Imatges de pàgina

heaven is our place of final destination, it should be the object of our anticipation in this house of our pilgrimage. In such a manner do we exercise our reasoning power when we apply it to the purpose for which it was intend. ed.—Next in order among our intellectual capacities may be placed that mental taste which distinguishes one man from another. Thus we find that some have a disposition for mean and sordid pleasures, others for noble and dignified pursuits; some are pleased with trifling and idle amusements, others with the occupations of business or science; some are gratified by luxuries which pamper the body, others with discoveries which enlighten the mind; some have no other wish than to see themselves and their families enjoying affluence of fortune; others are desirous to grow in grace and increase in holiness. In short, the

, tastes of men are as different as their complexions; and it requires no small pains to give them that direction which is suitable to a rational and accountable being. It is evident, that the pursuits of many are degrading and pernicious, and that they tend to deprave the character by habitual indulgence. It is no less discernible, that the employments of the wise and the virtuous are honourable and becoming, that they improve their nature, and impart a relish for every thing that is honest, lovely, and of good report. Therefore it is of the highest importance, that the principle which leads us to adopt such opposite modes of conduct, should be regulated with the most assiduous


That we may be warned against the seductions of vice however alluring, and induced to follow after righteousness however arduous, we are furnished with another faculty, which approves or disapproves of our conduct, according as it is good or evil. This is well known under the name of conscience, which is the supreme director of all our inferior principles, to whose dictates they are designed to be subservient. Our appetites and passions may urge us on to certain actions, and our mental taste may superinduce compliance with certain habits; but these ought not to be indulged without the concurrence of this inward monitor, which teaches us our duty with peremptory authority, and reproaches us bitterly when we transgress it.— If, then, in all our actions we listen to the admonitions of this unerring guide, and, whenever prompted by the violence of temptation, we abstain till we have consulted the decisions of conscience, we obey the law of our nature by which we are constituted rational beings. Thus we act right by appealing from passion to conscience, by keeping the inferior principles subject to the superior, the sensitive to the moral; and we act wrong when we suffer appetite to prevail against conscience, our animal nature to direct us instead of our intellectual. All our propensities have a tendency to gratification ; but it is the province of conscience to determine in what cases they may be indulged according to right reason, and to declare to us by its commanding voice, hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther. They may have strength, but it alone has authority; they may impel us, but it has a right to resist; they may break through its imposing restraints, but thereby we are guilty of transgressing the law of our nature, and our own heart condemns such unworthy conduct. But if our conscience declares, that in certain cases we may act according to a prevailing inclination and be blameless, then all our principles harmonize in maintaining their proper place in our mental constitution, and we approve ourselves to our own hearts, and to God, who is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things. Thus, it appears that by the supremacy of conscience over our other active principles, men are a law to themselves, as they shew the work of the law written on their hearts. Such, then, are some of the most important faculties included under the intellectual part of our nature, commonly called the understanding.

But there are others equally worthy of our investigation, comprehended under that other division of our mental constitution, denominated the will. The will itself is that determining power, by which we resolve to do, or abstain from certain actions, according as they appear to us desirable or not. It is influenced in its operations by considerations of pleasure, profit, or advantage; or by the opposite ones of pain, injury, or harm. It is often indeed

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perverted by false appearances of good, and chooses what is hurtful to our true interest. It is also modified by certain principles, which have attained a predominating influence, from a natural predisposition to indulge them, in preference to every other. Thus, the man who is fond of ease, cannot be induced, by ai:y reasons however powerful, to rouse himself to action. The man who deems the chief good to consist in pleasure, is easily persuaded to pursue any object which will afford him gratification. The man who studies profit as the one thing needful, will readily engage in any course of action which may secure his purpose. Thus, the will is generally influenced by that particular disposition which prevails with the greatest force over our moral determinations.

