Images de page
PDF
ePub

inconsistent with integrity, yet the full dominion of it will exclude religion.

Bear it then in your minds, that religion is a reasonable service. Employ your reason in judging what is right; and, that you may be furnished for judging, apply to the word of revelation.

IV. Religion must be a work suited to the nature and condition of man.

God treats all creatures as they are; and requires of them according to what he has given them. He requires not of men all the same things which he exacts of angels; nor would he tolerate in angels the same things which he pardons in men; for he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Man consists of a material body, and a rational mind. While he dwells in the body, he must take care of its concerns, and provide for its support. His religion therefore cannot wholly consist in the spiritual exercises of angels, or in such a refinement and elevation of spirit, as would entirely detach him from the world: For this would be inconsistent with his present condition and connexions. As he is to consult the health and comfort of his body, and contribute to the happiness of those around him, so industry in his calling, prudence in his business, frugality in the use of his substance, temperance in the enjoyment of divine bounties, belong to religion in the present state.

You must be weaned from the world by the moderation, not wholly abstracted from it by the extinction, of your earthly affections. The former is necessary to fit you for heaven. The latter would unfit you for the world before it is time to leave it.

The mind, however, is far the superior part. This will always claim your chief attention, that you may enlarge its capacity, furnish it with knowledge, rectify its mistakes, eradicate evil habits,

introduce and improve virtuous principles, restrain the passions, and prevent them from enslaving the nobler powers.

The duties relating to the body, and the mind, though different in themselves, are nearly connected, and mutually subservient. You cannot complain, that worldly business calls you off from the care of your souls; nor under pretence of engagedness in your salvation, can you excuse your neglect of secular duties. Every duty claims its place, and an attention to each, in its place, will facilitate the practice of the others.

You ought farther to consider your moral condition.

You are fallen creatures; but placed under the hopes of pardon and life through a Mediator. And religion includes in it such tempers and duties, as correspond with such a condition.

The gospel plan is founded on the supposition of a fact, which experience and observation cannot but acknowledge; that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Revelation teaches us, that God, in compassion to our apostate race, has sent into the world a glorious Saviour, who, by assuming our nature, and suffering in our place, has opened a way for the exercise of pardoning mercy to repenting sinners.

The religion of an innocent creature consists in a continued obedience to the will of God. But the religion of a sinner must begin in repentance of sin, and return to God. Your first care, then, must be to know yourselves, and to obtain God's grace for the renovation of your souls, and his mercy for the remission of your sins. Your acceptable application to God can be only in the name of the Saviour, whom he has ordained, and by an attendance on the means, which he has appointed. You must compare yourselves with his word, encourage serious

convictions and virtuous resolutions, shun knowi temptations and dangerous connexions, attend on the institutions of the gospel, frame your ways to turn to the Lord, and seek his favour, until you find.

Viewing yourselves as fallen creatures, you will see these to be reasonable exercises, and necessari ly belonging to religion. Every thing, therefore, which tends to pride and selfconfidence, and which encourages boasting and ostentation, is contrary to the nature of true religion. This will always be modest and humble. It will dispose you to judge of yourselves with caution; to judge of others with candour.

V. You must always remember that religion is a benevolent and useful thing; and that, wherever it takes place, it makes men better than they were before.

It consists not in empty noise and vain show; but in solid virtue and substantial goodness. That connot be religion, which leaves men as they were, or makes them worse, or which only supplants one vice by introducing another; but that which makes them new creatures. Paul says of Onesimus, In time past he was unprofitable, but now profitable. The works of faith are good and profitable to men.

Religion does not essentially consist in little niceties and trifling distinctions, which neither influence the heart, nor concern the practice; nor in the observance or rejection of particular rites and forms, which a man may use or disuse without prejudice to real virtue in himself or others; nor in a zealous attachment to, or angry abhorrence of, this sect, or that church, in which, as in most other fields, there are some tares and some wheat; but in something more excellent and divine. That, in a word, is true religion, which makes a good man; which renders one pious toward his God, conformed to

the pattern of his Saviour, benevolent to his fellow men, humble in his temper and manners, peacea→ ble in society, just in his treatment of all, "condescending in cases of difference, strict in the gov ernment of himself, patient in adversity, and attentive to his duty in all conditions and relations of life. When you see such a character, you may believe, that religion is there. When you find this to be your character, you may believe, that wisdom has entered into your heart.

You are to distinguish between truth and errour, and to embrace the one and reject the other. But never lay great weight on things, which have no relation to practice; nor make light of great things, which are immediately connected with duty.

If you see a man meek, humble, peaceable, so ber and benevolent, careful to practise piety him. self, and to promote it among others, you may think him religious, though you suppose him to have adopted some groundless opinions. If you see one contentious about religion, condemning all who think not as he does, busy in sowing the seeds of discord, and in causing divisions among brethren, and more zealous to make proselytes to his own party and opinion, than to make good men of his proselytes; whatever you may think of his heart, you will at least conclude, that his zeal is not according to knowledge.

Judge then of the truth and importance of doctrines by their practical tendency and observable effects. If an opinion is proposed to you, inquire, what influence it would naturally have. Would it awaken in you a more serious concern about futurity, give you a deeper sense and stronger abhorrence of sin, make you more careful in duty, and more watchful against temptations ?-Or, on the other hand, Would it render you more thoughtless and secure, more pliant to the customs of the world,

and more regardless of moral obligations?-An honest answer to these inquiries will determine the truth and importance of most doctrines, concerning which any doubts may arise. For as the design and tendency of the gospel is to make men better,

So, if any doctrine has a contrary influence, you

may conclude, either that it is not a doctrine of the gospel, or that it meets with a temper exceedingly perverse.

VI. Judge of things doubtful by things which are plain.

The great precepts and the leading doctrines of Revelation are easy to be understood.-The scriptures are given by inspiration of God, and are prof itable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness; and they are able to furnish not only the man of God, but the pious youth, unto every good work. Timothy, from a child, understood the holy scriptures. The way of holiness is a high way, a path so plainly drawn in the chart of the divine word, that the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.

There are also many obscure passages, which are differently understood even by the learned; and which, by the young, perhaps, connot be understood at all. But ever make plain things the rule by which to govern your conduct, and the standard by which to prove what is doubtful. Never interpret the latter in contradiction to the former; but either understand them in a sense agreeable to plain scripture, or leave them as they are. You never will suffer for want of the knowledge of a dark text, as long as you act in obedience to those which are plain.

VII. If a matter proposed to you, in a way of instruction or advice, appears doubtful, suspend your resolution, until you have made farther inquiry.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »