« PreviousContinue »
There is also a concern for the virtue of those over whom, or with whom, we can have any sort of influence, which is a natural concomitant of a radical concern for virtue in ourselves.
But, above all, it is undoubtedly in every person's power, whether poor or rich, weak or strong, ill or well, endowed by nature or education ; it is, I
in every person's power to avoid sin : if he can do little good, to take care that he do no ill.
Although, therefore, there be no person in the world so circumstanced, but who both can and will testify his inward principle by his outward behaviour, in one shape or other ; yet, on account of the very great difference of those circumstances in which men are placed, and to which their outward exertions are subjected, outward behaviour is not always a just measure of inward principle.
But there is a second case, and that but too common, in which outward behaviour is no measure of religious principle at all: and that is, when it springs from other and different motives and reasons from those which religion presents. A very bad man may be externally good: a man completely irreligious at the heart may, for the sake of character, for the advantage of having a good character, for the sake of decency, for the sake of being trusted and respected and well spoken of, from a love of praise and commendation, from a view of carrying his schemes and designs in the world, or of raising himself by strength of character, or at least from a fear lest a tainted character should be an obstacle to his advancement. From these and a thousand such sort of considerations, which might be reckoned up,—and with which it is evident that religion hath no concern or connexion whatever,-men may be both active and forward and liberal in doing good; and exceedingly cautious of giving offence by doing evil; and this may be, either wholly or in part, the case with ourselves.
In judging, therefore, and examining ourselves, with a view of knowing the real condition of our souls, the real state and the truth of our spiritual situation in respect to God, and in respect to salvation, it is neither enough, nor is it safe, to look only to our external conduct.
I do not speak in any manner of judging of other men; if that were necessary at all, which, with a view to religion, it never is, different rules must be laid down for it. I now only speak of that which is necessary, and most absolutely so, in judging rightly of ourselves. To our hearts, therefore, we must look for the marks and tokens of salvation, for the evidence of being in the right way. “That on the good ground are they, who in an honest and good heart bring forth fruit with patience."
One of these marks, and that no slight one, is seri. ousness of the heart. I can have no hope at all of a man who does not find himself serious in religious matters, serious at the heart. If the judgment of Al. mighty God, at the last day; if the difference between being saved and being lost, being accepted in the beloved, and being cast forth into outer darkness; being bid by a tremendous word either to enter into the joy of our Father, or to go into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for all who have served him and not God; if these things do not make us serious, then it is most certain, either that we do not believe them, or that we have not yet thought of them at all, or that we have positively broken off thinking of them, have turned away from the subject, have refused to let it enter, have shut our minds against it; or, lastly, that such a levity of mind is our character, as nothing whatever can make any serious impression upon. In
any of these cases our condition is deplorable ; we cannot look for salvation from Chist's religion under any of them. Do we want seriousness concerning religion, because we do not believe in it? we cannot expect salvation from a religion which we reject. What the root of unbelief in us may be, how far voluntary and avoidable, how far involuntary and unavoidable, God knows, and God only knows : and, therefore, he will in his mercy treat us as he thinketh fit, but we have not the religion to rely upon, to found our hopes upon ; we cannot, as I say again, expect salvation from a religion which we reject.
If the second case be ours, namely, that we have not yet thought of these things, and therefore it is that we are not serious about them, it is high time with every one, that he do think of them. These great events are not at a distance from us; they approach to every one of us with the end of our lives; they are the same, to all intents and purposes, as if they took place at our deaths: it is ordained for men once to die, and after that, judgment. Wherefore it is folly in any man or woman whatever, in anything above a child, to say they have not thought of religion; how know they that they will be permitted to think of it at all? it is worse than folly, it is high presumption. It is an answer one sometimes receives, but it is a foolish'answer. Religion can do no good, till it sinks into the thoughts. Commune with thyself and be still. Can any health or strength or youth, any vivacity of spirits, any crowd or hurry of business, much less any course of pleasures, be an excuse for not thinking about religion? Is it of importance only to the old and infirm and dying to be saved ? is it not of the same importance to the young and strong? can they be saved without religion? or can religion save them without thinking about it?
If, thirdly, such a levity of mind be our character as nothing can make an impression upon, this levity must be cured, before ever we can draw near unto God. Surely human life wants not materials and occasions for the remedying of this great infirmity. Have we met with no troubles to bring us to ourselves ? no disasters in our affairs ? no losses in our families ? no strokes of misfortune or affliction ? no visitations in our health ? no warnings in our constitution ? If none of these things have befallen us, and it is for that reason that we continue to want seriousness and solidity of character, then it shows how
, necessary these things are for our real interest and for our real happiness; we are examples how little mankind can do without them; and that a state of unclouded pleasure and prosperity is of all others the most unfit for man. It generates the precise evil we complain of, a giddiness and levity of temper upon which religion cannot act. It indisposes a man for weighty and momentous concerns of any kind; but it most fatally disqualifies him for the concerns of religion. That is its worst consequence, though others
be bad. I believe, therefore, first, that there is such a thing as a levity of thought and character, upon which religion has no effect.
I believe, secondly, that this is greatly cherished by health and pleasures and prosperity and gay society. I believe, thirdly, that whenever this is the case, these things, which are accounted such blessings, which men covet and envy, are, in truth, deep and heavy calamities. For, lastly, I believe that this levity must be changed into seriousness before the mind infected with it can come unto God; and, most assuredly true it is, that we cannot come to happiness in the next world, unless we come to God in this.
I repeat again, therefore, that we must look to our
may be bad.
hearts for our character; not simply or solely to our actions, which may be and will be of a mixed nature, but to the internal state of our disposition. That is the place in which religion dwells : in that it consists. And I also repeat that one of these internal marks of a right disposition of an honest and good heart, as relative to religion, is seriousness. There can be no true religion without it; and, farther, a mark and test of a growing religion is a growing seriousness ; so that when, instead of seeing these things at a distance, we begin to look near upon them ; when, from faint, they become distinct; when, instead of now and then perceiving a slight sense of these matters, a hasty passage of them, as it were, through the thoughts, they begin to rest and settle there ; in a word, when we become serious about religion, then, and not till then, may we hope that things are going on right within us : that the soil is prepared: the seed sown.
Its future growth and maturity and fruit may not yet be known, but the seed is sown in the heart: and in a serious heart it will not be sown in vain ; in a heart not yet become serious, it may.
Religious seriousness is not churlishness, is not severity, is not gloominess, is not. melancholy : but it is nevertheless a disposition of mind, and, like every disposition, it will show itself one way or other. It will, in the first place, neither invite nor entertain nor encourage anything which has a tendency to turn religion into ridicule. It is not in the nature of things that a serious mind should find delight or amusement in so doing; it is not in the nature of things that it should not feel an inward pain and reluctance whenever it is done. Therefore, if we are capable of being pleased with hearing religion treated or talked of with levity, made, in any manner whatever, an object of sport and jesting ; if we are capable