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— we must not wonder that such low views are
entertained of Christianity, and that a religious
life is reprobated as strict and rigid.

But to him who acte from the nobler motive
of love, and the animating power of the chris.
tian hope, the exercise b the reward, the per-
mission is the privilege, the work is the wages.
He does not carve out some miserable pleasure,
and stipubte for some meagre diversion, to pay
himself for the hard performance of his duty
who in that very performance experiences the
highest pleasure ; and feels the truest gratifica-
tion of which hb nature b capable, in devoting
the noblest part of that nature to His service, to
whom he owes all, because from Him he has
received alL

This reprobated strictness, therefore, so far
from being the source of discomfort and mbery,
as b pretended, is in reality the true cause of
actual enjoyment, by laying the axe to the root
of all those turbulent and uneasy passions, the
unreserved and yet imperfect gratification of
which does so much more tendto disturb our
happiness, than that self-government which
Christianity enjoins.

But all precepte seem rigorous, all observances
are really hard, where there is not an entire
conviction of God's right to our obedience and
an internal principle of faith and love to make
that obedience pleasant A religious life is in-
deed a hard bondage to one immersed in the
practices of the woAd, and under the dominion
of ite appetites and passions. To a real Chris,
tian it is ' perfect freedom.* He does not now
abstoin firom such and such thin^, merely be-
cause they are fbrbidden (as he did in the first
stages of his progress) but because his soul has
no longer any pleasure in them. And it would
be the severest of all punbhmente to oblige him
to return to those practices, from which he once
abstained with difficulty, and through the less
noble principle of fear.

There is not, therefore, perhaps, a greater
misteke than that common notion entertained
by the more orderly part of the fashionable
world, that a little religion will make people
happy, but that a high degree of it is incom.
patible with all enjoyment. For surely that re
ligion can add little to a man*s happiness which
restrains him from the commission of a wronr
action, but which does not pretend to extingubb
the bad principle from which the act proceeded.
A religion which ties the hands, without chang-
ing the heart ; which, like the hell of Tantalus,
subdues not the desire, yet forbids the ^rratifica-
tion, is indeed an unoomfbrtabie religion : and
such a -religion, though it may gain a man
something on the side of reputation, w?U give

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him but little inward comfort For what true
peaod can that heart enjoy which is lefl a prey
to that temper which produced the evil, even
though terror or shame may have prevented the
outward act

That oeople devoted to the pursuits of a dissi-
pated life should conceive of religion as a diffi-
cult and ev^a unattainable state, it is easy to
believe. That they should conceive of it as an
unhappy state, is the consummation of their
error and their ignorance : for that a rational
being should have his understanding oniightsn-
ed; that an immortal being should have his
▼lews extended and enlarged ; that a helpUsa be-
ing should have a consciousness of assistance ;
a sinful being the prospect of a pardon, or a
^len one the assurance of restoration, does not
seem a probable ground of unhappiness : and on
any other subject but religion, such reasoning
would not be admissible.


A ttranger, from ob$trving thefatfrnmuMe mode
of life^ tiould not take this to he a Christian
country. — Liveo of prcfeooing Chriotiano ex-
amined hy a eomparieon wUh the OoopeL —
Chriotiamty not made the rule of life^ even by
those uihojrofeMS to receive it as an object oj
faith.-r^Temporizing writers contribute to
Unoer the credit of Christianity. Loose ha-
rangues on morals not calculated to reform the

The Christian religion is not intended, as
lome of its fashionable professors seem to fancy,
to operate as a charm, a talisman, or incantation,
and to produce its efl^t by our pronouncing
certain mystical words, attending at certain con-
secrated places, and performing certain hallow-
ed ceremonies ; but it is an active, vital, influ-
ential principle, operating on the heart, restrain.
bag the desires, affecting the general conduct,
and as much regulating our commerce with the
world, our business, pleasures, and enjoyments,
our conversations, designs, and actions, as our
behaviour in public worship, or even in private

