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LETTERS TO A FRIEND.
An undue disposition to privacy commonly accompanying
serious impressions.-- Hurtful tendency of such feelings.The critical state of an awakened sinner.-Higher aggravations attach to sin.-Small circumstances become solemnly important.-An awful instance of abandoned convictions.Advice adapted to such a crisis.
MY DEAR SIR,
How shall we account for that secrecy of feeling which you have found it so difficult to infringe, and which is so common to the experience of awakened sinners ? that delicacy which guards the threshold of religion, and restricts the conversation of intimate friends to its exterior and general matters ? Shall we attribute it to a greater degree of refinement, or to a nicer sense of decorum? But it is as prevalent among the ruder, as among the more polished classes of society. Shall we ascribe it to an unwillingness to obtrude our griefs upon the sympathy of friends? This would be an apology in which fact would not sustain us; for he to whom we unbosom our sorrow, is supposed to take a deep and unaffected interest in our spiritual welfare. And, moreover, this privacy is discoverable in the very man, who, instead of comprehending the sentiment of a Christian poet, that
66 with the soul who ever felt the sting “ Of sorrow, sorrow is a sacred thing,” would, at other times, drag you rudely through all the minutiæ of his private woes. Nor is a want of confidence the cause of this restraint; for every other feeling may be imparted with freedom. Nor can it be wholly, if at all, owing to the confessed etiquette of irreligious society, which proscribes the subject of evangelical truth, much as a law of Athens prohibited the name of death : nor to that disgust which arises from a familiar and ill-timed use of scriptural terms: nor to any thing else which could furnish an excuse, while it implies a compliment to our refinement, our taste, or understanding.
These questions and answers, if they serve no other purpose, may at least lead you to the conclusion that you are not alone: numberless other voices utter the same complaint; and the subject, in its different shapes, has given rise to a thousand discussions ; and has led to a variety of artificial rules of Christian conduct. Professors of religion, who sincerely desire to promote the
best interest of their friends, have frequently proposed such queries as the following: How shall I express my concern for one who is prepared at all times to interrupt me, by saying, “ This is a private matter between God and myself;" and who feels that he has reason for offence in a rude invasion of his tranquillity? How shall I introduce the subject of religion in a circle where it may be received with symptoms of impatience, or with that listless silence which hints its dismission? And, after all that can be said, there is an art in the successful introduction of a religious topic, which is less easily attained than zeal; a happy tact, which even the profane often admire, but which requires qualities that long experience and fervent piety may not be able to confer.
But this delicacy of feeling—(we will give it its current title, although it belongs to that class of things which have wrong names, and which are embraced in the forbidden practice of calling evil good and good evil)—this delicacy of feeling, while it forbids the obtrusion of religious views, lest they create offence, and shuts the lips of the awakened sinner, is not a rare ingredient in the characters of many who entertain a trust that they have been the subjects of saving grace. There are those, who have sustained a long and tedious struggle in their hearts; who, possessing a faint hope that they have passed from death unto life, relinquish the ordinary pleasures of the world, and engage in all the duties which are fulfilled by a lukewarm professor of religion--except the duty of profession itself; and who, while they lead a cheerless life, seem not to consider that what they deem an apology for neglect, is the very sin which keeps them suspended between heaven and earth, unfit for the enjoyment of either.
Even after a public profession of faith has been made, evils are multiplied from the same cause ; not only when the Christian and the worldling, in their ordinary interviews, consider the topie of religion forbidden ground to both, but in the discharge of many of those obligations which both reason and revelation enjoin. A valued friend once told me, that one of the most painful trials he had ever known, was in laying the foundation of his domestic altar. On other matters he could speak freely; and private devotion occupied a due proportion of his time. But the conflict in his bosom was long and severe before he could persuade himself to become “the minister to bis family.” And can it be doubted that thousands of the rising generation retire from the family every evening, and launch out into the world every morning, unblessed, because parental prayer has been restrained? Or can it be doubted, that this single neglect has checked the influence of many
a parental example, which might have led the offspring to serious thought and to eternal salvation ?
There is another modification of this delicacy, which attaches suspicion to it in all its forms. Social intimacy is often seriously injurious to that Christian fellowship on which the prosperity, if not the life, of personal piety depends. This may seem a singular position: and it would be so but for the
matter now before us, The truth is one of every day's observation, that husbands and wives often converse more freely on the experimental points of piety, with those who are comparatively strangers, than with each other. The bond which nature has formed between relatives, and which time has rivetted, appears too frequently loosened, when we find that incongruous reluctance to converse together on matters of piety; and when we have seen even children more ready to open their minds on this subject, to friends less nearly allied, than to the parent who has watched over them with prayerful solicitude. How is all this? Is there something defective in Christianity itself? or something that changes the nature of our mutual relations ? Not at all. There
be different causes which produce different degrees of influence towards these effects, but still the mover of all this mischief is that most secret of agents-pride. There is no need of defining, no need of explaining the opera