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persons accounted vicious are universally censured, the virtues that are most admired are not always Christian virtues, and give more indulgence to the passions, (as to those of revenge, and a love of what is called pleasure, of various kinds,) than Christianity allows. And there is not perhaps any vice besides that of a mean selfishness, that is equally condemned by Christianity and the voice of the world. We see that even murder, in the form of a duel, passes without any censure at all. Nay, the spirit with which men fight duels is applauded; while the meekness, though it be real magnanimity, showing a due command of temper, which overlooks insults, and preserves a kindness for those who offer them, is branded as meanness of spirit. Voluptuousness to a really criminal excess passes with so light a censure, that, when any person is said to be no man's enemy but his own, he is not thought at all the worse of on that account, especially as it is often accompanied with a contempt of money, and a love of society like his own. Profaneness is too generally considered as no vice at all, but only, at the worst, a foolish and unmeaning custom.
In these circumstances, a profound reverence for the name and attributes of God, the great duty of not living to ourselves, but of the appropriation of the whole of a man's time, fortune, and ability of every kind to the good of others, the love of God with the whole heart, and our neighbour as ourselves, including in the word neighbour every person to whom it is in our power to render any service; the obligation of sacrificing every thing in life, and even life itself, for the sake of conscience, in the cause of truth and right, with a view to a recompence, not in this world, but another, which Christianity requires of us ; are things quite above the comprehension of mankind in general. And whatever men cannot attain themselves, they think to be romantic and absurd, a kind of Quixotism in morals, and a just object of ridicule and contempt
Since, then, what is called the world, and the prevailing maxims and customs of the times in which we live, give us no assistance, but must operate as an impediment in our Christian course, we must surmount this great difficulty by our own voluntary exertions, taking to our aid those helps by which Christian principles are most effectually impressed and kept in view. Something of this kind is absolutely necessary, because no end can be gained without employing the proper means; and if any thing that does not necessarily obtrude itself, requires to be attended to, it must be purposely brought before the mind by reflection, reading, or conversation; to do this most effectually, some time must be set apart for the purpose. Also those intervals of time which are not engaged by necessary business, should not be wholly given to mere amusement, (though something of this kind is necessary for such beings as we are,) but be employed to some serious
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If, then, we call ourselves Christians, we must ever bear in mind, that, though we live in the world, that is, with men, who have no views or prospects beyond it, whose chief pursuits are riches, honors, or pleasures, — these are but secondary things for us. We are to receive them thankfully, and above all, to improve them properly, if, in the course of Divine Providence, they fall to our lot; but we are, at the same time, to be always looking beyond them to a more enduring substance, to a treasure in heaven, to honors that are unfading, which come from God and not from man, and to that pleasure which is at his right hand for evermore, accompanied with that inward satisfaction of mind, which always attends the possession of a good conscience. And we ought ever to be ready even to renounce all the advantages, honors, and pleasures of the world, when they come in competition with our duty, and our obedience to the commands of Christ. We must not hold even life itself so dear to us, as that we should not be ready to part with it (and, in whatever manner those who in this world have the power over life shall please) rather than make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. If in the hour of trial we deny Christ, he will also deny us.
It is much easier to preserve these just views of the object and end of our profession in an openly hostile, than in a seemingly friendly world, from the constant opposition of principles and objects in the former circumstances. In this case, that is, in a state of persecution, whether we voluntarily attend to it or not, we cannot help seeing, and reflecting continually, that this world is not our home. While we preserve the profession of our faith uncorrupted, and while we retain our integrity in asserting that faith, without any of those unworthy artifices, whereby too many evade the consequences of a frank and open declaration of their real principles, we see there is no state of enjoyment or repose to be looked for here; and we therefore naturally, and indeed necessarily, look forward to "that rest which yet remaineth for the people of God," where alone "the wicked cease from troubling." In this situation we want no motives to cultivate that temper and disposition of mind, which alone can qualify us for the happiness of that heavenly state.
But when the world is not apparently hostile to us, it is most of all truly so. For then it is, that, not being molested by the world, at the same time that we are subject to the influence of it, being " men of like passions with others," the same things that strike others, strike us. By mixing with the world and sharing the emoluments of it, we naturally become fond of them, and attached to them; and with certain limits this is unavoidable and not amiss. But is it in human nature, without particular efforts with ourselves, to which the bulk of mankind are much averse, to keep within the bounds of moderation, and not to become too much attached to the world, and those things of it which are foreign to our main object and ultimate views? Living with the world, we naturally live as the world does, and become gradually, in all respects, like the world; and the great objects of our Christian profession, being too long kept out of sight, lose their influence, and we are in danger of abandoning the pursuit of them altogether.
RELIGIOUS USE OF THE WORLD.
The world in which we live, with all the influences to which we are subject, may be equally our friend or our enemy, according to the use we make of it. It is wonderfully adapted, by the exercise it gives to our faculties, and to our passions and affections, to establish, strengthen, and settle us in the habit and practice of all virtue, and to raise us to a pitch of excellence to which Adam in paradise could never have attained; but then it is equally possible that, by sloth and indulgence, we may debase our natures to a degree equally wonderful. The knowledge and belief of Christianity itself, as well as every other advantage of which we are possessed, is also capable either of promoting the moral perfection of our natures, and our fitness for immortal happiness, or of making us the proper objects of a greater condemnation than that of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment.
It behoves us, then, to consider our situation and all our privileges very attentively, that we may make the best use of them. It is not in our option to be in any other circumstances than those in which our Maker has placed us. It will also avail us nothing to hide any talent in a napkin. As we have received it, we must give an account of the use we make of it.
We are likewise ignorant of the time when this account will be called for; and great and serious as the business of life is, the time allowed for the despatch of it is both short and uncertain; but though short, it is sufficient for the purpose of it, if it be rightly improved; and then the uncertainty of its duration is a circumstance that does not need to give us any concern. "At such an hour as we think not, the Judge may come ;" but then, "blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching."