« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
lives and behavior of the present times ;--concerning which I have said, that, if we are to trust appearances, there is as little as can well be supposed to exist at all in a Christian country.
Here I shall spare exclamations, and, avoiding all common-place railing upon the subject, confine myself to facts,—such as every one who looks out into the world, and makes any observations at all, will vouch for me.
Now, whatever are the degrees of real religion amongst us,—whatever they are, the appearances are strong against the charitable side of the question.
If religion is any where to be found, one would think it would be amongst those of the higher rank in life, whose education, and opportunities of knowing its great importance, should have brought them over to its interest, and rendered them as firm in the defence of it, as eminent in its example. But, if you examine the fact, you will almost find it a test of a politer education, and a mark of more shining parts, to know nothing, and, indeed, care nothing at all about it: -Or, if the subject happens to engage the attention of a few of the more sprightly wits, that it serves no other purpose, but that of being made merry at, and of being reserved, as a standing jest, to enliven discourse, when conversation sickens upon their hands.
This is too sore an evil, not to be observed amongst persons of all ages, in what is called higher life; and so early does the contempt of this great concern begin to show itself- -that it is no uncommon thing to hear persons disputing against religion, and raising cavals against the Bible, at an age when some of them would be hard set to read a chapter in it. And I may add, that, of those whose stock in knowledge is somewhat larger, that for the most part, it has scarce
any other foundation to rest on, but the sinking credit of traditional and second-hand objections against revelation, which, had they leisure to read, they would find answered and confuted a thousand times over. But this by the way.
If we take a view of the public worship of Almighty GoD, and observe in what manner it is reverenced by persons in this rank of life, whose duty it is to set an example to the poor and ignorant, we shall find concurring evidence upon this melancholy argument—of a general want of all outward demonstration of a sense of our duty towards Gon, as if religion was a business fit only to employ tradesmen and mechanics-and the salvation of our souls, a concern utterly below the consideration of a person of figure and consequence.
I shall say nothing, at present, of the lower ranks of mankind:-Though they have not yet got into the fashion of laughing at religion, and treating it with scorn and contempt, and, I believe, are too serious a set of creatures ever to come into it; yet, we are not to imagine, but that the contempt it is held in by those whose examples they are too apt to imitate, will, in time utterly shake their principles, and render them, if not as profane, at least as corrupt as their betters.- When this event happens-and we begin to feel the effects of it in our dealings with them, those who have done the mischief, will find the necessity, at last, of turning religious in their own defence, and, for want of a better principle, to set an example of piety and good morals, for their own interest and convenience.
Thus much for the languishing state of religion in the present age;-in virtue and good morals, perhaps, the account may stand higher.Let us enquire.
And here, I acknowledge, that an unexpe
rienced man, who heard how loudly we all talked in behalf of virtue and moral honesty, and how unanimous we were all in our cry against vicious characters of all denominations, would be apt hastily to conclude, that the whole world was in an uproar about it.
and that there was so general an horror and detestation of vice amongst us, that mankind were all associating together to hunt it out of the world, and give it no quarter.This, I own, would be a natural conclusion for any one, who only trusted his ears upon this subject. But, as matter of fact is allowed better evidence than hearsay, let us see in the present, how the one case is contradicted by the other..
However vehement we approve ourselves in discourse against vice,-I believe no one is ignorant, that the reception it actually meets with is very different:-The conduct and behavior of the world is so opposite to their language, and, all we hear, so contradicted by what we see, as to leave little room to question what sense we are to trust.
Look, I beseech you, amongst those whose higher stations are made a shelter for the liberties they take, you will see, that no man's character is so infamous, nor any woman's so abandoned, as not to be visited and admitted freely into all companies, and, if the party can pay for it, even publicly to be courted, caressed, and flattered. If this will not overthrow the credit of our virtue, take a short view of the general decay of it, from the fashionable excesses of the age, in favor of which, there seems to be formed so strong a party, that a man of sobriety, temperance, and regularity, scarce knows how to accommodate himself to the society he lives in, and is oft as much at a loss how and where to dispose of himself;—and, unless you suppose a mixture of constancy in his temper, it
is great odds but such a one would be ridiculed, and laughed out of his scruples and his virtue at the same time.—To say nothing of occasional rioting, chambering, and wantonness,-consider how many public markets are established, merely for the sale of virtue,-where the manner of going, too sadly indicates the intention;-and the disguise each is under, not only gives power safely to drive on the bargain, but too often tempts to carry it into execution too..
This sinning under disguise, I own, seems to carry some appearance of a secret homage to virtue and decorum, and might be acknowledged as such, was it not the only public instance the world seems to give of it.-In other cases, a just sense of shame seems a matter of so little concern, that, instead of any regularity of behavior, you see thousands who are tired with the very form of it, and who at length have even thrown the mask of it aside, as an useless piece of incumbrance.This, I believe, will need no evidence ;-it is too evidently seen in the open liberties taken every day, in defiance (not to say of religion, but of) decency and common good manners ;—so that it is no uncommon thing to behold vices, which, heretofore, were committed only in dark corners, now openly show their faces in broad day, and oft-times with such an air of triumph, as if the party thought he was doing himself honor, -or, that he thought the deluding an unhappy creature, and the keeping her in a state of guilt, was as necessary a piece of grandeur as the keeping an equipage, and did him as much credit as any other appendage of his fortune.
If we pass on from the vices to the indecorums of the age (which is a softer name for vices), you will scarce see any thing, in what is called higher life, but what bespeaks a general relaxation of all order and discipline,-in which our opinions, as
well as manners, seem to be set loose from all restraints, and in truth, from all serious reflections too; and one may venture to say, that gaming and extravagance, to the utter ruin of the greatest estates,minds dissipated with diversions, and heads giddy with a perpetual rotation of them, are the most general characters to be met with ;-and, though one would expect, that, at least, the more solemn seasons of the year set apart for the contemplation of Christ's sufferings, should give some check and interruption to them; yet, what appearance is there ever amongst us, that it is so?-What one alteration does it make in the course of things?- Is not the doctrine of mortification insulted by the same luxury of entertainments at our tables?-Is not the same order of diversions perpetually returning and scarce any thing else thought of?-Does not the same levity in dress, as well as discourse, show itself in persons of all ages?—I say of all ages,for, it is no small aggravation of the corruption of our morals, that age, which, by its authority, was once able to frown youth into sobriety and better manners, and keep them within bounds, seems but too often to lead the way,—and, by their unseasonable example, give a countenance to follies and weakness, which youth is but too apt to run into, without such a recom. mendation. Surely, age, which is but one remove from death, should have nothing about it, but what looks like a decent preparation for it. In purer times, it was the case ;-but now, grey hairs themselves scarce ever appear, but in the high mode and flaunting garb of youth, with heads as full of pleasure, and clothes as ridiculously, and as much in the fashion, as the person who wears them is usually grown out of it.Upon which article, give me leave to make a short reflection;-which is this,-That whenVOL. III.