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SER MON XLVII.
PREACHED MARCH 29, 1779.
Prov. xvi. 6.
By the fear of the Lord, men depart from
ALL the authority of Solomon's name and wisdom will, I doubt, be no more than sufficient to procure respect to this observation ; which some may consider as a trite and vulgar truth, scarce deserving their regard; while others, perhaps, will not so much as allow it to be a truth at all, but indeed a vulgar mistake, arising out of the narrow views of ignorant or superficial declaimers. It may be slighted by one set of men, as conveying no information, and by another, as conveying a wrong one.
Let me attempt then to rescue the sacred text from both these imputations. Permit me to shew you, that the observation, it contains, is neither so generally received, as to make all further discourse about it frivolous and unnecessary; nor yet, on the other hand, of so questionable a nature, as to justify the scorn with which it is sometimes rejected.
1. To those, who are such fastidious hearers of the word, as to disregard an important truth, because repeatedly inforced upon them, I might reply that such truths can never be insisted upon too much, that our duty is to inculcate them, in season, and out of season.
But the fact is mistaken. We are so far from nauseating our hearers, with a too common and superfluous truth, when we remind them perpetually, that, by the fear of God, men depart from evil, that, on the contrary, very many want to be informed, or at least convinced, of it.
What the text affirms, is, that the fear of God, or the RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE, is the proper guide of life. But look now into the world, at large: there the acknowledged rule of life, is
Look into the civil or political
OF THE MAGISTRATE.
world: there the boasted rule of life, is the
Look into the learned world: there too commonly the only rule of life is each man's own reason, or what he proudly calls PHILOSOPHY.
And will it now be said that the fear of God, is a principle too stale and too unquestioned to be discoursed upon and recommended to you from this place, when we see so large and so considerable a part of the world actuated by one or other of these different and discordant principles ? But neither
II. Is the truth, though far enough from being generally received, so slightly grounded as to justify any man in the contempt of it.
It is a truth, taught of God, and revered by all wise men. It has nature, and reason, and experience on its side; and is only combated by the folly, the short-sighted policy, or lastly, the pride, of half-thinking and presumptuous
For to give, now, the goddess principles, I before mentioned, a short and separate examination.
1. Tell the man of the world, that the religious principle is that by which alone he ought to govern himself, and you are presently told of the power
and prerogatives of FASHION.
“ The fear of God, he will say, may be the proper rule of monks and hermits; but must be qualified, at least, in many respects, by such as live in the world and mix in the society of it. They who have to converse with mankind, are to accommodate themselves to their notions and practices: they are to think with the rest of the world, or at least they are to act wich them : they are to found their moral systems on the liberal and enlarged basis of approved use or custom. Their observation of human life must inform them of the ways that men take to conciliate the good will of their fellows, to prosecute their own advantages in the world, and to acquire the confidence and esteeni of that society, in which they are stationed. What they find to be the rule of others, must be a rule to themselves. To do otherwise is not weakness, only: It is, besides, arrogance, incivility, inhumanity.”
All this is thought plausible by some men ; and taken together, it must be owned, forms a very easy and commodious system : but how
consistent with conscience, with duty, and with common sense, they will do well to consider. For if fashion only be to regulate our conduct in all cases, I ask not what becomes of piety, but of humanity itself, I mean of those offices which we owe to others and to ourselves, and which reason dictates to us in
situation. Custom, you will say, is practical reason. But what! To be led blind-fold by the prevailing practice, whatever it be, what is it but to renounce our intelligent nature, and to live at hazard, and without reason? Further still: If it be sufficient to do as we see others creditably do, without examining any farther, we shall often find ourselves involved, I do not say in the most irrational, the most inconsistent, but the most horrid practices. Then, killing with malice and with forethought, if the point of honour prevail, will be no murder : And, adultery, if the law of politeness so ordain, shall hide its atrocious nature under the mask of gallantry: Then shall society at large become a scene of fraud and rapine; good faith, shall be termed simplicity, and fair dealing, folly.
Go now, and say that the fear of God is a needless restraint on free spirits; and count the advantages which ye have reason to promise to