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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 4 Bookmark

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)

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)