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be allured by seduction, or precipitated by passion, let us beware of lowering the STANDARD OF RIGHT. This induces an imperceptible corruption into the heart, stagnates the noblest principle of action, irrecoverably debases the sense of moral and religious obligation, and prevents us from living up to the height of our nature, because it prevents us from knowing its possible elevation. It cuts off all communication with virtue, and almost prevents the possibility of a return to it. If we do not rise as high as we aim, we shall rise the higher for having aimed at a lofty mark: but where the RULE is low, the practice cannot be high, though the converse of the proposition is not proportionably true.
Nothing more benumbs the exertions of ardent youthful virtue than the cruel sneer which worldly prudence bestows on active goodness, and the cool derision it expresses at the defeat of a benevolent scheme, of which malice, rather than penetration, had foreseen the failure. Alas! there is little need of any such discouragements. The world is a climate which too naturally chills a glowing generosity, and contracts an expanded heart. The zeal of the most sanguine is but too apt to cool, and the activity of the most diligent, to slacken of itself; and the disappointments which benevolence encounters in the failure of her best-concerted projects, and the frequent depravity of the most chosen objects of her bounty, would soon dry up the amplest streams of charity, were they not fed by the living fountain of religious principle.
I cannot dismiss this part of my subject without animadverting on the too prompt alacrity, even of worthy people, to disseminate, in public and general conversation, instances of their unsuccessful attempts to do good. I never hear a charity story begun to be related in mixed company, that I do not tremble for the catastrophe, lest it should exhibit some mortifying disappointment, which may deter the inexperienced from running any generous hazards, and excite harsh suspicions, at an age when it is less dishonourable to meet with a few casual hurts and transient injuries, than to go cased in the cumbersome and impenetrable armour of distrust. The liberal should be particularly cautious how they furnish the avaricious with creditable pretences for saving their money, since all the instances of the mortifications the humane meet with are carefully treasured up, and added to the armoury of the covetous man's arguments, and never fail to be produced by him as defensive weapons, upon every fresh attack on his heart or his purse.
But I am willing to hope that that uncharitableness which we so often meet with in persons of advanced years, is not always the effect of a heart naturally hard. Misanthropy is very often nothing but abused sensibility. Long habits of the world, and a melancholy conviction how little good he has been able to do in it, harden many a tender-hearted person. The milk of human kindness becomes sour by repeated acts of ingratitude. This commonly induces an indifference to the well-being of others, from a hopelessness of adding to the stock of human virtue and human happiThis uncomfortable disease is very fond of spreading its own contagion, which is a cruelty to the health of young and uninfected virtue. For this distemper, generated by a too sanguine disposition, and grown chronical from repeated disappointments, from having rated worldly virtue and worldly generosity too highly, there is but one remedy, or rather one
prevention; and this is, a general principle of piety. He who is once convinced, that he is to assist his fellow-creatures, because it is the will of God; he who is persuaded that his forgiving his fellow-servant the hundred pence is a condition annexed to the remission of his own ten thousand talents, will soon get above all uneasiness, when the consequence does not answer his expectation. He will soon become only anxious to do his duty, humbly committing events to higher hands. Disappointments will then only serve to refine his motives, and purify his virtue. His charity will then become a sacrifice with which God is well pleased! His affections will be more spiritualised, and his devotions more intense. Nothing short of such a courageous piety, growing on the stock of Christian principle, can preserve a heart hackneyed in the world, from relaxed diligence or criminal despair.
People in general are not aware of the mischief of judging of the rightness of any action by its prosperity, or of the excellence of any institution by the abuse of it. We must never proportion our exertions to our success, but to our duty. If every laudable undertaking were to be dropped, because it failed in some cases, or was abused in others, there would not be left an alms-house, a charity-school, or an hospital in the land. If every right practice were to be discontinued because it had been found not to be successful in every instance, and if every right principle were rejected because it had not been operative in all cases, this false reasoning, pushed to the extreme, might at last be brought as an argument for shutting up our churches, and burning our Bibles.
But if, on the one hand, there is a proud and arrogant discretion, which ridicules, as Utopian and romantic, every generous topic of the active and the liberal; so there is, on the other, a sort of popular bounty, which arrogates to itself the exclusive name of feeling, and rejects with disdain the influence of a higher principle. I am far from intending to depreciate this humane and exquisitely tender sentiment, which the beneficent Author of our nature gave us, as a stimulus to remove the distresses of others, in order to get rid of our own uneasiness. I would only observe, that, where not strengthened by superior motives, it is a casual and precarious instrument of good, and ceases to operate, except in the immediate presence, and within the audible cry, of misery. This sort of feeling forgets that any calamity exists, which is out of its own sight; and though it would empty its purse for such an occasional object as rouses transient sensibility, yet it seldom makes any stated provision for miseries, which are not the less real because they do not obtrude upon the sight, and awaken the tenderness of immediate sympathy. This is a mechanical charity, which requires springs and wheels to set it going; whereas, real Christian charity does not wait to be acted upon by impulses.
