« PreviousContinue »
his fellow-creatures; that he is taught the means of virtue; and inspired with the love of it;-he will save those who are interested in him from the pains of disappointed hopes, from the dreadful anticipation of his future disgrace and sufferings, from the prospect of his life spent in pleasures that poison his happiness, and vice that destroys his understanding, and deprives him of all that respectability which well employed talents would ensure, and of his death rendered terrible by the agonies of a guilty conscience. But if this should make those who have the care of the young, anxious for their own sakes to make them virtuous, much more, my young friends, are you interested to preserve yourselves from vice by means of religion, on account of your own welfare. There is nothing in religion which should repel you. Far from denying you enjoyments, it would lead you to greater happiness than you can otherwise obtain. It would save you from all the sufferings of anger and ill-temper; it would give you cheerfulness and ease of mind; it would make you pleasing to those whom you love; and it would gain for you the affection and favor of God, who is your Father. And consider how unhappy the neglect of religion will make you. You will be tormented by the violence of your passions; you will indulge in pleas ures that will eventually cause to you disease and pain and want; and if you should afterward endeavour to become virtuous, you will have to suffer the shame and humiliation of repentance; you will have to make far greater exertions than are now necessary, and will obtain much less present enjoyment in return. "Remember then your Creator in the days of your youth."
2. Religion will be not less useful to those of mature years, who are engaged in the business and cares of the world -who sustain the relations of citizens and masters of families. These seek for reputation, or wealth, or power. They may be governed in their conduct by the laws of their country, by the laws of honor, the customs of society-or by the rules of
religion. The three first are wholly insufficient to preserve them from many things which may embitter their own lives, and render those about them wretched. They enjoin no government of the heart, no attention to the wants and wishes of those who can return only their thanks and blessing, no self oblivion, or sacrifice of private advantage to the public good. They are all very incompetent to supply the place of religious principles. A portion of morality is essential to the existence of society, and perfect virtue would secure its best condition; yet there are many who seem in their intercourse with each other, to endeavour to do with as little as possible. All those vices whose bad effects upon their present condition are not so immediately apparent, are tolerated by them without condemnation; and the law of honor has given its sanction to some practices which are opposed and condemned as well by reason as revelation, and are in reality as hostile to happiness in this world, as they are to that character which is required for enjoyment in another. But religion on the contrary would regulate the heart and the affections, would teach us to consider ourselves as but individuals of the community, and to seek much of our own happiness in the welfare of the whole. The extensive influence of such sentiments would be most propitious to the production of harmony and good will, and would secure to us the purest joys that society can afford. It would free our domestic relations from the operation of all those sources of disquiet and trifling vexation, which often deeply and permanently affect their peace; and it would enable us to place such confidence in those who might conduct public affairs as we can now only imagine. Such a state of society would remove all the evils which we sustain in consequence of the corrupt passions and vicious indulgencies of those with whom we are connected; and in order to its existence, it is requisite that we ourselves as well as others should be holy and virtuous. Inasmuch as we pos
sess ne dispositions enjoined by religion, although others be destitute of them, we tend to produce this excellent harmony and love.
But religion is not recommended to us only by the advantages which it procures to us as members of society. It not only does not interfere at all with the honest pursuit of wealth, or honor, or power, but is often of the greatest assistance to men in their endeavours to obtain these objects. A man once detected in a fraudulent transaction is sure to be punished by the distrust of others, and by the inconvenience and loss which will be the consequence of it; but he who by his uniform conduct evinces that he has integrity, and who shows that it is founded on a principle that is invariable in its influence, which will allow no compromise of honesty for gain, that is, on a regard to the favor of God, and who has no inordinate desire of accumulating wealth, will most probably ensure to himself as much prosperity as his abilities admit. It is not said, that a man who is honest will certainly become rich; but that if he have equal advantages with one who is not so, it is much the most probable he will succeed better in his labors.
Nor does religion conduce less to a man's reputation in this world. For however much some may affect to deride its obligations, and exult in their freedom from its restraints, there is no character which receives more homage from mankind than that of the man who is truly and rationally religious. There is no character with which one can appear with more generous complacency before his fellow-men, and presume on their unreserved approbation and respect. Nor can greater weakness of mind be manifested than by an attempt to conceal one's religious feelings, than which no others can so ennoble a human being.
As to power, all such as is inconsistent with virtue, it must be vicious to seek, and if obtained is of worse than no value; to the attainment of any other, religion is no obstacle.
A large and important proportion of the power that men possess consists in the influence which they derive from their characters; and if, as has been said, religion renders a man more respectable, it assures to him also, in proportion to his talents, a greater share of power. Or if the religious man be entrusted with authority, its continuance is rendered more secure to him by the confidence which all must have in the goodness of his intentions. If then religion interfere with no pursuit by which happiness can be obtained, if it will assist usto procure those things of this world that are most desired, and enable us to possess them in peace of mind, and with the approbation of conscience is not religion worthy the attention of a man in the vigor of his life?
3. It will be necessary to make but few remarks to impress upon your minds the cold and comfortless condition of a man advanced in life who is without religion. It seems to have been agreed by universal consent, that in the decline of life the spirit and feelings of religion should have more exclusive possession of the mind, and be more fully expressed in the actions; and a profane, an immoral, or an irreligious old man is to thinking men of all classes an object of abhorrence. In the aged, the fire of youth is extinguished, the energy of manhood is gone, the senses are obtuse, the passions are at rest, and serenity, composure, and seriousness seem appropriate and decorous. The charms of vice are no longer visible; the objects which once drew his attention from serious subjects, now cease to interest; the friends who once cheered and consoled are now fast sinking into the grave; the scenes of past life are fading from the memory; and the world refuses its enjoyments to him who must so soon leave it. And if the departing recollection of joys that are gone does not leave behind it the anticipation of future happiness; if the affections have no objects but those in this world whose bonds are loosening and separating; if in debility which will
not be followed by strength, and in sickness which can never be removed, there is no hope in God, how cheerless must be the situation of decaying age. But from this picture, turn to see the aged Christian, whose life has been spent in imperfect but sincere endeavours to perform the will of God. This world and its pleasures are receding from his grasp; but his mind is illumined by the splendor and glory of that to which he is approaching. The departure of those who have been his companions in this life produces no feelings of loneliness or solitude, for God is his friend, and is ever with him. In his sickness and his pain he is consoled by the hope of the happiness which sickness and pain are every day bringing nearer. He is grateful for the enjoyments the world has afforded him ; he is contented in the prospect of leaving it; he sees the approach of death without dismay; and he expires perhaps with bodily suffering, but with joy in his heart.
We may see the sinner exulting in prosperity, and the virtuous man depressed and afflicted during life, and may be unable to discern the marks of retributory Providence; but we again observe them in the hour of death, and we no longer doubt; for there is no dispute whose condition is now to be preferred. On this subject the feelings of all men are the same; the good and the bad have no separate opinions. It was in the very act of disobeying the Almighty, that the exclamation was heard from Balaam-" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
I hope, my friends, that what has now been said will have some effect either to confirm, or to produce the belief, that religion is of great benefit to a man in this world. But I have been able to give but a very inadequate idea of this benefit, unless my remarks may have excited you to reflection. I have mentioned but few of the many circumstances in which it is apparent; and I trust there are many of you who have noticed the imperfectness of my enumeration, since I have said