« AnteriorContinuar »
the first and fundamental principle of that religion : * Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.' Go now and let your whole heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, be engaged in pursuing your amusements, and promoting your pleasures, and then lay claim to the rewards of Christianity.
Happy will it be for you, if you can escape its punishments. The Gospel gives you no grounds to suppose that you shall. Though you bear no 'evil fruit,' yet if you bear no • good,' you are involved in the sentence of the fig-tree, 'Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?' To do nothing is in many cases to do a positive wrong; and as such, requires a positive punishment. To stand neuter in dangerous commotions of the state, the great Athenian lawgiver declared to be a crime against the state; and in like manner the great Christian lawgiver declares, 'he that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad.'
Christianity is throughout an active religion; it consists not only in 'abstaining from all appearance of evil;' but • in being ready to every good work;' and if we stop short at the first, we leave the better half of our business undone. Christ himself 'went about' continually • doing good;' and he has prescribed a variety of positive and practical dudes to his disciples, as the condition of their salvation; and pressed the performance of these duties upon them with an earnestness and a force of expression, that may well alarm the thoughtless and the gay, and make them reflect on the extreme danger of their situation. With regard to God, we are commanded 'to believe in him, to fear him, to love him, to worship him, to give him thanks always, to pray without ceasing, and watch thereunto with all perseverance.' With regard to our neighbour, we are ' to do good unto all men, to be rich in good works, to be kind and tender-hearted, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to remember them that are in bonds, to minister to the sick, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.' With regard to ourselves, we are enjoined, 'to be temperate in all things, to keep under our bodies, and bring them into subjection, to set our affections on things above, to watch and pray lest we enter into temptation, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to use all diligence to make our' calling and election sure.' Such and so various are the duties pressed upon us in every page of the Scriptures. And is this now a religion to be trifled with? Is it not enough to employ every moment we can spare from the indispensable duties of our station, and the necessary refreshments of nature; and how then can it be consistent with that incessant hurry and dissipation which, intent only on providing a succession of worthless amusements and ignoble gratifications, overlooks every obligation of a man and a Christian; and supposes that the whole business of life is not to employ time usefully, but to consume it insignificantly? Can these men seriously imagine, that they are all this time 'working out their salvation,' that they 'are pressing forward towards the mark for the prize of their highcalling,' that they are every day drawing nearer and nearer to immortal happiness, and that they shall share the crown of glory with them, who ' have borne the burthen and heat of the day?' Is eternal life so very small an object, so extremely cheap a purchase, as to require not the least pains to obtain it? Or is the situation of the rich man represented in Scripture to be so perfectly safe and secure, that while the rest of mankind are enduring afflictions, struggling with difficulties, subduing their passions, and 'working out their salvation with fear and trembling;' he, and he only, may neglect all these precautions; may give up his whole time and thoughts to dress, and magnificence, and diversion, and good cheer; may centre his whole care in his own dear person, and make it his sole study to gratify every wish of his heart; may leave his salvation to take care of itself, and, as if he had obtained a promise from Heaven in reversion, think of nothing but present felicity; and say within himself, 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry?' Be not deceived: this is not virtue; this is not religion; this is not Christianity. It is, on the contrary, that very temper of mind, that indolent, soft, luxurious dream of the soul, for which the rich man in the Gospel was condemned 'to lift up his eyes in torments;' and let those who dread his punishment, be warned by his example.
