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RISE AND PROGRESS
RELIGION IN THE SOUL.
The Introduction to the Work, with some general Account of its Design.
That true Religion is very rare, appears from comparing the Nature of it with the lives and characters of men around us, §. 1, 2. The Want of it matter of just Lamentation, §. 3. To remedy this Evil, is the Design of the ensuing Treatise: §. 4. To which, therefore, the author earnestly bespeaks the Attention of the Reader, as his own heart is deeply interested in it, §. 5, 6. A general Plan of the Work; of which the first fifteen chapters relate chiefly to the Rise of Religion, and the remaining chapters to its Progress, §. 7-12. The chapter concludes with a Prayer for the Success of the Work.
§. 1. WHEN we look round about us with an attentive eye,
and consider the characters and pursuits of men, we plainly see, that though in the original constitution of their natures, they only, of all the creatures that dwell on the face of the earth, be capable of religion, yet many of them shamefully neglect it. And whatever different notions people may entertain of what they call religion, all must agree in owning, that it is very far from being an universal thing.
§. 2. Religion, in its most general view, is such a sense of God on the soul, and such a conviction of our obligation to him, and of our dependence upon him, as shall engage us to make it our great care, to conduct ourselves in a manner, which we have reason to believe will be pleasing to him. Now when we have given this plain account of religion, it is by no means necessary that we should search among the savages of the African or American nations, to find instances of those who are strangers to it. When we view the conduct of the generality of people at home, in a christian and protestant nation, in a nation whose obligations to God have been singular, almost beyond those of any other people under heaven, will any one presume to say, that religion has an universal reign among us? Will any D d
one suppose, that it prevails in every life? that it reigns in every heart? Alas, the avowed infidelity, the profanation of the name and day of God, the drunkenness, the lewdness, the injustice, the falsehood, the pride, the prodigality, the base selfishness, and stupid insensibility of the spiritual and eternal interests of themselves, and others, which so generally appear among us, loudly proclaim the contrary. So that one would imagine upon this view, that thousands and ten thousands thought the neglect, and even the contempt of religion, were a glory, rather than a reproach. And where is the neighbourhood, where is the society, where is the happy family, consisting of any considerable number, in which, on a more exact examination, we find reason to say, 66 religion fills even this little circle?" There is, perhaps, a freedom from any gross and scandalous immoralities, an external decency of behaviour, an attendance on the outward forms of worship in public, and (here and there) in the family; yet amidst all this, there is nothing which looks like the genuine actions of the spiritual and divine life. There is no appearance of love to God, no reverence for his presence, no desire of his favours as the highest good: there is no cordial belief of the gospel of salvation; no eager solicitude to escape that condemnation which we have incurred by sin; no hearty concern to secure that eternal life, which Christ has purchased and secured for his people, and which he freely promises to all who will receive him. Alas! whatever the love of a friend, or even of a parent can do ; whatever inclination there may be, to hope all things, and believe all things the most favourable; evidence to the contrary will force itself upon the mind, and extort the unwilling conclusion; that whatever else may be amiable in this dear friend, in that favourite child, "religion dwells not in its breast."
§. 3. To a heart that firmly believes the gospel, and views persons and things in the light of eternity, this is one of the most mournful considerations in the world. And indeed to such a one all the other calamities and evils of human nature appear trifles, when compared with this; the absence of real religion, and that contrariety to it which reigns in so many thousands of mankind. Let this be cured, and all the other evils will easily be borne; nay, good will be extracted out of them. But if this continue, it bringeth forth fruit unto death*; and in consequence of it, multitudes, who share the entertainments of an indulgent providence with us, and are at least allied to us
* Rom. vii. 5.
by the bond of the same common nature, must in a few years be swept away into utter destruction, and be plunged beyond redemption into everlasting burnings.
§. 4. I doubt not, but there are many, under those various forms of religious profession, which have so unhappily divided us in this nation, who are not only lamenting this in public, if their office in life calls them to an opportunity of doing it; but are likewise mourning before God in secret, under a sense of this sad state of things; and who can appeal to him that searches all hearts, as to the sincerity of their desires to revive the languishing cause of vital christianity and substantial piety. And, among the rest, the author of this treatise may with confidence say, it is this which animates him to the present attempt, in the midst of so many other cares and labours. For this, he is willing to lay aside many of those curious amusements in science which might suit his own private taste, and perhaps open a way for some reputation in the learned world. For this he is willing to wave the laboured ornaments of speech, that he may, if possible, descend to the capacity of the lowest part of mankind. For this he would endeavour to convince the judgment, and to reach the heart of every reader. And, in a word, for this, without any dread of the name of an enthusiast, whoever may at random throw it out upon the occasion, he would, as it were, enter with you into your closet, from day to day; and with all plainness and freedom, as well as seriousness, would discourse to you of the great things which he has learnt from the christian religion, and on which he assuredly knows your everlasting happiness to depend: that if you hitherto have lived without religion, you may now be awakened to the consideration of it, and may be instructed in its nature and importance; or that if you are already, through divine grace, experimentally acquainted with it, you may be assisted to make a farthe. progress.
