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If we consider the great prize for which we contend, that life and immortality are set before us, we cannot think that we can sacrifice too much to it, though we should be required to abandon life and all the enjoyments of it. We are in reality, no Christians except in name, unless Christianity be the primary object with us, and every thing else be a secondary pursuit. And they who think they can give their time, their talents, and their heart to the world, and seldom think of any thing else, and yet imagine they may secure the happiness of heaven after all, will find that they miserably deceive themselves. This is the reason why our Lord says "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," because riches naturally engage much of a man's thoughts, care, and affection, and leave him little time to attend to better things. Indeed, the rich seldom think that there are any better things than riches, even though they never find themselves happy or satisfied with them; on the contrary a true Christian will take more thought how to spend his wealth properly than to add to it. By this rule, then, let us try ourselves.
We ought therefore to consider well with ourselves, whether we are determined to maintain the profession and practice of Christianity at all risks. Without this we are no Christians, but merely men of the world, who follow the multitude which happens to be what is called Christian; but who from the same principle would have been pagans and *
hommedans. To be Christians indeed, we must be so in principle and from reflection, weighing well the truth and value of the profession, and determined to give up every thing, even life itself, that may be required by it.
The surest criterion of our advancing in real excellence and perfection of character, is our acquiring a disposition to think less of ourselves and of our own happiness, and more of that of others.
If the zeal of this apostle, his unwearied labors, his patient suffering, and prudent conduct, could not save him from continual opposition, and even from those who professed the same gospel with himself, why should we wonder at the like happening at this day, when Christians are much more divided among themselves, and when there are consequently many more occasions of offence. It ought to satisfy every man, as it did the apostle Paul, that he can acquit himself to his own conscience, and to God who knows the heart. Whatever we suffer from friends or enemies, while we act in this manner, we shall be abundantly recompensed at a future day.
If, therefore, I mean to follow Christ, I must be more especially upon my guard against adopting that mode of faith or practice which it is my interest, or which it is fashionable, for me to adopt; it being a priori, probable, that what "is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God." The true Christian must obey God, and not man; he must not "follow a multitude to do evil," and must be content to "take up his cross," suffer persecution, and follow Christ here, if he would reign with him hereafter.
Let it appear that the principal object of your attention is the proper duty of your profession, and let no taste you may have for the polite arts, as music, painting, or poetry, nor a capacity for the improvements in science, engage you to make them more than an amusement to you, or, at the most, any more than an object of secondary consideration. Let not even the study of speculative theology prevent your applying yourself chiefly to the advancement of virtue among your hearers. Let your conduct demonstrate, that you consider one soul reclaimed from vicious habits, or even one person's mind confirmed in any good resolution, as a greater acquisition to you, than the detection of any speculative error, the illustration of any known truth, or the discovery of any new ones.
How many are there who, in the most solemn forms, subscribe to articles of faith which they do not believe, when they would not on any account make a false declaration in any other form 1 This conduct, however, is such as no person can justify; and all that can be said in excuse for it is, that it is doing evil that good may come.
To me, I cannot help saying, it appears that the present state of Christianity is rather critical, and very much requires to be looked into by all its real and sincere friends. Men of good sense and of cultivated minds in other respects, cannot but be aware of many things which are evidently absurd in the prevailing tenets of the great part of Christians; and while no real friend of Christianity has the courage to show them that the things they dislike and object to, do not belong to that religion, it can be no wonder that they conceive a prejudice against the whole scheme, and become secret, if not open and avowed infidels. That this is the case at this day, not with the unthinking and profligate only, but with many persons of reading, of reflection, and of the most irreproachable conduct in life, is well known. It is also apparent, that the number of such persons is daily increasing; and unless some remedy be applied to the growing evil, we shall, in time, be in the condition of our neighbours the Papists, with whom the thinking men, in the church as well as among the laity, are generally infidels, and all the unthinking are bigots.
It has pleased the Divine Being, for good and obvious reasons, not to make the terms of salvation so very determinate, as that a man shall be able to pronounce with absolute certainty concerning the future state of himself or others, while we are in this life. It is evidently the best for us to be never without the influence of hope and fear; and therefore all that we have authority to say from the Scriptures, is, that when we have a fixed resolution to do our duty, as far as it is known to us, we have a reason to hope; and that when we either have not that resolution, or when our virtuous purposes are easily overborne by the influence of temptation, we have reason to fear. This is the nearest that any man can judge, even in his own case; and by this rule let every man examine himself, though not with a view to church communion. All that others can see or judge is, whether a man's conduct in life be such as is unworthy of their society; that is, in this case, contradictory to his profession as a Christian, and such as would be in danger of corrupting or disgracing them.
Much as I differ from Mr. Wesley in religious sentiments, I have the highest opinion of his integrity, and I consider his services of more importance than those of many benches of bishops. I doubt not he intends great good, and, in my opinion, he will be the cause, in the hands of Providence, of much more good than he intends or wishes.
It is true I am an avowed enemy to the Church establishment of this country, but by no means to any who belong to it. I write against Calvinism, but have the greatest respect for many Calvinists, and wish to make them exchange their darkness for my light. I am also an enemy to atheism and deism, but not to atheists and deists. I have a particular friendship for many of them, in this country and in other countries, and I write to inform and reclaim them. There is nothing personal in all this. They think as unfavorably of my system as I do of theirs. Let points of difference be freely discussed. Truth will be a gainer by it. But let us respect one another, as we respect truth itself; love all and wish the good of all, without distinction. This is true candor, and consistent with the greatest zeal for our particular opinions.
As the Indian said to the Spanish priest, who would have persuaded him to be baptized in the article of death, threatening that if he did not submit to that ceremony, he would certainly go to hell, whither all his ancestors went before him, that " he chose to go to his ancestors, rather than to any place whither the Spaniards went;" so, Sir, judging of the tree by its fruits, I shall willingly take my chance with pious, virtuous, and candid Unitarians, with such men as Dr. Lardner, Dr. Jebb, &c. who brought no railing accusr