Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

-the adoption of good habits, and the excision of such as are evil. No one sets out on a religious course with a stock of native innocence, or actual freedom from sin; for there is no such state in human life. The natural heart is not, as has been too often supposed, a blank paper, whereon the divine Spirit has nothing to do but to stamp characters of goodness : no! many blots are to be erased, many defilements are to be cleansed, as well as fresh impressions to be made.

The vigilant Christian, therefore, who acts with an eye to the approbation of his Maker, rather than to that of mankind—to a future account, rather than to present glory-- will find, that diligently to cultivate the “unweeded garden ” of his own heart ; to mend the soil, to clear the ground of its indigenous vices, by practising the painful business of extirpation, will be that part of his duty which will cost him most labour, and bring him least credit; while the fair flower of one showy action, produced with little trouble, and of which the very pleasure is reward enough, shall gain him more praise than the eradication of the rankest weeds which overrun the natural heart.

But the gospel judges not after the manner of men ; for it never fails to make the abstinent virtues a previous step to the right performance of the operative ones; and the relinquishing what is wrong to be a necessary prelude to the performance of what is right. It makes “ ceasing to do evil” the indispensable preliminary to “lcarning to do well.” It continually suggests that something is to be laid aside, as well as to be practised. We must “ hate vain thoughts,” before we can “ love God's law." We must lay aside “malice and hypocrisy," to enable us " to receive the engrafted word.” Having “a conscience void of offence ;" “abstaining from fleshly lusts;" “ bringing every thought into obedience ;" —these are actions, or rather negations, which, though they never will obtain immortality from the chisel of the statuary, the declamation of the historian, or the panegyric of the poet, will, however, be “had in everlasting remembrance," when the works of the statuary, the historian, and the poet, will be no more.

And, for our encouragement, it is observable that a more difficult Christian virtue generally involves an easier one. A habit of self-denial in permitted pleasures, easily induces a victory over such as are unlawful. And to sit loose to our own possessions, necessarily includes an exemption from coveting the possessions of others : and so on of the rest.

Will it be difficult then to trace back to that want of early restraint, noticed in the preceding chapter, that license of behaviour, which, having been indulged in youth, afterwards reigns uncontrolled in families ; and which, having infected education in its first springs, taints all the streams, of domestic virtue ? And will it be thought strange, that that same want of religious principle which corrupted our children, should corrupt our servants ?

We scarcely go into any company without hearing some invective against the increased profligacy of this order of men; and the remark is made with as great an air of astonishment, as if the cause of the complaint were not as visible as the truth of it. It would be endless to point out. instances in which the increased dissipation of their betters (as they are oddly called) has contributed to the growth of this evil. But it comes.

VOL. I.

Y

only within the immediate design of the present undertaking, to insist on the single circumstance of the almost total extermination of religion in fashionable families, as a cause adequate of itself to any consequence which depraved morals can produce.

Is there not a degree of injustice in persons who express strong indignation at those crimes which crowd our prisons, and furnish our incessant executions, and who yet discourage not an internal principle of vice : since those crimes are nothing more than that principle put into action ? And it is no less absurd than cruel, in such of the great as lead disorderly lives, to expect to prevent vice by the laws they make to restrain or punish it, while their own example is a perpetual source of temptation to commit it. If, by their own practice, they demonstrate that they think a vicious life is the only happy one, with what colour of justice can they inflict penalties on others, who, by acting on the same principle, expect the same indulgence !

And, indeed, it is somewhat unreasonable to expect very high degrees of virtue and probity from a class of people whose whole life, after they are admitted into dissipated families, is one continued counteraction of the principles in which they have probably been bred.

When a poor youth is transplanted from one of those excellent institutions which do honour to the present age, and give some hope of reforming the next, into the family of his noble benefactor in town, who has, perhaps, provided liberally for his instruction in the country; what must be his astonishment at finding the manner of life to which he is introduced diametrically opposite to that life to which he has been taught that salvation is alone annexed! He has been taught that it was his bounden duty to be devoutly thankful for his own scanty meal, perhaps of barley-bread; yet he sees his noble lord sit down every day

Not to a dinner, but a hecatomb; to a repast for which every element is plundered, and every climate impoverished; for which nature is ransacked, and art is exhausted; without even the formal ceremony of a slight acknowledgment. It will be lucky for the master, if his servant does not happen to know that even the pagans never sat down to a repast without making a libation to their deities ; and that the Jews did not eat a little fruit, or drink a cup of water, without an expression of devout thankfulness.