But there are universal principles of human nature, which are found in every individual. These have been distinguished into mechanical, animal, and rational. Under the first of these may be comprehended those natural or acquired propensities, which incline us to act without deliberation or thought.—Thus, we do many things by an instinctive impulse, from finding them necessary to our existence or comfort; we take sustenance and exercise to secure our health, we converse with our friends to enliven our spirits, we engage in amusements to recreate our minds. This is a mechanical principle which operates in all men, and is in itself neither virtuous nor vicious, unless when carried to excess.-Another principle of the same kind is habit, which produces a tendency to the same action, and a facility in doing it from its frequent repetition. There are good and bad habits which we have acquired by degrees, and which it is not easy to alter when firmly established. Thus, we may by long usage have superinduced habits of devotion and benevolence, meekness and contentment, or habits of impiety and unkindness, anger and peevishness, which actuate our conduct on ordinary occasions in spite of all inducements to the contrary.

Indeed, the character is formed by the prevalence of those inclinations to certain modes of conduct which we have adopted from custom, and therefore it is of the most essential importance to take care that our habitual course of

action be right and virtuous, since it will then become easier by constant exercise. But if it be wrong and vicious, we shall find it difficult to be reformed according to the scripture maxim, that as the Ethiopian cannot change his skin nor the leopard his spots, neither shall we who have been accustomed to do evil learn to do well.

The principles next in order, are those animal passions, which give a strong impulse to the mind, at the conception or presence of those objects which are apt to excite them. The passions are in themselves useful parts of our constitution, when duly regulated by right reason; but they become sources of uneasiness when suffered to prevail without restraint. Thus, if any thing appear worthy of acquisition, desire will determine us to pursue it with the utmost vigour; if it be pernicious, hatred will excite us to use our exertions to avoid it;-while we are exposed to danger, fear is a necessary principle to keep us always on our guard ;-while we live in a world where so many are disposed to oppress or offend us, anger and resentment are useful to defend us from injury ;--while we are ready to bring distress upon ourselves by our folly and imprudence, sorrow is the means of softening our hearts and producing reformation ;-while we feel so many of the miseries of life which might depress our spirits, hope is bestowed on us as the anchor of the soul, by which we may anticipate better days awaiting us, and lead us to descry that future state of bliss prepared for the righteous in another world.

But the passions may often instigate us to the most unreasonable behaviour by their overpowering influence. Thus, we may desire things that are forbidden and pernicious ;—we may fear evils which will never happen, and be all our life-time subject to bondage ;-we may be angry with our brother without a cause, and become implacable in our resentments ;-we may indulge sorrow till it issue in melancholy ;-and we may cherish hope of unattainable possessions, which in the mean time maketh the heart sick, and in the end shall utterly perish. If therefore we would keep the passions within proper bounds, let

, us consider the nature of the various ends which they were intended to serve, and regulate them by the dictates of prudence and discretion.

The like discipline should be applied in governing our various affections. These have been divided into two kinds, the selfish and the social. We are so constituted as to aim at the promotion of our own felicity; and this is commendable when it is pursued in an honourable manner, with due regard to the welfare of others. But, when the principle of selfishness contracts our hearts, when we wrap ourselves up in our own enjoyments, and act as iso

, ļated individuals upon whom society has no claims for a share of our benevolence, we desert our station as mem. bers of the civil community of mankind.–For, our fellowcreatures are placed in certain relations to us which demand reciprocal affections. Thus, the parent should provide for his children; the child should love and esteem his parents; neighbour's should oblige and assist each other; friends should be mutual helpers of each others' joy; and every one should compassionate and relieve the distresses of their brethren.

If it be asked what reason is there for exercising such affections, it is sufficient to answer, that we have social and benevolent feelings which were given us to be employed towards their proper objects, and that if we shut up our bowels of sympathy and compassion, we thereby neglect to cultivate that brotherly love which is the great criterion of moral worth ; for “ hereby” says our Lord, “ shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye love one another.” In this manner should our '

mechanical and animal principles of action be regulated by our rational, that we may behave as becomes beings who are endued with a sense of our duty, and with capacities for performing. We cannot, indeed, from the perversity of our nature, act in all respects in obedience to the law of rectitude; for alas! we feel that the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, so that we often cannot do the things which we would. But, surely there are none so void of all regard to moral obligations, as to conceive, that though we cannot perform our duty perfectly, it is therefore fruitless to attempt performing it at

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