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them his virtues cannot be founded on a solid and unchangeable basis; cannot be relied on in all cases as uniform and stable; will never reach the highest form of character of which our nature is capable, and which he who cometh to God must possess. This I endeavoured to prove, by showing the inadequacy of every rule of life, by which a man without a religious principle must form his character and govern his conduct. Let us now advance somewhat farther, and inquire, whether a man, whose actions are not influenced by a regard to the will of God, and the rewards of virtue in another life, will have any motive of sufficient efficacy to enforce a virtuous practice at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. The subject then of this afternoon's discourse will be the comparative value of the motives to virtue, in a man, who is governed by a religious principle, , and in one who discards or neglects it as useless.
The great difficulty and task of virtue is to make the consideration of the future predominate over the perception of the present. Our mental sight deceives us with regard to the value and desirableness of present objects, in the same manner as to the eye of a child, the shrub, which springs up under his feet, appears greater than the oak, whose majestic height and spreading branches are only dimly and indistinctly seen in the distant horiIt is the
which present appearances of good possess, the power of sense over reason,
our animal over our spiritual nature, in which the strength of all our vicious propensities consists. No man deliberately chooses evil for its own sake, or a smaller before a greater good, when they are both equally within his reach. But we every day see examples of men, who choose a good, which they confess to be inferior, momentary, and even in its consequences injurious, only because it is immediately present to their senses. The great object then of virtue, is to balance this
present allurements, by the rewards which it promises to self-denial,and by the clearness and force,with which it unfolds them. Now, when the consideration of a religious principle is discarded, morality is evidently reduced to a mere plan or expedient, adapted to our present situation; and of course is enforced by those motives alone, which arise from the prospects and interests of the present state. What then are those motives which without a religious principle are to aid us in this contest with present objects, and to become the conquering antagonists of the power of our senses? They are to be found in the hope of estimation and distinction among men, which virtue will procure; in the intrinsic pleasures of virtue, and the pangs of remorse, which vice produces ; in the temporal advantages of virtue; and its beauty, and fitness and conformity to our nature.
1. The desire of the estimation and distinction, which, bad as the world is, virtue will usually pro
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is a real, and unquestionably a powerful, motive to its practice. It would be a fearful experiment to try how much of the virtue, that is found among us, would be withdrawn, if its influence were wholly lost. But powerful as it certainly is, its operation is both partial and inadequate. It is partial, because it extends only to those actions of which the world takes cognizance, and does not reach to many of the niost essential personal virtues, and acts with greatly diminished force in the retirement of domestic life, which is after all the great theatre of virtue. It is also inadequate, because human estimation is a thing, which though a man may value, he can live without. suade himself, too, that he will not incur the loss of it, by yielding to a given temptation, because crimes are usually committed under such circumstances as suggest a hope of concealment and impunity. There are some crimes also, and those too of the deepest die, which instead of forfeiting, most certainly insure a kind of estimation, which some men will highly value. Hence the necessity of a sense of an ever-present Ruler and final Judge of our actions ; for it is this alone, which operates equally, at all times, and in every place; which impresses on all crimes, under whatever circumstances committed, the character of folly and ruin ; which shows that duty and interest, however they may appear now to be separated, in every instance coincide, and that the most prosperous
career of vice, the most brilliant successes of criminality, are but an accumulation of wrath against the day of wrath.
II. Another motive to virtue, which a man without a religious principle may have, is drawn from the intrinsic pleasures which accompany it, and the pangs of that remorse, which accompanies vice.
With regard to the pleasures of virtue, every good man knows that they are real and inestimable. But this is after all an affair of feeling and of taste; and if, when you remind a man, that in breaking the laws of virtue, he gives up the greatest internal tranquillity and satisfaction, he should reply, that his taste is of a different sort; that there are other gratifications, which he values more, and that every man must chuse his own pleasures, I see not but that the argument is at an end.
Of the pangs of remorse, and the terrors of conscience, the influence is no doubt great and powerful. But then it may be fairly said that they owe their efficacy to the early-imprinted truths of religion, which no scepticism can ever completely
There is in the breast of every man a consciousness of the existence of unseen power; a sense of helplessness, and of dependence on superior agency; a complacency in virtue, for which his reason cannot wholly account,but which his heart cannot refuse to feel; a sense of undefined and mysterious danger in vice; and, above all, a secret dread of something after death. Now, in so far as these feelings arise from a reference to God and a future life, they partake of the nature of religious motives, and of course cannot be brought to prove that a religious principle is unnecessary. Nothing however is more certain, than that this sensibility to virtue and vice, if left without the aid of the clear and well defined maxims of religious belief, will daily become less operative. Every sin to which we yield diminishes its power. There is even such a thing, my friends, as conscience seared as with a hot iron. It is possible to stifle all remorse for the past, all horror of the present, and all dread of the future. We
We may become dead in sin; and conscience, with all its terrors, may be buried in the grave of virtue. If then by the habit of sin, the power of conscience should be impaired or destroyed, how shall it be replaced ? If its influence as a motive be once lost, what power shall restore it? If this lamp of God within our breasts be once extinguished, what but the hand of God can relumine it? In him, who believes that the voice of conscience is the voice of God; who believes that in another world, its decisions shall be ratified and its menaces executed—in him alone will this motive have any rational, constant, and effectual operation.
III. and IV. It remains then, for a man without a religious principle to seek his motives to virtue in a consideration of its temporal advantages, or in a view of its beauty, and fitness and conformity to our nature.