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ther it be a single offence, or a course of offending: if it be the first kind, it is a very harsh judgement to pronounce, because a man has been off his guard, and overtaken off his guard, that therefore, in truth, he has no religion at all. There is no foundation for any such inference. Not only charity, but probability is against it. If a man apparently religious falls not only into a single act of transgression, but into an evil course of life, the presumption no doubt is more against him; yet even here it is far from decisive. Men in fact allow themselves a course of unlawful practices in some particular point, who retain a regard to duty in other points. We may perhaps argue that they deceive, even fatally deceive, their own hearts; but we cannot argue that they reject the grounds of moral and religious obligation. I mention this case in particular, because vicious men are exceedingly apt to lay great stress upon it. It is a kind of ease to their minds to find out a hypocrite. If they can but point out in the neighbourhood a man of outward sanctity and apparent religious behaviour, who has been detected in some secret bad practices, or who, after years of sober and regular conversation, has fallen off from his character, and given himself up to licentious or dishonest courses, they draw a great comfort from it to themselves-they are fond of repeating such instances; they are willing to believe, and would have others believe, that all men at the bottom are very like themselves; that the difference between good and bad men is more in the appearance
than the reality; that the opinion of the world, which reprobates and cries out against them, is unreasonable; for it is not, that they are in fact worse than others, but that they do not cover and mask their vices so well. Now I say, that this way of talking and thinking is very irrational, on two accounts: first, because it presumes that every man who allows himself in some bad practice, or who falls off from his former character, is, and all the while has been, secretly, a disbeliever and a contemner of religion,which presumption is by no means true; it is neither generally true, nor absolutely true. It is a conduct which arises from inconsistency much oftener than from insincerity. And secondly, were it true, the inference they draw from it to the encouragement of their own vices is to the last degree fallacious. Because there are hypocrites in the world, does it follow that there are no solid grounds of virtue?— True it is, that some who make a profession of religion, in their hearts reject it-Does it follow that religion has no foundation to stand on? It is only the judgement of these partial persons after all, that is shown: and, what is most material, it is that judgement corrupted and influenced by a bad life-because theirs is always, by the very supposition, a case of concealed or newly-commenced wickedness.
Another species of deceptious argument from example is this-when we see, or rather imagine that we see, other persons perform any act of religion from selfish or unprincipled motives, we avoid their
example by not performing the act of religion at all; which is the most perverse turn to give to the matter that can be. The true reflection from such an example is this: The duty does not cease to be such— the act of religion is not therefore less an obligation, because certain persons of our acquaintance perform it with very improper views and motives; if they comply with it from bad reasons, we ought to comply with it from better, instead of not complying with it at all, in order to show our dislike of their example. Thus because we think some persons come to church or the sacrament, to be thought religious; others because it has been their custom; others because they are obliged to it by their situation, calling, or the authority of their parents and masters; others because they have nothing else to do-therefore we will not go to church or the sacrament at all. This example shows what shifts and pretences men are driven to in excuse of their neglect of duty. Good and wise men would be very unwilling and scarce able to believe, that any persons performed religious acts from any other than religious motives;-but they immediately reflect that if the case be not so, it is nothing to them; it is no extenuation of their guilt, should they neglect what is their duty, if others debase their performance of it by unworthy motives: nor, on the other hand, can it ever detract from the worthiness and acceptability of those services which proceed from a sincere wish to please God.
In like manner, because it sometimes happens that
men who are remarkable for their attendance upon religious ordinances are not equally remarkable for their honesty and virtue, and good conduct in other respects, therefore we take up a mean opinion of religion and religious ordinances. This is a very loose consequence that we draw-religious ordinances never pretended to possess such a check and irresistible efficacy in them, as to make men good universally or necessarily. Great allowances must be made for the difference of men's engagements, and the temper of their minds with respect to them, and some for the difference of men's apprehension of the importance of particular offices; and after these allowances, I believe it will turn out that the soundest virtue, the truest morality, is found in conjunction with a pious veneration for the offices of religion.
The sum of my discourse amounts principally to this: If unfortunately there be any in our religious congregations who are found out to have carried on concealed practices of wickedness along with outward sanctity and devotion; who, after having led for a long time a life of regularity and religion, fall off from these characteristics, we are not entitled to conclude, as we are very apt to do, that they are, and have been, disbelievers on the whole. Experience of human nature authorises no such conclusion; the probability is, that they are not so much consequences as inconsistencies: these men are borne down by the force and strength of the temptation. But, chiefly and industriously, ought we to beware of drawing