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the heathens themselves. English gentlemen who travel into Roman Catholic countries, are not a little surprised to meet with people of the best quality kneeling in their churches, and engaged in their private devotions, though it be not at the hours of public worship. An officer of the army, or a man of wit and pleasure in those countries, would be afraid of passing not only for an irreligious, but an ill-bred man, should he be seen to go to bed, or sit down at table, without offering up his devotions on such occasions. The same show of religion appears in all the foreign reformed churches, and enters so much into their ordinary conversation, that an Englishman is apt to term them hypocritical and precise.
This little appearance of a religious deportment in our nation, may proceed in some measure from that modesty which is natural to us, but the great occasion of it is certainly this. Those swarms of sectaries that over-ran the nation in the time of the great rebellion, carried their hypocrisy so high, that they had converted our whole language into a jargon of enthusiasm; insomuch, that upon the restoration men thought they could not recede too far from the behaviour and practice of those persons, who had made religion a cloak to so many villanies. This led them into the other extreme, every appearance of devotion was looked upon as prritanical; and falling into the hands of the ridiculers who flour. ished in that reign, and attacked every thing that was serious, it has ever since been out of countenance among us. By this means we are gradually fallen into that vicious modesty which has in some measure worn out from among us the appearance of Christianity in ordinary life and conversation, and which distinguishes us from all our neighbours.
Hypocrisy cannot indeed be too much detested, but at the same time is to be preferred to open impiety. They are both equally destructive to the person who is possessed with them, but in regard to others, hypocrisy is not so pernicious as bare faced irreligion. The due mean to be observed is to be sincerely virtuous, and at the same time to let the world see we are so. I do not know a more dreadful menace in the holy writings, than that which is pronounced against those who have this perverted modesty, to be ashamed before men in a particular of such unspeakable importance.
RELIGION may be considered under two general heads. The first comprehends what we are to believe, the other what we are to practise. By those things which we are to believe, I mean whatever is revealed to us in the holy writings, and which we could not have obtained the knowledge of by the light of nature, by the things which we are to practise, I mean all those duties to which we are directed by reason or natural religion. The first of these I shall distinguish by the name of faith, the second by that of morality.
If we look into the more serious part of mankind, we find many who lay so great a stress upon faith, that they negleet morality; and many who build so much upon morality, that they do not pay a due regard to faith. The perfect man should be defective in neither of these particulars, as will be very evident to those who consider the benefits which arise from each of them, and which I shall make the subject of this day's paper.
Notwithstanding this general division of Christian duty into morality and faith, and that they have both their peculiar excellencies, the first has the pre-eminence in several respects.
First, Because the greatest part of morality (as I have stated the notion of it,) is of a fixed, eternal nature, and will endure when faith shall fail, and be lost in conviction.
Secondly, Because a person may be qualified to do greater good to mankind, and become more beneficial to the world, by morality without faith; than by faith without morality.
Thirdly, Because morality gives a greater perfection to human nature, by quieting the mind, moderating the passions, and advancing the happiness of every man in his private capacity.
Fourthly, Because the rule of morality is much more certain than that of faith, all the civilized nations of the world agreeing in the great points of morality, as much as they differ in those of faith.
Fifthly, Because infidelity is not of so malignant a nature as immorality; or to put the same reason in another light, because it is generally owned, there may be salvation for a virtuous infidel (particularly in the case of invincible ignorance) but none for a vicious believer.
Sixthly, Because faith seems to draw its principal, if not all its excellency, from the influence it has upon morality; as we shall see more at large, if we consider wherein consists the excellency of faith, or the belief of revealed religion: and this I think is,
First, In explaining and carrying to greater heights, several points of morality.
Secondly, In furnishing new and stronger motives to enforce the practice of morality.
Thirdly, In giving us more amiable ideas of the Supreme Bring, m.re endearing notions of one another, and a truer stato of ourselves, both in regard to the grandeur and vileness of our
Fourthly, By shewing us the blackness and deformity of vice, which in the Christian system is so very great, that he who is possessed of all perfection, and the sovereign judge of it, is represented by several of our divines, as hating sin to the same degree that he loves the sacred person who was made the propitiation of it.
Fifthly, In being the ordinary and prescribed method of making morality effectual to salvation.
I have only touched on these several heads, which every one who is conversant in discourses of this nature will easily enlarge upon in his own thoughts, and draw conclusions from them which may be useful to him in the conduct of his life. One I am is so obvious, that he cannot miss it, namely, that a man cannot be perfect in his scheme of morality, who does not strengthen and support it with that of the Christian faith.
Besides this, I shall lay down two or three other maxims which I think we may deduce from what has been said.
First, that we should be particularly cautious of making any thing an article of faith, which does not contribute to the confirmation or improvement of morality.
Secondly, That no article of faith can be true and authentic, which weakens or subverts the practical part of religion, or what I have hitherto called morality.
Thirdly, That the greatest friend of morality or natural reli gion, cannot possibly apprehend any danger from embracing Christianity, as it is preserved pure and uncorrupt in the doc trines of our national church.
There is likewise another maxim which I think may be drawu from the foregoing considerations, which is this, that we should in all dubious points consider any ill conscquences that may arise from them, supposing they should be erroneous, before we give
up our assent to them.
For example, in that disputable points of persecuting men for conscience-sake, besides the imbittering their minds with hatred, indignation, and all the vehemence of resentment, and ensnaring them to profess what they do not believe; we cut them off from the pleasures and advantages of society, afflict their bodies, distress their fortunes, hurt their reputations, ruin their families, make their lives painful, or put an end to them. Sure when I see such dreadful consequences rising from a principle, I would be as fully convinced of the truth of it, as of a mathemati cal demonstration, before I would venture to act upon it, or make it a part of my religion.
In this case the injury done our neighbour is plain and evident, the principle that puts us upon doing it, of a dubious and disputable nature. Morality seems highly violated by the one, and whether or no a zeal for what a man thinks the true system of faith may justify it, is very uncertain. I cannot but think, if our religion produce charity as well as zeal, it will not be for shewing itself by such cruel instances. But, to conclude with the words of an excellent author, We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."
The conclusion of this paper is a quotation from Archbishop Tillotson or Dr. Whitchcote.-C.
Disputable point. It had kzen more exact, as well as more agreeable u) the principles of the writer, te say-disputed--than-disputable.-K.