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great city, proverbially wicked, and forfeited it in the bosom of retire
It has been said, that worldly good sort of people are a greater credit to their profession, by exhibiting more cheerfulness, gaiety, and happiness, than are visible in serious Christians. If this assertion be true, which I very much suspect, is it not probable that the apparent ease and gaiety of the former may be derived from the same source of consolation which Mrs. Quickly recommends to Falstaff, in Shakspeare's admirable picture of the death-bed scene of that witty profligate ? "He wished for comfort," quoth mine hostess, "and began to talk of God; now I, to comfort him, begged him he should not think of God: it was time enough to trouble himself with these things." Do not many deceive themselves by drawing water from these dry wells of comfort? and patch up a precarious and imperfect happiness in this world, by diverting their attention from the concerns of the next?
Another obstruction to the growth of piety, is that unhappy prejudice which even good kind of people too often entertain against those who differ from them in opinion. Every man who is sincerely in earnest to advance the interests of religion, will have acquired such a degree of candour, as to become indifferent by whom good is done, or who has the reputation of doing it, provided it be actually done. He will be anxious to increase the stock of human virtue, and of human happiness, by every possible means. He will whet and sharpen every instrument of goodness, though it be not cast in his own mould, or fashioned after his own pattern. He will never consider whether the form suits his own particular taste, but whether the instrument itself be calculated to accomplish the work of his Master.
I shall conclude these loose and immethodical hints with a plain, though short address to those who content themselves with a decent profession of the doctrines, and a formal attendance on the offices, instead of a diligent discharge of the duties of Christianity. Believe, and forgive me!—you are the people who lower religion in the eyes of its enemies. The openly profane, the avowed enemies to God and goodness, serve to confirm the truths they mean to oppose, to illustrate the doctrines they deny, and to accomplish the very predictions they affect to disbelieve. But you, like an inadequate and faithless prop, overturn the edifice which you pretend to support. When an acute and keen-eyed infidel measures your lives with the rule by which you profess to walk; he finds so little analogy between them, the copy is so unlike the pattern, that this inconsistency of yours is the pass through which his most dangerous attack is made. And I must confess, that, of all the arguments which the malignant industry of infidelity has been able to muster, the negligent conduct of professing Christians seems to be the only one which is really capable of staggering a man of sense. He hears of a spiritual and self-denying religion; he reads the beatitudes; he observes that the grand artillery of the gospel is planted against pride and sensuality. He then turns to the transcript of this perfect original; to the lives which pretend to be fashioned by it. There he sees, with triumphant derision, that pride, self-love, luxury, self-sufficiency, unbounded personal expense, and an inordinate appetite for pleasure, are reputable vices in the eyes of many of those who acknowledge the truth of
the Christian doctrines. He weighs that meekness to which a blessing is promised, with that arrogance which is too common to be very dishonourable. He compares that non-conformity to the world, which the Bible makes the criterion of a believer, with that rage for amusement which is not considered as disreputable in a Christian. He opposes the self-denying and lowly character of the Author of our faith with the sensual practices of his followers. He finds the little resemblance between the restraints prescribed, and the gratifications indulged in. What conclusions must a speculative reasoning sceptic draw from such premises? Is it any wonder that such phrases as 66 a broken spirit," "a contrite heart," poverty of spirit," "refraining the soul," "keeping it low," and "casting down high imaginations," should be to the unbeliever "foolishness," when such humiliating doctrines are a "stumbling-block" to professing Christians; to Christians who cannot cordially relish a religion. which professedly tells them it was sent to stain the pride of human glory, and "to exclude boasting?"
But though the passive and self-denying virtues are not high in the esteem of mere good sort of people, yet they are peculiarly the evangelical virtues. The world extols brilliant actions; the gospel enjoins good habits and right motives: it seldom inculcates those splendid deeds which make heroes, or teaches those lofty sentiments which constitute philosophers; but it enjoins the harder task of renouncing self, of living uncorrupted in the world, of subduing besetting sins, and of "not thinking of ourselves more highly that we ought." The acquisition of glory was the precept of other religions, the contempt of it is the perfection of Christianity.
Let us then be consistent, and we shall never be contemptible, even in the eyes of our enemies. Let not the unbeliever say that we have one set of opinions for our theory, and another for our practice; that to the vulgar We show the rough and thorny way to heaven,
While we the primrose path of dalliance tread.