You, therefore, who are just setting out in life, full of those high spirits and gay imaginations, which youth, and rank, and affluence naturally inspire; beware of giving way to that feverish thirst of pleasure, to that frivolous turn of mind and levity of conduct, which will render all your great advantages useless, and totally defeat every grand purpose of your creation. Do not imagine that you were born to please yourselves only. Do not entertain that false, that destructive notion, that your wealth and time are all your own; that you may dispose of them exactly as you think fit, may lavish the whole of them on your own pleasures and amusements, without being accountable to any one for the application of them. There is One, most assuredly, who may, and who has declared that he will, call you to an account for the use of that leisure, and those riches, which he bestowed upon you for far other purposes than that mean, ignoble one of mere selfish gratification. There are duties of the last importance owing to your families, your friends, your country, your fellow-creatures, your Creator, your Redeemer, which you are bound under the most sacred ties to perform; and whatever calls off your attention from these, does from that moment cease to be innocent. Here then is the precise point, at which you ought to stop. You may be lovers of pleasure; it is natural, it is reasonable, for you to be so; but you must not be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.—This is the true line that separates harmess gaiety from criminal dissipation. It is a line drawn by the hand of God himself, and he will never suffer it to be passed with impunity. He claims, on the justest grounds, the first place in your hearts. His laws and precepts are to be the first object of your regard. And be assured, that by suffering them to be so, you will he no losers even in present felicity. It is a truth demonstrable by reason, and confirmed by invariable experience, that a perpetual round of fashionable gaiety is not the road to real substantial happiness. Ask those who have tried it, and they will all (if they are honest) with one voice declare that it is not. It is indeed, in the very nature of things, impossible that it should be so. This world is not calculated to afford, the human mind is not formed to bear, a constant succession of new and exquisite delights. To aim therefore at uninterrupted, unbounded gaiety, to make pleasure so necessary to your existence, that you cannot subsist one moment without it, is to convert every thing that is not absolute pleasure, into absolute pain, and to lay the foundation of certain misery. Diversions are of too thin and unsubstantial a nature to fill the whole capacity of a rational mind, or to satisfy the cravings of a soul formed for immortality. They must' they do, tire and disgust; you see it every day: you see men flying from one amusement to another; affecting to be happy, yet feeling themselves miserable; fatigued with pursuing their pleasures, yet uneasy without them: growing sick at last of them all, of themselves, and every thing around them; and compelled perhaps at last to have recourse to solitude, without the least provision made for it; without any fund of entertainment within to render it supportable. From this wretched state it is, that religion would preserve you; and the very worst you have to fear from it, is nothing more than such gentle restraints upon your gaiety, as tend to promote the very end you have in view, the true enjoyment even of the present life. Suffer it then to do you this kind office; and do not look on Christianity in that gloomy light, in which it sometimes perhaps appears to you. Far from being an enemy to cheerfulness, it is the truest friend to it. That sober and temperate use of diversions, which it allows and recommends, is the surest way to preserve their power to please, and your capacity to enjoy them. At the same time, though it forbids excess in our pleasures, yet it multiplies the number of them; and disposes the mind to receive entertainment from a variety of objects and pursuits, which to the gay part of mankind are absolutely flat and insipid. To a body in perfect health, the plainest food is relishing; and to a soul rightly harmonized by religion, every thing affords delight. Rural retirement, domestic tranquillity, friendly conversation, literary pursuits, philosophical enquiries, works of genius and imagination, nay, even the silent beauties of unadorned nature, a bright day, a still evening, a starry hemisphere, are sources of unadulterated pleasure, to those whose taste is not vitiated by criminal indulgences, or debased by trifling ones. And when from these you rise to the still more rational and manly delights of virtue; to that self-congratulation which springs up in the soul from the consciousness of having used your best endeavours to act up to the precepts of the Gospel; of having done your utmost, with the help of Divine Grace, to correct your infirmities, to subdue your passions, to improve your understandings, to exalt and purify your affections, to promote the welfare of all within your reach, to love and obey your Maker and your Redeemer; then is human happiness wound up to its utmost pitch, and this world has no higher gratifications to give.
Try, then, you who are in search of pleasures, try these among the rest; try, above all others, the pleasures of devotion. Think not that they are nothing more than the visions of a heated imagination. They are real, they are exquisite. They are what thousands have experienced, what thousands still experience, what you yourselves may experience if you please. Acquire only a taste for devotion (as you often do for other things of far less value) in the beginning of life, and it will be your support and comfort through the whole extent of it. It will raise you above all low cares, and little gratifications; it will give dignity and sublimity to your sentiments, inspire you with fortitude in danger, with patience in adversity, with moderation in prosperity, with alacrity in all your undertakings, with watchfulness over your own conduct, with benevolence to all mankind. It will be so far from throwing a damp on your other pleasures, that it will give new life and spirit to them, and make all nature look gay around you. It will be a fresh fund of cheerfulness in store for you, when the vivacity of youth begins to droop; and is the only thing that can fill up that void in the soul, which is left in it by every earthly enjoyment. It will not, like worldly pleasures, desert you when you have most need of consolation, in the hours of solitude, of sickness, of old age; but when once its holy flame is thoroughly lighted up in your breasts, instead of becoming more faint and languid as you advance in years, it will grow brighter and stronger every day; will glow with peculiar warmth and lustre, when your dissolution draws near; will disperse the gloom and horrors of a death-bed; will give you a foretaste, and render you worthy to partake, of that fulness of joy, those pure celestial pleasures, which are at' God's right hand for evermore.'