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sists, and follow the dictates of their reason, they would possess true worth and dignity ; which always merit, and in general command, respect and esteem. Those principles in human nature, which distinguish man from every other creature on earth, induce him to seek with ardour whatever he perceives will give him superiour excellence, and gratify his strongest desires. To these principles, or to the known disposition and feelings of the heart, the text may be addressed in hope of success with youth, in whom we wish to excite a noble emulation to excel in every virtue.
Who are the most excellent among mankind the word of God informs us; and sober reason approves of its decision. The righteous have a fair title to the honourable distinction. By the righteous we understand persons of religion and moral goodness, who observe, with a pure conscience, the duties they owe to their Creator, to themselves, and to their fellow creatures. By their neighbour the opposite character, that is, the wicked, is intended. Righteousness, in the most extensive signification, includes the whole religious and moral duty of man. In this sense it dignifies the person in whom it is found, and gives him a vast superiority over
80 those who are destitute of it. Did men perceive how consonant the genuine spirit of religion is to the best feelings and principles of our nature, and how much it adds to their dignity and happiness, little need be said to recommend it to their choice and attention. But, in view of the actual state of religion in the world, we conclude mankind have fallen into gross mistakes about its nature and tendency, or conceiyed unreasonable prejudices against it ; “ since it is so natural to us to love that which is good, and delight in that which is amiable, when things are not misrepresented.”
No one thing has been more grossly misrepresented, and its natural features more distorted, than genuine religion. Painted in false colours, presented to the mind under the most hideous forms, it is rendered disgusting in appearance, or corrupting in its influence upon those who embrace it as described. The enemies of true religion would persuade you to believe that it is fit only for weak and vulgar minds, for mean and sordid souls, that it proceeds from cowardly and superstitious fear, depresses the mind, and renders it incapable of high and aspiring thoughts. Thus viewed and contemplated, it is not strange that it excites aversion, that many pour contempt upon it, and commend those, who are so free from what' they call vulgar prejudices as to feel none of its restrainte, but can, without any apparent checks of conscience, make it the subject of their unhallowed wit, and profane mockery.
With a view to correct, or guard against, the mistake of those who entertain such notions of true religion, who conceive it to be inconsistent with the dignity and happiness of human beings ; and with a design to recommend it to all who would possess real excellence, we have chosen the words just read, as the theme of our discourse. They contain a simple proposition, which is easily comprehended. “The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.” That this truth may have a practical influence, in a particular manner upon the minds and hearts of youth, we shall attempt to describe some of the excellencies of the righteous. Though we should not do it to the best advantage, it is hoped so many of his qualities and interests may be represented, as will convince every reasonable person of the truth of the text, and excite a spirit of emulation. : If any honour be derived from birth and extraction, the righteous have the fairest title to it.
They are born of God, and acknowledged as his spiritual children. Religion gives that featpre and complexion to their character, which prove their relation to the family in heaven. Holiness is a celestial seed. They in whom it is planted, and who bring forth its fruits, are entitled to the most honourable distinctions. They are “ heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” These are not high-sounding, empty titles, invented to amuse and attract a giddy multitude ; they convey an important sense, are applicable to all the righteous, and intimate their present worth and dignity, and their future inheritance. By holiness men become “ par. takers of the divine nature," and heirs of an immortal crown. The righteous bear the im age, and possess, in a degree, the qualities of their heavenly parent. These give them a real excellence and splendour, never possessed by those destitute of religion, however elevated their stations, or loaded with worldly honours. Having imbibed the spirit of religion, the righteous person constantly acts under its influence, and aspires to the nearest resemblance of the adorable object of his love and reverence. He never, with design, behaves in a manner unworthy of his origin, inconsistent with his relation
to a pure and holy God, or with his own high destination. His qualities and endowments, if well understood, show that he is “ born of the spirit,” and that he is “going on to perfection.” He is endued with that wisdom and understanding, which are the glory of man. Though he may not possess in the highest de gree the wisdom of this world, which is little more than a cunning and subtilty to plan and execute schemes to gain temporal honour and advantage, without any restraint from religious and moral principle ; yet he has the wisdom to discover and secure his true interest, everlasting honour and felicity. The man, who has this “ unders.nding, is of an excellent spirit.” His mind is enlarged to contemplate the noblest objects. His knowledge is infinitely more valuable than that of ancient or modern philosophers, who have either denied or been unac, quainted with the true God. It is conversant with subjects of the most sublime nature, which have a tendency, not only to extend his con, ceptions and elevate his views, but to transform him into the same image. He contemplates that infinite Being, whose matchless perfections and works fill him with admiration, and call into exercise the best affections and powers of his