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I SHALL only warn you farther against the extreme of engaging in a course of life too busy and hurried, or of devoting yourselves to one too retired and unemployed. We are formed for a mixture of action, and retreat. Our connections with society, and the performance of duties which we owe to one another, necessarily engage us in active life. What we owe to ourselves requires occasional retirement. For he who lives always in the bustle of the world, cannot, it is to be feared, always preserve his virtue pure. Sentiments of piety will be deprived of that nourishment and support which they would derive from meditation and devotion. His temper will be often ruffled and disturbed. His passions will be kept too much on the stretch. From the contagious manners which every where abound, he will not be able to avoid contracting some dangerous infection.
-On the other hand, he who flies to total retreat, in order either to enjoy ease, or to escape from the temptations of the world, will often find disquiet meeting him in solitude, and the worst temptations arising from within himself. Unoccupied by active and honourable pursuits, unable to devote his whole time to improving thoughts, many an evil passion will start up and occupy the vacant hour. Sullenness and gloom will be in danger of overwhelming him. Peevish displeasure, and suspicions of mankind, are apt to persecute those who withdraw themselves altogether from the haunts of men. Steer therefore a middle course, between a life oppressed with business on the one hand, and burdened, for the burden is no less, with idleness on the other. Provide for yourselves matter of fair and honest pursuit, to afford a proper object to the active powers of the mind.
Temper business with serious meditation; and enliven retreat by returns of action and industry.
THUS, I have pointed out some of those extremes into which men are apt to run, by forsaking the line which religion and wisdom have drawn. Many more, I am sensible, might be suggested; for the field is wide, and hardly is there any appearance of piety, virtue, or good conduct, but what the folly of men is apt to push into undue excess, on one or other side. What I have mentioned, will be sufficient to show the necessity of prudent circumspection, in order to escape the dangers which beset us in this state of trial. Let us study to attain a regular, uniform, consistent character; where nothing that is excessive or disproportioned shall come forward to view; which shall not plume itself with a fair show on one side only, while in other quarters it remains unadorned and blemished; but where the different parts of worth and goodness shall appear united, and each shall exert its proper influence on conduct. Thus, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, weshall, as far as our frailty permits, approach to the perfection of the human character; and shall have reason not to be ashamed when we have equal respect to all God's commandments.
On SCOFFING at RELIGION.
2 PETER, iii. 3.
-There shall come in the last days scoffers.
AS S the Christian religion is adverse to the inclinations and passions of the corrupted part of mankind, it has been its fate, in every age, to encounter the opposition of various foes. Sometimes, it has undergone the storms of violence and persecution. Sometimes, it has been attacked by the arms of false reasoning and sophistry. When these have failed of success, it has at other times been exposed to the scoffs of the petulant. Men of light and frivolous minds, who had no comprehension of thought for discerning what is great, and no solidity of judgment for deciding on what is true, have taken upon them to treat religion with contempt, as if it were of no consequence to the world. They have affected to represent the whole of that venerable fabric which has so long commanded the respect of mankind, which for ages the learned have supported, and the wise have admired, as having no better foundation than the gloomy imagination of fanatics and visionaries. Of this character were those scoffers, predicted by the Apostle to arise in the last days; a prediction which we have seen too often fulfilled. As the false colours which such men throw on religion, are apt to impose on the weak and unwary, let us
now examine whether religion affords any just grounds for the contempt or ridicule of the scoffer. They must be either the doctrines or the precepts of religion, which he endeavours to hold forth to contempt.
THE doctrines of the Christian religion are rational and pure. All that it has revealed concerning the perfections of God, his moral government and laws, the destination of man, and the rewards and punishments of a future state, is perfectly consonant to the most enlightened reason. In some articles which transcend the limits of our present faculties, as in what relates to the essence of the Godhead, the fallen state of mankind, and their redemption by Jesus Christ, its doctrines may appear mysterious and dark. Against these the scoffer has often directed his attacks, as if whatever could not be explained by us, ought upon that account to be exploded as absurd.
It is unnecessary, to enter at present on any particular defence of these doctrines, as there is one observation, which, if duly weighed, is sufficient to silence the cavils of the scoffer. Is he not compelled to admit, that the whole system of nature around him is full of mystery? What reason, then, had he to suppose that the doctrine of revelation, proceeding from the same author, were to contain no mysterious obscurity? All that is requisite for the conduct of life, both in nature and in religion, Divine Wisdom has rendered obvious to all. As nature has afforded us sufficient information concerning what is necessary for our food, our accommodation, and our safety; so religion has plainly instructed us in our duty towards God and our neighbour. But as soon as we attempt
to rise towards objects that lie beyond our immediate sphere of action, our curiosity is checked; and darkness meets us on every side. What the essence is of those material bodies which we see and handle; how a seed grows up into a tree; how man is formed in the womb; or how the mind acts upon the body, after it is formed, are mysteries of which we can give no more account, than of the most obscure and difficult parts of revelation. We are obliged to admit the existence of the fact, though the explanation of it exceeds our faculties.
After the same manner in natural religion, questions arise concerning the creation of the world from nothing, the origin of evil under the government of a perfect Being, and the consistency of human liberty with Divine prescience, which are of as intricate nature, and of as difficult solution as any questions in Christian theology. We may plainly see, that we are not admitted into the secrets of Providence, any more than into the mysteries of the Godhead. In all his ways, the Almighty is a God that hideth himself. He maketh darkness his pavilion. He holdeth back the face of his throne; and spreadeth a thick cloud upon it. Instead of its being any objection to Revelation that some of its doctrines are mysterious, it would be much more strange and unaccountable, if no such doctrines were found in it. Had every thing in the Christian system been perfectly level to our capacities, this might rather have given ground to a suspicion of its not proceeding from God; since it would have been then so unlike to what we find both in the system of the universe, and in the system of natural religion. Whereas, according as matters now stand, the Gospel has the same features, the same general