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ateness, insensibility, and ignorance, and that upon the most unfit subject of which men can remain insensible or ignorant; they would prefer even that to the anxieties which they foresee must follow, from entering upon religious meditation and inquiry. And to every argument and every plea which may be offered, or which may pass in our minds in favour of putting aside the thoughts of religion, this single string of conclusions is an answer: 1. That it is by religion alone that a sinner can be saved. 2. That religion can have no effect where it has no influence. 3. That until we come to think, to ponder, to ruminate upon religion, it is impossible that we should acquire its instruction; and still more impossible, that we should feel its power, its authority, its rule and direction, in the regulation of our hearts, and in the government of our lives.
FEAR A RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE.
PROVERBS xiv. 16.
A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil.
The beginning of religion in the heart is a subject of curious inquiry; it is also more than curious, it is of great practical importance. But it appears that there is no sufficient reason for supposing that it is in all men alike, or rather, the same in all good, religious men, as it is in those who become such; both experience and reason seem to speak the contrary. If we refer to the operations of God's Holy Spirit, we shall not be able to collect any authority for limiting them to a particular mode, or for saying that it must either be sudden or slow, early or late, more or less frequent or powerful. It surely may be all these, and in very different degrees in different times, and in different men. Nor yet, if we refer to the natural influence of what is usually called principle, have we any rule for saying, that religion must either necessarily, or that it does usually spring from the same cause. Different men are affected by different motives; and what sinks deep into the heart of one man, makes little impression upon another; and this depends not only upon a difference of disposition, which yet is very great, but upon a difference of circumstances, which are various beyond computation. Still, if we do but really become religious, from whatever origin we set out, we are authorised to hope that our religion will
Thus it is, that religion sometimes, not seldom indeed, has a violent origin in the soul, and begins in terror : “ A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil.” The punishment of men's crimes overtaking them in this world, brings them to reflection, and reflection brings them to God. And not only does the punishment of the law effect this change, but the punishment of misery which men endure in consequence of losses either in their health, or fortune, or reputation. These are stings which sin inflicts, and we hope that they are sometimes available to repentance. We know but too well that they do not always answer their purpose ; because we know, that when the frights or pains are over, men go back to their old courses. This may be a frequent, but it is a deplorable case; for little can be hoped for from lessons and admonitions addressed to a conscience upon which even the experience of danger, and mercy, and suffering takes no hold: one cannot indeed say, makes no impression, but takes no firm and abiding hold. First, then, let those who have suffered either alarm or affliction by reason of their sins, and under the visitations consequent upon sin, yet who, so soon as the calamity or fear is passed, forget it, and return to their vices with as much greediness as ever, let them know that they are far gone, and deep sunk in iniquity. “ They have,” as the Apostle expresses it, “yielded their members servants of sin unto sin ;" not merely sinners, but slaves of sin, chained to their vices, under the dominion, and in no slight sense, in the
possession of the father of sin. Secondly: Repentance, though violent in its beginning, though founded in what some will call a base motive, the dread of
punishment, may yet be sincere ; and if sincere, it will be effectual. The shock which the mind receives may loosen and unfix that hardness of the soil into which the seeds of religion would never before pene. trate. All chastisement is not lost ; grief is not always wasted. There is a “godly sorrow, a sorrow unto repentance.” Many may cry out not for form, but in perfect sincerity of heart, “we are grieved for our offences, and laden with the burden of our sins;" and true religion may spring from the sense and weight of this burthen.
Again : It is in misery and distress, though not the misery and distress brought on by our sins, but unconnected with them, that religion sometimes has its origin. Ease, and prosperity, and wealth, and pleasure, and gaiety, and diversion, are sadly unfavourable to the impressions of religion; they are not inconsistent with these impressions ; to say that, would be to say more than the truth ; but they are adverse to them. “ How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven;" that is, one either intent upon acquiring riches, or addicted to the pleasures which riches procure, and lost in them altogether: and it may, perhaps, be difficult to find a person who is not in fault by one or other of these
However, what ease and wealth efface, the troubles of adversity write and engrave deeply on the heart. Seriousness is, above all things, necessary to the reception of the word ; therefore, whatever makes men serious, prepares them for becoming disciples of Christianity. Sickness, poverty, disappointment, the house of mourning, the loss of our family, the death of our friends, do tend powerfully to produce seriousness, to show us the folly, and unreasonableness, and end of that levity and giddiness which have taken up our time, from which we have drawn our delights. It seems impossible to be serious, and not to think of God and of religion. It is possible in the height and flow of spirits, pleasures and enjoyments; it is possible also in the eagerness and hurry of business, not to think of those things at all. But when pleasures fail, when pain and misery come in their place, when employment fails, when we can no longer follow it, or when distress is come upon us; then we naturally draw and turn towards that which was, and is, and always will be a grand concernment, whether we have been accus. tomed to reflect upon it or not.
Yet even in this