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Personal and Social Virtue,
Finally, while he is fully aware that to himself belong shame and confusion of face, the true Christian heartily desires and earnestly promotes that good and great end, for which he was created--the glory of God.
II. Christianity is the instrument by which mankind are brought into a conformity with the moral attributes of God.
Whatsoever plausible theories may be formed among men, respecting the virtue and excellence of their own nature, the sober voice both of history and of experience declares, with a clearness which to the impartial mind can scarcely fail to be convincing, that man without divine grace is, to a very considerable degree, an immoral being. While he neglects those duties which are more immediately required towards God himself, he is lamentably prone to be unjust, untrue, impure, or unmerciful. In the fall of our first parents from that moral image of God, in which they were created, the Scriptures reveal to us the cause of this general depravation; but, without any further consideration, at present, of the source of the evil, let it be remembered that Christianity-unsullied and vital Christianity is the means by which that evil is remedied, and the moral image of God restored to mankind.
A full acknowledgment of the infinite disparity between God and man-of the perfection of the former, and of the innumerable infirmities of the lattermust indeed form a feature in every sound system of ethics and theology; but moral qualities will ever be found to maintain their own unvarying tendencies. Holiness, justice, truth, and benevolence, whether they are regarded as the essential attributes of the Creator, or as the borrowed excellences of the creature, are still the same in their nature. As, then, the face of a man is seen reflected in the mirror, so are the moral attributes of the Deity seen reflected in the conduct
After the Pattern of Christ.
and deportment of the real Christian. and fallible as he is, and liable as he knows himself to be to fall into some of the many snares which are placed around him by his spiritual enemy, he has, nevertheless, submitted with sincerity to the operation of that Gospel, which is, "the power of God unto salvation." And now, nothwithstanding his remaining corruptions, the general effect produced in him by the work of religion is this-that, in the purity of his heart, in the holiness of his life and conversation, in the integrity of his words and actions, in the activity of his benevolence, in his gentleness, kindness, longsuffering and forbearance, in his love towards the whole family of man-he presents to our view a real and beautiful conformity with the moral characteristics of that omnipresent Deity, whom he fears, loves, and
It must indeed be acknowledged that a cloud is too often cast over the two propositions which I have now ventured to state, by the lamentable imperfections even of sincere Christians. So easily do we yield to the temptations with which we are surrounded, and so prone are we to be superficial in the pursuit of our religious duties, that the pure light of truth, which ought to shine in our works, to the glory of our heavenly Father, is very liable to become obscured and tarnished. Nevertheless, our argument will still be found to rest on a solid basis; for these imperfections, like those grosser defects and perversions already alluded to, are obviously to be traced, not to Christianity, but to the lingering corruptions of the human heart, which have not yet been subjected to its sanative influence. Christianity itself is always the same, and its tendency towards the production of those admirable consequences which I have endeavoured to describe, is perpetualinvariable. Here it will be seasonable to notice one of
the most glorious features of the Christian system, and one of the strongest internal evidences which it presents to us of a divine origin; namely, that, in the life and character of Jesus Christ himself, as recorded in the New Testament, we have a perfect pattern of those moral effects which Christianity is intended and calculated to produce. In Him there was no spot or blemish whatsoever; no sin either in intention or action n; but a perfect piety, purity, and charity; a plenary exercise of those dispositions, and an absolutely faultless performance of those duties which are required in Christians towards God, towards themselves, and towards their fellow-men. Christ is denominated, by way of supereminence, the IMAGE OF GOD; and the more we are subjected to the influence of his holy religion, the more completely is that image transfused into ourselves-the greater is our ability to obey that wonderful precept of our divine lawgiver: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
III. Christianity is the instrument by which mankind are introduced to real happiness.
Men, in their natural condition, are not only ungodly and vicious, but, in various respects, unhappy. The moral disorders which abound in the heart, and which are perpetually displaying themselves in the transactions of men, seldom fail, even in this life, to be productive, in some form or other, of an equivalent measure of suffering and misery. It is probable, indeed, that whatever of pain, perplexity, and affliction, is endured by our species, may all be traced, either directly or indirectly to these moral disorders. Now, since Christianity is the means by which such disorders are remedied, so it is also the means of procuring for mankind a real and substantial happiness.
. That this position is true of genuine Christianity,
[Ess. IV. the impartial observer will readily admit. The real Christian is a centre of happiness in the communty to which he belongs. His benevolence, his forbearance, his love, his absence of selfishness, all tend to the peace and comfort of those who surround him; and, were. the principles which actuate his life and conversation really diffused through the whole society of mankind, the causes of mutual disquietude, of oppression, robbery, confusion, and bloodshed, would entirely cease. Even where Christianity is very imperfectly practised, its effect in augmenting the social happiness of men is open to the most common observation. In the alleviations of the hospital, in the mitigations of the method of war, in the place given in the scale of society to females, in the general decency of manners, and in the sacred character of the connubial tie-advantages which were comparatively little known even to the most civilized nations of heathen antiquity-we perceive so many proofs of the tendency of Christianity to augment the happiness of men-a tendency which would unquestionably be carried forward to completion, did we yield to the religion of our Redeemer its full and legitimate sway.
But, the happiness produced by Christianity becomes still more conspicuous, when we consider its operation on individuals who are really subjected to the influence of the Gospel. That Christians are to live, during their present state of existence, without a great deal of suffering, it cannot of course be my intention to assert. They are, like other men, exposed to bodily pains and temporal afflictions; they have often to mourn over their own transgressions, and over the iniquities which prevail in the world around them; and it cannot be expected that they should be able to deny themselves, to take up their daily cross, and to mortify every vain and ungodly desire, without under
Joys of Heaven.
going a considerable degree of mental uneasiness and conflict.
Nevertheless, the true Christian has many sources of substantial happiness, which are all his own. Aware as he is of his entire unworthiness, and of his many sins, he has cast his burthen on the Lord, and can often rejoice in the humble confidence that his iniquity is pardoned, his guilt cleansed away in the blood of Christ; and thus he enjoys a true peace with God. Unable in his own strength to resist the temptations which surround him, or to walk in the path of virtue and religion, he has the happiness to know that the grace of Jesus Christ is "sufficient" for him-that the strength of his Redeemer is made perfect in weakness. Exposed as he may be to tribulation, persecution, or mental conflict, he still finds rest and satisfaction in submission to the divine will; and he is comforted by the settled conviction that all these sufferings are the appointed means of his further purification, and are intended to work out for him an incomparably greater joy. And to this conviction is not unfrequently added that lively sense of the love of God, which spreads a delightful calm over his mind, and constitutes in itself the purest of pleasures. Lastly, for him even death is deprived of much of its bitterness and terror; for he is in possession of satisfying reasons for regarding it as the termination of every pain and sorrow, and as the sure introduction to never-ending peace.
The happiness of the true Christian, therefore, even in the present life, is of a very solid character. It is such as results from having his sins forgiven, his spiritual wants supplied, his moral diseases cured, his pains alleviated, his doubts and fears removed, his soul brought into peaceful communion with God, and his hopes, at times, full of immortality. But our view of the happiness procured for individuals through the