« FöregåendeFortsätt »
his laws; in acts of kindness to their fellowcreatures, and an unspotted sanctity of manners.
Let no one, therefore, infer what some have been too willing to infer, from the passage before us, that an inoffensive, beneficent, and tolerably good moral life, is the whole of Religion ; and that the love of God constitutes no part of our duty. It is, on the contrary, our principal and most important duty, or as the Scriptures express it, the first and great commandment. And as, without Piety, there can be no Religion, so without Belief in the Son of God, there can be evidently no Christianity. Unless our virtue is built on this foundation, unless it be grounded on true evangelical principles, it may be very good Pagan morality, but it is not Christian godliness. And whatever other rewards it may be entitled to, it can have no claim to that eternal one, which is not a matter of right, strictly due to our services, but the free gift of God to those only that embrace the offers of salvation made to them in the Gospel, on the conditions of a right faith,
as well as of a right conduct. Yet it has become of late but too common, not only to treat the peculiar doctrines of Christianity with contempt, and to set up practical morality as the sum and substance of all religion; but what is still more extraordinary, men have frequently thought, or pretended to think, that even morality itself was not necessary in all its extent; and that of the two duties mentioned in the text, CHARITY and SELF-GOVERNMENT, it was fully sufficient to cultivate that which best suited their own constitutions or inclinations. Accordingly, they have very seldom paid a due regard to both these at the same time; but slighting each of them in their turn, have persuaded themselves, that the observance of the one would atone for the neglect or violation of the other.
These assertions might very easily be proved by facts; and it would be no unpleasing, nor perhaps unprofitable speculation, to trace the various revolutions that have happened in the opinion and the practice of mankind with regard to these two Christian virtues. But it is sufficient for
my present purpose to observe, that as the distinguishing character of our forefathers in the last age was preciseness and severity of manners; we, their descendants, on the contrary, have taken up Benevolence for our favourite virtue: and that the same vigour of mind, and national vehemence of temper, which carried them such remarkable lengths in the rugged paths of moral discipline, has with us taken a different direction, and a gayer look; is stirring up all the humane and tender affections within our souls, and urging us on to the noblest exertions of generosity and beneficence.
For to our praise it must be owned, that it will not be easy to find any age or nation in which both private and public benevolence was ever carried to so high a pitch, or distributed in so many different channels, as it is amongst ourselves at this day. Numerous as the evils are to which man is naturally subject, and industrious as he is in creating others by his own follies and indiscretions, modern charity is still equal and present to them all, and accommodates itself to the many various shapes in which human misery appears. It feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the sick, protects the widow, relieves the stranger, educates the orphan, instructs the ignorant, reclaims the sinner, receives the penitent. So far, then, you have done well; you have discharged, perhaps, one branch of your duty, but how have you performed the others ? What regard, more especially, have you paid to that virtue which is linked with charity in the very words of the text ? Whilst you s visit the “ fatherless and widows in their affliction,” do you keep yourselves “ unspotted from “ the world?” Are you plain and simple in your diet and your attire ? Are you sober, chaste, and modest? Are you temperate in your pleasures, and discreet in your amusements? Do you mingle solitude and reflection with business and with society? Do you bridle your tongues, and moderate your desires ? Do you keep your bodies under and bring them into subjection? Do you crucify the flesh with all its affections and lusts ? Do you carefully avoid every thing that may inflame and stimulate your passions ? Are you, in short, as rigorous to yourselves as you are benevolent to others? If to these questions your consciences can answer, with truth, in the affirmative ; and if to all this you have added the sincerest sentiments of love and gratitude to your Maker, your Redeemer, your Sanctifier, then, indeed, you have been good and faithful servants to your heavenly Master; then may you safely call yourselves disciples of Christ; and, with humble reliance on his merits, not your own, may expect to enter into the joy of your Lord.
But if, on the contrary, there are but too evident marks among certain classes of men of an inextinguishable thirst for pleasure and amusement, and those too not always of the most innocent and reputable nature; if luxury not only prevails as a fashion, but is studied as a science; if charity is in some persons nothing more than a cloak for voluptuousness; if benevolence is industriously and officiously, I had almost said invidiously, cried up, and magnified as the only duty of a man, nay, even of a Christian ; whilst purity is ridiculed and set at nought, as a sour, unsocial, unhumanized virtue ; is called