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versation; especially if they be young persons and I am persuaded that much mischief is actually done in this very way.
A phrase much used upon these occasions, and frequent in the mouths of those who speak of such as in religious matters are more serious than themselves, is, "that they are righteous over-much." These, it is true, are scripture words; and it is that circumstance which has given currency to the expression: but in the way and sense in which they are used, I am convinced that they are exceedingly misapplied. The text occurs once in the Bible, and only It is in the book of Ecclesiastes,
7th chap. and 16th verse. It is not very easy to determine what is meant by it in the place in which it is found. It is a very obscure passage. It seems to me most probable, that it relates to an external affectation of righteousness, not prompted by internal principle; or rather to the assuming the character of righteousness, merely to vaunt or show our superiority over others: to conceitedness in religion in like manner as the caution de
livered in the same verse, "be not overwise," respects the ostentation of wisdom, and not the attainment itself. So long as we mean by righteousness, a sincere and anxious desire to seek out the will of God, and to perform it, it is impossible to be righteous over-much. There is no such thing in nature: nor was it, nor could it be, the intention of any passage in the Bible, to say that there is, or to authorize us in casting over-righteousness as a reproach or a censure upon any one.
In like manner it has been objected, that so much regard, or, as the objectors would call it, over-regard for religion, is inconsistent with the interest and welfare of our families, and with success and prosperity in our worldly affairs. I believe that there is very little ground for this objection in fact, and even as the world goes in reason and principle there is none. A good
Christian divides his time between the duties of religion, the calls of business, and those quiet relaxations which may be innocently allowed to his circumstances and condition, and which will be chiefly in his
family or amongst a few friends. In this plan of life there is no confusion or interference of its parts; and unless a man be given to sloth and laziness, which are what religion condemns, he will find time enough for them all. This calm system may not be sufficient for that unceasing eagerness, hurry, and anxiety about worldly affairs, in which some men pass their lives; but it is sufficient for every thing which reasonable prudence requires and it is perfectly consistent with usefulness in our stations, which is a main point. Indeed, compare the hours which serious persons spend in religious exercises and meditations, with the hours which the thoughtless and irreligious spend in idleness and vice and expensive diversions, and you will perceive on which side of the comparison the advantage lies, even in this view of the subject.
Nor is there any thing in the nature of religion to support the objection. In a certain sense, it is true, what has been sometimes said, that religion ought to be the rule of life, not the business; by which
is meant, that the subject matter even of religious duties lies in the common affairs and transactions of the world. Diligence in our calling is an example of this; which, however, keeps both a man's head and hands at work upon business merely temporal; yet religion may be governing him here meanwhile. God may be feared in the busiest scenes.
In addition to the above, there exists another prejudice against religious seriousness, arising from a notion very commonly entertained, viz. that religion leads to gloom and melancholy. This notion, I am convinced, is a mistake. Some persons are constitutionally subject to melancholy, which is as much a disease in them, as the ague is a disease; and it may happen that such men's melancholy shall fall upon religious ideas, as it may upon any other subject which seizes their distempered imagination. But this is not religion leading to melancholy. Or it sometimes is the case, that men are brought to a sense of religion by calamity and affliction, which produce at the same time depression of spirits. But
neither here is religion the cause of this distress or dejection, or to be blamed for it. These cases being excepted, the very reverse of what is alleged against religion is the truth. No man's spirits were ever hurt by doing his duty. On the contrary, one good action, one temptation resisted and overcome, one sacrifice of desire or interest purely for conscience sake, will prove a cordial for weak and low spirits beyond what either indulgence or diversion or company can do for them. And a succession and course of such action and selfdenials, springing from a religious principle and manfully maintained, is the best possible course that can be followed as a remedy for sinkings and oppressions of this kind. Can it then be true, that religion leads to melancholy? Occasions arise to every man living; to many very severe as well as repeated occasions, in which the hopes of religion are the only stay that is left him. Godly men have that within them, which cheers and comforts them in their saddest hours: ungodly men have that which strikes their heart, like a dagger, in its gayest moments. Godly men dis