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temper of mind arises from constitutional infirmity, which renders those who are a prey to it all their life-time subject to bondage. And in some cases, it is increased by mistaken notions about religion, derived either from early prejudices or scrupulosity of conscience; which are accidental causes sufficient to account for these extraordinary effects. With these exceptions, the general maxim in the text, that the ways of religion are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace, will be found consonant to the experience of mankind. As this proposition however requires to be proved for our conviction and instruction in righteousness; I therefore propose to shew in the following discourse,
I. What are the peculiar pleasures which arise from the belief and practice of true religion.
II. That these pleasures are more dignified and delightful, than the enjoyments of the world and the flesh.
III. That the practice of it ministers the highest degree of satisfaction to the soul.
IV. That therefore we should choose it as the one thing needful, to render us happy here, and prepare us for glory hereafter
It is then proposed to shew,
I. What are the peculiar pleasures, which arise from the belief and practice of true religion. All the delights which we participate as human beings, are such as belong to the intellectual or corporeal part of our natures. The former can only be enjoyed by creatures endowed with rational faculties; the former are common to us with the beasts that perish. It is the province of religion to furnish objects, which are fitted to convey to our mental faculties pleasurable sensations of the most sublime and exquisite kind. The discoveries which it unfolds, afford the highest degree of entertainment to the understanding, which is to be obtained from any speculation that can engage our researches. They include every subject of in: vestigation, which has been a theme of inquiry among the wise and the good in every age of the world. Religion informs us of the perfections of the Deity both physical and moral; that he is from everlasting to everlasting, that he hath created all things by his power and governs them by his providence ; that "he is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; that he is continually superintending the world and its inhabitants, and making all events subservient to the welfare of his servants; that “ he is every where present, beholding the evil and the good;" that “ he is near to all who call upon him to succour and deliver them;" that “ he will guide us by his counsel, while we live, and afterwards receive us to glory.” It calls us to the contemplation of these attributes; that we may, by tracing their agency throughout nature and among mankind, be induced to adore that almighty being who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. It enjoins us to explore the wonders of creation, and endeavour to discover the wise contrivance of every object by which we are surrounded, that we may thence derive sentiments of admiration for their invisible Creator by whom all things consist.-It invites us to consider the wise distributions of our lot, as appointed by the unerring direction of him whose kingdom ruleth over all, and“ who hath fixed the times beforehand and the bounds of our habitation." -It exhibits to us the wonderful scheme of our redemption from sin and misery, by the mediation, sufferings, and intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord; with the important ends accomplished by his mission from on high; that thereby he hath rendered his heavenly Father propitious to his offending offspring, and procured for all who repent and return to their duty, pardon and justification, sanctification and eternal life.- It imparts to us a knowledge of our natural condition as sinners, and the state of regeneration into which we are brought by the influence of heavenly grace: the duties imposed on us as believers of the gospel, and the final issue of perseverance in well-doing. These are subjects of contemplation to the understanding dignified in themselves, and calculated to inspire us with the most refined sentiments, which can enter into the heart of man to conceive. They afford a constant source of the most rational reflection; and the more valuable, as they are subjects in which we are high
ly interested and have a tendency to make us wise unto salvation.
Again, religion engages us in the most delightful exercises, in which we can employ our active faculties. It teaches us to elevate our hearts to God, and hold communion with him who is the father of our spirits; it enjoins us to supplicate him who is the hearer of prayer in every time of need, and assures us that “ he will do exceeding abundantly for us, above all that we can ask or think:"-it induces “to cast all our care upon him, since he careth for us ;"—and “ in every thing by prayer and thanksgiving to make our requests known unto him, since he is able to supply all our wants out of his fulness.” It instructs us “ to do good to all men as we have opportunity,” either in relieving the distresses, in supplying the wants, or ministering to the comforts of our fellow creatures. It requires us to honour and respect our superiors, to love and esteem our equals, to be kind and condescend.. ing to our inferiors, and to live peaceably with all men. It prescribes to us justice in our dealings, candour in our sentiments, truth in our declarations, and the performance of every relative and social obligation, which is necessary for the welfare of all around us. It inculcates the improvement of our minds in useful knowledge; the due government of our passions and affections; the right regulation of our practical habits; and the wise controul of our several tempers. It enjoins the cultivation of these various graces, which should adorn our characters; such as self-denial and mortification, meekness and humility, temperance and chastity, diligence and contentment, and every other quality which is lovely and of good report.
