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ticular duty, it is contributing to the prosperity of the rest; and the larger the family, the better they live together, as no one can advance itself without labouring for the advancement of the whole : thus, no man can be benevolent on Christian principles without self-denial; and so of the other virtues ; each is connected with some other, and all with religion.
I already anticipate the obvious and hackneyed reply, that “ whoever be the instrument, and whatever be the motive of bounty, still the poor are equally relieved, and therefore the end is the same." And it must be confessed that those compassionate hearts, who cannot but be earnestly anxious that the distressed should be relieved at any rate, should not too scrupulously inquire into any cause of which the effect is so beneficial. Nor indeed will candour scrutinise too curiously into the errors of any life of which benevolence will always be allowed to be the shining ornament, while it does not pretend to be the atoning virtue.
Let me not be misrepresented, as if I were seeking to detract from the value of this amiable feeling: we do not surely lower the practice by seeking to ennoble the principle; the action will not be impaired by mending the motive ; and no one will be likely to give the poor less, because he seeks to please God more.
One cannot, then, help wishing, that pecuniary bounty were not only not practised, but that it were not sometimes enjoined too, as a redeeming virtue. In many conversations (I had almost said in many charitysermons) it is insinuated as if a little alms-giving could pay off old scores, contracted by favourite indulgences. This, though often done by wellmeaning men to advance the interests of some present pious purpose, yet has the mischievous effect of those medicines which, while they may relieve a local complaint, are yet undermining the general habit.
That great numbers who are not influenced by so high a principle as Christianity holds out, are yet truly compassionate without hypocrisy and without ostentation, who can doubt? But who that feels the beauty of benevolence can avoid being solicitous, not only that its offerings should comfort the receiver, but return in blessings to the bosom of the giver, by springing from such motives, and being accompanied by such a temper, as shall redound to his eternal good! For that the benefit is the same to the object, whatever be the character of the benefactor, is but an uncomfortable view of things to a real Christian, whose compassion reaches to the souls of men.
Such a one longs to see the charitable giver as happy as he is endeavouring to make the object of his bounty ; but such a one knows that no happiness can be fully and finally enjoyed but on the solid basis of Christian piety.
For as religion is not, on the one hand, merely an opinion or a sentiment, so neither is it, on the other, merely an act or a performance; but it is a disposition, a habit, a temper : it is not a name, but a nature : it is a turning the whole mind to God: it is a concentration of all the powers and affections of the soul into one steady point, an uniform desire to please Him. This desire will naturally and necessarily manifest itself in our doing all the good we can to our fellow-creatures in every possible way; for it will be found that neither of the two parts into which practical religion is divided, can be performed with any degree of perfection but by those who unite both: as it may be questioned if any man really does
“ love his neighbour as himself,” who does not first endeavour to “love God with all his heart." As genius has been defined to be strong general powers of mind, accidentally determined to some particular pursuit, so piety may be denominated a strong general disposition of the heart to everything that is right, breaking forth into every excellent action, as the occasion presents itself. The temper must be ready in the mind, and the whole heart must be prepared and trained to every act of virtue to which it may be called out. For religious principles are like the military exercise; they keep up an habitual state of preparation for actual service; and, by never relaxing the discipline, the real Christian is ready for every duty to which he may be commanded. Right actions best prove the existence of religion in the heart ; but they are evidences, not causes.
Whether, therefore, a man's charitable actions proceed from religious principle, he will be best able to ascertain by scrutinising into what is the general disposition of his time and fortune, and by observing whether his pleasures and expenses are habitually regulated with a view to enable him to be more or less useful to others.
It is in vain that he possess what is called by the courtesy of fashion, the best heart in the world, (a character we every day hear applied to the libertine and the prodigal,) if he squander his time and estate in such a round of extravagant indulgences and thoughtless dissipation as leaves him little money and less leisure for nobler purposes. It makes but little difference whether a man is prevented from doing good by hardhearted parsimony, or an unprincipled extravagance; the stream of usefulness is equally cut off by both.
The mere casual benevolence of any man can have little claim to solid esteem; nor does any charity deserve the name, which does not grow out of a steady conviction that it is his bounden duty ; which does not spring from a settled propensity to obey the whole will of God; which is not therefore made a part of the general plan of his conduct; and which does not lead him to order the whole scheme of his affairs with an eye to it.
