« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
as could come only from a heart and character thus described.
He goes up into the temple to pay his sacrifice of prayer in the discharge of which, he pleads no merit of his own-enters into no comparison with others, or justification of himself with GOD, but, in reverence to that holier part of the temple, where his presence was supposed more immediately to be displayed-he keeps afar offis afraid to lift up his eyes towards heaven-but smites upon his breast, and, in a short, but fervent ejaculation, submissively begs Gop to have mercy upon his sins. O GOD! how precious! how amiable is true humility! what a difference in thy sight does it make to consist betwixt man and man! Pride was not made for a creature with such manifold imperfections-religious pride is a dress which still worse becomes him, because, of all others, it is that to which he has least pretence -the best of us fall seven times a day, and thereby add some degree of unprofitableness to the cha racter of those who do all that is commanded them. Was I perfect, therefore, says Job, I would not know my soul, I would be silent, I would be ignorant of my own righteousness; for, should I say I was perfect, it would prove me to be perverse. From this introduction, I will take occasion to recommend this virtue of religious humility, which so naturally falls from the subject, and which cannot more effectually be enforced, than by an inquiry into the chief causes which produce the opposite vice to it-that of a spiritual pride; for, in this malady of the mind of man the case is parallel with most others of his body, the dangers of which can never rightly be apprehended, nor can remedies be applied, either with judgment or success, till they are traced back to the first principles, and the seeds of the disorder are laid open and considered.
And, fist, I believe one of the most general causes of spiritual pride, is that which seems to have misled the Pharisee- a mistaken notion of the true principles of his religion. He thought, no doubt, that the whole of it was comprehended in the two articles of paying tithes and frequent fasting, and that, when he had discharged his consciences of them-he had done all that was required at his hands, and might with reason go and thank God that he had not made him like others. It is not to be questioned, but through force of this error, the Pharisee might think himself to be, what he pretended, a religious and upright man. For, however he might be brought to act a double and insincere part in the eyes of men upon worldly views it is not to be supposed -that when he stood by himself, apart in the temple, and no witnesses of what passed between him and his Gon-that he should knowingly and wilfully have dared to a so open and barefaced a scene of mockery in the face of Heaven. This is scarce probable-and therefore it must have been owing to some delusion in his education, which had early implanted in his mind false and wretched notions of the essentials of religion-which, as he grew up, had proved the seeds of infinite error, both in practice and speculation
With the rest of his sect, he had been so principled and instructed, as to observe a scrupulous nicety and most religious exactness in the lesser matters of his religion-its frequent washings...its fastings, and other external rites, of no merit in themselves but to stand exempted from the more troublesome exactness in the weightier matters of the law, which were of eternal and unchangeable obligation. So that they were in truth blind guides who thus would strain at a gnat and yet swallow a camel; and, as our SAVIOUR
reproves them from a familiar instance of domestic inconsistency-would make clean the outside of the cup and platter-yet suffer the inside-the most meterial part, to be full of corruption and From this knowledge of the character and principles of the Pharisee, it is easy to account for his sentiments and behavior in the temple, which were just such as they would have led one to have expected.
Thus it has always happened, by a fatality common to all such abuses of religion, as make it to consist in external rites and ceremonies more than inward purity and integrity of heart.As these outward things are easily put in practice-and capable of being attained to without much capacity, or much opposition to flesh and blood-it too naturally betrays the professors of it into a groundless persuasion of their own godliness, and a despicable one of that of others, in their religious capacities, and the relations in which they stand towards GoD; which is the very definition of spiritual pride.
When the true heart and spirit of devotion is thus lost and extinguished under a cloud of ostentatious ceremonies and gestures, as is remarkable in the Romish church-where the celebration of high mass, when set off to the best advantage, with all its scenical decorations and finery, looks more like a theatrical performance,than that humble and solemn appeal which dust and ashes are offering up to the throne of GOD; when religion, I say, is thus clogged & borne down by such a weight of ceremonies-it is much easier to put in pretensions to holiness upon such a mechanical system as is left of it, than where the character is only to be got and maintained by a painful conflict, and perpetual war against the passions. It is easier for instance, for a zealous Papist to cross himself and tell his beads, than for a humble Protestant
to subdue the lusts of anger, intemperance, cruelty, and revenge, -to appear before his Maker with that preparation of mind which becomes him. The operation of being sprinkled with holy water is not so difficult in itself as that of being chaste and spotless within-conscious of no dirty thought or dishonest action. It is a much shorter way to kneel down at a confessional, and receive absolution, than to live so as to deserve it--not at the hands of men-but at the hands of GOD-who sees the heart, and cannot be imposed on.-The achievement of keeping Lent or abstaining from flesh on certain days, is not so hard, as that of abstaining from the works of it at all times-especially as the point is generally managed amongst the richer sort, with such art and epicurism at their tables-and with such indulgence to a poor mortified appetite-that an entertainment upon a fast is much more likely to produce a surfeit, than a fit of sorrow.
One might run the parallel much farther: But this may be sufficient to show how dangerous and delusive these mistakes are-how apt to mislead and overset weak minds, which are ever apt to be caught by the pomp of such external parts of religion. This is evident, that, even in our own church, where there is the greatest chastity in things of this nature-and of which none are retained in our worship, but what, I believe, tend to excite and assist it-yet so strong a propensity is there in our nature to sense-and so unequal a match is the understanding of the bulk of mankind, for the impressions of outward things-that we see thousands who every day mistake the shadow for the substance, and, was it fairly put to the trial, would exchange the reality for the appearance.
You see, this was almost universally the case of the Jewish church-where, for want of proper
guard and distinction betwixt the means of religion, and religion itself, the ceremonial part, in time, eat away the moral part, and left nothing but a shadow behind. It is to be feared, the buffooneries of the Romish church bid fair to do it the same ill office, to the disgrace and ruin of Christianity wherever Popery is established. What then remains, but that we rectify these gross and pernicious notions of religion, and place it upon its true bottom; which we can only do by bringing back religion to that cool point of reason which first showed us its obligation-by always remembering that God is a spirit, and must be worshipped suitable to his nature, i. e. in spirit and in truth and that the most acceptable sacrifice we can offer him, is a virtuous and upright mind— and however necessary it is, not to leave the ceremonial and positive part of religion undone-yet not, like the Pharisee, to rest there-and omit the weightier matters, but keep this in view perpetually, that, tho' the instrumental duties of religion are duties of unquestionable obligation to us--yet they are still but INSTRUMENTAL DUTIES, conducive to the great end of all religion-which is to purify our hearts, and conquer our passionsand, in a word, to make us wiser and better mea -better neighbors-better citizens-and better servants to Gop- -To whom, &c.