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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 be haviour in public worship, or even in private de
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 habit, 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 feelings 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 znore positive and actual offences. Far be it from 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, customs, 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 Mahometan 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 bred up "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 ambition, the competitions of vanity, the ardent thirst for the possession of wealth, and the wild misapplication of it when possessed; how could he persuade himself that all these anxious pursuers of present enjoyment were the disciples of a master who exhibited the
very character and essence of his religion, as it were in a motto " MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS "WORLD?"
When he beheld those nocturnal clubs, so subversive of private virtue and domestic happiness, would he conceive that we were of a religion which in express terms "exhorts young men to be sober-mind"ed?"
When he saw those magnificent and brightly illuminated structures which decorate and disgrace the very precincts of the royal residence (so free itself from all these pollutions); when he beheld the nightly offerings made to the demon of play, on whose cruel altar the fortune and happiness of wives and children are offered up without remorse; would he not conclude that we were of some of those barbarous religions which enjoin unnatural sacrifices, and whose horrid deities are appeased with nothing less than human victims ?
Now ought we not to pardon our imaginary spectator, if he should not at once conclude that all the various descriptions of persons above noticed professed the Christian religion; supposing him to have no other way of determining but by the conformity of their manners to that rule by which he had undertaken to judge them? We indeed ourselves must judge with a certain latitude, and candidly take the present state of society into the account: which, in some few instances perhaps, must be allowed to dispense with that literal strictness, which more pec aliarly belonged to the first ages of the Gospel.
But as this is really a Christian country, professing to enjoy the purest faith in the purest form, it cannot be unreasonable to go a little farther, and inquire whether Christianity, however firmly established, and generally professed in it, is really practised by that order of fashionable persons, who, while they
are absorbed in the delights of the world, and their whole souls devoted to the pursuit of pleasure, yet still arrogate to themselves the honourable name of Christians, and occasionally testify their claim to this high character, by a general profession of their belief in, and a decent occasional compliance with the forms of religion, and the ordinances of our church?
This inquiry must be made, not by a comparison with the state of Christianity in other countries; (a mode always fallacious, whether adopted by nations or individuals, is that of comparing themselves with those who are still worse); nor must it be made from any notions drawn from custom, decency, or any other human standard; but from a scripture view of what real religion is;-from any one of those striking and comprehensive representations of it, which may be found condensed in so many single passages of the sacred writings.
Whoever then looks into the book of God, and observes its prevailing spirit, and then looks into that part of the world under consideration, will not surely be thought very censorious, if he pronounce that the conformity between them does not seem to be very striking; and that the manners of the one do not very evidently appear to be dictated by the spirit of the other. Will he discover that the Christian religion is so much as pretended to be made the rule of life even by that decent order who profess not to have discarded it as an object of faith? Do even the more regular, who neglect not public observances, consider Christianity as the measure of their actions? Do even what the world calls religious persons employ their time, their abilities, and their fortune, as talents for which they however confess they believe themselves accountable; or do they in any respect live, I will not say up to their profession (for what human being dees so ?) but in any consistency with