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ent from our own, that the first and most natural meaning, which the words convey, is certainly the true meaning; but the history of God's will, as it stands in the scriptures, requires to be diligently and impartially explored, that our faith may not stand on the assumptions of men, but on the word of God.
But, especially, let me beseech you not to consider your task as accomplished, when you have finished your attendance here. The most important duty remains, to apply what you have heard to your own character and circumstances, and convert the general language of the preacher into personal admonitions and directions. • The great work of religious perfection is not to be accomplished by thronging to the sanctuary, and as. sisting at all the exercises and discourses of others; but by a studious attention to the state of your affections, by a practical application of religion to the business of life, and last, though not least, by fervent and frequent prayers to Almighty God to bless his word, to remove your ignorance, to quicken your understanding, and engage your affections at all times in the great work of your sanctification ; that so, not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the word, you may be blessed in your deed.
PHILIP. 1. 9.
AND THIS I PRAY, THAT YOUR LOVE MAY ABOUND YET MORE AND MORE.
The natural tendency of public sentiment to pass the limits of moderation extends also to religion; a subject, in which, as all men are interested, almost all men have rushed into some extreme of doctrine or practice. The history of the church, it must be acknowledged, abounds with extravagances, which perplex the candid, and are the jest of the profane. Sometimes religion has been made to consist in violent affections; sometimes, in exteriour performances; now it is considered an affair of the understanding; and now, of the animal mechanism. In one age it is busied about what is mysterious ; in another, about what is ecstatic; while by many it is always confined to what is barely rational, cold, unaffecting and simple. The character of individual christians is marked with a diversity of expression, corresponding, in some degree, to this variety of character in periods and in sects. The hearts of some men are tender, and their passions fervent; the temper of others is calm and equable, and wrought with difficulty into
ecstasy and rapture. Some are extravagantly fearful of extravagance, and are fortified against the approach of enthusiasm; while others look with jealousy on every exercise of reason, content with feeling what they know not how to explain, and care not how to understand. In this flux and reflux of prevailing and personal sentiment, it is our duty to attend to the bias of the age, to guard the character of true religion from the reproaches, it may suffer by the excesses of its ardent friends, or the lukewarmness of its indifferent professors. We are to see, that the waters of life neither waste away in noisy ebullition, nor remain cold and stagnant, silently evaporating without being moved.
Among many christian professors there is, perhaps, too much of a disposition to reduce christianity to a barren system of rational truths. They are apt to make it a mere collection of specific statutes, like a civil or criminal code, in which the precise amount of obligation, and limit of transgression, may be clearly ascertained. Men of inquisitive and speculative minds are in peculiar danger of preferring the exercise of the understanding to that of the heart, and thus of rendering the light of religion little more than a cold coruscation, which imparts no warmth to the region of the affections. But, my friends, when we consider how important a part of our constitution the affections are, and how much they do in ultimately determining the character of the man, you cannot suppose, that religion is the only subject, from which the exercise. of them is to be excluded. When we consider, too, the infinite sublimity of religious truths, the influence they have on human happiness here, and on man's expectations for eternity, surely it cannot be, that he, who is impassioned on every other subject, may be always lukewarm on this, that the affections, which glow in every other sphere, must lose all their warmth, as soon as they touch the region of theology. If it
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were enough merely to believe, we might believe as well in a malevolent, as a gracious being. If it were enough to know the sanctions, and to admit the obligations of a law, the character of the lawgiver would be of no consideration. If it were enough to keep the commandments according to the barren letter of the moral code, surely the first commandment would have been more than superfluous, thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength. But it is not sufficient, that the affections be merely admitted into religion. If they are allowed to enter it at all, they must enter it largely. If God is to be loved, he is to be loved supremely. If Jesus, though absent and invisible, is yet our friend, he demands, on our part, an attachment stronger than death, which many waters cannot quench, nor floods drown. If the soul is worth any thing, it is inestimable; you cannot love it too dearly. If the interest of any one of us reaches beyond this earthly scene, it spreads throughout eternal duration. It sbould move our feelings, as well as our thoughts. There cannot be awakened too deep a sensibility for the immortal welfare of a being, who is susceptible of innumerable gradations of bliss and wretchedness. I will not shrink, then, from the declaration, that, if you have never felt the pleasures of devotion, I must doubt your piety; if you have never felt the sense of your unworthiness, I must doubt your humility; if you have never felt the luxury of doing good, I doubt your generosity; if you have never felt the inexpressible worth of the christian revelation, if you have never glowed with gratitude to its author, and admiration of his character, you know nothing of christianity. I must say, if your soul has never soared into the region of immortality, if your expectations have never soared impatient for the free range of heaven, you know religion only as a law, and not as an enjoyment. It is your schoolmaster,
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and not your confidential friend. You have not leaned upon the hosom of Jesus; you have only entered the lecture room of a philosopher. Such was not the disciple, whom Jesus loved.
The scriptures are written, it is true, in the lan. guage of orientals, and abound in phrases and ex. pressions of such passionate hyperbole, as seem, to the colder and more chastised imaginations of the western world, like the language of exaggerated feel. ing. But, with all this allowance, and it is great, they cannot be made to describe a religion, which exists only in the head. There is not a worthy passion, which silently pervades, or tumultuously agitates the breast of man, that has not been enlisted in the cause of God, and encouraged in the scriptures. Hope, the most animated of the affections, is, in our religion, the swelling spring of ineffable happiness. 6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant merey, has begotten us again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead." The most impatient desires of religious improvement are represented, as a part of the christian character: 6 Blessed are they, which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” “ Let him that is athirst come, and I will give unto him the waters of life freely.” Joy enters largely into the christian temper, 6 For the fruit of the spirit is love and joy." Sorrow, deep, piercing, and humil. iating, is not excluded. 66 Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted ;” and 6 the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” Gratitude, I need not tell you, is a vital principle of religious obedience; and compassion is a sentiment so essential to religion, that it has even given a name to the righteous; and a merciful is equivalent to a good man. “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” was the passage so dear to our compassionate Saviour. Zeal, too, is not to be rejected for its abuses, if