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THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION.
WHOEVER believes himself to be the creature of God, and the subject of moral government, cannot but acknowledge the infinite importance of that science which relates to the worship of his Maker, and with which his own hopes for eternity, are most intimately connected. In the Divine favor is life, and His displeasure is the sting of death. But no man can possibly please God, without intending to do it. He, therefore, who is not conscious to himself of an habitual intention to do the will of God, and to please him in all things, ought to know, that he has never yet seen religion in its proper point of view, as the most important concern of man; and that he is altogether destitute of that religious sincerity, which is absolutely necessary to constitute an acceptable worshipper of the Deity. If a man be not serious in religion, in what should he be serious ? If he be not serious, when his everlasting happiness, or his everlasting misery is concerned, what is there in the universe that can ever make him so ? To allow the truth of religion, and yet to consider it only as a secondary concern, subordinate to our temporal
pursuits and enjoyments, is infinitely absurd. It is to prefer the pleasures of a moment, to the joys of eternity; to be more afraid of the sufferings of an hour, than of everlasting torments.
Religion is either the greatest, I had almost said, the only concern of man, or it is no concern of his at all. It is either every thing, or it is nothing. There are but two consistent characters of men in the world. The first is, that of those who attach such importance to religion, as to make it their meat and their drink, the very end of their lives, the balm for their sorrows, and the joy of their hearts. The other is, that of those who considering it wholly as a fable, treat it not only with neglect, but with contempt. And yet there is much reason to fear, that by much the greater part of mankind are persons, to whom neither of these characters belong. Men, in general, perhaps, admit in words, its superlative importance; but it is not upon this idea that they form their lives. It is neither the principle that regulates their lives, nor the root from which their actions rise. Religion is neither the sun which warms them, nor the vital air which they breathe. The place which they assign to it is subordinate. It is not to them, the one thing needful; the first and the last concern of man. In their ears, the voice of reason ought surely to be heard, when she thus addresses them.
“Children of men, you cannot be ignorant that your life in this world is but an hands-breadth, contrasted with that permanent and everlasting state to which you are destined, that the joys and sorrows of your present condition are soon to be exchanged, for joys or sorrows which are eternal. Can you, without concern, know yourselves to be approaching every hour nearer to that world, in which all enjoyments, but those which proceed from the loving kindness of God; and all sufferings, but those which arise from
his anger, will be for ever lost and swallowed up? Ought you not now to consider these things as of that magnitude, in which you are so soon to see and to feel them? Does it become you to sleep and dream on, till you awake in eternity? Why should you now consider the concerns of this world as the serious thing, and religion as the trifle, when you are so soon to experience the vanity of the former, and the infinite value of the latter? Why should you walk in a vain show, and disquiet yourselves in vain, when you are so soon to bid adieu to the shadows, and hollow forms that float around you, and to enter into that state, in which every thing is not only real, but also eternal ? Catch the fleeting moments, and appropriate them to true wisdom. Seize the glorious hope which is set before you, and let not the prize of eternal life slip out of your hands, while your attention is fixed upon trifles lighter than air. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.”
But there are many persons to whom Religion is not even a thing of secondary importance. « One might have expected,” says Dr. Paley, “ that events so awful and tremendous as death and judgment; that a question so deeply interesting, as whether we shall go to heaven or to hell, could, in no possible case, and in no constitution of mind whatever, fail of exciting the most serious apprehension and concern. But this is not so. In a thoughtless, a careless, a sensual world, many are always found, who can resist, and who do resist, the force and importance of all these reflections: that is to say, they suffer nothing of the kind to enter into their thoughts. There are grave men and women, nay, even middle-aged persons, who have not thought seriously about religion an hour, nor a quarter of an hour, in the whole course of their lives. This great object of human solicitude affects
not them, in any manner whatsoever.” “ Again, there is a race of giddy, thoughtless men and women, of young men and young women more especially, who look no further than the next day, the next week, the next month : seldom or never so far as the next year. Present pleasure is every thing with them. The sports of the day, the amusements of the evening, entertainments and diversions occupy all their concern; and so long as these can be supplied in succession, so long as they can go from one diversion to another, their minds remain in a state of perfect indifference to every thing except their pleasures. Now, what chance has religion with such dispositions as these ?”
That a being made for eternity, whose thirst for happiness never can be satisfied, but at the fountain of the water of life, should leave the pure river that proceeds from the throne of God, to drink out of cisterns where there is no water, but what is stagnant and putrid ; or out of those which contain no water at all, is a consideration which, to a feeling mind, presents a subject of melancholy reflection. What man of tender sensibility, can see millions of his fellow-creatures, to whom he is attached by the finest chords of sympathy, sporting themselves in the chase of butterflies, while the awful realities of heaven and hell are unnoticed and disregarded, without weeping in secret places, for the insensibility of men? Oh that my head were water, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night, for the slain of the daughters of my people! Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end: