English Baptist Minister, Bishop
English Baptist Minister, Bishop
Though it cannot be denied that, by diffusing a warmer coloring over the visions of fancy, sensibility is often a source of exquisite pleasure,?to others, if not to the possessor,?yet it should never be confounded with benevolence, since it constitutes, at best, rather the ornament of a fine than the virtues of a good mind.
We may discover by the light of nature the existence of a Being who is possessed of all possible perfection. The works of God sufficiently display his goodness, wisdom, and power; but with respect to the application of these in any particular instance it leaves us entirely at a loss. We have no measure which we can apply to the operations of an infinite mind; and therefore, though we may be assured that the Divine Being possesses all the attributes which compose supreme excellence, it is impossible for us to say, in particular instances, what path of conduct may best consist with those perfections in their most extensive operation. Indeed, to discover not only the leading attributes of the Divine Nature, but to be acquainted beforehand with every direction they will take, would be fully to comprehend the Most High.
Whole nations are immersed. Placing religion, which is most foreign to its nature, in depending for acceptance with God on absurd penances or unmeaning ceremonies, it resigns the understanding to ignorance and the heart to insensibility. No generous sentiments, no active virtues, ever issue from superstition.
Of all the species of literary composition, perhaps biography is the most delightful. The attention concentrated on one individual gives a unity to the materials of which it is composed, which is wanting in general history.
Settle it therefore in your minds, as a maxim never to be effaced or forgotten, that atheism is an inhuman, bloody, ferocious system, equally hostile to every useful restraint and to every virtuous affection; that leaving nothing above us to excite awe, nor round us to awaken tenderness, it wages war with heaven and with earth: its first object is to dethrone God, its next to destroy man.
The efficacy of these views in producing and augmenting a virtuous taste will indeed be proportioned to the vividness with which they are formed, and the frequency with which they recur; yet some benefit will not fail to result from them even in their lowest degree.
The sight of a penitent on his knees is a spectacle which moves heaven; and the compassionate Redeemer, who when he beheld Saul in that situation exclaimed, Behold, he prayeth, will not be slow nor reluctant to strengthen you by his might and console you by his Spirit. When a new and living way is opened into the holiest of all, by the blood of Jesus, not to avail ourselves of it, not to arise and go to our Father, but to prefer remaining at a guilty distance, encompassed with famine, to the rich and everlasting provisions of his house, will be a source of insupportable anguish when we shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enter into the kingdom of God, and ourselves shut out. You are probably not aware of what importance it is to improve these sacred visitations; have not considered that they form a crisis which, if often neglected, will never return. It is impossible too often to inculcate the momentous truth, that the character is not formed by passive impressions, but by voluntary actions, and that we shall be judged hereafter, not by what we have felt, but by what we have done.
Though the system of paganism is justly condemned by reason and scripture, yet it assumed as true several principles of the first importance to the preservation of public manners; such as a persuasion of invisible power, of the folly of incurring the divine vengeance for the attainment of any present advantage, and the divine approbation of virtue: so that, strictly speaking, it was the mixture of truth in it which gave it all its utility.
We rend of a ?joy unspeakable and full of glory,? of ?a peace that passeth all understanding,? with innumerable other expressions of a similar kind, which indicate strong and vehement emotions of mind. That the great objects of Christianity, called eternity, heaven, and hell, are of sufficient magnitude to justify vivid emotions of joy, fear, and love, is indisputable, if it be allowed we have any relation to them; nor is it less certain that religion could never have any powerful influence if it did not influence through the medium of the affections. All objects which have any permanent influence influence the conduct in this way. We may possibly be first set in motion by their supposed connection with our interest; but unless they draw to themselves particular affections the pursuit soon terminates.
Why, it will be said, may we not suppose the world has always continued as it is; that is, that there has been a constant succession of finite beings appearing and disappearing on the earth from all eternity? I answer, Whatever is supposed to have occasioned this constant succession, exclusive of an intelligent cause, will never account for the undeniable marks of design visible in all finite beings. Nor is the absurdity of supposing a contrivance without a contriver diminished by this imaginary succession; but rather increased, by being repealed at every step of the series.
