself upon its strength, because it could carry off a larger grain of wheat than any other of its fellow ants, should we not laugh at the vanity which could be highly gratified with such a contemptible pre-eminence? And is it far different to the eye of reason, when man, weak, short-sighted man, is vain of surpassing others in knowledge, in which at best his progress must be so limited; forgetting the true dignity of his nature, and the path which would conduct him to real excellence?

Excellence of the practical precepts of Christianity

The unparalleled value of the precepts of Christianity ought not to be passed over altogether unnoticed in this place, though it be needless to dwell on it; since it has been often justly recognized and asserted, and has in some points been ably illustrated, and powerfully enforced by the masterly pen of a late writer. It is by no means, however, the design of this little Work to attempt to trace the various excellencies of Christianity; but it may not have been improper to point out a few particulars, which, in the course of investigation, have naturally fallen under our notice, and hitherto perhaps may scarcely have been enough regarded. Every such instance, it should always be remembered, is a fresh proof of Christianity being a revelation from God.

It is still less, however, the intention of the writer, to attempt to vindicate the Divine origin of our Holy Religion. This task has often been executed by far abler advocates. In particular, every Christian, with whatever reserves his commendations must be qualified, should be forward to confess his obligations on this head to the author before alluded to; whose uncommon acuteness has enabled him, in a field already so much trodden, to discover arguments which had eluded the observation of all by whom he was preceded, and whose unequalled perspicuity puts his reader in complete possession of the fruits of his sagacity. Anxious, however, in my little measure, to contribute to the support of this great cause, may it be permitted me to state one argument which impresses my mind with particular force. This is, the great variety of the kinds of evidence which have been adduced in proof of Christianity, and the confirmation thereby afforded of its truth:—The proof from prophecy—from miracles—from the character of Christ—from that of his Apostles—from the nature of the doctrines of Christianity—from the nature and excellence of her practical precepts—from the accordance we have lately pointed out between the doctrinal and practical system of Christianity, whether considered each in itself or in their mutual relation to each other—from other species of internal evidence, afforded in the more abundance in proportion as the sacred records have been scrutinized with greater care—from the accounts of contemporary or nearly contemporary writers—from the impossibility of accounting on any other supposition, than that of the truth of Christianity, for its promulgation and early prevalence: these and other lines of argument have all been brought forward, and ably urged by different writers, in proportion as they have struck the minds of different observers more or less forcibly. Now, granting that some obscure and illiterate men, residing in a distant province of the Roman empire, had plotted to impose a forgery upon the world; though some foundation for the imposture might, and indeed must, have been attempted to be laid; it seems, to my understanding at least, morally impossible that so many different species of proofs, and all so strong, should have lent their concurrent aid, and have united their joint force in the establishment of the falsehood. It may assist the reader in estimating the value of this argument, to consider, upon how different a footing, in this respect, every other religious system, which was ever proposed to the world, has stood; and indeed, every other historical fact, of which the truth has been at all contested.[1]

 

 

* The Hell, so called, let it be observed, not by way of reproach, but familiarity, by those who frequent it.

The Rev. Matthew Babington, of Rothley, in Leicestershire, who died lately at Lisbon.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 220–229). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 4

On the Prevailing Inadequate Conceptions Concerning the Nature And the Strictness of Practical Christianity

Chapter 4

sect. i

ONE part of the foregoing title may perhaps on the first view excite some surprise in such of my readers as may have drawn a hasty inference from the charges conveyed by the two preceding chapters. It might perhaps be expected, that they who have very low conceptions of the corruption of human nature, would be proportionably less indulgent to human frailty; and that they who lay little stress on Christ’s satisfaction for sin, or on the operations of the Holy Spirit, would be more high and rigid in their demands of diligent endeavors after universal holiness; since their scheme implies, that we must depend chiefly on our own exertions and performances for our acceptance with God.

But any such expectations as these would be greatly disappointed. There is in fact a region of truth, and a region of errors. They who hold the fundamental doctrines of Scripture in their due force, hold also in its due degree of purity the practical system which Scripture inculcates. But they who explain away the former, soften down the latter also, and reduce it to the level of their own defective scheme. It is not from any confidence in the superior amount of their own performances, or in the greater vigor of their own exertions, that they reconcile themselves to their low views of the satisfaction of Christ, and of the influence of the Spirit; but it rather seems to be their plan so to depress the required standard of practice, that no man need fall short of it, and that no superior aid can be wanted for enabling us to attain to it. It happens however with respect to their simple method of morality, as in the case of the short ways to knowledge, of which some vain pretenders have vaunted themselves to be possessed; despising the beaten track in which more sober and humble spirits have been content to tread, they have indignantly struck into new and untried paths; but these have failed of conducting them to the right object, and have issued only in ignorance and conceit.

It seems in our days to be the commonly received opinion, that provided a man admit in general terms the truth of Christianity, though he neither know nor consider much concerning the particulars of the system; and if he be not habitually guilty of any of the grosser vices against his fellow-creatures; we have no great reason to be dissatisfied with him, or to question the validity of his claim to the name and privileges of a Christian. The title implies no more than a sort of formal, general assent to Christianity in the gross, and a degree of morality in practice, little if at all superior to that for which we look in a good Deist, Mussulman, or Hindoo.

Should any be disposed to deny that this is a fair representation of the religion of the bulk of the Christian world, they might be asked, whether, if it were proved to them beyond dispute that Christianity is a mere forgery, this would occasion any great change in their conduct or habits of mind? Would any alteration be made in consequence of this discovery, except in a few of their speculative opinions, which, when distinct from practice, it is a part of their own system to think of little consequence? and, with regard to public worship, (knowing the good effects of religion upon the lower orders of the people) they might still think it better to attend occasionally for example sake. Would not a regard for their character, their health, their domestic and social comforts, still continue to restrain them from vicious excesses, and prompt them to persist in the discharge, according to their present measure, of the various duties of their stations? Would they find themselves dispossessed of what had been to them hitherto the repository of counsel and instruction, the rule of their conduct, the source of their peace, and hope, and consolation?

It were needless to put these questions. They are answered in fact already by the lives of many known unbelievers, between whom and these professed Christians even the familiar associates of both, though men of discernment and observation, would discover little difference either in conduct or temper of mind. How little then does Christianity deserve that title to novelty and superiority which has been almost universally admitted; that pre-eminence, as a practical code, over all other systems of ethics? How unmerited are the praises which have been lavished upon it by its friends; praises, in which even its enemies (not in general disposed to make concessions in its favor) have so often been unwarily drawn in to acquiesce!

Was it then for this, that the Son of God condescended to become our instructor and our pattern, leaving us an example that we might tread in his steps? Was it for this that the apostles of Christ voluntarily submitted to hunger and nakedness and pain, and ignominy and death, when forewarned too by their Master that such would be their treatment? That, after all, their disciples should attain to no higher a strain of virtue than those, who rejecting their Divine authority, should still adhere to the old philosophy?

But it may perhaps he objected, that we are forgetting an observation which we ourselves have made, that Christianity has raised the general standard of morals; to which therefore Infidelity herself now finds it prudent to conform, availing herself of the pure morality of Christianity, and sometimes wishing to usurp to herself the credit of it, while she stigmatizes the authors with the epithets of ignorant dupes or designing impostors.

But let it be asked, are the motives of Christianity so little necessary to the practice of it, its principles to its conclusions, that the one may be spared, and yet the other remain in undiminished force? If so, its Doctrines are no more than a barren and inapplicable, or at least an unnecessary, theory; the place of which, it may perhaps be added, would be well supplied by a more simple and less costly scheme.

But can it be? Is Christianity then reduced to a mere creed? Is its practical influence bounded within a few external plausibilities? Does its essence consist only in a few speculative opinions, and a few useless and unprofitable tenets? And can this be the ground of that portentous distinction, which is so unequivocally made by the Evangelist between those who accept, and those who reject the Gospel; “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him?” This were to run into the very error which the bulk of professed Christians would be most forward to condemn, of making an unproductive faith the rule of God’s future judgment, and the ground of an eternal separation. Thus, not unlike the rival circumnavigators from Spain and Portugal, who setting out in contrary directions, found themselves in company at the very time they thought themselves farthest from each other; so the bulk of professed Christians arrive, though by a different course, almost at the very same point, and occupy nearly the same station as a set of enthusiasts, who also rest upon a barren faith, to whom on the first view they might be thought the most nearly opposite, and whose tenets they with reason profess to hold in peculiar detestation. By what pernicious courtesy of language is it, that this wretched system has been flattered with the name of Christianity?

Strictness of true practical Christianity

The morality of the Gospel is not so slight a fabric. Christianity throughout the whole extent exhibits proofs of its divine original, and its practical precepts are no less pure than its doctrines are sublime. Can the compass of language furnish injunctions stricter in their measure, or larger in their comprehension, than those with which the word of God abounds; “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus:”—“Be ye holy, for God is holy:”—“Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect:”—We are commanded to “perfect holiness,” to “go on unto perfection.”

Such are the Scripture admonitions; and surely they to whom such admonitions are addressed, may not safely acquiesce in low attainments. This is a conclusion to which we are led, as well by the force of the expressions by which Christians are characterized in Scripture, as by the radical change, which is represented as taking place in every man on his becoming a real Christian. “Every one,” it is said, “that hath this hope, purifieth himself even as God is pure:” true Christians are said to be “partakers of the Divine nature;”—“to be created anew in the image of God;”—“to be temples of the Holy Ghost.” The effects of which must appear “in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.”

Great as was the progress which the apostle Paul had made in all virtue, he declares of himself that he still presses forward, “forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before.” He prays for his beloved converts, “that they may be filled with all the fullness of God;” “that they may be filled with the fruits of righteousness:” “that they might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work.” And from one of the petitions, which our blessed Savior inserts in that form of prayer which he has given as a model for our imitation, we may infer, that the habitual sentiment of our hearts ought to be, “Thy will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven.”

These few extracts from the word of God will serve abundantly to evince the strictness of the Christian morality; but this point will be still more fully established, when we proceed to investigate the ruling principles of the Christian character.

And its essential nature opened and stated

I apprehend the essential practical characteristic of true Christians to be this: that relying on the promises to repenting sinners of acceptance through the Redeemer, they have renounced and abjured all other masters, and have cordially and unreservedly devoted themselves to God. This is indeed the very figure which baptism daily represents to us: like the father of Hannibal, we there bring our infant to the altar, we consecrate him to the service of his proper owner, and vow in his name eternal hostilities against all the enemies of his salvation. After the same manner Christians are become the sworn enemies of sin; they will henceforth hold no parley with it, they will allow it in no shape, they will admit it to no composition; the war which they have denounced against it is cordial, universal, irreconcilable.

But this is not all—It is now their determined purpose to yield themselves without reserve to the reasonable service of their rightful Sovereign. “They are not their own:”—their bodily and mental faculties, their natural and acquired endowments, their substance, their authority, their time, their influence; all these, they consider as belonging to them, not for their own gratification, but as so many instruments to be consecrated to the honor of God, and employed in his service. This is the master principle to which every other must be subordinate. Whatever may have been hitherto their ruling passion, whatever hitherto their leading pursuit, whether sensual or intellectual, whether of science, of taste, of fancy, or of feeling, it must now possess but a secondary place; or rather (to speak more correctly) it must exist only at the pleasure of its true and legitimate superior, and be put altogether under its direction and control.

Thus it is the prerogative of Christianity “to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” They who really feel its power, are resolved “to live no longer to themselves, but to him that died for them:” they know indeed their own infirmities; they know, that the way on which they have entered is strait and difficult, but they know too the encouraging assurance, “They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;” and relying on this animating declaration, they deliberately purpose that, so far as they may be able, the grand governing maxim of their future lives shall be “to do all to the glory of God.”

Behold here the seminal principle, which contains within it, as in an embryo state, the rudiments of all true virtue; which, striking deep its roots, though feeble perhaps and lowly in its beginnings, yet silently progressive, and almost insensibly maturing, will shortly, even in the bleak and churlish temperature of this world, lift up its head and spread abroad its branches, bearing abundant fruits; precious fruits of refreshment and consolation, of which the boasted products of philosophy are but sickly imitations, void of fragrance and of flavor. But,

Igneus est ollis vigor & cœlestis origo.

At length it shall be transplanted into its native region, and enjoy a more genial climate, and a kindlier soil; and bursting forth into full luxuriance, with unfading beauty and unexhausted odors, shall flourish for ever in the paradise of God.

But while the servants of Christ continue in this life, glorious as is the issue of their labors, they receive but too many humiliating memorials of their remaining imperfections, and they daily find reason to confess, that they cannot do the things that they would. Their determination, however, is still unshaken, and it is the fixed desire of their hearts to improve in all holiness—and this, let it be observed, on many accounts.—Various passions concur to push them forward; they are urged on by the dread of failure, in this arduous but necessary work; they trust not, where their all is at stake, to lively emotions, or to internal impressions however warm; the example of Christ is their pattern, the word of God is their rule: there they read, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” It is the description of real Christians, that “they are gradually changed into the image of their Divine Master;” and they dare not allow themselves to believe their title sure, except so far as they can discern in themselves the growing traces of this blessed resemblance.

It is not merely however by the fear of misery, and the desire of happiness, that they are actuated in their endeavors to excel in all holiness; they love it for its own sake; nor is it solely by the sense of self-interest (a principle it must be confessed of an inferior order, though often unreasonably condemned) that they are influenced in their determination to obey the will of God, and to cultivate his favor. This determination has its foundations indeed in a deep and humiliating sense of his exalted Majesty and infinite power, and of their own extreme inferiority and littleness, attended with a settled conviction of its being their duty as his creatures to submit in all things to the will of their great Creator. But these awful impressions are relieved and ennobled by an admiring sense of the infinite perfections and infinite amiableness of the Divine Character; animated by a confiding, though humble, hope of his fatherly kindness and protection; and quickened by the grateful recollection of immense and continually increasing obligations. This is the Christian love of God! A love compounded of admiration, of preference, of hope, of trust, of joy; chastised by reverential awe, and wakeful with continual gratitude.

I would here express myself with caution, lest. I should inadvertently wound the heart of some weak but sincere believer. The elementary principles which have been above enumerated, may exist in various degrees and proportions. A difference in natural disposition, in the circumstances of the past life, and in numberless, other particulars, may occasion a great difference in the predominant tempers of different Christians. In one the love, in another the fear, of God may have the ascendency; trust in one, and in another gratitude; but in greater or less degrees, a cordial complacency in the sovereignty of the Divine Being, an exalted sense of his perfections, a grateful impression of his goodness, and a humble hope of his favor, are common to them all.—Common—the determination to devote themselves without exceptions, to the service and glory of God.—Common—the desire of holiness and of continual progress towards perfection.—Common—an abasing consciousness of their own unworthiness, and of their many remaining infirmities, which interpose so often to corrupt the simplicity of their intentions, to thwart the execution of their purer purposes, and frustrate the resolutions of their better hours.

But some perhaps, who will not directly oppose the conclusions for which we have been contending, may endeavor to elude them. It may be urged, that to represent them as of general application, is going much too far; and, however true in the case of some individuals of a higher order, it may be asserted, they are not applicable to ordinary Christians; from these so much will not surely be expected; and here perhaps there may be a secret reference to that supposed mitigation of the requisitions of the divine Law under the Christian dispensation, which we have already noticed as being too prevalent among professing Christians. This is so important a point that it ought not to be passed over: let us call in the authority of Scripture; where the difficulty is not to find proofs, but to select with discretion from the multitude which pour in upon us. Here also, as in former instances, the positive injunctions of Scripture are confirmed and illustrated by various considerations and inferences, suggested by other parts of the sacred Writings, all tending to the same infallible conclusion.

Precepts in broad terms

In the first place, the precepts are expressed in the most general terms: there is no hint given, that any persons are at liberty to conceive themselves exempted from the obligation of them; and in any who are disposed to urge such a plea of exemption, it may well excite the most serious apprehension to consider, how the plea would be received by an earthly tribunal: no weak argument this to such as are acquainted with the Scriptures, and who know how often God is there represented as reasoning with mankind on the principles which they have established for their dealings with each other.

The Precepts universal, because resulting from relations common to all Christians

But in the next place the precepts of the Gospel contain within themselves abundant proofs of their universal application, inasmuch as they are grounded on circumstances and relations common to all Christians, and of the benefits of which, even our Objectors themselves (though they would evade the practical deductions from them) would not be willing to relinquish their share. Christians “are not their own,” because “they are bought with a price;” they are not “to live unto themselves, but to him that died for them;” they are commanded to do the most difficult duties, “that they may be the children of their father which is in heaven;” and “except a man be born again of the Spirit” (thus again becoming one of the sons of God) “he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is “because they are sons,” that God has given them what in Scripture language is styled the spirit of adoption. It is only of “as many as are led by the Spirit of God,” that it is declared that “they are the sons of God;” and we are expressly warned (in order as it were to prevent any such loose profession of Christianity as that which we are here combating) “If any man have not the “Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In short, Christians in general are everywhere denominated the servants and the children of God, and are required to serve him with that submissive obedience, and that affectionate promptitude, which belong to those endearing relations.

Strong practical Precepts, and other confirmations

Estimate next, the force of that well-known passage—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength!” The injunction is multiplied on us, as it were, to silence the sophistry of the caviller, and to fix the most inconsiderate mind. And though, for the sake of argument, we should concede for the present, that under the qualifications formerly suggested an ardent and vigorous affection were not indispensably required of us; yet surely if the words have any meaning at all, the least which can be intended by them is that settled predominant esteem and cordial preference for which we are now contending, The conclusion which this passage forces on us, is strikingly confirmed by other parts of Scripture, wherein the love of God is positively commended to the whole of a Christian church;* or wherein the want of it,† or wherein its not being the chief and ruling affection, is charged on persons professing themselves Christians, as being sufficient to disprove their claim to that appellation, or as being equivalent to denying it.‡ Let not therefore any deceive themselves by imagining, that only an absolute unqualified renunciation of the desire of the favor of God is here condemned. God will not accept of a divided affection; a single heart, and a single eye, are in express terms declared to be indispensably required of us. We are ordered, under the figure of amassing heavenly treasure, to make the favor and service of God our chief pursuit, for this very reason, because “where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.” It is on this principle that in speaking of particular vices, such phrases are often used in Scripture, as suggest that their criminality mainly consists in drawing away the heart from Him who is the just object of its preference; and that sins, which we might think very different in criminality, are classed together, because they all agree in this grand character. Nor is this preference asserted only over affections which are vicious in themselves, and to which therefore Christianity might well be supposed hostile, but over those also which in their just measure are not only lawful, but even most strongly enjoined on us. “He that loveth father and mother more than me,” says our blessed Savior, “is not worthy of me;” “and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.”§ The spirit of these injunctions harmonizes with many commendations in Scripture, of zeal for the honor of God; as well as with that strong expression of disgust and abhorrence with which the lukewarm, those that are neither cold nor hot, are spoken of as being more loathsome and offensive than even open and avowed enemies.

Another class of instances tending to the same point is furnished by those many passages of Scripture, wherein the promoting of the glory of God is commanded as our supreme and universal aim, and wherein the honor due unto Him is declared to be that in which he will allow no competitor to participate. On this head indeed the Holy Scriptures are, if possible, more peremptory than on the former; and at the same time so full as to render particular citations unnecessary to those who have ever so little acquaintance with the word of God.

To put the same thing therefore in another light. All who have read the Scriptures must confess that idolatry is the crime against which God’s highest resentment is expressed, and his severest punishment denounced. But let us not deceive ourselves. It is not in bowing the knee to idols that idolatry consists, so much as in the internal homage of the heart; as in feeling towards them any of that supreme love, or reverence, or gratitude, which God reserves to himself as his own exclusive prerogative. On the same principle, whatever else draws off the heart from him, engrosses our prime regard, and holds the chief place in our esteem and affections, that, in the estimation of reason, is no less an idol to us, than an image of wood or stone would be; before which we should fall down and worship. Think not this a strained analogy; it is the very language and argument of Inspiration. The servant of God is commanded not to set up his idol in his Heart; and sensuality and covetousness are repeatedly termed Idolatry. The same God who declares—“My glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images,” declares also—“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches.”* “No flesh may glory in his presence;” “he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” The sudden vengeance by which the vain-glorious ostentation of Herod was punished, when, acquiescing in the servile adulation of an admiring multitude, “he gave not God the glory,” is a dreadful comment on these injunctions.

Extreme importance of the above-mentioned considerations

These awful declarations, it is to be feared, are little regarded. Let the Great and the Wise, and the Learned and the Successful, lay them seriously to heart, and labor habitually to consider their superiority, whether derived from nature, or study, or fortune, as the unmerited bounty of God. This reflection will naturally tend to produce a disposition, in all respects the opposite to that proud self-complacency so apt to grow upon the human heart: a disposition honorable to God, and useful to man; a temper composed of reverence, humility, and gratitude, and delighting to be engaged in the praises, and employed in the benevolent service, of the universal Benefactor.

But, to return to our subject, it only remains to be remarked, that here, as in the former instances, the characters of the righteous and of the wicked, as delineated in Scripture, exactly correspond with the representations which have been given of the Scripture injunctions.

The necessity of this cordial unreserved devotedness to the glory and service of God, as being indispensable to the character of the true Christian, has been insisted on at the greater length, not only on account of its own extreme importance, but also because it appears to be a duty too generally overlooked. Once well established, it will serve as a fundamental principle both for the government of the heart and regulation of the conduct, and will prove eminently useful in the decision of many practical cases, which it might be difficult to bring under the undisputed operation of any subordinate or appropriate rule.

sect. ii

AND now, having endeavored to establish the strictness, and to ascertain the essential character of true practical Christianity, let us investigate a little more in detail the practical system of the bulk of professed Christians among ourselves.*

General notion of practical Christianity amongst the bulk of nominal Christians, stated and illustrated

It was formerly remarked, that the whole subject of Religion was often viewed from such a distance as to be seen only in the gross. We now, it is to be feared, shall find too much cause for believing, that they who approach a little nearer, and do discover in Christianity somewhat of a distinct form, yet come not close enough to discern her peculiar lineaments and conformation. The writer must not be understood to mean, that the several misconceptions, which he shall have occasion to point out, will be generally found to exist with any thing like precision, much less that they are regularly digested into a system; nor will it be expected, they all should meet in the same person, nor that they will not be found in different people, and under different circumstances, variously blended, combined, and modified. It will be enough if we succeed in tracing out great and general outlines. The human countenance may be well described by its general characters, though infinitely varied by the peculiarities which belong to different individuals, and often by such shades and minutenesses of difference, as though abundantly obvious to our perceptions, yet would exceed the power of definition to discriminate, or even of language to express.

A very erroneous notion appears to prevail concerning the true nature of Religion. Religion, agreeably to what has been already stated (the importance of the subject will excuse repetition,) may be considered as the implantation of a vigorous and active principle; it is seated in the heart, where its authority is recognized as supreme, whence by degrees it expels whatever is opposed to it, and where it gradually brings all the affections and desires under its complete control and regulation.

But though the heart be its special residence, it may be said to possess in a degree the ubiquity of its Divine Author. Every endeavor and pursuit must acknowledge its presence; and whatever receives not its sacred stamp, is to be condemned as inherently defective, and is to be at once relinquished. It is like the principle of vitality, which, animating every part, lives throughout the whole of the human body, and communicates its kindly influence to the smallest and remotest fibers of the frame. But the notion of Religion entertained by many among us seems altogether different. They begin indeed, in submission to her clear prohibitions, by fencing off from the field of human action, a certain district, which, though it in many parts bear fruits on which they cast a longing eye, they cannot but confess to be forbidden ground. They next assign to Religion a portion, larger or smaller, according to whatever may be their circumstances and views, in which however she is to possess merely a qualified jurisdiction; and having so done, they conceive that without let or hindrance they have a right to range at will over the spacious remainder. Religion can claim only a stated proportion of their thoughts, their time, their fortune, and influence; and of these, or perhaps of any of them, if they make her anything of a liberal allowance, she may well be satisfied: the rest is now their own to do what they will with; they have paid their tithes, say rather their composition, the demands of the Church are satisfied, and they may surely be permitted to enjoy what she has left without molestation or interference.

General consequences of the above mentioned error

It is scarcely possible to state too strongly the mischief which results from this fundamental error. At the same time its consequences are so natural and obvious, that one would think it scarcely possible not to foresee that they must infallibly follow. The greatest part of human actions is considered as indifferent. If men are not chargeable with actual vices, and are decent in the discharge of their religious duties; if they do not stray into the forbidden ground, if they respect the rights of the conceded allotment, what more can be expected from them? Instead of keeping at a distance from all sin, in which alone consists our safety, they will be apt not to care how near they approach what they conceive to be the boundary line; if they have not actually passed it, there is no harm done, it is no trespass. Thus the free and active spirit of Religion is “cribbed and hemmed in;” she is checked in her disposition to expand her territory, and enlarge the circle of her influence. She must keep to her prescribed confines, and every attempt to extend them will be resisted as an encroachment.

But this is not all. Since whatever can be gained from her allotment, or whatever can be taken in from the forbidden ground, will be so much of addition to that land of liberty, where men may roam at large, free from restraint or molestation, they will of course be constantly, and almost insensibly, straitening and pressing upon the limits of the religious allotment on the one hand; and on the other, will be removing back a little farther and farther the fence which abridges them on the side of the forbidden ground. If Religion attempt for a time to defend her frontier, she by degrees gives way. The space she occupies diminishes till it be scarcely discernible; whilst, her spirit extinguished, and her force destroyed, she is little more than the nominal possessor even of the contracted limits to which she has been avowedly reduced.

The preceding statement confirmed by an appeal to various classes of nominal Christians

This it is to be feared is but too faithful a representation of the general state of things among ourselves. The promotion of the glory of God, and the possession of his favor, are no longer recognized as the objects of our highest regard, and most strenuous endeavors; as furnishing to us a vigorous, habitual, and universal principle of action. We set up for ourselves: we are become our own masters. The sense of constant homage and continual service is irksome and galling to us; and we rejoice in being emancipated from it, as from a state of base and servile villenage. Thus the very tenure and condition, by which life and all its possessions are held, undergo a total change: our faculties and powers are now our own: whatever we have is regarded rather as a property, than as a trust; or, if there still exist the remembrance of some paramount claim, we are satisfied with an occasional acknowledgment of a nominal right; we pay our pepper-corn, and take our estates to ourselves in full and free enjoyment.

Hence it is that so little sense of responsibility seems attached to the possession of high rank, or splendid abilities, or affluent fortunes, or other means or instruments of usefulness. The instructive admonitions, “give an account of thy stewardship,”—“occupy till I come;” are forgotten. Or if it be acknowledged by some men of larger views than ordinary, that a reference is to be had to some principle superior to that of our own gratification, it is, at best, to the good of society, or to the welfare of our families: and even then the obligations resulting from these relations are seldom enforced on us by any higher sanctions than those of family comfort, and of worldly interest or estimation. Besides, what multitudes of persons are there, people without families, in private stations, or of a retired turn, to whom they are scarcely held to apply! and what multitudes of cases to which it would be thought unnecessary scrupulosity to extend them! Accordingly we find in fact, that the generality of mankind among the higher order, in the formation of their schemes, in the selection of their studies, in the choice of their place of residence, in the employment and distribution of their time, in their thoughts, conversation, and amusements, are considered as being at liberty, if there be no actual vice, to consult in the main their own gratification.

The Idle and Dissipated

Thus the generous and wakeful spirit of Christian Benevolence, seeking and finding everywhere occasions for its exercise, is exploded, and a system of decent selfishness is avowedly established in its stead; a system scarcely more to be abjured for its impiety, than to be abhorred for its cold insensibility to the opportunities of diffusing happiness. “Have we no families, or are they provided for? Are we wealthy, and bred to no profession? Are we young and lively, and in the gaiety and vigor of youth? Surely we may be allowed to take our pleasure. We neglect no duty, we live in no vice, we do nobody any harm, and have a right to amuse ourselves. We have nothing better to do; we wish we had; our time hangs heavy on our hands for want of it.”

I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry, “It is all barren.” No man has a right to be idle—Not to speak of that great work which we all have to accomplish, (and surely the whole attention of a short and precarious life is not more than an eternal interest may well require;) where is it that in such a world as this, health and leisure and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate? Shall Ambition and Avarice never sleep? Shall they never want objects on which to fasten? Shall they be so observant to discover, so acute to discern, so eager, so patient to pursue, and shall the Benevolence of Christians want employment?

Yet thus life rolls away with too many of us in a course of “shapeless idleness.” Its recreations constitute its chief business. Watering places—the sports of the field—cards! never-failing cards!—the assembly—the theatre—all contribute their aid—amusements are multiplied, and combined, and varied, “to fill up the void of a listless and languid life;” and by the judicious use of these different resources, there is often a kind of sober settled plan of domestic dissipation, in which with all imaginable decency year after year wears away in unprofitable vacancy. Even old age often finds us pacing in the same round of amusements, which our early youth had tracked out. Meanwhile, being conscious that we are not giving into any flagrant vice, perhaps that we are guilty of no irregularity, and, it may be, that we are not neglecting the offices of Religion, we persuade ourselves that we need not be uneasy. In the main we do not fall below the general standard of morals, of the class and station to which we belong; we may therefore allow ourselves to glide down the stream without apprehension of the consequences.

