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RELIGION is designed to operate powerfully on our whole moral constitution. While it fills the heart with the love of God, it should also exalt and purify our motives of action. While it calls forth the tear of penitence, and lifts the soul in fervent prayer, it should also soften the moralsensibility, sweeten the temper, and sanctify our most secret thoughts and purposes. Too many persons are prone totake narrow and partial views of this subject. How seldom do we hear the sentiment expressed, for example, that a pious man should also be an amiable man, and yet who will deny that religion should add a new loveliness to the character P Who will deny that it should soften the heart, and sweeten the temper? That religion should be held in low estimation, which does not only make one a better, but also a lovelier man than his neighbour. I would not imply by this remark however, that there is any thing of piety or of real moral excellence in our amiable constitutional feelings, for such seelings form a part of our nature, and are born with us. But wherever religion has wrought powerfully on the whole character, it will inevitably subdue the roughness of our dispositions. “And when you tell us that a person has a deep sense of divine things, a strong and abiding faith, an ardor of hope and of joy, and a strength of charity which will triumph over all obstacles, we must also ask for something of a lovely and heavenly temper—some
thing of meekness, of tenderness, of humility, of gentleness, of placability. Labour may prepare the soil, but it must be followed by the gentle dews of heaven, before the plant will take root, and flourish, and bear fruit. The Christian character should present an assemblage of moral beauties, and while we yield the
good man our respect, he should also ,
command our affections. Our Redeemer was the perfection of what is amiable, as well as of all that is great and good. The moral beauty of his character throws the loveliest charms of nature into the shade, and he who has not a heart to relish it, gives evidence of a deplorable state of moral and religious feelings. No one will deny that religion should purify our most secret thoughts and feelings. No one will deny that our most secluded meditations should flow in a purified channel, should be unstained with improper desires, aud aversions, and that our inmost feelings should be hallowed by an abiding sense of our responsibility, and of our constant exposure to the inspection of an omniscient God. The same is true of what should be the cast of our familiar conversation, for this is a sure index of our prevailing dispositions. Like the countenance, it will speak the language of the heart. When, for example, I meet with a person who is forever complaining of the troubles and vexations of life, I am apt to suspect that he has not yet learned to be habitually resigned to the allotments of Providence. Or if he is incessantly talking of the trivial occurrences of the day. and that with thegid.
dy spirit of a mere man of the world, or if he makes it the great employment of his social hours to exhibit the foibles and faults of his friends, or if he is constantly dropping his cold, unfeeling sarcasms, and giving a sombre tinge to every object which falls in his way, or if he enjoys nothing but the keen spirit of disputation, I am apt to suspect that religion has not wrought powerfully on his heart. The beauty of the consistent christian character is not marred by such blemishes. I would not imply by such remarks however, that our conversation is always to turn on religious topics. There are certain persons, who seem to think that almost every thing short of revivals of religion, of convictions and conversions, of missionary societies and good preachers, is a sort of profanation. One would conclude from the tone of their remarks, that religion, in their estimation, is but little more than a kind of process for making a christian, and not a permanent conformity of the heart and life to the will of God. We hear enough of his awful despairings of salvation, of his burning zeal for the conversion of sinners, and of his willingness even to die in the cause of his master, and all this is commendable; but how seldom do we hear that he bears around with him a softened heart, a heavenly frame of mind, a lovely exemplification of the christian character. How seldom do such persons speak of that deep and almost overwhelming sense of a present God—how seldom of that perfect singleness of mind, that all pervading influence which exalts and purifies and sweetens the affections—how seldom of a high and holy elevation of purpose, that living daily and hourly with an eye fixed on duty—how seldom of meekness and gentleness of demeanour, and of a diffusive good will--how seldom of contentment and satisfaction amid all the disadvantages of our individual condition, and of that gratitude, which, is contiually sending up a holy incense to Heaven for the daily and hourly enjoyments
of life—how seldom of that benevolence, which shines as steadily as the sun in the firmament, and warms and enlivens every object which falls under its influence—how seldom of a disposition to put a favourable construction on the motives and character of
,-our fellow beings—how seldom of that
