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I do not assert that all those who neglect a
strict observation of the Lord's day are remiss
vn the performance of all their other duties



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THE WORfcS OF HANNAH MORE.



969



tlioa^h thev shoald bear in mind that the ob-
ervanoe of their other duties is no atonement
(or the neglect of this ; I will however venture
to a^m, that all whom I have remarked Gon«
•cientiouslj to observe this daj from ri^ht mo-
tivesi have been uniA>rmlj attentive to their ge-
neral conduct It has been the opinion of many
wise and good men,* that Chrbtianitjr will stand
or fall, as this day is neglected or observed.
Sunday seems to be a kind of Christian Palla-
dium; and the city of Grod will, never be totally
taken by the enemy till the observance of that
be quite lost Every sincere soldier of the great
Captain of our Salvation must, therefore, exert
himself in its defence, if ever he would preserve
the divine Fort of Revelation against the con-
toderated attacks of the world and the devil.

I shall proceed to enumerate a few of the
many causes which seem to impede well-dis-
poeod people in the progress of religion. None
perhaps contributes more to it than that cold,
prudential caution against the felly of aiming
at pe$feetion, so frequent in the mouths of the
worldly wise. * Wo must take the world,' sa^
they, * as we find it, reformation is not our busi-
ness, and we are commanded not to be righte-
ous overmuch.' A text by the way entirely
mi&anderstood and perverted by people of this
tort But these admonitions are contrary to
every maxim in human affairs. In arts and
iatterst the most consummate models are held
out to imitation. We never hear any body
cautioned against becoming too wise, too learn-
ed, or too rich. Activity in business is account
ed commendable ; in friendship it b amiable ;
in ambition it is laudable. The highest exer-
tioos i}f industry are commended ; the finest
energies of genius are admired. In all the
periuiing concerns of earthly thinp^ zeal is ex-
tolled as exhibiting marks of a sprightly temper
and a vigorous mind I Strange ! that to be * fer-
vent in spirit,' should only be dishonourable in
that single instance which should seem to de-
m'and unremitting diligence, and unextinguish-
able warmth.

But afier all, is an excessive and intemperate
zeal the eommon vice of the times ? Is there any
very imminent danger that the enthusiasm of
the ^reat should transport them to dangerous
aad inconvenient excesses 7 Are our young men
of fashion so tery much led away by the fer-
vours of piety, that they require to have their
ioMginations tamed and their ardours cooled

* The testimony of ont lawyer, will, perhaps, be less
•oipnrted than that of many priests. ' I have ever
Aland,* says the great lord chief justice Hale, * by a
strict and dili^nt observation, that a due observance of
the daty of Sunday has ever bad joined to it a blessing
upon the rejit of my time ; and the week that has been
so befUB has been blessed and prosperous to me: and,
on the other side, when I have been negligent of the
duties of this day, the rest of the week has Men unsue-
ct«iftil and unhappy to my own secular employments.
A> that I could easily make an estimate of my



thi week following, by the manner of ray passing this
4«y. Aod 1 do not write this lightly but by long and
•ound experience/— Sir Matthew Hale'g Works.

♦ When Pliny the youngpr was accused of despising
'Jie degenerate eloquence of his own age, and of the va-
nity of aspiring at pirfection in oratory, and of endea-
vouring to b.'comp the rival of Cicero ; instead of deny-
tn|^ the charts, hs exclaimed with a noble spirit, * I
flaak it the height of folly not always to propose to my-
•df tliB most perfect object oi i nutation. '



by the freezing maxims of worldly wisdom 7
Is the spirit of the age so very much inclined to
catch and communicate the fire of devotion, as
to require to be damped bv admonition, or ex
tinguisned by ridicule? When the inimitable
Cervantes attacked the wild notions and ra
mantic ideas which misled the age in which h«
lived, he did wisely, because he combated an
actually existing evil : but in this latter end of
the I8th century, there seems to be little more
occasion, (among persons of rank, I mean) of
cautions against enthusiasm than against chival-
ry ; and he who declaims asroinst religious ex-
cesses in the company of well-bred people shows
himself to be as little acquainted with the man-
ners of the times in which he lives, as he
would do who should think it a point of duty to
write another Don Quixotte.

