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The young, however, are to consider, that there are instructions, which cause to err from the words af knowledge. Solomon therefore urges the necessity of discretion and understanding, to deliver them from the way of the evil man, the man who speaketh froward things; who leaves the paths of uprightness to walk in the way of darkness; who rejoices to do evil, and delights in the frowardness of the wicked.
The serious youth will then inquire, How he shall distinguish between truth and errour; between the path of uprightness and the way of darkness?
My design is to answer this inquiry. And I solicit the attention of my young hearers, while I lay before them some plain rules for forming just opinions in matters of religion.
I. Let your mind be impressed with this sentiment, that there is such a thing as religion; and that it is of serious importance.
While you are inquiring what religion is, resolve to embrace it, and to walk agreeably to it. Wis dom must enter into your heart; knowledge must be pleasant to your soul, that it may deliver you from the way of the evil man.
If you consider religion merely as a matter of speculation and amusement, you will fall in with those opinions and usages, which best please your humour and inclination; or which are recommended by your favourite company and connexions; or rather, you will receive no opinions heartily but those which relax the obligations of virtue.
When you see men trifling in religion, turning with every tide, and veering about with every wind of doctrine; when you hear them talk lightly about the concerns of futurity, and arguing in support of notions which favour a licentious life; when you observe them pleased in throwing off those principles which are the greatest restraints
from vice, and the most powerful incentives to virtue; whatever degree of ingenuity, and whatever taste for reading they discover, you may certainly. conclude, that they are not inquiring after truth; but are contriving to satisfy their conscience in a course which they are determined to pursue.
The reason why many run into errours in religion, is, because knowledge is not pleasant to their souls; the love of wisdom has never entered into their hearts..
Religion, in its great and essential truths and duties, is so plain, that to understand it, there needs only serious inquiry, guided by a sense of its importance.
Look around, and you will see that there is a Deity daily present with you and working in your sight. Look into yourselves, and you will perceive that you are free and accountable creatures. You must then be under some obligations to this supreme Deity. And these obligations are religion.
The obligations of creatures to their Creator, and the duties of moral beings designed for immortality, must be infinitely important; and therefore all your religious inquiries should be conducted with the greatest seriousness and integrity.
. II. Always remember, that religion is agreeable to the nature of God. As it is a service which you owe to him, your ideas of it must correspond with his moral character.
Holiness, justice, truth, mercy, and goodness, are perfections of the deity; and in an imitation of these perfections religion primarily consists.
The gospel requires, that you become partakers of a divine nature-that you be renewed after the image of him who created you-that you be followers of God as dear children-that you be holy, as he is holy; righteous, as he is righteous; merci
ful, as he is merciful; and perfect, as he is perfect. You must then, in all your religious inquiries, keep the divine character in your mind, and admit for truth nothing which evidently contradicts it, or reflects dishonour upon it.
Purity in heart, rectitude in your intentions, sincerity in your professions and in all your language, justice and probity in your actions, mercy to the unhappy, forgiveness and love of enemies, and good will to all men, are the principal lineaments and features in a religion which God will accept. Other things are necessary as aids to religion; but these must always be regarded as the great and weighty matters.
III. To judge what religion is, you must always consider, that it is a rational thing.
As it is appointed by a God of wisdom, you may conclude, that it bears obvious marks of his wisdom; and as it is designed for intelligent creatures, you may be assured, that its doctrines and precepts are adapted to your understanding, judgment and conscience. There may be doctrines in it beyond the discovery, and above the comprehension of your reason; for even in the natural world you meet with a thousand unsearchable wonders; but the doctrines of religion, when they are once discovered, and when the evidence of them is stated, will appear reasonable to be believed, and plain, as far as they concern your practice.
Religion, indeed, consists much in the exercise of the affections; as fear and hope, love and hatred, sorrow and joy. But these affections can no farther bear a part in religion, than they are under the direction of the understanding. They must not be the fortuitous sallies of a blind and heated imagination; but the calm and rational exercises of an enlightened and well instructed mind.
The religious man knows why he is affected in such a manner, why he hopes or fears, why he loves these objects and hates the contrary, why he is grieved, and why he rejoices. Farther than there is a reason for these affections, there can be no religion in them.
It is possible, that one may be under painful apprehensions of future punishment, and yet have no disposition to repentance. If his terrours arise, he knows not why, or from what; if he has no idea, what it is that exposes men to the wrath of God, and no sense of any thing in himself, that deserves it, there is nothing in all his terrours, which partakes of the nature of religious conviction, or that leads to real amendment. True conviction is a knowledge of sin by the law, a knowledge of one's own sin by comparing himself with the law, and a knowledge of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, as a transgression of the law.
Religious hope is not a blind and hasty confidence of future happiness, but a rational and scriptural expectation of it, founded in the gracious promises of God, and appropriating these promises by a sincere and deliberate submission to the terms of them.
The pious man loves God, from a believing view of him, as a holy, just, good, and excellent being; and he hates sin from a sense of its contrariety to the will and character of God, and its inconsis tency with his own perfection and happiness.
Holy joy springs not from an accidental flow of the animal spirits, but from an experimental evidence of our sincerity, and of our consequent interest in the favour of God.
True religion is devout, but not superstitious. It will excite you to frequent converse with God, and to a diligent attendance on all the instituted forms of worship; but it will not allow you to rest
in these exercises, as the great, or the only things required. It will regard them, not as substitutes for holiness, or compensations for the want of it, but as means to promote the exercise of it in the heart, and the practice of it in the life. To attend on the institutions of God with engagedness of affection, and purity of intention, is devotion. To lay the principal weight on the ceremonial part of religion, or on devices and inventions of men, is superstition.
True religion is affectionate, but not enthusias
It is affectionate or sensible, in opposition to stupidity; but not wild in opposition to reason. There may be a rational assent to the truths of religion, without a heart to feel them, or be governed by them. This is stupidity. True faith is accompanied with a sense of the importance of the things believed. Where this sensible belief takes place, there will be virtuous resolutions and holy affec tions there will be sorrow for sin, hope in God's mercy, gratitude to the Redeemer, admiring thoughts of the gospel salvation, earnest desires of an interest in it, and humble joy in the evidences of a title to it. These are rational exercises of mind, and they belong to true piety.
But then to make the whole of religion consist in inward emotions, to consider the occasional flow of passion as a sign of grace in the heart, to depend on our lively feelings as indications of the divine will, to determine our duty, or our state, by impressions made on the imagination, and implicitly to follow every powerful impulse, or sudden suggestion, in opposition to the dictates of reason. and the voice of revelation, this is to supplant religion by enthusiasm.
Though every degree of this spirit may not be