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tenour of his conduct proves it beyond a doubt. But the generality give themselves credit for meaning well at the very time that they are doing ill. In this, however, they are mistaken. There is in all a far greater consciousness of the evil of their conduct than they are willing to allow. But they wish to quiet their own minds, and to approve themselves to the world : and therefore they change the names of things,
calling good evil, and evil good, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness, bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” By these means they succeed in allaying their own fears, and in commending themselves to each other, but their guilt before God is thereby greatly increased : for our Lord says, “ This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” There is in their hearts a rooted aversion to what is good, and a consequent determination to decry it: there is also an inveterate love of evil, and a consequent desire to justify it. Hence arises that conduct which is so justly reprobated in the text; the prevalence and evil of which we shall proceed to lay before you.
We will endeavour to point out,
The more we examine the principles and actions of men, the more shall we find that this system obtains among them both in theory and practice.
Inspect their views of religion; and it will appear that they consider it as a superficial thing, consisting in a bare assent to certain notions, and a formal observance of certain rites. If they have been baptized in their infancy; if they have some general views of Christianity, together with a persuasion of its divine authority ; if they attend regularly on public worship, and occasionally communicate at the Lord's supper; and finally, if they are not guilty of any gross and scandalous violations of their duty, they think they have all the religion that they need.
But they substitute the shadow for the substance.
Religion is widely different from this : it is a conversion of the soul to God; it is a resurrection from the dead: it is a new creation. Religion, as it exists in the soul, is a heaven-born principle, that pervades all its powers, and operates in all its faculties. It is to the soul what the soul is to the body. It restrains our passions, corrects our appetites, purifies our affections. It enters into all our motives, and subjects every thing to itself. It will endure no rival : it will make a truce with no enemy: it will reign absolute over the whole man. Its avowed object is to bring man to God as a redeemed sinner, and to restore him to a meetness for that inheritance which he has forfeited by his transgressions : in order to accomplish this, it casts down every high and towering imagination, brings its votary to the foot of the cross, constrains him to walk in the steps of his divine Master, and progressively transforms him into the image of his God.
Compare this with the slight and worthless thing which men in general call religion, and it will appear that they use the term without any just apprehension of its true import.
Again; as religion is esteemed a superficial thing, so it is also deemed a melancholy thing. When true religion is described, the generality of men are ready to exclaim against it as incompatible with social happiness: 'If we must repent of our past sins, and enter on a course of mortification and self-denial; if we must renounce the pleasures of sin, and the society of the ungodly; if we must converse familiarly with death and judgment, and spend our lives in preparation for eternity; what remains for us in this world but gloom and melancholy?' So they think.
But is this the light in which the Scriptures speak of religion ? or are these notions justified by experience? We allow the premises to be correct; but is the conclusion just? Suppose for a moment that the whole life of a person who appeared religious, were a scene of melancholy: must that melancholy be imputed to religion ? Must it not rather be imputed to his former wickedness, and to his present want of more religion? If pain arise to the body during the cure of an inveterate disorder, is that pain to be imputed to the medicine, or the disease ? to the disease, no doubt: to that therefore must be ascribed all the pain of sorrow and contrition, even supposing it to be ever so great, and ever so long continued. As for religion itself, we need only ascertain what it is, and we shall immediately see the absurdity of calling it a source of misery. What; is it melancholy to walk with God, to enjoy God, to glorify God? Was our Lord melancholy! Were his Apostles melancholy? Are the angels in heaven melancholy? Then shall we be melancholy in proportion as we resemble them! But if “ the ways of religion be ways of pleasantness and peace," and they who believe in Christ be privileged to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified,” then are they perverse who deem religion melancholy; “they call evil good, and good evil, they put darkness for light, and light for darkness, they put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”
To complete their perverseness, men go farther still, and actually represent religion as contemptible. What is there under the sun more despised than this? With what opprobrium has it not been stigmatized? We appeal to all, whether terms of reproach are not universally assigned to religious characters, and whether the name given them do not universally convey the idea of a weak contemptible enthusiast? Is not their very profession considered as a just bar to their preferment? Yea, are they not so odious in the eyes of the world, that none but those infected with their mania will venture to associate with them, or to acknowledge them as their friends? The drunkard, the whoremonger, the sabbath-breaker, the infidel, shall find a more favourable reception than they; and solely on account of their religion.
But does religion deserve this character? What is there in it that is so contemptible? What is there in it that to an impartial judge would not appear lovely, great, and venerable? Is the subjugation of the passions a contemptible attainment? Is a superiority to all the pleasures of sense, and the interests of the world, a worthless acquisition? Is there any thing mean in love to God, and benevolence to man? Is the aspiring after heaven a low and pitiful ambition ? Viewing at a distance the conduct of the Apostles, we call it magnanimity: but when we see it exhibited before our eyes, we call it preciseness, enthusiasm, hypocrisy. Ah! when will men “ cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord,” and to brand that with infamy, which he prescribes and approves ?
Hitherto we have noticed only men's conduct in respect of theory ; let us now behold it as it is manifest in their practice.
1. In the first place they magnify beyond all reasonable bounds the pursuits of time
From our earliest infancy we hear of little but getting forward in the world. To be rich, to be great, to be honourable, this is the chief good of man. All are aspiring after a higher place than they possess, and conceive that they shall catch the phantom of happiness when they have reached a certain point. Moreover, all are applauded in proportion as they succeed in this race; and no period but that of their departure from the body is thought a fit season for prosecuting their eternal interests.
But are the concerns of time really of such importance? When we have got forward in the world, what have we more than food and raiment, which we might have possessed with half the trouble? We do not mean to discourage industry; that is truly becoming in every person, and highly advantageous in every state. But if all our time and labour be occupied about this world, and the concerns of the soul be subordinated to those of the body, then is our conduct precisely such as is reprobated in the text.
2. In the next place, men extenuate sin as venial
There are some crimes which degrade human nature, or greatly disturb the happiness of society, which are therefore very generally reprobated and abhorred.
But a forgetfulness of God, a neglect of Christ, a resistance of the Holy Ghost, an indifference about the soul, with ten thousand other sins of omission or of commission, are considered as light and venial, and as affording no ground for sorrow and contrition. If the outward conduct have been decent, it is no matter what has been harboured within, or how much God has been disregarded and despised.
But is this the light in which the Scriptures teach us to regard sin? What was it that cast angels out of heaven ? the sin of pride. What drove our first parents from Paradise, and brought a curse on all their posterity? one single transgression; and that a breach, not so much of a moral precept, as of a positive institution. Whom is it that according to God's declaration he will cast into hell? “ the wicked, and all the nations that forget God.” Does sin appear a light matter when we are told, that nothing but the sacrifice of the Son of God could make atonement for it? Or will it appear a light matter to ourselves, when we are suffering the vengeance due to it in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone ? Surely, they are “ fools who make a mock at sin,” and blind, who doubt of its malignity.
3. To adduce only one instance more, they persuade themselves that their eternal state is safe
Men living in a direct violation of God's commandments, and in a perfect contrast with the example of Christ, imagine that they have nothing to fear: “they have done no harm; and God is very merciful; and if they were to perish, what must become of all the world?” These, and such like arguments, are considered as sufficient to invalidate every word that God has spoken, and to justify their hopes of eternal happiness.
But darkness and light are not more opposite than these sentiments are to the declarations of God. Where will they find one single passage that will warrant such expectations as these? They must indeed make “evil good, and good evil, and must change bitter