In the Votaries of sensual pleasures

Some, of a character often hardly to be distinguished from the class we have been just describing, take up with sensual pleasures. The chief happiness of their lives consists in one species or another of animal gratification; and these persons perhaps will be found to compose a pretty large description. It will be remembered that it belongs not to our purpose to speak of the grossly and scandalously profligate, who renounce all pretensions to the name of Christians; but of those who, maintaining a certain decency of character, and perhaps being tolerably observant of the forms of Religion, may yet be not improperly termed sober sensualists. These, though less impetuous and more measured, are not less stanch and steady than the professed votaries of licentious pleasure, in the pursuit of their favorite objects. “Mortify the flesh, with its affections and lusts,” is the Christian precept; a soft luxurious course of habitual indulgence, is the practice of the bulk of modern Christians: and that constant moderation, that wholesome discipline of restraint and self-denial, which are requisite to prevent the un-perceived encroachments of the inferior appetites, seem altogether disused, as the exploded austerities of monkish superstition.

Christianity calls her professors to a state of diligent watchfulness and active services. But the persons of whom we are now speaking, forgetting alike the duties they owe to themselves and to their fellow-creatures, often act as though their condition were meant to be a state of uniform indulgence, and vacant, unprofitable sloth. To multiply the comforts of affluence, to provide for the gratification of appetite, to be luxurious without diseases, and indolent without lassitude, seems the chief study of their lives. Nor can they be clearly exempted from this class, who, by a common error, substituting the means for the end, make the preservation of health and spirits, not as instruments of usefulness, but as sources of pleasure, their great business and continual care.

In the Votaries of pomp and parade

Others again seem more to attach themselves to what have been well, termed the “pomps and vanities of this world.” Magnificent houses, grand equipages, numerous retinues, splendid entertainments, high and fashionable connections, appear to constitute, in their estimation, the supreme happiness of life. This class too, if we mistake not, will be found numerous in our days; for it must be considered that it is the heart set on these things, which constitutes the essential character. It often happens, that persons, to whose rank and station these indulgences most properly belong, are most indifferent to them. The undue solicitude about them is more visible in persons of inferior conditions and smaller fortunes, in whom it is not rarely detected by the studious contrivances of a misapplied ingenuity to reconcile parade with economy, and to glitter at a cheap rate. But this temper of display and competition is a direct contrast to the lowly, modest, unassuming carriage of the true Christian: and, wherever there is an evident effort and struggle to excel in the particulars here in question, a manifest wish thus to rival superiors, to outstrip equals, to dazzle inferiors, it is manifest, the great end of life, and of all its possessions, is too little kept in view; and it is to be feared that the gratification of a vain ostentatious humor is the predominant disposition of the heart.

In the Votaries of wealth and ambition

As there is a sober sensuality, so is there also a sober avarice, and a sober ambition. The commercial and the professional world compose the chief sphere of their influence. They are often recognized and openly avowed as just master principles of action. But where this is not the case, they assume such plausible shapes, are called by such specious names, and urge such powerful pleas, that they are received with cordiality, and suffered to gather strength without suspicion. The seducing considerations of diligence in our callings, of success in our profession, of making handsome provisions for our children, beguile our better judgments. “We rise early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness.” In our few intervals of leisure, our exhausted spirits require refreshment; the serious concerns of our immortal souls are matters of speculation too grave and gloomy to answer the purpose; and we fly to something that may better deserve the name of relaxation, till we are again summoned to the daily labors of our employment.

Meanwhile, Religion seldom comes in our way, scarcely occurs to our thoughts; and when some secret misgivings begin to be felt on this head, company soon drowns, amusements dissipate, or habitual occupations insensibly displace or smother the rising apprehension. Professional and commercial men perhaps, especially when they happen to be persons of more than ordinary reflection, or of early habits of piety not quite worn away, easily quiet their consciences, by the plea, that necessary attention to their business leaves them no time to think on these serious subjects at present. “Men of leisure they confess should consider them; they themselves will do it hereafter when they retire; meanwhile they are usefully or at least innocently employed.” Thus business and pleasure fill up our time, and the “one thing needful” is forgotten. Respected by others, and secretly applauding ourselves (perhaps congratulating ourselves that we are not like such an one who is a spendthrift, or a mere man of pleasure, or such another who is a notorious miser) the true principle of action is no less wanting in us; and personal advancement, or the acquisition of wealth, is the object of our supreme desires and predominant pursuit.

It would be to presume too much on the reader’s patience to attempt a delineation of the characters of the politician, the metaphysician, the scholar, the poet, the virtuoso, the man of taste, in all their varieties. Of these, and many other classes which might be enumerated, suffice it to remark, and to appeal to every man’s own experience for the truth of the observation, that they in like manner are often completely engrossed by the objects of their several pursuits. In many of these cases indeed a generous spirit surrenders itself wholly up with the less reserve, and continues absorbed with the fuller confidence, from the consciousness of not being led to its object by self-interested motives. Here therefore these men are ardent, active, laborious, persevering, and they think, and speak, and act, as those, whose happiness wholly turns on the success or failure of their endeavors. When such is the undisturbed composure of mere triflers, it is less wonderful that the votaries of learning and of taste, when absorbed in their several pursuits, should be able to check still more easily any growing apprehension, silencing it by the suggestion, that they are more than harmlessly, that they are meritoriously employed. “Surely the thanks of mankind are justly paid to those more refined spirits who, superior alike to the seductions of ease, and the temptations of avarice, devote their time and talents to the less gainful labors of increasing the stores of learning or enlarging the boundaries of science; who are engaged in raising the character and condition of society, by improving the liberal arts, and adding to the innocent pleasures, or elegant accomplishments, of life.” Let not the writer be so far misunderstood, as to be supposed to insinuate that Religion is an enemy to the pursuits of taste, much less to those of learning and of science. Let these have their due place in the estimation of mankind: but this must not be the highest place. Let them know their just subordination. They deserve not to be the primary concern; for there is another, to which in importance they bear no more proportion, than our span of existence to eternity.

Conclusion from the preceding review—and general fault of all the above classes

Thus the center to which the chief desires of the heart should tend, losing its attractive force, our affections are permitted without control to take that course, whatever it may be, which best suits our natural temper, or to which they are impelled by our various situations and circumstances. Sometimes they manifestly appear to be almost entirely confined to a single track; but perhaps more frequently the lines in which they move are so intermingled and diversified, that it becomes not a little difficult, even when we look into ourselves, to ascertain the object by which they are chiefly attracted, or to estimate with precision the amount of their several forces, in the different directions in which they move. “Know thyself,” is in truth an injunction with which the careless and the indolent cannot comply. For this compliance, it is requisite, in obedience to the Scripture precept, “to keep the heart with all diligence.” Mankind are in general deplorably ignorant of their true state; and there are few perhaps who have any adequate conception of the real strength of the ties, by which they are bound to the several objects of their attachment, or who are aware how small a share of their regard is possessed by those concerns on which it ought to be supremely fixed.

But if it be indeed true, that, except the affections of the soul be supremely fixed on God, and unless our leading and governing desire and primary pursuit be to possess his favor and promote his glory, we are considered as having transferred our fealty to an usurper, and as being in fact revolters from our lawful sovereign; if this be indeed the Scripture doctrine, all the several attachments which have been lately enumerated, of the different classes of society, wherever they interest the affections, and possess the soul in any such measure of strength as deserves to be called predominance, are but so many varied expressions of disloyalty. God requires to set up his throne in the heart, and to reign in it, without a rival: if he be kept out of his right, it matters not by what competitor. The revolt may be more avowed or more secret; it may be the treason of deliberate preference, or of inconsiderate levity; we may be the subjects of a master more or less creditable; we may be employed in services more gross or more refined: but whether the slaves of avarice, of sensuality, of dissipation, of sloth, or the votaries of ambition, of taste, or of fashion; whether supremely governed by vanity and self-love, by the desire of literary fame or of military glory, we are alike estranged from the dominion of our rightful sovereign. Let not this seem a harsh position; it can appear so only from not adverting to what was shown to be the essential nature of true Religion. He who bowed the knee to the god of medicine or of eloquence, was no less an idolater, than the worshipper of the deified patrons of lewdness or of theft. In the several cases which have been specified, the external acts indeed are different, but in principle the disaffection is the same; and unless we return to our allegiance, we must expect the title, and prepare to meet the punishment, of rebels, on that tremendous day, when all false colors shall be done away, and (there being no longer any room for the evasions of worldly sophistry, or the smooth plausibilities of worldly language) “that which is often highly esteemed amongst men, shall appear to have been abomination in the sight of God.”

Effects of the fundamental error above-mentioned on our judgments and practice in the case of others

These fundamental truths seem vanished from the mind, and it follows of course that everything is viewed less and less through a religious medium. To speak no longer of instances wherein we ourselves are concerned, and wherein the unconquerable power of indulged appetite may be supposed to beguile our better judgment, or force us on in defiance of it; not to insist on the motives by which the conduct of men is determined, often avowedly in what are to themselves the most important incidents of life; what are the judgments which they form in the case of others? Idleness, profusion, thoughtlessness and dissipation, the misapplication of time or of talents, the trifling away of life in frivolous occupations, or unprofitable studies; all these things we may regret in those around us, in the view of their temporal effects; but they are not considered in a religious connection, or lamented as endangering everlasting happiness. Excessive vanity and inordinate ambition are spoken of as weaknesses rather than as sins; even covetousness itself, though a hateful passion, yet, if not extreme, scarcely presents the face of Irreligion. Is some friend, or even some common acquaintance, sick, or has some accident befallen him? How solicitously do we inquire after him; how tenderly do we visit him; how much perhaps do we regret that he has not better advice; how apt are we to prescribe for him; and how should we reproach ourselves if we were to neglect any means in our power of contributing to his recovery! But “the mind diseased” is neglected and forgotten—“that is not our affair; we hope (we do not perhaps really believe) that here it is well with him.” The truth is, we have no solicitude about his spiritual interest. Here he is treated like the unfortunate traveler in the Gospel; we look upon him; we see but too well his sad condition, but (Priest and Levite alike) we pass by on the other side, and leave him to the officious tenderness of some poor despised Samaritan.

Nay, take the case of our very children, when our hearts being most interested to promote their happiness, we must be supposed most desirous of determining on right principles, and where therefore the real standard of our deliberate judgments may be indisputably ascertained: in their education and marriage, in the choice of their professions, in our comparative consideration and judgment of the different parts of their several characters, how little do we reflect that they are immortal beings! Health, learning, credit, the amiable and agreeable qualities, above all, fortune and success in life, are taken, and not unjustly taken into the account; but how small a share in forming our opinions is allowed to the probable effect which may be produced on their eternal interests! Indeed the subjects of our mutual inquiries, and congratulations, and condolences, prove but too plainly what considerations are in these cases uppermost in our thoughts.

Further effects—Religion degraded into a set of Statutes

Such are the fatal and widely spreading effects, which but too naturally follow from the admission of the grand fundamental error before mentioned, that of not considering Religion as a principle of universal application and command. Robbed of its best energies, Religion now takes the form of a cold compilation of restraints and prohibitions. It is looked upon simply as a set of penal statutes; these, though wise and reasonable, are however, so far as they extend, abridgments of our natural liberty, and nothing which comes to us in this shape is extremely acceptable:

Atqui nolint occidere quemquam, posse volunt.

Considering moreover, that the matter of them is not in general very palatable, and that the partiality of every man where his own cause is in question, will be likely to make him construe them liberally in his own favor, we might beforehand have formed a tolerable judgment of the manner in which they are actually treated. Sometimes we attend to the words rather than to the spirit of Scripture injunctions, overlooking the principle they involve, which a better acquaintance with the word of God would have clearly taught us to infer from them. At others, “the spirit of an injunction is all;” and this we contrive to collect so dexterously, as thereby to relax or annul the strictness of the terms. “Whatever is not expressly forbidden, cannot be very criminal; whatever is not positively enjoined, cannot be indispensably necessary—If we do not offend against the laws, what more can be expected from us?—The persons to whom the strict precepts of the Gospel were given, were in very different circumstances from those in which we are placed. The injunctions were drawn rather tighter than is quite necessary, in order to allow for a little relaxation in practice. The expressions of the Sacred Writers are figurative; the Eastern style is confessedly hyperbolical.”

By these and other such dishonest shifts (by which however we seldom deceive ourselves, except it be in thinking that we deceive others) the pure but strong morality of the word of God is explained away; and its too rigid canons are softened down, with as much dexterity as is exhibited by those who practice a logic of the same complexion, in order to escape from the obligations of human statutes. Like Swift’s unfortunate Brothers,* we are sometimes put to difficulties, but our ingenuity is little inferior to theirs. If totidem verbis† will not serve our turn, try totidem syllabis; if totidem syllabis fail, try totidem literis: then there is in our case, as well as in theirs, “an allegorical sense,” to be adverted to; and if every other resource fail us, we come at last to the same conclusion as the Brothers adopted, that after all, those rigorous clauses require some allowance, and a favorable interpretation, and ought to be understood “cum grano salis.”

But when the law both in its spirit and its letter is obstinate and incorrigible, what we cannot bend to our purpose we must break—“Our sins, we hope, are of the smaller order; a little harmless gallantry, a little innocent jollity, a few foolish expletives which we use from the mere force of habit, meaning nothing by them; a little warmth of coloring and license of expression; a few freedoms of speech in the gaiety of our hearts, which, though not perhaps strictly correct, none but the overrigid would think of treating any otherwise than as venial infirmities, and in which very grave and religious men will often take their share, when they may throw off their state, and relax without impropriety. We serve an all-merciful Being, who knows the frailty of our nature, the number and strength of our temptations, and will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss. Even the less lenient judicatures of human institution concede somewhat to the weakness of man. It is an established maxim—‘De minimis non curat lex.’ We hope we are not worse than the generality. All men are imperfect, We own we have our infirmities; we confess it is so; we wish we were better, and trust as we grow older we shall become so; we are ready to acknowledge that we must be indebted for our admission into a future state of happiness, not to our own merit, but to the clemency of God, and the mercy of our Redeemer.”

But let not this language be mistaken for that of true Christian humiliation, of which it is the very essence to feel the burden of sin, and to long to be released from it: nor let two things be confounded, than which none can be more fundamentally different, the allowed want of universality in our determination and endeavor to obey the will of God, and that defective accomplishment of our purposes, which even the best of men will too often find reason to deplore. In the persons of whom we have been now speaking, the unconcern with which they can amuse themselves upon the borders of sin, and the easy familiarity with which they can actually dally with it in its less offensive shapes, show plainly that, distinctly from its consequences, it is by no means the object of their aversion; that there is no love of holiness as such; no endeavor to acquire it, no care to prepare the soul for the reception of this divine principle, and to expel or keep under whatever might be likely to obstruct its entrance, or dispute its sovereignty.

Another effect—Religion placed in external actions instead of habits of mind

It is indeed a most lamentable consequence of the practice of regarding Religion as a compilation of statutes, and not as an internal principle, that it soon comes to be considered as being conversant about external actions rather than about habits of mind. This sentiment sometimes has even the hardiness to insinuate and maintain itself under the guise of extraordinary concern for practical religion; but it soon discovers the falsehood of this pretension, and betrays its real nature. The expedient indeed of attaining to superiority in practice, by not wasting any of the attention on the internal principles from which alone practice can flow, is about as reasonable, and will answer about as well, as the economy of the architect, who should account it mere prodigality to expend any of his materials in laying foundations, from an idea that they might be more usefully applied to the rising of the superstructure. We know what would be the fate of such an edifice.

It is indeed true, and a truth never to be forgotten, that all pretensions to internal principles of holiness are vain when they are contradicted by the conduct; but it is no less true, that the only effectual way of improving the latter, is by a vigilant attention to the former. It was therefore our blessed Savior’s injunction, “Make the tree good,” as the necessary means of obtaining good fruit; and the Holy Scriptures abound in admonitions, to make it our chief business to cultivate our hearts with all diligence, to examine into their state with impartiality, and watch over them with continual care. Indeed it is the Heart which constitutes the man; and external actions derive their whole character and meaning from the motives and dispositions of which they are the indications. Human judicatures, it is true, are chiefly conversant about the former, but this is only because to our limited perceptions the latter can seldom be any otherwise clearly ascertained. The real object of inquiry to human judicatures is the internal disposition; it is to this that they adapt the nature, and proportion the degree, of their punishments.

Yet though this be a truth so obvious, so established, that to have insisted on it may seem almost needless; it is a truth of which we are apt to lose sight in the review of our religious Character, and with which the habit, of considering Religion as consisting rather in external actions, than internal principles, is at direct and open war. This mode of judging may well be termed habitual: for though by some persons it is advisedly adopted, and openly avowed, yet in many cases, for want of due watchfulness, it has stolen insensibly upon the mind; it exists unsuspected, and is practiced, like other habits, without consciousness or observation.

Evils resulting from the last-mentioned Error

In what degree soever this pernicious principle prevails, in the same degree is the mischief it produces. The vicious affections, like noxious weeds, sprout up and increase of themselves but too naturally; while the graces of the Christian temper, (exotics in the soil of the human heart,) like the more tender productions of the vegetable world, require, not only the light and breath of Heaven, to quicken them, but constant superintendance and assiduous care on our part also, in order to their being preserved in health and vigor.

Christian dispositions not cultivated

But so far from these graces being earnestly sought for, or watchfully reared, with unremitted prayers to God for his blessing (without which all our labors must be ineffectual;) such is the result of the principle we are here condemning, that no endeavors are used for their attainment, or they are suffered to droop and die, almost without an effort to preserve them. The culture of the mind is less and less attended to, and at length perhaps is almost wholly neglected. Thus way is made for the unobstructed growth of other dispositions, which naturally overspread and quietly possess the mind: nor is their contrariety to the Christian spirit discerned; perhaps even their presence is scarcely acknowledged, except when their existence and their nature are manifested in the conduct, by marks too plain to be overlooked or mistaken.

This is a point which we will now endeavor to ascertain by an induction of particular instances.

Most men forget that Christian’s life is a life of Faith—and the true Christian’s Character in this respect

First then, it is the comprehensive compendium of the Character of true Christians, that “they are walking by faith, and not by sight.” By this description is meant, not merely that they so firmly believe in the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, as to be influenced by that persuasion to adhere in the main to the path of duty, though tempted to forsake it by present interest, and present gratification; but farther, that the great truths revealed in Scripture, concerning the unseen world, are the thoughts for the most part uppermost in their minds, and about which habitually their hearts are most interested. This state of mind contributes, if the expression may be allowed, to rectify the illusions of vision, to bring forward into nearer view those eternal things, which from their remoteness are apt to be either wholly overlooked, or to appear but faintly in the utmost bounds of the horizon; and to remove backward, and reduce to their true comparative dimensions, the objects of the present life, which are apt to fill the human eye, assuming a false magnitude from their vicinity. The true Christian knows from experience, however, that the former are apt to fade from the sight, and the latter again to swell on it. He makes it therefore his continual care to preserve those just and enlightened views, which through Divine mercy he has obtained. Not that he will retire from that station in the world which Providence seems to have appointed him to fill: he will be active in the business of life, and enjoy its comforts with moderation and thankfulness; but he will not be “totus in illis,” he will not give up his whole soul to them, they will be habitually subordinate in his estimation to objects of more importance. This awful truth has sunk deep into his mind, that “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal;” and in the tumult and bustle of life, he is sobered by the still small voice which whispers to him, that “the fashion of this world passes away.” This circumstance alone must, it is obvious, constitute a vast difference between the habitual temper of his mind, and that of the generality of nominal Christians, who are almost entirely taken up with the concerns of the present world. They know indeed that they are mortal, but they do not feel it. The truth rests in their understandings, and cannot gain admission into their hearts. This speculative persuasion is altogether different from that strong practical impression of the infinite importance of eternal things, which, attended with a proportionate sense of the shortness and uncertainty of all below, while it prompts to activity from a conviction that “the night cometh when no man can work,” produces a certain firmness of texture, which hardens us against the buffetings of fortune, and prevents our being very deeply penetrated by the cares and interests, the good or evil of this transitory state. Thus this just impression of the relative value of temporal and eternal things, maintains in the soul a dignified composure through all the vicissitudes of life. It quickens our diligence, yet moderates our ardor; urges us to just pursuits, yet checks any undue solicitude about the success of them, and thereby enables us, in the language of Scripture, “to use this world as not abusing it,” rendering us at once beneficial to others and comfortable to ourselves.

But this is not all—besides the distinction between the nominal and the real Christian, which results from the impressions produced on them respectively by the eternal duration of heavenly things, there is another grounded on their nature, no less marked, nor less important. They are stated in Scripture, not only as entitling themselves to the notice of the true Christian from considerations of interest, but as approving themselves to his judgment from a conviction of their excellence, and yet farther, as recommending themselves to his feelings by their being suited to the renewed dispositions of his heart. Indeed were the case otherwise, did not their qualities correspond with his inclinations; however he might endure them on principles of duty, and be coldly conscious of their superior worth, he could not lend himself to them with cordial complacency, much less to look to them as the surest source of pleasure. But this is the light in which they are habitually regarded by the true Christian. He walks in the ways of Religion, not by constraint, but willingly; they are to him not only safe, but comfortable; “ways of pleasantness as well as of peace.” Not but that here also he is from experience aware of the necessity of constant support and continual watchfulness; without these, his old estimate of things is, apt to return on him, and the former objects of his affections to resume their influence. With earnest prayers, therefore, for the Divine Help, with jealous circumspection, and resolute self-denial, he guards against whatever might be likely again to darken his enlightened judgment, or to vitiate his reformed taste; thus making it his unwearied endeavor to grow in the knowledge and love of heavenly things, and to obtain a warmer admiration, and a more cordial relish of their excellence.

That this is a just representation of the habitual judgment, and of the leading disposition of true Christians, will be abundantly evident, if, endeavoring to form ourselves after our proper model, we consult the sacred Scripture. But in vain are Christians there represented as having set their affections on things above, as cordially rejoicing in the service, and delighting in the worship of God. Pleasure and Religion are contradictory terms with the bulk of nominal Christians. They may look back indeed on their religious offices with something of a secret satisfaction, and even feel it during the performance of them, from the idea of being engaged in the discharge of a duty; but this is altogether different from the pleasure which attends an employment in itself acceptable and grateful to us. We are not condemning a deficiency merely in the warmth and vehemence of religious affections: we are not asking, whether the service and worship of God are delightful and pleasant to such persons; but, Do they diffuse over the soul anything of that calm complacency, that mild and grateful composure, which bespeaks a mind in good humor with itself and all around it, and engaged in a service suited to its taste, and congenial with its feelings?

Sunday: and hints for its employment

Let us appeal to that Day, which is especially devoted to the offices of Religion: Do they joyfully avail themselves of this blessed opportunity of withdrawing from the business and cares of life; when, without being disquieted by any doubt whether they are neglecting the duties of their proper callings, they may be allowed to detach their minds from earthly things, that by a fuller knowledge of heavenly objects, and a more habitual acquaintance with them, their hope may grow more “full of immortality?” Is the day cheerfully devoted to those holy exercises for which it was appointed? Do they indeed “come into the courts of God with gladness?” And how are they employed when not engaged in the public services of the day? Are they busied in studying the word of God, in meditating on his perfections, in tracing his providential dispensations, in admiring his works, in revolving his mercies (above all, the transcendent mercies of redeeming love) in singing his praises, “and speaking good of his name?” Do their secret retirements witness the earnestness of their prayers and the warmth of their thanksgivings, their diligence and impartiality in the necessary work of self-examination, their mindfulness of the benevolent duty of intercession? Is the kind purpose of the institution of a Sabbath answered by them, in its being made to their servants and dependents a season of rest and comfort? Does the instruction of their families, or of the more poor and ignorant of their neighbors, possess its due share of their time? If blessed with talents or with affluence, are they sedulously employing a part of this interval of leisure in relieving the indigent, and visiting the sick, and comforting the sorrowful, in forming plans for the good of their fellow-creatures, in considering how they may promote both the temporal and spiritual benefit of their friends and acquaintance: or, if theirs be a larger sphere, in devising measures whereby, through the Divine blessing, they may become the honored instruments of the more extended diffusion of religious truth? In the hours of domestic or social intercourse, does their conversation manifest the subject of which their hearts are full? Do their language and demeanor show them to be more than commonly gentle, and kind, and friendly, free from rough and irritating passions?

Surely an entire day should not seem long amidst these various employments. It might well be deemed a privilege thus to spend it, in the more immediate presence of f our Heavenly Father, in the exercises of humble admiration and grateful homage; of the benevolent, and domestic, and social feelings, and of all the best affections of our nature, prompted by their true motives, conversant about their proper objects, and directed to their noblest end; all sorrows mitigated, all cares suspended, all fears repressed, every angry emotion softened, every envious or revengeful or malignant passion expelled; and the bosom thus quieted, purified, enlarged, ennobled, partaking almost of a measure of the Heavenly happiness, and become for a while the seat of love, and joy, and confidence, and harmony.

The nature, and uses, and proper employments of a Christian Sabbath, have been pointed out more particularly, not only because the day will be found, when thus employed, eminently conducive, through the Divine blessing, to the maintenance of the religious principle in activity and vigor; but also because we all must have had occasion often to remark, that many persons, of the graver and more decent sort, seem not seldom to be nearly destitute of religious resources. The Sunday is with them, to say the best of it, a heavy day; and that larger part of it, which is not claimed by the public offices of the Church, dully drawls on in comfortless vacuity, or without improvement is trifled away in vain and unprofitable discourse. Not to speak of those who by their more daring profanation of this sacred season, openly violate the laws and insult the Religion of their country, how little do many seem to enter into the spirit of the institution, who are not wholly inattentive, to its exterior decorums! How glad are they to qualify the rigor of their religious labors! How hardly do they plead against being compelled to devote the whole of the day to Religion, claiming to themselves no small merit for giving up to it a part, and purchasing therefore, as they hope, a right to spend the remainder more agreeably! How dexterously do they avail themselves of any plausible plea for introducing some week-day employment into the Sunday, whilst they have not the same propensity to introduce any of the Sunday’s peculiar employment into the rest of the week! How often do they find excuses for taking journeys, writing letters, balancing accounts; or in short doing something, which by a little management might probably have been anticipated, or which without any material inconvenience, might be postponed! Even business itself is recreation, compared with Religion; and from the drudgery of this day of Sacred Rest they fly for relief to their ordinary occupations.

Others again who would consider business as a profanation, and who still hold out against the encroachments of the card-table, get over much of the day, and gladly seek for an innocent resource, in the social circle, or in family visits, where it is not even pretended that the conversation turns on such topics as might render it in any way conducive to religious instruction or improvement. Their families meanwhile are neglected, their servants robbed of Christian privileges, and their example quoted by others, who cannot see that they are themselves less religiously employed, while playing an innocent game at cards, or relaxing in the concert room.

But all these several artifices, whatever they may be, to unhallow the Sunday and to change its character (it might be almost said “to mitigate its horrors,”) prove but too plainly, that Religion, however we may be glad to take refuge in it, when driven to it by the loss of every other comfort, and to retain as it were a reversionary interest in an asylum, which may receive us when we are forced from the transitory enjoyments of our present state, wears to us in itself a gloomy and forbidden aspect, and not a face of consolation and joy; that the worship of God is with us a constrained and not a willing service, which we are glad therefore to abridge, though we dare not omit it.

Some indeed there are who with concern and grief will confess this to be their uncomfortable and melancholy state; who humbly pray, and diligently endeavor, for an imagination less distracted at devotional seasons, for a heart more capable of relishing the excellence of divine things: and who carefully guard against whatever has a tendency to chain down their affections to earthly enjoyments. Let not such be discouraged. It is not they whom we are condemning, but such as knowing and even acknowledging this to be their case, yet proceed in a way directly contrary: who, scarcely seeming to suspect that anything is wrong with them, voluntarily acquiesce in a state of mind which is directly contrary to the positive commands of God, which forms a perfect contrast to the representations given us in Scripture of the Christian character, and accords but too faithfully in one leading feature with the character of those, who are stated to be the objects of Divine displeasure in this life, and of Divine punishment in the next.

