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TO THE YOUNGER PART OF THE CONGREGATION OF PROTESTANT DISSENTERS, AT MILL-HILL, IN LEEDS.
MY YOUNG FRIENDS,
T was on your account that I compofed thefe Inftitutes of natural and revealed religion, and to you I take the liberty to dedicate them.
It is the earnest wish of my heart, that your minds may be well established in the found principles of religious knowledge, because I am fully perfuaded, that nothing elfe can be a fufficient foundation of a virtuous and truly respectable conduct in life, or of good hope in death. A mind deftitute of knowledge (and, comparatively speaking, no kind of knowledge, befides that of religion, deferves the name) is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the ranker weeds it will produce, If nothing good be fown in it, it will be occupied by plants that are useless or noxious.
Thus, the mind of man can never be wholly barren. Through our whole lives we are fubject VOL. I.
to fucceffive impreffions; for, either new ideas are continually flowing in, or traces of the old ones are marked deeper. if, therefore, you be not acquiring good principles, be affured that you are acquiring bad ones; if you be not forming virtuous habits, you are, how infenfibly foever to yourfelves, forming vicious ones; and, inftead of becoming thofe amiable objects in yourselves, and thofe valuable members of fociety, which nature, and the God of nature intended that you should be, you will be at beft, ufel-fs cumberers of the ground, a dead weight upon the community, receiving fupport and advantage, but contributing nothing in return; or you will be the pefts of fociety, growing continually more corrupt yourselves, and contributing to the corruption of others.
Finding yourselves, therefore, in fuch a world as this, in which nothing is at a ftand, it behoves you feriously to reflect upon your fituation and profpects. Form, then, the generous refolution (and every thing depends upon your refolution) of being at prefent what you will certainly wish you had been fome years hence, what your best friends now with you to be, and what your maker has intended, fitted, and enabled you to be.
Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reafon which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance
vagance of your paffions, and to affift you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rati onal powers will be of no advantage to you. If you would diftinguish yourselves as men, and attain the true dignity, and proper happiness of your natures, it must be by the exercife of thofe faculties which are peculiar to you as men. If you have no higher objects than the gratification of your animal appetites and paffions, you rank yourselves with the brute beafts; but as you will ftill retain that reflection, which they have not, you will never have that unallayed enjoyment of a fenfual life which they have. In fact, you are incapable of the happiness of brute animals. Afpire, therefore, to thofe fuperior purfuits and gratifications for which you were formed, and which are the prerogative and glory of your natures.
Let me urge you, my younger hearers, to a more than ordinary attention to regularity and propriety of behaviour, becoming men and chriftians, that your conduct may be no difgrace to the rational and liberal fentiments, which I trust you have imbibed. Let it be feen, that when God is confidered as the proper object of reverence, love, and confidence, as the benevolent Father of all his offspring of mankind, and their righteous and impartial moral governor, the principle of obedience is the most ingenuous and effectual. Cherish the moft
most unfeigned gratitude to the Father of lights, that your minds are no longer bewildered with the gloom and darkness, in which our excellent reli gion was, for fo many ages, involved; but let this confideration be a motive with you to walk as becomes fo glorious a light. If your conduct be such as, instead of recommending your own generous principles, furnishes an excufe to others, for acquiefcing in their prejudices and errors, all the difhonour which is thereby thrown upon God, and the injury which will be done to the pure religion of Jefus Chrift, by keeping it longer in a corrupted state at home, and preventing its propagation abroad, will be your peculiar guilt, and greatly aggravate your condemnation.
Value the fcriptures, as a treasury of divine knowledge, confifting of books which are eminently calculated to inspire you with just sentiments, and prompt you to right conduct; and confider them also as the only proper authority in matters of faith, In a thing fo interefting to you as the business of religion, affecting the regulation of your conduct here, fo as to prepare you for immortal happiness hereafter, refpect no human authority whatever. Submit to those who are invefted with the fupreme power in your country, as your lawful civil magiftrates; but if they would prefcribe to you in matters of faith, fay that you have but one Father even