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heathen philosophy, and at best are the dry details of moral precepts. How long will it be, ere men are persuaded that true religion is of a practical nature, and that we are chiefly concerned to improve our characters as rational and accountable beings, that we may live in such a manner as becometh saints !--That we may be induced to do so, consider,
III. The obligations under which we are, to cultivate and improve our intellectual character.
Our intellectual and moral powers are bestowed upon us for the purpose of progressive improvement, as rational and accountable beings. They are very weak in the first period of life, but may be much strengthened by good education and proper habits. Accordingly there is nothing more remarkable than the difference betwixt the mind of a philosopher and that of a peasant, though the original powers of both are the same. But the talents of the one have been cultivated and matured, those of the other have been suffered to remain in a state of nature, without the refinements of learning and science. What a dissimilarity also is observable in point of character, betwixt the lowminded baseness of the profligate libertine, and the exalted sentiments of the holy saint. How have such different results proceeded from mental capacities which each possessed equal in their nature and tendency ? Merely, because the one has suffered the law of his members to prevail over that of his mind; the other, by the assistance of divine grace, has brought into subjection every emotion of his soul to the law of rectitude. Let us then be persuaded to improve our intellectual and moral powers, since they are so susceptible of cultivation, and since we thereby arrive at the true dignity of human nature.
Consider also, that we are responsible to God for the use we make of those mental faculties with which we are endowed. Can we ever suppose, that our Creator would have furnished us with such noble capacities, that they might never be employed, or employed only for the purposes of folly? If we do not improve our minds by useful knowledge, and our hearts in holiness by virtuous
practice; we hide our talent in a napkin and are in danger of meeting with the doom which is threatened against the negligent and indolent:" Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Our intellectual powers are the means which the Almighty has afforded us for knowing our duty, and our active principles the instruments by which we are to execute it. If therefore, we shall be found wanting in the right exercise of our several abilities, we have reason to fear the condemnation of those who knew their Lord's will yet did it not, even to be beat with many stripes.
Consider, on the contrary, the great advantages and reward of improving our understandings and regulating our wills. By the former of these means we shall rise superior to the common herd of mankind, we shall attain distinction among our equals, we shall have the ennobling satisfaction arising from a well cultivated mind, we shall enjoy enlarged views of truth, and be capable of judging aright concerning the most important subjects. How well worthy of our most unwearied exertions are such ornaments of the human understanding, by which we are dignified, honoured, and exalted. In like manner, the government of our passions and affections preserves that tranquillity of mind, in which consists our true happiness. If any of these be suffered to usurp an undue ascendancy, they produce the same bad effects on the moral constitution, as an unnatural repletion of some animal vessel does in the natural. Thus, if desire, ambition, anger, fear, jea. lousy, or malevolence predominate in the mind, either of them destroys that just equilibrium which is necessary for preserving the harmony and composure of our internal feelings. And we shall find that it is only by keeping in subjection every appetite and påssion by the controul of reason, that we can regain that felicity of a good con. science and maintain the peace of mind which passeth all understanding
Finally, if we would be qualified for the enjoyment of the celestial society, let us now enlarge our intellectual, and regulate our moral powers, as far as our opportunity
affords. In that state of perfection, we shall doubtless be engaged in making new accessions of useful knowledge, as this is the most refined pleasure of which our natures are susceptible. There also no unruly principle shall exert itself to hurt our own peace, or offend that of others; but “ the ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion, with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
PROV. IV. 26.
HUMAN life is a state of existence, in which we are exposed to many dangers, both in our temporal and spiritual capacity. When we arrive at years of understanding, and begin to consider what occupations we should choose, as the most suitable to our rank and capacities, it requires no small degree of prudence to select one that may prove advantageous to our worldly interest. When we have at last fixed upon a certain vocation, as the most eligible to our station in society, it will be found no less requisite to devote our time and application to the unremitting pursuit of those employments in which we are engaged. Nay, the most steady and upright behaviour will become indispensible, if we would succeed according to our own wishes, or the expectations of our friends. If we be thoughtless and imprudent, we shall lose the estimation of those on whom we depend, and fail to meet with that encouragement from the world, which is necessary to promote our welfare. If we be inattentive to the business of our callings, our affairs shall decline, our credit be destroyed, and our ruin be inevitable. But if duly careful of our temporal concerns, we ponder the path of our feet, and reflect on the circumstances in which we are placed, we shall thereby take the most effectual means to secure our prosperity, and render ourselves both comfortable and happy.
If such be the case with respect to those matters which relate to this world, we may be assured, that a similar conduct will produce the same effects in our preparation for the world to come. Accordingly, it is invariably found, that the man who has entered upon a Christian course, without considering well the nature of that profession which he has assumed, is never sensible of the nature of true religion, nor concerned to live in such a manner as becometh the gospel. He continues in a state of lukewarm indifference about his spiritual condition and growth in grace, without any effort to improve in those holy dispositions whieh should characterize every one who would adorn the doctrine of Christ our Saviour. He never enquires whether his present mode of behaviour be conformable with those rules of rectitude prescribed in the scriptures, whether it is as strict in every particular as the law of God requires, and whether it might not be more faultless in several instances, than it has hitherto been. In short, the nominal Christian never examines his ways, and therefore remains throughout life in the same unprogressive and imperfect condition, as when he first entered into communion with the church. Nay, from the prevalence of evil habits, he must unavoidably become more wicked and depraved, so that the last state of that man will be worse than the first.
Such are the consequences of inconsideration upon our spiritual concerns, and hence appears the necessity of pondering the paths of our feet, that all our doings may be established. If we often take a retrospect of our past behaviour, and bethink ourselves what are the blemishes which cleave to our characters, what are the sins which easily beset us, what the temptations to which we are exposed, and what means might be effectual to maintain our integrity; we would thereby discover what manner of spirit we are of, become acquainted with the prevailing dispositions of our hearts, and learn the general tenour of our conduct. From such an investigation, we could not fail to acquire that self-knowledge, which is the first requisite to convince us of the error of our ways, and the first step, by which we can enter on the path of the just.