Other internal defects noticed

It is not, however, only in these essential constituents of a devotional frame that the bulk of nominal Christians are defective. This they freely declare (secretly feeling perhaps some complacency from the frankness of the avowal) to be a higher strain of piety than that to which they aspire. Their forgetfulness also of some of the leading dispositions of Christianity, is undeniably apparent in their allowed want of the spirit of kindness, and meekness, and gentleness, and patience, and long-suffering; and, above all, of that which is the stock on which alone these dispositions can grow and flourish, that humility and lowliness of mind, in which perhaps more than in any other quality may be said to consist the true essence and vital principle of the Christian temper. These dispositions are not only neglected, but even disavowed and exploded, and their opposites, if not rising to any great height, are acknowledged and applauded. A just pride, a proper and becoming pride, are terms which we daily hear from Christian lips. To possess a high spirit, to behave with a proper spirit when used ill,—by which is meant a quick feeling of injuries, and a promptness in resenting them,—entitles to commendation; and a meek-spirited disposition, the highest Scripture eulogium, expresses ideas of disapprobation and contempt. Vanity and vain glory are suffered without interruption to retain their natural possession of the heart. But here a topic opens upon us of such importance, and on which so many mistakes are to be found both in the writings of respectable authors, and in the commonly prevailing opinions of the world, that it may be allowed us to discuss it more at large, and for this purpose to treat of it in a separate section.

sect. iii

On the Desire of human Estimation and Applause—The generally prevailing Opinions contrasted with those of the true Christian

Universality of the Passions

THE desire of human estimation, and distinction, and honor, of the admiration and applause of our fellow-creatures, if we take it in its full comprehension, and in all its various modifications, from the thirst of glory to the dread of shame, is the passion of which the empire is by far the most general, and perhaps the authority the most commanding. Though its power be most conspicuous and least controllable in the higher classes of society, it seems, like some resistless conqueror, to spare neither age nor sex, nor condition: and taking ten thousand shapes, insinuating itself under the most specious pretexts, and sheltering itself when necessary under the most artful disguises, it winds its way in secret, when it dares not openly avow itself, and mixes in all we think, and speak, and do. It is in some instances the determined and declared pursuit, and confessedly the main practical principle; but where this is not the case, it is not seldom the grand spring of action, and in the Beauty and the Author, no less than in the Soldier, it is often the master passion of the soul.

The common notions asserted

This is the principle which parents recognize with joy in their infant offspring, which is diligently instilled and nurtured in advancing years, which, under the names of honorable ambition and of laudable emulation, it is the professed aim of schools and colleges to excite and cherish. The writer is well aware that it will be thought he is pushing his opinions much too far, when he ventures to assail this great principle of human action: “a principle,” its advocates might perhaps exclaim, “the extinction of which, if you could succeed in your rash attempt, would be like the annihilation in the material world of the principle of motion; without it, all were torpid, and cold, and comfortless. We grant,” they might go on to observe, “that we never ought to deviate from the paths of duty in order to procure the applause or to avoid the reproaches of men, and we allow that this is a rule too little attended to in practice. We grant that the love of praise is in some instances a ridiculous, and in others a mischievous passion; that to it we owe the breed of coquettes and coxcombs, and, a more serious evil, the noxious race of heroes and conquerors. We too are ready, when it appears in the shape of vanity, to smile at it as a foible, or in that of false glory, to condemn it as a crime. But all these are only its perversions; and on account of them to contend against its true forms, and its legitimate exercise, were to give into the very error which you formerly yourself condemned, of arguing against the use of a salutary principle altogether on account of its being liable to occasional abuse. When turned into the right direction; and applied to its true purposes, it prompts to every dignified and generous enterprise. It is erudition in the portico, skill in the lycæum, eloquence in the senate, victory in the field. It forces indolence into activity, and extorts from vice itself the deeds of generosity and virtue. When once the soul is warmed by its generous ardor, no difficulties deter, no dangers terrify, no labors tire. It is this which, giving by its stamp to what is virtuous and honorable its just superiority over the gifts of birth and fortune, rescues the rich from a base subjection to the pleasures of sense, and makes them prefer a course of toil and hardship to a life of indulgence and ease. It prevents the man of rank from acquiescing in his hereditary greatness, and spurs him forward in pursuit of personal distinction, and of a nobility which he may justly term his own. It moderates and qualifies the over-great inequalities of human conditions; and reaching to those who are above the sphere of laws, and extending to cases which fall not within their province, it limits and circumscribes the power of the tyrant on his throne, and gives gentleness to war, and to pride, humility”.

“Nor is its influence confined to public life, nor is it known only in the great and the splendid. To it, is to be ascribed a large portion of that courtesy and disposition to please, which naturally producing a mutual appearance of good will and a reciprocation of good offices, constitute much of the comfort of private life, and give their choicest sweets to social and domestic intercourse. Nay, from the force of habit it follows us even into solitude, and in our most secret retirements we often act as if our conduct were subject to human observation, and we derive no small complacency from the imaginary applauses of an ideal spectator.”

So far of the effects of the love of praise and distinction; and if, after enumerating some of these, you should proceed to investigate its nature, “We admit,” it might be added, “that a hasty and misjudging world often misapplies commendations and censures: and whilst we therefore confess, that the praises of the discerning few are alone truly valuable, we acknowledge that it were better if mankind were always to act from the sense of right and the love of virtue, without reference to the opinions of their fellow-creatures. We even allow, that, independently of consequences, this were perhaps in itself a higher strain of virtue; but it is a degree of purity which it would be vain to expect from the bulk of mankind. When the intrinsic excellence of this principle, however, is called in question, let it be remembered, that in its higher degrees it was styled, by one who meant rather to detract from its merits than to aggravate them, ‘the infirmity of noble minds;’ and surely, that in such a soil it most naturally springs up, and flourishes, is no small proof of its exalted origin and generous nature.”

“But were these more dubious, and were it no more than a splendid error; yet considering that it works so often in the right direction, it were enough to urge in its behalf, that it is a principle of real action, and approved energy. That, as much as practice is better than theory, and solid realities than empty speculation, so much is it to be preferred for general use before those higher principles of morals which, however just and excellent in themselves, you would in vain attempt to bring home to the ‘business and bosoms of mankind’ at large. Reject not, then, a principle thus universal in its influence, thus valuable in its effects; a principle, which, by whatever name you may please to call it, acts by motives and considerations suited to our condition; and which, putting it at the very lowest, must be confessed, in our present infirm state, to be an habitual aid and an ever present support to the feebleness of virtue! In a selfish world, it produces the effects of disinterestedness, and when public spirit is extinct, it supplies the want of patriotism. Let us therefore with gratitude avail ourselves of its help, and not relinquish the good which it freely offers, from we know not what vain dreams of impracticable purity and unattainable perfection.”

The above Vindication questioned. Opinions of Pagan Moralists on this head

All this and much more might be urged by the advocates of this favorite principle. It would be, however, no difficult task to show that it by no means merits this high eulogium. To say nothing of that larger part of the argument of our opponents, which betrays, and even proceeds upon, that mischievous notion of the innocence of error, against which we have already entered our formal protest, the principle in question is manifestly of a most inconstant and variable nature; as inconstant and variable as the innumerably diversified modes of fashions, habits and opinions, in different periods and societies. What it tolerates in one age, it forbids in another; what in one country it prescribes and applauds, in another it condemns and stigmatizes! Obviously and openly, it often takes vice into its patronage, and sets itself in direct opposition to virtue. It is calculated to produce rather the appearance than the reality of excellence; and at best not to check the love but only the commission of vice. Much of this indeed was seen and acknowledged by the philosophers, and even by the poets, of the Pagan world. They declaimed against it as a mutable and inconsistent principle; they lamented the fatal effects which, under the name of false glory, it had produced on the peace and happiness of mankind. They condemned the pursuit of it when it led its followers out of the path of virtue, and taught that the praise of the wise and of the good only was to be desired.

And Scripture lessons stated and illustrated

But it was reserved for the page of Scripture to point out to us distinctly, wherein it is apt to be essentially defective and vicious, and to discover to us more fully its encroaching nature and dangerous tendencies; teaching us at the same time, how, being purified from its corrupt qualities, and reduced under just subordination, it may be brought into legitimate exercise, and be directed to its true end.

In the sacred volume we are throughout reminded, that we are originally the creatures of God’s formation, and continual dependents on his bounty. There too we learn, the painful lesson of man’s degradation and unworthiness. We learn, that humiliation and contrition are the dispositions of mind best suited to our fallen condition, and most acceptable in the sight of our Creator. We learn, that to the repression and extinction of that spirit of arrogance and self-importance which are so natural to the heart of man, it should be our habitual care to cherish and cultivate these lowly tempers; studiously maintaining a continual sense, that, not only for all the natural advantages over others which we may possess, but for all our moral superiority also, we are altogether indebted to the unmerited goodness of God. It might perhaps be said to be the great end and purpose of all revelation, and especially to be the design of the Gospel, to reclaim us from our natural pride and selfishness, and their fatal consequences; to bring us to a just sense of our weakness and depravity; and to dispose us, with unfeigned humiliation, to abase ourselves, and give glory to God. “No flesh may glory in his presence; he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”—“The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.”*

These solemn admonitions are too generally disregarded, and their intimate connection with the subject we are now considering appears to have been often entirely overlooked even by Christian moralists. These authors, without reference to the main spring, and internal principle of conduct, are apt to speak of the love of human applause, as being meritorious or culpable, as being the desire of true or of false glory, accordingly as the external actions it produces, and the pursuits to which it prompts, are beneficial or mischievous to mankind. But it is undeniably manifest, that in the judgment of the word of God, the love of worldly admiration and applause is in its nature essentially and radically corrupt; so far as it partakes of a disposition to exalt and aggrandize ourselves, to pride ourselves on our natural or acquired endowments, or to assume to ourselves the merit and credit of our good qualities, instead of ascribing all the honor and glory where only they are due. Its guilt therefore in these cases is not to be measured by its effects on the happiness of mankind; nor is it to be denominated true or false glory accordingly as the ends to which it is directed are just or unjust, beneficial or mischievous, objects of pursuit; but it is false, because it exalts that which ought to be abased, and criminal, because it encroaches on the prerogative of God.

The Scriptures further instruct us, not merely that mankind are liable to error, and therefore that the world’s commendations may be sometimes mistaken; but that their judgment being darkened, and their hearts depraved, its applauses and contempt will for the most part be systematically misplaced; that though the beneficent and disinterested spirit of Christianity, and her obvious tendency to promote domestic comfort and general happiness, cannot but extort applause; yet that her aspiring after more than ordinary excellence, by exciting secret misgivings in others, or a painful sense of inferiority, not unmixed with envy, cannot fail often to disgust and offend. The word of God teaches us, that though such of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, as are coincident with worldly interests and pursuits, and with worldly principles and systems, may be professed without offence; yet, that what is opposite to these, or even different from them, will be deemed needlessly precise and strict, the indulgence of a morose and gloomy humor, the symptoms of a contracted and superstitious spirit, the marks of a mean, enslaved, or distorted understanding. That for these and other reasons, the follower of Christ must not only make up his mind to the occasional relinquishment of worldly favor, but that it should even afford him matter of holy jealousy and suspicion of himself, when it is very lavishly and very generally bestowed.

But though the standard of worldly estimation, differed less from that of the Gospel, yet since our affections ought to be set on heavenly things, and conversant about heavenly objects, and since in particular the love and favor of God ought to be the matter of our supreme and habitual desire, to which every other should be rendered subordinate; it follows, that the love of human applause must be manifestly injurious, so far as it tends to draw down our regards to earthly concerns, and to circumscribe our desires within the narrow limits of this world; and, that it is impure, so far as it is tinctured with a disposition to estimate too highly, and love too well, the good opinion and commendations of man.

But though, by these and other instructions and considerations, the Holy Scripture warns us against the inordinate desire or earnest pursuit of worldly estimation and honor; though it so greatly reduces their value, and prepares us for losing them without surprise, and for relinquishing them with little reluctance; yet it teaches us that Christians are not only not called upon absolutely and voluntarily to renounce or forego them, but that, when without our having solicitously sought them, they are bestowed on us for actions intrinsically good, we are to accept them as being intended by Providence to be sometimes, even in this disorderly state of things, a present solace, and a reward to virtue. Nay more, we are instructed, that in our general deportment, that in little particulars of conduct otherwise indifferent, that in the circumstances and manner of performing actions in themselves of a determined character and indispensable obligation, (guarding however against the smallest degree of artifice or deceit) that by watching for opportunities of doing little kindnesses, that by avoiding singularities, and even humoring prejudices, where it may be done without the slightest infringement of truth or duty, we ought to have a due respect and regard to the approbation and favor of men. These however we should not value chiefly as they may administer to our own gratification, but rather as furnishing means and instruments of influence, which we may turn to good account, by making them subservient to the improvement and happiness of our fellow-creatures, and thus conducive to the glory of God. The remark is almost superfluous, that on occasions like these we must even watch our hearts with the most jealous care, lest pride and self-love insensibly infuse themselves, and corrupt the purity of principles so liable to contract a taint.

Credit and reputation, in the judgment of the true Christian, stand on ground not very different from riches; which he is not to prize highly, or to desire and pursue with solicitude; but which, when they are allotted to him by the hand of Providence, he is to accept with thankfulness, and use with moderation; relinquishing them, when it becomes necessary, without a murmur; guarding most circumspectly, so long as they remain with him, against that sensual and selfish temper, and no less against that pride and wantonness of heart, which they are too apt to produce and cherish; thus considering them as in themselves acceptable, but, from the infirmity of his nature, highly dangerous possessions; and valuing them chiefly, not as instruments of luxury or splendor, but as affording the means of honoring his heavenly Benefactor, and lessening the miseries of mankind.

Christianity, be it remembered, proposes not to extinguish our natural desires, but to bring them under just control, and direct them to their true objects. In the case both of riches and of honor, she maintains the consistency of her character. While she commands us not to set our hearts on earthly treasures, she reminds us that “we have in Heaven a better and more enduring substance” than this world can bestow; and while she represses our solicitude respecting earthly credit, and moderates our attachment to it, she holds forth to us, and bids us habitually to aspire after, the splendors of that better state, where is true glory, and honor, and immortality; thus exciting in us a just ambition, suited to our high origin, and worthy of our large capacities, which the little, misplaced, and perishable distinctions of this life would in vain attempt to satisfy.

Generally prevailing Notions opposed to those of Scripture

It would be mere waste of time to enter into any labored argument to prove at large, that the light in which worldly credit and estimation are regarded by the bulk of professed Christians, is extremely different from that in which they are placed by the page of Scripture. The inordinate love of worldly glory indeed, implies a passion, which from the nature of things cannot be called into exercise in the generality of mankind, because, being conversant about great objects, it can but rarely find that field which is requisite for its exertions. But we everywhere discover the same principle reduced to the dimensions of common life, and modified and directed according to every one’s sphere of action. We may discover it in a supreme love of distinction, and admiration, and praise; in the universal acceptableness of flattery; and, above all, in the excessive valuation of our worldly character, in that watchfulness with which it is guarded, in that jealousy when it is questioned, in that solicitude when it is in danger, in that hot resentment when it is attacked, in that bitterness of suffering when it is impaired or lost. All these emotions, as they are too manifest to be disputed, so are they too reputable to be denied. Dishonor, disgrace, and shame, present images of horror too dreadful to be faced; they are evils which it is thought the mark of a generous spirit to consider as excluding every idea of comfort and enjoyment, and to feel as too heavy to be borne.

The consequences of all this are natural and obvious. Though it be not openly avowed, that we are to follow after worldly estimation, or to escape from worldly disrepute, when they can only be pursued or avoided by declining from the path of duty; nay, though the contrary be recognized as being the just opinion; yet all the effect of this speculative concession is soon done away in fact. Estimating worldly credit as of the highest intrinsic excellence, and worldly shame as the greatest of all possible evils, we sometimes shape and turn the path of duty itself from its true direction, so as it may favor our acquisition of the one, and avoidance of the other; or when this cannot be done, we boldly and openly turn aside from it, declaring the temptation is too strong to be resisted.

Various proofs of the truth of our representations of the opinions on this point of the bulk of nominal Christians. Proof from the House of Commons

It were easy to adduce numerous proofs of the truth of these assertions. It is proved, indeed, by that general tendency in Religion to conceal herself from the view, (for we might hope that in these cases she often is by no means altogether extinct) by her being apt to vanish from our conversations, and even to give place to a pretended licentiousness of sentiments and conduct, and a false show of infidelity. It is proved, by that complying acquiescence and participation in the habits and manners of this dissipated age, which has almost confounded every external distinction between the Christian and the Infidel, and has made it so rare to find any one who dares incur the charge of Christian singularity, or who can say with the Apostle, that “he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” It is proved (how can this proof be omitted by one to whose lot it has so often fallen to witness and lament, sometimes he fears to afford an instance of it?) by that quick resentment, those bitter contentions, those angry retorts, those malicious triumphs, that impatience of inferiority, that wakeful sense of past defeats, and promptness to revenge them, which too often change the character of a Christian deliberative Assembly, into that of a Stage for prize-fighters; violating at once the proprieties of public conduct, and the rules of social decorum, and renouncing and chasing away all the charities of the religion of Jesus!

From Dueling

But from all lesser proofs, our attention is drawn to one of a still larger size, and more determined character. Surely the reader will here anticipate our mention of the practice of Dueling: a practice which, to the disgrace of a Christian society, has long been suffered to exist with little restraint or opposition.

Dueling wherein its Guilt chiefly consists

This practice, whilst it powerfully supports, chiefly rests on, that excessive over-valuation of character, which teaches, that worldly, credit is to be preserved at any rate, and disgrace at any rate to be avoided. The unreasonableness of dueling has been often proved, and it has often been shown to be criminal on various principles: sometimes it has been opposed on grounds hardly tenable; particularly when it has been considered as an indication of malice and revenge. (a) But it seems hardly to have been enough noticed in what chiefly consists its essential guilt; that is a deliberate preference of the favor of man, before the favor and approbation of God, in articulo mortis, in an instance, wherein our own life, and that of a fellow-creature are at stake, and wherein we run the risk of rushing into the presence of our Maker in the very act of offending him. It would detain us too long, and it were somewhat beside our present purpose, to enumerate the mischievous consequences which result from this practice. They are many and great; and if regard be had merely to the temporal interests of men, and to the well-being of society, they are but poorly counterbalanced by the plea, which must be admitted in its behalf by a candid observer of human nature, of a courtesy and refinement in our modern manners unknown to ancient times.

But there is one observation which must not be omitted, and which seems to have been too much overlooked. In the judgment of that Religion which requires purity of heart, and of that Being to whom, as was before remarked, “thought is action,” he cannot be esteemed innocent of this crime, who lives in a settled habitual determination to commit it, when circumstances shall call upon him so to do.* This is a consideration which places the crime of dueling on a different footing from almost any other; indeed there is perhaps no other, which mankind habitually and deliberately resolve to practice whenever the temptation shall occur. It shows also that the crime of dueling is far more general in the higher classes than is commonly supposed, and that the whole sum of the guilt which the practice produces is great, beyond what has perhaps been ever conceived! It will be the writer’s comfort to have solemnly suggested this consideration, to the consciences of those by whom this impious practice might be suppressed. If such there be, which he is strongly inclined to believe, theirs is the crime, and theirs the responsibility of suffering it to continue. (a)

Real nature of inordinate love of human estimation

In the foregoing observations, it has not been the writer’s intention to discuss completely that copious subject, the love of worldly estimation. It would be to exceed the limits of a Work like this, fully to investigate so large, and at the same time so important, a topic. Enough, however, may have perhaps been said, to make it evident that this principle is of a character highly questionable; that it should be brought under absolute subjection, and watched with the most jealous care: That, notwithstanding its lofty pretensions, it often can by no means justly boast that high origin and exalted nature, which its superficial admirers are disposed to concede to it. What real intrinsic essential value, it might be asked, does there appear to be in a virtue, which had wholly changed its nature and character, if public opinion had been different? But it is in truth of base extraction, and ungenerous qualities, it springs from selfishness and vanity, and low ambition; by these it subsists, and thrives, and acts; and envy, and jealousy, and detraction, and hatred, and variance, are its too faithful and natural associates. It is, to say the best of it, a root which bears fruits of a poisonous as well as of a beneficial quality. If it sometimes stimulates to great and generous enterprises, if it urges to industry, and sometimes to excellence, if in the more contracted sphere it produces courtesy and kindness; yet to its account we must place the ambition which desolates nations, and many of the competitions and resentments, which interrupt the harmony of social life. The former indeed has been often laid to its charge, but the latter have not been sufficiently attended to; and still less has its noxious influence on the vital principle, and distinguishing graces of the Christian character, been duly pointed out and enforced.

To read indeed the writings of certain Christian moralists, (a) and to observe how little they seem disposed to call it in question, except where it raves in the conqueror; one should be almost tempted to suspect, that, considering it as a principle of such potency and prevalence, as that they must despair of bringing it into just subjection, they were intent only on complimenting it into good humor, (like those barbarous nations which worship the evil spirit through fear;) or rather, that they were making a sort of composition with an enemy they could not master; and were willing, on condition of its giving up the trade of war, to suffer it to rule undisturbed, and range at pleasure.

But the truth is, that the reasonings of Christian moralists too often exhibit but few traces of the genius of Christian morality. Of this position, the case before us is an instance. This principle of the desire of worldly distinction and applause, is often allowed, and even commended, with too few qualifications, and too little reserve. To covet wealth is base and sordid; but to covet honor is treated as the mark of a generous and exalted nature. These writers scarcely seem to bear in mind, that, though the principle in question tends to prevent the commission of those grosser acts of vice which would injure us in the general estimation; yet that it not only stops there, but that it there begins to exert almost an equal force in the opposite direction. They do not consider how apt this principle is, even in the case of those who move in a contracted sphere, to fill us with vain conceits, and vicious passions; and, above all, how it tends to fix the affections on earthly things, and to steal away the heart from God. They acknowledge it to be criminal when it produces mischievous effects; but forget how apt it is, by the substitution of a false and corrupt motive, to vitiate the purity of our good actions, depriving them of everything which rendered them truly and essentially valuable. They do not consider, that, whilst they too hastily applaud it as taking the side of virtue, it often works her ruin, while it asserts her cause; and, like some vile seducer, pretends affection only the more surely to betray.

The true Christian’s conduct in relation to this principle

It is the distinguishing glory of Christianity not to rest satisfied with superficial appearances, but to rectify the motives, and purify the heart. The true Christian, in obedience to the lessons of Scripture, no where keeps over himself a more resolute and jealous guard, than where the desire of human estimation and distinction is in question. Nowhere does he more deeply feel the insufficiency of his unassisted strength, or more diligently and earnestly pray for divine assistance. He may well indeed watch and pray against the encroachments of a passion, which, when suffered to transgress its just limits, discovers a peculiar hostility to the distinguishing graces of the Christian temper; a passion, which must insensibly acquire force, because it is in continual exercise; a passion to which almost everything without administers nutriment, and the growth of which within is favored and cherished by such powerful auxiliaries as pride and selfishness, the natural and perhaps inexterminable inhabitants of the human heart.

Strongly impressed, therefore, with a sense of the indispensable necessity of guarding against the progress of this encroaching principle, in humble reliance of superior aid, the true Christian thankfully uses the means, and habitually exercises himself in the considerations and motives, suggested to him for that purpose by the word of God. He is much occupied in searching out, and contemplating his own infirmities. He endeavors to acquire and maintain a just conviction of his great unworthiness; and to keep in continual remembrance, that whatever distinguishes himself from others, is not properly his own, but that he is altogether indebted for it to the undeserved bounty of Heaven. He diligently endeavors also, habitually to preserve a just sense of the real worth of human distinction and applause, knowing that he shall covet them less when he has learned not to overrate their value. He labors to bear in mind, how undeservedly they are often bestowed, how precariously they are always possessed. The censures of good men justly render him suspicious of himself, and prompt him carefully and impartially to examine into those parts of his character, or those particulars of his conduct, which have drawn on him their animadversions. The favorable opinion and the praises of good men are justly acceptable to him, where they accord with the testimony of his own heart; that testimony being thereby confirmed and warranted. Those praises favor also and strengthen the growth of mutual confidence and affection, where it is his delight to form friendships, rich not less in use than comfort, and to establish connections which may last forever. But even in the case of the commendations of good men, he suffers not himself to be beguiled into an over-valuation of them, lest he should be led to substitute them in the place of conscience. He guards against this by reflecting how indistinctly we can discern each other’s motives, how little enter into each other’s circumstances, how mistaken therefore may be the judgments formed of us, or of our actions, even by good men; and that it is far from improbable, that a time may come, in which we may be compelled to forfeit their esteem, by adhering to the dictates of our own consciences.

But if he endeavors thus to sit loose to the favor and applause even of good men, much more to those of the world at large; not but that he is sensible of their worth as means and instruments of usefulness and influence; and, under the limitations and for the ends allowed in Scripture, he is glad to possess, observant to acquire, and careful to retain them. He considers them however, if we may again introduce the metaphor, like the precious metals, as having rather an exchangeable than an intrinsic value, as desirable, not simply in their possession, but in their use. In this view, he holds himself to be responsible for that share of them which he enjoys, and (to continue the figure) as bound not to let them lie by him unemployed, this were hoarding; not to lavish them prodigally, this would be waste; not imprudently to misapply them, this were folly and caprice; but as under an obligation to regard them as conferred on him, that they might be brought into action; which therefore he feels not himself at liberty to throw away, though he is ready, if it be required, to relinquish them with cheerfulness; nor, on the other hand, dares he acquire or retain them unlawfully, in consideration of the use he intends to make of them. He holds it to be his bounden duty to seek diligently for occasions of rendering them subservient to their true purposes; and when any such occasion is found, to expend them cheerfully and liberally, but with discretion and frugality; being no less prudent in determining the measure, than in selecting the objects, of their application, that they may go the farther by being thus managed with economy.

Acting therefore on these principles, he will studiously and diligently use any degree of worldly credit he may enjoy in removing or lessening prejudices; in conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth; and in providing for its being entertained with candor, or even with favor, by those who would bar all access against it in any rougher or more homely form. He will make it his business to set on foot and forward benevolent and useful schemes; and, where they require united efforts, to obtain and preserve for them this co-operation. He will endeavor to discountenance vice, to bring modest merit into notice; to lend as it were his light to men of real worth, but of less creditable name, and perhaps of less conciliating qualities and manners; that they may thus shine with a reflected luster, and be useful in their turn, when invested with their just estimation. But while by these and various other means he strives to render his reputation, so long as he possesses it, subservient to the great ends of advancing the cause of Religion and Virtue, and of promoting the happiness and comfort of mankind, he will not transgress the rule of the Scripture precepts, in order to obtain, to cultivate, or to preserve it; resolutely disclaiming that dangerous sophistry, of “doing evil that good may come.” Ready however to relinquish his reputation when required so to do, he will not throw it away; and so far as he allowably may, he will cautiously avoid occasions of diminishing it, instead of studiously seeking, or needlessly multiplying them, as seems sometimes to have been the practice of worthy but imprudent men. There will be no capricious humors, no selfish tempers, no moroseness, no discourtesy, no affected severity of deportment, no peculiarity of language, no indolent neglect or wanton breach of the ordinary forms or fashions of society. His reputation is a possession capable of uses too important to be thus sported away; if sacrificed at all, it shall be sacrificed at the call of duty. The world shall be constrained to allow him to be amiable, as well as respectable in other parts of his character; though in what regards Religion, they may account him unreasonably precise and strict. In this no less than in other particulars, he will endeavor to reduce the enemies of Religion to adopt the confession of the accusers of the Jewish ruler, “we shall not find any fault or occasion against this Daniel—except concerning the law of his God:” and even there, if he give offence, it will only be where he dares not do otherwise; and if he fall into disesteem or disgrace, it shall not be chargeable to any conduct which is justly dishonorable, or even to any unnecessary singularities on his part, but to the false standard of estimation of a misjudging world. When his character is thus mistaken, or his conduct thus misconstrued, he will not wrap himself up in a mysterious sullenness; but will be ready, where he thinks any one will listen to him with patience and candor, to clear up what has been dubious, to explain what has been imperfectly known, and “speaking the truth in love,” to correct, if it may be, the erroneous, impressions which have been conceived of him. He may sometimes feel it his duty publicly to vindicate his character from unjust reproach, and to repel the false charges of his enemies; but he will carefully, however, watch against being led away by pride, or being betrayed into some breach of truth or of Christian charity, when he is treading in a path so dangerous. At such a time he will also guard, with more than ordinary circumspection, against any undue solicitude about his worldly reputation for its own sake; and when he has done what duty requires for its vindication, he will sit down with a peaceable and quiet mind, and it will be matter of no very deep concern to him if his endeavors should have been ineffectual. If good men in every age and nation have been often unjustly calumniated and disgraced, and if, in such circumstances, even the darkness of paganism has been able contentedly to repose itself on the consciousness of innocence, shall one who is cheered by the Christian’s hope, who is assured also, that a day will shortly come in which whatever is secret shall be made manifest, and the mistaken judgments of men, perhaps even of good men, being corrected, that “he shall then have praise of God;” shall such an one, I say, sink? shall he even bend or droop under such a trial? They might be more excusable in over-valuing human reputation, to whom all beyond the grave was dark and cheerless. They also might be more easily pardoned for pursuing with some degree of eagerness and solicitude, that glory which might survive them; thus seeking as it were to extend the narrow span of their earthly existence: but far different is our case, to whom these clouds are rolled away, and “life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel.” Not but that worldly favor and distinction are amongst the best things this world has to offer: but the Christian knows it is the very condition of his calling not to have his portion here; and as in the case of any other earthly enjoyments, so in that also of worldly honor, he dreads, lest his supreme affections being thereby gratified, it should be hereafter said to him, “Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.”

