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"against thyself, involve thee, imperfect as thou art, in "destruction." The prohibition seems to me to quadrate with the old observation, that justice in the extreme is extreme injustice*.
There are other interpretations of the words at least as probable as that which confines it to the over-sanctityof the methodist or bigot.
The ingenious and pious Dr. Trapp has taken the words in the latter sense, and written, with great force of argument, against the extravagances of methodism. Perhaps the words of his text did not properly authorize him in deriving the doctrine from them which he has laid down; but whether they did or not, I think he had reason on his side, when he endeavoured to explode all superstitious excesses which are subversive of true religion, injurious to society, and painful to the deluded individual t.
Philosophers, by the light of nature, discovered, in the earliest ages, the wisdom of avoiding extremes; and no precepts are more common than those which recommend the golden mediocrity. These were undoubtedly suggested by actual experience, and a careful study of the human constitution. If they are just and proper, when applied to philosophy, there is every reason to think them equally so, when applied to religion, which
Summum jus, summa injuria.
"But let it be remembered, that no virtue has any blameable "EXTREME in it, till it contradicts the general end of religion, till "it hinders the RESTORATION of the divine Image in us, or "makes us less fit to appear among the inhabitants of heaven. "Abstinence, temperance, mortification of the senses and passions, "can have NO EXCESS till they hinder the purification of the soul, "and make the body less useful and subservient to it. Charity "can have no EXCESS till it contradicts that love which we are to "have in heaven, till it goes beyond the command of loving our “neighbour as we love ourselves, and till it forgets that our own "life is to be preserved," Answer to Dr. TRAPP'S Discourse.
is the perfection of philosophy. Excess, in the very name, implies culpability, even when the things in which it appears are of a virtuous and laudable nature.
So that whoever advances his virtues beyond the line of rectitude, errs no less than he who stops, at an equal interval, on this side of it. Yet, at the same time, I must observe, that there is something far more noble and generous in errors of excess than of defect; and the virulence which has been shewn in refuting the poor methodist, who has been tormenting himself with superfluous austerities, seems to me to arise from a want of good-nature and charity, far more criminal than the mistaken discipline of a zealous devotee.
That part of the methodists who are sincere in their rigid self-denial, and in all the active and passive virtues of their persuasion, are certainly objects of kindness and compassion, rather than of severe animadversion.
The church, and the protestant dissenters, it appears, teach the doctrine of grace; a doctrine which, I believe, the methodists consider as of the first moment; and for the sake of attending to which with more earnestness, they seceded from the church and meeting-house to the tabernacle. Their preachers, they found, were used to dwell upon that subject, more than on any others; and with a degree of vehemence not usual or approved by men of more learning, moderation, and humility. They were caught by the sound, and taught to hate both the church and all regular ministers with a hatred truly unchristian. The church and the ministerst, it seems, were not suffi
* The poor Heautontimorumenos, with his pale emaciated figure, is certainly not an object of ridicule, and ought, at least, to be forgiven, by the plump pluralist and dignitary gorging the tithe pig, and washing it down with the choicest wines of Portugal and France.
When these become the mere tools of statesmen, (vide Sec. tion III.) all religious people are offended, and one of the pillars of the state is shaken.
ciently holy for their purpose. The church and the ministers did not preach the gospel in its purity; and neither its doctrine nor its discipline were sufficiently strict and severe.
The dissemination of such ideas may answer the ends of self-appointed leaders, who wish to increase their importance, by drawing a multitude after them. Accusation will generally be heard with attention. Pretensions to superior holiness is one of the most successful means of deceit. The multitude are attracted by these, and a thousand other arts, co-operating with the natural tendency which they feel to superstition and fanaticism. They become self-tormentors; lose most of the comforts, and neglect many of the duties of life.
In the church, their favourite doctrine of grace ought to be inculcated in the manner which both reason, scripture, and experience best approve; for the doctrine of grace is most fully declared to be the doctrine of the church of England; and if the ministers are reluctant to preach it in all its force, it is from a fear of falling into the sin and disgrace of overmuch righteousness. It is the humble endeavour of my treatise on this subject, to stimulate preachers to enlarge on the doctrine of grace; and by those means to bring back the numerous sheep who have strayed from their flock. There is the sort of food in which the sheep will shew that they delight, if the shepherds will but bring it forth; and indeed there is little doubt but that most of them do, on some occasions; but if the sheep hunger and thirst after more than they receive, the good shepherd will not fail to open all the stores with which the scriptures abundantly supply him.
With respect to doctrine, the over-righteous Christian, as he is now called, will thus have no cause to complain of defect in the church; and with respect to moral discipline, it is very certain that self-denial, mor
tification, fasting, active beneficence, and all Christian perfection, is taught by the church and her ministers, with great force of argument and authority. Every Christian may carry the moral discipline of his religion to whatever lengths his conscience or inclination may urge him.
It must be confessed, that such is the moderation of the church and her pastors in the PRESENT AGE, that the duties which they teach are not urged with that unnatural rigour which precludes the rational enjoyment of life. It is a cheerful church, and for that reason the more estimable. It requires no excessive austerity. It aims at assisting poor erring mortals in overcoming their weakness and misery; but it does not add to them, by requiring the sacrifice of health, ease, peace, society, cheerfulness, and innocent gaiety. It does not condemn those, with whom it cannot agree in opinion, with uncharitable severity. It is gentle and candid; it is accommodated to such a creature as man, forever aiming at good, but, from weakness, continually relapsing into some degree of evil. It does not, like the severe system of the over-righteous, inflame and aggravate the wounds of its patients, but, with lenient balsamics, assuages their anguish*.
And if the over-righteous object that regularly-bred ministers want vehemence and earnestness, I affirm that the objection cannot be universally well-founded. Men, having various degrees of talents, and various degrees of sensibility, will have a correspondent variety in their modes of delivery. The lively by nature, with very little sense of religion, may be animated in their discourses; the dull by nature, with a meaning very honest
By the CHURCH I wish to be understood all those who are united to Christ by the Holy Ghost, wherever they dwell, and by whatever denomination they are distinguished. The WORLD, in the scriptural sense, consists of all who are not so united.
and pious, will be poor orators. And it always 'happens, in a very large body of men, that some are idle and irreligious; though circumstances may have led them to assume a profession where carelessness and impiety are doubly culpable. But such is the present state of human nature. He who demands more perfection than experience has ever yet known, is unreasonable and over-righteous. If some men have less pretension, and less vehemence than those who are called the OVER-RIGHTEOUS, they have probably less hypocrisy, less folly, and less spiritual arrogance. Overrighteousness, with all its pretensions to humility, is the parent as well as the child of pride.
After all, let us remember that there is an underrighteousness (if I may use the term) as well as an overrighteousness; and that mankind are much apter to err from defect than excess. While hypocrisy and fanaticism are avoided, let us not, in the present times, be alarmed at danger from excessive piety.
All extravagant and selfish Pretensions to the Spirit to be anxiously avoided, as they proceed from and cherish Pride, and are frequently accompanied with Immorality.
OSTENTATIOUSLY to pretend to greater
portions of the Spirit than others, is alone a very unfavourable symptom, as it is a presumptive proof of two wants, not compatible with the Spirit's benignant influence: the want of humility, and the want of charity. It is no wonder, therefore, that those who have made such pretensions, have disgraced them by the wickedness of their lives; and have induced ill-judging men hastily to