Next to the law of God, he has been taught to reverence the law of the land, and to respect an act of parliament next to a text of Scripture; yet he sees his honourable protector, publicly in his own house, engaged in the evening in playing at a game expressly prohibited by the laws, and against which perhaps he himself had been assisting to pass an act.

While the contempt of religion was confined to wits and philosophers, the effect was not so sensibly felt. But we cannot congratulate the

. ordinary race of mortals on their emancipation from old prejudices, or their indifference to sacred usages, as it is not at all visible that the world is become happier in proportion as it is become more enlightened. We might rejoice more in the boasted diffusion of light and freedom, were it not apparent that bankruptcies are grown more frequent, robberies more common, divorces more numerous, and forgeries more extensive—that more rich men die by their own hand, and more poor men by the hand

[ocr errors]

а

of the executioner—than when Christianity was practised by the vulgar, and countenanced, at least, by the great.

It is to be regretted, therefore, while the affluent are encouraging so many admirable schemes for promoting religion among the children of the poor, that they do not like to perpetuate the principle, by encouraging it in their own children, and their servants also. Is it not pity, since these last are so moderately furnished with the good things of this life, to rob them of that bright reversion, the bare hope of which is a counterpoise to all the hardships they undergo here,-especially since, by diminishing this future hope, we shall not be likely to add to their present usefulness?

Still allowing, what has been already granted, that absolute infidelity is not the reigning evil, and that servants will perhaps be more likely to see religion neglected than to hear it ridiculed, —would it not be a meritorious kindness, in families of a better stamp, to furnish them with more opportunities of learning and practising their duty ? Is it not impolitic indeed, as well as unkind, to refuse them any means of having impressed on their consciences the operative principles of Christianity? It is but little, barely not to oppose their going to church, not to prevent their doing their duty at home; their opportunities of doing both ought to be facilitated, by giving them, at certain seasons, as few employments as possible that may interfere with both. Even when religion is, by pretty general consent, banished from our families at home, that only furnishes a stronger reason why our families should not be banished from religion in the churches.

But if these opportunities are not made easy and convenient to them, their superiors have no right to expect from them a zeal so far transcending their own, as to induce them to surmount difficulties for the sake of duty. Religion is never once represented in Scripture as a light attainment; it is never once illustrated by an easy, a quiet, or an indolent allegory. On the contrary, it is exhibited under the active figure of a combat, a race ; something expressive of exertion, activity, progress. And yet many are unjust enough to think that this warfare can be fought, though they themselves are perpetually weakening the vigour of the combatant; this race be run, though they are incessantly obstructing the progress of him who runs by some hard and interfering command. That our compassionate Judge, who “ knoweth whereof we are made, and remembereth that we are but dust,” is particularly touched with the feeling of their infirmities, can never be doubted; but what portion of forgiveness he will extend to those who lay on their virtue hard burdens, “ too heavy for them to bear," who shall say ?

To keep an immortal being in a state of spiritual darkness is a positive disobedience to His law, who, when he bestowed the Bible, no less than when he created the material world, said, “ Let there be light.” It were well, both for the advantage of master and servant, that the latter should have the doctrines of the Gospel frequently impressed on his heart; and that his conscience should be made familiar with a system which offers such clear and intelligible propositions of moral duty.

The striking interrogation, “ How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God ?” will perhaps operate as forcibly on an uncultivated mind as the

a

а

we

a

most eloquent essay to prove that man is not an accountable being. That once-credited promise, that “they who have done well shall go into evers lasting life,” will be more grateful to the spirit of a plain man than that more elegant and disinterested sentiment, that“ virtue is its own reward." That" he that walketh uprightly walketh surely," is not, on the whole, a dangerous or a misleading maxim. And, “ Well done, good and faithful servant, I will make thee ruler over many things,” though offensive to the liberal spirit of philosophic dignity, is a comfortable support to humble and suffering piety. That should do to others as we would they şhould do to us," is a portable measure of human duty, always at hand, as always referring to something within himself, not amiss for a poor man to carry constantly about with him, who has neither time nor learning to search for a better. It is an universal and compendious law, so universal as to include the whole compass of social obligation ; so compendious as to be enclosed in so short and plain an aphorism, that the dullest mind cannot misapprehend, nor the weakest memory forget it. It is convenient for bringing out on all the ordinary occasions of life.