He is enjoined by his holy calling to be victorious over the world; and to this victory, an indifference to its disesteem and dishonor is essentially and indispensably required. He reflects on those holy men who “had trial of cruel mockings;” he remembers that our blessed Savior himself “was despised and rejected of men;” and what is he, that he should be exempted from the common lot, or think it much to bear the scandal of his profession? If therefore he is creditable and popular, he considers this, if the phrase may be pardoned, as something beyond his bargain; and he watches himself with double care, lest he should grow over-fond of what he may be shortly called upon to relinquish. He meditates often on the probability of his being involved in such circumstances, as may render it necessary for him to subject himself to disgrace and obloquy; thus familiarizing himself with them betimes, and preparing himself, that, when the trying hour arrives, they may not take him unawares.

But the cultivation of the desire of “that honor, which cometh from God,” he finds the most effectual means of bringing his mind into a proper temper, in what regards the love of human approbation. Christian! wouldst thou indeed reduce this affection under just control?—sursum corda! Rise on the wings of contemplation, until the praises and the censures of men die away upon the ear, and the still small voice of conscience is no longer drowned by the din of this nether world. Here the sight is apt to be occupied with earthly objects, and the hearing to be engrossed with earthly sounds; but there thou shalt come within the view of that resplendent and incorruptible crown, which is held forth to thine acceptance in the realms of light, and thine ear shall be regaled with heavenly melody! Here we dwell in a variable atmosphere—the prospect is at one time darkened by the gloom of disgrace, and at another the eye is dazzled by the gleamings of glory: but thou hast now ascended above this inconstant region; no storms agitate, no clouds obscure the air; the lightnings play, and the thunders roll beneath thee.

Thus, at chosen seasons, the Christian exercises himself; and when, from this elevated region he descends into the plain below, and mixes in the bustle of life, he still retains the impressions of his more retired hours. By these he realizes to himself the unseen world; he accustoms himself to speak and act as in the presence of “an innumerable company of angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect, and of God the Judge of all.” The consciousness of their approbation cheers and gladdens his soul, under the scoffs and reproaches of an undiscerning world; and to his delighted ear, their united praises form a harmony, which a few discordant earthly voices cannot interrupt.

But though the Christian be sometimes enabled thus to triumph over the inordinate love of human applause, he does not therefore deem himself secure from its encroachments. On the contrary, he is aware, so strong and active is its principle of vitality, that even where it seems extinct, let but circumstances favor its revival, and it will spring forth again in renewed vigor. And as his watchfulness must thus during life know no termination, because the enemy will ever be at hand; so it must be the more close and vigilant, because he is nowhere free from danger, but is on every side open to attack. “Sume superbiam quæsitam meritis,” was the maxim of a worldly moralist: but the Christian is aware, that he is particularly assailable where he really excels; there he is in especial danger, lest his motives, originally pure, being insensibly corrupted, he should be betrayed into an anxiety about worldly favor, false in principle or excessive in degree, when he is endeavoring to render his virtue amiable and respected in the eyes of others, and in obedience to the Scripture injunction, is willing to let his “light so shine before men, that they may see his good works, and glorify his Father which is in heaven.”

He watches himself also on small as well as on great occasions: the latter indeed, in the case of many persons, can hardly ever be expected to occur; whereas the former are continually presenting themselves: and thus, whilst, on the one hand, they may be rendered highly useful in forming and strengthening a just habit of mind with respect to the opinion of the world, so, on the other, they are the means most at hand for enabling us to discover our own real character. Let not this be slightly passed over. If any one finds himself shrinking from disrepute or disesteem in little instances, but apt to solace himself with the persuasion, that his spirits being fully called forth to the encounter, he could boldly stand the brunt of sharper trials; let him be slow to give entertainment to so beguiling a suggestion; and let him not forget, that these little instances, where no credit is to be got, and the vainest can find small room for self-complacency, furnish perhaps the truest tests whether we are ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, and are willing, on principles really pure, to bear reproach for the name of Jesus.

The Christian too is well aware that the excessive desire of human approbation is a passion of so subtle a nature, that there is nothing into which it cannot penetrate: and, from much experience, learning to discover it where it would lurk unseen, and to detect it under its more specious disguises, he finds, that, elsewhere disallowed and excluded, it is apt to insinuate itself into his very religion, where it especially delights to dwell, and obstinately maintains its residence. Proud piety and ostentatious charity, and all the more open effects it there produces, have been often condemned, and we may discover the tendencies to them in ourselves, without difficulty. But where it appears not so large in bulk, and in shape so unambiguous, let its operation be still suspected. Let not the Christian suffer himself to be deceived by any external dissimilitudes between himself and the world around him, trusting perhaps to the sincerity of the principle to which they originally owed their rise; but let him beware lest through the insensible encroachments of the subtle usurper, his religion should at length have “only a name to live,” being gradually robbed of its vivifying principle; lest he should be chiefly preserved in his religious course by the dread of incurring the charge of levity, for quitting a path on which he had deliberately entered. Or where, on a strict and impartial scrutiny of his governing motives, he may fairly conclude this not to be the case, let him beware lest he be influenced by this principle in particular parts of his character, and especially where any external singularities are in question; closely scrutinizing his apparent motives, lest he should be prompted to his more than ordinary religious observances, and be kept from participating in the licentious pleasures of a dissipated age, not so much by a vigorous principle of internal holiness, as by a fear of lessening himself in the good opinion of the stricter circle of his associates, or of suffering even in the estimation of the world at large, by violating the properties of his assumed character.

Parting counsel to those who wish to bring this passion under due regulation

To those who, in the important particular which we have been so long discussing, wish to conform themselves to the injunctions of the word of God, we must advise a laborious watchfulness, a jealous guard, a close and frequent scrutiny of their own hearts, that they may not mistake their real character and too late find themselves to have been mistaken, as to what they had conceived to be their governing motives. Above all, let them labor, with humble prayers for the Divine assistance, to fix in themselves a deep, habitual, and practical sense of the excellence of “that honor which cometh from God,” and of the comparative worthlessness of all earthly estimation and pre-eminence. In truth, unless the affections of the soul be thus predominantly engaged on the side of heavenly, in preference to that of human, honor, though we may have relinquished the pursuit of fame, we shall not have acquired that firm contexture of mind, which can bear disgrace and shame without yielding to the pressure. Between these two states, the disregarding of fame, and the bearing of disgrace, there is a wide interval; and he who, on a sober review of his conduct and motives, finds reason to believe he has arrived at the one, must not therefore conclude he has reached the other. To the one, a little natural moderation and quietness of temper may be sufficient to conduct us; but to the other, we can only attain by much discipline and slow advances; and when we think we have made great way, we shall often find reason to confess in the hour of trial, that we had greatly, far too greatly, overrated our progress.

When engaged too in the prosecution of this course, we must be aware of the snares which lie in our way, and of the deceits to which we are liable: and we must be provided against these impositions, by obtaining a full and distinct conception of the temper of mind with regard to human favor, which is prescribed to us in the Scriptures; and by continually examining our hearts and lives, to ascertain how far we correspond with it. This will keep us from substituting contemplation in the place of action, and from giving ourselves too much up to those religious meditations, which were formerly recommended; in which we must not indulge to the neglect of the common duties of life. This will keep us also from mistaking the gratification of an indolent temper for the Christian’s disregard of fame: for, let it never be forgotten, we must deserve estimation, though we should not possess it; we must force the men of the world to acknowledge, that we do not want their boasted spring of action to set us in motion; but that its place is better supplied to us by another, which produces all the good of theirs without its evil: thus demonstrating the superiority of the principle which animates us, by the superior utility and excellence of its effects. The worldly principle may indeed render us kind, friendly, and beneficent; but it will no longer instigate us to promote the happiness or comfort of others, than whilst we are stimulated by the desire of their applause; which desire, whatever may be vaunted of its effects on social intercourse, is often nothing better than selfishness, ill-concealed under a superficial covering of exterior courtesy. The Christian principle, on the contrary, will operate uniformly, whether approved or not: it must however, in order to approve itself genuine, be nerved indeed with more than mortal firmness, but at the same time be sweetened by love, and tempered with humility.

Humility, again, reducing us in our own value, will moderate our claims on worldly estimation. It will check our tendency to ostentation and display, prompting us rather to avoid, than to attract notice. It will dispose us to sit down in quiet obscurity, though, judging ourselves impartially, we believe ourselves better entitled to credit, than those on whom it is conferred; closing the entrance against a proud, painful, and malignant passion, from which, under such circumstances, we can otherwise be hardly free, the passion of “high disdain from sense of injured merit.”

Love and humility will concur in producing a frame of mind, not more distinct from an ardent thirst of glory, than from that frigid disregard, or insolent contempt, or ostentatious renunciation of human favor and distinction, which we have sometimes seen opposed to it. These latter qualities may not unfrequently be traced to a slothful, sensual, and selfish temper; to the consciousness of being unequal to any great and generous attempts; to the disappointment of schemes of ambition or of glory; to a little personal experience of the world’s capricious and inconstant humor. The renunciation in these cases, however sententious, is often far from sincere; and it is even made not unfrequently, with a view to the attainment of that very distinction which it affects to disclaim. In some other of these instances, the over-valuation and inordinate desire of worldly credit, however disavowed, are abundantly evident, from the merit which is assumed for relinquishing them; or from that sour and surly humor, which betrays a gloomy and a corroded mind, galled and fretting under the irritating sense of the want of that which it most wishes to possess.

But far different is the temper of a Christian. Not a temper of sordid sensuality, or lazy apathy, or dogmatizing pride, or disappointed ambition: more truly independent of worldly estimation than philosophy with all her boasts, it forms a perfect contrast to Epicurean selfishness, and to Stoical pride, and to Cynical brutality. It is a temper compounded of firmness, and complacency, and peace, and love; and manifesting itself in acts of kindness and of courtesy; a kindness, not pretended, but genuine; a courtesy, not false and superficial, but cordial and sincere. In the hour of popularity, it is not intoxicated or insolent; in the hour of unpopularity, it is not desponding or morose; unshaken in constancy, unwearied in benevolence, firm without roughness, and assiduous without servility.

Notwithstanding the great importance of the topic which we have been investigating, it will require much indulgence on the part of the reader, to excuse the disproportionate length into which the discussion has been almost insensibly drawn out: yet this, it is hoped, may not be without its uses, if the writer have in any degree succeeded in his endeavor, to point out the dangerous qualities and unchristian tendencies of a principle, of such general predominance throughout the higher classes of society, and to suggest to the serious inquirer some practical hints for its regulation and control. Since the principle too, of which we have been treating, is one of the most ordinary modifications of pride; the discussion may also serve in some degree to supply a manifest deficiency, a deficiency to be ascribed to the fear of trespassing too far on the reader’s patience, in having but slightly touched on the allowed prevalence of that master passion, and on the allowed neglect of its opposite, humility.

sect. iv

The generally prevailing Error, of substituting amiable Tempers and useful Lives in the place of Religion, stated and confuted; with Hints to real Christians

Generally prevailing error

There is another practical error very generally prevalent, the effects of which are highly injurious to the cause of Religion; and which in particular is often brought forward, when, upon Christian principles, any advocates for Christianity would press the practice of Christian virtues.

The error to which we allude, is that of exaggerating the merit of certain amiable and useful qualities, and of considering them as of themselves sufficient to compensate for the want of the supreme love and fear of God.

It seems to be an opinion pretty generally prevalent, that kindness and sweetness of temper; sympathizing, benevolent and generous affections; attention to what in the world’s estimation are the domestic, relative, and social duties; and above all a life of general activity and usefulness, may well be allowed, in our imperfect state, to make up for the defect of what in strict propriety of speech is termed Religion.

Common language on this head

Many indeed will unreservedly declare, and more will hint the opinion, that “the difference between the qualities above mentioned and Religion, is rather a verbal or logical, than a real and essential difference; for in truth what are they but Religion in substance if not in name? Is it not the great end of Religion, and in particular the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends, and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative, social, and civil duties? We do not deny that in the general mass of society, and particularly in the lower orders, such conduct and tempers cannot be diffused and maintained by any other medium than that of Religion. But if the end be effected, surely it is only unnecessary refinement to dispute about the means. It is even to forget your own principles; and to refuse its just place to solid practical virtue, while you assign too high a value to speculative opinions.”

Thus a fatal distinction is admitted between Morality and Religion: a great and desperate error, of which it is the more necessary to take notice; because many who would condemn, as too strong, the language in which this opinion is sometimes openly avowed, are yet more or less tinctured with the notion itself; and under the habitual and almost unperceived influence of this beguiling suggestion, are vainly solacing their imaginations, and repressing their well-grounded fears concerning their own state; and are also quieting their just solicitude concerning the spiritual condition of others, and soothing themselves in the neglect of friendly endeavors for their improvement.

There can hardly be a stronger proof of the cursory and superficial views, with which men are apt to satisfy themselves in religious concerns, than the prevalence of the opinion here in question; the falsehood and sophistry of which must be acknowledged by any one who, admitting the authority of Scripture, will examine it with ever so little seriousness and impartiality of mind.

The worth of amiable tempers estimated by the standard of unassisted reason

Appealing indeed to a less strict standard, it would not be difficult to show that the moral worth of these sweet and benevolent tempers, and of these useful lives, is apt to be greatly overrated. The former involuntarily gain upon our affections, and disarm our severer judgments, by their kindly, complying, and apparently disinterested nature; by their prompting men to flatter instead of mortifying our pride, to sympathize either with our joys or our sorrows, to abound in obliging attentions and offices of courtesy; by their obvious tendency to produce and maintain harmony and comfort in social and domestic life.

Many false pretenders to these tempers

It is not however unworthy of remark, that from the commendations which are so generally bestowed on these qualities, and their rendering men universally acceptable and popular, there is many a false pretender to them, who gains a credit for them which he by no means deserves; in whom they are no more than the proprieties of his assumed character, or even a mask which is worn in public, only the better to conceal an opposite temper. Would you see this man of courtesy and sweetness stripped of his false covering, follow him unobserved into his family; and you shall behold, too plain to be mistaken, selfishness and spleen harassing and vexing the wretched subjects of their unmanly tyranny; as if being released at length from their confinement, they were making up to themselves for the restraint which had been imposed on them in the world.

Real nature of amiable tempers when not grounded in Religion

But where the benevolent qualities are genuine, they often deserve the name rather of amiable instincts, than of moral virtues. In many cases, they imply no mental conflict, no previous discipline: they are apt to evaporate in barren sensibilities, and transitory sympathies and indolent wishes, and unproductive declarations: they possess not that strength and energy of character, which, in contempt of difficulties and dangers, produce alacrity in service, and vigor and perseverance in action. Destitute of proper firmness, they often encourage that vice and folly, which it is their especial duty to repress; and it is well if, from their soft complying humor they are not often drawn in to participate in what is wrong, as well as to connive at it. Thus their possessors are frequently, in the eye of truth and reason, bad magistrates, and parents, bad friends; defective in those very qualities, which give to each of those several relations its chief and appropriate value. And here it may be observed, that persons thus defective can ill establish the claim which is often preferred on their behalf, that they are free from selfishness; for if we trace such deficiencies to their true source, they will be found to arise chiefly from indisposition to submit to a painful effort, though real good-will commands that sacrifice, or from the fear of lessening the regard in which we are held, and the good opinion which is entertained of us.

Their short and precarious duration

It should farther also be observed concerning these qualities, when they are not rooted in religion, that they are of a sickly and a shortlived nature, and want that hardy and vigorous temperament, which is requisite for enabling them to bear without injury, or even to survive, the rude shocks and the variable and churlish seasons, to which in such a world as this they must ever be exposed. It is only a Christian love, of which it is the character, that “it suffereth long, and yet is kind;” “that it is not easily provoked, that it beareth all things, and endureth all things.” In the spring of youth indeed, the blood flows freely through the veins; we are flushed with health and confidence; hope is young and ardent, our desires are unsated, and whatever we see has the grace of novelty; we are the more disposed to be good-natured, because we are pleased; pleased, because universally well received. Wherever we cast our eyes, we see some face of friendship, and love, and gratulation. All nature smiles around us. In this season the amiable tempers of which we have been speaking, naturally spring up. The soil suits, the climate favors them. They appear to shoot forth vigorously, and blossom in gay luxuriance. To the superficial eye, all is fair and flourishing; we anticipate the fruits of Autumn, and promise ourselves an ample produce. But by and by the sun scorches, the frost nips, the winds rise, the rains descend; our golden dreams are blasted, all our fond expectations are no more. Our youthful efforts, let it be supposed, have been successful; and we rise to wealth or eminence. A kind flexible temper and popular manners have produced in us, as they are too apt, a youth of easy social dissipation, and unproductive idleness; and we are overtaken too late by the consciousness of having wasted that time which cannot be recalled, and those opportunities which we cannot now recover. We sink into disregard and obscurity, when, there being a call for qualities of more energy, indolent good-nature must fall back. We are thrust out of notice by accident or misfortunes. We are left behind by those with whom we started on equal terms, and who, originally, perhaps having less pretensions and fewer advantages, have greatly outstripped us in the race of honor: and their having got before us is often the more galling, because it appears to us, and perhaps with reason, to have been chiefly owing to a generous easy good-natured humor on our part, which disposed us to allow them at first to pass by us without jealousy, and led us to give place, without a struggle, to their more lofty pretensions. Thus we suffered them quietly to occupy a station to which originally we had as fair a claim as they; but, this station being once tamely surrendered, we have forfeited it forever. Meanwhile our awkward and vain endeavors to recover it, at the same time that they show us to be not less wanting in self-knowledge and composure in our riper years, than in our younger we had been destitute of exertion, serve only to make our inferiority more manifest, and to bring our discontent into the fuller notice of an ill-natured world, which however not unjustly condemns and ridicules our misplaced ambition.

It may be sufficient to have hinted at a few of the vicissitudes of advancing life; let the reader’s own mind fill up the catalogue. Now the bosom is no longer cheerful and placid; and if the countenance preserve its exterior character, this is no longer the honest expression of the heart. Prosperity and luxury, gradually extinguishing sympathy, and puffing up with pride, harden and debase the soul. In other instances, shame secretly clouds, and remorse begins to sting, and suspicion to corrode, and jealousy and envy to embitter. Disappointed hopes, unsuccessful competitions, and frustrated pursuits, sour and irritate the temper. A little personal experience of the selfishness of mankind damps our generous warmth and kind affections; reproving the prompt sensibility and unsuspecting simplicity of our earlier years. Above all, ingratitude sickens the heart, and chills and thickens the very life’s blood of benevolence: till at length our youthful Nero, soft and susceptible, becomes a hard and cruel tyrant; and our youthful Timon, the gay, the generous, the beneficent, is changed into a cold, sour, silent misanthrope.

Worth of useful lives estimated by the standard of unassisted reason

And as in the case of amiable tempers, so in that also of what are called useful lives, it must be confessed that their intrinsic worth, arguing still merely on principles of reason, is apt to be greatly overrated. They are often the result of a disposition naturally bustling and active, which delights in motion, and finds its labor more than repaid, either by the very pleasure which it takes in its employments, or by the credit which it derives from them. Nay further; if it be granted that Religion tends in general to produce usefulness, particularly in the lower orders, who compose a vast majority of every society; and therefore that these irreligious men of useful lives are rather exceptions to the general rule; it must at least be confessed, that they are so far useless, or even positively mischievous, as they either neglect to encourage, or actually discourage, that principle, which is the great operative spring of usefulness in the bulk of mankind.

Thus it might well perhaps be questioned, estimating these men by their own standard, whether the particular good in this case, is not more than counterbalanced by the general evil; still more, if their conduct being brought to a strict account, they should be charged, as they justly ought, with the loss of the good, which, if they had manifestly and avowedly acted from a higher principle, might have been produced, not only directly in themselves, but indirectly and remotely in others, from the extended efficacy of a religious example. They may be compared, not unaptly, to persons whom some peculiarity of constitution enables to set at defiance those established rules of living, which must be observed by the world at large. These healthy debauchees, however they may plead in their defense that they do themselves no injury, would probably, but for their excesses, have both enjoyed their health better, and preserved it longer, as well as have turned it to better account; and it may at least be urged against them, that they disparage the laws of temperance, and fatally betray others into the breach of them, by affording an instance of their being transgressed with impunity.

Real worth of amiable tempers and useful lives, when not grounded in Religion, estimated on Christian principles

But were the merit of these amiable qualities greater than it is, and though it were not liable to the exceptions which have been alleged against it, yet could they be in no degree admitted, as a compensation for the want of the supreme love and fear of God, and of a predominant desire to promote his glory. The observance of one commandment, however clearly and forcibly enjoined, cannot make up for the neglect of another, which is enjoined with equal clearness and equal force. To allow this plea in the present instance, would be to permit men to abrogate the first table of the law on condition of their obeying the second. But religion suffers not any such composition of duties. It is on the very selfsame miserable principle, that some have thought to atone for a life of injustice and rapine by the strictness of their religious observances. If the former class of men can plead the diligent discharge of their duties to their fellow-creatures, the latter will urge that of theirs to God. We easily see the falsehood of the plea in the latter case; and it is only self-deceit and partiality which prevent its being equally visible in the former. Yet so it is; such is the unequal measure, if I may be allowed the expression, which we deal out to God, and to each other. It would justly and universally be thought false confidence in the religious thief or the religious adulterer (to admit for the sake of argument such a solecism in terms,) to solace himself with the firm persuasion of the Divine favor: but it will, to many, appear hard and precise, to deny this firm persuasion of Divine approbation to the avowedly irreligious man of social and domestic usefulness.

Will it here be urged, that the writer is not doing justice to his opponent’s argument; which is not, that irreligious men of useful lives may be excused for neglecting their duties towards God, in consideration of their exemplary discharge of their duties towards their fellow-creatures; but that, in performing the latter, they perform the former, virtually, and substantially, if not in name?

Can then our opponent deny, that the Holy Scriptures are in nothing more full and unequivocal, than in requiring us supremely to love and fear God, and to worship and serve him continually with humble and grateful hearts; habitually to regard him as our Benefactor and Sovereign, and Father, and to abound in sentiments of gratitude and loyalty, and respectful affection? Can he deny that these positive precepts are rendered, if possible, still more clear, and their authority still more binding, by illustrations and indirect confirmations almost innumerable? And who then is that bold intruder into the counsels of Infinite Wisdom, who in palpable contempt of these precise commands, thus illustrated also and confirmed, will dare to maintain that, knowing the intention with which they were primarily given, and the ends they were ultimately designed to produce, he may innocently neglect or violate their plain obligations; on the plea that he conforms himself, though in a different manner, to this primary intention, and produces, though by different means, these real and ultimate ends?

This mode of arguing (to say nothing of its insolent profaneness,) would, if once admitted, afford (as has been already shown) the means of refining away by turns every moral obligation.

But this miserable sophistry deserves not that we should spend so much time in the refutation of it. To discern its fallaciousness, requires not acuteness of understanding, so much as a little common honesty. “There is indeed no surer mark of a false and hollow heart, than a disposition thus to quibble away the clear injunctions of duty and conscience.” (a) It is the wretched resource of a disingenuous mind, endeavoring to escape from convictions before which it cannot stand, and to evade obligations which it dares not disavow.

The arguments which have been adduced would surely be sufficient to disprove the extravagant pretensions of the qualities under consideration, though those qualities were perfect in their nature. But they are not perfect. On the contrary, they are radically defective and corrupt: they are a body without a soul; they want the vital actuating principle, or rather they are animated and actuated by a false principle. Christianity, let me avail myself of the very few words of a friend (b) in maintaining her argument, is “a Religion of motives.” That only is Christian practice, which flows from Christian principles; and none else will be admitted as such by Him, who will be obeyed, as well as worshipped, “in spirit and in truth.”

This also is a position, of which, in our intercourse with our fellow-creatures, we clearly discern the justice, and universally admit the force. Though we have received a benefit at the hands of any one, we scarcely feel grateful, if we do not believe the intention towards us to have been friendly. Have we served any one from motives of kindness, and is a return of service made to us? We hardly feel ourselves worthily requited, except that return be dictated by gratitude. We should think ourselves rather injured than obliged by it, if it were merely prompted by a proud unwillingness to continue in our debt.* What husband, or what father, not absolutely dead to every generous feeling, would be satisfied with a wife or a child, who, though he could not charge them with any actual breach of their respective obligations, should yet confessedly perform them from a cold sense of duty, in place of the quickening energies of conjugal and filial affection? What an insult would it be to such a one, to tell him gravely, that he had no reason to complain!

The unfairness with which we suffer ourselves to reason in matters of Religion, is nowhere more striking than in the instance before us. It were perhaps not unnatural to suppose, that, as we cannot see into each other’s bosoms, and have no sure way of judging any one’s internal principles but by his external actions, it would have grown into an established rule, that when the latter were unobjectionable, the former were not to be questioned; and, on the other hand, that in reference to a Being who searches the heart, our motives, rather than our external actions, would be granted to be the just objects of inquiry. But we exactly reverse these natural principles of reasoning. In the case of our fellow-creatures, the motive is that which we principally inquire after and regard: but in the case of our supreme Judge, from whom no secrets are hid, we suffer ourselves to believe, that internal principles may be dispensed with, if the external action be performed!

Let us not however be supposed ready to concede, in contradiction to what has been formerly contended, that where the true motive is wanting, the external actions themselves will not generally betray the defect. Who is there that will not confess in the instance of a wife and a child who should discharge their respective obligations merely from a cold sense of duty, that the inferiority of their actuating principle would not be confined to its nature, but would be discoverable also in its effects? Who is there that does not feel that these domestic services, thus robbed of their vital spirit, would be so debased and degraded in our estimation, as to become, not barely lifeless and uninteresting, but even distasteful and loathsome? Who will deny that these would be performed in fuller measure, with more wakeful and unwearied attention, as well as with more heart, where with the same sense of duty the enlivening principle of affection should also be associated?

The true Christian really the most amiable and useful

The enemies of Religion are sometimes apt to compare the irreligious man, of a temper naturally sweet and amiable, with the religious man of natural roughness and severity; the irreligious man of natural activity, with the religious man who is naturally indolent; and thence to draw their inferences. But this mode of reasoning is surely unjust. If they would argue the question fairly, they should make their comparisons between persons of similar natural qualities, and not in one or two examples, but in a mass of instances. They would then be compelled to confess the efficacy of Religion, in heightening the benevolence, and increasing the usefulness, of men: and to admit, that, even supposing a genuine benevolence of disposition, and persevering usefulness of life, occasionally to exist where the religious principle is wanting, yet true Religion (which confessedly implants those qualities where before they had no place) would have given to those very characters in whom they do exist, additional force in the same direction. It would have rendered the amiable more amiable, the useful more useful, with fewer inconsistencies, with less abatement.

Admonitions to true Christians on these heads

Let true Christians meanwhile be ever mindful that they are loudly called upon to make this argument still more clear, these positions still less questionable. You are everywhere commanded to be tender and sympathetic, diligent and useful; and it is the character of that “wisdom from above,” in which you are to be proficients, that it “is gentle and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits.” Could the efficacy of Christianity in softening the heart be denied by those, who saw in the instance of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, that it was able to transform a bigotted, furious, and cruel persecutor, into an almost unequalled example of candor, and gentleness, and universal tenderness and love? Could its spirit of active beneficence be denied by those, who saw its Divine Author so diligent and unwearied in his benevolent labors, as to justify the compendious description which was given of him by a personal witness of his exertions, that he “went about doing good?” Imitate these blessed examples: so shall you vindicate the honor of your profession, and “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:” so shall you obey those Divine injunctions of adorning the doctrine of Christ, and of “letting your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Beat the world at its own best weapons. Let your love be more affectionate, your mildness less open to irritation, your diligence more laborious, your activity more wakeful and persevering.

To the naturally sweet tempered and active

Consider sweetness of temper and activity of mind, if they naturally belong to you, as talents of special worth and utility, for which you will have to give account. Carefully watch against whatever might impair them, cherish them with constant assiduity, keep them in continual exercise, and direct them to their noblest ends. The latter of these qualities renders it less difficult, and therefore more incumbent on you, to be ever abounding in the work of the Lord; and to be copious in the production of that species of good fruit, of which mankind in general will be most ready to allow the excellence, because they best understand its nature. In your instance, the solid substance of Christian practice is easily susceptible of that high and beautiful polish, which may attract the attention, and extort the admiration of a careless and undiscerning world, so slow to notice, and so backward to acknowledge, intrinsic worth, when concealed under a less sightly exterior. Know then, and value as ye ought, the honorable office which is especially devolved on you. Let it be your acceptable service to recommend the discredited cause, and sustain the fainting interests of Religion, to furnish to her friends matter of sound and obvious argument, and of honest triumph: and if your best endeavors cannot conciliate, to refute at least, and confound her enemies.

