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the gradual initiation of an unpractised country servant. And who has not felt for his virtuous distress, when he has been ordered to call back a more favoured visitant, whom he had just sent away with the assurance that his lady was not at home? Who has not seen his suppressed indignation at being obliged to become himself the detector of that falsehood, of which he had been before the instrument ? But a little practice, and a repetition of reproof for even daring to look honest, soon cures this fault, especially as he is sure to be commended in proportion to the increased firmness of his voice, and the steadiness of his countenance.
If this evil, petty as it may seem to be, be really without a remedy ; if the state of society be such that it cannot be redressed, let us not be so unreasonable as to expect that a servant will equivocate in small instances, and not in great ones. To hope that he will always lie for your convenience, and never for his own, is perhaps expecting more from human nature in a low and uncultivated state than we have any right to expect. Nor should the master look for undeviating and perfect rectitude from his servant, in whom the principle of veracity is daily and hourly in conformity to his own command.
Let us bring home the case to ourselves, the only fair way of determining in all cases of conscience. Suppose that we had established it into a system to allow ourselves regularly to lie on one certain, given subject, every day, and every hour in the day; while we continued to value ourselves on the most undeviating adherence to truth on every other point. Who shall say, that at the end of one year's tolerated and systematic lying on this individual subject, we should continue to look upon falsehood in general with the same abhorrence we did when we first entered upon this partial exercise of it ?
There is an evil newly crept into polished society, and it comes under a mask so specious, that they who are allured by it, come not seldom under the description of good sort of people. I allude to Sunday concerts. Many who would be startled at a profane, or even a light amusement, allow themselves to fancy that the name of sacred music sanctifies the diversion. But if those more favoured beings, whom Providence enables to live in ease and affuence, do not make these petty renunciations of their own ways and their own pleasure, what criterion have we by which to judge of their sincerity ? For as the goodness of Providence has exempted them from painful occupations, they have neither labour from which to rest, nor business from which to refrain. A little abstinence from pleasure is the only valid evidence they have to give of their obedience to the divine precept.
I know with what indignant scorn this remark will, by many, be received: I know that much will be advanced in favour of the sanctity of this amusement. I shall be told that the words are, many of them, extracted from the Bible, and that the composition is the divine Handel's. But were the angel Gabriel the poet, the archangel Michael the composer, and the song of the Lamb the subject, it would not abrogate that statute of the Most High, which has said, “ Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbathday, and thy servant and thy cattle shall do no manner of work.” I am persuaded that the hallelujahs of heaven would make no moral music to the ear of a conscientious person, while he reflected that multitudes of servants are, through his means, waiting in the street, exposed to every temptation ; engaged perhaps in profane swearing, and idle if not dissolute conversation ; and the very cattle are deprived of that rest which the tender mercy of God was graciously pleased, by an astonishing condescension, to include in the commandment.
But I will, for the sake of argument, so far concede as to allow of the innocence and even piety of Sunday concerts : I will suppose (what, however, does not often happen) that no unhallowed strains are ever introduced; I will admit that some attend these concerts with a view to cultivate devout affections; that they cherish the serious impressions excited by the music, and retire in such a frame of spirit as convinces them that the heart was touched while the ear was gratified : nay, I would grant, if such a concession would be accepted, that the intervals were filled up with conversation“ whereby one may edify another :"-yet, all these good effects, allowing them really to have been produced, will not remove the invincible objection of an evil example; and what liberal spirit would refuse any reasonable sacrifice of its own pleasure to so important a motive ? Your servants have been accustomed to consider a concert as a secular diversion ; if you, therefore, continue it on a Sunday, will not they also expect to be indulged on that day with their common amusements ? Saint Paul, who was a very liberal thinker, believed it prudent to make frequent sacrifices of things indifferent in themselves. He was willing to deny himself a harmless and lawful gratification, “ even as long as the world stood,” rather than shock the tender consciences of men of less understanding. Where a practice is neither good nor evil in itself, it is both discreet and generous to avoid it, if it can be attended with any possible danger to minds less enlightened, and to faith less confirmed.
But, religion apart, I have sometimes wondered that people do not yield to the temptation that is held out to them, of abstaining from diversions one day in seven, upon motives of mere human policy : as voluptuaries sometimes fast, to give a keener relish to the delights of the next repast: for pleasure, like an over-fed lamp, is extinguished by the excess of its own aliment; not to say that the instrument of our gratification is often converted into our bane. Anacreon was choked by a grape-stone. The lovers of pleasure are not always prudent, even upon their own principles ; for I am persuaded that this world would afford much more real satisfaction than it does, if we did not press, and torture, and strain it, in order to make it yield what it does not contain. Much good, and much pleasure, it does liberally bestow; but no labour nor art can extract from it that elixir of peace, that divine essence of content, which it is not in its nature to produce. There is good sense in searching into every blessing for its hidden properties; but it is folly to ransack and plunder it for such properties, as the experience of all ages tells us, are foreign to it.
