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To judge rightly of our own worth, we should retire a little from the world, to see all its pleasures and pains too, in their proper size and dimensions: This, no doubt, was the reason St. Paul, when he intended to convert Felix, began his discourse upon the day of judgment, on purpose to take the heart off from this world and its pleasures, which dishonor the understanding, so as to turn the wisest of men into fools and children.
If you enlarge your observations upon this plan you will find where the evil lies which has supported those desperate opinions which have so long divided the Christian world, and are likely to divide it for ever.
Consider popery well; you will be convinced, that the truest definition which can be given of it, is, That it is a pecuniary system, well contrived to operate upon men's passions and weakness, whilst their pockets are o'picking: Run thro' all the points of difference between us,- --and when you see, that, in every one of them, they serve the same end which Felix had in view, either of money or power, there is little room left to doubt whence the cloud arises, which is spread over the understanding.
If this reasoning is conclusive, with regard to those who merely differ from us in religion, let us try if it will not hold good with regard to those who have none at all, or rather, who effect to treat all persuasions of it with ridicule alike. Thanks to good sense, good manners, and a more enlarged knowledge, this humor is going down, and seems to be settling, at present, chiefly amongst the inferior classes of people-where it is likely to rest: As for the lowest ranks, tho' they are apt enough to follow the modes of their betters, yet are not likely to be struck with this one, of making merry with that which is their consolation, they are too serious a set of poor people ever heartily to enter into it.
There is enough, however, of it in the world, to say, that this all-sacred system, which holds the world in harmony and peace, is too often the first object, but the giddy and inconsiderate make choice of, to try the temper of their wits upon. Now, of the numbers who make this experiment, do you believe that one in a thousand does it from conviction, or from arguments, which a course of study, much cool reasoning, and a sober inquiry into antiquity, and the true merits of the question, have furnished him with ?—The years and way of life of the most forward of these, lead us to a different explanation.
Religion, which lays so many restraints upon us, is a troublesome companion to those who will lay no restraints upon themselves; and, for this reason, there is nothing more common to be observed, than that the little arguments and cavils, which such men have gathered up against it, in the early part of their lives,-how considerable soever they may have appeared, when viewed thro' their passions and prejudices, which give an unnatural turn to all objects; yet, when the edge of appetite has been worn down, and the heat of the pursuit pretty well over, and reason and judgment have got possession of their empire
-They seldom fail of bringing the lost sheep back to the fold.
May God bring us all there.
The Prodigal Son.
LUKE XV. 13.
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all he had together, and took his journey into a far country.
KNOW not whether the remark is to our honor, or otherwise, that lessons of wisdom have never such power over us, as when they are wrought into the heart, though the groundwork of a story which engages the passions. Is it, that we are like iron, and must first be heated before we can be wrought upon? or, is the heart so in love with deceit, that where a true report will not reach it, we must cheat it with a fable, in order to Come at truth?
Whether this parable of the prodigal-(for so it is usually called) is really such, or built upon some story known at that time in Jerusalem, is not much to the purpose; it is given us to enlarge upon, and turn to the best moral account we can.
"A certain man, says our SAVIOUR, had two 66 sons; and the younger of them said to his fa"ther, Give me the portion of goods which falls "to me: And he divided unto them his substance. "And not many days after, the younger son ga"thered all together, and took his journey into 66 a far country, and there wasted his substance "with riotous living."
The account is short: The interesting and pathetic passages with which such a transaction would be necessarily connected, are left to be supplied by the heart: The story is silent-but nature is not: Much kind advice, and many a ten,
der expostulation would fall from the father's lips, no doubt, upon this occasion.
He would dissuade his son from the folly of so rash an enterprize, by showing him the dangers of the journey, the inexperience of his age,-The hazards his life, his fortune, his virtue would run, without a guide, without a friend: He would tell him of the many snares and temptations which he had to avoid, or encounter, at every step,-the pleasures which would solicit him in every luxuri ous court, the little knowledge he could gain-except that of evil: He would speak of the seductions of women,-their charms, their poisons,what helpless indulgencies he might give way to, when far from restraint, and the check of giving his father pain.
The dissuasive would but inflame his desire.
I see the picture of his departure: -The camels and asses loaded with his substance, detached on one side of the piece, and already on their way: The prodigal son standing on the foreground, with a forced sedateness, struggling against the fluttering movement of joy, upon his deliverance from restraint: The elder brother holding his hand, as if unwilling to let it go :-The father, sad moment! with a firm look covering a prophetic sentiment, "that all would not go "well with his child,"-approaching to embrace him, and bid him adieu. Poor inconsiderate youth! From whose arms art thou flying! From what shelter art thou going forth into the storm? Art thou weary of a father's affection, of a father's care? or, hopest thou to find a warmer interest, a truer counsellor, or a kinder friend, in a land of strangers, where youth is made a prey, and so many thousands are confederated to deceive them, and live by their spoils ?
We will seek no father than this idea for the
extravagancies by which the prodigal son added one unhappy example to the number : His fortune wasted, the followers of it fled in course, the wants of nature remain,-the hand of God gone forth against him-" For when he had spent all, a mighty famine arose in that country."-Heaven! have pity upon the youth, for he is in hunger and distress, strayed out of the reach of a parent, who counts every hour of his absence with anguish,➡ cut off from all his tender offices, by his folly, and from relief and charity from others, by the calamity of the times.
Nothing so powerfully calls home the mind as distress: The tense fibre then relaxes, the soul reires to itself, sits pensive and susceptible of right mpressions. If we have a friend, it is then we think of him: If a benefactor, at that moment all his kindnesses press upon our mind. Gracious and bountiful God! Is it not for this, that they who in their prosperity forget thee, do yet remember and return to thee in the hour of their sorrow? When our heart is in heaviness, upon whom can we think but Thee, who knowest our necessities afar off, putest all our tears in thy bottle, seest every careful thought, hearest every sigh and melancholy groan we utter?
Strange-that we should only begin to think of GOD with comfort, when with joy and comfort we can think of nothing else.
Man surely is a compound of riddles and contradictons By the law of his nature, he avoids pain, and yet, unless he suffers in the flesh, he will not cease from sin, though it is sure to bring pain and misery upon his head for ever.
Whilst all went pleasurably on with the prodigal, we hear not one word concerning his father, -no pang of remorse from the sufferings in which he had left him, or resolution of returning, to make up the account of his folly His first hour