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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 7 Bookmark

Chapter VII

Practical Hints to Various Descriptions of Persons

Difference between nominal and real Christians, of the first importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncharitableness, and true Charity

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

Women naturally more disposed to Religion than men

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

Innocent young people—term much abused

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

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

Conversis studiis, ætas, animusque virilis

Quærit opes, & amicitias: inservit honori:

Commisisse cavet, quod mox mutare laboret.

Hor.

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

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

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

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

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

Humility enforced

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

Love enforced

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

Base nature of the religion of the bulk of nominal Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Not content

With every food of life to nourish man,

Thou mak’st all nature beauty to his eye

And music to his ear.…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aëra ramos

Attollens, trunco non frondibus efficit umbram.

sect. ii

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

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

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

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

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

sect. iii

Brief Observations addressed to Sceptics and Unitarians

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

Progress of Infidelity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unitarians

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

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

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

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

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

Half-Unbelievers

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

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

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

sect. iv

Advice suggested by the state of the times to true Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b Mr. Maurice.

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

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

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

Chapter VII

Practical Hints to Various Descriptions of Persons

Difference between nominal and real Christians, of the first importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncharitableness, and true Charity

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

Women naturally more disposed to Religion than men

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

Innocent young people—term much abused

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

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

Conversis studiis, ætas, animusque virilis

Quærit opes, & amicitias: inservit honori:

Commisisse cavet, quod mox mutare laboret.

Hor.

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

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

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

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

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

Humility enforced

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

Love enforced

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

Base nature of the religion of the bulk of nominal Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Not content

With every food of life to nourish man,

Thou mak’st all nature beauty to his eye

And music to his ear.…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aëra ramos

Attollens, trunco non frondibus efficit umbram.

sect. ii

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

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

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

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

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

sect. iii

Brief Observations addressed to Sceptics and Unitarians

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

Progress of Infidelity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unitarians

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

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

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

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

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

Half-Unbelievers

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

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

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

sect. iv

Advice suggested by the state of the times to true Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b Mr. Maurice.

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

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

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



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