Images de page

scious of indulging passions, which he knew at the moment to be sinful, and sincerely wish ed to banish from his heart ; yet found the wish impracticable but by strenuous and repeated struggles. Now to inspire the same convictions relative to every thing inconsistent with our obligations both to God and man; and to stimulate our efforts to cease to do evil, and learn to do well,” the means of religion are graciously designed.

2. This leads us, as proposed in the second place, to consider their tendency.

The human character is commonly, if not nvariably, formed by a gradual progress.

AU antecedent thoughts and actions have an influence on the subsequent disposition and man

Whatever be the course which we now take, it imperceptibly conciliates the affections, and accommodates the taste and inclination to its demands. Habit is more frequently the cause, than the effect, of deep rooted principle. Unreflecting deviations from the path of rectitude are often known to generate sentiments and views, from which their fondest votaries, before they were hackneyed in the ways of iniquity, would have recoiled with horrour. May we not conclude, by parity of reason, that a constant familiarity with instructions and


examples of piety and virtue is adapted to at. tach the mind to goodness ? On this ground, an eminent divine of the last century* insists, that the secular arm ought to enforce the observance, and punish the neglect, of the exter. nal duties of religion. • For,” says he, " though it be true that the sinner, who abstains from vice or immorality, merely out of the fear of temporal punishment, cannot be said to act upon a religious principle in so doing, or to render an acceptable service to God; yet we must consider not only the immediate influence which punishments have, but the consequences which they are naturally apt to produce. If you keep a sinner from vice through fear at first, it will by degrees grow habitual to him to do well; his relish for vice will abate ; and by the length of practice, he will come to take pleasure in virtue ; and whenever this change is effected, the man is truly religious : For what is a religious disposition, unless this, to take pleasure in doing well? This happy change often proceeds from less happy beginnings. We see in children every day that their propensity to some vices is gradually removed by the watchful eye and

[blocks in formation]

hand of a good parent ; and we may observe the same effect in men from like causes."

This opinion has obtained, at least, the practical suffrage of mankind in every age. We accordingly find that all wise and devout householders, from Abraham, the father of the faithful, to our own times, have been solicit. ous to shield the souls committed to their care, from the contagion of profligate associates and customs; and to enure them to an early and uniform attendance on the means of religious improvement. We find too, that the laws of every christian country require a visible respect to gospel institutions.

If then a reluctant and constrained attention be capable of meliorating the heart and life, how much more efficacious must be the influence of that which is voluntary ; prompted by a desire, however imperfect, to know and do the will of our heavenly father?

When we would excite any with whom we are connected to a change of conduct, in whatever respect, we consider it an important point, and a favourable omen to obtain a candid hearing. If they will so far dismiss their prepossessions as to listen impartially to the arguments and motives which we offer, and seriously ponder them in their hearts, we enter

tain hopes of success; and, in many cases, we fully realize these hopes in the event. Where is the christian, who has never adopt. ed measures of this kind with the view and expectation of reclaiming the negligent and thoughtless from the errour of their ways? On the same principle, to be conversant with the character, word, and ordinances of God, by inducing the habit of reflection and sobriety, tends to superadd a taste and relish for moral excellence. By such exercises the mind is detached from the fleeting interests of the body, and fixed on the momentous concerns of the soul. The circumstances of our being, as“ strangers on the earth," and candidates for eternity, are called into view ; and the strongest incentives to “lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come,” are suggested and pressed home to the heart. Penetrated with a deep sense of our duty and destination, we are convinced of the necessity and advantage of acceptance with God; and impelled by that instinctive dread of misery and desire of happiness, which are wisely implanted in every human breast, to exert our utmost abilities to be “ cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit.” These powerful springs of action are

unequivocally addressed and authorized in all the threatenings and promises of inspiration ; and therefore, however defective, when brought to the test of evangelical perfection, are certainly innocent. Precisely the same motives are designated by the exhortation to seek religion “as silver and search for her as for hid treasure.” Our Saviour accordingly invites us to “learn of him," and asserts the condition of those, who are attentive to his instructions, to be far more hopeful and promising on that account. To the scribe, whose discreet answers evinced the docility of his mind, he declares, “ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God;" words which can intend nothing less, than that, by his inquiries after truth and duty, he had already made considerable approaches towards the christian character, and obtained a brightening prospect of effectual conversion.

The offending child, who hcarkens to the admonitions of an injured parent ; or, in retirement, considers the pernicious effects of his disobedience; and sensible, not only of the disgrace and misery to which he is exposed, but of the many advantages to be derived from an opposite conduct, endeavours to reason himself into a more submissive and affectionate

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »