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well as revealed religion: and it is universal. which the private endeavours of an individual can Then as to the second inquiry, the species of be- produce upon the mass of social good, is so lost, nevolence, the kind of duty to which we are and so unperceived, in the comparison, that it bound, it is pointed out to us by the same indica- neither deserves, they think, nor rewards, the attion. To whatever office of benevolence our fa- tention which it requires. The answer is, that culties are best fitted, our talents turned; what-the comparison, which thus discourages them, ever our opportunities, our occasions, our fortune, ought never to be made. The good which their our profession, our rank or station, or whatever efforts can produce, may be too minute to bear our local circumstances, which are capable of 'no any sensible proportion to the sum of public hapenumeration, put in our power to perform with piness, yet may be their share, may be enough for the most advantage and effect, that is the office them. The proper question is not, whether the for us; that it is, which, upon our principle, we good we aim at be great or little; still less, wheare designed, and, being designed, are obliged to ther it be great or little in comparison with the discharge. I think that the judgment of man- whole; but whether it be the most which it is in kind does not often fail them in the choice of the our power to perform. A single action may be, objects or species of their benevolence: but what as it were, nothing to the aggregate of moral good; fails them is the sense of the obligation, the con- so also may be the agent. It may still, therefore, sciousness of the connexion between duty and be the proportion which is required of him. In power, and springing from this consciousness, a all things nature works by numbers. Her greatest disposition to seek opportunities, or to embrace effects are achieved by the joint operation of multhose that occur, of rendering themselves useful titudes of (separately considered) insignificant into their generation. dividuals. It is enough for each that it executes Another cause, which keeps out of the sight of its office. It is not its concern, because it does those who are concerned in them, the duties that not depend upon its will, what place that office belong to superior stations, is a language from holds in, or what proportion it bears to, the genetheir infancy familiar to them, namely, that they ral result. Let our only comparison therefore be, are placed above work. I have always considered between our opportunities and the use which we this as a most unfortunate phraseology. And, as make of them. When we would extend our habitual modes of speech have no small effect upon views, or stretch out our hand, to distant and public sentiment, it has a direct tendency to make general good, we are commonly lost and sunk in one portion of mankind envious, and the other the magnitude of the subject. Particular good, idle. The truth is, every man has his work. The and the particular good which lies within our kind of work varies, and that is all the difference reach, is all we are concerned to attempt, or to inthere is. A great deal of labour exists beside that quire about. Not the smallest effort will be forof the hands; many species of industry beside bo- gotten; not a particle of our virtue will fall to the dily operation, equally necessary, requiring equal ground. Whether successful or not, our endeaassiduity, more attention, more anxiety. It is not vours will be recorded; will be estimated, not ac- true, therefore, that men of elevated stations are cording to the proportion which they bear to the exempted from work; it is only true, that there is universal interest, but according to the relation assigned to them work of a different kind: whe-which they hold to our means and opportunities; ther more easy, or more pleasant, may be ques-according to the disinterestedness, the sincerity, tioned; but certainly not less wanted, not less with which we undertook, the pains and perseveessential to the common good. Were this maxim rance with which we carried them on. It may be once properly received as a principle of conduct, it true, and I think it is the doctrine of Scripture, would put men of fortune and rank upon in- that the right use of great faculties or great opporquiring, what were the opportunities of doing tunities will be more highly rewarded, than the good, (for some, they may depend upon it, there right use of inferior faculties and less opportuniare,) which in a more especial manner belonged ties. He that with ten talents had made ten ta to their situation or condition; and were this lents more, was placed over ten cities. The negprinciple carried into any thing like its full effect, lected talent was also given to him. He who or even were this way of thinking sufficiently in- with five talents had made five more, though proculcated, it would completely remove the invidi-nounced to be a good and faithful servant, was ousness of elevated stations. Mankind would see placed only over five cities. This distinction in them this alternative: If such men discharged might, without any great harshness to our moral the duties which were attached to the advantages feelings, be resolved into the will of the Supreme they enjoyed, they deserved these advantages: if Benefactor: but we can see, perhaps, enough of they did not, they were, morally speaking, in the the subject to perceive that it was just. The merit situation of a poor man who neglected his business may reasonably be supposed to have been more in and his calling; and in no better. And the pro- one case than the other. The danger, the activity, per reflection in both cases is the same: the indi- the care, the solicitude, were greater. Still both vidual is in a high degree culpable, yet the busi- received rewards, abundant beyond measure when ness and the calling beneficial and expedient. compared with the services, equitable and proportioned when compared with one another.
That our obligation is commensurate with our opportunity, and that the possession of the oppor
The habit and the disposition which we wish to recommend, namely, that of casting about for opportunities of doing good, readily seizing those which accidentally present themselves, and faith-tunity is sufficient, without any further or more fully using those which naturally and regularly formal command, to create the obligation, is a belong to our situations, appear to be sometimes principle of morality and of Scripture; and is alike checked by a notion, very natural to active spirits, true in all countries. But that power and property and to flattered talents. They will not be content so far go together, as to constitute private fortunes to do little things. They will either attempt mighty matters, or do nothing. The small effect
Matt. xxv. 20, et seq.
into public stations, as to cast upon large portions |
country, and who come amongst us, strangers to our contentions, if we have any, our parties, and our prejudices; strangers to every thing except the evidence which they hear. The effect corresponds with the wisdom of the design. Juries may err, and frequently do so; but there is no system of error incorporated with their constitu tion. Corruption, terror, influence are excluded by it; and prejudice, in a great degree, though not entirely. This danger, which consists in juries viewing one class of men, or one class of rights, in a more or less favourable light than another, is the only one to be feared, and to be guarded against. It is a disposition, which, whenever it rises up in the minds of jurors, ought to be repressed by their probity, their consciences, the sense of their duty, the remembrance of their oaths.
And this institution is not more salutary, than it is grateful and honourable to those popular feelings of which all good governments are tender. Hear the language of the law. In the most mo
entous interests, in the last peril indeed of human life, the accused appeals to God and his country, "which country you are." What pomp of titles, what display of honours, can equal the real dignity which these few words confer upon those to whom they are addressed? They show, by terms the most solemn and significant, how highly the law deems of the functions and character of a jury; they show also, with what care of the safety of the subject it is, that the same law has provided for every one a recourse to the fair and indifferent arbitration of his neighbours. This is substantial equality; real freedom: equality of protection; freedom from injustice. May it never be invaded, never abused! May it be perpetual! And it will be so, if the affection of the country continue to be preserved to it, by the integrity of those who are charged with its office.
SERMONS ON SEVERAL SUBJECTS.
The Author of these Sermons, by a codicil to his will, declares as follows:-" If my life had been continued, it was my intention to have printed at Sunderland a Volume of Sermons-about 500 copies; to be distributed gratis in the parish; and I had proceeded so far in the design as to have transcribed several Sermons for that purpose, which are in a parcel by themselves. There is also a parcel from which I intended to make other transcripts; but the business is in an imperfect unfinished state; the arrangement is not settled further than that I thought the Sermon on Seriousness in Religion should come first, and then the doctrinal Sermons: there are also many repetitions in them, and some that might be omitted or consolidated with others." The codicil then goes on to direct, that, after such disposition should have been made respecting the Manuscripts as might be deemed necessary, they should be printed by the Rev. Mr. Stephenson, at the expense of the testator's executors, and distributed in the neighbourhood, first to those who frequented church, then to farmers' families in the country, then to such as had a person in the family who could read, and were likely to read them: and, finally, it is added, "I would not have the said Sermons published for sale."
In compliance with this direction, the following Sermons were selected, printed, and distributed by the Rev. Mr. Stephenson, in and about the parish of Bishop Wearmouth, in the year 1806.