Would it not become the character of a man of sense, of which consistency is a most unequivocal proof, to choose some rule, and abide by it? An extempore Christian is a ridiculous character. Fixed principles, if they be really principles of the heart, and not merely opinions of the understanding, will be followed by a consistent course of action; while indecision of spirit will produce instability of conduct. If there be a model which we profess to admire, let us square our lives by it. If either the Koran of Mahomet, or the Revelations of Zoroaster, be a perfect guide, let us follow one of them. If either Epicurus, Zeno, or Confucius, be the peculiar object of our veneration or respect, let us avowedly fashion our conduct by the dictates of their philosophy; and then, though we may be wrong, we shall not be absurd; we may be erroneous, but we shall not be inconsistent; but if the Bible be in truth the word of God, as we profess to believe, we need look no farther for a consummate pattern. "If the Lord be God, let us follow HIM." If Christ be a sacrifice for sin, let him be also to us the example of a holy life.
But I am willing to flatter myself that the moral and intellectual scene about us begins to brighten. I indulge myself in moments of the most enthusiastic and delightful vision, that things are beginning gradually to lead to the fulfilment of that promise, that "all the kingdoms of the earth
shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ." I take encouragement that that glorious prophecy, that "of the increase of his government there shall be no end," seems to be gradually accomplishing; and in no instance more, perhaps, than in the noble attempt about to be made for the abolition of the African slave-trade.* For what event can human wisdom foresee more likely to contribute to " give the Son the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession," than the success of such an enterprise, which will restore the lustre of the British name, and cut off at a single stroke as large and disgraceful a portion of national guilt as ever impaired the virtue or dishonoured the councils of a Christian country.
A good spirit seems to be at work. A catholic temper is diffusing itself among all sects and parties; an enlightened candour, and a liberal toleration, were never more prevalent; good men combat each other's opinions with less rancour, and better manners; they hate each other less for those points in which they disagree, and love each other more for those points in which they join issue, than they formerly did. We have many public encouragements: we have a pious king; a wise and virtuous minister; very many respectable, and not a few serious clergy. Their number, I am willing to hope, is daily increasing. Among these some of the first in dignity are the most exemplary in conduct. An increasing desire to instruct the poor, to inform the ignorant, and to reclaim the vicious, is spreading among us. The late royal proclamation affords an honourable sanction to virtuous endeavours, and lends nerves and sinews to the otherwise feeble exertions of individuals, by enforcing laws wisely planned, but hitherto feebly executed. In short, there is a good hope that we shall more and more become "that happy people who have the Lord for their God;" that as prosperity is already within our walls, peace and virtue may abide in our dwellings.
But vain will be all endeavours after partial and subordinate amendment. Reformation must begin with the GREAT, or it will never be effectual. Their example is the fountain whence the vulgar draw their habits, actions, and characters. To expect to reform the poor while the opulent are corrupt, is to throw odours into the stream while the springs are poisoned.
If, therefore, the rich and great will not, from a liberal spirit of doing right, and from a Christian spirit of fearing God, abstain from those offences for which the poor are to suffer fines and imprisonments, effectual good cannot be done. It will signify little to lay penalties on the horses of the drover, or on the waggon of the husbandman, while the chariot wheels of the great roll with incessant motion and while the sacred day, on which the sons of industry are commanded by royal proclamation to desist from travelling, is for that very reason selected for the journeys of the great; and preferred, because the road is encumbered with fewer interruptions. But will it not strike every well-meaning Sunday traveller with a generous remorse, when he reflects that he owes the accommodation of an unobstructed road to the very obedience which is paid by
*This interesting question was then beginning to be agitated in Parliament.
others to that divine and human law which he is in the very act of violating?
Will not the common people think it a little inequitable that they are abridged of the diversions of the public-house and the gaming-yard on Sunday evening, when they shall hear that many houses of the first nobility are on that evening crowded with company, and such amusements carried on as are prohibited by human laws even on common days? As imitation, and a desire to be in the fashion, govern the lower orders of mankind, it is to be feared that they will not think reformation reputable, while they see it recommended only, and not practised, by their superiors. A precept counteracted by an example, is worse than fruitless, it is ridiculous and the common people will be tempted to set an inferior value on goodness when they find it is only expected from the lower ranks. They cannot surely but smile at the disinterestedness of their superiors, who, while they seem anxiously concerned to save others, are so little solicitous about their own state. The ambitious vulgar will hardly relish a salvation which is only intended for plebeians; nor will they be apt to entertain very exalted notions of that promised future reward, the road to which they perceive their betters are so much more earnest to point out to them, than to walk in themselves.
