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Nor be thy generous indignation checked ;
Nor checked the tender tear to Misery given ;
This soften and refine the soul for heaven.
But dreadful is their doom whom doubt has driven To censure Fate, and pious Hope forego :
Like yonder blasted boughs by lightning riven,
Perfection, beauty, life, they never know, But frown on all that pass, a monument of wo.
Shall he, whose birth, maturity, and age,
Scarce fill the circle of one summer's day,
Exclaim that Nature hastens to decay,
If but a cloud obscure the solar ray,
Or shall frail man heaven's high decree gainsay,
Which bade* the series of events extend
One part, one little part, we dimly scan,
Through the dark medium of life's feverish dream; Yet dare arraign the whole stupendous plan,
If but that little part incongruous seem.
Nor is that part, perhaps, what mortals deem ;
O then renounce that impious self-esteem,
That aims to trace the secrets of the skies; For thou art but of dust; be humble, and be wise.
Consideration of the excuses that are offered to palliate a neg
lect of religion.—BUCKMINSTER.
First, it is often said, that time is wanted for the duties of religion. The calls of business, the press of occupation, the cares of life, will not suffer me, says one, to give that time to the duties of piety, which otherwise I would gladly bestow. Say you this without a blush ? You have no time, then, for the especial service of that great Being, whose goodness alone has drawn out to its present length your cobweb thread of life ; whose care alone has continued you in possession of that unseen property,
* Pron. bad.
your time. You have no time, then, to devote to that great Being, on whose existence the existence of the universe depends; a Being so great, that if his attention could for an instant be diverted, you fall never again to rise ; if his promise should fail, your hopes, your expectations vanish intò air; if his power should be weakened, man, angel, nature perishes.
But, let me ask by what right do you involve yourself in this multiplicity of cares? Why do you weave around you this web of occupation, and then complain, that you cannot break it? Will you say that
time is your own, and that you have a right to employ it in the manner you please? Believe me, it is not your own. It belongs to God, to religion, to mankind. You possess not an hour, to which one of these puts not in a preferable claim ; and are such claimants to be dismissed without allotting to them a moment? But for what else can you find no lēisure ? Do
find none for amusement ? Or is amusement itself your occupation? Perhaps pleasure is the pressing business of your life; perhaps pleasure stands waiting to catch your precious moments as they pass.
find none for the pursuit of curious and secular knowledge ? If
you then, for religion, it is perhaps because you wish to find none; it would be, you think, a tasteless occupation, an insipid entertainment.
But this excuse is founded on a most erroneous conception of the nature of religion. It is supposed to be something, which interrupts business, which wastes time, and interferes with all the pleasant and profitable pursuits of life. It is supposed to be something which must be practised apart from everything else, a distinct profession, a peculiar occupation. The means of religion, meditation, reading, and prayer, will, and ought, indeed, to occupy distinct portions of our time. But religion itself demands not distinct hours. Religion will attend you not as a troublesome, but as a pleasant and useful companion in every proper place, and every temperate occupation of life. It will follow you to the warehouse or to the office; it will retreat with you to the country, it will dwell with you in town; it will cross the seas, or travel over mountains, or remain with you at home. Without your consent, it will not desert you in prosperity, or forget you in adversity. . It
will grow up with you in youth, and grow old with you in age; it will attend you with peculiar pleasure to the hovels of the poor, or the chamber of the sick; it will retire with you to your closet, and watch by your bed, or walk with you in gladsome union to the house of God; it will follow you beyond the confines of the world, and dwell with you in heaven for ever, as its native residence. Again, it is said, am I not as good as others ?
Why is an attention to religion, an unpopular piety, a rigid virtue required of me, which cannot be found in the circle of my acquaintance, or in the world at large? Why am I urged to set up as a reformer, or expose myself to the scorn of mankind? But the majority of men are poor; does this however check the ardor of your pursuit of wealth ; or do you avoid a new acquisition, because you fear it will expose you to the envy of your inferiors ? The majority of mankind are ignorant; but is ignorance therefore honorable, or is learning contemptible or invidious ?
We have now supposed, that piety and unsullied virtue would sometimes be attended with scorn. But even this is an unwarranted supposition. Piety is venerated by the impious. Unyielding virtue is admired by the corrupt ; disinterested goodness by the selfish; temperance, chăstity, humanity, by the intemperate, unchāste,' and ambitious. Consider, too, to what extravagance this excuse would lead. It places you loosely floating on the inconstant tide of popular manners. If this rises, you indeed are raised ; if it falls, you descend, however imperceptibly, on its surface. It is an excuse, which might be offered with equal propriety by the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom, as by you.