These Discourses were not originally composed for publication, but were written for, and, as appears by the Manuscripts, had most of them been preached at the parish Churches of which, in different parts of the Author's life, he had the care. It was undoubtedly the Author's intention that they should not be published, but the circulation of such a number as he had directed by his will to be distributed, rendered it impossible to adhere to that intention; and it was found necessary to publish them, as the only means of preventing a surreptitious sale.
SERIOUSNESS IN RELIGION INDISPENSABLE ABOVE ALL OTHER DISPOSITIONS.
-Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.-1 Pet. iv. 7
THE first requisite in religion is seriousness. One might have expected that events so awful No impression can be made without it. An or- and tremendous, as death and judgment; that a derly life, so far as others are able to observe us, question so deeply interesting, as whether we is now and then produced by prudential motives, shall go to heaven or to hell, could in no possible or by dint of habit; but without seriousness, case, and in no constitution of mind whatever, there can be no religious principle at the bottom, fail of exciting the most serious apprehension and no course of conduct flowing from religious concern. But this is not so. In a thoughtless, a motives: in a word, there can be no religion. This careless, a sensual world, many are always found cannot exist without seriousness the sub-who can resist, and who do resist, the force and ject. Perhaps a teacher of religion has more dif-importance of all these reflections, that is to say, ficulty in producing seriousness amongst his hear- they suffer nothing of the kind to enter into their ers, than in any other part of his office. Until thoughts. There are grown men and women, he succeed in this, he loses his labour: and when nay, even middle aged persons, who have not once, from any cause whatever, a spirit of levity thought seriously about religion an hour, nor a has taken hold of a mind, it is next to impossible quarter of an hour, in the whole course of their to plant serious considerations in that mind. It lives. This great object of human solicitude afis seldom to be done, except by some great shock fects not them in any manner whatever. or alarm, sufficient to make a radical change in the disposition: and which is God's own way of bringing about the business.
It cannot be without its use to inquire into the causes of a levity of temper, which so effectually obstructs the admission of every religious
influence, and which I should almost call unna- | seem to be excusable. Excusable did I say? I tural. ought rather to have said that they are contrary to reason and duty, in every condition and at every period of life. Even in youth they are built upon falsehood and folly. Young persons as well as old, find that things do actually come to pass. Evils and mischiefs, which they regarded as distant, as out of their view, as beyond the line and reach of their preparations or their concern, come, they find, to be actually felt. They find that nothing is done by slighting them beforehand; for, however neglected or despised, perhaps ridiculed and derided, they come not only to be things present, but the very things, and the only things, about which their anxiety is employed; become serious things indeed, as being the things which now make them wretched and miserable. There fore a man must learn to be affected by events which appear to lie at some distance, before he will be seriously affected by religion.
Now there is a numerous class of mankind, who are wrought upon by nothing but what ap plies immediately to their senses; by what they see, or by what they feel; by pleasures or pains, or by the near prospect of pleasures and pains which they actually experience or actually observe. But it is the characteristic of religion to hold out to our consideration consequences which we do not perceive at the time. That is its very office and province. Therefore if men will restrict and confine all their regards and all their cares to things which they perceive with their outward senses; if they will yield up their understandings to their senses, both in what these senses are fitted to apprehend, and in what they are not fitted to apprehend, it is utterly impossible for religion to settle in their hearts, or for them to entertain any serious concern about the matter. But surely this conduct is completely irrational, and can lead Again: the general course of education is much to nothing but ruin. It proceeds upon the suppo- against religious seriousness, even without those sition, that there is nothing above us, about us, or who conduct education foreseeing or intending future, by which we can be affected, but the things any such effect. Many of us are brought up which we see with our eyes or feel by our touch. with this world set before us, and nothing else. All which is untrue. "The invisible things of Whatever promotes this world's prosperity is God from the creation of the world are clearly praised; whatever hurts and obstructs and prejuseen, being understood by the things that are seen; dices this world's prosperity is blamed: and there even his eternal Power and Godhead;" which all praise and censure end. We see mankind means, that the order, contrivance, and design, dis-about us in motion and action, but all these moplayed in the creation, prove with certainty, that tions and actions directed to worldly objects. We there is more in nature than what we really see; hear their conversation, but it is all the same way. and that amongst the invisible things of theAnd this is what we see and hear from the first. universe, there is a Being, the author and original The views which are continually placed before of all this contrivance and design, and, by conse- our eyes, regard this life alone and its interests. quence, a being of stupendous power, and of wis- Can it then be wondered at that an early worldlydom and knowledge incomparably exalted above mindedness is bred in our hearts, so strong as any wisdom or knowledge which we see in man; to shut out heavenly-mindedness entirely? In and that he stands in the same relation to us as the contest which is always carrying on between the maker does to the thing made. The things this world and the next, it is no difficult thing to which are seen are not made of the things which see what advantage this world has. One of the do appear. This is plain: and this argument is greatest of these advantages is, that it pre-occupies independent of Scripture and Revelation. What the mind: it gets the first hold and the first posfurther moral or religious consequences properly session. Childhood and youth, left to themselves, follow from it, is another question; but the propo- are necessarily guided by sense; and sense is all sition itself shows, that they who cannot, and on the side of this world. Meditation brings us they who will not, raise their minds above the to look towards a future life; but then meditamere information of their senses, are in a state tion comes afterwards: it only comes when the of gross error as to the real truth of things, and mind is already filled and engaged and occupied, are also in a state to which the faculties of man nay, often crowded and surcharged with worldly ought not to be degraded. A person of this sort ideas. It is not only, therefore, fair and right, may, with respect to religion, remain a child all but it is absolutely necessary, to give to religion his life. A child naturally has no concern but all the advantage we can give it by dint of educaabout the things which directly meet its senses; tion; for all that can be done is too little to set reand the person we describe is in the same condition. ligion upon an equality with its rival; which rival Again: there is a race of giddy thoughtless is the world. A creature which is to pass a small men and women, of young men and young women portion of its existence in one state, and that state more especially, who look no further than the to be preparatory to another, ought, no doubt, to next day, the next week, the next month; seldom have its attention constantly fixed upon its ulterior ever so far as the next year. Present pleasure or and permanent destination. And this would is every thing with them.-The sports of the day, be so, if the question between them came fairly the amusements of the evening, entertainments before the mind. We should listen to the Scripand diversions, occupy all their concern; and so tures, we should embrace religion, we should long as these can be supplied in succession, so enter into every thing which had relation to the long as they can go from one diversion to another, subject, with a concern and impression, even far their minds remain in a state of perfect indifler- more than the pursuits of this world, eager and ence to every thing except their pleasures. Now ardent as they are, excite. But the question bewhat chance has religion with such dispositions as tween religion and the world does not come fairly these? Yet these dispositions, begun in early life, before us. What surrounds us is this world; and favoured by circumstances, that is, by afflu- what addresses our senses and our passions is this ence and health, cleave to a man's character much world; what is at hand, what is in contact with us, beyond the period of life in which they might what acts upon us, what we act upon, is this world.
our minds, whether we regard the hours we expend in meditating upon them, or the earnestness with which we think about them; and religion possessing so little share of our thought either in time or earnestness; the consequence is, that
Reason, faith, and hope, are the only principles | our losses, our fortunes, possessing so much of to which religion applies, or possibly can apply: and it is reason, faith, and hope, striving with sense, striving with temptation, striving for things absent against things which are present. That religion, therefore, may not be quite excluded and overborne, may not quite sink under these power-worldly interest comes to be the serious thing with ful causes, every support ought to be given to us, religion comparatively the trifle. Men of buit, which can be given by education, by instruc-siness are naturally serious; but all their serioustion, and, above all, by the example of those, to ness is absorbed by their business. In religion whom young persons look up, acting with a view they are no more serious than the most giddy to a future life themselves. characters are; than those characters are, which betray levity in all things.
