Page images
PDF
EPUB

the regimen prescribed you by a physician: and if these fasts have not produced in you a sincere repentance, and a true conversion, however you may regard them as acts cof devotion, they are in reality no other than acts of hypocrisy. Moreover, the Pharisees fasted twice in the week; while you, it may be, are among the number of those who imagine they have made a valuable sacrifice to God by abstaining from a single repast in a year.

As pharisaical moralists “have sought out so many inventions," to evade the necessity of an unfeigned repentance; and as philosophizing Christians rise up with one consent against this doctrine of the gospel, we shall conclude this subject by disclosing the sources of their common error.

1. There are phantoms of virtue, or virtues purely natural, which pass in the world for divine. But who ever imagined the dove to be really virtuous because she is not seen like the eagle to make a sto at birds of a weaker frame than herself? or who supposes wasps to be generous insects because they are observed mutually to defend themselves when their nest is attacked ? Is not the conjugal and maternal tenderness of the human species apparent in an eminent degree among various tribes of the feathered kind? And do we not see among bees and ants, that ardent patriotism which was so highly extolled among the Romans? Does not the spider exhibit as manifest proofs of ingenuity and vigilance as the most industrious artist? And do not carnivorous animals dis. cover all that fearless intrepidity which is so universally boasted of by vain-glorious heroes ? Let us not mistake in a matter of so much importance : as nothing but charity can give to our alms the value of good works, so nothing less than the fear of God, and a sincere intention of pleasing him, can give to our most valuable propensities the stamp of solid virtues. If we could completely expose the worthless alloy which worldly men are accustomed to pass off as sterling virtue, many of those who now esteem themselves rich in good works would be constrained to "abhor themselves and repent in dust and ashes."

2. Many persons indulge too favourable ideas of the human heart, through their ignorance of that unsullied purity which God requires of his intelligent creatures.

They judge of themselves and others as a peasant judges of a theme replete with solecisms, who, far from expressing the discernment of a critic, admires the vast erudition of the young composer. Thus some external acts of devotion are applauded by undiscerning Christians as commendable works, which in the sight of God and before holy spirits appear altogether polluted and worthy of punishment.

3. If we are sometimes deceived by our own ignorance, we more frequently impose upon others by our innate hypocrisy. Unregenerate men, after having thrown a cloak over their distinguishing vices, are anxious to make a parade of virtues which they do not possess. The proud man is sometimes observed putting on the garb of humility, and with the most lowly obeisance professing himself the very humble servant of an approaching stranger. Immodesty is frequently masked with an affected air of chastity and bashfulness; hatred, envy, and duplicity, veil themselves under the appearances of good nature, friendship, and simplicity: and this universal hypocrisy contributes to render its practitioners less outwardly offensive than they would otherwise be; as an unhandsome woman appears less defective to a distant beholder after having nicely varnished over the blemishes of her face.

4. It frequently happens that one vice puts a period to the progress of another. Thus vanity, at times, obliges us to act contrary to the maxims of avarice, avarice contrary to those of indolence, and indolence contrary to those of ambition. A refined pride is generally sufficient to overcome contemptible vices, and may influence us to the persormance of many exterior virtues. Hence the impious and sordid Pharisee went regularly to the temple: he prayed, he fasted, he gave alms; and by all these appearances of piety and benevolence acquired the commendation of the world. Society makes a kind of gain by these acts of dissimulation, which are as the homage paid to virtue by vice, and by impiety to devotion. But notwithstanding every plausible appearance that can possibly be put on when ihe minister of the gospel declares the fall of man, together with the absolute need of regeneration, he is supported at once by revelation, reason, and experience.

5. If the moral disorder with which human nature is infected, appears not always at its utmost height, it is because regeneration having commenced in many persons of every rank, the wicked are overawed by the influence of their example. Add to this, that God restrains them as with a bridle by his providence, and by those motions of conscience which they vainly endeavour to stifle. It is notorious that the fear of public contempt and punishment is sometimes able to arrest the most abandoned in their vicious career, since they cannot discover what they really are without arming against themselves the secular power.

