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I THESS. v. 16.
MANY of the enemies of religion consider it as the cause of a fevere, gloomy, and unfocial difpofition. Some of the friends of religion feem to confider it in the fame light. Nothing, however, can be more unjust than fuch a judgment, or productive of worse effects. Who would choose to dwell with fourness and severity? Or what human creature is able to resist the smile of cheerfulness, and the voice of joy? If religion were fuch as it is fometimes reprefented by prejudice, or fuch as the manners of fome men who pretend to be religious, yea, I will add, who have ftrong feelings of religion, would indicate it to be, I should not be furprised that it had few votaries, and that men delayed to A embrace
embrace it till the common feelings of humanity had left them.
Wherever a religion of this caft has been framed, I am perfuaded it is not the religion of the New Teftament: nor do I think, if it that any arguments would be fufficient for establishing it, or any further reasoning neceffary for overthrowing it. But with regard to that religion, the afperfion, from whatever quarter it has arisen, is entirely groundless. Chriftianity, on the contrary, is the fource of the beft, the pureft, and the most permanent joys in human life. Were there nothing more than the exhortation in the text, it would never be pretended, furely, that the religion of Jesus forbids all joy and cheerfulness. And it may be of importance at this time to inquire into the causes of that joy which christianity encourages and promotes, and to which the apostle exhorts us in the text.
To give a particular account of the nature of that joy which the perfuafion and practice of chriftianity excites, would be to defcribe the different modifications of rational pleasure and fatisfaction; a defcription which at prefent I decline. I fhall only obferve, that when
when I speak of this joy, I cannot be fuppofed to mean a childish and laughing levity of difpofition, which may brighten up the countenance, but does no more at best than play round the heart. I always understand by it that joy which becomes a man, which confifts in a cheerful but compofed temper, which leaves a perfon open to every gratification that is agreeable in poffeffion, and afterwards delightful on reflection. Let us inquire into the causes from which this joy proceeds. This inquiry, with fome reflections to which it will naturally give occasion, will be fufficient fubject for our discourse at this time. Rejoice always, or evermore, faith the apostle. The grounds upon which fo permanent a joy is founded must be very permanent, and must be laid deep in the human mind. Let us endeavour as plainly and as diftinctly as poffible to explain them.
In the first place: The joy to which a christian is called, and which may indeed be reckoned his portion, results from that virtue and integrity of life which the rules of his religion require.
It might be thought almost fuperfluous to fhew that the christian religion is intended to A 2 make
make men better or more upright. The gofpel was evidently given to teach us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lufts, we should live foberly, righteously, and godly in this prefent world. That this is the defign of it, the tendency of its doctrines, the purity of its precepts, the nature of its motives, the example of its Author, fufficiently evince.Some men may be fo corrupt as to try to explain away this truth: but fcarcely any man can be fo audacious as barefacedly to deny it.
As christianity is thus evidently intended and calculated to make men better, I further obferve, that the exhortation in the text is addressed to thofe upon whom it had this effect. The Theffalonians were remarkable for their work of faith, their labour of love, and their patience of hope in the Lord Jefus Chrift. They are recorded as ensamples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Timotheus brings the apostle good tidings of their faith and their charity; and the text is immediately preceded by an exhortation ever to follow that which is good, both among themfelves and all men. It is manifeft that exhor
a Titus ii, 12.
b Thess. i. 3.
< Verse 7.
tations of a general nature can only be plied to fuch as embrace in good earnest the tenets of that system where fuch exhortations are found.
Virtue and integrity, therefore, being effentials to the character of a Christian, whatever refults naturally from thefe qualities belongs to him. But thefe qualities are the natural fource of inward peace and joy of heart. Benevolence, moderation, friendship, fincerity, from the very conftitution of the human mind infufe a pleasing cheerfulness and ferenity into the foul. Rancour, violence, enmity, falseness, disturb its tranquillity. They occafion ftorms and tempefts which are always unpleasant, and often difaftrous. Juftice, generofity, charity, are confeffed by an open, compofed franknefs of countenance and manners. Injustice, cruelty, fufpicion and flander, are indicated by a dark look and difcontented manner, or by thofe tumults of paffion which distort the face and wring the heart. Temperance and fobriety beftow health and vigour upon their votaries. The contrary vices every one difcerns in the meagre and extenuated form of that man who, after innumerable pains and fufferings,