We exhaust the world of its pleasures, and then lament that it is empty ; we wring those pleasures to the very dregs, and then complain that they are vapid; we erroneously seek in the world for that peace which we are repeatedly told is not to be found in it; while we neglect to seek it in Him who has expressly told us that our happiness depends on his having overcome the world.”—“ Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world gireth give I unto you."
I shall probably be accused of a very narrow and fanatical spirit, in animadverting on a practice so little suspected of harm, as the frequenting of public walks and gardens on a Sunday; and, certainly, there cannot be an amusement more entirely harmless in itself. But I must appeal to the honest testimony of our own hearts, if the effect be favourable to seriousness. Do we commonly retire from these places with the impressions which were made on us at church in their full force? We entered these sprightly scenes, perhaps, with a strong remaining tincture of that devout spirit which the public worship had infused into the mind : but have we not felt it gradually diminish ? Have not our powers of resistance grown insensibly weaker ? Ilas not the gaiety of the scene converted, as it were, argument into illusion? The doctrines, which, in
, the morning, appeared the sober dictates of reason, now seem unreasonably rigid ; and truths, which were then thought incontrovertible, now appear impertinent. To answer objections is much easier than to withstand allurements. The understanding may controvert a startling proposition with less difficulty than the sliding heart can resist the infection of seducing gaiety. To oppose a cold and speculative faith to the enchantment of present pleasure, is to fight with inadequate weapons: it is resisting arms with rules ; it is combating a tenptation with an idea. Whereas, he who engages in the Christian warfare will find that his chief strength consists in knowing that he is very weak ; his progress will depend on his conviction that he is every hour liable to go his success, on the persuasion of his fallibility; his safety, on the assurance that to retreat from danger is his highest-glory, and to decline the combat his truest courage.
Whatever indisposes the mind for the duty of any particular season, though it assume ever so innocent a form, cannot be perfectly right. If the heart be laid open to the incursion of vain imaginations, and worldly thoughts, it matters little by what gate the enemy entered. If the effect be injurious, the cause cannot be quite harmless. It is the perfidious property of certain pleasures, that, though they seem not to have the smallest harm in themselves, they imperceptibly indispose the mind to everything that is good.
Many readers will be apt to produce against all this preciseness, that hackneyed remark which one is tired of hearing, that Sunday diversions are allowed publicly in many foreign countries, as well in those professing the reformed religion, as popery. But the corruptions of one part of the Protestant world are no reasonable justification of the evil practices of another. Error and infirmity can never be proper objects of imitation. It is still a remnant of the old leaven; and, as to pleading the practice of Roman Catholic countries, one blushes to hear an enlightened Protestant justifying himself by examples drawn from that benighted religion, whose sanctions we should in any other instance be ashamed to plead.
Besides, though I am far from vindicating the amusements permitted on Sundays in foreign countries, by allowing that established custom and long prescription have the privilege of conferring right; yet foreigners may, at least, plead the sanction of custom, and the connivance of the law : while in this country, the law of the land, and established usage, concurring with still higher motives, give a sort of venerable sanction to religious
observances, the breach of which will be always more liable to misconstruction than in countries where so many motives do not concur in its support.
I do not assert that all those who neglect a strict observation of the Lord's day are remiss in the performance of all their other duties; though they should bear in mind that the observance of their other duties is no atonement for the neglect of this; I will, however, venture to affirm, that all whom I have remarked conscientiously to observe this day from right motives, have been uniformly attentive to their general conduct. It has been the opinion of many wisc and good men,* that Christianity will stand, or fall, as this day is neglected, or observed. Sunday seems to be a kind of Christian palladium; and the city of God will never be totally taken by the enemy, till the observance of that be quite lost. Every sincere soldier of the great Captain of our salvation must, therefore, exert himself in its defence, as ever he would preserve the divine fort of revelation against the confederated attacks of the world and the devil.
I shall proceed to enumerate a few of the many causes which seem to impede well-disposed people in the progress of religion. None perhaps contributes to it more than that cold, prudential caution against the folly of aiming at perfection, so frequent in the mouths of the worldly wise. “ We must take the world,” say they,“ as we find it ; reformation is not our business ; and we are commanded not to be righteous overmuch :" a text, by the way, entirely misunderstood and perverted by people of this sort. But these admonitions are contrary to every maxim in human affairs. In arts and letterst the most consummate models are held out to imitation. We never hear anybody cautioned against becoming too wise, too learned, or too rich. Activity in business is accounted commendable ; in friendship it is amiable; in ambition it is laudable. The highest exertions of industry are commended; the finest energies of genius are admired. In all the perishing concerns of earthly things, zeal is extolled as exhibiting marks of a sprightly temper and a vigorous mind. Strange! that to be “ fervent in spirit,” should only be dishonourable in that single instance which should seem to demand unremitting diligence, and unextinguishable warmth.
But, after all, is an excessive and intemperate zeal the common vice of the times ? Is there any very imminent danger that the enthusiasm of the great should transport them to dangerous and inconvenient excesses ? Are our young men of fashion so very much led away by the fervours of piety, that they require to bave their imaginations tamed, and their
* The testimony of one lawyer will, perhaps, be less suspected than that of many priests. “ I have ever found,” says the great Lord Chief Justice Hale, “ by a strict and diligent obser. vation, that a due observance of the duty of Sunday has ever had joined to it a blessing upon the rest of my time ; and the week that has been so begun, has been blessed and prosperous to me : and, on the other side, when I have been negligent of the duties of this day, the rest of the week has been unsuccessful and unhappy to niy own secular employments. So that I could casily make an estimate of my successes the week following, by the manner of my passing this day. AND I DO NOT WRITE THIS LIGHTLY, BUT BY LONG AND SOUND EXPERIENCE."--Sir Malthew Hale's Works.
+ When Pliny the younger was accused of despising the degenerate eloquence of his own age, and of the vanity of aspiring at perfection in oratory, and of endeavouring to become the rival of Cicero ; instead of denying the charge, he exclaimed with a noble spirit, “I think it the height of folly not always to propose to myself the most perfect object of imitation."
ardours cooled by the freezing maxims of worldly wisdom? Is the spirit of the age so very much inclined to catch and communicate the fire of devotion, as to require to be damped by admonition, or extinguished by ridicule? When the inimitable Cervantes attacked the wild notions and romantic ideas which misled the age in which he lived, he did wisely, because he combated an actually existing evil; but in this latter end of the eighteenth century, there seems to be little more occasion (among persons of rank, I mean) of cautions against enthusiasm than against chivalry; and he who declaims against religious excesses in the company of wellbred people, shows himself to be as little acquainted with the manners of the times in which he lives, as he would do who should think it a point of duty to write another Don Quixote.
Among the devices dangerous to our moral safety, certain favourite and specious maxims are not the least successful, as they carry with them an imposing air of indulgent candour, and always seem to be on the popular side of good-nature. One of the most obvious of these is, that method of reconciling the conscience to practices not decidedly wicked, and yet not scrupulously right, by the qualifying phrase, that there is no harm in it. I am mistaken if more innocent persons do not inflame their spiritual reckoning by this treacherous apology than by almost any other means. Few are systematically, or premeditatedly wicked: or propose to themselves, at first, more than such small indulgences as they are persuaded have no harm in them. But this latitude is gradually and imperceptibly enlarged. As the expression is vague and indeterminate; as the darkest shade of virtue, and the lightest shade of vice, melt into no very incongruous colouring; as the bounds between good and evil are not always so precisely defined, but that he who ventures to the confines of the one, will find himself on the borders of the other ; every one furnishes his own definition; every one extends the supposed limits a little further ; till the bounds which fence in permitted from unlawful pleasures are gradually broken down, and the marks which separated them imperceptibly destroyed.
It is, perhaps, one of the most alarming symptoms of the degeneracy of morals in the present day, that the distinctions of right and wrong are almost swept away in polite conversation. The most grave offences are often named with cool indifference; the most shameful profligacy with affected tenderness and indulgent toleration. The substitution of the word gallantry for that crime which stabs domestic happiness and conjugal virtue, is one of the most dangerous of all the modern abuses of language. Atrocious deeds should never be called by gentle names. This must certainly contribute, more than anything, to diminish the horror of vice in the rising generation. That our passions should be too often engaged on the side of error, we may look for the cause, though not for the vindication, in the unresisted propensities of our constitution : but that our reason should ever be exerted in its favour; that our conversation should ever be taught to palliate it; that our judgment should ever look on it with indifference; that our tongues should ever be employed to confound the eternal distinctions of right and wrong; this has no shadow of excuse—because this can pretend to no foundation in nature, no apology in temptation, no palliative in passion.
However defective, therefore, our practice may be ; however we may