To the naturally rough and austere

If, on the other hand, you are conscious that you are naturally rough and austere, that disappointments have soured or prosperity has elated you, or that habits of command have rendered you quick in expression, and impatient of contradiction; or if, from whatever other cause, you have contracted an unhappy peevishness of temper, or asperity of manners, or harshness and severity of language, (remember that these defects are by no means incompatible with an aptness to perform services of substantial kindness;) if nature has been confirmed by habit till at length your soul seems thoroughly tinctured with these evil dispositions, yet do not despair. Remember that the Divine Agency is promised, “to take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh,” of which it is the natural property to be tender and impressible. Pray then earnestly and perseveringly, that the blessed aid of Divine Grace may operate effectually on your behalf. Beware of acquiescing in the evil tempers which have been condemned, under the idea that they are the ordinary imperfections of the best of men; that they show themselves only in little instances; that they are only occasional, hasty, and transient effusions, when you are taken off your guard; the passing shade of your mind, and not the settled color. Beware of excusing or allowing them in yourself, under the notion of warm zeal for the cause of Religion and virtue, which you perhaps own is now and then apt to carry you into somewhat over-great severity of judgment, or sharpness in reproof. Listen not to these, or any other such flattering excuses, which your own heart will be but too ready to suggest to you. Scrutinize yourself rather with rigorous strictness; and where there is so much room for selfdeceit, call in the aid of some faithful friend, and unbosoming yourself to him without concealment, ask his impartial and unreserved opinion of your behavior and condition. Our unwillingness to do this, often betrays to others, indeed it not seldom discovers to ourselves, that we entertain a secret distrust of our own character and conduct. Instead also of extenuating to yourself, the criminality of the vicious tempers under consideration, strive to impress your mind deeply with a sense of it. For this end, often consider seriously, that these rough and churlish tempers are a direct contrast to the “meekness and gentleness of Christ;” and that Christians are strongly and repeatedly enjoined to copy after their great Model in these particulars, and to be themselves patterns of “mercy and kindness, and humbleness of mind, and meekness, and long-suffering.” They are to “put away all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking,” not only “being ready to every good work, but being gentle unto all men,” “showing all meekness unto all men,” “forbearing, forgiving, tender hearted.” Remember the Apostle’s declaration, that “if any man bridleth not his tongue, he only seemeth to be religious, and deceiveth his own heart;” and that it is one of the characters of that love, without which all pretensions to the name of Christian are but vain, that “it doth not behave itself unseemly.” Consider how much these acrimonious tempers must break in upon the peace, and destroy the comfort, of those around you. Remember also, that the honor of your Christian profession is at stake, and be solicitous not to discredit it: justly dreading lest you should disgust those whom you ought to conciliate; and by conveying an unfavorable impression of your principles and character, should incur the guilt of putting an “offence in your brother’s way;” thereby “hindering the Gospel of Christ,” the advancement of which should be your daily and assiduous care.

Thus having come to the full knowledge of your disease, and to a just impression of its malignity, strive against it with incessant watchfulness. Guard with the most jealous circumspection against its breaking forth into act. Force yourself to abound in little offices of courtesy and kindness; and you shall gradually experience in the performance of these a pleasure hitherto unknown, and awaken in yourself the dormant principles of sensibility. But take not up with external amendment; guard against a false show of sweetness of disposition; and remember that the Christian is not to be satisfied with the world’s superficial courtliness of demeanor, but that his “Love is to be without dissimulation.” Examine carefully, whether the unchristian tempers, which you would eradicate, are not maintained in vigor by selfishness and pride; and strive to subdue them effectually, by extirpating the roots from which they derive their nutriment. Accustom yourself to endeavor to look attentively upon a careless and inconsiderate world, which, while it is in such imminent peril, is so ignorant of its danger. Dwell upon this affecting scene, till it has excited your pity; and this pity, while it melts the mind to Christian love, shall insensibly produce a temper of habitual sympathy and softness. By means like these, perseveringly used in constant dependence on Divine aid, you may confidently hope to make continual progress. Among men of the world, a youth of softness and sweetness will often, as we formerly remarked, harden into insensibility, and sharpen into moroseness. But it is the office of Christianity to reverse this order. It is pleasing to witness this blessed renovation: to see, as life advances, asperities gradually smoothing down, and austerities mellowing away: while the subject of this happy change experiences within increasing measures of the comfort which he diffuses around him; and feeling the genial influences of that heavenly flame which can thus give life, and warmth, and action, to what had been hitherto rigid and insensible, looks up with gratitude to Him who has shed abroad this principle of love in his heart;

Miraturque novas frondes et non sua poma.

Their just praise given to amiable tempers and useful lives

Let it not be thought that in the foregoing discussion, the amiable and useful qualities, where they are not prompted and governed by a principle of religion, have been spoken of in too disparaging terms. Nor would I be understood as unwilling to concede to those who are living in the exercise of them, their proper tribute of commendation: Inest suagratia. Of such persons it must be said, in the language of Scripture, “they have their reward.” They have it in the inward complacency, which a sweet temper seldom fails to inspire; in the com forts of the domestic or social circle; in the pleasure which, from the constitution of our nature, accompanies pursuit and action. They are always beloved in private, and generally respected in public life. But when devoid of Religion, if the word of God be not a fable, “they cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” True practical Christianity (never let it be forgotten) consists in devoting the heart and life to God; in being supremely and habitually governed by a desire to know, and a disposition to fulfil his will, and in endeavoring, under the influence of these motives, to “live to his glory.” Where these essential requisites are wanting, however amiable the character may be, however creditable and respectable among men; yet, as it possesses not the grand distinguishing essence, it must not be complimented with the name of Christianity. This however, when the external decorum of Religion are not violated, must commonly be a matter between God and a man’s own conscience; and we ought never to forget, how strongly we are enjoined to be candid and liberal in judging of the motives of others, while we are strict in scrutinizing, and severe in questioning, our own. And this strict scrutiny is nowhere more necessary, because there is nowhere more room for the operation of self-deceit. We are all extremely prone to lend ourselves to the good opinion, which, however falsely, is entertained of us by others; and though we at first confusedly suspect, or even indubitably know, that their esteem is unfounded, and their praises undeserved, and that they would have thought and spoken of us very differently, if they had discerned our secret motives, or had been accurately acquainted with all the circumstances of our conduct; we gradually suffer ourselves to adopt their judgment of us, and at length feel that we are in some sort injured, or denied our due, when these false commendations are contradicted or withheld.

Our amiableness of temper and usefulness of life, apt to deceive and mislead us

Without the most constant watchfulness, and the most close and impartial self-examination, irreligious people of amiable tempers, and still more those of useful lives, from the general popularity of their character, will be particularly liable to become the dupes of this propensity. Nor is it they only who have here need to be on their guard: men of real religion will also do well to watch against this delusion. There is however another danger to which these are still more exposed, and against which it is the rather necessary to warn them, because of our having insisted so strongly on their being bound to be diligent in the discharge of the active duties of life.

Danger to true Christians from mixing too much in worldly business

In their endeavors to fulfil this obligation, let them particularly beware, lest, setting out on right principles, they insensibly lose them in the course of their progress; lest, engaging originally in the business and bustle of the world, from a sincere and earnest desire to promote the glory of God, their minds should become so heated and absorbed in the pursuit of their object, as that the true motive of action should either altogether cease to be an habitual principle, or should at least lose much of its life and vigor; and lest, their thoughts and affections being engrossed by temporal concerns, their sense of the reality of “unseen things” should fade away, and they should lose their relish for the employments and offices of Religion.

The Christian’s path is beset with dangers—On the one hand, he justly dreads an inactive and unprofitable life; on the other, he no less justly trembles for the loss of that spiritual-mindedness which is the very essence and power of his profession. This is not quite the place for the full discussion of the difficult topic now before us: and if it were, the writer of these sheets is too conscious of his own incompetency, not to be desirous of asking, rather than of giving, advice respecting it. Yet, as it is a matter which has often engaged his most serious consideration, and has been the frequent subject of his anxious inquiry into the writings and opinions of far better instructors, he will venture to deliver a few words on it, offering them with unaffected diffidence.

Advice to such as suspect this to be their case

Does, then, the Christian discover in himself, judging not from accidental and occasional feelings, (on which little stress is either way to be laid) but from the permanent and habitual temper of his mind, a settled, and still more a growing, coldness and indisposition towards the considerations and offices of Religion? And has he reason to apprehend that this coldness and indisposition are owing to his being engaged too much or too earnestly in worldly business, or to his being too keen in the pursuit of worldly objects? Let him carefully examine the state of his own heart, and seriously and impartially survey the circumstances of his situation in life; humbly praying to the Father of light and mercy, that he may be enabled to see his way clearly in this difficult emergency. If he finds himself pursuing wealth or dignity, or reputation, with earnestness and solicitude; if these things engage many of his thoughts; if his mind naturally and inadvertently runs out into contemplations of them; if success in these respects greatly gladdens, and disappointments dispirit and distress his mind; he has but too plain grounds for self-condemnation. “No man can serve two masters.” The world is evidently in possession of his heart; and it is no wonder that he finds himself dull, or rather dead, to the impression and enjoyment of spiritual things.

But though the marks of predominant estimation and regard for earthly things be much less clear and determinate, yet, if the object which he is pursuing be one which, by its attainment, would bring him a considerable accession of riches, station or honor, let him soberly and fairly question and examine, whether the pursuit be warrantable; here also, asking the advice of some judicious friend; his backwardness to do which, in instances like these, should justly lead him to distrust the reasonableness of the schemes which he is prosecuting. In such a case as this, we have good cause to distrust ourselves. Though the inward hope, that we are chiefly prompted by a desire to promote the glory of our Maker and the happiness of our fellow-creatures by increasing our means of usefulness, may suggest itself to allay our suspicions, yet let it not altogether remove them. It is not improbable, that beneath this plausible mask we conceal, more successfully perhaps from ourselves than from others, an inordinate attachment to the pomps and transitory distinctions of this life; and, as this attachment gains the ascendency, it will ever be found, that our perception and feeling of the supreme excellence of heavenly things will proportionably subside.

But when the consequences which would follow from the success of our worldly pursuits do not render them so questionable, as in the case we have been just considering; yet, having such good reason to believe that there is somewhere a flaw, could we but discern it, let us carefully scrutinize the whole of our conduct, in order to discover, whether we may not be living either in the breach, or in the omission, of some known duty; and whether it may not therefore have pleased God to withdraw from us the influence of his Holy Spirit; particularly inquiring, whether the duties of self-examination, of secret and public prayer, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the other prescribed means of Grace, have not been either wholly intermitted at their proper seasons, or at least been performed with precipitation or distraction? And if we find reason to believe, that the allotment of time which it would be most for our spiritual improvement to assign to our religious offices, is often broken in upon and curtailed; let us be extremely backward to admit excuses for such interruptions and abridgements. It is more than probable, for many obvious reasons, that even our worldly affairs themselves will not, on the long run, go on the better for encroaching upon those hours, which ought to be dedicated to the more immediate service of God, and to the cultivation of the inward principles of Religion. Our hearts at least, and our conduct, will soon exhibit proofs of the sad effects of this fatal negligence. They who in a crazy vessel navigate a sea wherein are shoals and currents innumerable, if they would keep their course or reach their port in safety, must carefully repair the smallest injuries, and often throw out their line and take their observations. In the voyage of life also, the Christian who would not make shipwreck of his faith, while he is habitually watchful and provident, must often make it his express business to look into his state, and ascertain his progress.

But to resume my subject; let us, when engaged in this important scrutiny, impartially examine ourselves whether the worldly objects which engross us, are all of them such as properly belong to our profession, or station, or circumstances in life; which therefore we could not neglect with a good conscience? If they be, let us consider whether they do not consume a larger share of our time than they really require; and whether, by not trifling over our work, by deducting somewhat which might be spared from our hours of relaxation, or by some other little management, we might not fully satisfy their just claims, and yet have an increased overplus of leisure, to be devoted to the offices of Religion.

But if we deliberately and honestly conclude that we ought not to give these worldly objects less of our time, let us endeavor at least to give them less of our hearts; striving, that the settled frame of our desires and affections may be more spiritual; and that, in the motley intercourses of life, we may constantly retain a more lively sense of the Divine presence, and a stronger impression of the reality of unseen things; thus corresponding with the Scripture description of true Christians, “walking by faith and not by sight, and having our conversation in Heaven.”

Above all, let us guard against the temptation, to which we shall certainly be exposed, of lowering down our views to our state, instead of endeavoring to rise to the level of our views. Let us rather determine to know the worst of our case, and strive to be suitably affected with it; not forward to speak peace to ourselves, but patiently carrying about with us a deep conviction of our backwardness and inaptitude to religious duties, and a just sense of our great weakness and numerous infirmities. This cannot be an unbecoming temper, in those who are commanded to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” It prompts to constant and earnest prayer. It produces that sobriety, and lowliness, and tenderness of mind, that meekness of demeanor, and circumspection in conduct, which are such eminent characteristics of the true Christian.

Nor is it a state devoid of consolation—“O tarry thou the Lord’s leisure, be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart.”—“They that wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength.”—“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These divine assurances sooth and encourage the Christian’s disturbed and dejected mind, and insensibly diffuse a holy composure. The tint may be solemn, nay even melancholy, but it is mild and grateful. The tumult of his soul has subsided, and he is possessed by complacency, and hope, and love. If a sense of undeserved kindness fill his eyes with tears, they are tears of reconciliation and joy: while a generous ardor springing up within him, sends him forth to his worldly labors “fervent in spirit;” resolving through the Divine aid to be henceforth more diligent and exemplary in living to the glory of God, and longing meanwhile for that blessed time, when, “being freed from the bondage of corruption,” he shall be enabled to render to his Heavenly Benefactor more pure and acceptable service.

Exquisite Sensibility—School of Rousseau and Sterne

After having discussed so much at large the whole question concerning amiable tempers in general, it may be scarcely necessary to dwell upon that particular class of them which belongs to the head of generous emotions, or of exquisite sensibility. To these almost all that has been said above is strictly applicable; to which it may be added, that the persons in whom the latter qualities most abound, are often far from conducing to the peace and comfort of their nearest connections. These qualities indeed may be rendered highly useful instruments, when enlisted into the service of Religion. But we ought to except against them the more strongly when not under her Control; because there is still greater danger than in the former case, that persons in whom they abound, may be flattered into a false opinion of themselves by the excessive commendations often paid to them by others, and by the beguiling complacencies of their own minds, which are apt to be puffed up with a proud, though secret, consciousness of their own superior acuteness and sensibility. But it is the less requisite to enlarge on this topic, because it has been well discussed by many, who have unfolded the real nature of those fascinating qualities; who have well remarked, that though showy and apt to catch the eye, they are of a flimsy and perishable fabric, and not of that substantial and durable texture, which, while it imparts permanent warmth and comfort, will long preserve its more sober honors, and stand the wear and tear of life, and the vicissitudes of seasons. It has been shown, that these qualities often fail us when most we want their aid; that their possessors can solace themselves with their imaginary exertions in behalf of ideal misery, and yet shrink from the labors of active benevolence, or retire with disgust from the homely forms of real poverty and wretchedness. In fine, the superiority of true Christian Charity, and of plain practical beneficence, has been ably vindicated; and the school of Rousseau has been forced to yield to the school of Christ, when the question has been concerning the best means of promoting the comfort of family life, or the temporal well-being of society.*

sect. v

Some other grand Defects in the practical System of the Bulk of Nominal Christians

In the imperfect sketch which has been drawn of the Religion of the bulk of Nominal Christians, their fundamental error respecting the essential nature of Christianity has been discussed, and traced into some of its many mischievous consequences. Several of their particular misconceptions and allowed defects have also been pointed out and illustrated. It may not be improper to close the survey by noticing some others, for the existence of which we may now appeal to almost every part of the preceding delineation.

Inadequate ideas of the guilt and evil of sin

In the first place, then, there appears throughout, both in the principles and allowed conduct of the bulk of nominal Christians, a most inadequate idea of the guilt and evil of sin. We everywhere find reason to remark, that Religion is suffered to dwindle away into a mere matter of police. Hence the guilt of actions is estimated, not by the proportion in which, according to Scripture, they are offensive to God, but by that in which they are injurious to society. Murder, theft, fraud in all its shapes, and some species of lying, are manifestly, and in an eminent degree, injurious to social happiness. How different accordingly, in the moral scale, is the place they hold, from that which is assigned to idolatry, to general irreligion, to swearing, drinking, fornication, lasciviousness, sensuality, excessive dissipation; and in particular circumstances, to pride, wrath, malice, and revenge!

Indeed, several of the above-mentioned vices are held to be grossly criminal in the lower ranks, because manifestly ruinous to their temporal interests: but in the higher, they are represented as “losing half their evil by losing all their grossness,” as flowing naturally from great prosperity, from the excess of gaiety and good humor; and they are accordingly “regarded with but a small degree of disapprobation, and censured very slightly or not at all.” (a)—“Non meus hic sermo est.” These are the remarks of authors, who have surveyed the stage of human life with more than ordinary observation; one of whom in particular cannot be suspected of having been misled by religious prejudices, to form a judgment of the superior orders too unfavorable and severe.

Will these positions however be denied? Will it be maintained that there is not the difference already stated, in the moral estimation of these different classes of vices? Will it be said, that the one class is indeed more generally restrained, and more severely punished by human laws, because more properly cognizable by human judicatures, and more directly at war with the well-being of society; but that, when brought before the tribunal of internal opinion, they are condemned with equal rigor?

Facts may be denied, and charges laughed out of countenance; but where the general sentiment and feeling of mankind are in question, our common language is often the clearest and most impartial witness; and the conclusions thus furnished are not to be parried by wit, or eluded by sophistry. In the present case, our ordinary modes of speech furnish sufficient matter for the determination of the argument; and abundantly prove our disposition to consider as matters of small account, such sins as are not held to be injurious to the community. We invent for them diminutive and qualifying terms, which, if not, as in the common uses of language,* to be admitted as signs of approbation and good will, must at least be confessed to be proofs of our tendency to regard them with palliation and indulgence. Free-thinking, gallantry, jollity, (a) and a thousand similar phrases, might be adduced as instances. But it is worthy of remark, that no such soft and qualifying terms are in use, for expressing the smaller degrees of theft, or fraud, or forgery, or any other of those offences, which are committed by men against their fellow-creatures, and in the suppression of which we are interested by our regard to our temporal concerns.

The charge which we are urging is indeed undeniable. In the case of any question of honor or of moral honesty, we are sagacious in discerning, and inexorable in judging, the offence. No allowance is made for the suddenness of surprise, or the strength of temptations. One single failure is presumed to imply the absence of the moral or honorable principle. The memory is retentive on these occasions, and the man’s character is blasted for life. Here even the mere suspicion of having once offended can scarcely be got over: “There is an awkward story about that man, which must be explained before he and I can become acquainted.” But in the case of sins against God, there is no such watchful jealousy, none of this rigorous logic. A man may go on in the frequent commission of known sins, yet no such inference is drawn respecting the absence of the religious principle. On the contrary, we say of him, that “though his conduct be a little incorrect, his principles are untouched;”—that he has a good heart: and such a man may go quietly through life, with the titles of a mighty worthy creature and a very good Christian.

But in the word of God, actions are estimated by a far less accommodating standard. There we read of no little sins. Much of our Savior’s sermon on the mount, which many of the class we are condemning affect highly to admire, is expressly pointed against so dangerous a misconception. There, no such distinction is made between the rich and the poor. No notices are to be traced of one scale of morals for the higher, and of another for the lower classes of society. Nay, the former are expressly guarded against any such vain imagination; and are distinctly warned, that their condition in life is the more dangerous, because of the more abundant temptations to which it exposes them. Idolatry, fornication, lasciviousness, drunkenness, revellings, inordinate affection, are, by the Apostle, likewise classed with theft and murder, and with what we hold in even still greater abomination; and concerning them all it is pronounced alike, that “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”*

Inadequate fear of God

In truth, the instance which we have lately specified, of the loose system of these nominal Christians, betrays a fatal absence of the principle which is the very foundation of all Religion. Their slight notions of the guilt and evil of sin discover an utter want of all suitable reverence for the Divine Majesty. This principle is justly termed in Scripture, “the beginning of wisdom;” and there is perhaps no one quality which it is so much the studious endeavor of the sacred writers to impress upon the human heart.*

Sin is considered in Scripture as rebellion against the sovereignty of God, and every different act of it equally violates his law, and, if persevered in, disclaims his supremacy. To the inconsiderate and the gay, this doctrine may seem harsh, while, vainly fluttering in the sunshine of worldly prosperity, they lull themselves into a fond security. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the Heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”—“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”† We are but an atom in the universe—Worlds upon worlds surround us, all probably full of intelligent creatures, to whom, now or hereafter, we may be a spectacle, and afford an example of the Divine procedure. Who then shall take upon him to pronounce what might be the issue, if sin were suffered to pass unpunished in one corner of this universal empire? Who shall say what confusion might be the consequence, what disorder it might spread through the creation of God? Be this however as it may, the language of Scripture is clear and decisive;—“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God.”

It should be carefully observed too, that these awful denunciations of the future punishment of sin derive additional weight from this consideration, that they are represented, not merely as a judicial sentence, which without violence to the settled order of things might be remitted through the mere mercy of our Almighty Governor, but as arising out of the established course of nature; as happening in the way of natural consequence, just as a cause is necessarily connected with its effect; and as resulting from certain connections and relations, which rendered them suitable and becoming. It is stated, that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan are both set up in the world, and that to the one or the other of these we must belong. “The righteous have passed from death unto life”—“they are delivered from the power of darkness, and are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.”* They are become “the children,” and “the subjects of God.” While on earth, they love his day, his service, his people; they “speak good of his name;” they abound in his works. Even here they are in some degree possessed of his image; by and by it shall be perfected; they shall awake up after his “likeness,” and being “heirs of eternal life,” they shall receive “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”

Of sinners, on the other hand, it is declared, that “they are of their father the devil;” while on earth, they are styled “his children,” “his servants;” they are said “to do his works,” “to hold of his side,” to be “subjects of his kingdom;” at length “they shall partake his portion,” when the merciful Savior shall be changed into an avenging Judge, and shall pronounce that dreadful sentence, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Is it possible that these declarations should not strike terror, or at least excite serious and fearful apprehension in the lightest and most inconsiderate mind? But the imaginations of men are fatally prone to suggest to them fallacious hopes in the very face of these positive declarations. “We cannot persuade ourselves that God will in fact prove so severe.” It was the very delusion to which our first parents listened; “Ye shall not surely die.”

Let me ask these rash men, who are thus disposed to trifle with their immortal interests, had they lived in the antediluvian world, would they have conceived it possible that God would then execute his predicted threatening? Yet the event took place at the appointed time; the flood came and swept them all away: and this awful instance of the anger of God against sin, is related in the inspired writings for our instruction. Still more to rouse us to attention, the record is impressed in indelible characters on the solid substance of the very globe we inhabit; which thus, in every country upon earth, furnishes practical attestations to the truth of the sacred writings, and to the actual accomplishment of their awful predictions. For myself I must declare, that I never can read without awe the passage, in which our Savior is speaking of the state of the world at the time of this memorable event. The wickedness of men is represented to have been great and prevalent: yet not as we are ready to conceive, such as to interrupt the course, and shake the very frame of society. The general face of things was, perhaps, not very different from that which is exhibited in many of the European nations. It was a selfish, a luxurious, an irreligious, and an inconsiderate world. They were called, but they would not hearken; they were warned, but they would not believe—“they did eat, they drank, they married “wives, they were given in marriage.” Such is the account of one of the Evangelists; in that of another it is stated nearly in the same words; “They were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, and knew not until the flood came and swept them all away.”

Inadequate sense of the difficulty of getting to Heaven

Again we see throughout, in the system which we have been describing, a most inadequate conception of the difficulty of becoming true Christians; and an utter forgetfulness of its being the great business of life to secure our admission into Heaven, and to prepare our hearts for its service and enjoyments. The general notion appears to be, that, if born in a country of which Christianity is the established religion, we are born Christians. We do not therefore look out for positive evidence of our really being of that number; but, putting the onus probandi (if it may be so expressed) on the wrong side, we conceive ourselves such of course, except our title be disproved by positive evidence to the contrary. And we are so slow in giving ear to what conscience urges to us on this side; so dexterous in justifying what is clearly wrong, in palliating what we cannot justify, in magnifying the merit of what is fairly commendable, in flattering ourselves that our habits of vice are only occasional acts, and in multiplying our single acts into habits of virtue, that we must be bad indeed, to be compelled to give a verdict against ourselves. Besides, having no suspicion of our state, we do not set ourselves in earnest to the work of self-examination; but only receive in a confused and hasty way some occasional notices of our danger, when sickness, or the loss of a friend, or the recent commission of some act of vice of greater size than ordinary, has awakened in our consciences a more than usual degree of sensibility.

Thus, by the generality, it is altogether forgotten, that the Christian has a great work to execute; that of forming himself after the pattern of his Lord and Master, through the operation of the Holy Spirit of God, which is promised to our fervent prayers and diligent endeavors. Unconscious of the obstacles which impede, and of the enemies which resist, their advancement; they are naturally forgetful also of the ample provision which is in store, for enabling them to surmount the one, and to conquer the other. The Scriptural representations of the state of the Christian on earth, by the images of “a race,” and “a warfare;” of its being necessary to rid himself of every encumbrance which might retard him in the one, and to furnish himself with the whole armor of God for being victorious in the other, are, so far as these nominal Christians are concerned, figures of no propriety or meaning. As little have they, in correspondence with the Scripture descriptions of the feelings and language of real Christians, any idea of acquiring a relish, while on earth, for the worship and service of Heaven. If the truth must be told, their notion is rather a confused idea of future gratification in Heaven, in return for having put a force upon their inclinations, and endured so much religion while on earth.

But all this is only nominal Christianity, which exhibits a more inadequate image of her real excellencies, than the cold copyings, by some insipid pencil, convey of the force and grace of Nature, or of Raphael. In the language of Scripture, Christianity is not a geographical, but a moral term. It is not the being a native of a Christian country: it is a condition, a state; the possession of a peculiar nature, with the qualities and properties which belong to it.

Farther than this, it is a state into which we are not born, but into which we must be translated; a nature which we do not inherit, but into which we are to be created anew. To the undeserved grace of God, which is promised on our use of the appointed means, we must be indebted for the attainment of this nature; and, to acquire and make sure of it, is that great “work of our salvation,” which we are commanded to “work out with fear and trembling.” We are everywhere reminded, that this is a matter of labor and difficulty, requiring continual watchfulness, and unceasing effort, and unwearied patience. Even to the very last, towards the close of a long life consumed in active service, or in cheerful suffering, we find St. Paul himself declaring, that he conceived bodily self-denial and mental discipline to be indispensably necessary to his very safety. Christians, who are really worthy of the name, are represented as being “made meet for the inheritance of the Saints in light;” as “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;” as “looking for, and hastening unto, the coming of the day of God.” It is stated as being enough to make them happy, that “Christ should receive them to himself;” and the songs of the blessed spirits in Heaven, are described to be the same, as those in which the servants of God on earth pour forth their gratitude and adoration.

Conscious therefore of the indispensable necessity, and of the arduous nature of the service in which he is engaged, the true Christian sets himself to the work with vigor, and prosecutes it with diligence. His motto is that of the painter; “nullus dies sine linea.” Fled as it were from a country in which the plague is raging, he thinks it not enough just to pass the boundary line, but would put out of doubt his escape beyond the limits of infection. Prepared to meet with difficulties, he is not discouraged when they occur; warned of his numerous adversaries, he is not alarmed on their approach, or unprovided for encountering them. He knows that the beginnings of every new course may be expected to be rough and painful; but he is assured that the paths on which he is entering will ere long seem smoother, and become indeed “paths of pleasantness and peace.”

Now of the state of such a one, the expressions of Pilgrim and Stranger are a lively description: and all the other figures and images, by which Christians are represented in Scripture, have in his case a determinate meaning and a just application. There is indeed none, by which the Christian’s state on earth is in the word of God more frequently imaged, or more happily illustrated, than by that of a journey: and it may not be amiss to pause for a while, in order to survey it under that resemblance. The Christian is travelling on business through a strange country, in which he is commanded to execute his work with diligence, and pursue his course homeward with alacrity. The fruits which he sees by the wayside he gathers with caution; he drinks of the streams with moderation; he is thankful when the sun shines, and his way is pleasant; but if it be rough and rainy, he cares not much; he is but a traveler. He is prepared for vicissitudes; he knows that he must expect to meet with them in the stormy and uncertain climate of this world. But he is travelling to “a better country,” a country of unclouded light and undisturbed serenity. He finds also by experience, that when he has had the least of external comforts, he has always been least disposed to loiter; and if for the time it be a little disagreeable, he can solace himself with the idea of his being thereby forwarded in his course. In a less unfavorable season, he looks round him with an eye of observation; he admires what is beautiful; he examines what is curious; he receives with complacency the refreshments which are set before him, and enjoys them with thankfulness. Nor does he churlishly refuse to associate with the inhabitants of the country through which he is passing; nor, so far as he may, to speak their language, and adopt their fashions. But he suffers not pleasure, curiosity, or society, to take up too much of his time; and is still intent on transacting the business which he has to execute, and on prosecuting the journey which he is ordered to pursue. He knows also that, to the very end of life, his journey will be through a country in which he has many enemies; that his way is beset with snares; that temptations throng around him, to seduce him from his course, or check his advancement in it; that the very air disposes to drowsiness, and that therefore to the very last it will be requisite for him to be circumspect and collected. Often therefore he examines whereabouts he is, how he has got forward, and whether or not he is travelling in the right direction. Sometimes he seems to himself to make considerable progress; sometimes he advances but slowly; too often he finds reason to fear he has fallen backward in his course. Now he is cheered with hope, and gladdened by success; now he is disquieted with doubts, and damped by disappointments. Thus, while to nominal Christians Religion is a dull uniform thing, and they have no conception of the desires and disappointments, the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows, which it is calculated to bring into exercise; in the true Christian, all is life and motion; and his great work calls forth alternately the various passions of the soul. Let it not therefore be imagined that his is a state of unenlivened toil and hardship. His very labors are “the labors of love;” if “he has need of patience,” it is “the patience of hope;” and he is cheered in his work by the constant assurance of present support, and of final victory. Let it not be forgotten, that this is the very idea given us of happiness by one of the ablest examiners of the human mind; “a constant employment for a desirable end, with the consciousness of a continual progress.” So true is the Scripture declaration, that “Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.”

Bulk of Nominal Christians defective in the love of God

Our review of the character of the bulk of Nominal Christians has exhibited abundant proofs of their allowed defectiveness in that great constituent of the true Christian character, the love of God. Many instances, in proof of this assertion, have been incidentally pointed out, and the charge is in itself so obvious, that it were superfluous to spend much time in endeavoring to establish it. Put the question fairly to the test. Concerning the proper marks and evidences of affection, there can be little dispute. Let the most candid investigator examine the character, and conduct, and language of the persons of whom we have been speaking; and he will be compelled to acknowledge, that, so far as love towards the Supreme Being is in question, these marks and evidences are nowhere to be met with. It is in itself a decisive evidence of a contrary feeling in those nominal Christians, that they find no pleasure in the service and worship of God. Their devotional acts resemble less the free-will offerings of a grateful heart, than that constrained and reluctant homage, which is exacted by some hard master from his oppressed dependents, and paid with cold sullenness and slavish apprehension. It was the very charge brought by God against his ungrateful people of old, that while they called him Sovereign and Father, they withheld from him the regards which severally belong to those respected and endearing appellations. Thus we likewise think it enough to offer to the most excellent and amiable of Beings, to our supreme and unwearied Benefactor, a dull, artificial, heartless gratitude, of which we should be ashamed in the case of a fellow creature, who had ever so small a claim on our regard and thankfulness!

It may be of infinite use to establish in our minds a strong and habitual sense of that first and great commandment—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” This passion, operative and vigorous in its very nature, like a master spring, would set in motion and maintain in action all the complicated movements of the human soul. Soon also would it terminate many practical questions concerning the allowableness of certain compliances; questions which, with other similar difficulties, are often only the cold offspring of a spirit of reluctant submission, and cannot stand the encounter of this trying principle, If, for example, it were disputed, whether or not the law of God were so strict as had been stated, in condemning the slightest infraction of its precepts; yet, when, from the precise demands of justice, the appeal shall be made to the more generous principle of love, there would be at once an end of the discussion. Fear will deter from acknowledged crimes, and self-interest will bribe to laborious services; but it is the peculiar glory, and the very characteristic, of this more generous passion, to show itself in ten thousand little and undefinable acts of sedulous attention, which love alone can pay, and of which, when paid, love alone can estimate the value. Love outruns the deductions of reasoning; it scorns the refuge of casuistry; it requires not the slow process of laborious and undeniable proof that one action would be injurious and offensive, or another beneficial or gratifying, to the object of its affection. The least hint, the slightest surmise, is sufficient to make it start from the former, and fly with eagerness to the latter.

The Stage

I am well aware that I am now about to tread on very tender ground; but it would be an improper deference to the opinions and manners of the age altogether to avoid it. There has been much argument concerning the lawfulness of theatrical amusements.* Let it be sufficient to remark, that the controversy would be short indeed, if the question were to be tried by this criterion of love to the Supreme Being. If there were anything of that sensibility for the honor of God, and of that zeal in his service, which we show in behalf of our earthly friends, or of our political connections, should we seek our pleasure in that place which the debauchee, inflamed with wine, or bent on the gratification of other licentious appetites, finds most congenial to his state and temper of mind? In that place, from the neighborhood of which, (how justly termed “a school of morals” might hence alone be inferred) decorum, and modesty, and regularity retire, while riot and lewdness are invited to the spot, and invariably select it for their chosen residence! where the sacred name of God is often profaned! where sentiments are often heard with delight, and motions and gestures often applauded, which would not be tolerated in private company, but which may far exceed the utmost license allowed in the social circle, without at all transgressing the large bounds of theatrical decorum! where, when moral principles are inculcated, they are not such as a Christian ought to cherish in his bosom, but such as it must be his daily endeavor to extirpate; not those which Scripture warrants, but those which it condemns as false and spurious, being founded in pride and ambition, and the over-valuation of human favor! where surely, if a Christian should trust himself at all, it would be requisite for him to prepare himself with a double portion of watchfulness and seriousness of mind, instead of selecting it as the place in which he may throw off his guard, and unbend without danger! The justness of this last remark, and the general tendency of theatrical amusements, is attested by the same well-instructed master in the science of human life, to whom we had before occasion to refer. By him they are recommended as the most efficacious expedient for relaxing, among any people, that “preciseness and austerity of morals,” to use his own phrase, which, under the name of holiness, it is the business of Scripture to inculcate and enforce. Nor is this position merely theoretical. The experiment was tried, and tried successfully, in a city upon the continent,* in which it was wished to corrupt the simple morality of purer times.

Let us try the question by a parallel instance.

What judgment should we form of the warmth of that man’s attachment to his Sovereign, who, at seasons of recreation, should seek his pleasures in scenes as ill-accordant with the principle of loyalty, as those of which we have been speaking are with the genius of religion? If for this purpose he were to select the place, and frequent the amusements to which Democrats and Jacobins* should love to resort for entertainment, and in which they should find themselves so much at home, as invariably to select the spot for their abiding habitation; where dialogue, and song, and the intelligible language of gesticulation, should be used to convey ideas and sentiments, not perhaps palpably treasonable, or falling directly within the strict precision of any legal limits, but yet palpably contrary to the spirit of monarchical government; which, further, the highest authorities had recommended as sovereign specifics for cooling the warmth, and enlarging the narrowness of an excessive loyalty! What opinion should we form of the delicacy of that friendship, or of the fidelity of that love, which, in relation to their respective objects, should exhibit the same contradictions?

In truth, the hard measure, if the phrase may be pardoned, which we give to God; and the very different way in which we allow ourselves to act, and speak, and feel, where He is concerned, from that which we require, or even practice, in the case of our fellow-creatures, is in itself the most decisive proof that the principle of the love of God, if not altogether extinct in us, is at least in the lowest possible degree of languor.

Practical system of nominal Christians defective in what regards the love of their fellow creatures

From examining the degree in which the bulk of nominal Christians are defective in the love of God, if we proceed to inquire concerning the strength of their love towards their fellow-creatures, the writer is well aware of its being generally held, that here at least they may rather challenge praise than submit to censure. And the many beneficent institutions in which this country abounds, probably above every other, whether in ancient or modern times, may be perhaps appealed to in proof of the opinion. Much of what might have been otherwise urged in the discussion of this topic, has been anticipated in the inquiry into the grounds of the extravagant estimation, assigned to amiable tempers and useful lives, when unconnected with religious principle. What was then stated may serve in many cases to lower, in the present instance, the loftiness of the pretensions of these nominal Christians; and we shall hereafter have occasion to mention another consideration, of which the effect must be, still further to reduce their claims. Meanwhile, let it suffice to remark, that we must not rest satisfied with merely superficial appearances, if we would form a fair estimate of the degree of purity and vigor, in which the principle of good will towards men warms the bosoms of the generality of professed Christians in the higher and more opulent classes in this country. In a highly polished state of society, for instance, we do not expect to find moroseness; and in an age of great profusion, though we may reflect with pleasure on those numerous charitable institutions, which are justly the honor of Great Britain, we are not too hastily to infer a strong principle of internal benevolence, from liberal contributions to the relief of indigence and misery. When these contributions indeed are equally abundant in frugal times, or from individuals personally economical, the source from which they originate becomes less questionable. But a vigorous principle of philanthropy must not be at once conceded, on the ground of liberal benefactions to the poor, in the case of one, who, by his liberality in this respect, is curtailed in no necessary, is abridged of no luxury, is put to no trouble either of thought or of action; who, not to impute a desire of being praised for his benevolence, is injured in no man’s estimation; in whom also familiarity with large sums has produced that freedom in the expenditure of money, which it never fails to operate, except in minds under the influence of a strong principle of avarice.

True marks of benevolence

Our conclusion, perhaps, would be less favorable, but not less fair, if we were to try the characters in question by those surer tests, which are stated by the Apostle to be less ambiguous marks of a real spirit of philanthropy. The strength of every passion is to be estimated by its victory over passions of an opposite nature. What judgment, then, shall we form of the force of the benevolence of the age, when measured by this standard? How does it stand the shock, when it comes into encounter with our pride, our vanity, our self-love, our self-interest, our love of ease or of pleasure, our ambition, our desire of worldly estimation? Does it make us self-denying, that we may be liberal in relieving others? Does it make us persevere in doing good in spite of ingratitude; and only pity the ignorance, or prejudice, or malice, which misrepresents our conduct, or misconstrues our motives? Does it make us forbear what we conceive may prove the occasion of harm to a fellow-creature, though the harm should not seem naturally, or even fairly, to flow from our conduct, but to be the result only of his own obstinacy or weakness? Are we slow to believe anything to our neighbor’s disadvantage? and, when we cannot but credit it, are we disposed rather to cover; and, as far as we justly can, to palliate, than to divulge or aggravate it? Suppose an opportunity to occur of performing a kindness, to one, who, from pride or vanity, should be loth to receive, or to be known to receive, a favor from us; should we honestly endeavor, so far as we could with truth, to lessen in his own mind and in that of others the merit of our good offices, and by so doing dispose him to receive them with diminished reluctance and a less painful weight of obligation? This end, however, must be accomplished, if accomplished at all, not by speeches of affected disparagement, which we might easily foresee would produce the contrary effect, but by a simple and fair explanation of the circumstances, which render the action in no wise inconvenient to ourselves, though highly beneficial to him. Can we, from motives of kindness, incur or risk the charge of being deficient in spirit, in penetration, or in foresight? Do we tell another of his faults, when the communication, though probably beneficial to him, cannot be made without embarrassment or pain to ourselves, and may probably lessen his regard for our person, or his opinion of our judgment? Can we stifle a repartee which would wound another; though the utterance of it would gratify our vanity, and the suppression of it may disparage our character for wit? If anyone advance a mistaken proposition, in an instance wherein the error may be mischievous to him; can we, to the prejudice perhaps of our credit for discernment, forbear to contradict him in public, lest by piquing his pride we should only harden him in his error? and can we reserve our counsel for some more favorable season, the “mollia tempora fandi,” when it may be communicated without offence? If we have recommended to any one a particular line of conduct, or have pointed out the probable mischiefs of the opposite course, and if our admonitions have been neglected, are we really hurt when our predictions of evil are accomplished? Is our love superior to envy, and jealousy, and emulation? Are we acute to discern and forward to embrace any fair opportunity of promoting the interests of another; if it be in a line wherein we ourselves also are moving, and in which we think our progress has not been proportionate to our desert? Can we take pleasure in bringing his merits into notice, and in obviating the prejudices which may have damped his efforts, or in removing the obstacles which may have retarded his advancement?. If even to this extent we should be able to stand the scrutiny, let it be farther asked, how, in the case of our enemies, do we correspond with the Scripture representations of love? Are we meek under provocations, ready to forgive, and apt to forget injuries? Can we, with sincerity, “bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use us, and persecute us?” Do we prove to the Searcher of hearts a real spirit of forgiveness, by our forbearing, not only from avenging an injury when it is in our power, but even from telling to any one, how ill we have been used; and that too when we are not kept silent by a consciousness, that we should lose credit by divulging the circumstance? And lastly, Can we not only be content to return our enemies good for evil, (for this return, as has been remarked by one of the greatest of uninspired authorities, (a) may be prompted by pride and repaid by self-complacency) but, when they are successful or unsuccessful without our having contributed to their good or ill fortune, can we not only be content, but cordially rejoice in their prosperity, or sympathize with their distresses?

These are but a few specimens of the characteristic marks which might be stated of a true predominant benevolence; yet even these may serve to convince us how far the bulk of nominal Christians fall short of the requisitions of Scripture, even in that particular which exhibits their character in the most favorable point of view. The truth is, we do not enough call to mind the exalted tone of Scripture morality; and are therefore apt to value ourselves on the heights to which we attain, when a better acquaintance with our standard would have convinced us of our falling far short of the elevation prescribed to us. It is in the very instance of the most difficult of the duties lately specified, the forgiveness and love of enemies, that our Savior points out to our imitation the example of our Supreme Benefactor. After stating that, by being kind and courteous to those, who, even in the world’s opinion, had a title to our good offices and good will, we should in vain set up a claim to Christian benevolence, he emphatically adds, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

The Stage

We must here again resort to a topic which was lately touched on, that of Theatrical amusements; and recommend it to their advocates to consider them in connecion with the duty, of which we have now been exhibiting some of the leading characters.

It is an undeniable fact, for the truth of which we may safely appeal to every age and nation, that the situation of the performers, particularly of those of the female sex, is remarkably unfavorable to the maintenance and growth of the religious and moral principle, and of course highly dangerous to their eternal interests. Might it not then be fairly asked, how far, in all who confess the truth of this position, it is consistent with the sensibility of Christian benevolence, merely for the entertainment of an idle hour, to encourage the continuance of any of their fellow-creatures in such a way of life, and to take a part in tempting any others to enter into it; how far, considering that, by their own concession, they are employing whatever they spend in this way, in sustaining and advancing the cause of vice, and consequently in promoting misery, they are herein bestowing this share of their wealth in a manner agreeable to the intentions of their holy and benevolent Benefactor? how far also they are not in this instance the rather criminal, from there being so many sources of innocent pleasure open to their enjoyment? how far they are acting conformably to that golden principle, of doing to others as we would they should do to us? how far they harmonize with the spirit of the Apostle’s affectionate declaration, that he would deny himself for his whole life the most innocent indulgence, nay, what might seem almost an absolute necessary, rather than cause his weak fellow-Christian to offend? or lastly, how far they are influenced by the solemn language of our Savior himself; “It must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh; it were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into the depths of the sea.”—The present instance is perhaps another example of our taking greater concern in the temporal, than in the spiritual interests of our fellow-creatures. That man would be deemed, and justly deemed, of an inhuman temper, who in these days were to seek his amusement in the combats of gladiators and prize-fighters: yet Christians appear conscious of no inconsistency, in finding their pleasure in spectacles maintained at the risk at least, if not the ruin, of the eternal happiness of those who perform in them!

sect. vi

Grand Defect—Neglect of the peculiar Doctrines of Christianity

Grand radical defect

BUT the grand radical defect in the practical system of these nominal Christians, is their forgetfulness of all the peculiar doctrines of the Religion which they profess—the corruption of human nature—the atonement of the Savior—and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit.

Here then we come again to the grand distinction, between the Religion of Christ and that of the bulk of nominal Christians in the present day. The point is of the utmost practical importance, and we would therefore trace it into its actual effects.

This evil pursued into its effects

There are, it is to be apprehended, not a few, who, having been for some time hurried down the stream of dissipation in the indulgence of all their natural appetites, (except, perhaps, that they were restrained from very gross vice by a regard to character, or by the yet unsubdued voice of conscience;) and who, having all the while thought little, or scarcely at all, about Religion (“living,” to use the emphatical language of Scripture, “without God in the world,”) become at length in some degree impressed with a sense of the infinite importance of Religion. A fit of sickness, perhaps, or the loss of some friend or much loved relative, or some other stroke of adverse fortune, damps their spirits, awakens them to a practical conviction of the precariousness of all human things, and turns them to seek for some more stable foundation of happiness than this world can afford. Looking into themselves ever so little, they become sensible that they must have offended God. They resolve accordingly to set about the work of reformation.—Here it is that we shall recognize the fatal effects of the prevailing ignorance of the real nature of Christianity, and the general forgetfulness of its grand peculiarities. These men wish to reform, but they know neither the real nature of their disease, nor its true remedy. They are aware, indeed, that they must “cease to do evil, and learn to do well;” that they must relinquish their habits of vice, and attend more or less to the duties of Religion; but, having no conception of the actual malignity of the disease under which they labor, or of the perfect cure which the Gospel has provided for it, or of the manner in which that cure is to be effected,—

“They do but skin and film the ulcerous place,

While rank corruption, mining all within,

Infects unseen.”

It often happens therefore but too naturally in this case, that where they do not soon desist from their attempt at reformation, and relapse into their old habits of sin, they take up with a partial and scanty amendment, and fondly flatter themselves that it is a thorough change. They now conceive that they have a right to take to themselves the comforts of Christianity. Not being able to raise their practice up to their standard of right, they lower their standard to their practice: they sit down for life contented with their present attainments, beguiled by the complacencies of their own minds, and by the favorable testimony of surrounding friends; and it often happens, particularly where there is any degree of strictness in formal and ceremonial observances, that there are no people more jealous of their character for Religion.

Others perhaps go farther than this. The dread of the wrath to come has sunk deeper into their hearts; and for a while they strive with all their might to resist their evil propensities, and to walk without stumbling in the path of duty. Again and again they resolve: again and again they break their resolutions, (a) All their endeavors are foiled, and they become more and more convinced of their own moral weakness, and of the strength of their inherent corruption. Thus groaning under the enslaving power of sin, and experiencing the futility of the utmost efforts which they can use for effecting their deliverance, they are tempted (sometimes it is to be feared they yield to the temptation) to give up all in despair, and to acquiesce in their wretched captivity, conceiving it impossible to break their chains. Sometimes, probably, it even happens that they are driven to seek for refuge from their disquietude in the suggestions of infidelity; and to quiet their troublesome consciences by arguments which they themselves scarcely believe, at the very moment in which they suffer themselves to be lulled asleep by them. In the meantime while this conflict has been going on, their walk is sad and comfortless, and their couch is nightly watered with tears. These men are pursuing the right object, but they mistake the way in which it is to be obtained. The path in which they are now treading is not that, which the Gospel has provided for conducting them to true holiness, nor will they find in it any solid peace.

Advice of modern Religionists to such as are desirous of repenting

Persons under these circumstances naturally seek for religious instruction. They turn over the works of our modern Religionists, and as well as they can, collect the advice addressed to men in their situation; the substance of which is, at best, of this sort: “Be sorry indeed for your sins, and discontinue the practice of them; but do not make yourselves so uneasy. Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Do your utmost; discharge with fidelity the duties of your stations, not neglecting your religious offices; and fear not but that, in the end, all will go well; and that having thus performed the conditions required on your part, you will at last obtain forgiveness of our merciful Creator through the merits of Jesus Christ, and be aided, where your own strength shall be insufficient, by the assistance of his Holy Spirit. Meanwhile you cannot do better than read carefully such books of practical divinity, as will instruct you in the principles of a Christian life. We are excellently furnished with works of this nature; and it is by the diligent study of them that you will gradually become a proficient in the lessons of the Gospel.”

Advice given to the same persons by the Holy Scriptures

But the Holy Scriptures, and with them the Church of England, call upon those who are in the circumstances above stated, to lay afresh the whole foundation of their Religion. In concurrence with the Scripture, that Church calls upon them, in the first place, gratefully to adore that undeserved goodness which has awakened them from the sleep of death; to prostrate themselves before the Cross of Christ with humble penitence and deep self-abhorrence; solemnly resolving to forsake all their sins, but relying on the Grace of God alone for power to keep their resolution. Thus, and thus only, she assures them that all their crimes will be blotted out, and that they will receive from above a new living principle of holiness. She produces from the Word of God the ground and warrant of her counsel: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”—“No man,” says our blessed Savior, “cometh unto the Father but by me.”—“I am the true Vine. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”—“He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without” (or severed from) “me ye can do nothing.”—“By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast: for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

Extreme importance of the point now under discussion

Let me not be thought tedious, or be accused of running into needless repetitions, in pressing this point with so much earnestness. It is in fact a point which can never be too much insisted on. It is the cardinal point on which the whole of Christianity turns; on which it is peculiarly proper in this place to be perfectly distinct. There have been some who have imagined that the wrath of God was to be deprecated, or his favor conciliated, by austerities and penances, or even by forms and ceremonies, and external observances. But all men of enlightened understandings, who acknowledge the moral government of God, must also acknowledge, that vice must offend, and virtue delight him. In short they must, more or less, assent to the Scripture declaration, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But the grand distinction, which subsists between the true Christian and all other Religionists, (the class of persons in particular whom it is my object to address) is concerning the nature of this holiness, and the way in which it is to be obtained. The views entertained by the latter, of the nature of holiness, are of all degrees of inadequateness; and they conceive it is to be obtained by their own natural unassisted efforts: or, if they admit some vague indistinct notion of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is unquestionably obvious, on conversing with them, that this does not constitute the main practical ground of their dependence. But the nature of that holiness, which the true Christian seeks to possess, is no other than the restoration of the image of God to his soul: and, as to the manner of acquiring it, disclaiming with indignation every idea of attaining it by his own strength, he rests altogether on the operation of God’s Holy Spirit, which is promised to all who cordially embrace the Gospel. He knows therefore that this holiness is not to precede his reconciliation with God, and be its Cause; but to follow it, and be its effect. That in short it is by faith in Christ only (a) that he is to be justified in the sight of God; to be delivered from the condition of a child of wrath, and a slave of Satan; to be adopted into the family of God; to become an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ, entitled to all the privileges which belong to this high relation; here, to the Spirit of Grace, and a partial renewal after the image of his Creator; hereafter, to the more perfect possession of the Divine likeness, and an inheritance of eternal glory.

The true Christian’s practical use of the peculiar Doctrines of Christianity

And as it is in this way that, in obedience to the dictates of the Gospel, the true Christian must originally become possessed of the vital spirit and living principle of universal holiness; so, in order to grow in grace, he must also study in the same school; finding in the consideration of the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, and in the contemplation of the life and character and sufferings of our blessed Savior, the elements of all practical wisdom, and an inexhaustible storehouse of instructions and motives, no otherwise to be so well supplied. From the neglect of these peculiar doctrines arise the main practical errors of the bulk of professed Christians. These gigantic truths, retained in view, would put to shame the littleness of their dwarfish morality. It would be impossible for them to make these harmonize with their inadequate conceptions of the wretchedness and danger of our natural state, which is represented in Scripture as having so powerfully called forth the compassion of God, that he sent his only begotten Son to rescue us. Where now are their low views of the worth of the soul, when means like these were taken to redeem it? Where now, their inadequate conceptions of the guilt of sin, for which in the divine counsels it seemed requisite that an atonement no less costly should be made, than that of the blood of the only begotten Son of God? How can they reconcile their low standard of Christian practice with the representation of our being “temples of the Holy Ghost;” their cold sense of obligation, and scanty grudged returns of service, with the glowing gratitude of those, who, having been “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” may well conceive, that the labors of a whole life will be but an imperfect expression of their thankfulness?

The peculiar doctrines of the Gospel being once admitted, the conclusions which have been now suggested, are clear and obvious deductions of reason. But our neglect of these important truths is still less pardonable, because they are distinctly and repeatedly applied in Scripture to the very purposes in question; and the whole superstructure of Christian morals is grounded on their deep and ample basis. Sometimes these truths are represented in Scripture generally, as furnishing Christians with a vigorous and ever present principle of universal obedience: and, almost every particular Christian duty is occasionally traced to them as to its proper source. They are everywhere represented as warming the hearts of the people of God on earth with continual admiration, and thankfulness, and love, and joy; as enabling them to triumph over the attack of the last great enemy, and as calling forth afresh in Heaven the ardent effusions of their unexhausted gratitude.

If then we would indeed be “filled with wisdom and spiritual understanding,” if we would “walk worthy of the Lord unto all well pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;” here let us fix our eyes: “Laying aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”*

Use of the peculiar Doctrines in enforcing the importance of Christianity

Here best we way learn the infinite importance of Christianity; how little it deserves to be treated in that slight and superficial way, in which it is in these days regarded by the bulk of nominal Christians, who are apt to think it enough, and almost equally pleasing to God, to be religious in any way, and upon any system. What exquisite folly must it be, to risk the soul on such a presumption, in direct opposition to the dictates of reason, and the express declaration of the word of God! “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”

Looking unto jesus!

In enforcing the duty of an unconditional surrender of ourselves to God

Here we shall best learn the duty and reasonableness of an absolute and unconditional surrender of soul and body to the will and service of God.—“We are not our own;” for, “we are bought with a price,” and must therefore make it our grand concern to “glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are God’s.” Should we be base enough, even if we could do it with safety, to make any reserves in our returns of service to that gracious Savior, who “gave up himself for us?” If we have formerly talked of compounding by the performance of some commands for the breach of others, can we now bear the mention of a composition of duties, or of retaining to ourselves the right of practicing little sins? The very suggestion of such an idea fills us with indignation and shame, if our hearts be not dead to every sense of gratitude.

Looking unto jesus!

In enforcing the guilt of sin, and the dread of its punishment

Here we find displayed, in the most lively colors, the guilt of sin; and how hateful it must be to the perfect holiness of that Being, who is of “purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” When we see that, rather than sin should go unpunished, “God spared not his own Son,” but “was pleased to bruise him and put him to grief” for our sakes; how vainly must impenitent sinners flatter themselves with the hope of escaping the vengeance of Heaven, and buoy themselves up with I know not what desperate dreams of the Divine benignity!

Here too we may anticipate the dreadful sufferings of that state, “where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth;” when, rather than that we should undergo them, “the Son of God” himself, who “thought it no robbery to be equal with God,” consented to take upon him our degraded nature with all its weaknesses and infirmities; to be “a man of sorrows;” “to hide not his face from shame “and spitting;” “to be wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities;” and at length to endure the sharpness of death, “even the death of the Cross;” that he might deliver us from the “wrath to come,” and open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

Looking unto jesus!

In promoting the love of God

Here best ye may learn to grow in the love of God! The certainty of his pity and love towards repenting sinners, thus irrefragably demonstrated, chases away the sense of tormenting fear, and best lays the ground in us of reciprocal affection. And while we steadily contemplate this wonderful transaction, and consider in its several relations the amazing truth, “that God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all;” if our minds be not utterly dead to every impulse of sensibility, the emotions of admiration, of preference, of hope, and trust, and joy, cannot but spring up within us, chastened with reverential fear, and softened and quickened by overflowing gratitude: (a) Here we shall become animated by an abiding disposition to endeavor to please our great Benefactor; and by a humble persuasion, that the weakest endeavors of this nature will not be despised by a Being, who has already proved himself so kindly affected towards us.* Here we cannot fail to imbibe an earnest desire of possessing his favor, and a conviction, founded on his own declarations thus unquestionably confirmed, that the desire shall not be disappointed. Whenever we are conscious that we have offended this gracious Being, a single thought of the great work of Redemption will be enough to fill us with compunction. We shall feel a deep concern, grief mingled with indignant shame, for having conducted ourselves so unworthily towards one, who to us has been infinite in kindness: we shall not rest till we have reason to hope that he is reconciled to us; and we shall watch over our hearts and conduct in future with a renewed jealousy, lest we should again offend him. To those who are ever so little acquainted with the nature of the human mind, it were superfluous to remark, that the affections and tempers which have been enumerated, are the infallible marks of the constituent properties of love. Let him, then, who would abound and grow in this Christian principle, be much conversant with the great doctrines of the Gospel.

In promoting the love of Christ

It is obvious, that the attentive and frequent consideration of these great doctrines, must have a still more direct tendency to produce and cherish in our minds the principle of the love of Christ. But on this head so much was said in a former chapter, that any farther observations upon it are unnecessary.

In promoting the love of our fellow-creatures

Much also has been already observed concerning the love of our fellow-creatures; and it has been distinctly stated to be the indispensable, and indeed the characteristic duty of Christians. It remains, however, to be here farther remarked, that this grace can no where be cultivated with more advantage than at the foot of the Cross. Nowhere can our Savior’s dying injunction to the exercise of this virtue be recollected with more effect; “This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you.” Nowhere can the admonition of the Apostle more powerfully affect us; “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.” The view of mankind which is here presented to us, as being all involved in one common ruin; and the offer of deliverance held out to all, through the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, are well calculated to produce that sympathy towards our fellow-creatures, which, by the constitution of our nature, seldom fails to result from the consciousness of an identity of interests and a similarity of fortunes. Pity for an unthinking world assists this impression. Our enmities soften and melt away; we are ashamed of thinking much of the petty injuries which we may have suffered, when we consider what the Son of God, “who did no wrong, neither was guile found in his mouth,” patiently endured. Our hearts become tender while we contemplate this signal act of loving-kindness. We grow desirous of imitating what we cannot but admire. A vigorous principle of enlarged and active charity springs up within us; and we go forth with alacrity, desirous of treading in the steps of our blessed Master, and of manifesting our gratitude for his unmerited goodness, by bearing each other’s burthens, and abounding in the disinterested labours of benevolence.

Looking unto jesus!

