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that I should now dwell upon the reasons, from which it
appears that a quality so amiable, nay, so indispensable as righteousness, or a regard to religion, can be practised too much or carried too far. But I shall endeavour to set before you the forms, under which this abuse of what is really so excellent is accustomed to appear; as well as to explain the causes, which render it so peculiarly hurtful. And this I shall do not merely by general reasoning, drawn from the principles of our common nature, as they may be collected from the histories of the past or from experience of the present generation ; but by an appeal to
that source of instruction, by which we cannot be deceived if we take pains to understand it rightly, the recorded word of God..
Guided by the observations of our Lord himself, and assisted by the comment of his inspired Apostles, we perceive that three classes of persons are distinctly alluded to in Holy writ, as professing to be actuated by religious feeling and from the clear and forcible manner, in which the excellencies of one, and the "errors and misconduct of the other two, are placed before us, we may have a seasonable, if not an effectual, warning against the danger of violating the -caution of the text ; “ Be not righteous over-much."
The first description of persons pointed out by our Saviour are those, whom we cannot possibly err by any endeavour to imitate. For
For if we really underistand the nature of the duties which He recommends, and if we are animated with the genuine spirit of His precepts, we cannot fail to preserve that due medium, which is the charm of religion and of every moral excellence. These just objects of our imitation then are described as “the poor in spirit,” as “the meek;" as “they, which do hunger and thirst after righteousness;" as “ the pure in heart;” as “the peacemakers.” Their duty it is; and, if they be truly righteous, their practice will correspond with the direction of their Heavenly Saviour; “ to bless them that curse, do good to them that hate, and pray for them that despitefully use and persecute.”
Knowing full well that they are exhorted to “be perfect, even as their Father which is in heaven is perfect,” they not only profess, but carry into effect that “religion, which is pure and undefiled before God and the Father.” That religion consists, as we learn from indisputable authority, in performing the active duties and dispensing the lovely charities of life, with a resolute abstinence from its sordid pursuits and its sensual indulgences. For this evidently is the extent, as well as limit, assigned to the meaning of religion by the Apostle, when he defines it to be,“ visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keeping one's self unspotted from the world.” *
Some occasional infirmity will still frustrate the noblest purposes, and impair the most useful acts, of fallen man.
Yet is it the constant endeavour of the really religious to counteract this natural tendency to evil, by invoking the aid of the Holy Spirit, and relying upon the meritorious sufferings and mediation of the Saviour. While they are unremitting in their efforts to obtain the succours of Divine Grace, they call up every faculty of their souls to co-operate with His effectual aid : and, while they meditate with pious industry upon the pages of Inspiration, they are anxious to reflect its holy precepts by the purity and innocence of their lives. Above all, as they are fully aware of the importance, so are they desirous of exhibiting the substance, of that engaging virtue, or rather that constellation of virtues, whose lustre is so beautifully set forth by St. Paul. Most essential do they conceive it to the perfection of a religious character, that we carefully cherish that spirit of charity, which “suffereth long, and is kind ;" which “ envieth not, vaunteth not itself;" “ doth not behave itself unseemly; is not easily provoked ; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things; endureth all things.
a James i. 27.
We may now proceed to another class of religionists, who may however be rather called, pretenders to religion. These are the very reverse of those, whose character has just been described; and there can be no more mistake about the light in which they are to be regarded, than about the praise, which as justly belongs to the other. Happily this is a description of persons, which is rarely met with in the present age; although they seem, most unhappily for themselves and their country, to have abounded in the time of our Saviour. But in endeavouring to correct a wrong notion of what constitutes a truly religious character, it is desirable to set before you those plain and broad distinctions, upon which there can be no diversity of opinion ; before we examine an
intermediate class, where the features are not always so accurately marked, and consequently not so easy to be distinguished.
The class, to which I now allude, are emphatically denominated by our Saviour, “hypocrites.” They are reproved as “doing all their works to be seen of men "as devouring widows' houses, and for a pretence making long prayers ”—“as compassing sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, making him two-fold more the child of hell than themselves "_" as paying tithe of mint and anise and cummin, but omitting the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and fidelity.”;-
as straining a gnat, and swallowing a camel";“as making clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within being full of extortion and excess."
In strict conformity with the tenor of the reproaches, uttered even by our meek and forbearing Master against persons of this class, are the strong touches of character, which sometimes drop from the pen of St. Paul. He speaks of "men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness” ; as “lovers of pleasures, more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof "..; and he sums up their principles of action in these emphatic words; “ They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” € Such characters as these may be said to hold the a 1 Tim. vi. 5.
b 2 Tim. iii. 4, 5. c Titus i. 16.
truth in unrighteousness, because they assume the disguise of religion, as a cloak to their selfish and base designs; and for the express purpose of enabling them to carry their views into effect more speedily and successfully. In a certain sense then these may be considered as “righteous over-much.” This however is not the signification, which I ascribe to the warning in the text; nor probably is it the signification, which the sacred Writer himself intended to convey. His idea was no doubt to warn mankind against the danger and mischief of allowing a good quality, or virtuous principle, to run into excess ; of pursuing it at every hazard, without reference to any circumstances, under which men may be called upon to act; or to the designs of those, with whom they may be required to co-operate. The experience, which Solomon himself had gained of human life, but still more the wisdom, with which he was endowed from on high, both disposed and enabled him to!. guard his fellow-creatures against the supposition that, because their intention was originally good, every progressive act, by which it was followed up, must necessarily be good too; that, because the fountain is pure and unsullied, therefore the stream, through whatever soil it flowed, and however devious the course it pursued, still possessed the same properties, and was equally salubrious and delicious. He was laudably solicitous to warn his own and succeeding ages against the danger of permitting any views, however honest, to advance towards even a desirable end, with an utter disregard of the means ; and he has marked, in concise but emphatic terms,