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under which he became more selfish, more a creature of passion, more depraved? If we advert to the real state of religion among mankind, in different ages of the world, we meet with an answer to these questions, but it is an unwelcome one. W'e perceive them votaries to a system which neither purified the affections nor soothed the heart, neither strengthened the moral obligations by which men are bound to each other, nor drew them into a close and holy intimacy with the Deity. Religion was, for the most part, a tissue of unmeaning ceremonies, an occasion for ostentatious display, a stimulant to the grosser passions and desires of the human heart, and a name under which vice and immorality were not only tolerated but patronized. We may easily decide whether religion, under such a form and of such a character, were beneficial or otherwise, to its votaries; and we shall be suprised that those who sought moral freedom and peace were so ready to sink themselves into the most vile and abject slavery.
Such, too often, was natural religion. That it might have been different, more pure, more improving, we shall not deny; in some few cases it was so; a few men came forth to purify what was already established, or to substitute in its place something more worthy of rational beings: but their efforts almost entirely failed, and themselves may be compared to meteors darting across the gloom, and by their sudden brightness' rendering its obscurity more dense and portentous. But the religion which Divine Goodness has revealed, is not liable to the weighty objections alledged against the religion of the
heathen world. It is liable to no objection; but rather deserves universal commendation. Its excellencies and
beauties are apparent on the instant; and those who permit themselves to receive it as divine, and store their minds with its enlightening instructions, and pour into their bosoms its rich consolations and hopes, experience that it is, indeed, and in the highest sense of the term, a blessing.
"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Such is the sentiment of an Apostle, who was well acquainted with the religion to whose profession he had been called by the risen and exalted Jesus. Such is the value he affixed to it, esteeming it above all things else—above all knowledgeabove all possessions-and allowing nothing merely earthly to be placed in competition with it. Nor was the Apostle singular in his opinion. The Evangelists and Apostles all regard it as the most gracious gift of God. The Scriptures constantly speak of it as the evidence of his love; and it is so, because it provides in the most effectual manner for the security, the improvement, and the happiness of those on whom he has bestowed it.
We have said that religion, in order that it may prove a real blessing to man, must consist with his nature and condition. Let Christianity be tried by such a rule, and it will not be found wanting. We may submit it to this trial-we shall then elicit its excellence at the same time that we justify and commend the Apostle for using the language we have read. Let us consider man as a rational
and moral being, and as one prompted by the hope of immortality, and show how well Christianity approves itself to his best reason-allies itself to his purest and most exalted feelings-connects itself with his existence-and becomes the most beautiful and glorious part of it.
Superior to all other inhabitants of the world, man is possessed of reason. In his corporeal frame, mind is implanted to be his light and his guide; to assist him in making the circumstances of his abode subserve his purposes; and to connect him with invisible and eternal things. He learns, through the possession of this great and noble treasure, that it should be improved, and not lie uncultivated-unemployed. And he is prompted to the cultivation of his mental powers by the pleasure which the possession of knowledge communicates-by beholding the honor and advantages it bestows-and by the desire of making himself useful to the world: and Christianity requires this cultivation as a sacred duty. It teaches us that God has bestowed upon his creatures no talent in vain. It proves to us that an account of all the talents bestowed, will be required at our hands. In the course of his public duty, our Lord aimed to impress this truth deeply on the minds of his hearers. It is inculcated by the parable of the talents, where he, who had been negligent and inactive, was punished and deprived of that which, judging from his conduct, he held in the lowest estimation.
It is sufficient that God has furnished his creature man with high intellectual powers, to prove that he wills their exercise and improvement. Why is it that such vast
regions over which the mind may travel, are laid open to us? Why is it that the fields of discovery, in every human science, are so spacious and boundless? but that they may be entered upon and traversed, by those to whom the faculties are imparted, by the diligent cultivation and use of which, discoveries, highly honorable to the Deity and beneficial to man, may be made. Why is it that the empire of mind over matter has been established by the wise Contriver of all things, except that its dominion may be exercised and extended by the possessor of mind? Reason presents an obvious account of these things; and revelation strengthens and enlarges the views of reason, by insisting on the due exercise of our intelligent powers, which shall contribute to our own advancement, and, at the same time, make us more useful members of society. And it is on this point that Christianity lays especial stress, insisting on the improvement of every talent which may be made to contribute to the good of the social state, and advance the designs of infinite wisdom, for the happiness of our
Man is a moral being, possessed of passions and affections to be acted upon and modified by the circumstances in the midst of which his lot is cast. If these passions and affections are permitted to run to excess, and to become inordinate, they assume an empire over him greatly prejudicial to his welfare, and destructive of that which peace attempts to establish in his breast. He becomes their slave; and it is a galling slavery to which he is reduced. To restrain them, therefore, and to observe a true me
dium in the exercise of this restraint, is essential to his enjoyment of the many good things which pertain to the present life, and how admirably does Christianity instruct and aid him in the performance of this necessary duty ; forbidding, equally, his indulging to that morbid sensibility which is sometimes more pained by the imaginary than the real evils of life, and his suppressing every tender emotion till the feelings become obtuse and cold.
It is the province of religion to train man to virtue. And let him who has the sublimest notions of virtue, and can best direct to the practice of it, say, if he do not find on the pages in which Christianity is enrolled, revealings of virtue in a more sublime and exquisite form than any he had conceived, and guidance in the pursuit more certain and availing than any he had supplied. The Scriptures exhibit the essence, the loveliness of virtue,—the essence to be imbibed, the loveliness to be admired and copied. To a very high point do they raise the standard of perfection; but high as it is, they show one illustrious example in which that perfection appears in its just proportion and in all its beauty.
To be more particular, they speak of that benevolence which is never wearied of well-doing, but consults and promotes the comfort of all who come within the sphere of its influence of that charity which never faileth, but when the world is censorious puts the best construction upon actions of doubtful character, and is the last to receive the evidence of guilt-of that purity which avoids even the appearance of evil-of that fidelity towards man