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S E R M ON I.
1 Thess. v. 16.
M ANY of the enemies of religion consider it as the cause of a severe, gloomy, and unsocial disposition. Some of the friends of religion seem to consider it in the same light. Nothing, however, can be more unjust than such a judgment, or productive of worse effects. Who would choose to dwell with fourness and severity? Or what human creaa ture is able to resist the smile of cheerfulness, and the voice of joy? If religion were such as it is sometimes represented by prejudice, or such as the manners of some men who pretend to be religious, yea, I will add, who have strong feelings of religion, would indicate it to be, I should not be surprised that it had few votaries, and that men delayed to embrace it till the common feelings of humanity had left them.
Wherever a religion of this cast has been framed, I am persuaded it is not the religion of the New Testament: nor do I think, if it were, that any arguments would be sufficient for establishing it, or any further reasoning ‘necessary for overthrowing it. But with regard to that religion, the aspersion, from whatever quarter it has arisen, is entirely groundless. Christianity, on the contrary, is the source of the best, the purest, and the most permanent joys in human life. Were there nothing more than the exhortation in the text, it would never be pretended, surely, that the religion of Jesus forbids all joy and cheerfulness. And it may be of importance at this time to inquire into the causes of that joy which christianity encourages and promotes, and to which the apostle exhorts us in the text.
To give a particular account of the nature of that joy which the persuasion and practice of christianity excites, would be to describe the different modifications of rational pleasure and satisfaction; a description which at present I decline. I shall only observe, that when I speak of this joy, I cannot be supposed to mean a childish and laughing levity of disposition, which may brighten up the countenance, but does no more at best than play round the heart. I always understand by it that joy which becomes a man, which consists in a cheerful but composed temper, which leaves a person open to every gratification that is agreeable in possession, and afterwards delightful on reflection. Let us inquire into the causes from which this joy proceeds. This inquiry, with some reflections to which it will naturally give occasion, will be sufficient subject for our discourse at this time. Rejoice always, or evermore, faith the apostle. The grounds upon which so permanent a joy is founded must be very permanent, and must be laid deep in the human mind. Let us endeavour as plainly and as distinctly as possible to explain them.
In the first place: The joy to which a christian is called, and which may indeed be reckoned his portion, results from that virtue and integrity of life which the rules of his religion require.
It might be thought almost superfluous to shew that the christian religion is intended to A 2
make men better or more upright. The gofpel was evidently given to teach us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lufts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world?. That this is the design of it, the tendency of its doctrines, the purity of its precepts, the nature of its motives, the example of its Author, sufficiently evince.Some men may be so corrupt as to try to explain away this truth: but scarcely any man can be so audacious as barefacedly to deny it.
As christianity is thus evidently intended and calculated to make men better, I further observe, that the exhortation in the text is addressed to those upon whom it had this effect. The Thessalonians were remarkable for their work of faith, their labour of love, and their patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Chrift". They are recorded as ensamples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia“. Timotheus brings the apostle good tidings of their faith and their charity; and the text is immediately preceded by an exhortation ever to follow that which is good, both among themselves and all men. It is manifest that exhor
a Titus ii. 12.
bi Thef. i. 3.
< Verse 7.
tations of a general nature can only be applied to such as embrace in good earnest the tenets of that system where such exhortations are found.
Virtue and integrity, therefore, being essentials to the character of a Christian, whatever results naturally from these qualities belongs to him. But these qualities are the natural source of inward peace and joy of heart. Benevolence, moderation, friendship, sincerity, from the very constitution of the human mind infuse a pleasing cheerfulness and serenity into the soul. Rancour, violence, enmity, falseness, disturb its tranquillity. They occasion storms and tempests which are always unpleasant, and often disastrous. Jurtice, generosity, charity, are confessed by an open, composed frankness of countenance and manners. Injustice, cruelty, fufpicion and flander, are indicated by a dark look and difcontented manner, or by those tumults of passion which distort the face and wring the heart. Temperance and sobriety bestow health and vigour upon their votaries. The contrary vices every one discerns in the meagre and extenuated form of that man who, after innumerable pains and sufferings,