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hope, but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? but if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” The first infirmity, therefore, which religion has to conquer within us, is that which binds down our attention to the things which we see. The natural man is immersed in sense : nothing takes hold of his mind but what applies immediately to his sense: but this disposition will not do for religion: the religious character is founded in hope, as contradistinguished from experience, in perceiving by the mind what is not perceived by the eye: unless a man can do this, he cannot be religious : and with many it is a great difficulty. This power of hope, which, as Saint Paul observes of it, is that which places the invisible world before our view, is specifically described in Scripture, as amongst the gifts of the Spirit, the natural man standing indeed much in need of it, being altogether of an opposite tendency. Hear Saint Paul's prayer for his Roman converts :
“ The God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Again, to the Galatians, how does he describe the state of mind of a Christian? through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
Again ; another impediment to the thought of religion is the faculty and the habit we have acquired of regarding its concerns as at a distance. A child is affected by nothing but what is present, and many thousands in this respect continue children all their lives. In a degree this weakness cleaves to us all; produces upon us the same effect under a different form; namely, in this way, when we find ourselves necessarily disturbed by near or approaching evil, we have the means of forgetting the nearness or the ap
proach of that which must bring with it the greatest evil or the greatest good we are capable of, our change at death. Though we cannot exactly offer any arguments to show that it is either certainly or probably at a distance, yet we have the means of regarding it in our minds as though it were at a distance; and this even in cases in which it cannot possibly be so. Do we prepare for it? no: why? because we regard it in our imaginations as at a distance; we cannot prove that it is at a distance; nay, the contrary may be proved against us : but still we regard it so in our imaginations, and regard it so practically ; for imagination is with most men the practical principle. But, however strong and general this delusion be, has it any foundation in reason ? Can that be thought at a distance which may come to-morrow, which must come in a few years? In a very few years to most of us, in a few
years to all, it will be fixed and decided, whether we are to be in heaven or hell ; yet we go on without thinking of it, without preparing for it: and it is exceedingly observable, that it is only in religion we thus put away the thought from us. In the settlement of our worldly affairs after our deaths, which exactly depend upon the same event, commence at the same time, are equally distant, if either were distant, equally liable to uncertainty, as to when the disposition will take place; in these, I say, men are not usually negligent, or think that by reason of its distance it can be neglected, or by reason of the uncertainty when it may happen, left unprovided for. This is a flagrant inconsistency, and proves decisively that religion possesses a small portion of our concern, in proportion with what it ought to do. For instead of giving to it that superiority which is due to immortal concerns, above those which are transitory, perishable, and perishing, it is not even put upon an equal
ity with them; nor with those which, in respect to time, and the uncertainty of time, are under the same circumstances with itself.
Thirdly; the spiritual character of religion is another great impediment to its entering our thoughts. All religion, which is effectual, is and must be spiritual. Offices and ordinances are the handmaids and instruments of the spiritual religion, calculated to generate, to promote, to maintain, to uphold it in the heart, but the thing itself is purely spiritual. Now the flesh weigheth down the spirit, as with a load and burden. It is difficult to rouse the human constitution to a sense and perception of what is purely spiritual. They who are addicted, not only to vice, but to gratifications and pleasures ; they who know no other rule than to go with the crowd in their career of dissipation and amusement; they whose attentions are all fixed and engrossed by business, whose minds from morning to night are counting and computing; the weak, and foolish, and stupid ; lastly, which comprehends a class of mankind deplorably numerous, the indolent and slothful ; none of these can bring themselves to meditate upon religion. The last class slumber over its interests and concerns ; perhaps they cannot be said to forget it absolutely, but they slumber over the subject, in which state nothing as to their salvation gets done, no decision, no practice. There are, therefore, we see, various obstacles and infirmities in our constitutions, which obstruct the reception of religious ideas in our mind, still more such a voluntary entertainment of them as may bring forth fruit. It ought, therefore, to be our constant prayer to God, that he will open our hearts to the influence of his word, by which is meant that he will so quicken and actuate the sensibility and vigour of our minds, as to enable us to attend to the things which really and truly belong to our peace.
So soon as religion gains that hold and that possession of the heart, which it must do to become the means of our salvation, things change within us, as in many other respects, so especially in this. We think a great deal more frequently about it, we think of it for a longer continuance, and our thoughts of it have much more of vivacity and impressiveness. First, we begin to think of religion more frequently than we did. Heretofore we never thought of it at all, except when some melancholy. incident had sunk our spirits, or had terrified our apprehensions; it was either from lowness or from fright that we thought of religion at all. Whilst things went smoothly and prosperously and gaily with us, whilst all was well and safe in our health and circumstances, religion was the last thing we wished to turn our minds to: we did not want to have our pleasure disturbed by it. But it is not so with us now: there is a change in our minds in this respect. It enters our thoughts very often, both by day and by night, “Have I not remembered thee in my bed, and thought upon thee when I was waking?" This change is one of the prognostications of the religious principle forming within us. Secondly, these thoughts settle themselves upon our minds. They were formerly fleeting and transitory, as the cloud which passes along the sky; and they were so for two reasons ; first, they found no congenial temper and disposition to rest upon, no seriousness, no posture of mind proper for their reception; and, secondly, because we, of our own accord, by a positive exertion and endeavour of our will, put them away from us; we disliked their presence, we rejected and cast them out. But it is not so now; we entertain and retain religious meditations, as being, in fact, those which concern us most deeply. I do not speak of the solid comfort which is to be found in them, because that belongs to a more advanced state of Christian life than I am now considering: that will come afterward; and, when it does come, will form the support, and consolation, and happiness of our lives. But whilst the religious principle is forming, at least during the first steps of that formation, we are induced to think about religion chiefly from a sense of its vast consequences; and this reason is enough to make wise men think about it both long and closely. Lastly, our religious thoughts come to have a vivacity and impressiveness in them which they had not hitherto: that is to say, they interest us much more than they did. There is a wonderful difference in the light in which we see the same thing, in the force and strength with which it rises up before our view, in the degree with
, which we are affected by it. This difference is experienced in no one thing more than in religion, not only between different persons, but by the same person at different times, the same person in different stages of the Christian progress, the same person under different measures of divine grace.
Finally, would we know whether we have made, or are making, any advances in Christianity or not? These are the marks which will tell us. Do we think more frequently about religion than we used to do? Do we cherish and entertain these thoughts for a longer continuance than we did ? Do they interest us more than formerly? Do they impress us more, do they strike us more forcibly, do they sink deeper? If we perceive this, then we perceive a change, upon which we may ground good hopes and expectations ; if we perceive it not, we have cause for very afflicting apprehensions, that the power of religion hath not yet visited us; cause for deep and earnest intercession with God for the much wanted succour of his Holy Spirit.