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neighbours were extremely deficient in taste and good feelings, if they were not disposed to seek his society, and to consult his judgment ? would indifference as to his moral character leave us in any doubt as to theirs ? The conclusion would be more obvious still, if the person contemplated were known to be easy of access, conciliatory in his manners, and habituated to express his mind in terms, which, all things considered, were most apppropriate. Now there is, present with every person, a being, whose character is similar to that described, but, in degree, infinitely superior.
There is a being, whose knowledge of every subject is perfect, and whose decisions are infallible: a being, who interests himself in our situation, and is disposed to impart counsel, and communicate relief: whose benevolence is greater, than human language can describe, or human intellects conceive. He has never refused a favor, when goodness and wisdom required its bestowment; and, far from being inaccessible, he has invited mankind to express to him their situation and desires.
Now, if it can be shown, either that mankind have no love for this divine being, or that they love him in a very low degree, it will follow, that they have a perverse, or depraved taste. That He, in whose character are united the most glorious attributes in the highest possible degree, should not be an object of affection and veneration to creatures of correct moral feelings, is a supposition perfectly absurd.
Could it be proved, that our race in general, though not entirely destitute of love to God, possess this quality but in a low degree; a degree altogether disproportionate to their ability of comprehending his perfections; the existence of moral corruption would be no less certain ; though its amount would be smaller.
But how, you inquire, does it appear, that there is in mankind generally, this deficiency of love to their Maker? I answer, that this is evident by their' not exbibiting those marks of the contrary, which they certainly would exhibit, if such deficiency did not exist.
J. From the situation of man, his imbecility, his depend ence, and want of knowledge, it would be obviously the dictate of reason, to maintain constant and devoted intercourse with his Maker. Our condition clearly indicates the propriety of such intercourse; and previously to observation, it would be thought, that the liberty of resorting to the Almighty, would be contemplated with the highest joy, and improved, as the richest privilege. How little such an opinion corresponds with fact, you need not be informed. Though we cannot live insensible of our wants, feebleness, and immortality, there is no prevailing disposition in the human heart to place confidence in God. Men do not love to view themselves, as surrounded by their Creator's presence. They do not rejoice at the return of seasons devoted to prayer. Nay, it is the general character of men to cast of fear, and to restrain prayer before God. If the fear of temporal or eternal sufferings, occasionally urges then to this exercise, it is evidently not in itself agreeable to their dispositions. It is a service, submitted to,-rather endured, than relished. If this is doubted, let us reflect on what passcs in our own hearts; let us observe the general appearance of indevotion among others; and in many, the entire neglect of religious acknowledgement.
II. Did we entertain right feelings towards God, a love, proportionate to our powers of comprehending his moral character; such feelings would be manifested by the frequency and the manner of our conversation on the subject
. We are universally fond of conversing concerning those whom we love: nor is there any difficulty in discovering our sentiments, by the interest which we take, when their characters are discussed. Were it inquired, whether an intimate and warm friendship subsisted between a particular person and yourself, any one would justly think himself authorized to answer in the negative, if, after much acquaintance, he had observed, that you were not in the habit of mentioning the name of this person; or if you discovered no interest, whenever such mention was made by others. If there are circumstances, in which this conclusion would be incorrect, they are such as do not exist in regard to Deity.
Now, of the great variety of subjects, which occur in social intercourse, do the attributes, providence, and requirements of God, hold a conspicuous place? If conversation of this kind is commenced, is it maintained with a general and lively interest; and do the countenances of those present evince their delight in the occurrence of such a theme? The experiment is indeed but sparingly made: but when it is, there is great uniformity in the result. Now on what principle can we account for this fact? Will it be said, that we are afraid of desecrating things sacred ? and that the reluctance to speak of our Maker, really proceeds from the high veneration, in which He is held? How happens it then, that those, who, on all other occasions, manifest most tenderness of conscience, and devout regard for the divine honor, should be less delicate in this particular instance, than others, whose usual deportment is that of indifference, or irreligion? How happens it, that all the reverence for Deity should in this instance, be on the side of those, who evince it in no other? For though it is unquestionably true, that hypocrites, or fanatics, may ostentatiously speak of religion, and equally true that some pious persons may be less able, or disposed, than some others of the same character, to introduce and support religious conversation ; it will not be denied, that discourse of this kind is, in general, most acceptable to persons of piety; and least so to those of an opposite character.
