« VorigeDoorgaan »
what they think will serve it. And it is equally manifest, that they find themselves encumbered with no easy task, and furnished with very scanty materials for their work, when they set about the vindication of their sy hem by bringing it to the death-bed testimony of its friends and abettors. Hence their endeavours to make much of a little, 10 conceal the truth, and to furnish out tales of composure and serenity, which probably are greatly coloured, if not entirely fabricated. Do they wish to combat christians on their own ground? Let the following facts be attended to, and it will be seen, that, after all, they do not attempt a fair competition. Christians, when they come to die, are often afraid that they have not been sincere in the religion they have professed. But you cannot show one instance of a christian in these circunistances, whose fear arises from the apprehension that the system he has embraced, the gospel of Christ, is not true in itself. He is then, more than ever, satisfied that his religious system is true. He is only afraid that he has not lived up to it. On the contrary, the infidel often fears, because he then suspects that his system is not true, and that he is going to be punished because he has lived up to it.
THOUGHTS ON SLOTH. Sloth and self-indulgence are extremely natural to man. Whoever has informed himself respecting the character of our fellow creatures in their most savage, which is, unquestionably, their most natural state, will be prepared to admit the truth of this observation. The native Indian, as Dr. Robertson remarks, will lie on the ground for many days, and even weeks together; and will only shake off his sloth when excited by appetite, or raised by some violent gust of passion. The case of persons in civilized society is not altogether different. Their artificial wants, indeed, are multiplied, and in consequence of these a system of more permanent industry is produced; but when appetite, as well as ambition and vanity are satisfied, even civilized man, except so far as religion has new created him, relapses into his native sloth.
Let us proceed to point out the manner in which the spirit of idleness and self-indulgence shows itself in this country among the higher and middling ranks of life.
How many hours are needlessly spent by some on their beds ; by others in the most idle and frivolous conversation; by others in reading, with a view to the mere gratification of the fancy; by others in unprofitable amusements, in amusements, we mean, which tend to kill time rather than to afford that recreation which qualifies for future employment? What temptations also break in during these idle hours! what corrupt images play before the fancy! what a general habit of self-indulgence gains strength! Thus a breach is made through which other sins enter, and much of the important business of life is left undone. Sloth is one of those sins into which men fall by imperceptible degrees, and many are altogether given up to it, who are not at all aware that they are incurring any guilt. Among worldly persons, to indulge the humour of the present moment, to do whatsoever thing they like, and to do it simply because they like it, is the professed system. Their conscience is under no alarm on this account.
Sloth, moreover, is a sin into which religious people are more liable to fall than into almost any other. In Popish countries many have retired from the world under the plea of wishing to be uncontaminated by it, and have then passed their days in the indolence of a cloister, professing, indeed, an extraordinary piety, but becoming the drones of the community, and a reproach to religion itself. It is possible also, that a protestant may chuse that sort of domestic ease and self-indulgence, which is little better than the sloth of the monastery, and is nearly allied to it. In escaping one evil we often fall into another. We have, perhaps, been manfully resisting the world; we have become insensible both to its smile and to its frown; we now betake ourselves to our own little religious circle, among whom we are respected and indulged, and are little contradicted; or we retreat into an almost total solitude, thinking that we shall now commune only with God. Are we aware of the dangers to the soul which may arise from the indulgence of sloth in these new circumstances? The body pampered by what are deemed its lawful gratifications, the mind enervated by mental indolence, the little humours habitually indulged, many a precious hour wasted, and a life employed in discussing the controversial niceties of religion, rather than attending to its practical duties, are some of the consequences of even a religious system, when that system allows the indulgence of sloth. Infidels have often brought against the body of christians the charge which we are applying only to a few.
“ The world,” say they, “ is the school of vittue, because it is the scene of activity and exertion; there the humours are contradicted; there sloth is prevented, and the energies are called forth; there the excess of selfishness is repressed; there both the boy and the man are formed for action and extensive services; but the same being in retirement becomes soft, luxurious, and self indulgent, and in proportion as he is so, he is also uncharitable and censorious; he is first useless to others and then a burthen to himself.”
These accusers of religion forget that the world is, itself, a teacher of corruption, and they know not that there is a holy art of so using the world as not to abuse it, and of so living in it as to share in its duties without following its pleasures, or becoming a partaker of its iniquities.
We admit the danger lest too much solitude should lead to sloth: we even affirm that, perhaps, we are never in more peril than when we think that we have removed ourselves out of the way of temptation, and when we lay down our arms, conceiving no farther conflict to be necessary.
The life of a christian upon earth is ever a scene of warfare. Let us reflect on the spirit of St. Paul in this respect. “ I keep under my body,” said he, “ and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway." Can any thing more strongly show the necessity of resisting our natural disposition to sloth and bodily indulgence than this passage? Did the apostle, possessing all his privileges, endowed with such holy affections, favoured also by the abundance of revelations, deem it necessary to maintain a conflict with his body, and shall not we? Did he contend as for his salvation, fearing lest, after all, he should be cast away, and do we incur no danger if we yield to our natural sloth?
