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per and conduct? Is the proud man willing to admit those truths, which inspire only humbling views of his nature and condition? Is the man, abandoned to his sins and engrossed by the pleasures of vice, ready to acknowledge those doctrines, which disclose an ultimate moral retribution, which bring no peace to the guilty conscience, and awaken only terror and distress? Does it not daily appear, that vice is the parent of doubt and unbelief; and that as men begin to yield to their criminal appetites and passions, they begin to look on the truths of religion with distrust; to consider them as questionable and uncertain; to multiply doubts respecting them; to overlook or make a wrong estimate of their evidence; to search with eagerness for suggestions, which oppose their authority, force, or application; and does not a vicious life very commonly lead to utter unbelief, as well as unconcern, in religion? On the other hand, is it not exemplified by constant observation, that if a man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine of Jesus, whether it were of God or whether be spake of himself! Do not the love and practice of virtue predispose the mind to the reception of a religion, which inculcates moral virtue as the great business and end of life? Is not a benevolent disposition inclined to the reception of doctrines, which inspire love to God and man? Is not a virtuous mind, self-possessed and enjoying the calm approbation of conscience, and capable of estimating benevolent and religious motives and principles, and, from its knowledge of itself, willing to think well of human nature, the best preparation for estimating the moral evidence of christianity; that is, the evidence arising from the moral character of Jesus, and the inoral tendency and design of bis religion ; a species of proof, hardly less than irresistible, where it is weighed with due attention and by a mind capable of feeling its force. On all these accounts faith is a moral exercise. There are, it is plain, cases, in which belief is a virtue, and unbelief or error a sin. Where men are possessed of the ordinary capacity and means of forming opinions on religion, they are responsible for their opinions ; and their belief or unbelief, the correctness or the falsehood of their religious principles is either a virtue or a vice, as far as it is the result of industry or negligence, of inquiry or indifference. As far as they may be affected by prejudices, which they might remove or counteract, or by their temper and course of life ; or by other circumstances, which are within their control, these opinions have a moral character, and are proper subjects of moral retribution. It ceases to be unimportant what a man believes ; his opinions as well as his affections must come into
the account in an estimate of his moral worth ; and may finally appear to his honour or shame, his triumph or condemnation.
II. We inquire next, what is the connexion between truth and virtue, and the influence of moral and religious principles on our temper and conduct? We answer that their influence is reciprocal; as virtnous conduct leads to correct principles, so correct principles lead to a virtuous and pious life. What on this subject are the suggestions of reason and experience ?
Every kind of truth is valuable, because all truths have in some degree a common bond of connexion. The study and possession of truth invigorates and improves the mind. Truth and virtue, and, on the other hand, error and vice, are so closely connected with each other, and the intellectual faculty, by which we discriminate between truth and error, and the moral faculty, by which we distinguish between right and wrong, virtue and vice, are so intimately allied and so nearly resemble each other, that wlfatever improves the former, contributes in an almost equal degree to the benefit of the latter. As the intellectual discernment is quickened and strengthened, the moral discernment seems often to acquire acuteness and vigor. We remark farther, that the propriety of the decisions of the conscience, or the moral judgment, must depend greatly on the state of moral or religious knowledge; as the decisions of a judge are likely to be correct, other circumstances being equal, in proportion to his knowledge of the law by which our duties are regulated and our rights ascertained. Is it not true, if we appeal to experience, that in proportion to the improvement of mankind in the true knowledge of christianity, the sensibility of the conscience is increased ; the moral discernment rendered more acute; men are accustomed to observe nicer shades of difference in moral conduct; the importance and obligations of virtue are more highly estimated ; and a superior and constantly improving standard of moral duty and virtue is set up as the rule of life. We do not say, that the actual attainments of men in goodness are always in proportion to their intellectual improvement; but certainly whatever tends to enlighten the conscience, to quicken the moral sense, and to elevate the moral sentiments, must be favourable to virtue.
III. We inquire next into the more direct influence of religious principles on human conduct. This must be considerable.
We acknowledge that there are many moral and religious sentiments, which are not closely connected with practice; and many, about which there are warm contentions, of which it little concerns our virtue on which side our belief reposes. But there
are others, which are of high moment, which are essential and closely connected with our virtue; and therefore, as far as our future condition has relation to our noral character, they relate to our salvation. No sentiment, if it deserves the name of sentiment, can be more loose and untenable, than that which regards the opinions and principles, which any one adopts on the sabject of religion and morals, as of no moment or of comparatively trifling importance; which at once demolishes the partition between truth and falsehood, and gives to him, who walks in the blaze of christian light, no advantage over the man who feels and gropes his way in the darkness of pagan ignorance. How is the business of ordinary life conducted, and under what circumstances may men most securely calculate on success in the concerns of this world ? Is it not by an application of the established principles of worldly wisdom and prudence to their affairs ? Does faith furnish no impulse to their conduct ? Do they make no calculation of chances and probabilities? Are they unaffected by hopes or fears; hopes of success or fears of defeat, arising from their own past experience, or the experience and observation of others, or from their acquaintance with the common course of human affairs ? Why then is it, that the principles of religion, a subject which is in the highest degree interesting, and the hopes and fears which it inspires, and the calcu. lations which are grounded on it, should not have a proportional influence on human conduct. We do not pretend that we shall find this proper influence of religion in those cases, where its truths are, it may be, professed, but at the same time regarded with indifference and unconcern; where they are acknowledged with an unmeaning assent, but where they are neither coinprehended nor felt. "This, alas! is the christianity of a large portion of the community; and with respect to any direct influence of religion on such persons, they might as well believe in Mohammed as in Jesus. But we refer to those instances, in which Teligion may be truly said to be believed; when men have as much confidence in the being of a God as they have in their own existence, and there is equal proof of the former as of the latter; as much confidence in the divine providence as in the regular succession of day and night, of summer and winter; as much faith in a final moral retribution as in the penalties of human tribunals overtaking those persons, who violate the laws of civil society. Then indeed the true principles of religion will have all the influence for which their advocates contend; and will be found the most powerful incentives and the most effectual security to virtue.
When we consider the reason of the case, how can it be otherwise? It is impossible it should be without influence, whether a man has none or a serious belief in the being and providence of God; whether he considers virtue and vice, right and wrong, as mere names, or as real distinctions of the highest moment, immutably established by the moral governor of the universe; whether he regards himself and mankind as accountable or not accountable for their conduct; whether he believes that God has or has not had communications with his creatures; whether he regards Jesus Christ as a man a little more shrewd and a little wiser than his contemporaries, or as the appointed and inspired messenger of the Most High ; his religion as merely a convenient and useful code of moral precepts, or as the authoritative instructions and precepts of the All-wise. We would not be wanting in candour towards any of our fellowmen; and it would fill us with regret to say what is unjust or untrue even of those, whose principles we regard with extreme dislike. Yet may we not ask, what is the basis of mutual confidence, except truth and integrity; but what security can you have of a man's truth and integrity, who discards the principles of religion ; and what hold have you on their virtue who regard all actions as alike, and who, though perhaps they entertain a belief of a future existence, yet think that their conduct here shall not affect their condition in another life ?
IV. Can it be likewise that our particular views of christianity should not affect our conduct or characters? Will religion be the same to us, whether we regard christianity merely as the result of circumstances ordinary and natural, or as taught by the immediate inspiration and confirmed by the miraculous interposition of God? Will it make no difference, whether we understand it to teach the future salvation and felicity of all men without regard to their characters, or as teaching an exact and impartial moral retribution, in which men will be left to the just consequences of their folly or wisdom, their vice or virtue ? Will it make no difference, whether we regard God as an inexorable and unrelenting judge, vindictive towards his creatures, having no compassion on his frail and erring children, determined to execute the severest penalties of his law, crying aloud for vengeance and to be appeased only by the terrible sufferings and death of the kindest and holiest being, who ever appeared on earth, his own son; or whether we regard him as the father and friend of his creatures, proffering his free forgiveness on their repentance, inviting them by every affectionate motive and entreaty to virtue and happiness, and assuring them of his aid and blessing on their sincere endeavours to do his will ? Will it bave
Do influence whether we regard God as an arbitrary sovereign, partial towards his creatures, and capriciously selecting a few of his human family for happiness, without regard to their moral character, and as capriciously, and with as little reference to their endeavours or attainments, forming the rest of mankind expressly for, and arbitrarily consigning them to eternal misery and wretchedness; or as merciful and impartial to all his offspring; regarding all with equal tenderness and love, and proffering freely to all, if they will accept them, the richest blessings to which they can aspire; making happiness the necessary re. sult and natural consequence of moral character; punishing neYer for the sake of punishing, but with the most merciful designs ; and rewarding men according to their use and improvement of the talents committed to them ? Are not these views in the one case adapted to inspire only hatred and terror towards God, and to incline us to reject a religion, which professes to come from heaven, and represents tbe character of the Supreme Being as more odious than that of any buman tyrant, and to feel, from principles of natural conscience, that such a doctrine could never bave proceeded from the Author of Nature and Providence ; and in the other case, are they not adapted to produce reverence, love, gratitude, and confidence towards our Heavenly Father, to render his service a delight, to fill us with benevolence towards our fellow men, with complacency in their virtue and success, and to dispose us to look forward with delightful anticipations to the complete development of the divine plans in regard to the human race.
We acknowledge that among those, who have held views, which we deem most erroneous, there have been many persons of eminent goodness and piety; indeed there are few cases in which men have the hardihood to follow out such principles in their true consequences; and it often happens, that they are not perfectly comprehended; or not sincerely believed; or they are 80 commixed with other sentiments, that their force is not felt; or other circumstances, operating even without the knowledge of the individual himself, have served to counteract and destroy their influence. So among those who have disbelieved or doubted the truth of, christianity, not among those, who oppose, revile or ridicule it, there have been men remarkable for their integrity, and kindness, and exemplary lives; and we can never cease to lament, that there should be found persons of such character who, through ignorance or false views of the religion, or an unhappy and irremediable bias and prejudice, or an unaccountable perversity of judgment, should remain neutral in the cause of human virtue, improvement, and consolation; or be un