Among the devices dangerous to our moral
safety, certain favourite and specious maxims
are not the least successful, as they carry with
them an imposing air of indulgent candour, and
always seem to l^ on the popular side of good
nature. Of the most obvious of these is, that
method of reconciling the conscience to prac.
tices not decidedly wicked, and jet not scrupu-
lously right by the qualifying phrase, that there
i$ no harm in iU I am mistaken if more inno-
cent persons do not infiame their spiritual reck-
oning by this treacherous apology than by al-
most any other means. Few are systematically,
or premeditatedly wicked, or propose to them-
selves, at first, more than such small indulgences
as they are persuaded have no harm in them.
But this latitude is gradually and imperceptibly
enlarged. As the expression is vague and in-
determinate ; as the darkest shade of virtue, and
the brightest shade of vice, melt into no very
incongruous colouring ; as Uic bounds between
good and evil are not always so|>rccisely defined
but that he who ventures to the confines of the
one, will find himself on tlie borders of the
other ; every one furnishes his own definition ;
every one extends the supposed limits^ a little
ferther ; till the bounds which fence in, per-
mitted from unlawfiil pleasures, are gradually
broken down and the marks which separated
them imperceptibly destroyed.

It Is, perhaps, one of the most alarming symp-
toms of the degeneracy of morals in the present
day, that the distinctions of right and wrong
are almost swept away in polite conversation.
The most grave ofiences are often named with
cool indifierence ; the most shameful profligacy
with afiected tenderness and indulgent tolera-
tion. The substitution of the word gallantry
fer that crime which stabs domestic happiness
and coniugal virtue, b one of the most danger-
ous of all me modern abuses of language. Atro-
cious deeds should never be called by gentle
names. This must certainly contribute more
than any thing to diminish the horror of vice in
the rising generation. That our passions should
be too often engaged on the side of error, we
may look for the cause, though not for the vin-
dication, in the unresisted propensities of our
constitution : but that our reason should ever be
exerted in its fevour, that our conversation
should ever be taught to palliate it, that our
judgment should ever look on with indifference,



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THE WORKS OF HANNAH MORE.



that our tongfues should ever be emploved to
confound the eternal distinctionB of right and
wrong ; this has no shadow of excuse : because
this can pretend to no foundation in nature, no
apology in temptation, no palliative in passion.

However defective, therefore, our practice
may be ; however we may be allured by seduc-
tion or precipitated by passion, let us beware of
hwering the standard op right. This induces
an imperceptible corruption into the heart, stag,
nates the noblest principles of action, irrecover-
ably debases the sense of moral and religious
obligation, and prevents us from living up to the
height of our nature, because it prevents us from
Knowing its possible elevation. It cuts off all
communication with virtue, and almost prevents
the possibility of a return to it If we do not
rise as high as we aim, we shall rise the higher
^for having aimed at a lofly mark : but where the
RULE is low, the practice cannot be high, though
the converse of the proposition is not proportion-
ably true.

Nothing more benumbs the exertions of ar-
dent youthful virtue than the cruel sneer which
worldly prudence bestows on active goodness,
and the cool derision it expresses at the defeat
of a benevolent scheme, of which malice, rather
than penetration, had foreseen the failure. Alas!
there is little need of any such discouragements.
The world is a climate which too naturally chills
a glowing generosity, and contracts an expand-
ed heart. The zeal of the most sanguine is but
too apt to cool, and the activity of the most dili-
gent, to slacken of itself: and the disappoint-
ments which benevolence encounters in the
failure of her best concerted projects, and the
freq^uent depravity of the most chosen objects of
her bounty, woiUd soon dry up the amplest
streams of charity, were they not fed by the
living fountain of religious principle.

I cannot dismiss this part of my subject with-
out animadverting on the too prompt alacrH^,
even of worthy people, to disseminate, in public
and general conversation, instances of their un-
successful attempts to do good. I never hear
a charity sermon begun to be related in mixed
company that I do not tremble for the catas-
trophe, lest it should exhibit some mortifying
disappointment, which may deter the inexpe-
rienced from running any generous hazards, and
excite harsh suspicions, S. an age when it is
less dishonourable to meet with a few casual
hurts, and transient injuries, than to go cased
in the cumbersome and impenetrable armour of
distrust The liberal should be particularly
cautious how they furnish the avaricious with
creditable pretences for savin|r their money,
since all the instances of the mortifications the hu-
mane meet with are carefully treasured up, and
added to the armoury of the covetovs man's ar-
guments, and never fail to be produced by him
as defensive weapons, upon every fresh attack
on his heart or his purse.

