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The seat of religion is the heart. External actions, whether ceremonial or moral, though the natural expression and proper evidence of our real sentiments, are religious only because they are allied to dispositions and feelings that essentially are
From them they flow; to them they are indebted for their true and distinctive character. So that, although there is not any difficulty in imagining a person deeply spiritual, though by sickness or otherwise he may be incapable of expressing his feelings visibly, it is a mere extravagance and absolute contradiction to speak of one whose life is religious, while his heart is alienated from God. This truth, though it appears obvious, is of such general application and importance, that it can hardly be too frequently repeated. It is this which an eminent writer of the present day doubtless intended to enforce, when she said, that “ Christianity is a religion of principles.” It is this which has in'duced the most valuable of our practical writers to enter deeply into the examination of the spiritual
Mrs. H. More.
affections, of the secret and internal operations of religion in the heart.
Nor is the knowledge of these things involved in doubt or mystery. Christianity addresses indeed the most vital principles of our nature: her energy penetrates even to the deepest springs of human action : yet the affections which Religion claims, and the active exercise of which constitutes her perfection and triumph, are all natural affections. Hope and fear, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, are passions so intimately allied to our constitution, that they may be said to form a part of our existence; and even from our earliest years they have been so continually in exercise, that the dullest and most ignorant are as well acquainted with them as the profoundest inquirer into human nature. These however are the affections which, engaged in the service of Religion, become the elements of true holiness. Whatever therefore be the mystery implied in those powerful images, in which man is described as regenerated and created anew by the agency of the Spirit of God, it is evident that they do not involve any practical difficulty. The change is certainly radical and complete, perhaps not perfectly to be understood by us in its deepest and essential energy; but the effects and evidences of that change are of a nature so intelligible, that the weakest faculties are sufficient to apprehend them. All know what their affections are; and all are capable of discovering to what objects they are principally directed.
It is worthy of observation, (though it may appear digressive,) that although some of the affections upon which Religion operates, are, in their lively exercise, exceedingly distressing, they are not those to which Religion has any natural or permanent alliance. Fear and grief are doubtless painful; when powerfully excited, they are the sources of the deepest affliction ; but fear and grief, speaking correctly, constitute no part of Religion. She is acquainted with them only as grief for sin, and fear of condemnation. They are but as visitants in her kingdom. In heaven they have no place. Their residence is chiefly fixed in that land of mourning which separates the realms of light from the dominions of guilt and misery. Religion, in her perfect state, nay, even in that maturity which sometimes has been attained in this life, knows only affections and feelings which are essentially delightful. Love joy, hope, gratitude, are always sources of gratification. In their best and highest exercise they are the springs of happiness refined, exalted, and ineffable.
Among the religious affections, I know not how any can better deserve an attentive consideration than THANKFULNESS.
Yet it is most strange, if in a world so full of wonders any thing can justly be called strange, that a creature should ever need to be reminded of the duty of gratitude to his Creator. Our very instincts tell us, that to be unthankful even to an earthly benefactor is the mark of a low and unworthy spirit. What must be the guilt then of unthankfulness to Him, who, from the first hour of our existence, has been engaged in an unceasing course of mercy and kindness towards us ; whose bounty began before we could even conceive from whom it flowed ; and has been continued to us through many years of indifference, disobedience, and ingratitude on our parts ? There is scarcely any point of view in which the universal corruption of human nature is so visible as this. The very best are cold; willing to enjoy their blessings, yet in danger lest that very enjoyment should make them forget the Giver. And a large part of mankind have in every age consumed the bounties of Providence in the most stupid selfishness, utterly careless of any thing but how to renew and increase their own gratifications. The wrath of Heaven was poured forth upon the heathen world, because “ when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful :” and it is evident from the numerous and pathetic passages in the Prophetic Writings, wherein the Almighty condescends to plead with his people, reminding them of his early covenant and longcontinued mercies, that, of all their varied offences an hardened and heartless ingratitude was the most condemning.
The truth is (and there are few truths more important), that the foundation of all thankfulness is laid in humility. A proud man never thinks himself obliged; and men being by nature proud, or at least exceedingly disposed to become so, are theo
only affected with a grateful sense of the goodness of their Creator, when his spirit has touched their hearts, and taught them something of their real unworthiness. A hearty thankfulness to God is, perhaps, one of the most decisive evidences of a soul truly regenerate; and the most vigorous state of this grace will, I believe, always be found allied to the highest advances in holiness.
It is indeed very curious, and highly instructive, to observe, how different are the effects produced upon the minds of men by the dispensations of Providence; and to watch the secret principles of the heart, manifesting themselves in the sentiments which they express. We know of men, who, in later years, have rejected Christianity as a forgery too flagrant to deceive any enlightened understanding. Several of these, as Hume, Frederick, Voltaire, D'Alembert, Diderot, and others, have passed their lives, upon the whole, in much comfort and satisfaction, sharing largely of the blessings bestowed upon us, and exempted from most of the severer calamities to which we are exposed. Do their writings breathe a spirit of affectionate gratitude to the Giver of all their enjoyments? They are almost uniformly destitute of any thankful acknowledgments, and not unfrequently polluted with profane and audacious impeachments of the wisdom and goodness of their Creator: in the midst of happiness they arraigned his Providence. And now contemplate a very difficult spectacle, not less real, but to every well constituted mind far less melancholy.