Thus the terror which prisons and gibbets inspire constrains ravening wolves to appear in the garb of inoffensive sheep. But is it possible that innocence so constrained should be accounted of any value, even among heathens themselves ? It is impossible, since we find one of their own poets declaring,

Oderunt peccare mali, formidine pænæ. The wicked abstain from mischief through fear of punashment. And all the recompense he conceives due to such guiltless persons consists in not becoming the food of ravens upon a gibbet:

non pascos in cruce corvos. 6. If servile fear is sometimes the cause of our innocence, necessity is more commonly the cause of our apparent virtues. A youth of any modesty is generally cautious among his superiors, who afford him neither money to indulge, nor liberty to discover his inclinations. Now if this forced discretion should at length become habitual to him, he may in such circumstances esteem himself a virtuous man, because he has not, like the son of a dissolute courtier, plunged himself into every kind of impiety: whereas, had he enjoyed but equal. liberty with the licentious rake, he might have surpassed him in every sinful excess.

On the other hand, when an infamous voluptuary, enfeebled either by age or by his frequent debaucheries, finds it absolutely needful to live in more sober and orderly style, immediately he takes himself for another Cato; not considering that necessity alone is the source of his temperance. The least excess disorders his health, and the weakness of his stomach obliges him to abstain from those luxurious feasts which he can still

converse of with so mucb satisfaction. If such a one is virtuous because no longer able to rush into his former excesses, then we may prove the most incorrigible robber to be an honest man, while the irons are on his hands, or when, scared by the officers of justice, he flies to some secret retreat. Has that woman any reason to boast of her virtuous conduct who was never solicited by those men who are most likely to have triumphed over her modesty! And yet many such, filled with self approbation, will frequently applaud their own innocence, placing that to the account of virtue which was merely owing to providential circumstances; or perhaps to the want of personal attraction. Such plausible appearances no more merit the commendation due to solid virtue, than the sickly wolf, who peaceably passes by a flock of sheep, can be said to deserve the caresses which a shepherd bestows upon his faithful dog.

7. Effectually to impose upon others by a beautiful outside we practise a deeper deceit upon our own hearts ; and very frequently we succeed as well in hiding from ourselves our own evil dispositions, as in concealing from others our unworthy actions. Could we discover all that secretly passes in the world, we should not want demonstrative proofs of the depravity of the human heart. But why need we go abroad in search of a truth which is easily evidenced at home ? Had we ourselves but dared to have executed openly what we have acted in imagination, when our irascible or concupiscible passions have been roused, where should we have hidden our guilty heads, or how should we have escaped the sword of justice? Convinced too late of our degenerate nature, we should, haply have smitten upon our breasts with the repentant publican, adopting long ago his humiliating confession in the anguish of our souls. Every thinking person must allow, that had evil intentions fallen under the cognizance of human laws, and had the secular pow. er possessed equal ability to punish them as it punishes those actions of which they are the very root and soul, the whole earth must, in such case, have become as vast a scaffold as it is now a place of groves. Can

be necessary to multiply observations upon this head, when the Almighty, whose mercy and justice are infinite, sufficiently declares the universal depravity of mankind, by the variety of scourges with which he is constrained to punish both individuals and commonwealths ?

8. If the children of this world are unable to form any just conception of the human heart and its evil propensities, it is because they are in the number of those natural men of whom the apostle Paul makes mention. And such, having a natural antipathy to the gospel, while they are ever ready to cast reproach upon the faithful, are equally prepared to favour those of a like disposition with themselves. Thus Herod, Caiaphas and Pilate mutually overlooked the faults of each other, while they united in accusing and persecuting Christ.

It is usual with those who are destitute of true religion, to esteem some among their sinful companions as moral and well disposed men : but, were they themselves to be converted, their error in this respect would soon becme apparent. Upon daring to oppose any torrent of impiety with the zeal of their heavenly Master, instead of finding among their associates any natural disposition to real virtue, they would meet with indisputable proofs, in spite of a thousand amiable qualities, that all unregenerate men • resemble one another in their enmity against God. Yes; whether they inhabit the banks of the Thames, or the Seine ; the lake of Genesareth, or that of Geneva; they are in the sight of God as filthy swine trampling under foot the pearls of the gospel, or like ravening wolves outrageously tearing in pieces the Lamb of God.

It might perhaps have been objected, that this portrait is overcharged, had not Christ himself, who is immutable Truth and unsearchable Love, penciled out the gloomiest traits observable in it. Following such a guide, though we may give much offence, yet we can never err.

The second point of doctrine insisted upon by the true min

ister, is a living faith. To show the necessity of repentance without publishing the remission of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, would be to open a wound without binding it up. It would be leading sinners to the brink of a tremendous gulf, and cutting off all possibility of their retreat. But nothing can be more contrary to the intention of the faithful minister,

« PreviousContinue »