English Baptist Minister, Bishop
English Baptist Minister, Bishop
Mankind are apt to be strongly prejudiced in favour of whatever is countenanced by antiquity, enforced by authority, and recommended by custom. The pleasure of acquiescing in the decision of others is by most men so much preferred to the toil and hazard of inquiry, and so few are either able or disposed to examine for themselves, that the voice of law will generally be taken for the dictates of justice.
Religion is the final centre of repose; the goal to which all things tend; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes of nature which surround him as unmeaning as the leaves which the sibyl scattered in the wind.
The actions of men are oftener determined by their character than their interest: their conduct takes its color more from their acquired tastes, inclinations, and habits, than from a deliberate regard to their greatest good. It is only on great occasions the mind awakes to take an extended survey of her whole course, and that she suffers the dictates of reason to impress a new bias upon her movements. The actions of each day are, for the most part, links which follow each other in the chain of custom. Hence the great effort of practical wisdom is to imbue the mind with right tastes, affections, and habits; the elements of character and masters of action.
The most admired poems have been the offspring of uncultivated ages. Pure poetry consists of the descriptions of nature and the display of the passions; to each of which a rude state of society is better adapted than one more polished. They who live in that early period in which art has not alleviated the calamities of life are forced to feel their dependence upon nature. Her appearances are ever open to their view, and therefore strongly imprinted on their fancy.
The wheels of nature are not made to roll backward: everything presses on toward eternity: from the birth of time an impetuous current has set in, which bears all the sons of men toward that interminable ocean. Meanwhile heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature, is enriching itself by the spoils of earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom whatever is pure, permanent, and divine.
To that state all the pious on earth are tending. Heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature; is enriching itself by the spoils of the earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom whatever is pure, permanent, and divine, leaving nothing for the last fire to consume but the objects and slaves of concupiscence; while everything which grace has prepared and beautified shall be gathered and selected from the ruins of the world to adorn that eternal city "which hath no need of the sun or moon to shine in it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
When the inductive and experimental philosophy recommended by Bacon had, in the hands of Boyle and Newton, led to such brilliant discoveries in the investigation of matter, an attempt was soon made to transfer the same method of proceeding to the mind.
Many whose gayety has been eclipsed, and whose thoughtless career of irreligion and dissipation has experienced a momentary check, will doubtless soon return with eager impetuosity to the same course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. The same amusements will enchant, the same society corrupt, and the same temptations ensnare them; with this very important difference, that the effort necessary to surmount the present impression will superinduce a fresh degree of obduration, by which they will become more completely accoutred in the panoply of darkness. The next visitation, though it may be in some respects more affecting, because more near, will probably impress them less; and as death has penetrated the palace in vain, though it should even come up into their chamber and take away the delight of their eyes at a stroke, they will be less religiously moved.
Religion, and that alone, teaches absolute humility; by which I mean a sense of our absolute nothingness in the view of infinite greatness and excellence. That sense of inferiority which results from the comparison of men with each other is often an unwelcome sentiment forced upon the mind, which may rather embitter the temper than soften it: that which devotion impresses is soothing and delightful. The devout man loves to lie low at the footstool of his Creator, because it is then he attains the most lively perceptions of the divine excellence, and the most tranquil confidence in the divine favour. In so august a presence he sees all distinctions lost, and all beings reduced to the same level. He looks at his superiors without envy, and his inferiors without contempt: and when from this elevation he descends to mix in society, the conviction of superiority which must in many instances be felt is a calm inference of the understanding, and no longer a busy, importunate passion of the heart.
The annunciation of life and immortality by the gospel, did it contain no other truth, were sufficient to cast all the discoveries of science into shade, and to reduce the highest improvements of reason to the comparative nothingness which the flight of a moment bears to eternity. By this discovery the prospects of human nature are infinitely widened, the creature of yesterday becomes the child of eternity; and as felicity is not the less valuable in the eye of reason because it is remote, nor the misery which is certain less to be deprecated because it is not immediately felt, the care of our future interests becomes our chief, and, properly speaking, our only, concern. All besides will shortly become nothing; and therefore, whenever it comes into competition with these, it is as the small dust of the balance.
The most capital advantage an enlightened people can enjoy is the liberty of discussing every subject which can fall within the compass of the human mind: while this remains, freedom will flourish; but should it be lost or impaired, its principles will neither be well understood nor long retained. To render the magistrate a judge of truth, and engage his authority in the suppression of opinions, shows an inattention to the design and nature of political society.