In promoting humility

He was meek and lowly of heart, and from the study of his character we shall best learn the lessons of humility. Contemplating the work of Redemption, we become more and more impressed with the sense of our natural darkness, and helplessness, and misery, from which it was requisite to ransom us at such a price; more and more conscious, that we are utterly unworthy of all the amazing condescension and love which have been manifested towards us; ashamed of the callousness of our tenderest sensibility, and of the poor returns of our most active services. Considerations like these, abating our pride and reducing our opinions of ourselves, naturally moderate our pretensions towards others. We become less disposed to exact that respect for our persons, and that deference for our authority, which we naturally covet; we less sensibly feel a slight, and less hotly resent it; we grow less irritable, less prone to be dissatisfied; more soft, and meek, and courteous, and placable, and condescending. We are not literally required to practice the same humiliating submissions, to which our blessed Savior himself was not ashamed to stoop;* but the spirit of the remark applies to us, “the servant is not greater than his Lord:” and we should especially bear this truth in mind, when the occasion calls upon us to discharge some duty, or patiently to suffer some ill treatment, whereby our pride will be wounded, and we are likely to be in some degree degraded from the rank we had possessed in the world’s estimation. At the same time the Sacred Scriptures assuring us, that to the powerful operations of the Holy Spirit, purchased for us by the death of Christ, we must be indebted for the success of all our endeavors after improvement in virtue; the conviction of this truth tends to render us diffident of our own powers, and to suppress the first risings of vanity. Thus, while we are conducted to heights of virtue no otherwise attainable, due care is taken to prevent our becoming giddy from our elevation, (a) It is the Scripture characteristic of the Gospel system, that by it all disposition to exalt ourselves is excluded; and if we really grow in grace, we shall grow also in humility.

Looking unto jesus!

In promoting a spirit of moderation in earthly pursuits, and cheerfulness in suffering

“He endured the cross, despising the shame.”—While we steadily contemplate this solemn scene, that sober frame of spirit is produced within us, which best befits the Christian militant here on earth. We become impressed with a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of time, and with the necessity of being diligent in making provision for eternity. In such a temper of mind, the pomps and vanities of life are cast behind us as the baubles of children.—We lose our relish for the frolics of gaiety, the race of ambition, or the grosser gratifications of voluptuousness. In the case even of those objects, which may more justly claim the attention of reasonable and immortal beings; in our family arrangements, in our plans of life, in our schemes of business, we become, without relinquishing the path of duty, more moderate in pursuit, and more indifferent about the issue. Here also we learn to correct the world’s false estimate of things, and to “look through the shallowness of earthly grandeur;” to venerate what is truly excellent and noble, though under a despised and degraded form; and to cultivate within ourselves that true magnanimity, which can make us rise superior to the smiles or frowns of this world; that dignified composure of soul, which no earthly incidents can destroy or ruffle. Instead of repining at any of the little occasional inconveniences we may meet with in our passage through life, we are almost ashamed of the multiplied comforts and enjoyments of our condition, when we think of him, who, though “the Lord of glory,” “had not where to lay his head.” And if it be our lot to undergo evils of more than ordinary magnitude, we are animated under them by reflecting, that we are hereby more conformed to the example of our blessed Master: though we must ever recollect one important difference, that the sufferings of Christ were voluntarily borne for our benefit, and were probably far more exquisitely agonizing than any which we are called upon to undergo. Besides, it must be a solid support to us amidst all our troubles, to know, that they do not happen to us by chance; that they are not even merely the punishment of sin; but that they are the dispensations of a kind Providence, and sent on messages of mercy.—“The cup that our Father hath given us, shall we not drink it?”—“Blessed Savior! by the bitterness of thy pains we may estimate the force of thy love; we are sure of thy kindness and compassion; thou wouldst not willingly call on us to suffer; thou hast declared unto us, that all things shall finally work together for good to them that love thee; and therefore, if thou so ordainest it, welcome disappointment and poverty; welcome sickness and pain; welcome even shame and contempt, and calumny. If this be a rough and thorny path, it is one in which thou hast gone before us. Where we see thy footsteps, we cannot repine. Meanwhile, thou wilt support us with the consolations of thy grace; and even here thou canst more than compensate any temporal sufferings, by the possession of that peace, which the world can neither give nor take away.”

Looking unto jesus!

In promoting courage and confidence in dangers; and heavenly mindedness

“The Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” From the scene of our Savior’s weakness and degradation, we follow him, in idea, into the realms of glory, where “he is on the right hand of God; angels, and principalities, and powers being made subject unto him.”—But, though changed in place, yet not in nature; he is still full of sympathy and love; and having died “to save his people from their sins,” “he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Cheered by this animating view, the Christian’s fainting spirits revive. Under the heaviest burthens, he feels his strength recruited; and when all around him is dark and stormy, he can lift up an eye to Heaven, radiant with hope, and glistening with gratitude. At such a season, no dangers can alarm, no opposition can move, no provocations can irritate. He may almost adopt, as the language of his sober exultation, what in the philosopher was but an idle rant; and, considering that it is only the garment of mortality which is subject to the rents of fortune, his spirit, cheered with divine support, keeps its place within, secure and unassailable; so that he can almost triumph at the stake or on the scaffold, and cry out, amidst the severest buffets of adversity, “Thou beatest but the case of Anaxarchus.” But it is rarely that the Christian is elevated with this “joy unspeakable and full of glory;” he even lends himself to these views with moderation and reserve. Often, alas! emotions of another kind fill him with grief and confusion: conscious perhaps of having acted unworthy of his high calling, and of having exposed himself to the just censure of a world ready enough to spy out his infirmities, he seems to himself almost “to have crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” But let neither his joys intoxicate, nor his sorrows too much depress him. Let him still remember, that his chief business while on earth is not to meditate, but to act; that the seeds of moral corruption are apt to spring up within him; and that it is requisite for him to watch over his own heart with incessant care: that he is to discharge with fidelity the duties of his particular station, and to conduct himself, according to his measure, after the example of his blessed Master, whose meat and drink it was to do the work of his heavenly Father: that he is diligently to cultivate the talents with which God has entrusted him, and assiduously to employ them in doing justice and showing mercy, while he guards against the assaults of any internal enemy. In short, he is to demean himself, in all the common affairs of life, like an accountable creature, who, in correspondence with the Scripture character of Christians, is “waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Often therefore he questions himself, “Am I employing my time, my fortune, my bodily and mental powers, so as to be able to ‘render up my account ‘with joy, and not with grief?’ Am I ‘adorning ‘the doctrine of God my Savior in all things;’ and proving that the servants of Christ, animated by a principle of filial affection, which renders their work a service of perfect freedom, are capable of as active and as persevering exertions, as the votaries of fame, or the slaves of ambition, or the drudges of avarice?”

Thus, without interruption to his labors, he may interpose occasional thoughts of things unseen; and amidst the many little intervals of business, may calmly look upwards to the heavenly Advocate, who is ever pleading the cause of his people, and obtaining for them needful supplies of grace and consolation. It is these realizing views, which give the Christian a relish for the worship and service of the heavenly world. And if these blessed images, “seen but through a glass darkly,” can thus refresh the soul, what must be its state, when on the morning of the resurrection it shall awake to the unclouded vision of celestial glory! when, “to them that look for him, the Son of God shall appear a second time without sin unto salvation!” when “sighing and sorrow being fled away,” when doubts and fears no more disquieting, and the painful consciousness of remaining imperfections no longer weighing down the spirit, they shall enter upon the fruition of “those joys, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive;” and shall bear their part in that blessed anthem, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb,” for ever and ever!

The place held by the peculiar doctrines of Christianity constitutes the grand distinction between nominal and real Christians

Thus, never let it be forgotten, the main distinction between real Christianity, and the system of the bulk of nominal Christians, chiefly consists in the different place which is assigned in the two schemes to the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel. These, in the scheme of nominal Christians, if admitted at all, appear but like the stars of the firmament to the ordinary eye. Those splendid luminaries draw forth perhaps occasionally a transient expression of admiration, when we behold their beauty, or hear of their distances, magnitudes, or properties: now and then too we are led, perhaps, to muse upon their possible uses; but however curious as subjects of speculation, it must after all be confessed, they twinkle to the common observer with a vain and “idle” luster; and except in the dreams of the astrologer, have no influence on human happiness, or any concern with the course and order of the world. But to the real Christian, on the contrary, these peculiar Doctrines constitute the center to which he gravitates! the very sun of his system! the origin of all that is excellent, and lovely! the source of light, and life, and motion, and genial warmth, and plastic energy! Dim is the light of reason, and cold and comfortless our state, while left to her unassisted guidance. Even the Old Testament itself, though a revelation from Heaven, shines but with feeble and scanty rays. But the blessed truths of the Gospel are now unveiled to our eyes, and we are called upon to behold and to enjoy “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ,” in the full radiance of its meridian splendor. The words of inspiration best express our highly favored state; “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

THOU art the source and center of all minds,

Their only point of rest, eternal Word;

From Thee departing, they are lost, and rove

At random, without honor, hope, or peace:

From Thee is all that soothes the life of man;

His high endeavor, and his glad success;

His strength to suffer, and his will to serve.

But O! Thou Bounteous Giver of all good!

Thou art of all Thy gifts Thyself the crown:

Give what Thou canst, without Thee we are poor,

And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.[1]

 

 

* It will be remembered by the reader, that it is not the object of this Work to animadvert on the vices, defects, and erroneous opinions of the times, except so far as they are received into the prevailing religious system, or are tolerated by it, and are not thought sufficient to prevent a man from being esteemed on the whole a very tolerable Christian.

a Vide Hey’s Tracts, Rousseau’s Eloisa, and many periodical Essays and Sermons.

a The writer cannot omit this opportunity of declaring, that he should long ago have brought this subject before the notice of Parliament, but for a perfect conviction that he should probably thereby only give encouragement to a system he wishes to see at an end. The practice has been at different periods nearly stopped by positive laws, in various nations on the continent; and there can be little doubt of the efficacy of what has been more than once suggested—at Court of Honor, to take cognizance of such offences as would naturally fall within its province. The effects of this establishment would doubtless require to be enforced by legislative provisions, directly punishing the practice; and by discouraging at court, and in the military and naval situations, all who should directly or indirectly be guilty of it.

a Vide in particular, a paper in the Guardian, by Addison, on Honor, Vol. ii.

a Vide Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

b The writer hopes that the work to which he is referring is so well known, that he needs scarcely name Mrs. H. More.

* See Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

* While all are worthy of blame, who to qualities like these, have assigned a more exalted place than to religious and moral principle; there is one writer who, eminently culpable in this respect, deserves, on another account, still severer reprehension. Really possessed of powers to explore and touch the finest strings of the human heart, and bound by his sacred profession to devote those powers to the service of religion and virtue, he everywhere discovers a studious solicitude to excite indecent ideas. We turn away our eyes with disgust from open immodesty: but even this is less mischievous than that more measured style, which excites impure images, without shocking us by the grossness of the language. Never was delicate sensibility proved to be more distinct from plain practical benevolence, than in the writings of the author to whom I allude. Instead of employing his talents for the benefit of his fellow creatures, they were applied to the pernicious purposes of corrupting the national taste, and of lowering the standard of manners and morals. The tendency of his writings is to vitiate that purity of mind, intended by Providence as the companion and preservative of youthful virtue; and to produce, if the expression may be permitted, a morbid sensibility in the perception of indecency. An imagination exercised in this discipline, is never clean, but seeks for and discovers something indelicate in the most common phrases and actions of ordinary life. If the general style of writing and conversation were to be formed on that model, to which Sterne used his utmost endeavors to conciliate the minds of men, there is no estimating the effects which would soon be produced on the manners and morals of the age.

a Vide Smith on the Wealth of Nations, Vol. iii.

a Many more might be added, such as, A good fellow, a good companion, a libertine, a little free, a little loose in talk, wild, gay, jovial, being no man’s enemy but his own, &c. &c. &c. &c.; above all, having a good heart.

* Geneva.—It is worthy of remark, that the play-houses have multiplied extremely in Paris since the revolution; and that last winter there were twenty open every night, and all crowded. It should not be left unobserved, and it is seriously submitted to the consideration of those who regard the Stage as a school of morals, that the pieces which were best composed, best acted, and most warmly and generally applauded, were such as abounded in touches of delicate sensibility. The people of Paris have never been imagined to be more susceptible than the generality of mankind, of these emotions, and this is not the particular period when the Parisians have been commonly conceived most under their influence. Vide Journal d’un Voyageur Neutre. The author of the work expresses himself as astonished by the phenomenon, and as unable to account for it.

* The author is almost afraid of using the terms, lest they should convey an impression of party feelings, of which he wishes this book to exhibit no traces; but he here means by Democrats and Jacobins, not persons, on whom party violence fastens the epithet, but persons who are really and avowedly such.

a Lord Bacon.

a If any one would read a description of this process, enlivened and enforced by the powers of the most exquisite poetry, let him peruse the middle and latter part of the fifth Book of Cowper’s Task. My warm attachment to the beautifully natural compositions of this truly Christian poet may perhaps bias my judgment; but the part of the work to which I refer appears to me scarcely surpassed by any thing in our language. The honorable epithet of Christian may justly be assigned to a poet, whose writings, while they fascinate the reader by their manifestly coming from the heart, breathe throughout the spirit of that character of Christianity, with which she was announced to the world; “Glory to God, peace on earth, good will “towards men.”

a Here again let it be remarked, that faith, where genuine, is always accompanied with repentance, abhorrence of sin, &c.

a Vide Chap. III. Where these were shown to be the elementary principles of the passion of love.

a Vide Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion—a book abounding in the deepest views of practical Christianity.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 89–220). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

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Exposition of John - Christ and Nicodemus - John 3:1-8

We begin with the usual Analysis of the passage that is to be before us:—

1.   The Person of Nicodemus, verse 1.

2.   The official Position of Nicodemus, verse 1.

3.   The Timidity of Nicodemus, verse 2.

4.   The Reasoning of Nicodemus, verse 2.

5.   What did Nicodemus’ ignorance demonstrate? verse 4.

6.   The Stupidity of Nicodemus, verse 4.

7.   The Instructing of Nicodemus, verses 5–8.

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (John 3:1, 2). Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews,” which means, most probably, that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. As such, he is to be viewed here as a representative character. He gives us another phase of the spiritual condition of Judaism. First, he came to Jesus “by night” (verse 2); second, he was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment (verses 4, 10); third, he was dead in trespasses and sin, and therefore, needing to be “born again” (verse 7). As such, he was a true representative of the Sanhedrin—Israel’s highest ecclesiastical court. What a picture, then, does this give us again of Judaism! For the Sanhedrin it was nighttime, they were in the dark. And like Nicodemus, their representative, the Sanhedrin were devoid of all spiritual discernment, and had no understanding in the things of God. So, too, like Nicodemus, his fellow—members were destitute of spiritual apprehension. Again we say, What light does this cast upon Judaism at that time! So far, we have seen a blinded priesthood (John 1:21, 26); second, a joyless nation (John 2:3); third, a desecrated Temple (John 2:16); and now we have a spiritually dead Sanhedrim

“The same came to Jesus by night.” And why did Nicodemus come to the Lord Jesus by night? Was it because he was ashamed to be seen coming to Him? Did he approach Christ secretly, under cover of the darkness? This is the view generally held, and we believe it to be the correct one. Why else should we be told that he came “by night?” What seems to confirm the popular idea is that each time Nicodemus is referred to in the Gospel afterwards, it is repeated that he came to Jesus “by night.” In John 7:50, 51 we read, “Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,) Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” And again in John 19:39 we are told, “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight.” What is the more noticeable is that something courageous is recorded of Nicodemus: his boldness in reprimanding the Sanhedrin, and his intrepidity in accompanying Joseph of Arimathea at a time when all the apostles had fled. It seems as though the Holy Spirit had emphasized these bold acts of Nicodemus by reminding us that at first he acted timidly. One other thing which appears to confirm our conclusion is his use of the personal pronoun when Nicodemus first addressed the Savior: “Rabbi,” he said, “we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” Why speak in the plural number unless he hesitated to commit himself by expressing his own opinion? and so preferred to shelter behind the conclusion drawn by others, hence the “we.”

“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). This was true, for the miracles of Christ differed radically from those performed by others before or since. But this very fact warns us that we need to examine carefully the credentials of other miracle-workers. Is the fact that a man works miracles a sure proof that he comes from God, and that God is with him? To some the question may appear well-nigh superfluous. There are many who would promptly answer in the affirmative. How could any man perform miracles “except God be with him?” It is because this superficial reasoning prevails so widely that we feel it incumbent upon us to dwell upon this point. And it is because there are men and women today that work miracles, who (we are fully persuaded) are not “sent of God,” that a further word on the subject is much needed.

In these times men and women can stand up and teach the most erroneous doctrines, and yet if they proffer as their credentials the power to perform miracles of healing, they are widely received and hailed as the servants of God. But it is generally overlooked that Satan has the power to work miracles, too, and frequently the great Deceiver of souls bestows this power on his emissaries in order to beguile the unstable and confirm them in error. Let us not forget that the magicians of Egypt were able, up to a certain point, to duplicate the miracles of Moses, and whence obtained they this power unless from that old Serpent, the Devil! Let us not forget the warning of the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” And, finally, let us not forget it is recorded in Scripture that of the Antichrist it is written, “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). Yes, Satan is able to work miracles, and also to deliver this power to others. So, then, the mere fact that a certain teacher works miracles is no proof that he is “come from God.”

It is because we are in danger of being beguiled by these “deceitful workers” of Satan, who “transform themselves into the apostles of Christ,” that we are exhorted to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And it should not be forgotten that the church at Ephesus was commended by Christ because they had heeded this exhortation, and in consequence had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). “But,” it will be asked, “how are we to test those who come unto us in the name of Christ?” A most important and timely question. We answer, Not by the personal character of those who claim to come from God, for as 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 tells us, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.” And not by their power to work miracles. How then? Here is the Divinely inspired answer, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). They must be tested by the written Word of God. Does the professed servant of God teach that which is in accord with the Holy Scriptures? Does he furnish a “Thus saith the Lord” for every assertion he makes? If he does not, no matter how winsome may be his personality, nor how pleasing his ways, no matter how marvelous may be the “results” he “gets,” God’s command is, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (this teaching), receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed” (2 John 10). Let us emulate the Bereans, of whom it is recorded in Acts 17:11, “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

And how did the Lord receive Nicodemus? Notice, He did not refuse him an audience. It was night-time, and no doubt the Savior had put in a full day, yet He did not seek to be excused. Blessed be His name, there is no unacceptable time for a sinner to seek the Savior. Night-time it was, but Christ readily received Nicodemus. One of the things which impresses the writer as he reads the Gospels, is the blessed accessibility of the Lord Jesus. He did not surround Himself with a bodyguard of attendants, whose duty it was to insure his privacy and protect Him from those who could be a nuisance. No; He was easily reached, and blessedly approachable—quite unlike some “great” preachers we know of.

And what was Christ’s response to Nicodemus’ address? This “ruler of the Jews” hailed Him as “a teacher come from God,” and such is the only conception of the Christ of God. But it is not as a Teacher the sinner must first approach Christ. What the sinner needs is to be “born again,” and in order to do this he must have a Savior. And it is of these very things our Lord speaks to Nicodemus—see verses 3 and 14. Of what value is teaching to one who is “dead in trespasses and sins,” and who is even now, under the condemnation of a holy God! A saved person is a fit subject for teaching, but what the unsaved need is preaching, preaching which will expose their depravity, exhibit their deep need of a Savior, and then (and not till then) reveal the One who is mighty to save.

Christ ignored Nicodemus’ address, and with startling abruptness said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This brings us to the central truth of the passage before us—the teaching of our Lord upon the new birth. Here we find that He speaks of first, the supreme Importance of the new birth (verse 3); second, the Instrument of the new birth—“water” (verse 5); third, the Producer of the new birth—“the Spirit” (verse 5); fourth, the imperative Necessity of the new birth—a new nature, “spirit” (verse 6); sixth, the obvious Imperativeness of the new birth (verse 7); seventh, the Process of the new birth (verse 8). Let us consider each of these points separately.

1. The supreme Importance of the new birth. This is exhibited here in a number of ways. To begin with, it is profoundly significant that the new birth formed the first subject of the Savior’s teaching in this Gospel. In the first two chapters we learn of a number of things He did, but here in John 3 is the first discourse of Christ recorded by this apostle. It is not how man should live that we are first instructed by Christ in this Gospel, but how men are made alive spiritually. A man cannot live before he is born; nor can a dead man regulate his life. No man can live Godwards until he has been born again. The importance of the new birth, then, is shown here, in that the Savior’s instruction upon it is placed at the beginning of His teaching in this Gospel. Thus we are taught it is of basic, fundamental importance.

In the second place, the importance of the new birth is declared by the solemn terms in which Christ spoke of it, and particularly in the manner in which He prefaced His teaching upon it. The Lord began by saying, “Verily, verily,” which means “Of a truth, of a truth.” This expression is employed by Christ only when He was about to mention something of a momentous nature. The double “verily” denoted that what He was about to say was of solemn and weighty significance. Let the reader learn to pay special attention to what follows these “Verily, verily’s” of the Savior, found only in John.

In the third place, Christ here plainly intimated the supreme importance of the new birth by affirming that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). If then the kingdom of God cannot be seen until a man is born again, the new birth is shown to be a matter of vital moment for every descendant of Adam.

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). There is some doubt in our mind as to exactly what is referred to here by “the kingdom of God.” In the first place, this expression occurs nowhere else in this Gospel but here in John 3:3, 5. In the second place, this fourth Gospel treats of spiritual things. For this reason we think “the kingdom of God” in this passage has a moral force. It seems to us that Romans 14:17 helps us to understand the significance of the term we are here studying. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In the third place, the kingdom of God could not be “seen” by Nicodemus except by the new birth. We take it, then, that the “kingdom of God” in John 3 refers to the things of God, spiritual things, which are discerned and enjoyed by the regenerate here upon earth (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10, 14). The word for “see” in the Greek is “eidon,” which means “to know or become acquainted with.” The full force, then, of this first word of Christ to Nicodemus appears to be this: “Except a man be born again he cannot come to know the things of God.” Such being the case, the new birth is seen to be a thing of profound importance.

“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). What a verification was this of what the Lord had just told Nicodemus. Here was proof positive that this ruler of the Jews was altogether lacking in spiritual discernment, and quite unable to know the things of God. The Savior had expressed Himself in simple terms, and yet this master of Israel altogether missed His meaning. How true it is that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14), and in order to have spiritual discernment a man must be born again. Till then he is blind, unable to see the things of God.

2. The Instrument of the new birth. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Regeneration is a being born “of water.” This expression has been the occasion of wide difference of opinion among theologians. Ritualists have seized upon it as affording proof of their doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but this only evidences the weakness of their case when they are obliged to appeal to such for a proof text. However, it may be just as well if we pause here and give the scriptural refutation of this widely held heresy.

That baptism is in no wise essential to salvation, that it does not form one of the conditions which God requires the sinner to meet, is clear from many considerations. First, if baptism be necessary to salvation then no one was saved before the days of John the Baptist, for the Old Testament will be searched from beginning to end without finding a single mention of “baptism.” God, who changes not, has had but one way of salvation since Adam and Eve became sinners in Eden, and if baptism is an indispensable prerequisite to the forgiveness of sins, then all who died from Abel to the time of Christ are eternally lost. But this is absurd. The Old Testament Scriptures plainly teach otherwise.

In the second place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then every professing believer who has died during this present dispensation is eternally lost, if he died without being baptized. And this would shut heaven’s door upon the repentant thief, as well as all the Quakers and members of the Salvation Army, the vast majority of whom have never been baptized. But this is equally unthinkable.

In the third place, if baptism be necessary to salvation, then we must utterly ignore every passage in God’s Word which teaches that salvation is by grace and not of works, that it is a free gift and not bought by anything the sinner does. If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that Christ Himself never baptized any one (see John 4:2), for He came to “save his people from their sins.” If baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange that the apostle Paul when asked point blank by the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” answered by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Finally, if baptism be essential to salvation, it is passing strange the apostle Paul should have written to the Corinthians, “I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius” (1 Cor. 1:14).

If then the words of Christ “born of water” have no reference to the waters of baptism, what do they signify? Before replying directly to this question, we must observe how the word “water” is used in other passages in this Gospel. To the woman at the well Christ said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Was this literal “water?” One has but to ask the question to answer it. Clearly, “water” is here used emblematically. Again, in John 7:37, 38 we are told, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Here, too, the word “water” is not to be understood literally, but emblematically. These passages in John’s Gospel are sufficient to warrant us in giving the word “water” in John 3:5 a figurative meaning.

If then the Lord Jesus used the word “water” emblematically in John 3:5, to what was He referring? We answer, The Word of God. This is ever the instrument used by God in regeneration. In every other passage where the instrument of the new birth is described, it is always the Word of God that is mentioned. In Psalm 119:50 we read, “For Thy word hath quickened me.” Again, in 1 Corinthians 4:15 we find the apostle saying, “I have begotten you through the gospel.” Again, we are told “Of his own will begat he us with (what?—baptism? no but with) the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter declares, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Pet. 1:23).

The new birth, then, is by the Word of God, and one of the emblems of the Word is “water.” God employs quite a number of emblems to describe the various characteristics and qualities of His Word. It is likened to a “lamp” (Psalm 119:105) because it illumines. It is likened unto a “hammer” (Jer. 23:29) because it breaks up the hard heart. It is likened unto “water” because it cleanses: see Psalm 119:9; John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26: “Born of water” means born of the cleansing and purifying Word of God.

3. The Producer of the new birth. “Born of water, and of the Spirit” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit of God is the Begetter, the Word is the “seed” (1 John 3:9) He uses. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). And again, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). Nothing could be plainer. No sinner is quickened apart from the Word. The order which is followed by God in the new creation is the same He observed in the restoring of the old creation. A beautiful illustration of this is found in Genesis 1. The opening verse refers to the original creation of God. The second verse describes its subsequent condition, after it had been ruined. Between the first two verses of Genesis 1 some terrible calamity intervened—most probably the fall of Satan—and the fair handiwork of God was blasted. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:2 literally reads, “And the earth became a desolate waste.” But six days before the creation of Adam, God began the work of restoration, and it is indeed striking to observe the order He followed. First, darkness abode upon “the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2); Second, “And the Spirit of God moved upon (Hebrew ‘brooded over’) the face of the waters”; Third, “And God said, Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); Fourth, “And there was light.” The order is exactly the same in the new creation. First, the unregenerate sinner is in darkness, the darkness of spiritual death. Second, the Holy Spirit moves upon, broods over, the conscience and heart of the one He is about to quicken. Third, the Word of God goes forth in power. Fourth, the result is “light”—the sinner is brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who produces the new birth.

4. The imperative Necessity of the new birth. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). By his first birth man enters this world a sinful creature, and because of this he is estranged from the thrice Holy One. Of the unregenerate it is said, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Unspeakably solemn is this. When Adam and Eve fell they were banished from the Paradise, and each of their children were born outside of Eden. That sin shuts man out from the holy presence of God, was impressively taught to Israel. When Jehovah came down on Sinai to give the Law unto Moses (the mediator), the people were fenced off at the base of the Mount, and were not suffered to pass on pain of death. When Jehovah took up His abode in the midst of the chosen people, He made His dwelling place inside the holy of holies, which was curtained off, and none was allowed to pass through the veil save the high priest, and he but once a year as he entered with the blood of atonement. Man then is away from God. He is, in his natural condition, where the prodigal son was—in the far country, away from the father’s house—and except he be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This is not an arbitrary decree, but the enunciation of an abiding principle. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. And this is the very nature of the case. An unregenerate man who has no relish at all for spiritual things, who is bored by the conversation of believers, who finds the Bible dull and dry, who is a stranger to the throne of grace, would be wretched in heaven. Such a man could not spend eternity in the presence of God. Suppose a fish were taken out of the water, and laid upon a salver of gold; suppose further that the sweetest of flowers surrounded it, and that the air was filled with their fragrance; suppose, too, that the strains of most melodious music fell upon its ears, would that fish be happy and contented? Of course not. And why not? Because it would be out of harmony with its environment; because it would be lacking in capacity to appreciate its surroundings. Thus would it be with an unregenerate soul in heaven.

Once more. The new birth is an imperative necessity because the natural man is altogether devoid of spiritual life. It is not that he is ignorant and needs instruction: it is not that he is feeble and needs invigorating: it is not that he is sickly and needs doctoring. His case is far, far worse. He is dead in trespasses and sins. This is no poetical figure of speech; it is a solemn reality, little as it is perceived by the majority of people. The sinner is spiritually lifeless and needs quickening. He is a spiritual corpse, and needs bringing from death unto life. He is a member of the old creation, which is under the curse of God, and unless he is made a new creation in Christ, he will lie under that curse to all eternity. What the natural man needs above everything else is life, Divine life; and as birth is the gateway to life, he must be born again, and except he be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. This is final.

5. The Character of the new birth. But what is the new birth? Precisely what is it that differentiates a man who is dead in sins from one who has passed from death unto life? Upon this point there is much confusion and ignorance. Tell the average person that he must be born again and he thinks you mean that he must reform, mend his manner of life, turn over a new leaf. But reformation concerns only the outer life. And the trouble with man is within. Suppose the mainspring of my watch were broken, what good would it do if I put in a new crystal and polished the case until I could see my face in it? None at all, for the seat of the trouble is inside the watch. So it is with the sinner. Suppose that his deportment was irreproachable, that his moral character was stainless, that he had such control of his tongue that he never sinned with his lips, what would all this avail while he still had (as God says he has) a heart that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked?” The new birth, then, is something more than reformation.