The truly enlightened christian is aware of his constant temptations from this quarter, and he is ever on his guard against them. He limits himself to the degree of refreshment which nature demands, and he charges himself with guilt when he exceeds. “ What avails it,” he will say to himself, “ that I profess to believe all the articles of the christian faith, that I presume to talk of God, and Christ, and his Holy Spirit, if, after all, I am brought under the power of my own body? I feel that this body is my tempter, and I must not allow even its lawful desires to bear sovereign sway. My meat and drink must be moderate. I must beware of sumptuous and indulgent fare. I must avoid that sloth, both of body and mind, which is apl to grow upon me unperceived. I must abstain from those needless recreations which an idle world has invented and multiplied. I must reject those plausible excuses which the false reasonings of irreligious men may suggest, for a life of relaxation. I must be fearful also lest I take credit for diligence, because I surpass those idle persons who live around me. I must beware of vacant thoughts, vacant time, vacant conversation, vacant crowds of company. I must beware of trifling employments, which take the appearance of industry, while they are mere contrivances by which I disguise from myself the indulgence of my sloth. I must fear lest I should neglect the proper business of the hour, deeming the present duty to be severe, and perpetually postponing it for the sake of doing some other thing which demands less diligence, and is more to my present taste. I must beware of slothful habits, and must not admit the vain excuse that they are too fixed to be broken. If I read, I must not do it with listlessness and inattention, nor must I perfer books of mere amusement to those which will add to my stock of useful knowledge, or improve my heart. I must beware even of unprofitable labour. I must suspect that earnestness and diligence, which is a mere following of my own fancy, which is directed to trifling and unworthy objects, which proceeds from a corrupt motive, and issues in no good or material end. 'I must be diligent, it is true, but my diligence must be for God. I must be active, but my activity must not be in the way of mere indulgence, it must be for the good of men. I must not presume that I have a right to intermit my work, because I am not obliged to it by human laws, or by positive claims which any persons can make on me. I must be active for the poor, the destitute, the ignorant, and the world at large.”
These are some of the feelings of the true christian, and in order to maintain this spirit he exercises much self-denial. When sloth intrudes, and promps him to spare himself, he rejects its suggestions. “ I must deny myself, or I cannot be Christ's disciple. Christ went about doing good, and I profess to be a follower of this master, I desire therefore to go and do likewise. Tell me not that I am to spare myself. Did Christ spare himself when he came to die for me? The spirit of self-indulgence is the spirit of antichrist; it is the spirit of the children of this world; it is that spirit which in my baptism I abjured, and which my profession requires that I should renounce day by day."
One case in which an indolent slothful spirit is to be denied has not yet been noticed: we mean the case of our religious duties. How idle is the manner in which many persons read the scriptures! The want of self-denying attention is greater in perusing this book than any other. Reacler! what pains have you taken in endeavouring to understand that volume which you profess to believe to be a revelation from God? Have you ever carefully examined and considered it? Have you bestowed any pains in comparing your manner of life with that of Christ and his apostles and followers, your faith with their faith, your temper with their . tempers, and, in short, your whole turn of character with their's? It We requires much self-denying diligence to make this faithful practical
application of the scriptures, and yet if this be not done, they can be of little use to us. Idleness is equally apt to prevail in respect to secret devotion. There is a way of running over our prayers with little thought or reflection. Perhaps while you are in the very act of prayer, some engagement seems to be pressing
upon you, some interesting circumstance is agitating your x mind; and this is not surprising, for you were at no pains to arvareject those intruding thoughts; you have long given way to the
custom of indulging them at those seasons. There has been no self-denial in this respect, and therefore the habit has increased, till it seems almost impossible to cast it off. A wide field for selfexamination here opens upon us, for the wanderings of the mind, both during public and private worship, may unquestionably be traced in part to the want of due diligence and self-denial, in respect to this very point.
It may be proper here to remark, that it is not inconsistent with the fullest belief in the supreme agency of the Holy Spirit, to suppose, that the self-denying diligence which has been spoken of ought to extend to our prayers.
We have, indeed, clear scriptural authority on this point; for are we not told, that we are to “ wrestle” in prayer, to “ pray always and not to faint;" to “ pray without ceasing;” terms which evidently imply that we are not to give way to our own indisposition to the duty. We are likewise exhorted to “ draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to us,” as well as “ to ask, to seek, to knock,” in order that we may obtain God's Holy Spirit.
To conclude, let us then remember that prayer must be joined to our diligence, and also that this very diligence is to be exerted by us in our prayer. Does it appear to us a hard thing to practise the self-denial which has been spoken of? “ With man it may be impossible, but with God all things are possible." Let then the sense of the difficulty suggest to us the importance of imploring the divine aid with earnestness. “ I can do all things,” said the apostle, “ through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We ought not to account that we have either believed aright, or prayed aright, or learned any part of our religion aright, unless we have, in some measure, been enabled to cast away that spirit of selfindulgence which is so natural to us; for our Saviour has said, that “except a man deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me, he cannot be my disciple."