Another cause which very much intimidates well--disposed people, is their terror lest the character of piety should derogate from their reputation as men of sense. Every man of the world naturally arrogates to himself the superiority of understanding over every religious man. He, therefore, who has been accustomed to set a high value on his intellectual powers, must have made very considerable advances in piety before he can acquire a magnanimous indifference to this usurped superiority of another; before he can submit to the parsimonious allotment of wit
and learning, which is assigned him by the supercilious hand of worldly wisdom. But this attack upon his pride will be no bad touch-stone of his sincerity. If his advances have not been so considerable, then, by an hypocrisy of the least common kind, he will be industrious to appear less good than he really is; lest the detection of his serious propensities should draw on him the imputation of ordinary parts or low attainments. But the danger is, that while he is too sedulously intent on maintaining his pretensions as an ingenious man, his claims to piety should daily become weaker. That which is long suppressed is too frequently extinguished.
Nothing, perhaps, more plainly discovers the faint impression which religion has really made upon our hearts, than this disinclination, even of good people, to serious conversation. Let me not be misunderstood: I do not mean the wrangle of debate; I do not mean the gall of controversy; I do not mean the fiery strife of opinions, than which nothing can be less favourable to good nature, good manners, or good society. But it were to be wished, that it was not thought ill-bred and indiscreet that the escapes of the tongue should now and then betray the " abundance of the heart ;" that when such subjects are casually introduced, a discouraging coldness did not instantly take place of that sprightly animation of countenance which made common topics interesting. If these "outward and visible signs" were unequivocal, we should form but moderate ideas of the "inward and spiritual grace." It were to be wished, that such subjects were not thought dull merely because they are good; it were to be wished that they had the common chance of fair discussion; and that parts and learning were not ashamed to exert themselves on occasions where both might appear to so much advantage. If the heart were really interested, could the affections forbear now and then to break out into language? Artists, physicians, merchants, lawyers, and scholars, keep up the spirit of their professions by mutual intercourse. New lights are struck out, improvements are suggested, emulation is kindled, love of the object is inflamed, mistakes of the judgment are rectified, and desire of excellence is excited by communication. And is piety alone so very easy of acquisition, so very natural to our corrupt hearts, as to require none of the helps which are indispensable on all other subjects? Travellers, who are to visit any particular country, are full of earnest inquiry, and diligent research; they think nothing indifferent by which their future pleasure or advantage may be affected. Every hint which may procure them any information, or caution them against any danger, is thankfully received; and all this, because they are really in earnest in their preparation for this journey; and do fully believe, not only that there is such a country, but that they themselves have a personal individual interest in the good or evil which may be found in it.
A farther danger to good kind of people seems to arise from a mistaken idea, that only great and actual sins are to be guarded against. Whereas, in effect, temptations to the grosser sins do not so frequently occur to those who are hedged in by the blessings of affluence, by a regard to reputation, and the care of health; while sins of omission make up, perhaps, the most formidable part of their catalogue of offences. These generally supply in number what they want in weight, and are the more dangerous for being little ostensible. They continue to be repeated with less regret, because
the remembrance of their predecessors does not, like the remembrance of formal, actual crimes, assume a body and a shape, and terrify by the impression of particular scenes and circumstances. While the memory of transacted evil haunts a tender conscience by perpetual apparition; omitted duty, having no local or personal existence, not being recorded by standing acts, and deeds, and dates, and having no distinct image to which the mind may recur, sinks into quiet oblivion, without deeply wounding the conscience, or tormenting the imagination. These omissions were, perhaps, among the secret sins," from which the royal penitent so earnestly desired to be cleansed: and it is worthy of the most serious consideration, that these are the offences against which the gospel pronounces some of its very alarming denunciations. It is not less against negative than against actual evil, that affectionate exhortation, lively remonstrance, and pointed parable, are exhausted. It is against the tree which bore no fruit, the lamp which had no oil, the unprofitable servant who made no use of his talent, that the severe sentence is denounced; as well as against corrupt fruit, bad oil, and talents ill employed. We are led to believe, from the same high authority, that omitted duties, and neglected opportunities, will furnish no inconsiderable portion of our future condemnation. A very awful part of the decision, in the great day of account, seems to be reserved merely for carelessness, omissions, and negatives. Ye gave me no meat; ye gave me no drink; ye took me not in; ye visited me not. On the punishment attending positive crimes, as being more naturally obvious, it was not, perhaps, thought so necessary to insist.