He, therefore, who does not habituate himself to certain interior restraints, who does not live in a regular course of self-renunciation, will not be likely often to perform acts of beneficence, when it becomes necessary to convert to such purposes any of that time or money which appetite, temptation, or vanity, solicits him to divert to other purposes.
And surely he who seldom sacrifices one darling indulgence, who does not subtract one gratification from the incessant round of his enjoyments, when the indulgence would obstruct his capacity of doing good, or when the sacrifice would enlarge his power, does not deserve the name of benevolent. And for such an unequivocal criterion of charity, to whom are we to look but to the conscientious Christian? No other spirit but that by which he is governed, can subdue self-love; and where self-love is the predominant passion, benevolence can have but a feeble, or an accidental dominion.
Now, if we look around, and remark the excesses of luxury, the costly diversions, and the intemperate dissipation in which numbers of professing Christians indulge themselves, can any stretch of candour, can even that tender sentiment by which we are enjoined “ to hope" and to “ believe all things,” enable us to hope and believe that such are actuated by a spirit of Christian benevolence, merely because we see them perform some casual acts of charity, which the spirit of the world can contrive to make extremely compatible with a voluptuous life; and the cost of which, after all, bears but little proportion to that of any one vice, or even vanity!
Men will not believe that there is hardly any one human good quality which will know and keep its proper bounds, without the restraining influence of religious principle. There is, for instance, great danger lest a constant attention to so right a practice as an invariable economy, should incline the heart to the love of money. Nothing can effectually counteract this natural propensity but the Christian habit of devoting those retrenched expenses to some good purpose; and then economy, instead of narrowing the heart, will enlarge it, by inducing a constant association of benevolence with frugality. An habitual attention to the wants of others is the only wholesome regulator of our own expenses ; and carries with it a whole train of virtues, disinterestedness, sobriety, and temperance. And those who live in the custom of levying constant taxes on their vanities for such purposes, serve the
poor still less than they serve themselves. For if they are charitable upon true Christian principles, “they are laying up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come.”
Thus when a vein of Christianity runs through the whole mass of a man's life, it gives a new value to all his actions, and a new character to all his views. It transmutes prudence and economy into Christian virtues ; and every offering that is presented on the altar of charity becomes truly consecrated, when it is the gift of obedience, and the price of self-denial. Piety is that fire from heaven that can alone kindle the sacrifice, which, through the mediation and intercession of our great High-Priest “ will go up a memorial before God.”
On the other hand, when any act of bounty is performed by way of composition with our Maker, either as a purchase or an expiation of unallowed indulgences; though, even in this case, God (who makes all the passions of men subservient to his good purposes) can make the gift equally beneficial to the receiver, yet it is surely not too severe to say, that to the giver such acts are an unfounded dependence, a deceitful refuge, a broken staff.
CHAPTER III. The Neglect of Religious Education, both a Cause and a Consequence of the Decline of
Christianity.-No Moral Restraints.--Religion only incidentally taught, not as a Principle of Action.—A few of the many Causes which dispose the Young to entertain low Opinions of Religion.
LET not the truly pious be offended, as if, in the present chapter, which is intended to treat of the notorious neglect of religious education, I meant to insinuate that the principles and tempers of Christianity may be formed in the young mind, by the mere mechanical operation of early instruction, without the co-operating aid of the Holy Spirit of God. To imply this, would be indeed to betray a lamentable ignorance of human nature, of the disorder that sin has introduced, of the inefficacy of mere human means ; and entirely to mistake the genius, and overlook the most obvious and important truths, of our holy religion.
It must, however, be allowed, that the Supreme Being works chiefly by
means; and though it be confessed that no defect of education, no corruption of manners, can place any out of the reach of the Divine influences, (for it is under such circumstances perhaps that some of the most extraordinary instances of Divine grace have been manifested,) yet it must be owned, that instructing children in principles of religion, and giving them early habits of temperance and piety, is the way in which we may most confidently expect the Divine blessing. And that it is a work highly pleasing to God, and which will be most assuredly accompanied by his gracious energy, we may judge from what he says of his faithful servant Abraham -“I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.”
But religion is the only thing in which we seem to look for the end without making use of the means; and yet it would not be more surprising if we were to expect that our children should become artists and scholars without being bred to arts and languages, than it is to look for a Christian world without a Christian education.
The noblest objects can yield no delight, if there be not in the mind a disposition to relish them. There must be a congruity between the mind and the object, in order to produce any capacity of enjoyment. To the mathematician, demonstration is pleasure ; to the philosopher, the study of nature ; to the voluptuary, the gratification of his appetite; to the poet, the pleasures of the imagination. These objects they each respectively pursue, as pleasures adapted to that part of their nature which they have been accustomed to indulge and cultivate.
Now as men will be apt to act consistently with their general views and habitual tendencies, would it not be absurd to expect that the philosopher should look for bis sovereign good at a ball, or the sensualist in the pleasures of intellect or piety? None of these ends are answerable to the general views of the respective pursuer ; they are not correspondent to his ideas ; they are not commensurate to his aims. The sublimest pleasures can atford little gratification where a taste for them has not been previously formed. A clown, who should hear a scholar or an artist talk of the delights of a library, a picture-gallery, or a concert, could not guess at the nature of the pleasures they afford; nor would his being introduced to them give him much clearer ideas ; because he would bring to them an eye blind to proportion, an understanding new to science, and an ear deaf to harmony.
Shall we expect then, since men can only become scholars by diligent labour, that they shall become Christians by mere chance? Shall we be surprised if those do not fulfil the offices of religion, who are not trained to an acquaintance with them? And will it not be obvious that it must be some other thing besides the abstruseness of creeds, which has tended to make Christianity unfashionable, and piety obsolete ?
It probably will not be disputed, that in no age have the passions of our high-born youth been so early freed from all curb and restraint. In no age has the paternal authority been so contemptuously treated, or every species of subordination so disdainfully trampled upon. In no age have simple, and natural, and youthful pleasures so early lost their power over the mind ; nor was ever one great secret of virtue and happiness, the secret of being cheaply pleased, so little understood.
A taste for costly, or artificial, or tumultuous pleasures cannot be gratified, even by their most sedulous pursuers, at every moment ; and what wretched management is it in the economy of human happiness, so to contrive, as that the enjoyment shall be rare and difficult, and the intervals long and languid ! Whereas real and unadulterated pleasures occur perpetually to him who cultivates a taste for truth and nature, and science and virtue. But these simple and tranquil enjoyments cannot but be insipid to him whose passions have been prematurely excited by agitating pleasures, or whose taste has been depraved by such as are debasing and frivolous; for it is of more consequence to virtue than some good people are willing to allow, to preserve the taste pure, and the judgment sound. A vitiated intellect has no small connexion with depraved morals.
Since amusements of some kind are necessary to all ages, (I speak now with an eye to mere human enjoyment,) why should it not be an object of early care, to keep a due proportion of them in reserve for those future scasons of life, in which they will be so much more needed ? Why should there not, even for this purpose, be adopted a system of salutary restriction, to be used by parents towards their children, by instructors toward their pupils, and, in the progress of life, by each man toward himself? In a word, why should not the same reasons which have induced us to tether inferior animals, suggest the expediency of, in some sort, tethering man also ? Since nothing but experience seems to teach him, that if he be allowed to anticipate his future possessions, and trample all the flowery fields of real, as well as those of imaginary and artificial enjoyment, he not only endures present disgust, but defaces and destroys all the rich materials of liis future happiness ; and leaves bimself, for the rest of his life, nothing but ravaged fields and barren stubble.
But the great and radical defect, and that which comes more immediately within the present design, seems to be, that in general the characteristical principles of Christianity are not early and strongly infused into the mind : that religion, if taught at all, is rather taught incidentally, as a thing of subordinate value, than as the leading principle of human actions, the great animating spring of human conduct. Were the high influential principles of the Christian religion anxiously and early inculcated, we should find that those lapses from virtue, to which passion and temptation afterwards too frequently solicit, would be more easily recover
For though the evil propensities of fallen nature, and the bewitching allurements of pleasure, will too often seduce even those of the best education into devious paths, yet we shall find that men will seldom be incurably wicked unless that internal corruption of principle has taken place, which teaches them how to justify iniquity by argument, and to confirm evil conduct by the sanction of false reasoning; or where there is a total ignorance of the very nature and design of Christianity, which ignorance can only exist where early religious instruction has been entirely neglected.
The errors occasioned by the violence of passion may be reformed, but systematic wickedness will be only fortified by time ; and no decrease of strength, no decay of appetite, can weaken the power of a perpicious principle. He who deliberately commits a bad action, puts himself indeed