We need not say, “ Who shall go up to heaven, and bring it unto us ? for this word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”*

For it is a very valuable part of the Gospel of Christ, that though it is an entire and perfect system in its design-though it exhibits one great plan, from which complete trains of argument, and connected schemes of reasoning, may be deduced-yet, in compassion to the multitude, for whom this benevolent institution was in a good measure designed, and who could not have comprehended a long chain of propositions, or have embraced remote deductions, the most important truths of doctrine, and the most essential documents of virtue, are detailed in single maxims, and comprised in short sentences ; independent of themselves, yet making a necessary part of a consummate whole; from a few of which principles the whole train of human virtues has been deduced, and many a perfect body of ethics has been framed.

If it be thought wonderful, that from so few letters of the alphabet, so few figures of arithmetic, so few notes in music, such endless combinations should have been produced in their respective arts ; how far more beautiful would it be to trace the whole circle of morals thus growing out of a few elementary principles of gospel truth !

All Seneca's arguments against the fear of death never yet reconciled one reader to its approach, half so effectually as the humble believer is reconciled to it by that simple persuasion, “I know that my Redeemer Jiveth."

While the modern philosopher is extending the boundaries of human knowledge, by undertaking to prove that matter is eternal; or enlarging the stock of human happiness, by demonstrating the extinction of spirit, it can do no harm to an unlettered man to believe, that “heaven and earth shall pass away, but God's word shall not pass away." While the former is indulging the profitable inquiry, why the Deity made the world so late, or why he made it at all; it will not hurt the latter to believe that “in the beginning God made the world,” and that in the end " he shall judge it in righteousness."

* Deut. xxx. 11 and 12,

[ocr errors]

While the liberal scholar is usefully studying the law of nature and of pations, let him rejoice that his more illiterate brother possesses the plain conviction that “love is the fulfilling of the law”-that “ love worketh no ill to his neighbour." And let him be persuaded that he himself, though he know all Tully's Offices by heart, may not have acquired a more feeling and operative sentiment than is conveyed to the common Christian in the rule to “bear each other's burdens." While the wit is criticising the creed, be will be no loser by encouraging his dependants to keep the commandments; since a few such simple propositions as the above furnish a more practical and correct rule of life than can be gleaned from all the volumes of ancient philosophy, justly eminent as many of them are for wisdom and purity. For though they abound with passages of true sublimity, and sentiments of great moral beauty, yet the result is naturally defective, the conclusions necessarily contradictory. This was no fault of the author, but of the system. The vision was acute, but the light was dim. The sharpest sagacity could not distinguish spiritual objects, in the twilight of natural religion, with that accuracy with which they are now discerned by every common Christian, in the diffusion of gospel light.

And whether it be that what depraves the principles darkens the intellect also, certain it is that an uneducated serious Christian reads his Bible with a clearness of intelligence, with an intellectual comment, which no sceptic or mere worldling ever attains. The former has not prejudged the cause he is examining. He is not often led by his passions, still more rarely by his interest, to resist his convictions. While " the secret of the Lord is (obviously) with them that fear him," the mind of them who fear him not is generally prejudiced by a retaining fee from the world, from their passions, or their pride, before they enter on the inquiry

With what consistency can the covetous man embrace a religion which so pointedly forbids him to lay up treasures upon earth ?" How will the man of spirit, as the world is pleased to call the duellist, relish a religion which allows not “the sun to go down upon his wrath ?” How can the ambitious struggle for “a kingdom which is not of this world," and embrace a faith which commands him to lay down his crown at the feet of another? How should the professed wit or the mere philosopher adopt a system which demands in a lofty tone of derision, " Where is the scribe ? Where is the wise ? Where is the disputer of this world ?" How will the self-satisfied Pharisee endure a religion which, while it peremptorily demands from him every useful action and every right exertion, will not permit him to rest his hope of salvation on their performance ? He whose affections are voluntarily riveted to the present world, will not much delight in a scheme whose avowed principle is to set him above it. The obvious consequence of these “hard sayings” is illustrated by daily instances. “ Have any of the rulers believed on him ?" is a question not confined to the first

age
of his appearance.

Had the most enlightened philosophers of the most polished nations collected all the scattered wit and learning of the world into one point, in order to invent a religion for the salvation of mankind, the doctrine of the cross is perhaps precisely the thing they would never have hit upon; precisely the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »