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spirit, and then looks into that part of the world under consideration, will not, surely, be thought very censorious, if he pronounce that the conformity between them does not seem to be very striking; and that the manners of the one do not very evidently appear to be dictated by the spirit of the other. Will he discover that the Christian religion is so much as pretended to be made the rule of life even by that decent order who profess not to have discarded it as an object of faith? Do even the more regular, who neglect not public observances, consider Christianity as the measure of their actions ? Do even wha tthe world calls religious persons employ their time, their abilities, and their fortune, as talents for which they however confess they believe themselves accountable ; or do they in any respect live, I will not say up to their profession, (for what human being does so ?) but in any consistency with it, or even with an eye to its predominant tendencies? Do persons in general, of this description, seem to consider the peculiar doctrines of the gospel as anything more than a form of words, necessary indeed to be repeated, and proper to be believed ? But do they consider them as necessary to be adopted into a governing principle of action ?
Is it acting a consistent part, to declare in the solemn assemblies that they are “miserable offenders,” and that “there is no help” in them, and yet never in their daily lives to discover any symptom of that humility and self-abasement which should naturally be implied in such a declaration ?
Is it reasonable or compatible, I will not say with piety, but with good sense, earnestly to lament having “ followed the devices and desires of their own hearts," and then deliberately to plunge into such a torrent of dissipations as clearly indicates that they do not struggle to oppose one of these devices, to resist one of these desires ? I dare not say this is hypocrisy, I do not believe it is, but surely it is inconsistency.
“ Be not conformed to this world,” is a leading principle in the book they acknowledge as their guide. But, after unresistingly assenting to this as a doctrinal truth, at church,-how absurd would they think any one who should expect them to adopt it into their practice! Perhaps the whole law of God does not exhibit a single precept more expressly, more steadily, and more uniformly rejected by the class in question. If it mean any thing, it can hardly be consistent with that mode of life emphatically distinguished by the appellation of fashionable.
Now, would it be much more absurd (for any other reason, but because it is not the custom) if our legislators were to meet one day in every week, gravely to read over all the obsolete statutes and rescinded acts of parliament, than it is for the order of persons of the above description to assemble every Sunday, to profess their belief in and submission to a system of principles, which they do not so much as intend shall be binding on their practice?
But to continue our inquiry :—There is not a more common or more intelligible definition of human duty, than that of “ Fear God, and keep his commandments.” Now, as to the first of these inseparable precepts, can we, with the utmost stretch of charity, be very forward to conclude that God is really “ very greatly feared," in secret, by those who give too manifest indications that they live “ without him in the world ?"And as to the latter precept, which naturally grows out of the other
without noticing any of the flagrant breaches of the moral law, let us only confine ourselves to the allowed, general, and notorious violation of the third and fourth commandments, by the higher as well as by the lower orders ; breaches so flagrant, that they force themselves on the observation of the most inattentive, too palpably to be either unnoticed or palliated.
Shall we have reason to change our opinion, if we take that divine representation of the sum and substance of religion, and apply it as a touchstone in the present trial,—“ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thyself” ? Now, judging by inference, do we see many public proofs of that heavenly-mindedness which would be the inevitable effect of such a fervent and animated dedication of all the powers, faculties, and affections of the soul to Him who gave it? And, as to the great rule of social duty expressed in the second clause, do we observe as much of that considerate kindness, that pure disinterestedness, that conscientious attention to the comfort of others, especially of dependants and inferiors, as might be expected from those who enjoy the privilege of so unerring a standard of conduct ? a standard which, if impartially consulted, must make our kindness to others bear an exact proportion to our self-love: a rule in which Christian principle, operating on human sensibility, could not fail to decide aright in every supposable case. For no man can doubt how he ought to act towards another, while the inward corresponding suggestions of conscience and feeling concur in letting him know how he would wish, in a change of circumstances, that others should act towards him.
Or suppose we take a more detailed survey, by a third rule, which indeed is not so much the principle as the effect of piety—“ True religion, and undefiled before God and the Father, is this : to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Now, if Christianity insists that obedience to the latter injunction be the true evidence of the sincerity of those who fulfil the former, is the beneficence of the fashionable world very strikingly illustrated by this spotless purity, this exemption from the pollutions of the world, which is here declared to be its invariable concomitant ?
But if I were to venture to take my estimate with a view more immediately evangelical; if I presumed to look for that genuine Christianity which consists in “ repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;" to insist that, whatever natural religion and fashionable religion may teach, it is the peculiarity of the Christian religion to humble the sinner and exalt the Saviour; to insist that not only the grossly flagitious, but that all have sinned; that all are by nature in a state of condemnation; that all stand in need of mercy, of which there is no hope but on the gospel terms; that eternal life is promised to those only who accept it on the offered conditions of “ faith, repentance, and renewed obedience;" if I were to insist on such evidences of our Christianity as these ; if I were to express these doctrines in plain scriptural terms, without lowering, qualifying, disguising, or doing them away; if I were to insist on this belief, and its implied and corresponding practices; I am aware that, with whatever condescending patience this little tract miglit have been so far perused, many a fashionable reader would here throw it aside, as
having now detected the palpable enthusiast, the abettor of“ strange doctrines,” long ago consigned over by the liberal and the polite to bigots and fanatics. And yet, if the Bible be true, this is a simple and faithful description of Christianity.
Surely men forget that we are urging them upon their own principles ; that wbile we are pressing them with motives drawn from Christianity, they seem to have as little concern in those motives as if they themselves were of another religion. It is not a name that will stand us in stead. It is not merely glorying in the title of Christians, while we are living in the neglect of its precepts; it is not valuing ourselves on the profession of religion as creditable, while we reject the power of it as fanatical, that will save us.
In any other circumstance of life it would be accounted absurd to have a set of propositions, principles, statutes, or fundamental articles, and not to make them the ground of our acting as well as of our reasoning. In these supposed instances, the blame would lie in the contradiction ; in religion, it lies in the agreement. Strange! that to act in consequence of received and acknowledged principles, should be accounted weakness! Strange, that what alone is truly consistent, should be branded as absurd ! Strange, that men must really forbear to act rationally, only that they may not be reckoned mad! Strange, that they should be commended for having prayed in the excellent words of the Bible and of our church, for “ a clean heart, and a right spirit;" and yet, if they gave any sign of such a transformation of heart, they should be accounted, if not fanatical, at least, singular, weak, or melancholy men.
After having, however, just ventured to hint at what are indeed the humbling doctrines of the gospel, the doctrines to which alone eternal life is promised, I shall in deep humility forbear to enlarge on this part of the subject, which has been exhausted by the labours of wise and pious men in all ages. Unhappily, however, the most awakening of these writers are not the favourite guests in the closets of the more fashionable Christians; who, when they happen to be more seriously disposed than ordinary, are fond of finding out some middle kind of reading, which recommends some half-way state, something between Paganism and Christianity, suspending the mind, like the position of Mahomet's tomb, between earth and heaven :-a kind of reading which, while it quiets the conscience by being on the side of morals, neither awakens fear, nor alarms security. By dealing in generals, it comes home to the hearts of none: it flatters the passions of the reader, by ascribing high merit to the performances of certain right actions, and the forbearance from certain wrong ones ; among which, that reader must be very unlucky indeed, who does not find some performances and some forbearances of his own. It at once enables him to keep heaven in his eye, and the world in his heart. It agreeably represents the readers to themselves as amiable persons, guilty indeed of a few faults, but never as condemned sinners under sentence of death. It commonly abounds with high encomiums on the dignity of human nature ; the good effects of virtue on health, fortune, and reputation; the dangers of a blind zeal, the mischiefs of enthusiasm, and the folly of singularity, with various other kindred sentiments; which, if they do not fall in of themselves with the corruptions of our nature, may, by a little warping, be easily accommodated to them.
There are the too successful practices of certain lukewarm and temporizing divines, who have become popular by blunting the edge of that heavenly-tempered weapon, whose salutary keenness, but for their “ deceitful handling," would oftener pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit."
But those severer preachers of righteousness, who disgust by applying too closely to the conscience; who probe the inmost heart, and lay open all its latent peccancies; who treat of principles as the only certain source of manners ; who lay the axe to the root, oftener than the pruning-knife to the branch; who insist much and often on the great leading truths, that man is a fallen creature, who must be restored, if he be restored at all, by means very little flattering to human pride ;—such heart-searching writers as these will seldom find access to the houses and hearts of the more modish Christians, unless they happen to owe their admission to some subordinate quality of style; unless they can captivate, with the seducing graces of language, those well-bred readers, who are childishly amusing themselves with the garnish, when they are perishing for want of food; who are searching for polished periods when they should be in quest of alarming truths; who are looking for elegance of composition, when they should be anxious for eternal life.
