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those great men in learning and natural abilities; but if my censurer was in earnest in the commendations he bestows upon me, he must needs own, that those endowments of mind which he attributes to me, were also the occasion of my falling into those opinions, which he calls the worst of errors. But if he only flattered me, that he might speak the more spitefully of me afterwards, let me tell him, that feigned respect is an argument of very little candour, to say no worse of it.
If he will say that Socinus was mistaken in a great many things, I fully agree with him; but I can reckon up a great many worse errors than his, whereof I shall mention but one out of respect to my censurer; that is, of those who think men deserve eternal torments, whom Christ never condemned; who by all means persecute those that differ from them, though they own themselves to be as liable to error, as the very men whom they persecute; who, in a word, think they may, upon very slight suspicions, traduce men that are heartily devoted to Christianity, and sober in their lives, as a kind of plagues to be carefully shunned. He that does not ascribe to Christ, what he thinks Christ never assumed to himself, if otherwise he perform constant obedience to all his precepts which he fully understands, may obtain the forgiveness of his ignorance from a most favourable and compassionate Judge; but he that breaks the commard of loving his neighbour, which is as clear as the sun at noon day, by slandering, and bitterness, and cruelty, and dies in those vices, shall never, unless a new gospel be made for him, be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.
Gratitude to God.
GRATITUDE is an amiable feeling, a lovely virtue. There is no surer indication of depravity than its absence, and, on the other hand, wherever it is manifested, there is always some goodness left, of principle or disposition, though it be found in company with the worst vices and crimes. A sweet flower is growing amidst the wild weeds, and the soil may be reclaimed. It "marks where a garden has been," or may yet be.
In proof of this, let us examine the nature of true gratitude, and analyze the sentiment which it expresses. Its origin is obvious enough. It is produced by the reception of favours, or the exhibition of good will. And when produced, what is its language? If we are not much mistaken, the feelings of an obliged and grateful person to his benefactor might be thus translated into words. “I perceive that you wish to please me, and make me happy. You have done so. In return, I feel the same disposition to please you, and make you happy, and I shall lose no opportunity in consulting your good.”
This is enough. It is all the return which the benefactor looked for, and he is satisfied. And he is not, and cannot be satisfied without it; for though he may, in any event, be rewarded by the consciousness of having done well, he yet cannot fail of being grieved and hurt, to see that his good offices should be returned with apathy, and that so remarkable a deficiency in duty should meet the performance of his own.
If this analysis of the principle of gratitude be just, it is nearly allied to benevolence. He who is grateful for a favour would, if he were able, confer one. Benevolence bestows benefits, and gratitude seeks to return them. The feeling which prompted the favour, and that by which it is acknowledged, are twin dispositions.
The expressions of gratitude are various. But the feeling itself is chiefly to be regarded. Two words will often signify more gratitude than two hundred; and even a look or a gesture is sometimes better than an oration.
In all that has been said on this subject, sincerity must of course be implied. We speak of sincere benevolence, and sincere thankfulness. Words, and even actions are to be valued, only as they are faithful interpreters of intention and disposition. Favours do not always spring from good designs; and thanks very frequently tell falsehoods. A gift is sometimes a lure, sometimes an affront, and sometimes an injury; and eloquent expressions of gratitude sometimes flow from a cold heart, and sometimes from a black one. But sincere benevolence really means to do good, and confer pleasure; and sincere gratitude really desires to requite benevolence by doing good, and conferring pleasure in return.
Our view of the principle of gratitude has thus far been confined to our human relations. In our relation to God, it will necessarily be affected and modified by circumstances which belong to that relation alone. The divine benevolence is altogether superior in its motives, its extent, and its effects, to any which can be exercised by a human being. Our dependence on God is entire, and our inferiority to him is measureless. We cannot strengthen his power, nor enlighten his wisdom, nor
increase his happiness. Our gratitude to hím cannot therefore be guided by precisely the same rules, nor can it be displayed in the same manner, as in our intercourse with men.
The claims of the Almighty on our gratitude are not to be numbered, nor estimated. They are countless as the leaves of the forest, constant as time, and vast as they are constant and countless. He is the author of our lives, and the preserver of our lives, and consequently the original source of all our comforts, enjoyments and blessings, from the first moment of life to its last.
Why should we be grateful to the man who confers a benefit upon us, and not to the Being who gave
him the power and the disposition to confer it? Why should we acknowledge those favours, the greatest of which must be limited by the ability which bestows them, and not those which would be attempted in vain by the mightiest human agency? What mortal hand could have spread out for us the magnificent canopy of heaven, or kindled the ever glowing furnace of the sun, or hung in the day-forsaken skies the lamp of the mild moon? What human power can bring one cloud upon a thirsty land, or bid one rain-drop to descend, or cause one blade of grass to grow? And who but the Almighty God could have wrapped the vast world in that transparent element, which sustains and binds together all breathing and living things?
These biessings are so constant and common, that we are not apt to appreciate them; and yet it is their very constancy and diffusion which places them above all value. The most tender and persevering kindness of a fellow being must at times be remitted, and the inevitable hour will come, when it must all cease; but if the supporting hand of God were for one moment withdrawn from us, in that moment we should be no
To die is the destiny of all; and all comparison ends between the mercies of God, and the good offices of man, when we extend our regards beyond our present habitation, to that succeeding state, of which man possesses no knowledge, and over which he has no control. When we lie upon our last bed, and all medicines have been given up as useless, and our eyes are closing on all outward things, what is our trust and consolation? Is it not on the mercy and truth of our Creator? And when our last grasp is relaxed, and we drop away from the world, where is it that we fall? Is it not into his arms?
The highest and worthiest object of our gratitude, therefore, above all rivalry or comparison, is God, the author of every good and perfect gift; the Being who breathed into us the breath of life, and who supports us while we live; who endowed us with our intellectual faculties, our moral powers, sympathies, and affections, and who has assured us by a direct revelation, that death will only open another and a wider scene for their exercise, and never-ending improvement.
If our gratitude to God were proportioned to the claims on it, it would be constant as the dispensation of his mercies, and boundless as the displays of his love. But such perfection cannot be expected from humanity. We should keep perfection in view, however,
and strive to do our utmost, assured that we can never be too grateful to our Heavenly Father, and that the degrees of our gratitude will serve as the measure