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is suspended, not to say forgotten, amidst the labours, the engagements, the popularity, of their public ministry; and, in the best-disposed minds, is interrupted, by the anxiety, or even by the satisfaction, with which their public services are performed.
These are dangers adhering to the very nature of our profession : but the evil is often also augmented by our imprudence. In our wishes to convince, we are extremely apt to overstate our arguments. We think no confidence with which we speak of them can be too great, when our intention is to urge them upon our hearers. This zeal, not seldom I believe, defeats its own purpose, even with those whom we address; but it always destroys the efficacy of the argument upon ourselves. We are conscious of the exaggeration, whether our hearers perceive it or not; and this consciousness corrupts to us the whole influence of the conclusion ; robs it even of its just value. Demonstration admits of no degrees; but real life knows nothing of demonstration. It converses only with moral evidence and moral reasoning. In these the scale of probability is extensive; and every argument hath its place in it. It may not be quite the same thing to overstate a true reason, and to advance a false one: but since two questions present themselves to the judgement, usually joined together by their nature and importance, viz. on which side probability lies, and how much it preponderates; to transgress the rules of fair reasoning in either question, in either to go beyond our own perception of the subject, is a similar, if not an equal fault. In both cases it is a want of candour, which approaches to a want of veracity. But that, in which its worst effect is seen-that, at least, which it belongs to this discourse to notice—is in its so undermining the so
lidity of our proofs, that our own understandings refuse to rest upon them; in vitiating the integrity of our own judgements; in rendering our minds, as well incapable of estimating the proper strength of moral and religious arguments, as unreasonably suspicious of their truth, and dull and insensible to their impression.
If dangers to our character accompany the exercise of our public ministry, they no less attend upon the nature of our professional studies. It has been said, that literary trifling upon the Scriptures has a tendency, above all other employments, to harden the heart. If by this maxim it be designed to reprove the exercise, to check the freedom, or to question the utility, of critical researches, when employed upon the sacred volume, it is not by me to be defended. If it mean simply to guard against an existing danger, to state a usual and natural consequence, the maxim wants neither truth nor use.
It is founded in this observation : when any one, by the command of learning and talents, has been fortunate enough to clear up an obscurity, or to settle a doubt, in the interpretation of Scripture; pleased (and justly pleased) with the result of his endeavours, his thoughts are wont to indulge this complacency, and there to stop: or when another, by a patient application of inferior faculties, has made, as he thinks, some progress in theological studies; or even has with much attention engaged in them; he is apt to rest and stay in what he deems a religious and meritorious service. The critic and the commentator do not always proceed with the reflection, that if these things be true, if this book do indeed convey to us the will of God, then is it no longer to be studied and criticised alone, but, what is a very different work, to be obeyed, and to be acted upon. At least, this ulterior operation of the mind, enfeebled perhaps by former exertions of quite another nature, does not always retain sufficient force and vigour to bend the obstinacy of the will. To describe the evil is to point out the remedy; which must consist in holding stedfastly within our view this momentous consideration, that, however laboriously, or however successfully, we may have cultivated religious studies ; how much soever we may have added to our learning or our fame, we have hitherto done little for our salvation; that a more arduous, to us perhaps a new, and, it may be, a painful work, which the public eye sees not, which no public favour will reward, yet remains to be attempted—that of instituting an examination of our hearts and of our conduct, of altering the secret course of our behaviour, of reducing, with whatever violence to our habits, loss of our pleasures, or interruption of our pursuits, its deviations to a conformity with those rules of life which are delivered in the volume that lies open before us ; and which, if it be of importance enough to deserve our study, ought, for reasons infinitely superior, to command our obedience.
Another disadvantage incidental to the character of which we are now exposing the dangers, is the moral debility that arises from the want of being trained in the virtues of active life. This complaint belongs not to the clergy as such, because their pastoral office affords as many calls, and as many opportunities, for beneficent exertions, as are usually found in private stations ; but it belongs to that secluded, contemplative life, which men of learning often make choice of, or into which they are thrown by the accident of their fortunes. A great part of mankind owe their principles to their practice; that is, to that wonderful accession
of strength and energy which good dispositions receive from good actions. It is difficult to sustain virtue by meditation alone; but let our conclusions only have influence enough once to determine us upon a course of virtue, and that influence will acquire such augmentation of force from every instance of virtuous endeavour, as, ere long, to produce in us constancy and resolution, a formed and a fixed character. Of this great and progressive assistance to their principles, men who are withdrawn from the business and the in. tercourse of civil life find themselves in some measure deprived. Virtue in them is left, more than in others, to the dictates of reason; to a sense of duty less aided by the power of habit. I will not deny that this difference renders their virtue more pure, more actual, and nearer to its principle ; but it renders it less easy to be attained or preserved.
Having proposed these circumstances, as difficulties of which I think it useful that our order should be apprised; and as growing out of the functions of the profession, its studies, or the situations in which it places us ; I proceed, with the same view, to notice a turn and habit of thinking, which is, of late, become very general amongst the higher classes of the community, amongst all who occupy stations of authority, and in common with these two descriptions of men, amongst the clergy. That which I am about to animadvert upon is, in its place, and to a certain degree, undoubtedly a fair and right consideration ; but, in the extent to which it prevails, has a tendency to discharge from the hearts of mankind all religious principle whatever. What I mean is the performing of our religious offices for the sake of setting an example to others; and the allowing of this motive so to take
session of the mind as to substitute itself into the place of the proper ground and reason of the duty. I must be permitted to contend, that, whenever this is the case, it becomes not only a cold and extraneous, but a false and unreasonable, principle of action. A conduct propagated through the different ranks of society merely by this motive, is a chain without a support, a fabric without a foundation. The parts, indeed, depend upon one another, but there is nothing to bear up the whole.
the whole. There must be some reason for every duty beside example, or there can be no sufficient reason for it at all. It is a perversion, therefore, of the regular order of our ideas, to suffer a consideration, which, whatever be its importance, is only secondary and consequential to another, to shut out that other from the thoughts. The effect of this in the offices of religion is utterly to destroy their religious quality ; to rob them of that which gives to them their life, their spirituality, their nature. They who would set an example to others of acts of worship and devotion, in truth perform none themselves. Idle or proud spectators of the scene, they vouchsafe their presence in our assemblies, for the edification, it seems, and benefit of others, but as if they had no sins of their own to deplore, no mercies to acknowledge, no pardon to entreat.
Shall the consideration, then, of example be prohibited and discarded from the thoughts? By no means : but let it attend upon, not supersede, the proper motive of the action. Let us learn to know and feel the reason, the value, and the obligation of the duty, as it concerns ourselves; and, in proportion as we are affected by the force of these considerations, we shall desire, and desiring endeavour, to extend their influence to others. This w wing from an original