That the effects of such a principle are strik-
ingly visible in the lives and manners of the
generality of those who give the law to fashion,
will not perhaps be insisted on. And indeed,
the whole present system of fashionable life is
utterly destructive of seriousness. To instance
only in the growing habit of frequenting great
assemblies, which is generally thought insigni-
ficant, and is in effect so vapid, that one almost
wonders how it can be dangerous ; — ^it would
excite laughter, because we are so broken into
the habi^ were I to insist on the immorality of
passing one*s whole life in a crowd. — But those
promiscuous myriads which compose the so-
ciety, falsely so called, of the gay world ; who
are brought together without esteem, remain
without pleasure, and part without regret ; who
live in a round of diversions, the possession of
which is so joyless, though the absence is so in-
supportable ; these, by the mere force of inces-
sant and indiscriminate association weaken. '

and in time wear out, the best feelings and af-
fections of the human heart And the mere
spirit of dissipation, thus contracted from inva-
riable habit, even detached from all its concomi-
tant evils, is in itself as hostile to a religious
spirit, as more positive and actual ollences. Far
be it from me to say that it is as criminal ; I
only insist that it is as opposite to that heavenly
mindedness which is the essence of the Chris-
tian temper.

Let us suppose an ignorant and unprejudiced
spectator, who should have been taught the
theory of all the religions on the globe, brought
hither from the other hemisphere. Set him
down in the politest part of our capital, and let
him determine, if he can, except from what he
shall see interwoven in the texture of our laws,
and kept up in the service of our churckes,to what
particular religion we belong. Let him not mix
entirely with Uie most flagitious, but only with
the most fashionable; at least, let him keep
what they themselves call the best company. Let
him scrutinize into the manners, customs, ha-
bits, and diversions, most in vogue, and then in-
fer from all he has seen and heard, what is the
established religion of the land.

That it could not be the Jewish he would
soon discover : for of rites, ceremonies, and ex-
ternal observances, he would trace but slender
remains. He would be equallv convinced that
it could not be the religion of old Greece and
Rome ; for that enjoined reverence to the gods,
and inculcated obedience to the laws. His most
probable conclusion would be in favour of the
Mahometan faith, did not the excessive indulg-
ence of some of the most distinguished in an
article of intemperance prohibited even by the
sensual prophet of Arabia, defeat that conjeo-

How would the petrified inquirer be astonish-
ed, if he were told that all these gay, thought,
less, luxurious, dissipated persons, professed a
religion, meek, spiritual, self-denying; of which
humility, poverty of spirit, a renewed mind, and
non-conformity to the world, were specific dis-
tinctions !

When be saw the sons of men of fortune,
scarcely old enough to be sent to school, admit-
ted to be spectators of the turbulent and unnatu-
ral diversions of racing and gaming ; and the
almost infant daughters, even of wise and vir-
tuous mothers (an mnovation which fashion her-
self forbade till now) carried with most unthrifty
anticipation to Uie frequent and late protracted
ball — would he believe that we were of a religion
which has required from those very parents a
solemn vow that Uiese children should be bred
up * in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
That they should constantly ' believe God*s holy
word and keep his commandments 7'

When he observed the turmoils of ambition,
the competitions of vanity, the ardent thirst for
the possession of wealth, and the wild misappli-
cation of it when possessed ; how could he pe^
suade himself that all these anxious pursuers of
present enjoyment were the disciples of a mas
ter who exhibited the very character and es
scticc of his religion, as it were in a motto—
* My kingdom is not of this world I'

When he beheld those nocturnal clubs, ■•

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subversive of private virtue and domestic happi.
ness, would be conceive that we were of a reli-
^on which in express terms 'exhorts young
men to be sober-minded 7*

When he saw those magnificent and brightly
Illuminated structui-es which decorate and dis.
grace the very precincts of the ro^al residence,
(so free itself from all these pollutions) when he
beheld the niffhtly offerings made to the demon
of play, on vmose cruel altar the fortune and
happiness of wives and children are offered up
without remorse ; would he not conclude that
we were of some of those barbarous religions
which enjoins unnatural sacrifices, and whose
horrid deities are appeased with nothing less
than human victims 7

Now ought we not to pardon our imaginary
spectator^ if he should not at once conclude that
all the varbus descriptions of persons above no-
ticed professed the Christian religion ; supposing
him to have no other way of determining but
by the conformity of their manners to that rule
by which he had undertaken to judge them 7
We indeed must judge with a certain latitude,
and candidly take the present state of society
into the account ; which in some few instances,
perhaps, must be allowed to dispense with that
literal strictness, which more peculiarly belong-
ed to the first ages of the Gospel.

But as this is really a Christian country, pro-
fessing to enjoy the purest faith in the purest
form. It cannot be unreasonable to go a little
fiirther, and inquire whether Christianity, how-
ever firmly established and generally professed
in it, is really practised by that order of fashion-
able persons, who, while they are absorbed in
the delights of the world, and their whole souls
devoted to ti\e pursuit of pleasure, yet still arro-
gate to themselves the honourable name of Chris-
tians, and occasionally tesfcifV their claim to this
hif h character, by a general profession of their
beL'ef in, and a decent occasional compliance
with the forms of religion, and the ordinances
of our church?

This inquiry must be made, not by a compa-
rison with the state of Christianity in other
countries (a mode always fallacious, whether
adopted by nations or individuals, is that of com-
paring themselves with those who are still
worse) nor must it be made from any notions
drawn from custom, or any other human stand-
ard ; but from a scripture view of what real re-
ligion is ; from any one of those striking and
comprehensive representations of it, which may
be found condensed in so many single passages
of the sacred writings.

Whoever then kraks into the Book of God,
and observes its prevailing spirit, and then looks
into that part of the world under consideration,
will not surely be thought very censorious, if he
pronounce that the conformity between them
does not seem to be eery striking; and the man-
ners of the one do not very evidently appear to
be dictated by the spirit of the other. Will he
discover that the Christian religion is so much
as pretended to be made the rule of life even by
that decent order who profess not to have dis-
carded it as an object of faith 7 Do even the
more regular, who neglect not public observan-
ces, consider Christianity as the measure of their

Vol. I.

actiong ! Do even what the world c<ills religi
ous persons, employ their time, their abilities*
and their fortune, as talents for which they how-
ever confess they believe themselves accounta-
ble : or do they, in any respect live, I will not
say up to their profession (for what human being
does so?) but in any consistency with it, or even
with an eye to its predominant tendencies 7 Do
persons in general of this description scorn to
consider the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, as
any thing more than a form of words necessary
indeed to be repeated, and proper to be believed ?
But do they consider them as necessary to be
adopted into a governing principle of action 7

Is it acting a consistent part to declare in the
solemn assemblies that they are ' miserable
offenders,' and that * there is no health in them,*
and yet never in their daily lives to discover
any symptom of that humility and selflabase
ment, which should naturally be implied in such
a declaration 7

Is it reasonable or compatible, I will not say
with piety, but with good sense, earnestly to la-
ment having * followed the devices and desires
of their own hearts,* and then deliberately to
plunge into such a torrent of dissipations as
clearly indicates that - they do not strugj?le to
oppose one of these devices, to resist one of these
desires 7 I dare not say this is hypocrisy, I do
not believe it is, but surely it is inconsistency.

* Be je not conformed to this world,' is a lead-
ing prmciple in the book the^ acknowledge as
their guide. But afler unresistingly assenting
to this as a doctrinal truth, at churcn — how ab-
surd would they think any one who should ex-
pect them to adopt it into their practice ! Per-
haps the wbole law of God does not exhibit a
single precept more expressly, more steadily,
and more uniformly rejected by the class in
question. If it mean any thing, it can hardly
be consistent with that mode of life emphatical-
ly distinguished by the appellation of fashion-

Now, would it be much more absurd (for any
other reason but because it is not the custom) if
our legislators were to meet one day in every
week, gravely to read over all the obsolete sta-
tutes, and rescinded acts of parliament, than it
is for the order of persons of the above descrip-
tion to assemble every Sunday, to profess their
belief in and submission to a system of princi.
pies, which they do not so much as intend shall
be binding on their practice 7

But to continue our inquiry. — ^There is not a
more common or more intelUgible definition of
human duty, than that of ' Fear God, and keep
his commandments.* Now, as to the first of
these inseparable precepts, can we, with the ut-
most stretch of charity, be very forward to con-
clude that God is really * very greatly feared' in
secret, by those who give too manifest indica
tions that they live • without him in the world 7
And as to the latter precept, which naturally
grows out of the other — without noticing any of
the flagrant breaches of the moral law, let us
only confine ourselves to the allowed, g-eneral,
and notorious violation of the third and fourth
commandments, by the higher as well as by the
lower orders; breaches so flagrant, that they
force themselves on the observation of the noit

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inattentive, too palpably to be either annotioed
or palliated.

Shall we have reason to change our opinion if
we take that Divine representation of the sum
and substance of religion, and apply it as a
touchstone in the present trial — *Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with aU thy heart, and
with all ihy mind, and with aU thy sonl, and
with all thy strength, and thy neighbour as thy-
self?* Now, judge by inference, do we see
many public proofs of that heavenly-mindedness
which would be the inevitable effect of such a
fervent and animated dedication of all the pow-
. ers, faculties, and affections of the soul to Him
who gave it 7 And, as to the great role of social
duty expressed in the second clause, do ^e ob-
serve as much of that considerate kiiidnesis, that
pure disinterestedness, that conscientious atten.
tion to the comfort of others, eepecially of de-
pendents and inferiors, as mi|^ht be expected
from those who enjoyed the privilege of so un-
erring a standard of conduct? a standard, which,
if impartially consulted, must make our kind-
ness to others bear an exact proportion to our
self-love; a rule in which christian principle,
operating on human sensibility, could not fail
to decide aright in every suppoeeable case. For
no man can doubt how he ought to act towards
another, while the inward corresponding 8U|[-
eestions of conscience and feeling concur in
letting him know how he would wish, in a change
of circumstances, that others should act towards

Or suppose we take a more detailed survey,
by a third rule, which indeed is not so much the
principle as the effect of piety — * True religion,
and undeiiled before Grod and the Father, is this :
to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflic-
tion, and to keep himself urupotted from the
juDorld,^ Now, if Christianity insists that obedi-
"ence to the latter iniunction be the true evidence
of the sincerity of tnose who fulfil the former, is
the beneficence of the fashionable world very
strikingly illustrated by this spotless purity, this
exemption from the pollutions of the world,
which is here declared to be its invariable con-

But if I wore to venture to take my estimate
•vith a view more immediately evangelical; if I
presumed to look for that genuine Christianity
which consists in repentance towards God, and
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ ;* to insist, that
whatever natural religion and fashionable reli-
gion may teach, it is the peculiarity of the Chrit-
iian religion to humble the sinner and exalt the
Saviour ; to insist that not only the grossly fla-
gitious, but that aU have sinned ; that aU are by
nature in a state of condemnation ; that all stand
in need of mercy, of which there is no hope bat
on the Gospel terms ; that eternal life is pro-
mised to those only who accept it on the offered
conditions of ' faith, repentance, and renewed
obedience ;' — if I were to insist on such eviden-
ces of our Christianity as these ; if I were to
express these doctrines in plain scriptural terms
without lowering, qualifying, disguising, or do-
ing them away ; if I were to insist on this belief,
and its implied and corresponding practices ; I
am aware that, with whatever condescending
patience tins little tract might have been so far

perused, many a fashionable reader would here
throw it aside, as having now detected the pal.
pable enthusiast, the abettor of * strange doc
trines,* long ago consigned over by the libera)
and the pohte to bigots and fanatics. And yet
if the Bible be true, this is a simple and fiuthfii
description of Christianity.

