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discover his will; who feels his own infirmities, and laments his own inability to repair them, will embrace with eagerness the consolatory doctrines of the Gospel, and submit with cheerfulness to its restraints; while another, whose youth has been left, unguarded and unrestrained, to the free indulgence of passion and appetite, listens to the pleadings of a powerful advocate within, against the truth and authority of religion. The young are much sooner qualified to taste the seductive pleasures of the world, than they are to comprehend the obligations, or to value the promises of the Gospel. I acknowledge that this is too often the fault of education: but so it is; the passions are earlier matured than the reason; and the world is a more present and tangible object of regard, than the kingdom of God and his righteousness. However we may account for it, the fact is undeniable, that religious inquiry is seldom taken in hand, till the moral character is in a great degree formed..
Another disadvantage, under which Christianity labours, when it first becomes a subject of serious consideration, is this. There is a sort of current phraseology on matters of religion, to which children are accustomed from their earliest years; which they soon learn by rote, and fix in their
memory; but which does not always find its way to their heart. This is the case, when parents content themselves with merely teaching their children verbal articles of faith, and established formularies of devotion, without taking pains to elucidate their meaning, to establish their authority, or to enforce them by their own practice; and without directing their attention to the sacred oracles of truth, or to the source of grace and strength. Young persons, so educated, will be too likely to grow up mere formalists; and two pernicious consequences will ensue from the want of a solid foundation to their faith. They have been accustomed to consider themselves as possessed of religion; yet they do not find that it enables them to withstand temptation; nor, when they have sinned, does it excite a lively remorse and repentance in their minds: they soon come, therefore, to consider it as an inefficacious principle. Then, in the next place, when they hear the truth of the Christian religion assailed with objections, however trite and captious, they are surprised to find themselves wholly unable to answer them: and instead of being excited by their doubts to institute a more exact inquiry, they conclude at once, that the objections are unanswerable; and readily embrace
a system of unbelief, which is as acceptable to their passions, as it is convincing to their igno
These considerations may serve to shew, by what process it not unfrequently happens, that a person, highly gifted by his Maker with powers both to investigate and to illustrate divine truth, may yet, in his intellectual career, pass through the intermediate stages of religious indifference and doubt, to a state of fixed and hardened unbelief. Religion, as I observed, if his attention was at all directed to it in his early years, has been with him a mere matter of custom and routine, a compliance with established terms and forms; while all the powers and energies of his mind were exerted in the acquisition of knowledge, commonly so called, or in the boundless fields of imagination, from which a rich harvest of worldly reputation is to be reaped. How easy and natural a process it is, for such a person, first to undervalue the importance of religion, of which he has never felt the comfort, nor the grace; and, when it interferes with passion, and imposes an irksome restraint upon nature, to begin to doubt its authority; to embrace with eagerness the most obvious and popular objections, and to take his stand even on a
single difficulty, against a system, which uncompromisingly asserts the duty of spiritual holiness, and the certainty of God's retributive justice.
Such instances, when unhappily they occur, furnish no valid argument against Christianity, in behalf of infidelity, or atheism; because it is obvious, that those very powers of mind, which are by misdirection dedicated to the service of sin, and are retained by the passions, as advocates in the cause of unbelief, if they had been devoted, with sincerity and singleness of heart, to the investigation of a rule of life, might have perceived the force of those proofs, and the importance of those restraints which now they proudly deny and reject.
Such instances, I repeat, afford no substantial argument against the truth of the Gospel. This point is urged, because although, in fact, the reception, or the rejection of truth by other men, as it makes no difference in its intrinsic claims, ought to make no difference in our disposition towards it; yet there is a natural inclination in almost all men, to defer to the authority of eminent talents, even in questions, of which they are themselves perfectly competent judges. But, if the evidences of Christianity are satisfactory to your own mind, it ought to be a matter of
absolute indifference to you, as far as its truth is concerned, who embraces, or who rejects it. You must indeed pity, and, if possible, persuade, those unhappy persons, who make shipwreck of their faith; but it were strange folly indeed for you, who have experienced the Gospel to be full of grace and truth, to suspect the stability of your own religious principles, because other men have built without a foundation; and to sacrifice your own comfort and hopes to the authority of a splendid name.
Again then I assert, that such instances of highly gifted infidelity, are no argument against the truth of our holy religion. But I will tell
you what they are; and in that point of view
I earnestly intreat you to seriousness and with fear.
consider them with
They are sad and
signal instances of that perverseness of human nature, which converts to the purposes of evil the best and noblest gifts of God. They are striking proofs of the necessary connexion between a depraved heart and a moral blindness of the understanding; to which the Apostle alludes, when he says, that some, having put away a good conscience, concerning faith have made shipwreck. They teach us, that the finest talents, far from ascertaining any man's success