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Thou hast wilfully set open this wide gate of deceit before the face of this unwary Traveller too apt, God knows, to go astray of himself,and confidently speak peace to his soul, when there is no peace.
Of this, the common instances, which I have drawn out of life, are too notorious, to require much evidence. If any man doubts the reality of them, or thinks it impossible for man to be such a bubble to himself, I must refer him a moment to his reflections, and shall then venture to trust the appeal with his own heart. Let him consider in how different a degree of detestation, numbers of wicked actions stand there; tho' equally bad and vicious in their own natures-he will soon find, that such of them as strong inclination or custom have prompted him to commit, are generally dressed out and painted with all the false beauties which a soft and flattering hand can give them; and that the others, to which he feels no propensity, appear, at once, naked and deformed, surrounded with all the true circumstances of folly and dishonor.
When David surprised Saul sleeping in the cave, and cut off the skirt of his robe,-we read, his heart smote him for what he had done.. But, in the matter of Uriah, where a faithful and gallant servant, whom he ought to have loved and honored, fell to make way for his lust,-where conscience had so much greater reason to take the alarm- -his heart smote him not.-A whole year had almost passed from the first commissi on of that crime-to the time Nathan was sent to reprove him; and we read not once of the least sorrow or compunction of heart, which he testified during all that time, for what he had done. Thus conscience, this once able monitor,placed on high as a judge within us,-and intended, by our Maker, as a just and equitable one too,
by an unhappy train of causes and impediments,takes often such imperfect cognizance of what passes,—does its office so negligently,sometimes so corruptly, that it is not to be trusted alone: And therefore, we find, there is a necessity, an absolute necessity, of joining another principle with it, to aid, if not govern its determi
So that if you would form a just judgment, of what is of infinite importance to you not to be misled in-namely, in what degree of real merit you stand, either as an honest man, -and useful citizen, a faithful subject to your king, or a good servant to your GOD,-call in RELIGION and MORALITY.-Look- -What is written in the law of GOD-How readest thou? -Consult calm reason, and the unchangeable obligations of justice and truth-What say they?
Let conscience determine the matter upon these reports; and then, if thy heart condemn thee not,- -which is the case the apostle supposes, -the rule will be infallible,-Thou wilt have confidence towards GOD;- that is, have just grounds to believe the judgment thou hast passed upon thyself is the judgment of God, and nothing else but an anticipation of that righteous sentence, which shall be pronounced hereafter upon thee, by that BEING, before whom thou art finally to give an account of thy actions.
Blessed is the man, indeed, then, as the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus expresses it, who is not pricked with the multitude of his sins. Blessed is the man whose heart hath not condemned him, and who is not fallen from his hope in the Lord. Whether he be rich, continues he, or whether he be poor,-if he have a good heart (a heart thus guided and informed)-he shall at all times rejoice in a cheerful countenance ;—his mind shall tell him more than seven watchmen that sit
above upon a tower on high. In the dearkest doubts it shall condu&t him safer than a thousand casuists; and give the state he lives in a better security for his behavior, than all the clauses and restrictions put together, which the wisdom of the legislature is forced to multiply,-forced, I say, as things stand; human laws, being, not a matter of original choice, but of pure necessity, brought in to fence against the mischievous effects of those consciences which are no law unto themselves: Wisely intending, by the many provisions made, -in all such corrupt or misguided cases, where principle and the checks of conscience will not make us upright, -to supply their force, and, by the terrors of gaols and halters, oblige us to it.
To have the fear of GoD before our eyes; and, in our mutual dealings with each other, to govern our actions by the eternal measures of right and wrong; the first of these will comprehend the duties of religion,-the second, those of morality; which are so inseparably connected together, that you cannot divide these two Tables, even in imagination, (tho' the attempt is often made in practice), without breaking, and mutually destroying them both.
I said the attempt is often made ;—and so it is; there being nothing more common, than to see a man, who has no sense at all of religion, —and, indeed, has so much of honesty, as to pretend to none,-who would yet take it as the bitterest affront, should you but hint at a suspicion. of his moral character,—or imagine he was not conscientiously just and scrupulous to the uttermost mite.
When there is some appearance that it is so,tho' one is not willing even to suspect the appearance of so great a virtue as moral honesty ; yet, were we to look into the grounds of it, in the
present case, I am pursuaded we should find little reason to envy such a man the honor of his motive.
Let him declaim as pompously as he can on the subject, it will be found, at last, to rest upon no better foundation than either his interest, his pride, his ease,- -or some such little and changeable passion, as will give us but small dependence upon his actions in matters of great stress.
Give me leave to illustrate this by an example. I know the banker 1 deal with, or the physician I usually call in, to be neither of them men of much religion:-I hear them make a jest of it every day, and treat all its sanctions with so much scorn and contempt, as to put the matter past doubt, Well, notwithstanding this, I put my fortune into the hands of the one,-and, what is dearer still to me, I trust my life to the honest skill of the other. Now, let me examine what is my reason for this great confidence.. -Why, --in the first place, I believe that there is no probability that either of them will employ the power I put into their hands,to my disadvantage. I consider, that honesty serves the purposes of this life. I know their success in the world depends upon the fairness of their characters ;-that they cannot hurt me, without hurting themselves more.
But, put it otherwise, namely, that interest lay,for once,on the other side ;-that a case should happen, wherein the one, without stain to his reputation, could secrete my fortune, and leave me naked in the world;-or, that the other could send me out of it, and enjoy an estate by my death, without dishonor to himself or his art.In this case, what hold have I of either of them?
Religion, the strongest of all motives, is out of the question.-Interest, the next most powerful motive in this world, is strongly against me.-I have nothing left to cast into the scale, to balance
this temptation.-I must lie at the mercy of honor, or some such capricious principle.-Strait security for two of my best and most valuable blessings, my property and my life.
As, therefore, we can have no dependence upon morality without religion --so, on the other hand, there is nothing better to be expected from religion without morality ;-nor can any man be supposed to discharge his auties to GOD, (whatever fair appearances he inay hang out that he does so), if he does not pay as conscientious a regard to the duties which he owes his fellow crea
This is a point, capable, in itself, of strict demonstration.-Nevertheless, it is no rarity to see a man, whose real moral merit stands very low, who yet entertains the highest notion of himself, in the light of a devout and a religious man. He shall not only be covetous, revengeful, implacable, but even wanting in points of common honesty-Yet, because he talks loud against the infidelity of the age,—is zealous for some points of religion,-goes twice a day to church,-attends the sacraments, and amuses himself with a few instrumental duties of religion,-shall cheat his conscience into a judgment, that, for this, he is a religious man, and has discharged faithfully his duty to GOD: And you will find, that such a man, thro' force of this delusion, generally looks down with spiritual pride upon every other man who has less affectation of piety, though, perhaps, ten times more moral honesty than himself.
This is likewise a sore evil under the sun: And I believe there is no one mistaken principle, which, for its time, has wrought more serious mischiefs. For a general proof of this, examine the history of the Romish church.--See-what scenes of cru elty, murders, rapines, bloodshed, have all been sanctified by a religion not strictly governed by morality.