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ought to be,' yet, as the knowledge of the one is at least one step towards improvement in the othersthe parallel will not be thought to want its use.
Give me leave, therefore, in the first place, to recall to your observations, what kind of world it is we live in, and what manner of persons we really are.
Secondly, and in opposition to this, I shall make use of the apostle's argument, and, from a brief representation of the christian religion and the obligations it lays upon us, shew what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God.
Whoever takes a view of the world, will, I fear, be able to discern but very faint marks of this.char. acter, eii her upon the looks or actions of its inhabit. ants. Of all the ends and pursuits we are looking for and hastening unto this would be the least suspected ;-for, without running into that old declamatory cant upon the wickedness of the age --We may say within the bounds of truth, that there is as little influence from this principle, which the apostle lays stress on, and as little sense of religion, -as small a share of virtue (at least as little of the appearance of it) as can be supposed to exist at all in a country where it is countenanced by the state. The degeneracy of the times has been the common complaint of many ages :- how much we exceed our forefathers in this, is known alone to that God who trieth the hearts.—But this we may be allowed to urge in their favour, they studied at least to preserve the appearance of virtue ;--publick vice was branded with publick infamy, and obliged to hide its head in privacy and retirement. The service of
God was regularly attended, and religion not exposed to the reproaches of the scorner.
How the case stands with us at present in each of these particulars, it is grievous to report, and, perhaps, unacceptable to religion herself ; yet, as this is a season wherein it is fit we should be told of our faults, let us, for a moment, impartially consider the articles of this charge.
And, first, concerning the great article of religion, and the influence it has at present upon the lives and behaviour of the present tiines; concern. ing which I have said, that, if we were to trust ap. pearances, there is as little as can well be supposed to exist at all in a christian country. Here I shall spare exclamations, and, avoiding all coinmon-place railing upon the subject, confine myself to facts, such as every one who looks into the world, and makes any observations at all, will vouch for me.
Now, whatever are the degrees of real religion amongst us,—whatever they are, the appearances are strong against the charitable side of the question.
If religion is anywhere to be found, one would think it would be amongst those of the higher rank in life, whose education, and opportunities of know. ing its great importance, should have brought them over to its interest, and rendered them as firm in the defence of it as eminent in its example.But, if you examine the fact, you will almost find it a test of politer education, and a mark of more shining parts, to know nothing, and, indeed, care nothing at all about it :-or, if the subject happens to engage the attention of a few of the more sprightly wits-that. it serves no other purpose but that of being made merry at, and of being reserved as a standing jest,
to enliven discourse, when conversation sickens upon their hands.
This is too sore an evil not to be observed amongst persons of all ages, in what is called higher life ; and so early does the contempt of this great concern begin to shew itself,—that it is no uncom. mon thing to hear persons disputing against religion, and raising cavils against the Bible, at an age when some of them would be hard set to read a chapter in it !-and, I may add, of those whose stock in knowledge is somewhat larger, that, for the most part, it has scarce any other foundation to rest on but the sinking credit of traditional and second-hand objections against revelation ; which, had they leisure to read, they wouid find answered and confuted a thousand times over.-But this by the way.
If we take a view of the publick worship of Almighty God, and observe in what manner it is reverenced. by persons in this rank of life, whose duty it is to set an example to the poor and ignorant, we shall find concurring evidence upon this melancholy argument--of a general want of all outward demonstration of a sense of our duty towards God, as if religion was a business fit only to employ tradesmen and mechanicks,--and the salvation of our souls a concern utterly below the consideration of a person of figure and consequence.
I shall say nothing at present of the lower ranks of mankind,-though they have not yet got into the fashion of laughing at religion, and treating scorn and contempt, and, I believe, are too serious a set of creatures ever to come into it ; yet we are not to imagine but that the contempt it is held in by those whose examples they are apt to imitate, wilt, in time, utterly shake their principles, and render them, if not as profane, at least as corrupt, as their betters.--When this event happens, and we begin to feel the effects of it in our dealings with them, those who have done the mischief will find the necessity at last of turning religious in their own defence, and, for want of a better principle, to set an example of piety and good morals for their own interest and convenience.
Thus much for the languishing state of religion in the present age in virtue and good morals, perhaps, the account may stand higher:
Let us inquire.
And here, I acknowledge, that an inexperienced man, who heard how loudly we all talked in behalf of virtue and moral honesty, and how unanimous we were all in our cry against vitious characters of all denominations, would be apt hastily to conclude, that the whole world was in an uproar about it,--and that there was so general a horror and detestation of vice amongst us, that mankind were all associating together to hunt it out of the world, and give it no quarter. -This, I own, would be a natural conclusion for any one who only trusted his ears upon this subject. But as matter of fact is allowed better evidence than hearsay, let us see, in the present, how the one case is contradicted by the other.
However vehement we approve ourselves in dis.. course against vice-I believe no one is ignorant that the reception it actually meets with is very different; the conduct and behaviour of the world is 50 opposite to their language, and all we hear so contradicted by what we see, as to leave little roomi to question which sense we are to trust.
Look, I beseech you, amongst those whose higher stations are made a shelter for the libertics they take, you will see, that no man's character is so infamous, nor any woman's so abandoned, as not to be visited and admitted freely into all companies ; and, if the party can pay for it, even publickly to be courted, caressed, and flattered.-If this will not over. throw the credit of our virtue,-take a short view of the general decay of it from the fashionable ex. cesses of the age,-in favour of which there seems to be formed so strong a party, that a inan of sobriety, temperance, and regularity, scarce knows how to accommodate himself to the society he lives in ; and is oft as much at a loss how and where to dispose of himself; and, unless you suppose a mixture of constancy in his temper, it is great odds but such a one would be ridiculed, and laughed out of his scruples and his virtue at the same time,—to say nothing of occasional rioting, chambering, and wantonness.Consider how many publick markets are established mcrely for the sale of virtue, where the manner of going, loo sadly indicates the intention ;-and the disguise each is under, not only gives power safely to drive on the bargain, but too often tempts to carry it into execution too.
The sinning under disguise, I own, seems to carry some appearance of a secret homage 10 virtue and decorum, and might be acknowledged as such, was it not the only publick instance the world seems to give of it. In other cases, a just sense of shame seems a malter of so little concern, that, instead of any regularity of behaviour, you see thousands who are uired with the very form of it, and who, at length, have even thrown the mask of it aside, as a useless