Others suppose, and there are thousands who do so, that being born again means becoming religious. Tell the average church-goer that “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and these solemn words afford him no qualms. He is quite at ease, for he fondly imagines that he has been born again. He will tell you that he has always been a Christian: that from early childhood he has believed in Christianity, has attended church regularly, nay, that he is a church-member, and contributes regularly toward the support of the Gospel. He is very religious. Periodically he has happy feelings; he says his prayers regularly, and on Sundays he reads his Bible. What more can be required of him! And thus many are lulled to sleep by Satan. If such an one should read these lines, let him pause and seriously weigh the fact that it was man eminently religious that the Savior was addressing when He declared, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was not only a religious man, he was a preacher, and yet it was to him Christ said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

There are still others who believe that the new birth is a change of heart, and it is exceedingly difficult to convince them to the contrary. They have heard so many preachers, orthodox preachers, speak of a change of heart, that they have never thought of challenging the scripturalness of this expression, yet it is unscriptural. The Bible may be searched from Genesis to Revelation, and nowhere does this expression “change of heart” occur upon its pages. The sad thing is that “change of heart” is not only unscriptural, but is it antiscriptural, untrue, and therefore, utterly misleading. In the one who has been born again there is no change of heart though there is a change of life, both inward and outward. The one who is born again now loves the things he once bated, and he hates now the things he once loved; and, in consequence, his whole line of conduct is radically affected. But, nevertheless, it remains true that his old heart (which is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”) remains in him, unchanged, to the end.

What, then, is the new birth? We answer, It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything within the sinner; instead, it is the communication of something to the sinner. The new birth is the impartation of the new nature. When I was born the first time I received from my parents their nature: so, when I was born again, I received from God His nature. The Spirit of God begets within us a spiritual nature: as we read in 2 Peter 1:4, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”

It is a fundamental law which inheres in the very nature of things that like can only produce like. This unchanging principle is enunciated again and again in the first chapter of Genesis. There we read, “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind” (John 1:12). And again, “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind” (John 1:21). It is only the blindness and animus of infidelistic evolutionists who affirm that one order of creatures can beget another order radically different from themselves. No; that which is born of the vegetable is vegetable; that which is born of the animal is animal. And that which is born of sinful man is a sinful child. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Hence, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It cannot be anything else. Educate and cultivate it all you please, it remains flesh. Water cannot rise above its own level, neither can a bitter fountain send forth sweet waters. That which is born of flesh is flesh; it may be refined flesh, it may be beautiful flesh, it may be religious flesh. But it is still “flesh.” On the other hand, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The child always partakes of the nature of his parents. That which is born of man is human; that which is born of God is Divine. That which is born of man is sinful, that which is born of God is spiritual.

Here, then, is the character or nature of the new birth. It is not the reformation of the outward man, it is not the education of the natural man, it is not the purification of the old man, but it is the creation of a new man. It is a Divine begetting (James 1:18). It is a birth of the Spirit (John 3:6). It is a being made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It is becoming a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). It is a being born into God’s family. Every born again person has, therefore, two natures within him: one which is carnal, the other which is spiritual. These two natures are contrary the one to the other (Gal. 5:17), and in consequence, there is an unceasing warfare going on within the Christian. It is only the grace of God which can subdue the old nature; and it is only the Word of God which can feed the new nature.

6. The obvious Imperativeness of the new birth. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Without doubt, Nicodemus was startled. The emphatic statements of Christ staggered him. The vital importance and imperative necessity of the new birth were points which had never exercised his conscience or engaged his serious attention. He was amazed at the Savior’s searching declarations. Yet he ought not to have been. Really, there was no cause for him to stand there in openmouthed wonderment. “Marvel not,” said Christ. It was as though the Lord had said, “Nicodemus, what I have said to you should be obvious. If a man is a sinner, if because of sin he is blind to the things of God, if no amount of religious cultivation can change the essential nature of man, then it is patent that his deepest need is to be born again. Marvel not: it is a self-evident truth.”

That entrance into the kingdom of God is only made possible by the new birth, that is, by the reception of the Divine nature, follows a basic law that obtains in every other kingdom. The realm of music is entered by birth. Suppose I have a daughter, and I am anxious she should become an accomplished musician. I place her under the tuition of the ablest instructor obtainable. She studies diligently the science of harmony, and she practices assiduously hours every day. In the end, will my desire be realized? Will she become an accomplished musician? That depends upon one thing—was she born with a musical nature? Musicians are born, not manufactured. Again; suppose I have a son whom I desire should be an artist. I place him under the instruction of an efficient teacher. He is given lessons in drawing; he studies the laws of color-blending; he is taken to the art galleries and observes the productions of the great masters. And what is the result? Does he blossom out into a talented artist? And again it depends solely on one thing—was he born with the nature and temperament of an artist? Artists are born, not manufactured. Let these examples suffice for illustrating this fundamental principle. A man must have a musical nature if he is to enter the kingdom of music. A man must have an artistic nature if he is really to enter the realm of art. A man must have a mathematical mind if he is to be a mathematician. There is nothing to “marvel” at in this: it is self-evident; it is axiomatic. So, in like manner, a man must have a spiritual nature before he can enter the spiritual world: a man must have God’s own nature before he can enter God’s kingdom. Therefore “Marvel not … ye must be born again.”

7. The Process of the new birth. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A comparison is here drawn between the wind and the Spirit. The comparison is a double one. First, both are sovereign in their activities; and second, both are mysterious in their operations. The comparison is pointed out in the word “so.” The first point of analogy is found in the word “where it listeth” or “pleaseth”; the second is found in the words “canst not tell.”

“The wind bloweth where it pleaseth … so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The wind is irresponsible: that is to say, it is sovereign in its action. The wind is an element altogether beyond man’s control. The wind neither consults man’s pleasure, nor can it be regulated by his devices. So it is with the Spirit. The wind blows where it pleases, when it pleases, as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit.

Again; the wind is irresistible. When the wind blows in the fullness of its power it sweeps everything before it. Those who have looked upon the effects of a tornado just after it has passed, know something of the mighty force of the wind. It is so with the Spirit. When He comes in the fullness of His power, He breaks down man’s prejudices, subdues his rebellious will, overcomes all opposition.

Again; the wind is irregular. Sometimes the wind moves so softly it scarcely rustles a leaf, at other times it blows so loudly that its roar can be heard miles away. So it is in the matter of the new birth. With some the Holy Spirit works so gently His work is imperceptible to onlookers; with others His action is so powerful, so radical, revolutionary, His operations are patent to many. Sometimes the wind is only local in its reach, at other times it is widespread in its scope. So it is with the Spirit. Today He acts on one or two souls, tomorrow, He may—as at Pentecost—“prick in the heart” a whole multitude. But whether He works on few or many He consults not man; He acts as He pleases.

Again; the wind is invisible. It is one of the very few things in nature that is invisible. We can see the rain, the snow, the lightning’s flash; but not so the wind. The analogy holds good with the Spirit. His Person is unseen.

Again; the wind is inscrutable. There is something about the wind which defies all effort of human explanation. Its origin, its nature, its activities, are beyond man’s ken. Man cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. It is so with the activities of the Holy Spirit. His operations are conducted secretly; His workings are profoundly mysterious.

Again; the wind is indispensable. If a dead calm were to continue indefinitely all vegetation would die. How quickly we wilt when there is no wind at all. Even more so is it with the Spirit. Without Him there could be no spiritual life at all.

Finally, the wind is invigorating. The life-giving properties of the wind are illustrated every time a physician orders his sick patient to retire to the mountains or to the seaside. It is so, again, with the Spirit. He is the One who strengthens with might in the inner man. He is the One who energizes, revives, empowers. How marvelously full was the figure employed by Christ on this occasion. How much is suggested by this single word “wind.” Let the above serve as an example of the great importance and value of prolonged meditation upon every word of Holy Writ.

God has thrown an impenetrable veil over the beginnings and processes of life. That we live we know, but how we live we cannot tell. Life is evident to the consciousness and manifest to the senses, but it is profoundly mysterious in its operations. It is so with the new life born of the Spirit. To sum up the teaching of this verse: “The wind bloweth”—there is the fact. “And thou hearest the sound thereof”—there is evidence of the fact. “But knowest not whence”—there is the mystery behind the fact. The one born again knows that he has a new life, and enjoys the evidences of it, but how the Holy Spirit operates upon the soul, subdues the will, creates the new life within us, belongs to the deep things of God.

Below will be found a number of questions bearing on the passage which is to be before us in the next chapter. In the meantime let each reader who desires to become a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” diligently study the whole passage (John 3:9–21) for himself, paying particular attention to the points raised by our questions:—2

1.   What does verse 9 go to prove?

2.   What solemn warning does verse 10 point?

3.   What is the force of the contrast between earthly things and heavenly things in verse 12?

4.   How are we to understand verse 13 in view of Enoch’s and Elijah’s experiences?

5.   What Divine attribute of Christ is affirmed in verse 13?

6.   What is the connection between verse 14 and the context?

7.   Why was a “serpent” selected by God to typify Christ on the Cross? verse 14. Study carefully the first nine verses of Numbers 21.[1]

 

 

2 (No doubt the reader will be glad to know that the Author has published a booklet containing the substance of the above entitled The New Birth, which the Lord has been pleased to own in blessing to many. Price 15 cents per copy. Order from the Bible Truth Depot, Swengel, Pa.—I. C. H.).

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 103–119). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

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Christ's Providential Government of the World

Christ’s Providential Government of the World

Psalm, 97:1

The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.

Many persons profess to believe that there is a God who created all things, and even to credit the gospel also, who are not established in the faith of his particular providence in governing the world. Some of those who are of a speculative cast will tell us, that God acts not by particular but by general laws; that these laws were impressed in the original constitution and nature of things at the creation, and that everything must necessarily operate according to the law of its nature, without any need of divine immediate agency; just as a clock once constructed, wound up, and set a going, will move on of its own accord without any assistance of the artificer till it has run the length of its paces. They think it far beneath the Deity to be continually attentive to the concerns of his creatures, especially the particular concerns of individuals. So that their whole scheme amounts ultimately to this—that though God at first created the world, he hath left the government of it to these unmeaning sounds—nature, chance, or fate.

The text, however, gives us better information; for it declares, that the lord reigneth. He not only at first made all things, and impressed upon them laws in their original formation, but he also continues to superintend and govern all his works by his providence; and upholds, directs, and disposeth of creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the most minute; and that according to his own most perfect holiness, wisdom, and goodness. This is a most important and comfortable doctrine to the fearers of God; and so the earth is called, upon the consideration thereof, to be glad and rejoice.

I. We shall consider this as it relates to God’s providential kingdom in governing the world.

II. To the reign of the Messiah, which also includes the former as subservient to it.

III. The use to be made of this doctrine.

The whole word of God is full of this comfortable truth, that Jehovah reigneth, and that his kingdom ruleth over all, Psalm, 103:19.

1. It shews us plainly, that God not only foresees whatever comes to pass, but also determines the time, circumstances, and manner of it. So he says himself, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” Isaiah, 46; 9:10. Here he not only declares his foreknowledge, but his determinate counsel with regard to future events; or what is commonly called his decrees as the Sovereign of the world. But this is not all; he also declares, that he will most certainly put his determinations into execution—“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” So he is said to “work all things after the counsel of his own will,” Eph. 1:11. and to “do according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Dan. 4:35. True indeed, he often, nay ordinarily, uses the instrumentality of second causes and free agents to execute his purpose; nay, even the wicked intentions and actions of men he over-rules and makes subservient to his holy, just, and good designs, as in the case of Joseph and his brethren, Gen. 50:20. and in the delivering up of Christ to be crucified, Acts, 2:23. with many other instances that might be produced; but yet both these events are ascribed unto God, Gen. 45:8; Acts, 3:18. and 4:28.—He has also the particular circumstances of every event under his direction and management. It is the combination and adjustment of circumstances that, naturally speaking, produceth the event intended. If these were left loose and unsettled, so must the effect which depends upon them. Not that God is confined to one train of circumstances; he can bring about his purpose in innumerable ways: but it plainly appears from scripture, that he hath determined all the means and circumstances conducive to a purposed event, as well as the event itself, and that he uses and manages them all to that end with infinite skill. This might be clearly illustrated from the fore-mentioned accounts of Joseph and the death of Christ.—His providence is not only engaged in the great affairs of the world, such as the government and revolutions of empires and states, but it extends to the private and minute concerns of individuals. Christ says of his people, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” Matt. 10:30. Nay, the very smallest of his irrational creatures are the subjects of his care and goodness: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father,” Matt. 10:29. or as Luke has it, “none of them is forgotten of God,” ch. 12:6. In short, the scripture abundantly holds forth that Jehovah reigneth, not only in his miraculous providences towards his ancient people, but in his universal government of the world, Psalm, 83:18. and that not only in the great concerns of the world, but also in the particular minute concerns of individuals. Nor does he reign merely as the upholder, and preserver, and disposer of all things, but as the moral governor of his rational creatures. He judges the world in righteousness, and to him they are accountable as the Sovereign and righteous Judge of all the earth, who will do justice to every one. Indeed his government of the natural world is clearly subservient to his moral government, which makes the chief figure in revelation. Every view therefore we can take of proper reign or government is applicable in the highest degree to Jehovah.

What generally blind men’s minds as to his providential government, are—The intervention of means or second causes—Their ignorance of God’s design in many providences—And, as to his moral government, the afflictions of the righteous, and the prosperity and impunity of the wicked in this life, tend to obscure it in the eyes of many.

1. As to means or second causes—Some of them operate naturally, or according to the established course of nature, such as the sun dispensing light and heat—the regular succession of seasons, with all their effects—the propagation and death of animals—the qualities and operations of certain parts of matter, as that of fire to burn, &c. In a thousand such things men are apt to lose sight of providence on account of their being so regular and fixed; yet the scripture makes the established course of nature to depend immediately upon God—“He upholdeth all things by the word of his power,” Heb. 1:3.—He actuates all things, and gives natural causes their energy and effect. He maketh the sun to know his rising and going down, Psalm, 104:19. He maketh day and night, light and darkness, Psalm, 74:16. and 104:20. The succession of seasons is established by covenant not necessity, Gen. 8:22. and all their produce in like manner, Psalm, 104:13–16; Acts, 14:17.—It is he that multiplies the race of men; he made us and not we ourselves, Psalm, 100:3.—It is in him we live; and it is he that killeth as well as maketh alive—It is he who gave the fire its nature, and who continues its operation. The established course of nature is part of the divine government, wherein his glory is to be seen, Psalm, 19:1, 2. and he makes natural causes to fulfil his particular purposes. He has in many instances suspended and altered the course of nature at pleasure. He has arrested the sun and moon in their courses, and even made the sun go backwards. He has used the elements as instruments of his righteous vengeance, punishing a guilty city with fire and brimstone from heaven, and a wicked world with an universal deluge. When he wanted to shew his power in behalf of his people, he suspended the operations of nature; the water did not drown, nor the fire consume, nor hungry voracious lions devour them.

There are second causes which act voluntarily, or from their own choice and design, such as rational creatures. This so much resembles the Deity’s own manner of acting, that men are apt to look upon the free agent as the first cause, and so to overlook divine providence in the matter. But God rules over the spirits of free agents as well as over inanimate matter, (though in another way) and makes all their motions and determinations subservient to his purpose. Kings have the greatest power and influence in the nations of this world; but their “hearts are in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water he turneth them whithersoever he will,” Prov. 21:1. and this holds as well with respect to bad as to good kings. He maketh them the instruments of good or evil, of mercy or judgment, as he sees proper; witness Cyrus, Vespasian, &c. Sometimes he uses the wisdom and sagacity of men; at other times he makes very small and unlooked-for things to blast and defeat the best human plans, and the very wrath of man he makes to praise him. All that favour on the one hand, or distress on the other, which we receive by the will of man is directed by him. We may see this in the instance of Joseph, of Paul, and of others.—Some second causes appear to us fortuitous or accidental, and hence we are ready to imagine they are under no direction but pure chance. But nothing is chance with God. A man draws a bow at a venture, but it kills Ahab as the Lord purposed, 1 Kings, 22:34. Another is trodden to death in a crowd, as it were accidentally, but it is to punish his unbelief, 2 Kings, 7:19, 20. The thing that has the greatest appearance of chance to us is a lot, yet we are told that the determination thereof is of the Lord, Prov. 16:33. as exemplified in the cases of Achan, Josh. 7:18. and of Matthias, Acts, 1:24–26.

2. Ignorance of God’s design in many providences is another reason why men do not recognize his hand in them. His way is often in the sea, and his path in the deep waters, so that his footsteps are not known. And when men cannot trace how such and such dark providences tend either to the glory of God or the good of his creatures, but seem to militate against both, they are apt to entertain doubts if the Lord have them under his special direction. But it is not only unreasonable; it is arrogant to circumscribe providence by our conceptions, or to deny his government in everything which we do not understand, considering how limited our knowledge is. What conceptions could we form of the mazy, intricate, and dark providences which have issued in some of the most glorious events that ever took place in the world, such as Israel’s bondage in Egypt, the sufferings of Christ, the rejection of the Jews, &c? Is it not enough that we are told, that he reigns in the darkest providences, and will make all things work together for good to them that love him?

3. His moral government is darkened to many by the afflictions of the righteous, and the prosperity and impunity of the wicked in this life. This stumbled the Psalmist greatly, and led him to doubt the Lord’s concern in human affairs, see Psalm, 73—But it should be noticed, that the wicked have not always gone unpunished in this world. The wrath of God has not only been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in his word, but in the most striking and signal judgments; witness the case of the old world, of Sodom, of Egypt, the Canaanites, the unbelieving Jews, &c. enough to show that God is the hater of iniquity. On the other hand, many signal and miraculous deliverances has he given to his people; witness Noah, Israel, the three children, Daniel, &c. all which openly demonstrate his love of righteousness.—The justice of the divine administration cannot be properly seen if we judge of it by what takes place in this life only. So much of it is to be seen as to make men know that God reigneth to the ends of the earth; but the scripture refers us chiefly to a future state for clearing up the justice of his moral government.—The afflictions of the people of God in this life are declared to be for their benefit in relation to another life; while the prosperity of the wicked is but of short duration, and hurtful to their eternal interests.

II. Let us consider the words as they relate to the reign of the Messiah, in which the former is included as subservient to it.

That these words do apply to the Messiah is plain beyond all dispute, provided we allow the inspired apostle to be a proper commentator; for he quotes the 7th verse of this Psalm, and applies it to Jesus as risen from the dead, and exalted far above angels, Heb. 1:6. “And when again he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” The original is, worship him all ye gods, (elohim) which the seventy translate his angels, and the apostle, angels of God; but the sense is the same in all. As, therefore, the apostle applies ver. 7 to Christ as God’s first-begotten from the dead and heir of all things, and exalted above angels who are commanded to worship him, it is evident the first verse must apply to him; and that of him it is said, “Jehovah reigneth, let the earth rejoice, and the multitude of isles be glad thereof;” for there is no change of person intervening; nay, it is clear that the command given to angels to worship him in ver. 7. is grounded on his reign, ver. 1. The Psalm contains a grand description of the majesty and universality of Christ’s reign, who is repeatedly termed Jehovah: “The Lord (viz. the Messiah) reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.” In ver. 5. he is termed, the Lord of the whole earth, before whose presence the hills melt like wax, every obstacle giving way to him. It is added, “The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory,” ver. 6. Then follows a denunciation of confusion and shame upon idolaters or worshippers of idols, “Confounded be all they who serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols,” which was the practice of the whole heathen world; while at the same time the Messiah is pointed out as the true object of worship not only from men, but from the highest created beings; “Worship him all ye gods,” ver. 7. and the reason is given, “For thou, Jehovah, art high above all the earth, thou art exalted (viz. in consequence of his resurrection) far above all gods,” ver. 9. all the angels being made subject to him. Then the saints are called to view him as their deliverer, to rejoice in him as their king, and to give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness, ver. 10–12. All this gives us a most exalted view of the dignity of the Savior, Jehovah, the Lord of the whole earth,—the object of the religious worship of angels.

This appears to me to be the view which the apostle had of this Psalm. And if so, it gives us a most extensive view of Christ’s kingdom or dominion.

I do not intend at present to treat of Christ’s kingdom in that sense wherein it respects only his peculiar people and church whom he hath redeemed, and who shall all finally partake of his glory; nor yet of the visible appearance of that kingdom among men, which includes many false professors. This has been frequently handled agreeably to the scriptures. But what I have in view is his universal kingdom, or dominion, over the whole creation of God. Upon this I would observe,

1. That he was naturally entitled to this universal dominion as the Creator of all things: for “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made,” John, 1:3. And that not only the lower creation, but the highest intelligences in heaven; “for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him, and by him all things consist,” Col. 1:16, 17. The relation of the Creator to his creatures, gives the most undoubted right of sovereign dominion over them. But then,

2. The apostle does not adduce this Psalm to prove Christ’s universal dominion as Creator, but as the Messiah raised from the dead and exalted above angels; as Lord and heir of all things, having all things put under him, see Heb. chap. 1; 2. and 8 and that by w ay of donation from the Father who thus exalted and constituted him heir of all things. So that we must understand the Psalm speaking of him as in our nature or as the Son, when it saith, the Lord reigneth, ver. 1. and when it terms him universally “the Lord of the whole earth,” ver. 5. and not only so, but when it declares him high above all the earth, and exalted far above all gods, i. e. the angels of God in heaven who are commanded to worship him.

Some texts express the universal dominion and authority of Christ in general terms. He himself says, “All things are delivered to me of my Father,” Matt. 11:27. The Baptist says, “The Father loveth the Son, and he hath given all things into his hand,” John, 3:35. Peter says, He is Lord of all, Acts, 10:36. and Paul observes upon the universal word all in Psalm, 8:6. “For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him,” Heb. 2:8. These universal expressions therefore must be taken in an unlimited sense.

There are other texts which mention the extensive bounds of his dominion, as well as the creatures and things which are the subjects of it. He says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” Matt. 28:18. Heaven, then, is one part of his extensive empire. He is exalted far above all heavens; there his throne is at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Heb. 1:3. All the holy angels in heaven are his subjects, as is clearly and repeatedly declared, see Eph. 1:21; Philip. 2:9, 10; Heb. 1:4. ad. ult. 1 Pet. 3:22. They had formerly dominion assigned them, but now all is immediately put under the Son, and they are his ministers, Heb. 1:14; chap. 2:5–9. The spirits of just men made perfect in heaven are all his subjects, and the purchase of his blood; and they join with the angels in worshipping the Lamb: for he is Lord of the dead as well as of the living, Rom. 14:9. Heaven itself is at his disposed; and so he appoints a kingdom to his disciples as the Father hath appointed unto him.

The earth is another part of his empire, and he has all power in it. Hence he is called “the Lord of the whole earth.” It will be owned, that he is in a peculiar manner Lord and king of his people and church on earth, as has often been shown. But this is not all; the whole world belongs to him, and “he is the governor among the nations,” Psalm, 22:28. The Father hath by grant given to his only Son, begotten from the dead, “the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession,” Psalm, 2:8. This cannot be restricted to his elect among all nations; for it includes a rightful power to punish rebels against his government, who will not have him to reign over them, ver. 9, and this plainly implies, his right of dominion over them as King. The same universal dominion is held forth, Psalm, 22:28, 29. and Psalm, 18:43–46; Psalm, 47:7, 8; Psalm, 72:8–12. where we find it attended with the destruction of all who will not submit to him as their rightful King. The Jews would not receive him as their king, nor have him to reign over them, and accordingly he brought destruction on them and on their city, Matt. 22:7. When he sends forth his apostles to preach the gospel, he bids them go into all the world, and publish it to every creature, to all nations; which shows that his dominion extends over the whole earth; and he bids them also declare universally, that he that believeth consequently submits to him as King, shall he saved; but that he that believeth not, consequently refuses subjection to him, shall be damned. This shows, that he has all power on earth and that every one is accountable to him, and so under his administration, as to be either saved or punished by him, as they receive or reject him.—

Further, He is the Sovereign of all the mighty kings on earth, Psalm, 72:11. Hence he is styled “King of kings and Lord of lords,” 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; ch. 19:16. and “the Prince of the kings of the earth,” ch. 1:5. for all the kingdoms of the world are included in his grant, Rev. 11:15. Hence the kings of the earth are admonished to be wise, and the judges to be instructed—to serve the Lord with fear, and to rejoice with trembling; and to kiss the Son (i. e. acknowledge him as their Sovereign) lest he be angry, &c. Psalm, 2:10–12. So that the nations of the earth and all their rulers are under his administration. They are all under obligation to believe in him as the Savior, and obey him as their King; and all who will not do so, shall undoubtedly be punished as rebels against their lawful Sovereign. Again, he over-rules all the revolutions, events, and commotions of this world in subserviency to the great ends of his government and kingdom. He not only opens the book with seven seals, but directs and over-rules all the events, whether of mercy or judgment, that fall out under every one of them to the end of time; for the Lord Christ reigneth, and must reign, even in the midst of his enemies, until they are finally subdued and made his footstool.

Lastly, All judgment is committed to him; “for the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son, that all men might honor the Son, even as they honor the Father—and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man,” John, 5:22, 23, 27. This includes a power to raise the dead, and cite them before his tribunal, both the righteous and the wicked: for all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive the things done in the body, according to that they have done, whether it be good or bad, 2 Cor. 5:10. Now, if all the earth are amenable to him as their Judge; if he has sovereign power to confer rewards and inflict punishment according to men’s works; then he must be King of all the earth, for these are acts of kingly government. Even the devils themselves are the subjects of his power and righteous judgment, and shall at last be punished by him.

Thus it appears that Christ is Lord over all, the supreme head of the whole creation of God; and that, in consequence of his death and resurrection, he is “highly exalted, and has obtained a name which is above every name, &c. Phil. 2:9–12. His government extends over heaven, earth and hell, angels, men and devils, the world that now is, and that which is to come; and all things in nature, providence, and grace, are committed into his hand.

Having thus briefly illustrated this subject, both as it relates to God’s providential kingdom in governing the world, and also to the reign of the Messiah, it only remains that we consider what practical improvement we should make of the doctrine. And on this I remark that

1. It should lead us to view the hand of God in everything that concerns us, as we may clearly perceive the saints of old did, particularly Jacob, David, and Job. Whether in prosperity or adversity, it is a sweet and pleasant employment to converse with God in everything that befalls us—in all the dispensations of his providence. To a mind so engaged, everything then seems full of God. When his ways are in the dark with respect to us, let us still hold fast the general conclusion, that all his ways are mercy and truth to them that fear him, and that all events shall work together for good to them that love God. This view of providence lays a solid foundation for our confidence and trust in his almighty power and goodness—of thankfulness and gratitude for his mercies—of resignation, patience and contentment under afflictions. When thus engaged, the language of our souls will be “It is the Lord! let him do what seemeth good unto him.” “I was dumb: I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” This view of the subject should also teach us to acknowledge God in all our ways, and undertakings, saying “If the Lord will, we shall do this or that.” But further,

2. In the universal reign of the Messiah, we have exhibited to our view a glorious manifestation of God, and of his goodwill to guilty men. He sent him into our world out of his great love, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. He has exalted him as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance and remission of sins. All power and authority are committed into his hands both in heaven and on earth; and, vested as he now is with such unlimited dominion, he is fully able to crush all his enemies, and to save to the uttermost all that trust in him. This is surely a matter of joy to the whole earth; for under his reign all nations of the earth are blessed. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.”

3. The dominion of Christ constitutes an obligation upon all men, wherever his gospel comes, to believe in and obey him. He is their Sovereign by the universal power which is given unto him as Lord of all, and so has an undoubted right to their faith and obedience, whether they yield it or not. Consequently in rejecting him, they are rebels against his just authority, and are amenable to him as their Judge. None can plead exemption here, for he is Lord of the whole earth. Hence they are admonished to “Kiss the Son, and serve God in fear, and rejoice with trembling,” Psalm, 2.

4. Again: this doctrine may also serve to rectify various speculative errors, which abound in the professing world; such as—that is not the duty of men to believe the gospel—that none but believers are under obligations to obey Christ—that the kingdom of the Messiah has no concern with the affairs of this world—that men may do that as politicians which they could not do as Christians—and that that may be lawful in nations which would be sinful in Christians; with numerous other mistaken opinions which are but too prevalent among us.

5. Lastly: let those who profess themselves to be the subjects of Christ, and to love his kingdom, manifest their obedience, by a conscientious regard to his authority, by observing all things whatsoever he has commanded; by earnestly seeking its peace and prosperity; and by vigorous scriptural exertions to extend the knowledge of his salvation, and communicate the benefits of his government throughout every clime; that the nations who are now sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death, may be blessed with the cheering beams of the Sun of Righteousness, until the whole earth be filled with glory. Amen.[1]

 

 

[1] M’Lean, A. (1823). Christ’s Providential Government of the World. In The Works of Mr. Archibald M’Lean (Vol. VI, pp. 3–18). London: William Jones. (Public Domain)


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