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first moment; and for the sake of attending to which with more earnestness, they seceded from the church and meeting-house to the tabernacle. Their preachers, they found, were used to dwell upon that subject more than on any others; and with a degree of vehemence not usual or approved by men of more learning, moderation, and humility. They were caught by the sound, and taught to hate both the church and all regular ministers with a hatred truly unchristian. The church and the ministers, it seems, were not sufficiently holy for their purpose. The church and the ministers did not preach the gospel in its purity; and neither its doctrine or its discipline were sufficiently strict and severe.
The dissemination of such ideas may answer the ends of self-appointed leaders, who wish to increase their importance, by drawing a multitude after them. Accusation will generally be heard with attention. Pretension to superior holiness is one of the most successful means of deceit. The multitude are attracted by these, and a thousand other arts, co-operating with the natural tendency which they feel to superstition and fanaticism. They become self-tormenters; lose most of the comforts, and neglect many of the duties of life.
In the church, their favourite doctrine of grace ought to be inculcated in the manner which both reason, Scripture, and experience best approve; for the doctrine of grace is most fully declared to be the doctrine of the church of England; and if the ministers are reluctant to preach it in all its force, it is from a fear of falling into the sin and disgrace of over-much righteousness. It is the humble endeavour of my treatise on this subject, to stimulate preachers to enlarge on the doctrine of grace; and by those means to bring back the numerous sheep who have strayed from their flock. There is the sort of food in which the sheep will show that they delight, if the shepherds will but bring it forth; and indeed there is little doubt but that most of them do, on some occasions; but if the sheep hunger and thirst after more than they receive, the good shepherd will not fail to open all the stores with which the Scriptures abundantly supply him.
With respect to doctrine, the over-righteous Christian, as he is now called, will thus have no cause to complain of defect in the church; and with respect to moral discipline, it is very certain that self-denial, mortification, fasting, active beneficence, and all Christian perfection, is taught by the church and her ministers, with great force of argument and authority. Every Christian may carry the moral discipline of his religion to whatever lengths his conscience or inclination may urge him.
It must be confessed, that such is the moderation of the church and her pastors in the present age, that the duties which they teach are not urged with that unnatural rigour which precludes the rational enjoyment of life. It is a cheerful church, and for that reason the more estimable. It requires no excessive austerity. It aims at assisting poor erring mortals in overcoming their weakness and misery; but it does not add to them, by requiring the sacrifice of health, ease, peace, society, cheerfulness, and innocent gaiety. It does not condemn those, with whom it cannot agree in opinion, with uncharitable severity. It is gentle and candid; it is accommodated to such a creature as man, for ever aiming at good, but, from weakness, continually relapsing into some degree of evil. It does not, like the severe system of the over-righteous, inflame and aggravate the wounds of its patients, but, with lenient balsamics, assuages their anguish.'
And if the over-righteous object that regularlybred ministers want vehemence and earnestness, I affirm that the objection cannot be universally well-founded. Men, having various degrees of talents, and various degrees of sensibility, will have a correspondent variety in their modes of delivery. The lively by nature, with very little sense of religion, may be animated in their discourses; the dull by nature, with a meaning very honest and pious, will be poor orators. And it always happens, in a very large body of men, that some are idle and irreligious; though circumstances may have led them to assume a profession where carelessness and impiety are doubly culpable. But such is the present state of human nature. He who demands more perfection than experience has ever yet known, is unreasonable and overrighteous. If some men have less pretension and less vehemence than those who are called the over-righteous, they have probably less hypocrisy, less folly, and less spiritual arrogance. Over
! By the church I wish to be understood all those who are united to Christ by the Holy Ghost, wherever they dwell, and by whatever denomination they are distinguished. The world, in the scriptural sense, consists of all who are not so united.
righteousness, with all its pretensions to humility, is the parent as well as the child of pride.
After all, let us remember that there is an under-righteousness (if I may use the term) as well as an over-righteousness; and that mankind are much apter to err from defect than excess. While hypocrisy and fanaticism are avoided, let us not, in the present times, be alarmed at danger from excessive piety.
hteousness, fact than excesiet us not, as an apter to eFanatici
All extravagant and selfish Pretensions to the Spirit
to be anxiously avoided, as they proceed from and cherish Pride, and are frequently accompanied with Immorality.
OSTENTATIOUSLY to pretend to greater portions of the Spirit than others, is alone a very unfavourable symptom, as it is a presumptive proof of two wants, not compatible with the Spirit's benignant influence :—the want of humility, and the want of charity. It is no wonder, therefore, that those who have made such pretensions, have disgraced them by the wickedness of their lives; and have induced ill-judging men hastily to consider the whole doctrine of divine assistance as a mere delusion.
Hypocrites, in fanatical times, when the appearance of extraordinary piety was conducive to advancement in wealth and honours, were sure to go further in their pretensions, than the modesty of true professors could permit or excuse: but that deceitfulness of heart which produces hypocrisy, leads to all other bad conduct; and religion has been disgraced by the singular profligacy of ostentatious professors.
Knaves of the very worst kind, who have no other object than to avail themselves of the credulity of others, are likely at all times to put on a cloak and a mask, which may render them externally respectable, and facilitate their purposes of deceit. Nothing seduces the ignorant and unexperienced so easily as the appearance of extraordinary sanctity; and nothing has been more frequently assumed, for the accomplishment of ambitious and lucrative designs. When these designs have been accomplished, the cloak and the mask have been thrown aside, as useless incumbrances, and the villain has stood forth in his proper shape and colour.
Men of weak heads and warm hearts have proceeded to the most extravagant lengths in pretensions to sanctity; and at the same time, from the want of solid virtue, have fallen into deplorable sins. Their sins derived additional deformity in the eyes of the people, from the contrast of assumed sanctity; and the world was ready to exclaim that all religion must be vain, if, in men who display so much of it, it contributes so little to wisdom and virtue.
Great sinners, unwilling to tread the rugged