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mits of degrees; for it may be a very weak or a very strong attachment; and our future reward will be in proportion to to the strength and confirmed state of all our good habits and dispositions: for, as great as is the diversity of human characters in this life, it is probable that the justice and wisdom of God will provide as great a diversity in their future retribution,-: i
Besides, the opinion that the great business of religion is the work of a moment, unavoidably subjects men to the grossest and most fatal delusions. Indeed, how can it be otherwise, when the thing to be attained passes wholly within a man's own breast, and is generally spoken of as a thing that is incapable of verbal description; the consequence of which must be, that persons of a warm imagination will presume, on any insignificant emotion, that they have experienced this happy change, and valuing themselves upon it, will be apt to condemn and despise the rest of the world j while persons of a timid disposition will be tormented with doubts and despair. Not being content to judge of their hearts by their lives, they will be perpetually seeking for something that no man in his sober senses ever imagined he had found.
All the representations which are given by our Saviour of the effect of the gospel, either in the hearts of individuals, or in the world at large, (which correspond to one another,) give us the idea of something that has a gradual progress, and no where of a sudden instantaneous effect. Thus we find it compared to seed sown in the ground, to a small quantity of leaven, to laboring in a vineyard, &c. all of which require a considerable time before a sensible effect is produced.
The doctrines of the gospel, though established by miracles, did not produce their effect on the minds of men by a miraculous, but by a natural power. Indeed, external miracles would have been superfluous upon this scheme; since God, by internal miracles only, might have converted the whole world. The gospel had that effect, and that only, which the ground on which it was sown admitted. The new views which it opened to mankind induced most of those who were convinced that it was of God, to come to a resolution to change their former conduct; but neither could their mere belief of Christianity, nor their consequent resolution, actually profit them, till it had time to bring forth the proper fruits of it, viz. good works and a change of character. And when men did thus become Christians, still the apostles never ceased urging them, not only to act up to their profession, but to go on to perfection, comparing the Christian course to a race, or other exercise, which required the greatest and most unremitted exertion of all their powers.
If I be asked How this end is to be attained, or, in the language of the apostle, how we must gird up the loins of our minds, by what means is this lively and efficacious faith in the great practical principles of religion to be acquired? I answer, with Paul, that faith comes by hearing; supposing the consequence of hearing to be believing, and that believing operates as it ought to do: for it naturally arises from giving sufficient attention of mind to the evidence on which our faith rests, and from frequent meditation on the objects of our faith; and it cannot be produced by any other means.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER NOT APPRECIATED BY THE WORLD.
Notwithstanding this state of outward rest, and though no person is directly persecuted for being a Christian, yet the strict profession of Christianity is, in reality, at all times in a state of persecution. The world in general is but nominally Christian, and perhaps will never be wholly otherwise: for the great bulk of mankind, even in countries termed Christian, have other objects than Christianity, and, indeed, think very little about it. In consequence of this, a true Christian, one who values his religion as he ought to do, who feels as he ought to feel, and who acts as he ought to act, will be regarded with dislike. His conduct will be a reproach to that of others, and he will never be caressed like a man whose virtue is of a more pliable kind, and who can accommodate himself to the prevailing taste.
To a certain degree, the principles of honor, integrity, and benevolence, will always be admired, and make a man esteemed. But that kind of honor, and that kind of generosity which the world most admires, is very consistent with many things with which a true Chrisian cannot comply. The common hero of our stage is by no means a Christian character. And let a Christian behave in a manner the farthest from stiffness and moroseness, his sentiments are so elevated, compared with those of mere men of business or pleasure, that they cannot long accord together; and the latter being the more numerous will be able to keep themselves in countenance, and will regard others with aversion and disgust. Now the man who is so much a Christian as to be unmoved 102 THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER NOT APPRECIATED. by this contempt of the world, and who can bear to be ridiculed for his principles at present, would, I doubt not, be
able to die for them.
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The influence of the world, pleasure, ambition, and emolument, being the same upon the human mind that it ever was, it must produce the same characters. Consequently, we must not be surprised, if there should be the very temper of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Saviour's time, in the rulers of Christian nations, and at the head of Christian establishments. On the other hand, as Christianity was by our Saviour compared to a net, which took in fishes of all kinds, good and bad, we may expect that (as in that early age) the profession of Christianity, and even in time of persecution, will not always purify the mind; but that there will be some unworthy characters in all Christian churches. At the same time, therefore, that we justly guard against others, let us look well to ourselves.
THE CHRISTIAN READY TO SUFFER FOR HIS FAITH.
This, you may say, was requisite in the circumstances in which the apostle wrote, Christianity being then in a state of persecution, which no person retaining the profession of it could avoid; but now that the church is at rest from persecution, those sufferings are no longer necessary, and we may be, at this day, as good Christians without any hardships, as in those days they who were exposed to them could be.
I am far from saying that this is not possible; but many persons, I fear, deceive themselves by this view of things, and imagine that much less is now necessary to make a Christian than really is so. Whereas, the terms on which we become Christians (and, of course, become entitled to the rewards of Christianity in a future world) are the very same that they ever were, and, upon the whole, perhaps not less difficult. As it greatly behoves us to form just ideas on this subject, I shall endeavour to give you some assistance with respect to it; and for this purpose, I beg you will attend to the following observations.
In the first place, though the actual suffering of the loss of goods, of liberty, of life, or of reputation (which is often more valuable than life) be not always required of Christians, the temper of mind which would enable them to bear the loss of all these, if the sacrifice should be demanded, is always required of us. All Christians are required now, as much as in the times of the apostles, to cultivate a superiority of mind to this world, and all the enjoyments and pursuits of it. They are required to have their affections so set on heaven, and