setting a pure example, which draws within its influence those who have hearts to be touched with the love of moral beauty, and which repels the abandoned sinner from its presence, and fills him with shame and anguish in view of his own character—how seldom in fine, do we hear of aspirations after high attainments in holiness, triumph over the most powerful temptations, and labour after conformity to the holy image of his master and his God. It is not enough that we occasionally form a magnanimous resolution, and under the cover of this mantle of charity, pursue our daily employment without any further trouble about the motives of our conduct. Many seem to suppose there is a sort of sanctifying influence surrounding every good motive, and spreading over a wide extent of moral conduct. Thus if I reresolve at the beginning of the week, to pursue a course of conduct to the end of it, which will best promote the good of those with whom I am connected, and redound the most to the glory of God, and if my conduct actually corresponds to the resolution; it would be supposed, let the daily and hourly intervening motives be what they may, that my life is adorning my christian profession. But this wide spreading, sanctisying influence of occasional resolutions is difficult of comprehension. Put them down for what they are worth, but give them credit for no more. For my part, I know of nothing satisfactory to a conscience enlightened by revelation, in our daily, nay in our hourly conduct, which does not spring immediately from a holy motive. The christian is not to be borne along in his course through life, by a gale which now blows and now dies away, nor is he to float indolently along on the tide of habit, nor yield to the impression of every surrounding object. He is to be under the constant guidance of a holy sense of duty. This should operate as steady and as uniformly as an unchanging law of nature. It is this which should give life and energy to his whole moral constitution, which should vivify every portion of his soul, and convert the slightest act of his life into holiness. It should bend to its plastic influence the strength of his animal feelings; it should subdue and chasten his rebellious passion ; it should open a never failing fountain in his soul, of streams which will gladden the surrounding community, and spread a moral verdure over the whole sphere of his action. Nay it should send life into the intellect, and bend its sturdiest powers to the accomplishment of good purposes. The imagination too, should stoop to this controlling influence, and every other power, speculative as well as active, should submit to its sovereign sway. A mind thus regulated—a heart thus exalted and thus purified, will move in an elevated sphere, and in its pilgrimage on earth, drink in largely of the spirit of heaven. This is not morality, it is religion. The difference hetween morality and religion is this—the former dispenses with motives, the latter assigns to motives their essential importance. Two persons may perform precisely the same external acts, and continue to do it for a great length of time, and yet the one may be a cold hearted sinner and the other an excellent christian, and thereason is, that what the former does from a regard to his own interest, the latter does because his duty and the will of God require it. You may display before us a long life of common honesty, of common decency, and of common humanity, and yet if religious motives be wanting, it is but dross in the sight of God. Purity of motive would convert it into gold. It would breath life into mere morality, and turn what had else been a rou
tine of worthless performances, into the beauty of holiness. How sad the reflection that a life actually spent in doing good, but from wrong motives, should thus be thrown away, while a heart filled with the love of God and of man, would have saved every portion of it and given it an immense moral value. Would we be blessed with a purity of heart, we must pray to God for the purifying and sanctifying influence of his spirit. We must pray for strength to withstand temptation, for a blessing on our afflictions, and every trial; we must pray for grace to quicken and animate us in our aspirings after higher attainments in christian excellence. In all our prayers however, it should be remembered, that unless we have shewn ourselves disposed to use the grace already imparted to us, aud unless we ask for more because what has already been granted, if we may so speak, has been applied to good purposes, we shall in vain hope to receive. A soul which neglects the gifts of God, which have flowed in upon it, cannot feel the want of more, and without this sense of want no prayer was ever made with sincerity and earnestness. Let the christian then look back on his past life and ask himself, have I availed myself as 1 ought of the means of grace? have I struggled with temptation and mortified my lusts P have I subjected my mind to the influence of truth, and found by experience that it is the power of God to salvation ? have I aimed at high attainments in holiness, and pressed towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus 2 have I habitually retired from the glare aud bustle of the world,to commune with my own heart; to fix a steady eye on my sins ; and have I felt, habitually felt, an ingeuuous sorrow; and when I have prayed for forgiveness, have Isincerely and deeply felt my need of it P Has the burden of my transgression come over my soul with an almost overwhelming weight, and has it called forth the secret tear, and shed a sadness over
my hopes and my joys If a man has never known the bitterness of a really peniteht heart, if he has never struggled to be delivered from his corruptions, to throw off all deadly sluggishness, and to mount up with wings, as eagles above the vanities and grossness of the world, to inhale a purer atmosphere, how can he expect to draw from heaven a new blessing, and hope for that purification of the heart and the life, which alas, he might already have attained had he not been disposed to slight the gifts of God, and grieve the Holy Spirit. Among the subordinate means of grace by which our good purposes may be strengthened, and our hearts made better, the writer has been accustomed to set a high value on religious biography. The lives of men of distinguished piety—of men whose hearts were pure and whose lives exhibited a lovely picture of genuine goodness, shew what high attainments we may make ourselves. They shew us the powerful, transforming influence of religion on the heart— how it will kindle a holy love to God and to man—how it will lift the soul above the vexations of life, and shed over it the serenity and purity of heaven—how it will nerve the arm of practical goodness, and convert the whole life into a series of beneficent actions. We read and admire, and if our hearts are so softened by religious influence as to be susceptible of such impressions, we can hardly fail to catch a portion of the spirit which breathes in the page before us, and to feel a warm tide of holy resolutions and of aspirations after higher attainments. There is withal, a soothing influence spread over the mind which is highly favorable to religious impressions. Our anxieties are hushed, and a train of calm emotions finds its way through the soul. We love the character which presents so mild and heavenly an aspect, and we seem willing to forfeit all that we possess, could we be moulded into the same frame of temper ourselves. Many Christians are little aware how much their christian character
is to be perfected, under God, by the diligent cultivation of purity of mind. It belongs to us to regulate our own habits of thought and association, and if these are permitted to run uncontrolled, they will inevitably catch a stain from those impurities of the world, which would sully the soul of the best Christian. It is observed by a celebrated divine that “perhaps every man living has a particular train of thoughts, into which his mind falls when at leisure from the impressions and ideas that occasionally excite it; perhaps also the train of thought here spoken of, more than any other, determines the character. It is of the utmost consequence therefore that this property of our constitution be well regulated.” He then goes on to observe that “in a moral view, I shall not, I believe, be contradicted when I say, that if one train of thinking be more desirable than another, it is that which regards the phenomena of nature, with a constant reference to a Supreme intelligent Author.” This must be admitted to be a happy thought. In our leisure moments we are frequently walking amid the works of God, and how easy it must be, it would seem, thus to form a habit of association, which would, as it were, connect the heavens and the earth. The agency of God appears in every surrounding object. It spreads the beauties of the landscape; it lifts the mountain and precipitates the torrent; it gathers the storm and darts the lightning; it unfolds the mild splendors of the evening firmament; it wakes the song of the feathered tribe; it clothes this enchanting season of the year in verdure, and makes the heavens and the earth rejoice together in the resuscitation of vegetable life; it sends forth the herd to enjoy their repast upon the hills; it calls forth man from his winter retreat to the cultivation of the earth, and spreads around him the overflowing bounties of heaven. Every object which meets the eye thus leads to profitable contemplation. Here them is another purisying influence of which the Christian should avail himself, and one which is equally delightful and profitable. The pleasures of taste may mingle with the pleasures of religion, and while the taste itself is elevated and refined, the heart is softened and brought nearer to God. There is a sort of sympathy established between the mind and external nature. By accustoming ourselves to dwell on the cheerful scenes around us, a sort of kindred spirit attaches itself to the soul. We insensibly gather up the lineaments of surrounding objects, and impress them on our own minds. If the dark side of things is most likely to attract our notice, we contract a peewishness of temper, and a dissatisfaction with our allotments in life.— The fairest flower is made to distil, not honey but poison; and the loveliest disposition may thus become vitiated. But reverse the object, and make us familiar with its brighter side, and we gather beauty and sweetness from its charms. A mildness and a cheerful serenity of temper steal upon us, and we imbibe a tone of character extremely friendly to moral and religious improvement. Thus the person who delights to wander amid the lovelier scenes of nature, and as the silence of the evening approaches, and the mild glories of the sky begin to display themselves, walks out to participate in the sweet serenity of the scene, as he dwells on the enchantments around him, is insensibly borne above to the holy habitation of that glorious intelligence which unfolds the scene and kindles all its beauties. A mind which is habituated to such contemplations, is in a much fitter state to receive moral and religious imprestions, than the cold earth-born spirit of one who is touched by no exhibitions of beauty or sublimity, however striking; so that while we are accustoming ourselves to dwell on the beauties of nature, we are not only gathering a rich harvest of religious impressions, but are rendering our hearts more susceptible of all that is levely and good. Q. X.
This text is a part of the message, which God, by his own mouth, delivered to Israel from the midst of the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai. It comprises the reasons, which he was pleased to annex to the second commandment in the decalogue. As a God highly concerned for his own honour, he utters, in this commandent, his eternal prohibition of all idolatry. Every approach to this sin, he considers as an overt act of rebellion against him. And he declares it as his purpose, that his indignation shall follow, to future generations, those who by this or any other sin, shall commit iniquity; and that his mercy shall be extended in the same manner, to those who love him and delight in his statutes. The text plainly contains this proposition, that God deals with children in some sense, according to the character of their parents. By the expressions, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments,” we must understand, that children, are in some way, so connected with their parents that they are involved in the judgements which God dispenses to men. But by these expressions we are not to understand, that children shall, in all cases, sustain the same moral character with their parents. There is a sense, it is true, in which parents and their children sustain an identity of moral character. By nature, all, both parents and children are sinners. But this is rather the effect of the original apostasy, and the divine constitution with reference to the continued derivation of sin,