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their intellectual powers to disprove the reality of moral obligation, and confound all distinction between virtue and vice. This abuse must have been distinctly foreseen by him who bestowed these powers. But is it rational hence to conclude, that mental powers are not the result of divine bounty, or that there is no God who presides over the world? If it is inconsistent with the wisdom and benevolence of God, to bestow on his creatures any thing liable to abuse, it is no less inconsistent to create rational beings; for they have the power of abusing their existence, and bringing on themselves consequent misery.
But if the doctrine of our text be true, and the Christian religion will to some, be the occasion of greater stupidity, vice, and punishment, you determine perhaps, to have no connexion with it ; you will rather take your trial on the ground of natural religion. This, however, it must be remembered, is not submitted to our election. We have already some knowledge of Christianity. Light has come into the world, even into that portion of it which we inhabit. The day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give us the knowledge of salvation. Our situation is hereby rendered essentially different from theirs, who pass their probation in the region and shadow of death. We cannot divest ourselves of that knowledge of duty, which we already possess. If we attempt this, and cautiously refrain from using those means of further instruction, which the benevolence of God has placed within our reach, that very neglect is criminal. This is the condemnation, saith Christ, that light has come into the world ; but men have loved darkness rather than light. We are bound not only to make a right use of present knowledge, but to improve the means and opportunities, which God allows, for the obtainment of more. We must be judged not as pagans, but as Christians; as those, who from their infancy have been acquainted with the great doctrines of religion which none of the princes of the world knew. Consider, I entreat you, what is implied in so extraordinary a choice as that now contemplated. You choose not to take upon you the responsibility, attached to the enjoyment of so copious light, as that of the Gospel. You do not wish for a religion which may eventually be to you the occasion of greater vice, and greater sufferings. On the same principle, you would not wish to become acquainted with any well written treatise
well written treatise on moral philosophy, even if it came from the pen of Seneca or Epictetus; for having read even these, you could not sin at so cheap a rate as before. On the same principle, you would not desire to be wellversed in natural philosophy; for as that teaches the wisdom and benevolence of God, it leaves your disobedience and impiety more criminal. On the same principle, you would not wish to possess great intellectual powers; for where much is given, much will be required. And to proceed but one step further, on the same principle, you would not wish to rank with intelligent beings, for all beings of this description may abuse their powers, and bring themselves to endless perdition.
Still perhaps the subject appears to you involved in a degree of mystery. Some we represent, as in danger of perishing through lack of knowledge; and others, of being blinded by the splendor and abundance of light. To this I answer, that neither knowledge nor ignorance, in itself considered, will be ruin to any individual. It is sin, and that only, which destroys the soul. All, having sinned, are exposed to the righteous displeasure of God. Repentance and amendment are the condition of receiving pardon. On this subject, the voice of reason and that of revelation are in perfect unison. But the voice of reason is low and indistinct ; that of revelation is loud and clear. The former, it is to be apprehended, is seldom or never heard amidst pagan darkness, depravity, and prejudice. The latter, we know in many instances is heard, and heard by divine grace in such manner as to convey life to the soul. The probability of salvation is therefore increased to those, who enjoy such a religion, as that of Christ. They are taught the true character of God, the nature of moral obligation, the impure and degraded state of man, and the method which God has provided for human recovery. There is the best conceivable reason then, why this knowledge should be desired, and why efforts should be made to introduce it among those who have it not. But are they to believe that such knowledge will of itself save them; or that it has any value at all, further than as it is connected with repentance and change of character? And if this repentance be not produced, must they not be told, that the punishment of heathens will be less severe than theirs ? To the impenitent there is no safety. Whether ignorant or well instructed, they must perish. But the design of Christianity is that men may not continue impenitent. These things are written, saith the evangelist, that ye might believe ; and that believing, ye might have life through his name.
Jesus Christ in our text, and on other occasions, foretold that while some would believe and obey his Gospel, others would make it the occasion of greater blindness and impiety. It hence follows, that the future condition of some will be rendered worse in consequence of that mild economy, which was designed for their salvation. This sentiment, you will observe, is not the result of any particular system of theology; it is the result of Christianity itself. In this sentiment at least, the disciples of Athanasius and Socinus, of Calvin and Arminius, are constrained to unite. Nay further, even if Christianity itself were not true, it would still be an immovable principle of natural religion, that “a man is accountable for what he hath, and not for what he hath not.” Through the ministry of God's word in this place, many it is hoped, who see not, will see : and some it is feared, who see, will be made blind. This latter, however, as has been shown, is not the object of Christianity, but the result of neglecting it. It will proceed from a free, but perverse choice, if all who are now Christians, should not be improved ; and if all who are now impenitent, should not become Christians. But such effects will not be produced without a general and sedulous attention on your part.
And now may God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shine into your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
THE YOUNG WARNED AND REPRO VED.
ECCLESIASTES 11: 9. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let
tby heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth ; and walk in the way of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
For a man to walk in the imagination of his heart, is the
same, in Scriptural style, as to discard all moral restraints, and to surrender himself to the guidance of his passions. Jeremiah, complaining of the false prophets, represents them as saying, “ to every one that walks after the imagination of his own heart, no evil shall come upon you.” The moral character of the persons here described cannot be mistaken. Moses says : Lest there be among you, man, woman, family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away from the Lord our God; and it come to pass, that while he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, and say, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst ; the Lord will not spare him ; but the anger of the Lord and bis jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book, shall lie upon him.
Such being the character, and such the divine estimation of those, who walk in the imagination of their hearts, when an inspired writer, in giving advice to a young man, tells him to “walk in the way of his heart and in the sight of his eyes,” we may safely conclude, that he speaks figuratively, and not with design, that the literal import of his words should be followed. It hence appears that the author of our text, in order that the truth, which he delivered, might come with more poignancy, spoke ironically, as did Micaiah, when he told Ahab to go up against Ramoth Gilead and prevail; as if he had said, “ seeing you are determined to engage in this fatal expedition ; go, and prepare to meet the result.”
Could the former part of the text be separated from the subsequent words; did it contain merely an exhortation to a life of gay festivity and sensual indulgence, unrestrained and undisturbed by the thoughts of religion ; did it say nothing of being, for all these things, brought into judgment; I appeal to some présent, whether they would not consider it, as the most acceptable text in the whole volume. Should you not exceedingly rejoice, at finding that the moral law was repealed; or, at having a proclamation from heaven, that henceforth your passions and desires should meet no restraints ?
For such persons the following discourse is peculiarly, though not exclusively, designed ; and, with the hope of exciting your attention, I would suggest to them the extent of the figure, employed in the text.
“ Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee, in the days of thy youth.” Exult in the vigor of your limbs, and your bodily strength and agility. Believe, that the firmness of your constitution is such, as to resist disorders, and defy dangers. Determine, that the season of youth shall not pass, without yielding you a full harvest of pleasure. Adopt, from an ancient sensualist, the following language : Come on, let us enjoy the good things, which are present, and let us speedily use the creatures in our youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments; and let no Power of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rose buds, before they are withered. Let none of us go without his part in voluptuousness; for this is our portion, and our lot is this.
"Walk in the way of your heart and in the sight of yonr eyes.” Speak of religion contemptuously, as an employment appropriate to those, whose intellects, either nature or long life