But I am willing to hope that that uncharita-
bleness which we so often meet with in persons
of advanced years, is not always the effect of a
heart naturally hard. Misanthropy is very
oflen nothing but abused sensibility. Long ha-
bits of the world, and a melancholy conviction
how little good he has been able to do in it, har-



den many a tender-hearted person. Hie railk
of human kindness becomes soured by repeated
acts of ingratitude. This commonly induces an
indifference to the well-being of others, from a
hopelessness of adding to the stock of human
virtue and human happiness. This uncomfort*
able disease is very fond of spreading its cwn
contagion, which is a cruelty to the nealth of
young and uninfocted virtue. For this distem*
per, generated by a too sanguine disposition^
and grown chronical from repeated disappoint-
ments, from having rated worldly generosity toa
highly, there is but one remedy, or rather one
prevention: and this is a genuine principle of
piety. He who is once convinced that he b to
assist his fellow creatures, because it is the will
of God; he who is persuaded that his forgiving
his fellow-servant the hundred pence, is a con-
dition annexed to the remission of his own ten
thousand talents, will soon get above all uneasi
ness when the consequence does not answer his
expectation. He will soon become only anxious
to do his duty, humbly committing events to
higher hands. Disappointments will then only
serve to refine his motives, and purify his virtue.
His charity will then become a sacrifice with
which Grod is well pleased ! His affections will
be more spiritualized, and his devotions more
intense. Nothing short of such a courageous
piety growing on the stock of Christian princi.
pie, can preserve a heart hackneyed in the world
from relaxed diligence or criminal despair.

People in ^neral are not aware of the mis-
chief of judgug of the righteousness of any ac-
tion by Its prosperity, or of the excellence of
any institution by the abuse of it

We must never proportion our exertions to
our success, but to our duty. If every laudable
undertaking were to be dropped because it failed
in some cases, or was abused in others, there
would not be left an alms-house, a charity-school,
or an hospital in the land. If every right prac-
tice were to be discontinued because it had been
found not to be successful in every instance, and
if every right principle were rejected because
it had not been operative in all cases, this false
reasoning pushed to the extreme, might at last
be brought as an argument for shutting up our
churches, and burning our Bibles.

But if, on the one hand, there is a proud and
arrogant discretion which ridicules, as Utopian
and romantic, every generous project of the ac-
tive and the liberal ; so there is on the other, a
sort of popular bounty which arrogates to itself
the exclusive name of fediA^^ and rejects with
disdain the influence of an higher principle. I
am far from intending to deprecate this humane
and exquisitely tender sentiment which the be-
neficent Author of our nature gave us, as a sti-
mulus to remove the distresses of the others, in
order to get rid of our own uneasiness. I would
only observe that where not strengthened by
superior motives, it is a casual and precarious
instrument of good, and ceases to operate, ex-
cept in the immediate presence, and within the
audible cry of misery. This sort of foeling for-
gets that any calamity exists which is out of its
own sight ; and though it would empty its purse
for such an occasional object as rouses transient
sensibility, yet it seldom makes any stated pro



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THE WORKS OF HANNAH MORE.



271



nnon (or miseriefl, which are not the leas red
because thej do not obtrude upon the sight, and
awaken the tenderness of immediate sympathy.
This is a mechanical charity, which requires
sprin|i|r8 and wheels to set it a going ; whereas
real Christian charity does not wait to be acted
upon by impressions and impulses.

Another cause which very much intimidates
well-disposed people, is their terror lest the cha-
racter of piety should derogate from their repu-
tation as men of sense. Every man of the world
naturally arrogates to himself the superiority of
understanding over every religious man. He,
therefore, wIk> has been accustomed to set a
high value on his intellectual powers, must have
made very considerable advances in piety be-
fore he can acquire a magnanimous indifference
to this usurped superior Hy of another : before
he can submit to the parsimonious allotment of
wit and learning, which is assc^ued him by the
supercilious hand of worldly wm<iom. But this
attack upon his pride will be n » bao touchstone
of his sincerity. If his advances hdve not been
so considerable, then by an hypocrisy of the
least common kind, he will be mdustrious to
appear less ^ood than he really is, lest the dt:-
tection of his serious propensities should draw
on him the imputation of ordinary parts or low
attainments. But the danger is, that while he
15 too sedulously intent on maintaining his pre-
tensions as an ingenious man, his claims to
piety should daily become weaker. That which
IS long suppressed is too frequently extin-
guished.

