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sentence of death. It commonly abounds with high encomiums on the dignity of human nature; the good effects of virtue on health, fortune, and reputation; the dangers of a blind zeal, the mischiefs of enthusiasm, and the folly of singularity, with various other kindred sentiments; which, if they do not fall in of themselves with the corruptions of our nature, may, by a little warping, be easily accommodated to them.
These are the too successful practices of certain lukewarm and temporizing divines, who have become popular by blunting the edge of that heavenly tempered weapon, whose salutary keenness, but for their "deceitful handling," would oftener " pierce "to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.
But those severer preachers of righteousness, who disgust by applying too closely to the conscience ;who probe the inmost heart, and lay open all its latent peccancies; who treat of principles as the only certain source of manners; who lay the axe to the root, oftener that the pruning knife to the branch; who insist much and often on the great leading truths, that man is a fallen creature, who must be restored, if he be restored at all, by means very little flattering to human pride; such heart-searching writers as these will seldom find access to the houses and hearts of the more modish Christians, unless they happen to owe their admission to some subordinate quality of style; unless they can captivate, with the seducing graces of language, those well-bred readers, who are childishly amusing themselves with the garnish, when they are perishing for want of food; who are searching for polished periods when they should be in quest of alarming truths; who are looking for elegance of composition when they should be anxious for eternal life.
Whatever comparative praise may be due to the former class of writers, when viewed with others of a less decent order, yet I am not sure whether so many books of frigid morality, exhibiting such inferior motives of action, such moderate representations of duty, and such a low standard of principle, have not done religion much more harm than good; whether they do not lead many a reader to inquire what is the lowest degree in the scale of virtue with which he may content himself, so as barely to escape eternal punishment; how much indulgence he may allow himself, without absolutely forfeiting his chance of safety: what is the uttermost verge to which he may venture of this world's enjoyment, and yet just keep within a possibility of hope for the next: adjusting the scales of indulgence and security with such a scrupulous equilibrium, as not to lose much pleasure, yet not incur much penalty.
This is hardly an exaggerated representation: and to these low views of duty is partly owing so much of that bare-weight virtue with which even Christians are so apt to content themselves: fighting for every inch of ground which may possibly be taken within the pales of permission, and stretching those pales to the utmost edge of that limitation about which the world and the Bible contend.
But while the nominal Christian is persuading himself that there can be no harm, in going a little farther, the real Christian is always afraid of going too far. While the one is debating for a little more disputed ground, the other is so fearful of straying into the regions of unallowed indulgence, that he keeps at a prudent distance from the extremity of his permitted limits; and is as anxious in restricting as the other is desirous of extending them. One thing is clear, and it may be no bad indication by which to discover the state of a man's heart to himDd
self.; while he is contending for this allowance, and stipulating for the other indulgence, it will shew him that, whatever change there may be in his life, there is none in his heart; the temper remains as it did; and it is by the inward frame rather than the outward act that he can best judge of his own state, whatever may be the rule by which he undertakes to judge of that of another.
It is less wonderful that there are not more Christians, than that Christians, as they are called, are not better men; for if Christianity be not true, the motives to virtue are not high enough to quicken ordinary men to very extraordinary exertions. We see them do and suffer every day for popularity, for custom, for fashion, for the point of honour, not only more than good men do and suffer for religion, but a great deal more than religion, requires them to do. For her reasonable service demands no sacrifices but what are sanctioned by good sense, sound policy, right reason, and uncorrupt judgment.
Many of these fashionable professors even go so far as to bring their right faith as an apology for their wrong practice. They have a commodious way of intrenching themselves within the shelter of some general position of unquestionable truth: Even the great Christian hope become a snare to them. They apologize for a life of offence, by taking refuge in the supreme goodness they are abusing. That "God " is all merciful," is the common reply to those who hint to them their danger. This is a false and fatal application of a divine and comfortable truth. Nothing can be more certain than the proposition, nor more delusive than the inference: for their deduction implies, not that he is merciful to sin repented of, but to sin continued in. But it is a most fallacious hope to expect that God will violate his own cove
nant, or that he is indeed, "all mercy," to the utter exclusion of his other attributes of perfect holiness, purity, and justice.
It is a dangerous folly to rest on these vague and general notions of indefinite mercy; and nothing can be more delusive than this indefinite trust in being forgiven in our own way, after God has clearly revealed to us that he will only forgive us in his way. Besides, is there not something singularly base in sinning against God because he is merciful?
But the truth is, no one does truly trust in God, who does not endeavour to obey him. For to break his laws, and yet to depend on his favour; to live in opposition to his will, and yet in expectation of his mercy; to violate his commands, and yet look for his acceptance, would not, in any other instance, be thought a reasonable ground of conduct; and yet it is by no means as uncommon as it is inconsistent.
View of those who acknowledge Christianity as a perfect System of Morals, but deny its Divine Authority.-Morality not the Whole of Religion
As in the preceding chapter notice was taken of
that description of persons who profess to receive Christianity with great reverence as a matter of faith, who yet do not pretend to adopt it is a rule of conduct; I shall conclude these slight remarks with some short animadversions on another set of men, and that not a small one, among the decent and the fashionable, who profess to think it exhibits an admirable system of morals, while they deny its divine authority; though that authority alone can make the necessity of obeying its precepts binding on the consciences of men.
This is a very discreet scheme; for such persons at once save themselves from the discredit of having their understanding imposed upon by a supposed blind submission to evidences and authorities; and yet, prudently enough, secure to themselves, in no small degree, the reputation of good men. By steering this middle kind of course, they contrive to be reckoned liberal by the philosophers, and decent by the believers.
But we are not to expect to see the pure morality of the Gospel very carefully transfused into the lives