Whatever comparative praise may be due to the former class of writers, when viewed with others of a less decent order, yet I am not sure whether so many books of frigid morality, exhibiting such inferior motives of action, such moderate representations of duty, and such a low standard of principle, have not done religion much more harm than good; whether they do not lead many a reader to inquire what is the lowest degree in the scale of virtue with which he may content himself, so as barely to escape eternal punishment; how much indulgence he may allow himself, without absolutely forfeiting his chance of safety; what is the uttermost verge to which he may venture of this world's enjoyment, and yet just keep within a possibility of hope for the next : adjusting the scales of indulgence and security with such a scrupulous equilibrium, as not to lose much pleasure, yet not incur much penalty.
This is hardly an exaggerated representation : and to these low views of duty is partly owing so much of that bare-weight virtue with which even Christians are so apt to content themselves; fighting for every inch of ground which may possibly be taken within the pales of permission, and stretching those pales to the utmost edge of that limitation about which the world and the Bible contend.
But while the nominal Christian is persuading himself that there can be no harm in going a little farther, the real Christian is always afraid of going too far. While the one is debating for a little more disputed ground, the other is so fearful of straying into the regions of unallowed indulgence, that he keeps at a prudent distance from the extremity of his permitted limits; and is as anxious in restricting as the other is desirous of extending them. One thing is clear, and it may be no bad indication by which to discover the state of a man's heart to himself ; while he is contending for this allowance, and stipulating for the other indulgence, it will show him that, whatever change there may be in his life, there is none in his heart; the temper remains as it did; and it is by the
inward frame, rather than the outward act, that he can best judge of his own state, whatever may be the rule by which he undertakes to judge of that of another.
It is less wonderful that there are not more Christians, than that Christians, as they are called, are not better men; for, if Christianity be not true, the motives to virtue are not high enough to quicken ordinary men to very extraordinary exertions. We see them do and suffer every day for popularity, for custom, for fashion, for the point of honour, not only more than good men do and suffer for religion, but a great deal more than religion requires them to do. For her reasonable service demands no sacrifices but what are sanctioned by good sense, sound policy, right reason, and uncorrupt judgment.
Many of these fashionable professors even go so far as to bring their right faith as an apology for their wrong practice. They have a commodious way of entrenching themselves within the shelter of some general position, of unquestionable truth : even the great Christian hope becomes a snare to them. They apologise for a life of offence by taking refuge in the supreme goodness they are abusing. That "God is all-merciful," is the common reply to those who hint to them their danger. This is a false and fatal application of a divine and comfortable truth. Nothing can be more certain than the proposition, nor more delusive than the inference: for their deduction implies, not that he is merciful to sin repented of, but to sin continued in. But it is a most fallacious hope to expect that God will violate his own covenant, or that he is indeed “ all mercy,” to the utter exclusion of his other attributes of perfect holiness, purity, and justice.
It is a dangerous folly to rest on these vague and general notions of indefinite mercy; and nothing can be more delusive than this indefinite trust in being forgiven in our own way, after God has clearly revealed to us that he will only forgive us in his way. Besides, is there not something singularly base in sinning against God because he is merciful ?
But the truth is, no one does truly trust in God who does not endeavour to obey him. For to break bis laws, and yet to depend on his favourto live in opposition to his will, and yet in expectation of his mercy- to violate his commands, and yet look for his acceptance, would not, in any other instance, be thought a reasonable ground of conduct ; and yet it is by no means as uncommon as it is inconsistent.
CHAPTER VII. View of those who acknowledge Christianity as a perfect system of morals, but deny its
divine authority.—Morality not the whole of Religion. As in the preceding chapter notice was taken of that description of persons who profess to receive Christianity with great reverence as a matter of faith, who yet do not pretend to adopt it as a rule of conduct, I shall conclude these slight remarks with some short animadversions on another set of men, and that not a small one, among the decent and the fashionable, who profess to think it exhibits an admirable system of morals, while they deny its divine authority, though that authority alone