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possess our minds, and render them insensible of these great truths. We must practise all that selfdenial, temperance, abstinence, care, and watchfulness, which can any way fit and prepare our minds to hear and receive, to comprehend and relish the instructions and doctrine which come from the Spirit of God. For all these truths, every thing that relates to God and religion, have a different effect upon us, according to the state or way of life that we are in: as land must be prepared to receive the best seed, as rocks cạn bring forth no fruit; so unless our minds are in some proper state and disposition to co-operate with the Holy Spirit, and receive his instructions, his gifts and graces will bring forth no fruit.
'Tis acknowledged by all, that a life of intemperance and debauchery makes us dead and senseless of religion, and incapable of receiving its truths: but then it is not enough considered, that the vanity of the mind, an understanding busied in trifles, an impertinent course of life, will as certainly produce the same effect. If our understanding is full of foolish imaginations, devoted to trifles, religion can gain no entrance. A man may be so earnest in picking straws, as to have no leisure to think of his salvation, nor any more inclination to it, than one that is constantly in drink. Children are incapable of religion, not because they are intemperate and debauched, but because they have little minds, that are taken up and employed with little and trifling entertainments, Now if, when we are men, we have the minds of children, and have only changed our play-things, we shall embrace and practise religion, just to as much purpose as children do: for a mind taken up with gewgaws, and trifles, and impertinent satisfactions, is in the same state, whether it be four, or whether it be fifty years old. If it be made silly with trifling concerns, and false satisfactions, it is in a state of as much disorder, and
as contrary to religion, as a state of gluttony and intemperance.
Thus poor amusements, vain arts, useless sciences, impertinent learning, false satisfactions, a wrong turn of mind, a state of idleness, or any the vainest trifles of life, may keep men at as a great a distance from the true impressions of religion,
and from living by the Spirit of God, as the ignorance of childhood or the debaucheries of intemperance.
Titius is temperate and regular; but then he is so great a mathematician, that he does not know when Sunday comes : he sees people going to church ; as be sees others going to market; he goes on studying, measuring, and calculating, and may as well be called a merchant as a Christian.
All doctrines of religion are disagreeable to Philo he avoids them as he avoids party; now what is the reason of it? It is not because he is debauched and intemperate, but he is a virtuoso, devoted to polite literature; his soul is extended to all the cusiosities in the world, and thinks all time to be lost, that is not spent in the search of shells, urns, inscriptions, and broken pieces of pavements. This makes the truths of religion, and the concerns of eternity, seem small things in his eyes, fit only for the inquiry of narrow, little, and unpolite sonls.
Patronus is fond of a clergyman that understands music, painting, statuary and architecture. He is an enemy to the dissenters, and loves the church of England, because of the stateliness and beauty of its buildings; he never comes to the sacrament, but will go forty miles to see a fine altar-piece. He goes to church when there is a new tune to be heard, but never had any more serious thoughts about salvation, than about flying. If you visit hin when he is dying, you will hear his dying thoughts upou architecture.
Eusebius would read prayers trice every day in his parish; he would be often with the poor and sick, and spend much time in charitable visits, be would be wholly taken up in the cure of souls, but that he is busy in studying the old grammarians, and would fain reconcile some diflerences aniongst them before he dies.
Lycia has no wicked or irreligious temper, and she might be pious, but that she is too easy, gay, and cheerful, to admit of care of any kind, She can no more repent, than she can be out of
and must be the same sparkling, cheerful creature in the church, as in the play-house. She might be capable of understanding the misery of human nature, and the necessity of the comforts of religion; but that she is so happy every time she is dressed.
Matrona is old, and has been this fifty years eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, dressing and undressing, paying and receiving visits. She has no profaneness; and, if she has no piety, it is owing to this, that she never had a spare half-hour in all her life to think about it. She envies her daughters because they will dress and visit when she is dead.
Publius goes to church sometimes, and reads the Scripture; but he knows not what he reads or prays; his head is so full of politics. He is so angry at kings and ministers of state, that he has no time nor disposition to call himself to account. He has the history of all parliaments, elections, prosecutions, and impeachments, and dies with little or no religion, through a constant fear of popery.
Siccus has neither virtues nor vices; he has been all his life long, building and pulling down, making canals and ditches, raising walls and fences. People call him a good man, because he employs the poor; Siccus might have been a religious man, but that he thought building was the chief happiness of a rational creature. He is all the week amongst dirt and mortar, and stays at home on Sundays to view his contrivances. He will die more contentedly, if
his death does not happen whilst some wall is in building.
Silvius laughs at preaching and praying, not because he has any profane principles, or any arguments against religion; but because he happens to have been used to nothing but noise, and hunting, and sports.
I have mentioned these several characters, to show us, that it is not only profaneness, debauchery, and open vices, that keep men from the impressions of true religion; but that the mere play-things of life, impertinent studies, vain amusements, false satisfactions idle dispositions, will produce the same effect. A wrong turn of mind, impertinent cares, a succession of the poorest trifles, if they take up our thoughts, leave no more room for the cares and fears of true piety, than gross sensuality.
Our blessed Saviour saith, Wo unto you, pharisees, for ye love the uppermost seats in syna- Luke si. 43. gogues, and greetings in the markets. The wisdom of this world would find little to condemn in such a behaviour as this; but yet we see that the wisdom of God condemns it with a woe, teaching us, that every wrong turn of mind, every false satisfaction, puts the soul in a state that is contrary to religion, and makes men unfit to receive its doctrines. This is the reason why religion calls us to a state of self-denial, humility, and mortification, because it is a state that awakens the soul into right apprehensions of things, and qualifies us to see, and hear, and understand the doctrines of eternal truth. We must deny ourselves all our ways of folly and vanity, let go every false satisfaction, that the soul may be at liberty with its full attention, to listen to the instructions of religion.
Would we see any thing exactly, we must take our eyes from every thing else; so if we would apprehend truly the things of religion, we must take our minds from all other objects, we must empty ourselves of all false satisfactions, or we shall never know the want, or feel the excellency of our true good.
We see even in worldly matters, that if we propose any thing to a man when he is in the pursuit of something else, he hardly hears or understands us; we must stay for a season of more leisure and indifference, till bis thoughts and passions are at rest.
Now this holds much stronger in matters of religion; its doctrines are neither heard nor understood, because it always finds us in the pursuit of something else; it matters not what this something else is, whether it be loving uppermost seats in the synagogues, à fondness for trifles, a joy in luxury and idleness, or a labour after riches; the mind is equally employed wrong, and so not in a condition to like, or at leisure to listen to any other happiness. If you were to propose the same truths to a man in another state, when weariness or disappointment has made him give up all designs, or when sickness, or the approach of death shows him that he must act no longer in them, they would have quite another effect upon him; then the great things of religion appear great indeed: he feels their whole weight, and is amazed that he did not see them always in the same manner.
Now it is the great end and design of self-denial, to put a stop to the follies of life, and mortify all our passions, that our souls may quietly consider, and fully comprehend the truths which come from God: that our hearts being at liberty from a croud of foolish thoughts, may be ready to obey and co-operate with the inspirations of that Spirit, which is to lead and quicken us in holiness; that death and judgment, heaven and hell, may make as deep impressions upon our minds in the middle of our lives, as at our last hour; that we may be as wise and prudent as sick and dying men, and live with such apprehensions as most