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experiences the highest pleasure; and feels the truest gratification of which his nature is capable, in devoting the noblest part of that nature to His service, to whom he owes all, because from Him be has received all.
This reprobated strictness, therefore, so far from being the source of discomfort and misery, as is pretended, is in reality the true cause of actual enjoyment, by laying the axe to the root of all those turbulent and uneasy passions, the unreserved and yet imperfect gratification of which does so much more tend to disturb our happiness, than that self-government which Christianity enjoins.
But all precepts seem rigorous, all observances are really hard, where there is not an entire conviction of God's right to our obedience, and an internal principle of faith and love to make that obedience pleasant. A religious life is indeed a hard bondage to one immersed in the practices of the world, and under the dominion of its appetites and passions.To a real Christian, it is " perfect freedom.” Ile does not now abstain from such and such things merely because they are forbidden; (as he did in the first stages of his progress,) but because his soul bas no longer any pleasure in them. And it would be the severest of all punishments to oblige him to return to those practices, from which he once abstained with difficulty, and through the less noble principle of fear.
There is not therefore perhaps a greater mistake than that common notion entertained by the more orderly part of the fashionable world, that a little religion will make people happy, but that an high degree of it is incompatible with all enjoymentFor surely that religion can add little to a man's happiness which restrains him from the commission of a wrong action, but which does not pretend 10 estin
guish the bad principle from which the act proceeded. A religion which ties the hands, without changing the heart; which, like the hell of Tantalus, subdues not the desire, yet forbids the gratification, is indeed an uncomfortable religion: and such a religion, though it may gain a man something on the side of reputation, will give him but little inward comfort, For what true peace can that heart enjoy which is left a prey to that temper which produced the evil, even though terror or shame may have prevented the outward act.
That people devoted to the pursuits of a dissipated life should conceive of religion as a difficult and even unattainable state, it is easy to believe. That they should conceive of it as an unbappy state, is the consummation of their error and their ignorance: for that a rational being should have his understanding enlightened; that an immortal being should have his views extended and enlarged; that a helples
being should have a consciousness of assistance, a sinful being the prospect of pardon, or a fullen one the assurance of restoration, does not seem a probable ground of unhappiness: and on any other subject but religion such reasoning would not be admissible.
A Stranger, from observing the fashionable Mode of
Life, would not take this to be a Christian Country: --Lives of Professing Christians examined, by a Comparison with the Gospel.—Christianity not made the Rule of Life, even by those who profess to receive it as an Object of Faith.-Temporizing Writers contribute to lower the Credit of Christianity.---Loose Harangues on Morals not calculated to reform the Heart.
The Christian religion is not intended, as some of its fashionable professors seem to fancy, to operate as a charm, a talisman, or incantation, and to produce its effect by our pronouncing certain mystical words, attending at certain consecrated places, and per forming certain hallowed ceremonies; but it is an active, vital, influential principle, operating on the heart, restraining the desires, affecting the general conduct, and as much regulating our commerce with the world, our business, pleasures, and enjoyments, our conversations, designs, and actions, as our behaviour in public worship, or even in private devotion.
That the effects of such a principle are strikingly visible in the lives and manners of the generality of those who give the law to fashion, will not perhaps be insisted on.
And indeed the whole present system of fashionable life is utterly destructive of seriousness,
To instance only in the growing habit of frequenting great assemblies, which is generally thought insignificant, and is in effect so vapid, that one almost wonders how it can be dangerous ;-it would excite laughter, because we are so broken into the babit, were I to insist on the immorality of passing one's whole life in a crowd. -But those promiscuous myriads which compose the society, falsely so called, of the gay world; who are brought together without esteem, remain without pleasure, and part without regret; who live in a round of diversions, the possession of which is so joyless, though the absence is so insupportable; these, by the mere force of incessant and indiscriminate association, weaken, and in time wear out, the best feclings and affections of the human heart. And the mere spirit of dissipation, thus contracted from invariable habit, even detached from all its concomitant evils, is in itself as hostile to a religious spirit as inore positive and actual offences. Far be it froin me to say that it is as criminal; I only insist that it is as opposite to that heavenly-mindedness which is the essence of the Christian temper.
Let us suppose an ignorant and unprejudiced spectator, who should have been taught the theory of all the religions on the globe, brought hither from the other hemisphere. Set him down in the politest part of our capital, and let him determine, if he can, except from what he shall sce interwoven in the texture of our laws, and kept up in the service of our churches, to what particular religion we belong. Let him not mix entirely with the most flagitious, but only with the most fashionable; at least, let him keep what they themselves call the best company. Let him scrutinize into the manners, toms, conversations, habits, and diversions, most in vogue, and then infer from all he has seen and heard, what is the established religion of the land.
That it could not be the Jewish he would soon discover; for of rites, ceremonies, and external observances, he would trace but slender remains. He would be equally convinced that it could not be the religion of Old Greece and Rome; for that enjoined reverence to the gods, and inculcated obedience to the laws. His most probable conclusion would be in favour of the Mahonetan faith, did not the excessive indulgence of some of the most distinguished, in an article of intemperance prohibited even by the sensual Prophet of Arabia, defeat that conjecture.
How would the petrified inquirer be astonished, if he were told that all these gay, thoughtless, luxurious, dissipated persons, professed a religion meek, spiritual, self-denying: of which humility, poverty of spirit, a renewed mind, and non-conformity to the world, were specific distinctions !
When he saw the sons of men of fortune, scarcely old enough to be sent to school, admitted to be spectators of the turbulent and unnatural diversion of racing and gaming; and the almost infant-daughters, even of wise and virtuous mothers (an innovation which fashion herself forbade till now) carried with most unthrifty anticipation to the frequent and late protracted ball, -would he believe that we were of a religion which has required from these very parents, a solemn vow that these children should be
" in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” That they should constantly“ believe God's
holy word, and keep his commandments ?”
When he observed the turmoils of ainbition, the competitions of vanity, the ardent thirst for the possession of wealth, and the wild misapplication of it when possessed; how could he persuade bimself that all these anxious pursuers of present enjoyment were the disciples of a master who exhibited the