Surely men forget that we are urging them
upon their own principles ; that while we art
urging them with motives drawn from Chris
tianity, they seem to have as little concern in
these motives as if they themselves were of an-
other religion. It is not a name that will stand
us instead. It is not merely glorying in the title
of Christians, while we are living in the neglect
of its precepts ; it is not in valuing ourselves on
the piofession of religion as creditable, while we
reject the power of it as fanatical, that will save
us ! In any other circumstances of life it would
be accounted absurd to have a set of propositions,
principles, statutes, or fundamental articles, and
not to make them the ground of our acting as
well as of our reasoning. In these supposed in-
stances the blame would lie in the contradiction,
in religion it lies in the agreement Strange !
that to act in consequence of received and ac-
knowledged principles, should be accounted
weakness ! Strange, that what alone is truly con- .
sistent, should be branded as absurd ! Strange,
that men must really forbear to act rationally,
only that they may not be reckoned mad !
Strange, that they should be commended for
having prayed in the excellent words of the Bi-
ble and of our church, for * a clean heart, and a
right spirit ;' and yet, if they gave any sign of
such a transformation of heart, they should be
accounted, if not fanatical, at least, singular,
wea^ or melancholy men.

AJier having, however, just ventured to hint
at what are indeed the humbling doctrines of
the ^pel, the doctrines to which alone eternal
life IS promised, I shall in deep humility forbear
to enlarge on this part of the subject, which has
been exhausted by the labours of'^wisc and pious
men in all ages. Unhappily, however, the most
awakening of these writers are not the favourite
guests in the closets of the more fashionable
Christians ; who, when they happen to be more
seriously disposed than ordinary, are fond of
finding out some middle kind of reading, which
recommends some half-way state, something
between Paganism and Christianity, suspending
the mind, liae the position of Mahomet^s tomb,
between earth and heaven : a kind of reading
which, while it quiets the conscience by being
on the side of morals, neither awakens fear, nor
alarms security. By .dealing in generals, it
comes home to the hearts of none : it flatters the
passions of the reader, by ascribing high merits
to the performance of certain right actions, and
the forbearance from certain wrong ones ; among
which, that reader must be very unlucky indeed
who does not find some performances and some
forbearances of his own. It at once enables him
to keep heaven in his eye, and the world in his
heart It agreeably represents tlic readers to
themselves as amiable persons, guilty indeed of
a few faults, but never as condemned dinners
under sentence of death. It commonly abounds
with high encomiums on the dignity of human

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nature ; the good effects of virtue od health, for-
tune, and reputation : the dangers of a blind
seal, the mischiefs of enthusiasm, and the folly
of singularity, with various other kindred senti-
ments ,' which, if they do not fall in of them-
selves with the corruptions of our nature, may,
by a little warping, be easily accommodated to

These are the too successful practices of cer-
tain luke-warm and temporizbg divines, who
have become popular by blunting the edre of
the heavenly tempered weapon, whose salutary
keenness, but for their 'deceitful handling,*
would oflen ' pierce to the dividing asunder of
soul and spirit*

But those severer preachers of righteousness,
who disgust by applying too closely to the con-
science ; who probe the inmost heart and lay
open all its latent peccancies; who treat of
principles as the only certain source of man.
ners ; who lay the axe at the root, oflener than
the pruning knife to the branch; who insist
much and oflen on the great leading truths, that
man is a fallen creature, who must be restored,
if restored at all, by means very little flattering
to human prid e such heart-searching writers
as these will seldom find access to the houses
and hearts of the more modish Christians, unless
the V happen to owe their admission to some sub-
ordmate quality of style ; unless they can cap-
tivate, with the seducing graces of language,
those weU-brcMi readers, who are childishly
amusing themselves with the gambh, when they
are perishing for want of food ; who are search-
tng for polished periods when they should be in
quest of alarming truths : who are looking for
elegance of composition when they should be
anxious lor eternal life.

Whatever comparative praise may be due to
the former class of writers, when viewed with
others of a less decent order, ^et I am not sure
whether so many books of fVigid morality, ej/-
bibiting such inferior motives of action, such mo-
derate representations of duty, and such a low
standard of principle ; have not done religion
much more harm than good ; whether they do
not lead many a reader to inquire what is the
lowest degree in the scale of virtue with which
he may content himself^ so as barely to escape
eternal punishment; how much indulffence he
may allow himself^ without absolutely forfeiting
bis chance of safety : what is the uttermost verge
to which he may venture of this world*s enjoy-

Online LibraryHannah MoreThe complete works of Hannah More → online text (page 69 of 135)