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austerity, preciseness, puritanism, or any thing but what it really is ; if the natural consequences of this licentious doctrine are but too visible in that rapid growth of dissoluteness amongst us, which seems to threaten the extinction of every moral and religious principle ; if, in fine, the grossest violations of decency, nay, even of connubial fidelity, are often treated with levity and gaiety, as subjects rather of pleasantry than of reproach ; and are not only committed without scruple, but avowed, and sometimes defended too, without a blush ; if this be a faithful portrait of our manners, what infinite cause have we, amidst all our boasted charities, to tremble at the danger of our situation! It is incredible, it is impossible, that the righteous Governor of the Universe can be an unconcerned spectator of such wickedness as this !
But is our BENEVOLENCE then, you will say, of no avail ? Will not that shelter us from punishment ? For charity, we are told, 66 shall cover the multitude of sins * ;' and, accordingly, we take effectual care that it
* 1 Pet. iv. 8.
shall have a multitude to cover. But whose sins does St. Peter say that charity shall cover ? Our own, or those of others ? He may only mean, that a charitable man will not wantonly divulge, but will cover, will throw a veil over, the failings of his neighbour. But supposing, what is most probable, that our own sins are meant, what sort of sins do you think that charity shall cover? Not, surely, those gross, presumptuous, habitual ones, which we would gladly shelter under it; but those casual slips and inadvertencies, those almost unavoidable errors, weaknesses, and imperfections, to which the very best of men are subject, and which are almost the only sins that a truly charitable man can have to cover. For what is this charity, at last, of which such great things are said in Scripture? Read over that well-known and most eloquent description of it by St. Paul, and you will find it to be something very different from that false image of it which the philosophy of this world has set up to worship. From thence, from the whole tenour of Scripture, you will find it to be not merely an easy, undistinguishing good na
ture, or a thoughtless, profuse, pernicious liberality; but an inward principle of universal kind affection, founded in nature, improved by reason, and perfected by grace ; restraining us, in the first place, from doing harm ; then prompting us, on every occasion, and towards every person, to do all the good we possibly can. This is the only charity that the Gospel is acquainted with ; the only one, that, in conjunction with repentance, and faith in our Redeemer, can in the least contribute to obtain pardon for our failings, and render us meet to be partakers of the kingdom of Heaven.
In whatever sense, then, we understand the expression of charity covering our sins, the sensualist can never avail himself of that protection, because he acts in direct contradiction to the very first principles of true Christian charity. 66 Love worketh no ill “ to his neighbour,” says St. Paul ; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law; and therefore he who works such ill to his neighbour, as the voluptuary does every day, (by destroying the innocence, the peace, the comfort, the happiness, temporal and eternal, of those very persons for whom he professes the tenderest regard) must be an utter stranger to real philanthropy. Though he may feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction ; yet, if to gratify his own passions, he plunges those who have never offended him in misery and disgrace, he is a hurtful member of society. Nay, perhaps his very liberality and good-nature serve only to render him the more hurtful. They throw a lustre over the criminal part of his character, and render him an object of admiration to the crowd of servile imitators, who not having the sense to separate his vices from his accomplishments, form their conduct upon his example in the gross, and hope to become equally agreeable by being equally wicked. And, as if it was not enough to have these patterns before our eyes in real life, they are once more served up to us in the productions of some modern writers, who, to the fond ambition of what they call copying after nature, and of gaining a name, are content to sacrifice the interests of virtue, and to lend a willing hand towards finishing the corruption of our manners. Hence it is, that in several of our most favourite works of fancy and amusement, the principal figure of the piece is some professed libertine, who, on the strength of a pleasing figure, a captivating address, and a certain amiable generosity of disposition, has the privilege of committing whatever irregularities he thinks fit, and of excusing them in the easiest manner imaginable as the unavoidable effects of constitution, and the little foibles of a heart intrinsically good. Thus, whilst he delights our imagination, and wins our affections, he never fails, at the same time, to corrupt our principles. And young people, more especially, instead of being inspired with a just detestation of vice, are furnished with apologies for it which they never forget, and are even taught to consider it as a necessary part of an accomplished character.