Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

to be considered. Good men are generally believers : bad men are generally unbelievers. This is the general state of the case: not without exceptions; for on the one hand, there may be men of regular external morals, who are yet unbelievers, because, though immorality be one cause of unbelief, it is not the only cause : and, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly many, who, although they believe and tremble, yet go on in their sins, because their faith doth not regulate their praćtice. But, having respect to the ordinary course and state of human conduct, what our Saviour hath declared is verified by experience. He, that doeth the will of God, comethi to believe, that Jesus Christ is of God, namely, a messenger from God. A process, some how or other, takes place in the understanding, which brings the mind of him, who acts rightly to this conclusion. A conviction is formed, and every day made stronger and stronger.

ever comprehended the value of christian precepts, but by conducting his life according to them. When, by so do

No man

ing, he is bronght to know their excellency, their perfection, I had almost said, their divinity, he is necessarily also brought to think wel! of the religion itself. Hear St. Paul :-“ The night is far spent: the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light; let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying ; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ; and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof." Rom. xiii. 11. It is recorded of this text, that it was the means of conversion of a very eminent Father of the church, St. Austin;

for which reason I quote it as an instance to my present purpose, since I apprehend, it must have wrought with him in the manner here represented. I have no doubt but that others have been affected in like manner by this or other particular portions of scripture; and that still greater numbers have been drawn to christianity by the general impression, which our Lord's discourses, and the speeches and letters

of

of his apostles, have left upon their minds. This is sometimes called the internal evidence of our religion; and it is very strong. But, inasmuch as it is a species of evidence, which applies itself to the knowledge, love, and practice of virtue, it will operate most powerfully where it finds these qualities, or even these tendencies and dispositions subsisting. If this be the effect of virtuous conduct, and, in some proportion, the effect also of each separate act of virtue, the contrary effect must necessarily follow from a contrary course of behaviour. And perhaps it may assist us in unfolding the subject, to take up the inquiry in this order; because, if it can be shewn, why, and in what manner, vice tends to obstruct, impair, and, at length, destroy our faith, it will not be difficult to allow, that virtue must facilitate, support, and confirm it: that at least, it will deliver us, or keep us free, from that weight of prejudice and resistance, which is produced in the mind by vice, and which acts against the reception of religious truth.

Now

Now the case appears to me to be no other than this: A great many persons, before they proceedl upon an act of known transgression, do expressly state to themselves the question, whether religion be true or not; and, in order to get at the object of their desire, (for the real matter to be determined is, whether they shall have their desire gratified or not,) in order, I say, to get at the pleasure in some cases; or in other cases, the point of interest, upon which they have set their hearts, they choose to decide, and they do in fact decide with themselves, that these things are not so certain, as to be a reason for them to give up the pleasure which lics before them, or the advantage, which is now, and which may never be again, in their power to compass.

This conclusion does actually take place, and, at various times, must almost necessarily take place, in the minds of men of bad morals. And now remark the effect, which it has upon their thoughts afterwards. When they come at another future time to reflect upon religion, they reflect upon it, as upon what they had before adjudged

be

be unfounded, and too uncertain to be acted upon, or to be depended upon : and reflections, accompanied with this adverse and unfavourable impression, naturally lead to infidelity. Herein, therefore, is seen the fallacious operation of sin; first, in the circumstances under which men form their opinion and their con clusions concerning religion; and, secondly, in the effect, which conclusions, which doubts so formed, have upon their judgment afierwards. First, what is the situation of mind in which they decide concerning religion ? and what can be expected from such a situation? Some magnified and alluring pleasure has stirred their desires and passions. It cannot be enjoyed without sin. Here is religion denouncing and forbidding it on one side : there is opportunity drawing and pulling on the other. With this drag and bias upon their thoughts, they pronounce and decide concerning the most important of all subjects, and of all questions. If they should determine for the truth and reality of religion, they must sit down disappointed of a gratification, upon which Gg

they

« ÎnapoiContinuă »