Of an accountable creature, duty is the concern of every moment, since he is every moment pleasing or displeasing God. It is a universal element, mingling with every action and qualifying every disposition and pursuit. The moral of conduct, as it serves both to ascertain and to form the character, has consequences in a future world so certain and infallible that it is represented in Scripture as a seed no part of which is lost, for whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap.
Society is the atmosphere of souls; and we necessarily imbibe from it something which is either infectious or salubrious. The society of virtuous persons is enjoyed beyond their company, while vice carries a sting into solitude. The society or company you keep is both the indication of your character and the former of it. In vicious society you will feel your reverence for the dictates of conscience wear off, and that name at which angels bow and devils tremble, you will hear contemned and abused. The Bible will supply materials for unmeaning jest or impious buffooner; the consequence of this will be a practical deviation from virtue, the principles will become sapped, the fences of conscience broken down; and when debauchery has corrupted the character a total inversion will take place, and the sinner will glory in his shame.
The evils of controversy are transitory, while its benefits are permanent.
The situation of females without fortune in this country is indeed deeply affecting. Excluded from all the active employments, in which they might engage with the utmost propriety, by men who, to the injury of one sex, add the disgrace of making the other effeminate and ridiculous, an indigent female, the object probably of love and tenderness in her youth at a more advanced age a withered flower! has nothing to do but retire and die.
Though there may be many rich, many virtuous, many wise men, fame must necessarily be the portion of but few.
We would earnestly entreat the young to remember that, by the unanimous consent of all ages, modesty, docility, and reverence to superior years, and to parents above all, have been considered as their appropriate virtues, a guard assigned by the immutable laws of God and nature on the inexperience of youth; and with respect to the second, that Christianity prohibits no pleasures that are innocent, lays no restraints that are capricious; but that the sobriety and purity which it enjoins, by strengthening the intellectual powers, and preserving the faculties of mind and body in undiminished vigor, lay the surest foundation of present peace and future eminence.
With all the pride that wealth is apt to inspire, how seldom are the opulent truly aware of their high destination! Placed by the Lord of all on an eminence, and intrusted with a superior portion of his goods, to them it belongs to be the dispensers of his bounty, to succor distress, to draw merit from obscurity, to behold oppression and want vanish before them, and, accompanied wherever they move with perpetual benedictions, to present an image of Him who, at the close of time, in the kingdom of the redeemed, will wipe away tears from all faces. It is surely unnecessary to remark how insipid are the pleasures of voluptuousness and ambition compared to what such a life must afford, whether we compare them with respect to the present, the review of the past, or the prospect of the future.
Of Blackstone?s Commentaries it would be presumptuous in us to attempt an eulogium, after Sir William Jones has pronounced it to be the most beautiful outline that was ever given of any science. Nothing can exceed the luminous arrangement, the vast comprehension, and, we may venture to add from the best authorities, the legal accuracy of this wonderful performance, which in style and composition is distinguished by an unaffected grace, a majestic simplicity, which can only be eclipsed by the splendor of its higher qualities.
Some have objected to the instruction of the lower classes from an apprehension that it would lift them above their sphere, make them dissatisfied with their station in life, and, by impairing the habits of subordination, endanger the tranquility of the state; an objection devoid surely of all force and validity. It is not easy to conceive in what manner instructing men in their duties can prompt them to neglect those duties, or how that enlargement of reason which enables them to comprehend the true grounds of authority and the obligation to obedience should indispose them to obey. The admirable mechanism of society, together with that subordination of ranks which is essential to its subsistence, is surely not an elaborate imposture which the exercise of reason will detect and expose. The objection we have stated implies a reflection on the social order, equally impolitic, invidious, and unjust. Nothing in reality renders legitimate governments so insecure as extreme ignorance in the people. It is this which yields them an easy prey to seduction, makes them the victims of prejudices and false alarms, and so ferocious withal that their interference in a time of public commotion is more to be dreaded than the eruption of a volcano.
