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schemes, our pursuits, our gains, our losses, our fortunes, possessing so much of our minds, whether we regard the hours we expend in meditating upon them, or the earnestness with which we think about them; and religion possessing so little share of our thought either in time or earnestness; the consequence is, that worldly interest comes to be the serious thing with us, religion comparatively the trifle. Men of business are naturally serious; but all their seriousness is absorbed by their business. In religion they are no more serious than the most giddy characters are; than those characters are which betray levity in all things.
Again : the want of due seriousness in religion is aimost sure to be the consequence of the absence or disuse of religious ordinances and exercises. I use two terms; absence and disuse. Some have never attended upon any religious ordinance, or practised any religious exercises, since the time they were born ; some a very few times in their lives. With these it is the absence of religious ordinances and exercises. There are others (and many we fear of this description) who, whilst under the guidance of their parents, have frequented religious ordinances, and been trained up to religious exercises, but who, when they came into more public life, and to be their own masters, and to mix in the pleasures of the world, or to engage themselves in its business and pursuits, have forsaken these duties in whole or in a great degree. With these it is the disuse of religious ordinances and exercises. But I must also explain what I mean by religious ordinances and exercises. By religious ordinances I mean the being instructed in our catechism in our youth ; attending upon public worship at church; the keeping holy the Lord's day regularly and most particularly, together with a few other days in the year, by which some very principal events and passages of the Christian history are commemorated ; and, at its proper season, the more solemn office of receiving the Lord's Supper. These are so many rites and ordinances of Christianity ; concerning all which it
may be said, that, with the greater part of mankind, especially of that class of mankind which must or does give much of its time and care to worldly concerns, they are little less than absolutely necessary; if we judge it to be necessary to maintain and uphold any sentiment, any impression, any seriousness, about religion in the mind at all. They are necessary to preserve in the thoughts a place for the subject; they are necessary that the train of our thoughts may not even be closed up against it. Were all days of the week alike, and employed alike; was there no difference or distinction between Sunday and work-day; was there not a church in the nation; were we never, from one year's end to another, called together to participate in public worship; were there no set forms of public worship; no particular persons appointed to minister and officiate, indeed no assemblies for public worship at all ; no joint prayers; no preaching; still religion, in itself, in its reality and importance, in its end and event, would be the same thing as what it is: we should still have to account for our conduct; there would still be heaven and hell ; salvation and perdition ; there would still be the laws of God, both natural and revealed ; all the obligation which the authority of a Creator can impose upon a creature; all the gratitude which is due from a rational being to the Author and Giver of every blessing which he enjoys; lastly, there would still be the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. All these things would, with or without religious ordinances, be equally real, and existing, and valid : but men would not think equally about them. Many would entirely and totally neglect them. Some there would always be of a more devout or serious or contemplative disposition, who would retain a lively sense of these things under all circumstances and all disadvantages, who would never lose their veneration for them, never forget them. But, from others, from the careless, the busy, the followers of pleasure, the pursuers of wealth or advancement, these things would slip away from the thoughts entirely.
Together with religious ordinances we mentioned religious exercises. By the term religious exercises, I, in particular, mean private prayer ; whether it be at set times, as in the morning and evening of each day; or whether it be called forth by occasions, as when we are to form some momentous decision, or enter upon some great undertaking; or when we are under some pressing difficulty or deep distress, some excruciating bodily pain or heavy affliction; or, on the other hand, and no less properly, when we have lately been receiving some signal benefit, experiencing some signal mercy; such as preservation from danger, relief from difficulty or distress, abatement of pain, recovery from sickness; for, by prayer, let it be observed, we mean devotion in general ; and thanksgiving is devotion as much as prayer itself. I mean private prayer, as here described; and I also mean,
!; what is perhaps the most natural form of private prayer, short ejaculatory extemporaneous addresses to God, as often as either the reflections which rise
up in our minds, let them come from what quarter they may, or the objects and incidents which seize our attention, prompt us to utter them; which, in a religiously disposed mind will be the case, I may say, every hour, and which ejaculation may be offered up to God in any posture, in any place, or in any situa
tion. Amongst religious exercises I also reckon family prayer, which unites many of the uses both of public worship and private prayer. The reading of religious books is likewise to be accounted a religious exercise. Religious meditation still more so; and more so for this reason, that it implies and includes that most important duty, self-examination ; for I hold it to be next to impossible for a man to meditate upon religion, without meditating at the same time upon his own present condition, with respect to the tremendous alternative which is to take place upon him after his death.
These are what we understand by religious exercises ; and they are all so far of the same nature with religious ordinances, that they are aids and helps of religion itself; and I think that religious seriousness cannot be maintained in the soul without them.
But again ; a cause which has a strong tendency to destroy religious seriousness, and which almost infallibly prevents its formation and growth in young minds, is levity in conversation upon religious subjects, or upon subjects connected with religion. Whether we regard the practice with respect to those who use it, or to those who hear it, it is highly to be blamed, and is productive of great mischief. those who use it, it amounts almost to a proof that they are destitute of religious seriousness. The prineiple itself is destroyed in them, or was never formed in them. Upon those who hear, its effect is this. If they have concern about religion, and the disposition towards religion which they ought to have, and which we signify by this word seriousness, they will be inwardly shocked and offended by the levity with which they hear it treated. They will, as it were, resent such treatment of a subject, which by them has always been thought upon with awe and dread and venera
In. tion. But the pain with which they were at first affected goes off by hearing frequently the same sort of language ; and then they will be almost sure, if they examine the state of their minds as to religion, to feel a change in themselves for the worse. This is the danger to which those are exposed who had before irabibed serious impressions. Those who had not, will be prevented by such sort of conversation from ever imbibing them at all; so that its influence
! is in all cases pernicious.
The turn which this levity usually takes, is in jests and raillery upon the opinions, or the peculiarities, or the persons, of those who happen to be more serious than ourselves. But, against whomsoever it happens to be pointed, it has the bad effects, both upon the speaker and the hearer, which we have noticed. It tends to destroy our own seriousness, together with the seriousness of those who hear or join in such sort of conversation ; especially if they be young persons : and I am persuaded that much mischief is actually done in this way.
It has been objected that so much regard, or, as the objectors would call it, over-regard, for religion, is inconsistent with the interest and welfare of our families, and with success and prosperity in our worldly affairs. I believe that there is very little ground for this objection in fact, and even as the world goes : in reason and principle there is none. A good Chris tian divides his time between the duties of religion, the calls of business, and those quiet relaxations which may be innocently allowed to his circumstances and condition, and which will be chiefly in his family or amongst a few friends. In this plan of life there is no confusion or interference of its parts; and unless a man be given to sloth and laziness, which are what religion condemns, he will find time cnough for them