Page images


give them all things? If their nature is frail, SERMON Divine assistance is promised to strengthen it. If their virtue is imperfect, a dispensation is opened, which gives them the hope of pardon. If their external circumstances be in any respect unfavourable, it is because a higher interest is consulted. All things, they are assured, shall work together for their good. On their prosperity rests the blessing; on their adversity, the sanctifying Spirit of the Almighty. Old age may advance and life decay ; but beyond those boundaries of nature, faith opens


prospect of their lasting felicity. Without anxiety, they pass through the different periods of their present existente, because they know it to be no more than an introduction to immortality.

As such a situation of things without, lays a solid foundation for joy; so the disposition which religion forms within, promotes the relish of it. It is indeed from within, that the chief sources of enjoyment or trouble rise. The minds of bad men are always disorderly; and hence their lives are so generally uneasy. In vain they take the timbrel and the harp, and endeavour to



SERMON rejoice at the sound of the organ. Spleen and

disgust pursue them through all the haunts of amusement. Pride and ill humour torment them.

Oppressed with discontent, their spirits flag; and their worn-out pleasures afford them entertainment no more. But religion subdues those malignant passions, which are the troubles of human repose; which either overcast the mind with the gloom of peevishness, or disquiet it by the violence of agitation. It infuses, in their room, those mild and gentle dispositions, whose natural effect is to smooth the tenour of the soul. 'Benevolence and candour, moderation and

temperance, wherever they reign, produce cheerfulness and serenity. The consciousness of integrity gives ease and freedom to the mind. It enables good men to extract from every object, the whole satisfaction which it is capable of yielding; and adds the flavour of innocence, to all their external pleasures.

In the second place, As religion naturally inspires joy; so what it inspires, it commands us to cherish. As a necessary proof of our sincerity, it requires cheerfulness in


the performance of our duty; because, if SERMON this be wanting, our religion discovers itself not to be genuine in principle, and in practice it cannot be stable.

Religious obedience, destitute of joy, is not genuine in its principle. For, did either faith or hope, the love of God or the love of goodness, rule the heart, they could not fail to produce satisfaction in piety and virtue. All those causes of joy which I have mentioned would then operate; and their native effect on the mind, would follow. The prospects which religion opens, would gladden, and the affections which it inspires, would soothe the heart. We serve, with pleasure, the benefactor whom we love. We rejoice in every study and pursuit, to which we are sincerely attached. If we serve not God with pleasure, it is because we know him not, or love him not. If we rejoice not in virtue, it is because our affection is alienated from it, and our inclinations are depraved. We give too evident proof, that either we believe not the principles of religion, or that we feel not

Exclude joy from religion, and you leave no other motives to it, except


their power.


SERMON compulsion and interest. But are these

suitable grounds, on which to rest the whole of our obedience to the Supreme Being ? My son, give me thy heart, is the call of God. Surely if there be no pleasure in fulfilling his commands, the heart is not given him; and, in that case, the multitude of sacrifices and burnt offerings is brought to his altar in vain.

As religion, destitute of joy, is imperfect in its principle; so, in practice it must be unstable. In vain you endeavour to fix any man to the regular performance of that in which he finds no pleasure. Bind him ever so fast by interest or fear, he will contrive some method of eluding the obligation. Ingenuity is never so fertile of evasions, as where pleasure is all on the one side, and mere precept on the other. He may study to save appearances.


dissemble and constrain himself. But his heart revolts in secret; and the weight of inclination will, in the end, draw the practice after it. If perseverance is not to be expected, still less can zeal be looked for from him, who, in his religious duties trembles withput rejoicing. Every attempt towards virtue


which he forms, will be feeble and awk- SERMON ward. He applies to it as a task ; he dreads the task-master ; but he will labour no more than necessity enjoins. To escape from punishment is his sole aim. He bargains for immunity, by every duty which he performs; and all beyond, he esteems superfluous toil.-Such religion as this, can neither purify the heart, nor prepare for heavenly bliss. It is the refuge of an abject mind. It may form the ritual of the monk, or prescribe the penance of the idolater ; but has no concern with the homage of him, who worships the Father in spirit, and in truth. His character is, that the joy of the Lord is his strength*. It attaches his heart to religion. It inspires his zeal. It supports his constancy; and accelerates his progress.

There is no man but has some object to which he cleaves for enjoyment; somewhat that flatters him with distant hope, or affords him present pleasure. Joy is the end towards which all rational beings tend. For the sake of it they live: It resembles the air they breathe, which is necessary for

Neh, viii, 10.


« PreviousContinue »