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tage. As none of our organs can bear intense sensations without injury;. as the eye, when dazzled with overpowering light, beholds imaginary colours, and loses the real distinction of objects ; so the mind, when overheated by perpetual contemplation of celestial things, has been sometimes found to mistake the strong impressions of fancy, for supernatural communications from above. To the employments of devotion, as to all other things, there are due limits. There is a certain temperate sphere, within which it preserves longest its proper exertion, and most successfully promotes the purposes for which it was designed.
In the fourth place, It is an error to imagine, that devotion enjoins a total contempt of all the pleasures and amusements of human society. It checks, indeed, that spirit of dissipation which is too prevalent. It not only prohibits pleasures which are unlawful, but likewise that unlawful degree of attachment to pleasures in themselves innocent, which withdraws the attention of man from what is serious and important. But it brings amusement under due limitation, without extirpating it. It forbids it as the business, but permits it as the relaxation, of life. For there is nothing in the spirit of true religion, which is hostile to a cheerful enjoyment of our situation in the world.
They who look with a severe and indignant eye upon all the recreations by which the cares of men are relieved, and the union of society is cemented, are, in two respects, injurious to religion. First, they exhibit it to others under a forbidding form, by clothing it with the garb of so much unnecessary austerity. And next, they deprive the world of the benefit which their example might afford, in drawing the line between innocent and dangerous pleasures. By a temperate participation of those which are innocent, they might successfully exert that authority which a virtuous and respectable character always possesses, in restraining undue excess. They would shew the
unwary, at what point they ought to stop. They would have it in their power to regulate, in some degree, the public manners; to check extravagance, to humble presumption, and put vice to the blush. But, through injudicious severity, they fall short of the good they might perform. By an indiscriminate censure of all amusement, they detract from the weight of their reproof, when amusement becomes undoubtedly sinful. By
totally withdrawing themselves from the circle of cheerful life, they deliver up the entertainments of society into the hands of the loose and the corrupted; and permit the blind power of fashion, uncontrolled, to establish its own standards, and to exercise its danger, ous sway over the world.
In the fifth place, It is an error to believe, that devotion nourishes a spirit of severity, in judging of the manners and characters of others. Under this reproach, indeed, it has so long suffered in the world, that, with too many,
the appellation of devout, suggests no other character, but that of a sour and recluse bigot, who delights in censure. But the reproach is unjust ; for such a spirit is entirely opposite to the nature of true devotion. The very first traces which it imprints on the mind, are candour and humility. Its principles are liberal. Its genius is unassuming and mild. Severe only to itself, it makes every allowance for others which humanity can suggest. It claims no privilege of looking into their hearts, or of deciding with respect to their eternal state.--If your supposed devotion produce contrary effects; if it infuse harshness into your sentiments, and acrimony into your speech ; you may conclude, that, under a serious appearance, carnal passions lurk. And, if ever it shall so far lift you up with self-coneeit, as to make you establish your own opinions as an infallible standard for the whole Christian world, and lead you to consign to perdition all who differ from you, either in some doctrinal tenets, or in the mode of expressing them ; you may rest assured, that to much pride you have joined much ignorance, both of the nature of devotion, and of the Gospel of Christ. Finally,
In the sixth place, It is an error to think, that perpetual rapture and spiritual joy belong to devotion. Devout feelings admit very different degrees of warmth and exaltation. Some persons, by the frame of their minds, are much more susceptible than others of the tender emotions. They more readily relent at the view of Divine goodness, glow with a warmer ardour of love, and, by conse, quence, rise to a higher elevation of joy and hope. But, in the midst of still and calm af, fections, devotion often dwells; and, though it produce no transports in the mind, diffuses over it a steady serenity: Devout sensations not only vary in their degree, according to the frame of different tempers; but, even among the best disposed, suffer much interruption
and decay. It were too much to expect, that, in the present state of human frailty, those happy feelings should be uniform and constant, Oppression of worldly cares, languor of spirits and infirmities of health, frequently indispose us for the enjoyment of devout affections. Pious men, on these occasions, are in hazard of passing judgment on their own state with too much severity; as if, for some great iniquity, they were condemned by God to final hardness of heart. Hence arises that melancholy, which has been seen to overcloud them; and which has given occasion to many contemptuous scoffs of ungodly men. But it is a melancholy which deserves to be treated with tenderness, not with contempt. It is the excess of virtuous and pious sensibility. It is the overflowing of a heart affected, in an extreme degree, with the humble sense of its own failings, and with ardent concern to attain the favour of God. A weakness, however, we admit it to be, though not a crime; and hold it to be perfectly separable from the essence of devotion. For contrition, though it may melt, ought not to sink or overpower the heart of a Christian. The tear of repentance brings its own relief. Religion is a spring of consolation, not of terror, to every well-informed mind, which, in a proper manner, rests its