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urable kind, will be perused with perfect indifference, and even disgust: and if such persons be advanced in life, so that their habits are confirmed, the endeavour to communicate to them a relish for such writings, will be altogether in vain. Of such persons we may say with Bacon's brazen statue, Time is past.
So strongly is my mind impressed with a sense of the importance of the habitual reading of the Scriptures, both from considering the nature of the thing, and from the best attention that I have been able to give to particular characters and facts; that I do not see how those persons who neglect it, and who have no satisfaction in habitually meditating on the infinitely important subjects to which they relate, can be said to have any thing of Christianity besides the name. They cannot feel the influence of its doctrines, its precepts, or its motives, when they give no attention to them; and, therefore they cannot derive any advantage from Christianity, except such as accrues to all the nominally Christianized part of the world, in improving the general character, manners and customs of it; but which, as it has not arisen from any attention that they have given to it, cannot entitle them to the character or rewards of true Christians; such as those who have lived as pilgrims and strangers here below, and as citizens of heaven; who, though living in the world, have had their affections on things above; whose treasure, the object of their chief care and pursuit, has been not in the things of this world, but in heaven. They may not be rejected by Christ as workers of iniquity, but they have no title to the appellation of good and faithful servants to a Master whom they have never truly loved or respected, and hardly even thought of; and, therefore, cannot expect to partake in the joy of their Lord.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
He only is justly entitled to the honorable appellation of a Christian who postpones every thing else to it, and who sets no value upon any thing else when set in competition with it. Whether this be our case, will appear by the share that Christianity has in our thoughts. Whatever it be that a man chiefly values, he oftenest thinks of; and if his attention be called off to other things, it will be detained no longer than is necessary. His favorite object, whatever it be, will perpetually recur to his mind, and it will not be in the power of any thing to exclude it long.
We may judge of this by the attention which men of the world give to riches in general, or to any particular estate they may wish to purchase, or by the attention which a person of a scientific turn of mind gives to his favorite objects, whether it be collecting what he thinks curious, or investigating what he thinks important; it will chiefly occupy his thoughts. Now a Christian may attend to these things, and many others, (for the occasions and business of life are various, and no one object, though the greatest, can possess the mind always,) but with him every thing of this kind, and the world itself, which contains them all, will be of no more than secondary consideration. They occupy and amuse him for a time, but he abandons them without regret when his more favorite business and pleasure call him. So much was the mind of pious David occupied with a sense of God, his providence, and religion in general, that he says the law of God was his meditation day and night; and he frequently mentions the pleasure he took in thinking of God in the night watches, whenever he could not sleep. Till this be our case, we cannot be said to have attained a proper habitual devotion. Now, such is the unavoidable influence of the world around us, that this state of mind is not to be attained without many efforts, or a course of discipline, in which the mind must be at first constrained to look off from the things of time to those of eternity. But repeated acts will at length beget any habit. And when, by this means, we shall come habitually to set our affections on things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God, our most pleasing meditations, the subjects to which our minds will naturally revert when no other shall be particularly pressing for attention, will be those which relate to religion. Something concerning God, or concerning Christ and the gospel, will first present themselves, and be uppermost in our thoughts; and whenever they are diverted to other objects (which is unavoidably the case in the usual business and commerce of the world,) they will recur with double strength and pleasure. It will be like the sight of a friend after a short absence.
Indeed, we make quicker advances in the divine life, as it may properly be called, by means of these intervals, in which the mind is occupied by the cares, or even the innocent pleasures, of life, than when we endeavour always to preserve a frame of direct devotion: for then, like the perpetual presence of the nearest friend, it would become dull and insipid. That generous, invigorating ardor, which is experienced by men of true piety, who mix with the world and exert themselves to be useful in it, is unknown to the professed devotee, who abstracts himself from the world, in order, as he thinks, to give himself wholly to God. This frame of fervent devotion advances like the tide in the ocean, with intervals of recess between each flow. In this, I am confident, that I speak to the experience of all who cultivate a habit of devotion, and who attend to their own feelings.
THE NOMINAL CHRISTIAN.
The real difference between a merely nominal believer and an unbeliever is very small, and of little consequence, compared to the difference between the merely nominal and the real Christian. What are the generality of Christians, in what are called Christian countries? They are, in fact, persons who mind nothing but their business, or their pleasure, without giving any attention to the principles of Christianity at all. It is by no means the subject of their daily thoughts, it supplies no motives to their actions, it contributes nothing to moderate their joys, or to alleviate their sorrows. It neither enables them to bear the troubles of life, nor does it give them any solid hope in death. Whereas the real Christian, as the apostle says, " rejoices as though he rejoiced not and weeps as though he wept not, because the fashion of this world passeth away," and the Lord is at hand. He is ever "looking to that blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God, and his Saviour Jesus Christ; " and has peace and joy in believing.
Christianity is less to be considered as a system of opinions, than a rule of life. But of what signification is a rule, if it be not complied with? All the doctrines of Christianity have for their object Christian morals, which are no other than the well-known duties of life; and the advantage we derive from this religion is, that the principles of it assist us in maintaining that steady regard to the providence and moral government of God, and to a future state, which facilitates and ensures the practice of those duties; inspiring greater piety towards God, greater benevolence to man, and that heavenly mindedness which raises the heart and affections above those mean and low pursuits which are the source of almost all vices. But Christian principles not reflected upon or attended to, cannot be accompanied with any advantage of this kind; and better, surely, were it to make no profession of any principles, than to live without a due regard to them. Better, therefore, were it for any person to be an unbeliever in Christianity, than to be a Christian, and live as if he had not been one. He deprives himself of all apology or excuse for his bad conduct. And it would, I fear, be happy for thousands of professing Christians, if they had been born and lived among heathens.
We cannot too much impress upon our minds, that religion of any kind is only a mean to a certain end, and that this end is good conduct in life. Consequently, if this end be not attained, we not only lose the advantage of the means, or instrument, of which we were possessed, but are chargeable with the guilt of such neglect, are guilty of an ungrateful contempt of the means that were afforded us for the greatest and best of purposes; and can we expect that this will go unpunished 1