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But this excuse is founded on a most erroneous conception of the nature of religion. It is supposed to be something, which interrupts business, which wastes time, and interferes with all the pleasant and profitable pursuits of 5 life. It is supposed to be something which must be practised apart from everything else, a distinct profession, a peculiar occupation. The means of religion-meditation, reading, and prayer — will, and ought, indeed, to occupy distinct portions of our time; but religion itself demands 10 not distinct hours. Religion will attend you not as a troublesome, but as a pleasant and useful companion in every proper place, and every temperate occupation of life. It will follow you to the warehouse or to the office; it will retreat with you to the country, it will dwell with you in 15 town; it will cross the seas, or travel over mountains, or remain with you at home. Without your consent, it will not desert you in prosperity, or forget you in adversity. It will grow up with you in youth, and grow old with you in age; it will attend you, with peculiar pleasure, to the 20 hovels of the poor, or the chamber of the sick; it will retire with you to your closet, and watch by your bed, or walk with you in gladsome union to the house of God; it will follow you beyond the confines of the world, and dwell with you in heaven forever, as its native residence.
It is said, religion is dull, unsocial, uncharitable, enthusiastic, a damper of human joy, a morose intruder upon human pleasure. If this were true, nothing could be more incongruous than the parable which represents it as an entertainment. But if this be the character of relig30 ion, it is surely the very reverse of what we should suppose it to be, and the reverse, indeed, of what it ought to be. Perhaps, in your distorted vision, you have mistaken sobriety for dulness, equanimity for moroseness, disinclination to bad company for aversion to society, abhorrence 35 of vice for uncharitableness, and piety for enthusiasm.
No doubt, at the table of boisterous intemperance, relig.
ion, if she were admitted as a guest, would wear a very dull countenance. In a revel of debauchery, and amidst the brisk interchange of profanity and folly, religion might appear indeed a dumb, unsocial intruder, ignorant of the rhetoric of oaths, and the ornaments of obscenity. These are scenes. it must be acknowledged, of what is falsely called pleasure, in which religion, if embodied and introduced, would be as unwelcome a guest as the emblematic coffin which the Egyptians used to introduce in the midst of their entertainments. From such instances, however, to accuse religion of being unfriendly to the enjoyment of life, is as absurd as to interpret unfavorably the silence of a foreigner, who understands not a word of our language.
But as long as intemperance is not pleasure, as long as profaneness, impurity, or scandal is not wit, as long as excess is not the perfection of mirth, as long as selfishness is not the surest enjoyment, and as long as gratitude, love, reverence, and resignation are not superstitious affec20 tions, so long religion lays not an icy hand on the true joys of life. Without her, all other pleasures become tasteless, and at last painful. To explain to you, indeed, how much she exalts, purifies, and prolongs the pleasures of sense and imagination, and what peculiar sources of 25 consolation, cheerfulness, and contentment she opens to herself, would lead us at present into too wide a range.
Excuses for a neglect of religion are suggested by different seasons of life. Youth, in the fulness of its spirit, defers it to the sobriety of manhood; manhood, encum30 bered with cares, defers it to the leisure of old age; old age, weak and hesitating, is unable to enter on an untried mode of life. The excuses of youth are those which are most frequently offered, and most easily admitted. The restrictions of religion, though proper enough for maturer 35 age, are too severe, it is said, for this frolicsome and gladsome period. Its consolations, too, they do not want.
Leave them to prop the feeble limbs of old age, or to cheer the sinking spirits of adversity. False and pernicious maxim! As if, at the end of a stated number of years, a man could become religious in a moment! As if 5 the husbandman, at the end of summer, could call up a harvest from the soil which he had never tilled! As if manhood, too, would have no excuses! And what are they? That he has grown too old to amend. That his parents took no pains with his religious education, and to therefore his ignorance is not his own fault. That he must be making provision for old age; and the pressure of cares will allow him no time to attend to the evidences, or learn the rules of religion. Thus, life is spent in framing apologies, in making and breaking resolutions, 15 and protracting amendment, till death places his cold hand on the mouth open to make its last excuse, and one more is added to the crowded congregation of the dead.