§. 5. But he earnestly intreats this favour of you, that as it is plainly a serious business we are entering upon, you would be pleased to give him a serious and attentive hearing. He intreats, that these addresses, and these meditations, may be pe. rused at leisure, and be thought over in retirement; and that you would do him and yourself the justice to believe the representations which are here made, and the warnings which are given, to proceed from sincerity and love; from an heart, which would not designedly give one moment's unnecessary pain to the meanest creature on the face of the earth, and much less
to any human mind. If he be importunate, it is because he at least imagines, that there is just reason for it; and fears, lest amidst the multitudes, who are undone by the utter neglect of religion, and among those who are greatly damaged for want of a more resolute and constant attendance to it, be the case of some into whose hands this treatise may fall.
§. 6. He is a barbarian, and deserves not to be called a man, who can look on the sorrows of his fellow creatures without drawing out his soul unto them and wishing, at least, that it were in the power of his hand to help them. Surely earth would be an heaven to that man, who could go about from place to place, scattering happiness wheresoever he came, though it were only the body that he were capable of relieving, and though he could impart nothing better than the happiness of a mortal life. But the happiness rises in proportion to the nature and degree of the good which he imparts. Happy, are we ready to say, were those honoured servants of Christ, who in the early days of his church, were the benevolent and sympathizing instruments of conveying miraculous healing to those whose cases seemed desperate; who poured in upon the blind and the deaf the pleasures of light and sound, and called up the dead to the powers of action and enjoyment. But this is an honour and happiness, which it is not fit for God commonly to bestow on mortal men. Yet there have been in every age, and blessed be his name, there still are those, whom he has condescended to make his instruments in conveying nobler and more lasting blessings than these to their fellow creatures. Death hath long since veiled the eyes, and stopped the ears of those, who were the subjects of miraculous healing, and recovered its empire over those who were once recalled from the grave. But the souls who are prevailed upon to receive the gospel, live for ever. God has owned the labours of his faithful ministers in every age, to produce these blessed effects; and some of them being dead, yet speak* with power and success in this important cause. Wonder not then, if living and dying, I be ambitious of this honour; and if my mouth be freely opened, where I can truly say, my heart is enlarged↑.
§. 7. In forming my general plan I have been solicitous, that this little treatise might, if possible, be useful to all its readers, and contain something suitable to each. I will therefore take the man and the christian, in a great variety of circumstances. I will first suppose myself addressing to one of the
+2 Cor. vi. 11.
*Heb. xi, 4.
vast number of thoughtless creatures, who have hitherto been utterly unconcerned about religion; and will try what can be done, by all plainness and earnestness of address, to awaken him from this fatal lethargy, to a care (chap. 2), an affectionate and an immediate care, about it (chap. 3). I will labour to fix a deep and awful conviction of guilt upon his conscience (chap. 4), and to strip him of his vain excuses and his flattering hopes (chap. 5). I will read to him, Oh! that I could fix on his heart, that sentence, that dreadful sentence, which a righteous and an almighty God hath denounced against him, as a sinner (chap. 6); and endeavour to shew him, in how helpless a state he lies under this condemnation, as to any capacity he has of delivering himself (chap 7). But I do not mean to leave any in so terrible a situation: I willjoyfully proclaim the glad tidings of pardon and salvation by Christ Jesus our Lord, which is all the support and confidence of my own soul (chap. 8): and then I will give general views of the way, by which this salvation is to be obtained (chap. 9): urging the sinner to accept of it, as affectionately as I can (chap. 10); though nothing can be sufficiently pathetic, where, as in this matter, the life of an immortal soul is in question.
§. 8. Too probable it is, that some will, after all this, remain insensible: and therefore, that their sad case may not incumber the following articles, I shall here take a solemn leave of them (chap. 11): and then shall turn and address myself, as compassionately as I can, to a most contrary character; I mean to a soul overwhelmed with a sense of the greatness of its sins, and trembling under the burden, as if there were no more hope for him in God (chap. 12). And that nothing may be omitted, which may give solid peace to the troubled spirit, I shall endeavour to guide its enquiries as to the evidences of sincere repentance and faith (chap. 13); which will be farther illustrated by a more particular view of the several branches of the christian temper, such as may serve at once to assist the reader in judging what he is, and to shew him what he should labour to be (chap. 14). This will naturally lead to a view of the need we have of the influences of the blessed spirit, to assist us in the important and difficult work of the true christian, and of the encouragement we have to hope for these divine assistances (chap. 15): in an humble dependence on which, I shall then enter on the consideration of several cases which often occur in the christian life, in which particular addresses to the conscience may be requisite and useful.
§. 9. As some particular difficulties and discouragements