Subject continued. It is said, religion is dull, unsocial, uncharitable, enthusiastic, a damper of human joy, a morose intruder upon human pleasure. If this were true, nothing could be more incongruous than the parable, which represents it as an entertainment. But if this be the character of religion, it is surely the very reverse of what we should suppose it to be, and the reverse indeed of what it ought to be. Perhaps, in your distorted vision, you have mistaken sobriety for dulness, ēquanimity for moroseness, disinclination to bad company for aversion to society, abhorrence of vice for uncharitableness, and piety for enthusiasm.
No doubt, at the table of boisterous intemperance, religion, if she were admitted as a guest, would wear a very dull countenance. In a revel of debauchery, and amidst the brisk interchange of profanity and folly, religion might appear indeed a dumb, unsocial intruder, ignorant of the rhetoric of oaths and the ornaments of obscěnity. These are scenes, it must be acknowledged, of what is falsely called pleasure, in which religion, if embodied and introduced, would be as unwelcome a guest, as the emblematic coffin, which the Egyptians used to introduce in the midst of their entertainments. From such instances, however, to accuse religion of being unfriendly to the enjoyment of life, is as absurd as to interpret unfavorably the silence of a foreigner, who understands not a word of our language.
But as long as intemperance is not pleasure, as long as profaneness, impurity, or scandal is not wit, as long as excess is not the perfection of mirth, as long as selfishness is not the surest enjoyment, and as long as gratitude, love, reverance, and resignation are not superstitious affections, so long religion lays not an icy hand on the true joys of life. Without her all other pleasures become tasteless, and at last painful. To explain to you, indeed, how much she exalts, purifies and prolongs the pleasures of sense and imagination, and what peculiar sources of consolation, cheerfulness, and contentment she opens to herself, would lead us at present into too wide a range.
Excuses for irreligion are drawn from the failings and imperfections of christians. There, says the profligate, are your boasted saints. They have their faults, as well as those who make not so great pretensions to piety. Thus it happens, that some remains of imperfections, some constitutional infirmity, some unamiable weakness of good men, is brought forward and exhibited in all the triumph of illiberality to the gaze of a censorious world. The character of the mind is drawn from a single trait, from some casual wrinkle, some unlucky deformity. The point, in which a good man is as frail as others, is selected and contem'plated with renewed pleasure, while those points, in which he is superior to other men, are unobserved or unacknowledged. This is partial, unjust, uncharitable, iniquitous.
But the excuse closes not here. Of what religion has
failed to remove, it is most absurdly called the cause. If appārently devout and pious habits are ever found associated with a temper, which is not open as day to melting charity, it is religion which hardens the heart, it is religion which locks the coffers. Whatever passion it has failed to subdue, or whatever fault it has been unable to prevent, it is impiously said to encourage. Equally absurd would it be, to attribute the weakness of a broken bone to the kind attentions of the surgeon, the pain of a wound to the balmy hand which would assuage it.
But of all the faults of christians, from which excuses for irreligion are drawn, the occasional extravagances into which pious men have fallen, afford the most plausible apologies. The history of religion is ransacked for instances of persecution, of austerities, and enthusiastic irregularities, and when they are all collected, the cold-hearted, thoughtless irreligionist exclaims, these are the fruits of piety!
But why is it never considered, that the same ardent temperament, the same energy of passions, if they had been united with any other subject, would have rushed into similar extremes? În a mind of such a mould, religion, as is often said, is the occasion only, not the cause of extravagance. When enthusiasm, however, is the result of mere ignorance, as it most commonly fs, the excuse entirely fails. Ignorance is not devotion, nor the mother of devotion ; zeal is not religion, enthusiasm is not piety, solitude is not purity, spiritual pride is not conscious innocence, and the preternatural heat of the passions is not the warmth of love to God or man.
You would not judge of the usual moisture of any region from the occasional inundation of its rivers. The influence of true religion is mild, and soft, and noiseless, and constant as the descent of the evening dew on the tender herbage, nourishing and refreshing all the amiable and social virtues ; but enthusiasm is violent, sudden, rattling as a shower, rooting up the fairest flowers, and washing away the richest mould in the pleasant garden of society.
Excuses for a neglect of religion are suggested by different seasons of life. Youth, in the fulness of its spirits, defers it to the sobriety of manhood; manhood, encumbered with cares, defers it to the lēisure of old age; old age, weak and hesitating, is unable to enter on an untried mode of life. The excuses of youth are those which are most