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NEW SERIES-No. 30.
November and December, 1828.
SUBSTITUTES FOR RELIGION,
ITHOUT controversy it is the doctrine of the Scriptures that "he that doeth righteousness is righteous.'* And it will hardly be controverted that by righteousness the sacred writers frequently mean not merely the performance of the duties of man to his fellow man. This word, in the Scriptures, has often a wider scope, and implies the discharge of all our duties :---those which we owe to ourselves, as prudence, temperance, fortitude, and moral purity in general of heart and of life; all those which grow out of our relations to mankind; and those of reverence, trust, submission, worship and obedience, which we owe to God. Righteousness, in the Scriptures, is often synonymous with virtue, in the broad and general sense in which that word is used by moralists of the present day; and it means moral goodness. Moral goodness, or virtue, may be defined to be the doing or the suffering of the will of God, in the hope of his favour. Thus defined, virtue, or righteousness, embraces every thing which it is the will of God that we should do, or bear, or abstain from doing, for the advancement and security of our own happiness, or for the benefit of others : for, in proportion as the good of the creature is promoted, in such proportion is the honour of the Creator and Governor heightened, and his favour secured.
It will be readily seen that this view of righteousness opens a wide field for the efforts of a righteous man.
How much does he see before him, to exercise all his moral and physical powers, in order to acquire and maintain the character of a good man!
How much must be done, that requires strenuous effort! How much must be abstained from, which involves the sacrifice of present ease and gratification! In regard to others, the equity, which is dictated by the laws of nature, must be observed at the expense of toils and watchings and privations. The positive institutions of civil society must be sustained, and its requirements answered, at the expense of something that would otherwise contribute to individual'aggrandizement. The claims of the family-of child, father, mother-must be met, at the expense of carefulness and watchfulness, of self-denial and self-command. Institutions must be established and sustained for the support of good order and good morals—for the diffusion of knowledgefor the advancement of the useful and elegant arts—for the promotion of our country's welfare, of humanity and religion. The plea of the helpless and friendless—the cry of the widow and the orphan-the appeal of the destitute and those who have fallen into decay, must be heard :—the tear of the broken-hearted must be observed and wiped away the cloud that settles upon the dwelling of the disappointed, the bereaved, the desponding, must be dispelled by the light of sympathy and the voice of encouragement;—and the way of the inexperienced and the doubtful must be pointed out, in the counsels of wisdom.
In regard to ourselves, the gratification to which appetite prompts, and which opportunity presents, must often be denied to appetite. The passion that would stimulate to evil must be suppressed, by an effort that is often painful. Our pride and vanity must be humbled, by a comparison of what our attainments are with what they ought to be. Truth must be told, at the sacrifice of a present advantage or profit. Sobriety must be observed, at the hazard of appearing singular;--prudence, even in a laudable enterprise, consulted, at the risk of seeming backward in a good work; and that knowledge assiduously and laboriously sought, which throws light upon the path of our duty, and gives firmness and confidence to our step as we advance in it.
In regard to God, a prevailing and abiding sense of his presence-an adoring sentiment of his power and his purity-lofty conceptions of his wisdom and majesty, must be habitually cherished in our minds. It must become not merely our study, but our delightful study, to trace his benevolence in the works of nature, and in the course of his providence; and we must dwell, with a religious pleasure, upon those affecting evidences of bis care of us, his condescension to our infirmities, and his compassion for us, in the ignorance and wretchedness of our race, wbich he has furnished to us in bis holy word. We must remember our accountableness to him, and must show that we do not forget
it. We must trust in his faithfulness, and submit ourselves to his disposal. We must find our happiness in magnifying him in our thoughts. And we must subdue all our desires, wishes, and purposes to a cheerful subservience to his will.
To do all this is to be righteous; for this is to do righteousness. To do this is to secure the divine favour, and that eternal happiness which is the evidence and the reward of the divine favour. To do this is to be religious,—to be good—to purify ourselves, in an bumble measure, as God is pure, and to be righteous even as he is righteous.
But, all this, it may be said, is not easily done. It may be so said in truth. And it is granted that it is no very easy thing to be a very good man. We grant that many of these duties are of difficult performance ;--that many of these virtues and graces are not easily attained. We grant that there are obstacles to be surmounted in proving that we are righteous by doing rightous
But whether there are not greater difficulties in being unrighteous, it must be left to the instructions of God's word and of his providence, to the observation of the attentive, to the testimony of conscience, and to the wretched experience of the wicked, to determine. We admit that the path of virtue is an uphill path: but it is the only path which leads to that building of God not made with hands in which the good man expects to rest from bis toils : for that house is in the heavens.' We ad. mit that thus to watch, and toil, and sacrifice, and obey, is no easy thing. And, yet, we know no other certain way to glory, honour, and immortality,' tban "by a patient continuance in well doing.'