Again: it is the nature of worldly business of all kinds, especially of much hurry or over-em- Again: the want of due seriousness in religion ployment, or over-anxiety in business, to shut out is almost sure to be the consequence of the aband keep out religion from the mind. The ques-sence or disuse of religious ordinances and exertion is, whether the state of mind which this cause cises. I use two terms; absence and disuse. produces, ought to be called a want of seriousness Some have never attended upon any religious orin religion. It becomes coldness and indiffer-dinance, or practised any religious exercises, since ence towards religion; but is it properly a want the time they were born; some very few times in of seriousness upon the subject? I think it is; their lives. With these it is the absence of reliand in this way. We are never serious upon any gious ordinances and exercises. There are others, matter which we regard as trifling. This is im- (and many we fear of this description,) who possible. And we are led to regard a thing as whilst under the guidance of their parents, have trifling, which engages no portion of our habitual frequented religious ordinances, and been trained thoughts, in comparison with what other things up to religious exercises, but who, when they do. came into more public life, and to be their own But further: the world, even in its innocent masters, and to mix in the pleasures of the pursuits and pleasures, has a tendency unfavour- world, or engage themselves in its business and able to the religious sentiment. But were these pursuits, have forsaken these duties in whole or all it had to contend with, the strong application in a great degree. With these it is the disuse of which religion makes to the thoughts whenever religious ordinances and exercises. But I must we think of it at all, the strong interest which it also explain what I mean by religious ordinances presents to us, might enable it to overcome and and exercises. By religious ordinances, I mean prevail in the contest. But there is another ad- the being instructed in our catechism in our versary to oppose, much more formidable; and youth; attending upon public worship at church; that is sensuality; an addiction to sensual plea- the keeping holy the Lord's day regularly and sures. It is the flesh which lusteth against the most particularly, together with a few other days Spirit; that is the war which is waged within us. in the year, by which some very principal events So it is, no matter what may be the cause, that and passages of the Christian history are commesensual indulgences, over and above their proper morated; and, at its proper season, the more socriminality, as sins, as offences against God's lemn office of receiving the Lord's Supper. These commands, have a specific effect upon the heart are so many rites and ordinances of Christianity; of man in destroying the religious principle with- concerning all which it may be said, that with the in him; or still more surely in preventing the greatest part of mankind, especially of that class formation of that principle. It either induces an of mankind which must, or does, give much of its open profaneness of conversation and behaviour, time and care to worldly concerns, they are little which scorns and contemns religion; a kind of less than absolutely necessary; if we judge it to profligacy, which rejects and sets at nought the be necessary to maintain and uphold any sentiwhole thing; or it brings upon the heart an ment, any impression, any seriousness about reliaverseness to the subject, a fixed dislike and re- gion in the mind at all. They are necessary to luctance to enter upon its concerns in any way preserve in the thoughts a place for the subject; whatever. That a resolved sinner should set they are necessary that the train of our thoughts himself against a religion which tolerates no sin, may not even be closed up against it. Were all is not to be wondered at. He is against religion, days of the week alike, and employed alike; was because religion is against the course of life upon there no difference or distinction between Sunday which he has entered, and which he does not feel and work-day; was there not a church in the nahimself willing to give up. But this is not the tion: were we never, from one year's end to anowhole, nor is it the bottom of the matter. The ther, called together to participate in public woreffect we allude to is not so reasoning or argu- ship; were there no set forms of public worship: mentative as this. It is a specific effect upon the no particular persons appointed to minister and mind. The heart is rendered unsusceptible of re- officiate, indeed no assemblies for public worship ligious impressions, incapable of a serious regard at all; no joint prayers; no preaching; still relito religion. And this effect belongs to sins of gion, in itself, in its reality and importance, in its sensuality more than to other sins. It is a conse-end and event, would be the same thing as what quence which almost universally follows from it is: we should still have to account for our conthem. duct; there would still be heaven and hell; salvation and perdition; there would still be the laws of God, both natural and revealed; all the obligation which the authority of a Creator can impose upon a creature; all the gratitude which is due from a rational being to the Author and Giver of
We measure the importance of things, not by what, or according to what they are in truth, but by and according to the space and room which they occupy in our minds. Now our business, our trade, our schemes, our pursuits, our gains,