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“ They have taken away my Lord, and I know not “ where they have laid him.” The locality of Hell and the existence of an Evil Spirit are annihilated, or considered as abstract ideas. When they are alluded to, it is periphrastically; or they are discontinued not on the ground of thcir being awful and terrible, but they are set aside as topics too vulgar for the pojished, too illiberal for the learned, and as savouring too much of credulity för tlie enlightened.
While we glory in having freed ourselves from the traminiels of human authority, are we not turning our liberty into licentiousness, and wantonly struggling to throw off the divine authority too? Freedom of thought is the glory of the human mind, while it is confined within its just and sober limits; but though we may think ourselves accountable for opinions at no earthly tribunal, yet it should be remembered that thoughts as well as actions are amenable at the bar of God: and though we may rejoice that the tyranny of the spiritual Procrustes is so far annihilated, that we are in no danger of having our opinions Topped or lengthened till they are brought to fit the measure of human caprice, yet there is still a standard by which not only actions are weighed, but opinicns are judged; and every sentiment which is clearly inconsistent with the revealed will of God, is as much throwing off his dominion as the breach of any of his moral precepts. This cuts up by the roots that popular and independant phrase, that “thoughts are
free,” for in this view we are no more at liberty to indulge opinions in opposition to the express word of God than we are at liberty to infringe practically on his commandinents.
There is then surely one test by which it is no mark of intolerance to try the principles of men, namely, the Law and the Testimony: and on applying to this touchstone, it is impossible not to lament,
that, while a more generous spirit governs our judgment, a purer principle does not seem to regulate our lives. May it not be said, that, while we are justly commended for thinking charitably of the opinions of others, we seem, in return, as if we were desirous of furnishing them with an opportunity of exercising their candour by the laxity of principle in which we indulge ourselves? If the hearts of men were as firmly united to cach other by the bond of charity as some pretend, they could not fail of being united to God also by one common principle of piety. And christian piety furnishes the only certain source of all charitable judgment, as well as of all virtuous conduct.
Instead of abiding by the salutary precept of judging no man, it is the fashion to exceed our commission, and to fancy every body to be in a safe state. “ Judge not" is the precise limit of our rule. There is no more encouragement to judge falsely on the side of worldly candour, than there is to judge harshly on the side of Christian charity. In forming our notions we have to chuse between the bible and the world, between the rule and the practice. Where these do not agree, it is left to the judgment of believers, at least, by which we are to decide. But we never act, in religious concerns, by the same rule of common sense and equitable judgment which governs us on other occasions. In weighing any commodity, its weight is determined by some generally allowed standard ; and if the commodity be heavier or lighter than the standard weight, we add to or take from it: but we never break, or clip, or reduce the weight to suit the thing we are weighing ; because the common consent of mankind has agreed that the one shall be considered as the standard to ascertain the value of the other. But, in weighing our principles by the standard of the Gospel, we do
just just the reverse. Instead of bringing our opinionis and actions to the balance of the sanctuary, to determine and rectify their comparative deficiencies, we lower and reduce the standard of the scripture-doctrines till we have a commodited them to our own purposes: so that, instead of trying others and ourselves by God's unerring rule, we try the truth of God's rule by its confortnity or non-conformity to our own depraved notions and corrupt practices.
Benevolence allowed to be the reigning Virtue, but not
exclusively the Virtue of the present Age.-Benevolence not the Whole of Religion, though one of its most characteristic Features. Whether Benevolence proceeds from a religious Principle, will be more infallibly known by the general Disposition of Time, Fortune, and the common Habits of Life, than from a few occasional Acts of Bounty.
To all the remonstrance and invective of the preceding chapter, there will not fail to be opposed that which we hear every day so loudly insisted on,-the decided superiority of the present age in other and better respects. It will be said, that even those who neglect the outward forms of religion, exhibit however the best proofs of the best principles; that the unparalleled instances of charity of which we are continual witnesses ; that the many striking acts of public bounty, and the various new and noble improvements in this shining virtue, justly entitle the present age to be called, by way of eminence, the age of benevolence.
It is with the liveliest joy I acknowledge the delightful truth. Liberality fiow's with a full tide through a thousand channels. There is scarcely a newspaper but records some meeting of men of fortune for the most salutary purposes. The noble and numberless structures for the relief of distress, which
are the ornament and the glory of our metropolis, proclaim a species of munificence unkuown to former ages. Subscriptions, not only to hospitals, but to various other valuable institutions, are obtained almost as soon as solicited. And who but must wish that these beautiful monuments of benevolence may become every day more numerous, and more extended !
Yet, with all these allowed and obvious excellen: cies, it is not quite clear whether something too much has not been said of the liberality of the present age, in a comparative view with that of those ages which preceded it. A general alteration of habits and manners has at the same time multiplied public bounties and private distress; and it is scarcely a paradox, to say that there was probably less misery when there was less munificence.
If an increased benevolence now ranges through and relieves a wider compass of distress; yet still, if those examples of luxury and dissipation which promote that distress are still more increased, this makes the good done bear little proportion to the evil promoted. If the miseries removed by the growth of charity fall, both in number and weight, far below those which are caused by the growth of vice and disorder; if we find that, though bounty is extended, yet those corruptions which make bounty so necessary are extended also, almost beyond calcuJation ; if it appear that, though more objects are relieved by our money, yet incomparably more are debauched by our licentiousness—the balance perhaps will not turn out so decidedly in favour of the times as we are willing to imagine.
If then the most valuable species of charity is that which prevents distress by preventing or lessening vice, the greatest and most inevitable cause of want, --we ought not so highly to exalt the bounty of the