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declaim for ever to no purpose, on the beauty of virtue, and the harmony of a well governed mind; they hear you not; they are deaf to the voice of the mor. al charmer : nothing less than “ Thus faith the “ Lord,” will influence their conduct. The unjust judge in the parable represents and characterizes the great body of mankind; if they fear not God, neither will they regard men.
Thus, if the public institutions of religion were laid afide, private virtue would not long remain behind. Men in general have no principle of moral conduct but religion, and if that were taken away, they would work all impurity with greediness, whenever they could withdraw from the public eye. Human laws would often be of little avail, without a sense of divine legislation ; and the sanctions of men have little force, unless they were enforced by the authority of God. There would then be no security for the public peace; the mutual confidence between man and man would be destroyed; the bond which keeps society together would be broken ; oaths would become mere words of course, and an appeal to the Great God of Heaven, no more regarded, than if he were an image of stone. Human life would be thrown into confusion, the safety of mankind would be endangered, and the moral world totter to its ruin, if such a pillar were to fall. And what is it that maintains and spreads religious principles in the world? What is it that keeps alive on the minds of the people, the fear of God and the belief of his providence ? It is the public institutions of religion ; it is the observance of the Lord's day; it is our assembling together in this place, for the celebration of divine wor.
ship. The people, in general, have no religious principles, and no rule of life, but what they learn here; and if these churches were once shut up, the hand of the civil magistrate would foon force them open, in order to reclaim the criminals that would thus be let loose upon the world.
In the third place, let us view the effect of religious institutions upon men, with regard to their роlitical state.
The political systems that take place in the world, the facility with which the many are governed by the few, is one of the most wonderful things in the history of man. That mankind in all ages, and in all countries, should allow a few of their number to divide this globe among them; to appropriate to themselves the possessions, distinctions and honors, and leave nothing to the majority but burdens to bear, if we had not beheld it from the first, would have appeared one of the most astonishing of all events. Would it be at all surprising to hear a man struck with a sense of this state of things, complain thus : “Is nature unequal in the care of her chil“ dren? A mother to some, and a stepmother to oth“ ers? Has the appointed me to labour in the sweat " of my brow, and another to riot in the fruit of
my “ labours ? No. The fault is not in nature. She “ has no favourites. She gives to all her sons an “ equal right to inherit the earth. The fault is in “ them who tamely bend their necks to the yoke, “ who kneel and kiss the rod which the haughty « lord waves over their heads. It never surely was “ the will of Heaven, that the worthy should be “ scorned by the vile, and the brave be trampled up.
« on by the coward. Cannot I then find a band of “ men as valiant and as determined as myself, to rec“ tify these caprices of fortune, to vindicate the rights “ of nature, and restore mankind to their original in“ heritance? By doing violence at first, this usurpa« tion on nature was made; and by a similar vio“ lence, nature requires that her reign be restored." What is it that prevents such a spirit as I have been now describing, from frequently breaking out ? What prevents bloodshed and devastation, and all the evils of war? What prevents the world from being turned upfide down? Nothing so much as the influence of religious principles upon the minds of men. Chriftianity gives honor to civil government, as being the ordinance of God, and enjoins subjection to the laws, under its own awful sanctions.
And not only by particular precepts, but by its secret and less visible influence, it prepares the minds of men for submislion to lawful authority. When we meet together in this place, under the sanction of law, and under the protection of the civil magistrate, we are put in mind of our relation to the state, and of our duty to the higher powers. Fear God and honor the King, have more than a local connection in Scripture*. Obedience to spiritual authority paves the way for subjection to the civil power. Hence wise legislators have, even on this account, favoured the progress of religion: hence those who have attempted innovations in government, applied, in the first place, to the ministers of religion, and endeavoured to gain the pulpit on their fide. Julian, known by the name of the apostate, the most formidable enemy the Chrif.
• Sec 1 Pet. ii. 17.
tians ever had, was so sensible of the influence and of the effects of preaching to the people, that he appointed a similar institution among the heathens.
“My son, fear thou the Lord and the king,” (said the wisest of mankind), “ and meddle not with them “ that are given to change.” In confirmation, we may observe, that men, characterized as given to change, have either, from infidelity, not attended
upo on ordinances, or, from enthusiasm, been above them; for, who have been innovators and disturbe ers? who have been the authors of feditions and re. bellions? who have been the enemies of order and civil government, in many an age ? a mixture of atheists and fanatics; two classes of men, who though seemingly opposite, have been found in clofe bonds of union,
In the fourth and last place, we have to consider the influence of religious institutions upon men, with respect to domestic life.
It is chiefly on account of their domestic situation, that we can pronounce men happy or miserable, Here the pleasures are enjoyed which fweeten life ; here the pains are felt which imbitter our days. No uneasiness abroad will fit heavy on a man, when the pleasing reflection rises in his mind, that he has happiness at home: no enjoyment from without will give real and lasting satisfaction, when he knows that he has a curse in his own house.
It is no fmall advantage attending the institutions of divine worship, that they minister to the happiness of domestic life. A new bond will be added to the conjugal union, when those whom it connects walk to the House of God in company, take sweet coun,
fel with one another, and set out jointly in the way that leads to life. Watered by the dews of Heaven, which fall here, the olive plants will flourish round your table. What sacred sensations will fill the bof. om of a parent, when, viewing his family fitting at the feet of Jesus, he says, in the fulness of a grateful heart, “ Lord! behold me, and the children whom “thou hast given me!”
There is a beauty, also, when the rich and the poor, when the high and the low, who seldom meet togeth, er on other occafions, assemble here in one place, one great family, in the presence of their common Lord, when they are stripped of every adventitious circum, stance, and where virtue makes the only distinction among them. It is the image of those golden times when society began; it is the image of the state which is to come, when God shall be all in all.
Such are the effects of religious institutions upon men, with respect to their religious capacity, their moral character, their political state, and their domeftic life.
Whoever, therefore, habitually absents himself from attending on public ordinances, has to answer for it to his God, to his neighbours, to his country, and to his family. He partakes with other men in their fins; he associates with the enemies of mankind; and does what in him lies, to undermine the basis on which the order and happiness of civil society is built. He teaches the false fwearer to take the name of God in vain ; he directs the midnight robber to his neigh. bour's house ; and he delivers into the hand of the
; assassin a dagger, to shed innocent blood.
But, blessed be God! that, corrupted as the world