In relation to many subjects, it may be said, that they cannot be universally acceptable, on account of the different habits, studies, and capacities of those present. That which is interesting to a student, may not be so to a man in commercial, or military life. But the character and commands of God are of equal concern to all human beings. With these are connected the immortal interests of men.
Now, if indifference to that discourse, of which our Creator is the subject, or even aversion from it, betrays a want of affection from his character; the same indifference, or aversion, under our peculiar circumstances, so interested, as we are in this subject, so dependent on God for present and future happiness, affords proof of the same melancholy fact, still more strong, and as it should seem, irresistible.
For reasons, already stated, the human mind ought to receive its highest pleasures from divine contemplation. To intelligent creatures of correct moral feelings, God is, of all objects, most amiable, splendid, and majestic. Reason dictates, that our attention to objects, should be in proportion to their magnitude, and that our love should be proportionate to their moral excellence. Observation and experience show, that the mind recurs to objects, in proportion to the love, which it entertains for them. Let it then be inquired wheth, er Deity is generally an object of joyful, and frequent con templation. Is it a trait in the character of mankind, that they receive the highest pleasure in viewing the independence, omnipresence, power, purity, and happiness of God their Creator ? On a favorite subject, there is no difficulty in fixing the attention ; the difficulty is rather in abstracting our thoughts from it. In the present case it will not be denied, I apprehend, that all the difficulty is of the former kind.
Another argument to prove the want of love to the Supreme Being, may be deduced from our disregard to his honour and felicity.
It may appear, perhaps, at first view, that considering the independence and majesty of God, we may well be excused from any solicitude on this subject. It is true indeed, that the happiness of God is immutable, and he will secure his own honour: but this does not render it suitable for his creatures to be indifferent to either. If you are cordially attached to the character and interests of a personage, ever so elevated, you do not witness, without emotion, contempt for his opinions and commands, or obloquy, attached to his
As to the felicity of God, it must be a matter of joy to the upright in heart. We are never indifferent to the happiness of those, for whom we entertain affection. If, therefore, we find no consolation in the thought, that the
most perfect being in the Universe, is completely and permanently happy, it follows either, that we are criminally deficient in love to God, or perfectly destitute of that quality.
It being proved, that there is, in mankind, a great deficiency of love to God, by their not exhibiting those marks of the contrary, which they certainly would exhibit, did no such deficiency exist; it cannot be denied, that mankind are ex tensively and deeply depraved. For if perversion of taste; if obliquity of character is not proved by universal disincli nation to an employment, the most rational and advantageous, such as that of addressing the Supreme Being; and by indifference to the most perfect character in the Universe, it will not, I think, be easy to define moral depravity, nor even to imagine facts or circumstances, by which its exist. ence might be proved. If this argument prove any degree of moral disorder, it proves, that such disorder must be extremely great: for there is amazing defect of character, there is baseness, in viewing, either with disgust or indifference, the most splendid and perfect assemblage of moral attributes.
Let us now inquire, what testimony, as to the morality of the human character, is borne by events, usually occuring, n a country of civilization and religious knowledge. I do not ask for any evidence of perfection, or innocence. Claims of this kind will not be urged in behalf either of ourselves or others; but I ask, whether there is not evidence of strong inveterate propensity to evil? That men show the want of right feelings towards their Maker, is comparatively little. They manifest open contempt for their Creator by violating his commands.
I need not here mention those innumerable acts of dishonesty and perfidy, which all civil restraints, in addition to moral motives, are unable to prevent. I need not mention that intemperance and sensuality, which are as certainly pernicious to sound intellects, to character, and present interest, as they are to the eternal salvation of their votaries. I need not remind you of the facility, with which both the