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it be conducted with impartiality and candour; conscious that its excellency must come forth more conspicuous from every
trial. Another cause of scoffing, is levity of mind, and a vain desire of gaining the reputation of eminent sprightliness and wit. There are those in the world of such excessive vanity, that they are fond of being singular on every occasion. And if they would confine this preposterous passion to dress and equipage, and other" matters of equal insignificance, it would be comparatively harmless, nor deserve such severe reprehension. But when, for the sake of a jest, they would set objects in a ridiculous light, which all around them consider as serious and sacred; when they would strike out new paths in morality and religion; when they will not be satisfied with common sense and plain Scripture; when they will not consent even to go to heaven, if they must go in the beaten track of the vulgar; every friend to true religion and to the real happiness of men, ought to stand forth to correct so vain and mischievous a spirit. For, surely, to banter the idea of a God, and a Providence, and a judgment to come; to attempt to weaken the obligations of virtue, which is a law to all intelligent beings, and to plead for the privilege of dying like a brute, shows the want of a good heart and a sound judgment, as well as a cruel disregard to the dignity and happiness of human nature. If men, to gratify a spirit of vain curiosity, inust turn aside into new paths, let them amuse themselves with collecting inoffensive fruits and flowers, and not weeds of deadly poison. If it be the height of their ambition' to be esteemed persons of wit and ingenuity, let them not
be so vain as to imagine that this end can be accomplished by sacrificing truth and decency.
Again; occasion is frequently given to unbelievers to scoff at religion, from the wicked actions of those who call themselves Christians. Thus, when the prophet Nathan was sent to David to convince him of his heinous crime; among other charges, it is made a matter of severe reproof that by that deed he had “ given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blas“pheme." And St. Paul directs Timothy to insist upon a discreet and virtuous behaviour in his Christian converts, " that they might give none occasion to the adyer
sary to speak reproachfully." Religion only so far has its proper effect, as it influences us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. In vain do wę call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, if we keep not his commandments: in vain do we boast of the excellency of Christianity, of the strength and purity of our faith in all its doctrines; “ for as the body without the “ spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” The scoffer, to encourage himself in his own evil ways, reasons in this manner" There is the man who calls “ himself a Christian; who boasts that his religion is “beyond comparison preferable to all others. But “ how does this appear? Does he show the beauty " and excellency of it from its influence upon his con“ duct? He assures us that the precepts of the Gospel
require him to live soberly, and to be temperate in all things: why then is he so voluptuous, so apt to in
dulge in chambering and wantonpess, so extrava“ gantly fond of the pomps and vanities of this 6 wicked world? He declares that he is commanded
202 " to do to others as he would wish they should do
unto him; that he is to be just in all his dealings, bai " and ever desirous of overcoming evil with good.
Why then is he so violent in his resentments; so ready to take advantage of the necessity of his “brother, and grind the face of the poor ; so inclinable “ to defraud, insult, and oppress, whenever he can do
" it with impunity ? He tells us, that in the Holy de " Scriptures, which are the words of truth, life and
“ immortality are brought to light; that clear and "positive assurances are given of a resurrection from " the dead, of a future judgment, of glory and honour " to the righteous, but tribulation and anguish to those “ who do evil, and die impenitent. Why then does “ he live without God in the world, as if both body " and soul were to perish together, and he never to be 66.called upon to render an account of his actions? He
seems to rejoice when he assures us that every provision is now made for the relief of human infirmity, through the intervention of a Saviour; that his laws
are well calculated to be a complete guide to our " actions, his example a perfect pattern for our imita
tion, and his death an atonement for our sins. Why " then does he treat this wonderful scheme of mercy “ with so much disrespect, not even commemorating “ (agreeably to a positive commandment) that death "and passion, upon which he pretends to ground his
hopes of salvation ?”
Thus are sinners encouraged to persevere in an evil heart of unbelief, by the misconduct of those who ought to lead them into the right way, by wholesome advice and a blameless example. And although it is unreasonable and unjust to charge the faults of professing
Christians upon that religion, which, in every part, severely condemns them; yet, we see by this means, offence do come, and unhappy is it for those by whom the offence cometh. Be persuaded, therefore, to let your light shine before men-before those who disbelieve and revile--that they may, by your good works, be induced to glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Further; Christians, who in otlier respects are of a holy and harmless conversation, frequently bring a reproach upon their religion, by disputing with intemperate zeal about forms and ceremonies of little importance. The great and essential doctrines of Christianity are clearly revealed—otherwise the work of revelation would not be complete. And when men, in their excessive warmth to maintain their own side of a controversy, which, whether true or not, cannot possibly affect their everlasting salvation_when men, for this purpose, will lose that charity which“ beareth “ all things, and hopeth all things;" that charity which is absolutely requisite either to attain or enjoy the happiness of heaven; the scoffer at once absolutely concludes, that even the essential doctrines of our religion stand upon the same ground of uncertainty, , and thus is tempted to reject the whole system. Let us be ever ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us. Let us contend with a prudent zeal for the faith that was once delivered to the saints; but while we think that we are vindicating the honour of Christianity, let us not lose the temper and spirit of Christians.
But lastly; the great reason why so many are tempted to scoff at religion is this, they are pre-determined to persedere in their sins. The scoffers who were to come in the last days, St. Peter has told us, were * " men walking after their own lusts.” For this pur
pose it is, that they strive to get rid of the restraints of religion, that they may indulge the lusts of a wicked heart without check or control. The idea of a merciful, and righteous, and almighty Ruler of the universe, however delightful to the good man, is to the wilful and obstinate sinner a dreadful consideration. “ The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” He first becomes a fool; he first errs from the ways of religious wisdom; and then, in his heart, wishes there was no God, no righteous Inspector of his
actions, no almighty Judge to punish him as his crimes : deserve. When
When persons of this vicious character hear of a religion which severely condemns all unrighteousness of men; which requires purity, and sincerity, and justice, in our thoughts, words, and actions; which expressly assures us of a judgment to come, and which demands attention from its divine authority--when they hear such doctrines as these, what course are they to take? They must either relinquish their vices, for it is vain to strive with Omnipotence; or they will scoff at what they call the inventions of men, which they may follow or reject, as may best suit their own inclinations. - And this is the condemnation," says our Saviour, " that light is come into the world, and “men have loved darkness rather than light, because " their deeds are evil.” Not that they are destitute of sufficient knowledge and clear directions to find the way to happiness; but, their deeds are evil, and there. fore they shut their eyes against the light, and choose to wander on in the dark paths of sin.
These are some of the canses which excite the