Another cause, which still further impedes the reception of religion even among the well-disposed, is, that garment of sadness in which people delight to suppose her dressed; and that life of hard austerity, and pining abstinence, which they pretend she enjoins her disciples. And it were well if this were only the misrepresentation of her declared enemies; but unhappily, it is the too frequent misconception of her injudicious friends. But such an over-charged picture is not more unamiable than it is unlike : for I will venture to affirm, that Religion, with all her beautiful and becoming sanctity, imposes fewer sacrifices, not only of rational, but of pleasurable enjoyment, than the uncontrolled dominion of any one vice. Her service is not only safety hereafter, but freedom here. She is not so tyrannizing as appetite, so exacting as the world, nor so despotic as fashion. Let us try the case by a parallel, and examine it, not as affecting our virtue but our pleasure. Does Religion forbid the cheerful enjoyments of life as rigorously as Avarice forbids them? does she require such sacrifices of our ease as Ambition, or such renunciations of our quiet as Pride? does Devotion murder sleep like Dissipation? does she destroy health like Intemperance? does she annihilate fortune like Gaming? does she imbitter life like Discord; or abridge it like Duelling? does Religion impose more vigilance than Suspicion? or inflict half as many mortifications as Vanity? Vice has her martyrs: and the most austere and self-denying ascetic (who mistakes the genius of Christianity almost as much as her enemies mistake it) never tormented himself with such cruel and causeless severity as that with which Envy lacerates her unhappy votaries. Worldly honour obliges us to be at the trouble of resenting injuries; and worldly prudence obliges us to be at the expense of litigating about them; but religion
spares us the inconvenience of the one, and the cost of the other, by the summary command to forgive; and by this injunction she consults our happiness no less than our virtue; for the torment of constantly hating any one must be, at least, equal to the sin of it. And resentment is an evil so costly to our peace, that we should find it more cheap to forgive even were it not more right. If this estimate be fairly made, then is the balance clearly on the side of Religion, even in the article of pleasure.
It is an infirmity not uncommon to good kind of people, to comfort themselves that they are living in the exercise of some one natural good quality, and to make a religious merit of a constitutional happiness. They have also a strong propensity to separate what God has joined-belief and practice; the creed, and the commandments; actions, and motives; moral duty, and religious obedience. Whereas, you will hardly find, in all the New Testament, a moral or a social virtue, that is not hedged in by some religious injunction; scarcely a good action enjoined towards others, but it is connected with some exhortation to personal purity. All the charities of benevolence are, in general, so agreeable to the natural make of the heart, that it is a very tender mercy of God to have made that a duty, which, to finer spirits, would have been irresistible as an inclination; and to have annexed the highest future reward to the greatest present pleasure. But, in order to give a religious sanction to a social virtue, the duty of "visiting the fatherless and widow in their affliction" is inseparably attached to the difficult and self-denying injunction of "keeping ourselves unspotted from the world." This adjunct is the more needful, as many are apt to make a kind of moral commutation, and to allow themselves so much pleasure in exchange for so much charity. But one good quality can never stand proxy for another. The Christian virtues derive their highest lustre from association: they have such a spirit of society, that they are weak and imperfect when solitary; their radiance is brightened by an intermingling of their beams, and their natural strength multiplied by their alliance with each other.
It cannot be denied that good sort of people sometimes use religion as the voluptuous use physic. As the latter employ medicine to make health agree with luxury, the former consider religion as a medium, to reconcile peace of conscience with a life of pleasure. But no moral chemistry can blend natural contradictions. In all such unnatural mixtures the world will still be uppermost, and religion will disdain to coalesce with its antipathy.
Let me not be suspected of intending to insinuate that religion encourages men to fly from society, and hide themselves in solitudes; to renounce the generous and important duties of active life, for the visionary, cold, and fruitless virtues of an hermitage or a cloister. No: the mischief arises not from our living in the world, but from the world living in us; occupying our hearts, and monopolizing our affections. Action is the life of virtue, and the world is the theatre of action. Perhaps some of the most perfect patterns of human conduct may be found in the most public stations, and among the busiest orders of mankind. It is, indeed, a scene of trial, but the glory of the triumph is proportioned to the peril of the conflict. A sense of danger quickens circumspection, and makes virtue more vigilant. Lot, perhaps, is not the only character who maintained his integrity in a