The wheels of nature are not to roll backward; everything presses on toward Eternity; from the birth: of Time an impetuous current has set in, which bears all the sons of men toward that interminable ocean. Meanwhile heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature, is enriching itself by the spoils of earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom, whatever is pure, permanent and divine.
Turn a Christian society into an established church, and it is no longer a voluntary assembly for the worship of God; it is a powerful corporation, full of such sentiments and passions as usually distinguish those bodies: a dread of innovation, an attachment to abuses, a propensity to tyranny and oppression.
When we mention peace, however, we mean not the stupid security of a mind that refuses to reflect, we mean a tranquility which rests upon an unshaken basis, which no anticipations, however remote, no power of reflection, however piercing or profound, no evolutions which time may disclose or eternity conceal, are capable of impairing: a peace which is founded on the oath and promise of Him who cannot lie; which, springing from the consciousness of an ineffable alliance with the Father of Spirits, makes us to share in his fulness, to become a partner with him in his eternity; a repose pure and serene as the unruffled wave which reflects the heavens from its bosom; while it is accompanied with a feeling of exultation and triumph natural to such as are conscious that ere long, having overcome, they shall possess all things.
Method, we are aware, is an essential ingredient in every discourse designed for the instruction of mankind; but it ought never to force itself on the attention as an object?never appear to be an end instead of an instrument; or beget a suspicion of the sentiments being introduced for the sake of the method, not the method for the sentiments.
Religion, on account of its intimate relation to a future state, is every man?s proper business, and should be his chief care. Of knowledge in general there are branches which it would be preposterous to the bulk of mankind to attempt to acquire, because they have no immediate connection with their duties, and demand talents which nature has denied, or opportunities which Providence has withheld. But with respect to the primary truths of religion the case is different: they are of such daily use and necessity that they form, not the materials of mental luxury, so properly as the food of the mind. In improving the character, the influence of general knowledge is often feeble and always indirect; of religious knowledge the tendency to purify the heart is immediate, and forms its professed scope and design. This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.
The Author of nature has wisely annexed a pleasure to the exercise of our active powers, and particularly to the pursuit of truth, which, if it be in some instances less intense, is far more durable, than the gratification of sense, and is in that account incomparably more valuable. Its duration, to say nothing of its other properties, renders it more valuable. It may be repeated without satiety, and pleases afresh on every reflection upon it.
The nation has certainly not been wanting in the proper expression of its poignant regret at the sudden removal of this most lamented princess, nor of their sympathy with the royal family, deprived by this visitation of its brightest ornament. Sorrow is painted on every countenance, the pursuits of business and of pleasure have been suspended, and the kingdom is covered with the signals of distress.
Then does party animosity reach its height when to an interference of interests sufficient to kindle resentment is superadded a persuasion of rectitude, a conviction of truth, an apprehension in each party that they are contending for principles of the last importance, on the success of which the happiness of millions depends. Under these impressions men are apt to indulge the most selfish and vindictive passions without suspicion or control. The understanding indeed, in that state, instead of controlling the passions, often serves only to give steadiness to their impulse, to ratify and consecrate, so to speak, all their movements.
Under every possible aspect in which infidelity can be viewed, it extends the dominion of sensuality; it repeals and abrogates every law by which divine revelation has, under such awful sanctions, restrained the indulgence of the passions.
When, at the distance of more than half a century, Christianity was assaulted by a Woolston, a Tindal, and a Morgan, it was ably supported both by clergymen of the established church and writings among Protestant dissenters. The labors of a Clarke and a Butler were associated with those of a Doddridge, a Leland, and a Lardner, with such equal reputation and success as to make it evident that the intrinsic excellence of a religion needs not the aid of external appendages; but that, with or without a dowry, her charms are of sufficient power to fix and engage the heart.
Milton is the most sublime, and Homer the most picturesque.
Religion, the final centre of repose; the goal to which all things tend, which gives to time all its importance, to eternity all its glory; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes which surround him as incoherent and unmeaning as the leaves which the sibyl scattered in the wind.
The bane of human happiness is ordinarily not so much an absolute ignorance of what is best, as an inattention to it, accompanied with a habit of not adverting to prospects the most certain, and the most awful.
The poor man who has gained a taste for good books will in all likelihood become thoughtful; and when you have given the poor a habit of thinking you have conferred on them a much greater favour than by the gift of a large sum of money, since you have put them in possession of the principle of all legitimate prosperity.