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light according as we have been attached to virtue or violated it. We must meditate on that infinite goodness, which is over all his works, Psal. cxlv. 9. We must not only consider this palace, where God hath lodged man, a palace of delights before the entrance of sin : but which since that fatal period is, alas! nothing but a theatre, and, if I may express myself so, an universal scaffold, on which he exercises the most terrible vengeance, and exhibits his most dreadful executions. We must enter, moreover, into the genius of religion ; know the power of that arm, which he exerts to deliver us from bondage; the power of those succors, which he affords to enable us to triumph over our depravity; the excellence of revealed mysteries ; the value of the pardon set before us ; the pleasure and peace poured into our souls; and the magnificence of such objects as the gospel proposes to our hopes. All this requires vigilance, action and motion. Nothing of this can be acquired under the influence of indolence, idleness and ease. Nothing of this can be done in the circles of pleasure, at gaming tables, or in places of public diversion.
What is faith? It is that disposition of our souls, which brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. x.5. and subjects them all to his decisions. In order to this, we must be convinced, that God hath not left men to their natural darkness, but hath bestowed on them the light of divine revelation. We must examine this revelation, and understand the proofs of its divinity. We must collect into one body the fundamental truths included in it. We must remove or invalidate those glosses, which false teachers have applied to perplex the meaning of it. We must understand how to be deaf to every voice except that of eternal truth, and to say from the bottom of a
soul saturated with the love of this truth, Speak, Lord, for thy servants hear, 1 Sam. iii. 9. All this requires vigilance, action and motion. Nothing of this can be acquired under the influence of indolence, idleness and ease. Nothing of this can be done in circles of pleasure, at gaming tables, or in places of public diversion.
What is benevolence? It is that disposition of soul, which engages us to consider our neighbor as ourselves, and to study his interest as our own. In order to this we must examine both his temporal and spiritual wants. If he be in a state of indigence, we must provide for him, either at our own expence, or by exciting in his favor the compassion of others. When he is ignorant, we must inform him ; when in an error, undeceive him; when he strays, we must recal him; when his spirits are overwhelmed, comfort him ; we must visit him when he is confined, edify him by our conduct and encourage him by our example. All this demands, vigilance, action and motion. Nothing of this can be acquired under the influence of indolence, idleness and ease. Nothing of this can be done in circles of pleasure, at gaming tables, or at places of public diversion.
What is repentance? It is that disposition of our soul, which makes the remembrance of our sins a source of the bitterest grief. This supposes many self-examinations, and self-condemnations, much remorse of conscience, many tears shed in the bosom of God, many methods tried to preclude falling again into sins, the remembrance of which is so grievous to us.
Above all, this virtue supposes recompences in great number. If we have propagated any maxims injurious to religion, reparation must be made; for how can we be said to repent of having advanced such maxims, except we abjure
them, and exert all our influence to remove such fatal effects as they have produced ? If we have injured the reputation of a neighbor, recompence must be made; for how can we repent of having injured the reputation of a neighbor, unless we endeavor to re-establish it, and to restore as much credit to him as we bave taken away ? Repentance also includes restitution of property, if we have taken any thing from any man, Luke xix. 8. All the exercises of this virtue require vigilance, action and motion. None of these are acquired under the influence of indolence, idleness, and ease. None of these are practised in circles of pleasure, at gaming tables, or at places of public diversion. 9. Even the nature of those vices, which the
gospel forbids, demonstrate, that a life wasted in idleness is incompatible with salvation. He, who hath well studied the human heart, and hath carefully examined the causes of so many resolutions broken by the greatest saints, so many promises forgotten, so many vows violated, so many solemn engagements falsified, will acknowledge, that these disorders seldom proceed from malice, yea, seldom from a want of sincerity and good faith. You often fall into temptations, which you mean to resist. Your misfortune is, that you are not sufficiently prepared for resistance. How, for instance, can we resist temptations to pride, unless we close every avenue, by which it enters into the heart ; unless we make serious reflections on the meanness of our original, the uncertainty of our knowledge, the imperfection of our virtue, the enormity of our crimes, and the vanity of our riches, titles, dignity, and life? Again, how can we resist the sophisms of error, if we have only a superficial knowledge of religion, if we do not build our faith on foundations immoveable and firm ? In fine, how can we resist sensual temptations, unless we endeavor to dethrone our passions, unless we frequently and boldly attack and subdue them, assuage their fury, and force them as it were to bow to the dominion of reason?
This prejudice refutes itself. They, who adopt it, furnish us with weapons against themselves. An idle life is incompatible with salvation, say you, provided it be free from greatcrimes. But, I say, an idle life cannot be free from great crimes. Indolence is a source of great wickedness, and vigilance and activity are necessary to prevent the exercise of it.
Let us not pass over these reflections lightly, my brethren. The prejudice, which we are attacking, is very important in its consequences: it is a fatal prejudice, sapping the very foundations of christian morality. It is not a particular prejudice, confined within a narrow circle: it is general, even among christians, and spread far and wide. It is not a prejudice secretly revolved in the mind, and covered with a blushing veil : but it is a bold notorious prejudice, and christians exalt it into a maxim of religion, and a first principle of morality. This is the prejudice of that vain worldly woman, who, having rapidly read a few devotional books, and hastily repeated a few prayers, which proceed less from her heart than her lips, spends one part of her life in places of public diversion, and the other in making art supply the place of nature, in disguising her personal defects, and in trying whether by borrowed ornaments she can obtain from the folly of men such incense as she offers to herself, such as she derives from her own immoderate vanity and self admiration. This is the prejudice of that soldier, who at the end of a campaign, or at the conclusion of a peace, thinks he may employ the rest of his life in relating his adventures, and indemnify himself for bis former dangers and fatigues by an idleness,
which is often a burden to those, who are witnesses of it, and oftener still to himself, who petrifies in his own tales. This is the prejudice of a great many people, who having nothing else to say to their preachers, to all their casuists, and to all their religious instructors, but, I wrong nobody, I do no harm. Shall I venture to say, my brethren, Why don't you do a little harm? I have, I declare, more hope of a man, who, in a high fever, becomes so delirious, and apparently so mad that the strongest persons can hardly hold him, than I have of a lethargic patient, all whose senses are stupified, his spirits sunk, and his natural warmth gone. I have more hope for a sinner, who, in a violent passion breaks the most sacred laws and tramples on the most solemn engagements, than I have for a man indolent, motionless, cold, insensible to all the motives of religion, and to all the stings of conscience.
My brethren, let us not deceive ourselves: there is something of consequence to do in every moment of a christian life. There are always in a christian life temptations to be resisted, and consequently in every moment of a christian life we must overcome these temptations. All ages require action. In every stage of life we have temptations to surmount and in every stage of life we must overcome them. We must overcome the temptations of childhood, the temptations of youth, the temptations of old age. All conditions require action. We must surmount some temptations in all conditions, and in all conditions we must overcome them. We must overcome the temptations of poverty, those of prosperity, those of elevated posts, and those, which belong to a state of obscurity, a sort of death, a kind of grave. All professions require action. There are in all professions temptations to be surmounted, and in all professions, we must overcome them.