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PHILIPPIANS iv. 4.
REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAY: AND
AGAIN I SAY, REJOICE.
A MONG the many expedients put in
practice by the enemies of our Religion, to obstruct its progress, and to counteract its influence, it is no uncommon one to set before the eyes of mankind a most frightful picture of Christianity, and to represent it as a stern, austere, uncomfortable, gloomy religion, adverse to all the innocent enjoyments of life, and to all the natural desires and propensities of the human mind. As a proof of this, we are referred to those injunctions of mortification and self-denial, of penitence, contrition, and remorse, of abstinence from pleasure and enmity to the world, which occur sometimes in the sacred writings; and to those seasons which, in conformity to the spirit of such injunctions,
VOL. II. . . B
have, by the authority of particular churches, been set apart for the purposes of retirement and abstinence, recollection and devotion. That precepts of this import are to be found in the Gospel, and that they carry with them some appearance of rigour, we do not deny. But it requires only a very small share of discernment to perceive, and of candour to acknowledge, that this is nothing more than appearance It is very true, it is not to be dissembled; the Gospel does most certainly require us to renounce some things, which the man of the world may not be very willing to part with. But what are these things ? They are those lusts which war against the soul: they are those selfish desires which contract, and narrow, and harden the heart: they are those hateful and turbulent passions, which fill the mind with disquiet, and the world with disorder : they are those predominant vices and follies, those dangerous and destructive amusements, which destroy all composure of mind, all purity of sentiment and dignity of conduct, and plunge us in expence, dissipation, and ruin. These are the things which we are required to mortify, to deny, to subdue, to repent of, to renounce; and if these are the hardships complained of, to these indeed we must submit. But to accuse the Gospel of severity on this account, would be just as rational and as equitable as to charge the surgeon with cruelty for amputating a gangrened limb, or the physician with ill-nature, for prescribing a strict regimen and a course of searching medicines to a patient bloated with disease. We have reason, on the contrary, to bless the skilful hand, that, by any operations, however painful, by any remedies, however unpalatable, condescends to preserve or to restore the health of the soul. The truth is, the very cruelties of Christianity (if they may be called so) are tender mercies. Far from inspiring gloom and melancholy, or rendering our existence uncomfortable, they are, in fact, the only solid foundation of true cheerfulness. Of all men living, those are the most wretched and comfortless, who are the slaves of their passions. Slavery of every kind, and this above all others, has a natural tendency to debase and degrade the soul, and to render it abject,
mean, and spiritless. And till (as the Gospel requires) we have resolutely emancipated ourselves from this wretched state of spiritual servitude, we must never hope for any lasting peace or tranquillity of mind. Cheerfulness is the privilege of innocence and virtue. The vicious and impenitent have no pretensions to it. They may, indeed, have transient gleams of gaiety and mirth ; but these are far different from that calm, serene, and constant sunshine,which religious cheerfulness sheds over the soul. The sorrows of repentance may sometimes cast a temporary shade around it; but it soon breaks out again with redoubled splendour. “ Heavi6 ness may endure for a night, but joy “ cometh in the morning.” The struggle with our depraved appetites may, perhaps, for a time, be painful enough; but if we quit ourselves like men, it will soon be decided in our favour ; and then all our difficulties are at an end. From that moment, “ the 5 ways of Religion are ways of pleasantness, “ and all her paths are peace.” Christianity excludes us from no rational, no harmless enjoyment. It does not spread before us a deli
cious banquet, and then come with a “touch 6 not, taste not, handle not.” All it requires is, that our festivity degenerate not into intemperance; our amusements into dissipation; our freedom into licentiousness. Though it bids us 6 not to love the world” extravagantly, nor - to conform to it” criminally, yet it no where enjoins us to flee from it; but rather, after the example of our blessed Lord, to live in it, and to overcome it. A sullen, solitary, indolent retirement, is far from being conformable to the true spirit and temper of our religion, which is active, lively, and animated throughout. Consider its precepts, consider the example of those who taught it, and you will find that the predominant quality in both is an UNIFORM UNREMITTED CHEERFULNESS. John the Baptist, it is true, the precursor, and herald of the Gospel, assumed the appearance of austerity and rigour. He came, “neither eating nor drinking. He “ lived in the wilderness, had his raiment 5 of camels' hair, and a leathern girdle about “ his loins, and his meat was locusts and -“ wild honey.” A very proper demeanor