Yet, in almost all ages of the world, there have been those who have looked for the rewards of righteousness, and have flattered themselves, or been flattered by others, into the belief that they shall ultimately secure those rewards, upon some more favourable conditions than this painful doing of righteousness. There have been those who have earnestly coveted the crown, but have had no relish for the battle that must be fought for it, and who, rather than engage in the conflict in person, have chosen to rest their pretensions upon the services of some substitute.
1. One of the substitutes for practical goodness, on which we are apt to rest our hopes of justification and acceptance, is good resolutions. We look back upon the past, and, admonished by conscience, we resolve that we will be better than we have been. We know that a resolution that we will do right is the first step towards doing right. We begin to take to ourselves the credit of having completed our journey, because we have succeeded so well in beginning it. Experience, indeed, soon convinces us
that our resolution was too spiritless to overcome our love of ease, and too weak to resist the onset of temptation.
And we indulge our ease, or yield to temptation, till an accusing conscience again drives us into a resolution that the future shall not be like the past; and we make these good resolutions so sincerely, and repeat them so often, that we are ready to believe that they will be accepted as, at least, of some account. And it is true they are of some account. They are at the bottom of much, if not of all, that is great or good in the conduct of life ; for we do little that is either good or great without having previously resolved that we will do it. But let us remember, that, although a foundation is indispensable to an edifice, yet a foundation may be laid and no superstructure ever raised upon it. To prepare the ground and collect materials is not to build. To resolve is not to do. To say “! go, sir,' yet not to go, is not to do the will of the father who said, "son, go work to-day in my vineyard.' And the prodigal was embraced by his father, and clothed in the best robe, not because he had resolved to arise and go to his father, while, yet, he continued in the land of his degradation, and loitered among the scenes of his riot and wretchedness, but because he did arise, and did come to the abode of plenty and of parental love.
2. The second substitute for practical virtue, or righteousness, of which we shall take notice, is a zealous profession of religion. It has always been more easy to profess almost any virtue than to practise it. Friendship, generosity, patriotism are much more frequently, because much more easily, professed than proved. A real devotion to the cause of philanthropy, of truth, of liberty, is a thing which involves expensive efforts. But a profession of such devotion—which, with men, will sometimes answer the same end as the real virtue,- is made at no great expense of time, or comfort, or any thing else that is valuable, unless it be of truth. The giving up of one's self to the service and the will of God is followed by labours, and attended by momentous responsibilities. But, to make a parade of such devotion is no difficult matter with one who is satisfied with the reputation of a quality which he knows that he does not possess; or one who is so weak as to suppose that God seeth as man seeth, and that like man, he is liable to be deceived in judging of human character.
But, what saith the Lord to his prophet, in regard to this matter? Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah that enter in at these gates and worship the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and
your doings. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these. If ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings ; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress noťthe stranger, the fatherless and the widow ;-then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, forever and ever."* The profession, or the boast, of any man that he is the temple of the Lord, that his soul is the abiding place of the ever blessed spirit of God, is a vain profession, an empty boast, if he is polluted by the deeds, or cherishes the desires, in which that Divine Spirit has no pleasure, and with which he cannot be associated.
What says Jesus of the efficacy of these professions ? Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out demons, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'
And yet are there not those who, by the importance which they attach to it, seem to think that a formal and technical
prou fession of religion is the very essence of religion ;--that with it there is no danger, and without it no hope :--that publicly assenting to some favourite formula of faith, or subscribing to certain articles, or covenanting with others to observe one particular rite of religion, is religion itself: and that the door of heaven, if opened at all for such as do not make this technical profession, is opened reluctantly, for one who presents himself before it
, even though he come bending under a weight of years spent in the offices of justice, humanity, and unostentatious piety.
Do not such among our brethren-such among ourselves consider, or do they not know, that, if there is no other evidence than such professions, that the holy and beneficent spirit of God dwells in their hearts, and animates them to a life of purity and beneficence, their professions might as well be spared ? What does it prove that you belong to this or to that church;—that you commune with christians at this or that table ;-or that you are under the christian watch of this or that connexion ? It proves that you have, within your reach, one or another class of means of becoming enlightened and virtuous. But it does not prove that those means are of any benefit to you, that you
have gained by them any valuable knowledge, that you are excited by them to any works of righteousness, or that you are restrained by them from any vicious indulgence. How fallacious, then, is any profession of religion, as a substitute for religion itself
* Jer, vii, 1-7.
+ Matt. vii, 23.