Nothing, perhaps, more plainly discovers the
faint impression which religion has really made
apon oar hearts, than this disinclination, even
of good people, to serious conversation. Let me
not be misunderstood ; I do not mean the wran-
gle of debate; I do not mean the gall of contro-
versy ; I do not mean the fiery strife of dptntont ,
than which nothing can be less favourable to
good nature, good manners, or good society.
Bat it were to be wished, that it was not thought
ilUbred and indiscreet that the escapes of the
tongue should now and then betray the * abun-
dance of the heart ;* that when such subjects
are casually introduced, a discouraging cold-
ness did not instantly toke place of that sprightly
animation of countenance which made common
topics interesting. If these * outward and visi-
ble signs were unequivocal, we should form but
moderate ideas of the * inward and spiritual
^ace.* It were to be wished, that such sub-
jects were not thought dull merely because they
are good ; it were to be wished that they had
the common chance of fair discussion ; and that
parts and learning were not ashamed to exert
themselves on occasions where both might ap-
pear to so much advantage. If the heart were
really interested, could the affections forbear
now and then to break out into language ? Art-
its, physicians, merchants, lawyers, and scho-
lars keep up the spirit of their professions by
mutual intercourse. New lights are struck out,
improvements aro suggested, emulation is kin-
died, love of the object is inflamed, mistakes of
the judgment are rectified, and desire of excel-
lence b excited by communication. And is piety
%toQe ao very easy of acquisition, so very natu.



ral to our corrupt hearts, as to require none ol
the helps which are indispensable on all othei
subjects ? Travellers, who are to visit any par-
ticular country, are full of earnest inquiry, and
diligent research ; they think nothing indiffer-
ent bv which their future pleasure or advantage
may be affected. Every hint which may pro-
cure them any information, or caution them
against any danger, is thankfully received ; and
all this, because they are really in eamfet in
their preparation for this journey ; and do f^iIly
6e/iece, not only that there is such a country, but
that they themselves have a personal individual
interest in the good or evil which may be found
in it

A farther danger to good kind of people seems
to arise from a mistaken idea, that only great
and actual sins are to be guarded against.
Whereas, in effect, temptations to tj^e grosser
sins do not so frequently occur to those who are
hedged in by the blessings of affluence, by a re
gard to reputation and the care of health ; while
sins of omission make up, perhaps, the most for-
midable partof<Aftr catalogue of offences. These
generally supply in number what they want in
weight, and are the more dangerous for being
little ostensible. They continue to be repeated
with less regret, because the remembrance cf
their predecessors does not, like the remem-^
brance of formal, actual crimes, assume a body
and a shape, and terrify by the impression of
particular scenes and circumstances. While
the memory of transacted evil haunts a tender
conscience by perpetual apparition; omitted
duty, having no local or personal existence, not
being recorded by standin^f acts and deeds, and
dates, and having no distinct image to which
the mind may recur, sinks into quiet oblivion,
without deeply wounding the conscience, or
tormenting the imagination. These omissions
were, perhaps, among the •secret sins,' from
which the royal penitent so earnestly desired to
be cleansed : and it is worthy of the most serious
consideration, that these are the offences against
which the Gospel pronounces some of its very
alarming denunciations. It is not less against
negative than against actual evil, that affection-
ate exhortation, lively remonstrance, and point-
ed parable, arc exhausted. It is against the
tree which bore no fVuit, the lamp which had so
oil, the unprofitable servant who made no use of
his talent, that the severe sentence is denounced;
as well as against corrupt fruit, bad oil, and ta-
lents iU employed. We are led to believe, from
the same high authority, that omitted duties
and neglected opportunities, will furnish no in.
considerable portion of our future condemnation.
A very awful part of the decision, in the great
day of account, seems to be reserved merely for
carelessness, omissions, and negatives. Ye gave
me NO meat ; ye gave me no drink ; ye took me
NOT in ; ye visited me not. On the punishment
attending positive crimes, as being more natu-
rally obvious, it was not, perhaps, thought so
necessary to insist.

Another cause, which still further impedes
the reception of Religion even among the well,
disposed, is, that garment of sadness in which
people delight to suppose her dressed ; and that
life of hard austerity, and paning abstinence



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THE WORKS OF HANNAH MORE.



which Uiey pretend she enjoins on her disciples.
And il were well if this were onl^ the misre-

f)resentation of her declared enemies ; but on-
mppily, it is the too frequent misconception^of
her injudicious friends. But such an over>
charged picture is not more unamiable than it
is unlike ; for I will venture to affirm, that reli-
gion, with all her beautiful and becomings sancti.
ty, imposes fewer sacrifices, not only of rational,
but of pleasurable enjoyment, than the uncon-
trolled dominion of any one vice. Her service
is not only safety hereafler, but freedom here.
She is not so tyrannizing as appetite, so exact-
ing as the world, nor so despotic as fashion. Let
us try the case by a parallel, and examine it,
not as affecting our virtue but our pleasure.
Does Religion forbid the cheerful enjoyments of
life as rigorously as Avarice forbids them 7 Does
she require such sacrifices of our ease as Ambi-
tion, or such renunciation of our quiet as Pride 7
Does Devotion murder sleep like Dissipation 7
Does she destroy health like Intemperance 7
Docs she annihilate Fortune like Gaming 7 Does
she embitter Life like Discord ; or abridge it
like Duelling 7 Does Religion impose more vi-
gilance than Suspicion 7 or inflict half as many
mortifications 'tis Vanity 7 Vice has her mar-
tyrs : and the most austere and self-denying
Ascetic (who mistakes the genius of Christianity
almost as much as her enemies mistake it) never
tormented himself with such cruel and causeless
severity as that with which Envy lacerates her
unhappy votaries. Worldly honour obliges us
to bo at the trouble of resenting injuries ; and
worldly prudence obliges us to be at the expense
of litigating about them : but Religion spares us
the inconvenience of the one, and the cost of the
other, by the summary command to forgive ;
and by this injunction she consults our happi-
ness no less than our virtue, for the torment of
constantly hating any one must be, at least,
equal to the sin of it And resentment is an
evil so costly to our peace that we should find it
more cheap to forgive even were it not more
right If this estimate be fairly made, then is
the balance clearly on the side of Religion, even
in the article of pleasure.

It is an infirmity not uncommon \ogood kind
ff people^ to comfort themselves that they are
living in the exercise of some one natural good
quality, and to make a religious merit of a con-
stitutional happiness. They have also a strong
propensity to separate what God has joined, be-
lief and practice ; the creed and the command-
ments; actions and motives; moral dut? and
religious obedience. Whereas, you will hardly
find, in all the new Testament, a moral, or a so-
cial virtue, that is not hedged in by some reli-
gious injunction : scarcely a good action ehjoined
towards others, but it is connected with some
exhortation to personal purity. All the charities
of benevolence are, in general, so agreeable to
tlie natural make of the heart, that it is a very
tender mercy of God to have made that a duty,
which, to finer spirits would have been irresisti-
lile as an inclination, and to have annexed the
highest* future reward to the greatest present
pleasure. But in order to give a religious sanc-
tion to a social virtue, the duty of * visiting the
fatherless and widow in their affliction,* is inse-



parably attached to the difficult and self-denying
injunction of* keeping ourselves unspotted from
the world.* This adjunct is the more needful
as many are apt to make a kind of moral com
mutation, and to allow themselves so much
pleasure in exchange for so much charity. But
one good quality can never stand proxy for an
other. The Christian virtues derive their high
est lustre from association : they have such s
spirit of society, that they are weak and imper
feet when solitary ; their radiance is brightened
by an intermingling of their beams, and their
natural strength multiplied by their alliance
with each other.

It cannot I>e denied that good sort of ptopU
sometimes use religion as Sie voluptuous us«
physic. As the latter employ medicine to make
health agree with luxury, the former consider
religion as a medium to reconcile peace of con.
science with a life of pleasure. But no moral



Online LibraryHannah MoreThe complete works of Hannah More → online text (page 62 of 135)