« EdellinenJatka »
upon the evidences of piety. The question of piety is mixed up with matters that do not belong to it. It is not viewed in those broad relations; it is not brought to that simple issue, in which we are accustomed to contemplate and determine other parts of the character. We may decide, not as easily perhaps, but we may decide on as simple and natural considerations, and by as obvious rules, whether we have piety, as whether we have intelligence; whether we have a sound judgment, or a bright genius; whether we have a love of science, or a taste for the arts. But we do not so decide. At least, men generally do not. They do not divest the question of piety, of every thing technical, and peculiar, and circumstantial, and make it just as plain and practical, as any question they can ask about their character. They imagine that the inquiry into religious character, is to proceed upon very different principles; that it is something singular and strange; that it calls upon a man to sit down and examine himself, in some unusual and almost preternatural way.
Thus, for instance, a man says, “how shall I know whether I am a christian ? Now to test the peculiarity that is conceived to belong to this question, let us put it in another form. "How shall I know whether I am an honest man, a good man, a kind neighbor, a useful citizen, an affectionate relative, a disinterested friend? How shall I know whether I am temperate and virtuous in my habits, and forbearing, gentle and pure in my affections? How shall I know what feelings I cherish toward my Maker ; whether I feel and cultivate a true reverence and love for him ; whether I pray to him, and love to pray ? Now these questions,
I presume, will not commonly be thought to involve the same difficulty, as the first question proposed; and yet these questions imply just as much, and just the same. Why, then, should a man feel so differently, or any ways differently, when he says, how shall I know whether I am a christian ?-why, but because he conceives that there is some peculiarity in this question ; something distinct from an inquiry into the ordinary and great traits of character; something, that like the primitive inquiry, dost thou believe? is blended with sectarian and circumstantial considerations.
Again, multitudes, in inquiring for the evidences of their piety, are mainly anxious to know whether they have been converted; whether they have passed through a certain process; or, at least, whether they have passed over a certain line of experience. But this is not the main question. And if the ancient distinctions in religion, had' not been universally considered as essential to the substance and spirit of it; if there had not been an injudicious endeavor to keep up the temporary and circumstantial peculiarities of the ancient phraseology, the question about conversion would never have been considered as the main thing. For surely the great stress of a man's solicitude, should not be to know whether he has begun to be a good and pious man, but whether he has become such. Besides, how irrational is it, to substitute this question about a date and an epoch, for the deep and thorough inquiry into our actual character ! What should we think of one who, in solicitously seeking to know whether he was an intelligent person, should be going back, and asking whether' he had passed a certain point in the process of learning, or of gaining information ?
Let us propose one further instance of that bondage in which the mind is often held to former and foreign circumstances, and modes of speech. A man says,
there are but two kinds of character in the world, the good and the bad. There are but two classes of persons, saints and sinners. To which do I belong?" And, it is not unlikely that he proceeds thus with his reasoning. "To the class of sinners, of the utterly depraved, I am al:nost sure that I do not belong. I hope that I have some good affections; that I am on the right side of the great dividing line of character; and, therefore, that I have acceptance with God.' Now, the truth is, that both his principle and his conclusion are false. There is no such broad and comprehensive distinction of character. It is not taught, neither in the Jewish, nor in the Christian scriptures; but the language from which this imaginary distinction has been erroneously inferred, was always applied to Jews and Gentiles, to Christians and Pagans. Is it triumphantly said, that the bible knows of no distinction among men, in regard to character, but into the classes of saints and sinners? And so let us reply, in regard to property, it knows of no distinction, but into the two classes of the rich and poor. Are all the men in the world, therefore, either opulent, or indigent? Is there no middle ground? As little is it true, that all men are saints or sinners without qualification. The question, therefore, about our character for true and religious goodness, is to be freed from all limited and local considerations, and artificial distinctions of this sort. It is not whether we have barely escaped from the class of the wicked. It is not, whether, coinparing ourselves
with ourselves, and measuring ourselves by ourselves, we hope we are like those around us, whom we consider as saints and Christians. It is not by any such partial rules and measures, that we are to judge.
What, then, are the principles and evidences of true goodness and piety? I have space only, after the unexpected length of discussion into which I have been led, for a brief sketch of these principles, and for offering two or three hints upon the evidences of piety?
What, then, is it to be a Christian? On this question it is the less necessary to enlarge, as it has unavoidably been involved in the previous discussion of the artificial difficulties which have embarrassed the investigation of our religious character. For I say, that to be a Christian, is to possess a certain and fixed character, just as to be an intelligent or an affectionate person ; just as to be a philosopher, or a friend, is to possess a certain and fixed character. It is not to be removed one step from utter depravity, as might be naturally inferred from that doctrine. It is not to be on the better side, in an imaginary and great division of the human race. It is not to belong to a certain set of people, called Christians, or professors of religion. It is not to have passed through any certain juncture or process of experience. But to be a Christian, is to have for ourselves, and absolutely, a predominance of good, pure, pious affections. When the scriptures require us to be upright and devout, it is not one upright and devout affection, or two, or twenty, that are demanded; but a habit of such affections, and a course of life in correspondence with them. To be a Christian, is to be prevailingly just, benevolent, and forbear
ing. It is to cherish the unfeigned love of God, and to show this love by the daily imitation of his beneficence and excellence. It is, therefore, to restrain all the injurious, the sensual, and the selfish passions, and to exhibit an example of self-government, temperance, generosity and kindness. Nothing less than this, will make us excellent, or happy. Nothing less than this, therefore, could have been designed by our benevolent Creator, to be the object of our pursuit, the measure of our worth, the arbiter of our welfare, here and hereaf
• Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin ;' that is, doth not practice iniquity ; but is habitually a good and pious man. This is his character.
And now the great question is, what are the proper evidences of possessing this character ?
Let me still take advantage of the principle of comparison, to which I have invited the principal attention of my readers in this discussion. Let us take this matter out of the hands of all technical, peculiar, partial dealing. What are ordinarily the great and decisive evidences of character?
Do they not lie very much, in the first place, in a man's own consciousness? May not every man know whether he is really, and heartily, and habitually a good man? whether he is a man of pure feelings, and upright intentions, and virtuous habits, and pious affections? I am aware that in the minute discriminations of character, there is danger of self-deception. But in the broad veiw, in the general question, need there be any great difficulty ? Let a man look at his own consciousness, at his own heart. Can any one reasonably doubt, whether he is an honest man, a temper