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On Scoffing at Religion.

2 PETER iii. 3.

There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.

THERE is nothing, however sacred and venerable, which wicked and presumptuous men may not treat with ridicule and disrespect. Although the Christian religion be in itself a most rational and amiable scheme of duty and of happiness, yet has it, from time to time, sustained the most virulent attacks of ignorance or wilful prejudice; as if it were neither worthy of God, nor beneficial to man; as if it were even a dishonour to our Creator, an enemy to public peace and private felicity.

Wicked practices and licentious principles commonly go together. Men first indulge themselves in sin; and then attempt to palliate their crimes; to weaken or destroy the authority of that religion which condemns their conduct, and threatens them with a future judgment. It may not be amiss, therefore, in the following discourse, to point out some of the causes Voz. H


of that scoffing which, St. Peter says, is to be found among men "walking after their own lusts;" and then to expose the absurdity and impiety of it.

Inattention, or slight and superficial inquiry, is one reason why men are so often tempted to revile and scoff at religion. In their youth, perhaps little regard has been paid to a religious education. As they have advanced in life, and come forward into the world, it has been their ill fortune to fall among men of libertine principles, who, in order to countenance themselves in their sinful behaviour, would wish to undermine and destroy every obligation of virtue and piety. Thus, without examining for themselves; without exercising that reason which God imparted to them to be a light to their paths, they pay an implicit deference to the opinion of their vicious companions, and because others are so absurd, they become scoffers also. And thus is our holy religion made the subject of reviling and contempt, from wilful inattention and unreasonable prejudice: thus is it unjustly represented as the contrivance of self-interested priests and politicians, to keep the multitude in awe, without having any foundation in reason and truth, to influence a liberal mind. Whereas, if men would but examine with attention and candour, they would find, that it is supported by the strongest arguments which the nature of the thing will admit of; that it is admirably calculated to promote the present felicity of mankind; and, above all, that it opens the most glorious and ravishing prospects of a future and eternal existence. Before judgment is passed, it is but fair to hear what can be said in vindication of the accused; and we need not be afraid to submit the Christian system to the severest scrutiny, if

it be conducted with impartiality and candour; conscious that its excellency must come forth more conspicuous from every trial.

Another cause of scoffing, is levity of mind, and a vain desire of gaining the reputation of eminent sprightliness and wit. There are those in the world of such excessive vanity, that they are fond of being singular on every occasion. And if they would confine this preposterous passion to dress and equipage, and other matters of equal insignificance, it would be comparatively harmless, nor deserve such severe reprehension. But when, for the sake of a jest, they would set objects in a ridiculous light, which all around them consider as serious and sacred; when they would strike out new paths in morality and religion; when they will not be satisfied with common sense and plain Scripture; when they will not consent even to go to heaven, if they must go in the beaten track of the vulgar; every friend to true religion and to the real happiness of men, ought to stand forth to correct so vain and mischievous a spirit. For, surely, to banter the idea of a God, and a Providence, and a judgment to come; to attempt to weaken the obligations of virtue, which is a law to all intelligent beings, and to plead for the privilege of dying like a brute, shows the want of a good heart and a sound judgment, as well as a cruel disregard to the dignity and happiness of human nature. If men, to gratify a spirit of vain curiosity, must turn aside into new paths, let them amuse themselves with collecting inoffensive fruits and flowers, and not weeds of deadly poison. If it be the height of their ambition to be esteemed persons of wit and ingenuity, let them not

be so vain as to imagine that this end can be accomplished by sacrificing truth and decency.

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Again; occasion is frequently given to unbelievers to scoff at religion, from the wicked actions of those who call themselves Christians. Thus, when the prophet Nathan was sent to David to convince him of his heinous crime; among other charges, it is made a matter of severe reproof" that by that deed he had << given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blas"pheme." And St. Paul directs Timothy to insist upon a discreet and virtuous behaviour in his Christian converts, "that they might give none occasion to the adver "sary to speak reproachfully." Religion only so far has its proper effect, as it influences us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. In vain do we call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, if we keep not his commandments: in vain do we boast of the excellency of Christianity, of the strength and purity of our faith in all its doctrines; "for as the body without the "spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." The scoffer, to encourage himself in his own evil ways, reasons in this manner-" There is the man who calls "himself a Christian; who boasts that his religion is "beyond comparison preferable to all others. But "how does this appear? Does he show the beauty " and excellency of it from its influence upon his con"duct? He assures us that the precepts of the Gospel "require him to live soberly, and to be temperate in all "things: why then is he so voluptuous, so apt to indulge in chambering and wantonness, so extrava

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gantly fond of the pomps and vanities of this "wicked world? He declares that he is commanded

237 at" to do to others as he would wish they should do "unto him; that he is to be just in all his dealings, "and ever desirous of overcoming evil with good. "Why then is he so violent in his resentments; so "ready to take advantage of the necessity of his "brother, and grind the face of the poor; so inclinable "to defraud, insult, and oppress, whenever he can do "it with impunity? He tells us, that in the Holy Scriptures, which are the words of truth, life and "immortality are brought to light; that clear and "positive assurances are given of a resurrection from "the dead, of a future judgment, of glory and honour

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to the righteous, but tribulation and anguish to those "who do evil, and die impenitent. Why then does "he live without God in the world, as if both body " and soul were to perish together, and he never to be "called upon to render an account of his actions? He seems to rejoice when he assures us that every provision is now made for the relief of human infirmity, through the intervention of a Saviour; that his laws "are well calculated to be a complete guide to our actions, his example a perfect pattern for our imita"tion, and his death an atonement for our sins. Why "then does he treat this wonderful scheme of mercy "with so much disrespect, not even commemorating "(agreeably to a positive commandment) that death "and passion, upon which he pretends to ground his "hopes of salvation ?"


Thus are sinners encouraged to persevere in an evil heart of unbelief, by the misconduct of those who ought to lead them into the right way, by wholesome advice and a blameless example. And although it is unreasonable and unjust to charge the faults of professing

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