« PreviousContinue »
me occasionally to things which are not strictly just and honest; it carries me occasionally at least, and perhaps regularly. Whilst I was ignorant, I was easy ; but this new information brings with it great disturbance. It requires me to change. I must change from the bottom.
Again : As ignorance of the laws of God encourages an opinion of ease and latitude in those laws, which is not true; so an ignorance of our own religious character will make us at peace with ourselves, and cause us to fondle an opinion, that we are better than we seem to be, or, in reality, than we are. Here, if in any thing, men love darkness rather than light; error without examination, rather than truth with it. For what shall we gain by examination ? Only more and more insight into the deep and numerous corruptions of our hearts, our lives and conversation. Things little thought of, or unthought of altogether ; circumstances unperceived, and slight failings without number, will start up to our view. In the negligent way of life in which we have passed our days, we found some degree of contentment; at least we were not very unhappy. We judged of ourselves by what we remembered of ourselves; and if any thing troubled our memory of its own accord, it was some black offence, of which in some part of our lives we had been guilty. Recollections such as these, can be, we must suppose, but very few with any, except with notorious offenders; with a very great part of those who hear me, it is possible there may be no such things to recollect. That I can allow very well, and believe to be true; and the absence of such recollections keeps up a kind of peace in the soul. But is it a just, well grounded confidence, which the event will verify ?
Here, then, are two grand inducements for continuing in voluntary ignorance, for loving « darkness rather than light.' It makes us believe the law of God and Jesus Christ to be more lax than it is; and it makes us believe our own life and character to be better than they are; and these two reasons amount, in many persons, to unconquerable inducements. But let them now call to mind, that no physician who saw his patient at ease would disturb that ease, except it were to save his life ; and then undoubtedly he would, if he was true to his trust. In the same manner the careless, negligent, sensual, and thoughtless; and not only they, but another description of character, worse, it is to be feared, than they ; namely, such as are not forgetful in other things, but in this particular concern of religion do purposely and by design put it from them, cast it out of their thoughts by a positive act of their will. These must be called upon, again and again, to behold their danger, and to view their condition earnestly, and truly, and really.
They are at ease in their ignorance ; but what is ease which ends in perdition? It is beyond all doubt an ease which will become the sorest of all evils, worse than any terror, any disturbance, which inquiry and reflection can produce; and reflection is recommended by an assurance, that it will lead to good. You will allow it possible for a man to be in the wrong way, and not to be thinking of the way he is in ; to be entirely careless about it. And how is such a person ever to be brought into the right way, except by opening his eyes, coming to the light, taking up the matter and consideration of religion in earnest, and with seriousness. It is utterly necessary that something should be done in order to save his soul, and this must be the beginning of the work. It signifies nothing to allege, that this disposition to religion and to serious reflection is natural to man. This may be allowed to be true, but is nothing to the purpose ; for the question is really come to this, whether our souls are to perish, or this disinclination, whether natural or not, be got the better of.
One would suppose that light was always more grateful than darkness, knowledge than ignorance; but our Saviour knew it to be otherwise ; he knew what was in man; he knew, that though lost and bewildered, though not seeking their way, but going on unconcerned, and not knowing whither, by reason of the darkness which surrounded them, yet they would turn away from that light which alone could guide them in safety ; that if they could obtain for themselves any thing like ease, though it were only that false ease which results from inconsiderateness, insensibility, and ignorance, and that upon the most unfit subject of which men can remain insensible or ignorant; they would prefer even that to the anxieties which they foresee must follow, from entering upon religious meditation and inquiry. And to every argument and every plea which may be offered, or which may pass in our minds in favor of putting aside the thoughts of religion, this single string of conclusions is an answer ; 1. That it is by religion alone that a sinner can be saved. 2. That religion can have no effect where it has no influence. 3. That until we come to think, to ponder, to ruminate upon religion, it is impossible that we should acquire its instruction; and still more impossible, that we should feel its power, its authority, its rule and direction, in the regulation of our hearts, and in the government of our lives.
FEAR A RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE.
PROVERBS XIV. 16.
A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil. The beginning of religion in the heart is a subject of curious inquiry; it is also more than curious, it is of great practical importance. But it appears that there is no sufficient reason for supposing that it is in all men alike, or rather, the same in all good, religious men, as it is in those who become such; both experience and reason seem to speak the contrary. If we refer to the operations of God's holy spirit, we shall not be able to collect any authority for limiting them to a particular mode, or for saying that it must either be sudden or slow, early or late, more or less frequent or powerful. It surely may be all these, and in very different degrees in different times, and in different men. Nor yet, if we refer to the natural influence of what is usually called principle, have we any rule for saying, that religion must either necessarily, or that it does usually spring from the same cause. Different men are affected by different motives; and what sinks deep into the heart of one man, makes little impression upon another; and this depends not only upon a difference of disposition, which yet is very great, but upon a difference of circumstances, which are various beyond computation. Still, if we do but really become religious, from whatever origin we set out, we are authorised to hope that our religion will save us.
