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be Christians in good earnest. And thus will they happily escape the disgrace of an irresolved and indolent faith ; which involves thein in much of the guilt, and in almost all the mischiefs, of infidelity. But,
2. There are those who have not a doubt about the truth of Christianity, and yet, through a certain LEVITY OF MIND, derive but little benefit from their conviction.
This spiritual vice is, perhaps, the commonest of all others; and, though it seems to have something prodigious in it, is easily accounted for from the intoxication of health, youth, and high spirits; from the restless pursuit of pleasure, which occupies one part of the world, and of business, which distracts another; from a too passionate love of society in many; from feverish habits of dissipation in more; and from a fatal impatience of solitude and recollection in almost all.
But, by whichsoever of these causes the vice of inconsideration, we have now before us, is produced and nourished, it is of the most malignant sort, and being ready to branch out into many others, should be resolutely checked and suppressed. Though there be nothing directly criminal in the pursuit which takes us from ourselves, it is always dangerous to lose sight of what we are, and whither we are going, and may be fatal. For, not to believe, and not to call to mind what we believe, is nearly the same thing. And when a temptation meets us thus unprepared, it wants no assistance from infidelity, but is secure of prevailing by its own strength, under cover of our inattention.
Such, I doubt not, is the sad experience of thousands, every day; while yet the misjudging world, that part of it, especially, whose interest it is to suppose that all men are equally destitute of religious principles, rashly conclude that there is no faith, where there is so much folly. “These hypocrites, say they, are convicted of the same unbelief, which they perpetually object to us." Alas, no : they are convicted of inconsequence, only.
Not that this consideration excuses their guilt: it even aggravates and inflames it. For, when one thing, only, is needful, and they know it to be so, not to retain a practical, an habitual sense of it, but to suffer every trifle to mislead, every sudden gust of passion to drive them from the hope and end of their calling, argues an extreme depravity of mind, and deserves a harsher name than we commonly give to this conduct.
And the proper
However, soften it to ourselves, as we will, under
fashionable denomination, the spirit must be cured of this vice, or the promises of the Gospel are lost upon us. remedy is but one. We must resolve, at all events, to acquire the contrary habit of consideration. We must meditate much and often on what we believe: we must force our minds to dwell upon it: we inust converse more with ourselves, low bad company soever we take that to be, and less with the world, which so easily dissipates our thoughts, and oversets our best resolutions.
If we would but every day set apart a small portion of our time, were it but a few minutes, to supplicate the grace of God, and to say seriously to ourselves; I believe the promises, and I acknowledge the authority of the gospel; (and less than this, who can think excusable in any man, whatever his condition of life may be, that calls himself a Christian?) this short and easy discipline, regularly pursued, and, on no pretence whatever, intermitted, would presently effect the cure we so much want, and restore the sickly mind to its health and vigour.
3. Still, there may be a general belief in the promises of the Gospel, and a good degree of attention to them, and yet men may be but little impressed by what they thus believe and consider. This affection of the mind is sometimes experienced, but has hardly acquired a distinct name. Let us call it, if you please, à DEADNESS, or INSENSIBILITY OF HEART; which, so far as it proceeds from natural constitution, is a misfortune only; but, when cherished or even neglected by us, it becomes a fault.
The danger of it lies here, lest by seeing with indifference the most important objects of our hopes and fears, we come by degrees to neglect or overlook them; to question, perhaps, the reality of them; or, to lose, however, the
nefit which even a calm view of these objects, when frequently set before the mind, must needs convey to us.
The rule in this case plainly is, To prescribe to ourselves such a regimen as is proper to correct this spiritual lethargy: that is, to stimulate the sluggish mind by the most poignant reflexions; to bring the objects of our faith as near and close to us as we can; to paint them in the liveliest colours of the imagination, which, when touched itself, easily sets fire to the affections; and, above all, to keep our eye intently and steadily upon them.
We may see the utility of this regimen, in a case which is familiar to every body.
When we look forward to the end of life, it appears at a vast distance. The many, or the few years, that lie before us, take up a great deal of room in the mind, and present the idea of a long, and almost interminable duration. Hence the fatal security in which we most of us live, as conceiving that, when so much time is on our hands, we need not be sollicitous to make the most of it.
But that all this is a mere delusion, we may see by looking back on the time that is already elapsed. We have lived in this world, twenty, forty, it may be, many more years: yet, in reflecting on this space, we find it just nothing: the several parts of it run together in the mind, and the first moment of our existence seems almost to touch upon the present. Now, by anticipating this experience, and applying it to the remaining period of our lives,