SAME SUBJECT, CONCLUDED.
THE excuses which we have already considered, are trifling, however, compared with the following.
It is said, "It is by no means certain, that there is a future state of retribution beyond the limits of the world. 5 Who has ever seen it? It is not certain, that the religion, which you urge us to embrace, comes from God. Many objections may be made to its evidences." Most of the irreligion, which prevails among the more informed classes of society, results from a lurking scepticism, which infests 10 their thoughts, and, in relation to religion, leads them to act in direct opposition to all the maxims which usually govern the conduct of men.
It is indeed true, that the existence of a future world is not to us as certain as the existence of the present;
neither can we ever have that intuitive assurance of the being of a God, that we necessarily possess of our own existence; neither can the facts of the Gospel history, which happened two thousand years ago, be impressed on our 5 belief with that undoubting conviction, which we have of the reality of scenes which are passing immediately before our eyes.
But the question is not, whether the Gospel history can be demonstrated. Few subjects which occupy human 10 contemplation admit strict and mathematical proof. The whole life of man is but a perpetual comparison of evidence, and balancing of probabilities. And upon the supposition that religious truths are only probable, the excuse we have. mentioned will not relieve irreligion from 15 the charge of presumptuous and consummate folly.
But it is said, many objections have been made to the evidences of revelation; and many of its difficulties remain yet unexplained. It is true, that objections have been often made, and often answered, and not only an20 swered, but refuted. But some difficulties, it is said, yet remain. It is true, they do remain; and the excuse shall be admitted, when any other subject of equal importance
all be produced, in which difficulties do not remain. The most plausible objections, which have been made to 25 any truth within the circle of human knowledge, are those which have been offered against the existence of a material world; but did this ever check an operation in mechanics, or excuse from his daily task a single laborer ?
A man of ingenuity might offer a thousand objections 30 against the probability of your living till the morrow; but would this rob you of a moment's rest, or frustrate a single plan, which you had meditated for the approaching day? If we subtract from the difficulties, which attend revelation, those which have been erected by the injudi35 cious zeal of some of its friends in attempting to prove too much, we shall find, that, in the vast storehouse of facts
which history presents, for none can there be produced a greater mass of evidence than for the birth, the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and upon the supposition of their truth, irreligion is nothing better than 5 distraction.
Another excuse, however, is offered, which perhaps has greater secret influence in quieting the conscience than any other. We are desired to look at the list of great names, who have been adversaries of Christianity. Can 10 that evidence, it is asked, be satisfactory, which failed to convince such minds as these? If the probable truth of revelation is to be ascertained in this manner, the dispute will soon be at an end; for it would be no difficult task to produce, from among the friends of revelation, a greater 15 number of greater names, within the last hundred years, than all the hosts of infidelity can furnish in eighteen centuries since the birth of Christ.
But I believe these instances are not alleged to disprove the truth, but only to weaken the importance of Chris20 tianity. They are alleged only to excuse an inattention to religion, and to show that it is not very dangerous to err with such great names on our side. Truths, it is said, which such understandings disbelieved, surely cannot be of infinite importance. Nothing would tend more to re25 move such apologies, than a fair, impartial, and full account of the education, the characters, the intellectual processes, and the dying moments of such men. Then it would be seen, that their virtues were the result of the very principles they had assailed, but from whose influ30 ence they were unable wholly to escape. Then it would
be seen, that they had gained by their scepticism no new pleasures, no tranquillity of mind, no peace of conscience during life, and no consolation in the hour of death.
Such are the excuses which irreligion offers. Could you 35 have believed, that they were so empty, so unworthy, so hollow, so absurd? And shall such excuses be offered to