Page images
PDF
EPUB

fine themselves to the tacit impeachment and fubverfion of the latter by a ftudied exaltation of the former.

I propose, under the divine bleffing, to elucidate by fome inftances derived from modern life the guilt here ftigmatised by the mouth of God; and the present and future woes here denounced by the fame authority againft every offender. The difcuffion lies at the root of all religion. Give me your diligent attention. And And may the Spirit of God bless the good feed, which I may be made the inftrument of fowing in your hearts!

[ocr errors]

I. Among the most prominent illuftrations of the present fubject we may produce those perfons, who reprefent enthusiasm as religion.

By enthusiasm, as applied with a reference to religion, I understand the subjection of the judgement, in points of religious faith or practice, to the influence of the imagination. The forms under which this influence manifefts its predominance may be divers. The power which it exercises over one mind may in degree be greater or less than that which it poffeffes over another. But whereever, and in whatever fhape and measure, it operates: there, and in that shape and meafure, exifts enthusiasm.

In many inftances enthusiasm fuggefts unauthorised ideas of perfonal communication between the individual and the Deity; of personal inspiration fenfibly vouchfafed by the Holy Ghoft in mode or measure different from that divine influence on the heart and understanding, which is promised to every Chriftian. Sometimes it deludes the mind with ideas equally unauthorised of the visible agency of the Spirit of God on others. On some occafions it pronounces with no less decifion, and equally without the fanction of the Scriptures, that the miraculous interpofition of the finger of God is clearly difcernible in a recent and perhaps cuftomary event. And not seldom, it impels pious men to carry their views of a particular doctrine beyond the fober tenor of the Scriptural declarations concerning that doctrine. In this inftance, as the opinions of different perfons concerning the extent and importance of an individual doctrine may be various, enthusiasm is less eafily ascertained than when it appears under one of the preceding forms: and in confequence, is frequently imputed by the careless, the ignorant, and the prejudiced, when it, does not exist. It is fufficient however for my present purpose, that under this shape also it is occafionally manifefted.

Woe

Woe unto the world, faid our Lord, because of offences. For it must needs be that offences come: but woe unto that man, by whom the offence cometh. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and be caft into the fea, than that be should offend one of thefe little ones (a). Enthusiasm entails a woe on the person whom it infects. It darkens his understanding: it enflaves him more and more to the dreams of a heated fancy: it teaches him to judge whether he is in a ftate of falvation rather by internal impulfes and reveries than by a comparison of his own difpofitions and conduct with the characteristic marks, by which the Scriptures difcriminate the true Chriftian: and thus contributes in various ways to enfnare him into errors dangerous to his foul, and to encrease the difficulties in the way of his return to the form of found doctrine, the words of truth and Jobernefs. But its pernicious effects on others, the mischiefs scattered far and wide by this evil when called good, are incalculable. Enthufiasm difparages genuine piety, and causes it to be defpifed as lukewarm formality. It degrades many doctrines for the immoderate exaltation of one. It disgufts the fober and discourages the timid Chriftian. It expofes

(a) Matth. xviii. 7. Luke, xvii. 2.

Chrifti

1

christianity to the fcoffs and taunts of its enemies; and furnishes a fpecious plea to the children of this world, who labour to represent earnestness in religion as hypocrify, folly, or fanaticifm.

It is faid, and truly faid, that fincere piety is often an inmate in the breaft which is the habitation of enthusiasm. It is to be deplored that fincere piety should ever be linked with an affociate, by the continued operation of whofe deluding influence it has frequently been at last extirpated from the bofom. Let fincere piety however be honoured, wherever it may be found. But let not the chaff be valued because of its conjunction with the wheat. Let not the bafe alloy be counted as a portion of the precious metal. It is alfo ftated, and occafionally in the fhape of an apology, that enthusiasm originates from ignorance, unaccompanied by evil defign. The general statement may be grounded in truth. But let every man who urges it in the first place weigh the language of St. Paul, when that apoftle describes himself as the chief of finners: and obferve, fecondly, that he attributes his fin to ignorance (b). I draw no parallel, no comparison, between enthusiasm and perfecution. (b) 1 Tim. i. 12-16.

Bb

[ocr errors]

But

But I would fervently exhort you to deduce from the expreffions of St. Paul the legitimate and univerfally applicable conclufion: that ignorance, when you are furrounded with means and opportunities of knowledge, is wilful; that wilful ignorance is a fin; and that there is no offence for which wilful ignorance can be pleaded in justification.

II. Let us now turn our eyes to the oppofite quarter: to men who denominate religion

enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is on principle bufy and loquacious. Lukewarmness, though capable of being roused to a turbulent defence of forms and of its own conduct, is by nature filent and fupine. Hence enthusiasm, in proportion to the relative number of its adherents, raises a much louder ftir, and attracts far more speedy and extenfive notice, than lukewarmnefs. But let the torpid conviction of the lukewarm be contrafted with the illufion of the enthufiaft: and the former will prove itself not lefs dangerous, and generally, I fear, more deliberately criminal, than the latter.

The lukewarm Chriftian, if according to popular language he is to be called by the name of Christian, reduces religion to a ceremonial fervice, devoid of warmth, animation, and

« PreviousContinue »