Page images
PDF
EPUB

feres with our acting that steady and conscientious part which gains the approbation of God. Hence arises the difficulty of drawing a proper line, between the allowable regard for reputation, and the excessive desire of praise. On the one side, and on the other, danger meets us; and either extreme will be pernicious to virtue.

He who extinguishes all regard to the sentiments of mankind, suppresses one incentive to honourable deeds; nay, he removes one of the strongest checks on vice. For where there is no desire of praise, there will be also no sense of reproach and shame; and when this sense is destroyed, the way is paved to open profligacy. On the other hand, he who is actuated solely by the love of human praise, encroaches on the higher respect which he owes to conscience, and to God. Hence, virtue is often counterfeited; and many a splendid appearance has been exhibited to the world, which had no basis in real principle, or inward affection.

Hence religious truths have been disguised, or unfairly represented, in order to be suited to popular taste. Hence the Scribes and Pharisees rejected our blessed Lord, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. — Turn, therefore, neither to the right hand nor to the left. Affect not to despise what the world thinks of your conduct and character; and yet, let not the sentiments of the world entirely rule you. Let a desire of esteem be one motive of

your conduct; but let it hold a subordinate place. Measure the regard“that is due to the opinions of men, by the degree in which these coincide with the law of God.

Allow me next to suggest the danger of running to the extreme of anxiety about worldly interests on the one hand, and of negligence on the other. It is hard to say which of these extremes is fraught with most vice and most misery. Industry and diligence are unquestionable duties, strictly enforced on all Christians; and he who fails in making suitable provision for his household and family, is pronounced to be worse than an infidel. But there are bounds, within which our concern for worldly success must be confined. For anxiety is the certain poison of human life. It debases the mind; and sharpens all the passions. It involves men in perpetual distractions, and tormenting cares; and leads them aside from what ought to be the great scope of human action. Anxiety is in general the effect of a covetous temper. Negligence is commonly the offspring of licentiousness, and always the parent of universal disorder. By anxiety you render yourselves miserable. By negligence, you too often occasion the ruin of others. The anxious man is the votary of riches; the negligent man the votary of pleasure. Each offers his mistaken worship at the shrine of a false deity; and each shall reap only such rewards as an idol can bestow; the one sacrificing the enjoyment and improvement of the present to vain cares about futurity, the other so totally taken up joying the present, as to store the future with certain misery. - True virtue holds a temperate course between these extremes; neither careless of tomorrow, nor taking too much thought for it; diligent, but not anxious ; prudent, but not covetous; attentive to provide comfortable accommodation on earth, but chiefly concerned to lay up treasures in Heaven.

15

in en

I SHALL only warn you farther against the extreme of engaging in a course of life too busy and hurried, or of devoting yourselves to one too retired and unemployed. We are formed for a mixture of action, and retreat. Our connections with society, and the performance of duties which we owe to one another, necessarily engage us in active life. What we owe to ourselves requires occasional retirement. For he who lives always in the bustle of the world, cannot, it is to be feared, always preserve his virtue pure. Sentiments of piety will be deprived of that nourishment and support which they would derive from meditation and devotion. His temper will be often ruffled and disturbed. His passions will be kept too much on the stretch. From the contagious manners which every where abound, he will not be able to avoid contracting some dangerous infection.

On the other hand, he who flies to total retreat, in order either to enjoy ease, or to escape from the temptations of the world, will often find disquiet meeting him in solitude, and the worst temptations arising from within himself. Unoccupied by active and honourable pursuits, unable to devote his whole time to improving thoughts, many an evil passion will start up, and occupy the vacant hour. Sullenness and gloom will be in danger of overwhelming him. Peevish displeasure, and suspicions of mankind, are apt to persecute those who withdraw themselves altogether from the haunts of men.-Steer therefore a middle course, between a life oppressed with business on the one hand, and burdened, for the burden is no less, with idleness on the other. Provide for yourselves matter of fair and honest pursuit, to afford a proper object to the active powers of the mind.

[blocks in formation]

Temper business with serious meditation, and enliven retreat by returns of action and industry,

Thus, I have pointed out some of those extremes, into which men are apt to run, by forsaking the line which religion and wisdom have drawn. Many more, I am sensible, might be suggested; for the field is wide, and hardly is there any appearance of piety, virtue, or good conduct but what the folly of men is, apt to push into undue excess, on one or other side. What I have mentioned, will be sufficient to show the necessity of prudent circumspection, in order to escape the dangers which beset us in this state of trial. Let us study to attain a regular, uniform, consistent character; where nothing that is excessive or disproportioned shall come forward to view; which shall not plume itself with a fair show on one side only, while in other quarters it remains unadorned and blemished; but where the different parts of worth and goodness shall appear united, and each shall exert its proper influence on conduct. Thus, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, we shall, as far as our frailty permits, approach to the perfection of the human character, and shall have reason not to be ashamed when we have equal respect, to all God's commandments.

SERMON XLVIII.

On ScOFFING at RELIGION.

2 PETER, iii. 3.
- There shall come in the last days scoffers. -

AS the Christian religion is adverse to the inclina

tions and passions of the corrupted part of mankind, it has been its fate, in every age, to encounter the opposition of various foes. Sometimes, it has undergone the storms of violence and persecution. Sometimes, it has been attacked by the arms of false reasoning and sophistry. When these have failed of success, it has at other times been exposed to the scoffs of the petulant. Men of light and frivolous minds, who had no comprehension of thought for discerning what is great, and no solidity of judgment for deciding on what is true, have taken upon them to treat religion with contempt, as if it were of no consequence to the world. They have affected to represent the whole of that venerable fabric which has so long commanded the respect of mankind, which for ages the learned have supported, and the wise have admired, as having no better foundation than the gloomy imagination of fanatics and visionaries. Of this character were those scoffers, predicted by the Apostle to arise in the last days; a prediction which we have seen too often fulfilled. As the false colours which such men throw on religion, are apt to impose on the weak and unwary, let us

« PreviousContinue »