The exclusion of a Supreme Being and of a superintending Providence tends directly to the destruction of moral taste. It robs the universe of all finished and consummate excellence even in idea. The admiration of perfect wisdom and goodness for which we are formed, and which kindles such unspeakable rapture in the soul, finding in the regions of skepticism nothing to which it corresponds, droops and languishes. In a world which presents a fair spectacle of order and beauty, of a vast family nourished and supported by an Almighty Parent,?in a world which leads the devout mind, step by step, to the contemplation of the first fair and the first good, the skeptic is encompassed with nothing but obscurity, meanness, and disorder.
The skeptical or irreligious system subverts the whole foundation of morals. It may be assumed as a maxim, that no person can be required to act contrary to his greatest good, or his highest interest, comprehensively viewed in relation to the whole duration of his being. It is often our duty to forego our own interest partially, to sacrifice a smaller pleasure for the sake of a greater, to incur a present evil in pursuit of a distant good of more consequence. In a word, to arbitrate among interfering claims of inclination is the moral arithmetic of human life. But to risk the happiness of the whole duration of our being in any case whatever, were it possible, would be foolish; because the sacrifice must, by the nature of it, be so great as to preclude the possibility of compensation.
To be scantily provided with the necessaries of life, to endure cold, hunger, and nakedness, is a great calamity at all seasons; it is almost unnecessary to observe how much these evils are aggravated by the pressure of disease, when exhausted nature demands whatever the most tender assiduity can supply to cheer its languor and support its sufferings. It is the peculiar misfortune of the afflicted poor that the very circumstance which increases their wants cuts off, by disqualifying them for labor, the means of their supply. Bodily affliction, therefore, falls upon them with an accumulated weight. Poor at best, when seized with sickness they become utterly destitute. Incapable even of presenting themselves to the eye of pity, nothing remains for them but silently to yield themselves up to sorrow and despair.
Were any other event of far superior moment ascertained by evidence which made but a distant approach to that which attests the certainty of a life to come,?had we equal assurance that after a very limited though uncertain period we should be called to migrate into a distant land whence we were never to return,?the intelligence would fill every breast with solicitude; it would become the theme of every tongue; and we should avail ourselves with the utmost eagerness of all the means of information respecting the prospects which awaited us in that unknown country. Much of our attention would be occupied in preparing for our departure; we should cease to regard the place we now inhabit as our home, and nothing would be considered of moment but as it bore upon our future destination. How strange is it then that, with the certainty we all possess of shortly entering into another world, we avert our eyes as much as possible from the prospect; that we seldom permit it to penetrate us; and that the moment the recollection recurs we hasten to dismiss it as an unwelcome intrusion! Is it not surprising that the volume we profess to recognize as the record of immortality, and the sole depository of whatever information it is possible to obtain respecting the portion which awaits us, should be consigned to neglect, and rarely if ever consulted with the serious intention of ascertaining our future condition?
With the enemies of freedom it is a usual artifice to represent the sovereignty of the people as a license to anarchy and disorder. But the tracing up of the civil power to that source will not diminish our obligation to obey; it only explains its reasons, and settles it on clear and determinate principles; it turns blind submission into rational obedience, tempers the passion for liberty with the love of order, and places mankind in a happy medium between the extremes of anarchy on the one side and oppression on the other; it is the polar star that will conduct us safely over the ocean of political debate and speculation,?the law of laws, the guide for legislators.
Of the great prizes of human life it is not often the lot of the most enterprising to obtain many: they are placed on opposite sides of the path, so that it is impossible to approach one of them without proportionally receding from another; whence it results that the wisest plans are founded on a compromise between good and evil, where much that is the object of desire is finally relinquished and abandoned in order to secure superior advantages.