Now, what pleasures are equal to those that accompany the exercise of such dispositions ? What sensations are so transporting as the extacies of piety; what actions are accoinpanied with such delightful feelings as deeds of beneficence, what joy is to be compared with that which flows from peace of conscience and a well-ordered mind? These are substantial and satisfactory pleasures, worthy of our rational nature, and conducive to our mental improvement; these do not leave us to lament their absence or
their loss, like the fleeting enjoyments of sense; but continue to refresh our souls with perpetual cheerfulness in every period and condition of life.“ Happy is he who findeth wisdom, and who getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than that of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.” And well may the Christian say with St. Paul, “I count all things but loss, for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light, and in the keeping of his commandments there is a great reward.—But moreover, the belief and practice of true religion is attended with manifold comforts which solace the heart. The good man has even the best chance of obtaining a competent portion of the things of this life; since his steady conduct enables him to manage his affairs with discretion, and ensure success in all his ways. And lis grateful disposition excites him to enjoy the blessings of providence with far more relish, than he who is insensible that from God proceedeth every good and perfect gift. In every circumstance in which he can be placed, he experiences a sense of the divine favour; which cheers his soul with a joy that is unspeakable, and a peace of mind that passeth understanding. Conscious that he endeavours to walk uprightly, he approves himself to the searcher of hearts, and is enabled to say, “ Thou God who knowest all things, knowest that I love thee," and that it is my desire to keep thy commandments, and walk in all thine ordinances blameless. Though he is encompassed with manifold infirmities, yet as he believes that Christ hath procured the remission of sins that are past, when repented of and forsaken ; therefore he trusts that God will be merciful to his unrighteousness, and remember his iniquities no more. He hopes that his hea venly father will lift up the light of his countenance upon him and give him peace, that he will look upon him through the face of his anointed ;---give him grace here and glory hereafter, and withhold nothing that is good from him while he walks uprightly. Thus, he experiences, that in the divine favour is life; and is ever ready to exclaim," whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none in all the earth, that my soul desires besides thee; my flesh and my heart doth faint and fail; but thou art the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.”
Another source of comfort which the good man possesses, is, faith in the wise arrangements of divine providence. That God not only superintends the affairs of mankind in general, but distributes the fortune of every individual in particular; is a doctrine which both reason and revelation concur to establish. How well adapted is this truth, to render him who believes it resigned in adversity, and disposed to be grateful in a time of prosperity. Even when suffering the greatest hardships and disappointments of life, the Christian is enabled to support himself by such considerations as these : God rules in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth : he conducts all events with consummate wisdom; nothing can befal me without his appointment or permission, and when my circumstances are distressing, they are ordered by him in whose hands my life is, and whose are all my ways, and if duly improved shall at last work together for my good. Therefore I will submit patiently to whatever happens, assured that there is some gracious design for which I am afflicted, which, though not perceived now, shall be known hereafter. It is my duty then to say, Father thy will be done: to thee I refer my concerns : on thee I cast all my cares, since thou carest for me. Such a temper of mind has a natural tendency to alleviate the distresses of life, and enables us to bear them with becoming fortitude. And when success attends the godly man, and he receives any earthly blessing which contributes to his happiness, what sensations of thankfulness does he feel for the goodness of the Lord, which endureth continually. This favourable incident, will he say, is overruled by the counsels of my almighty guardian, who doeth all things well : this fortunate occurrence is arranged by the guidance of that invisible hand which conducts the destinies of men: this additional gift which I have received, cometh down from the father of lights, who bestowetlı such benefits as we require, both