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DISCOURSE XXVII. .
PSALM lxxxviii. 15.
While I fuffer thy terrors, I am distracted. As the comforts which true religion affords are the only sure support against the evils and calamities of the world, to which every condition of life is more or less exposed; fo the terrors of religion, being very grievous in themselves, exclusive of these comforts, add weight to all our miseries, and are a burden too heavy for the spirit of a man to sustain. But surely there is something monstrous in such terrors ! They come not from religion by natural birth: for it is much easier to believe that all we fee is chance and fortune, and religion itself a vain thing, than to believe that an all-wise, all-powerful Being has formed us to be miserable, and given us a sense and knowledge of himself, that we may live in perpetual terror and distraction. And yet, in fact, this is often the case ; we see many rendered unhappy by such fears and jealousies : and of all the fears incident to man, these are the most fear
ful, and give us the quickest sense of misery; they are, what the Psalmist has described them to be, distraction. A man in this sad state employs all his reason to his own destruction ; he is fagacious in finding out new torment for himself, and can give a thousand reasons to justify his unreasonable fears : if you offer a thousand more for his comfort and consolation, he rejects them all; his mind is under so thick a cloud, that no ray of light can find admittance. This evil is the more to be lamented, because virtue and innocence are not always a security against it; nay, sometimes the very desire to be better than we are, and to render ourselves more acceptable to God, makes us think ourselves to be worse than we are, and quite out of his favour. What a wretched ftate is this ! to sustain at once the burden of the righteous, and of the wicked ; to deny ourselves and the world for the sake of God, and yet to suffer under the forest evils, which can befal even the wicked in this life, the torments of a distracted mind ! ..But bad as this case is, it is not always the worst of the case : for, as to such who suffer under these terrors, and yet retain their integrity, there is this comfort, which, whether they can receive it now or no, they will one day find, that however they deal with themselves, yet God will judge a righteous judgment; and, for the sake of their innocence, deliver them from the fears of the guilty. But others there are, who, not able to bear these fears of religion, in the hafte they make to run from them, leave religion itself behind them; and, imagining that they cannot be good enough to obtain the rewards of religion, take effectual care to be bad enough to deserve the punishment of it. This is evidently their condition, who fortify themselves against the apprehensions of futurity by vice and intemperance; and seem to have no greater concern upon them in this life, than to secure themfelves from thought and reflection. This
may likewise, in some measure, be their case, who employ all their reason in hardening their minds against the sense of religion ; who seem to think it an easier matter to arrive at peace, by rejecting the belief of a God, than to come to any reasonable terms with him, and to find comfort and security under the apprehensions of his power and majesty. This irreligious phrensy is, of the two, the greatest; and will, in its consequences, be more fatal than the other. A weak man, who fears God more than he should do, may be worthy of compassion ; but the bold man, who despises him, has no reason to expect any.
In whatever view we consider the effects of these terrors of religion, they afford us but a melancholy prospect : it is a sad thing to see the wicked desperate, or the righteous in despair. Were these terrors the natural effects of that fear of God which is the foundation of all true religion, religion itself would be distraction, and not the reasonable service of a reasonable creature ; unless you can imagine, that he who made us reasonable creatures, and distinguished us by the nobler faculties of the mind, can take pleasure in seeing us lose our reason and understanding.
But since these terrors do often assume the Ihape
and form of religion, and are almost always charged to its account; it may be some service to true religion to thew the several kinds of these terrors, and the real causes of them: and it will be for our common instruction to consider, at the same time, the vanity of those remedies which men often have recourse to under these evils; and, as far as the
generality of the case will permit, to point out the true cure for them.
As to the causes and kinds of these terrors, they may be reduced, I think, to the following heads : they are such as arise, either, first, from uncer. tainty in religion; or, secondly, from false notions of God, and of the honour and worship due to him ; or, thirdly, from a conscience wounded with a sense of guilt; or, lastly, from some accidental infirmities of mind or body.
It is a matter of doubt, whether there be any of human race so absolutely degenerate, as to be void of all sense of religion : that there are any such has not yet been proved, though the point has been much laboured: but if any such there be, they are evidently out of the present question : for, whatever anxieties may reach men in such a state of stupidity, they cannot be ascribed to religion, from the sense of which the sufferers are supposed to be exempted. But many there are whose minds are disturbed with perpetual variety of opinions, and enjoy no more rest than a ship left to the mercy of the winds in a tempestuous sea. The concern which every man has in the issue of religion, is too great to be submitted with indifference to chance and uncertainty : for the question before him is, Whether he must die