It was not by inflicting pains and penalties that Christianity first made its way into the world: the divine truths it inculcated received irresistible confirmation from the LIVES, PRACTICES, and EXAMPLES of its venerable professors. These were arguments which no popular prejudice could resist, no Jewish logic refute, and no pagan persecution discredit. Had the primitive Christians only praised and promulgated the most perfect religion the world ever saw, it would have produced but very slender effects on the faith and manners of the people. The astonishing consequences which followed the pure doctrines of the gospel would never have been produced, if the jealous and inquisitive eye of malice could have detected that the DOCTRINES the Christians recommended had not been illustrated by the LIVES they led.
POSTSCRIPT TO THE SECOND EDITION.
THE public favour having already brought this little essay to another edition, the author has been sedulous to discover any particular objections that have been made to it. Since the preceding sheets were printed off, it has been suggested by some very respectable persons who have honoured this slight performance with their notice, that it inculcates a too rigid. austerity, and carries the point of observing Sunday much too far; that it takes away all the usual occupations of the day, without substituting any others in their stead; and that it only pulls down a wrong system, without so much as attempting to build up a right one. To these observations the author begs leave to reply, that whilst animadverting on error, the insisting on obvious duty was purposely omitted. To tell people what they already know to be right, was less the intention of this address, than to observe upon practices which long habit had prevented them from
perceiving to be wrong. Sensible and well-meaning persons can hardly be at a loss on a subject which has exhausted precept, and wearied exhortation. To have expatiated on it, would only have been to repeat what is already known and acknowledged to be right, even by those whom the hurry of engagements will not allow to take breath one day in a week, that they may run the race of pleasure with more alacrity on the other six. But probably it is not the duties, but the amusements appropriated to the day, about which the inquiry is made. It will, perhaps, be found, that the intervals of a Sunday regularly devoted to all its reasonable and obvious employments, are not likely to be so very tedious, but that they might be easily and pleasantly filled up by cheerful, innocent, and instructive conversation. Human delights would be very circumscribed indeed, if the practices here noticed as erroneous, included the whole circle of enjoyment. In addition to the appropriate pleasures of devotion, are the pleasures of retirement, the pleasures of friendship, the pleasures of intellect, and the pleasures of beneficence, to be estimated as nothing?
There will not be found, perhaps, a single person who shall honour these pages with a perusal, who has not been repeatedly told, with an air of imposing gravity, by those who produce cards on a Sunday evening, that it is better to play than to talk scandal. Before this pithy axiom was invented, it was not perhaps suspected that Sunday gaming would ever be adduced as an argument in favour of morals. Without entering into the comparative excellence of these two occupations, or presuming to determine which has a claim to pre-eminence of piety, may we not venture to be thankful that these alternatives do not seem to.empty the whole stock of human resource; but that something will still be left, to occupy and to interest those who adopt neither the one nor the other?
People in the gay and elegant scenes of life are perpetually complaining that an extensive acquaintance, and the necessity of being constantly engaged in large circles and mixed assemblies, leaves them little leisure for family enjoyment, select conversation, and domestic delights. Others, with no less earnestness, lament that the hurry of public stations, and the necessary demands of active life, allow them no time for any but frivolous reading. Now, the recurrence of one Sunday in every week seems to hold out an inviting remedy for both these evils. The sweet and delightful pleasures of family society might then be uninterruptedly enjoyed, by the habitual exclusion of trifling and idle visiters, who do not come to see their friends, but to get rid of themselves. Persons of fashion, living in the same house, and connected by the closest ties, whom business and pleasure keep asunder during the greatest part of the week, would then have an opportunity of spending a little time together, and of cultivating that friendship for each other, that affection for their children, and that intercourse with their Maker, to which the present manners are not very favourable. To the other set of complainers, those who can find no time to read, this interval naturally presents itself; and it so happens, that some of the most enlightened men the world ever saw, have, not unfrequently, devoted their rare talents to subjects peculiarly suited to this day; and that not merely in the didactic form of sermons, which men of the world affect to disdain, but in every alluring shape which human ingenuity could assume. It can be fortunately produced among a thousand