Thus it is, that religion sometimes, not seldom indeed, has a violent origin in the soul, and begins in terror. "A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil.' The punishment of men's crimes overtaking them in this world, brings them to reflection, and reflection brings them to God. And not only does the punishment of the law effect this change, but the punishment of misery which men endure in consequence of losses either in their health, or fortune, or reputation. These are stings which sin inflicts, and we hope that they are sometimes available to repentance. We know but too well that they do not always answer their purpose; because we know, that when the frights or pains are over, men go back to their old courses. This may be a frequent, but it is a deplorable case; for little can be hoped for from lessons and admonitions addressed to a conscience upon which even the experience of danger, and mercy, and suffering takes no hold; one cannot indeed say, makes no impression, but takes no firm and abiding hold. First, then, let those who have suffered either alarm or affliction by reason of their sins, and under the visitations consequent upon sin, yet who, so soon as the calamity or fear is passed, forget it, and return to their vices with as much greediness as ever, let them know that they are far gone, and deep sunk in iniquity. They have,' as the Apostle expresses it, yielded their members servants of sin unto sin ;' not merely sinners, but slaves of sin, chained to their vices, under the dominion, and in no slight sense, in the possession of the father of sin. Secondly; Repentance, though violent in its beginning, though founded in what some will call a base motive, the dread of punishment, may yet be sincere; and if sincere, it will be effectual. The shock which the mind receives may loosen and unfix that hardness of the soil into which the seeds of religion would never before penetrate. All chastisement is not lost; grief is not always wasted. There is a 'godly sorrow, a sorrow unto repentance. Many may cry out, not for form, but in perfect sincerity of heart, we are grieved for our offences, and laden with the burden of our sins;' and true religion may spring from the sense and weight of this burden.
Again : It is in misery and distress, though not the misery and distress brought on by our sins, but unconnected with them, that religion sometimes has its origin. Ease, and prosperity, aud wealth, and pleasure, and gaiety, and diversion, are sadly unfavorable to the impressions of religion; they are not inconsistent with these impressions; to say that, would be to say more than the truth; but they are adverse to them. How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven ;' that is, one either intent upon acquiring riches, or addicted to the pleasures which riches procure, and lost in them altogether; and it may, perhaps, be difficult to find a person who is not in fault by one or other of these means. However, what ease and wealth efface, the troubles of adversity write and engrave deeply on the heart. Seriousness is, above all things, necessary to the reception of the word ; therefore, whatever makes men serious, prepares them for becoming disciples of Christianity. Sickness, poverty, disappointment, the house of mourning, the loss of our family, the death of our friends, do tend powerfully to produce seriousness, to show us the folly, and unreasonableness,
saire grieved to not for form, a sorrow
and end of that levity and giddiness which have taken up our time, from which we have drawn our delights. It seems impossible to be serious, and not to think of God and of religion. It is possible in the height and flow of spirits, pleasures and enjoyments; it is possible also in the eagerness and hurry of business, not to think of those things at all. But when pleasures fail, when pain and misery come in their place, when employment fails, when we can no longer follow it, or when distress is come upon us; then we naturally draw and turn towards that which was, and is, and always will be a grand concernment, whether we have been accustomed to reflect upon it or not. Yet even in this case, and even in any case, we may, if we please, avoid the subject; we may shut our eyes against, or turn them aside from any object, how great soever, or however near; but it is an unnatural effort so to do.
Thirdly: A great and loud call upon the conscience of the most thoughtless and hardened sinner, is any thing which puts him in mind of the uncertainty of his life, or gives him reason to expect that it will be short. The common course of human mortality, though it ought to be the most affecting consideration in the world, does not much affect us; it has lost its force by its familiarity ; but particular admonitions have with most men, their influence. It is something to see our companions go down into the grave. It is more when they are of our own age, our own apparent strength, habit and constitution of body ; more still when they appear to have hastened their end by the same practices to which we have been addicted. But many who will not take warning from others, begin for the first time to be srartled and alarmed by what they feel in themselves, symptoms of danger and decline in their own bodies. There may be fatal symptoms, and known to be so; there may be dangerous symptoms, and known to be so; there may be symptoms and inward sensations of which we know little ; but all these are strong and loud calls. There are two opposite courses which men take upon this occasion; the one is to put from them, obstinately and strenuously, the thoughts of approaching death; the other is, to prepare and make themselves ready for it. And it is in this last way, not, we may hope, unfrequently, that religion begins in the heart, and begins too with an operation which is finally successful. Above all things we must avoid the following thought, that it is to no purpose to begin to be religious now. From religion having hitherto made no impression upon us, it does not follow that it can make none. We are altered, our case is