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You see now, from this discourse, that religion, though it may minister occasion, is not the cause of these terrors. But you may reply, were there no sense of religion, there could be no such terrors. Very right: and it is as true, that, were there no reason, there would be no such apprehensions. Will you blame God now for making you rational creatures ? If not, you must not blame him for making you capable of religion; but you must use the reason he has given you to search after and know him, and then your religion will be your comfort: then will you be able to say to yourself, and declare to others, ' Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.'
Two other kinds of religious terror, together with their causes, remain to be considered ; and they are the terrors of guilt, and the terrors which owe their rise to the accidental disorders or infirmities of mind or body. To proceed then:
The terrors of guilt are those which can alone pretend to be consonant to the notions of true religion, and to derive themselves by just consequence from them. If there be any truth in religion, natural or revealed, it is most certain, that God will judge the world in righteousness, and render to every man according to his work: to those who do well, life and happiness; to those who obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. As this belief will be attended with
and comfort of mind, where men sincerely endeavor to perfect holiness in the fear of God, so must it necessarily produce tribulation and anguish in every soul that doth evil. This is so plain and evident a case, that I think no one will demand a reason why it is or must be so. The fear of damnation is, without all question, a reasonable fear; and it would be a very presumptuous as well as a fruitless attempt, to persuade a man to live without fear, who apprehends himself to be in such a state. Weak and superstitious minds do often indeed form very wrong judgments concerning their own state and condition towards God; in which case, though the judgment itself be erroneous, yet the fear is natural, and connected to the judgment by just consequence. It is a great work of charity to assist such weak persons, and to enable them to think better of God than they do, and not worse of themselves than they deserve; and by such means to restore peace and quiet to their minds : but to endeavor to remove their fears, without correcting the false opinions from which they proceed, must be the effect of great folly or great impiety. If you imagine the case capable of comfort and consolation, the conceived opinion of having merited God's wrath not being removed, it is a sign of great weakness and ignorance in the nature both of God and man : or if you would raise a courage to encounter these fears, and inspire sinners with an hardiness against the apprehensions of futurity, you can only hope to throw them into the other extreme; for such an hardy contempt of God's judgments cannot consist with a rational sense of religion. These fears, proceeding from guilt, are both natural and rational; it is impossible therefore that either nature or reason should afford any assistance, or sufficient remedy against these terrors ; unless we suppose reason and nature to be made up of contradictions. Is it a natural state of the mind to be at ease when real dangers surround us? is it rational to be unconcerned for ourselves when we are within view of endless misery? If not, he must be in a very unnatural state who can separate between his guilt and his fears. The power
of conscience is seen in all men; it is common to all countries, to all religions; to the learned and unlearned, to rich and poor : it is an essential character of a rational mind; and therefore to man, who is a rational creature, it is patural. When we offend wilfully against our sense of good and evil, conscience never fails to reproach and torment us with the apprehensions of evil and misery to befall us: and though nature has not furnished us with a distinct knowlege of the misery prepared for the wicked, yet natural conscience gives every wicked man a certain expectation of it.
These natural fears of conscience are also rational fears : there are some natural fears planted in us for wise purposes, which yet our reason will teach us in great measure to over
Such is the natural fear of death : all men have it; but the more we consult our reason and religion about it, the less will our fear be : they will furnish our minds with comfort against this terror, and enable us to expect it with calmness and tranquillity of mind. But the case is otherwise in the fears of guilt; the more we advise with our reason, the better ground we shall find for these fears; the more we consult the principles of religion, the more certainly we shall be persuaded that the fears of the guilty are no delusions, but real terrors. How then shall we escape these terrors, which nature, reason, and religion have bound on the guilty mind with so strong cords?
So hard is it to get rid of these terrors, that in many cases they grow up to the full stature of distraction; and are too strong for all the assistance and comfort that can be administered. When this is the case, a sinner is a woful spectacle ; the grief of his soul may be read in his countenance, from which all cheerfulness is banished, and nothing to be seen but melancholy and despair. His days are without pleasure, and his nights without rest : he hates the company of his friends, and if he retires, it is to converse with the worst enemy he has, that is, with himself: his life is one scene of misery, and he lives only because he is afraid to die. The horrors of his mind no words can describe; all his thoughts work together to torment him; his imagination calls him every day to judgment, and sends him back condemned: amidst these tortures his
strength faileth, and his life draweth nigh unto the grave,' and he dies of a guilty conscience; a distemper which no medicine can reach, no art can succor.
Now this misery being so great and unsupportable, and all men so liable to it in consequence of sin, we may well imagine that the wit and invention of mankind have been constantly at work to find a remedy for this sore disease. Natural conscience and reason make the connexion between guilt and fear; remove these, and the fears must vanish ; as is evident in the case of idiots and madmen, who often do great mischief without showing any concern or trouble for their actions. This is one of the devices which profligate sinners have found out to ease their burden : they bid defiance to conscience and reason, and set themselves resolutely to despise both God and man. Where there is great strength of body, joined with a rude and brutish courage, this method may do for a while, but time will always show the folly of it.
Others, who are not capable of such outrageous impiety, and yet can as little bear the reproaches of conscience and reason, are often tempted to give themselves up to excess of vice and intemperance; - they find ease in losing their understanding, and their pains abate as they grow incapable of reflexion. How miserable are the terrors of guilt, which can make men willing to forget themselves, that they may forget their fears !
But these are very unnatural methods, and which but few, in comparison, are capable of using ; and yet the case before us is a general case concerning all men, as they are sinners, and have more or less offended against the light and reason of their own minds. Let us consider then, what more general and · rational methods have been approved for the cure of this evil : these are to be found in the several forms of religion, which do or have prevailed in the world ; all of them pretending to reconcile sinners to God, some by one kind of expiation, some by another. It would be endless to set before you the particular methods used under the several forms of religion : it is a question of much more importance to inquire whether reason and natural religion can possibly furnish a remedy for this evil or no.
All methods applicable to this purpose may be reduced to two general heads; to external rites and ceremonies, and to internal acts of the mind.
As to external rites and ceremonies, they are to be found in great abundance : we meet with sacrifices, oblations, washings, and cleansings, in almost all parts of the world, both among Jews and Heathens. How these several rites came to be applied to the purposes of religion, is a matter not easily to be accounted for: it will be allowed, I suppose, that nothing ought to be esteemed a part of the religion of reason, for which no reason can be assigned : and yet, who can say on what
principle he proceeded, who first killed a lamb or a kid, and offered it to God as an expiation for guilt, or as a proper means of obtaining his blessing and protection ? What connexion is there between the sin of a man and the sacrifice of an ox? If I deserve to be punished for iniquity, can I deserve to be pardoned for shedding the blood of some poor senseless animals ? Or what is God that he should accept such gifts ? what are divine justice and mercy, that they should be moved by such oblations ? If these questions cannot be answered, the consequence must be, that these external performances are no part of natural religion.
The sacrifices and oblations under the law of Moses were of divine institution ; and whatever virtue they had in them, they had it in consequence of the institution, and the promise annexed to it; which is a point in which mere natural religion can have no concern ; and the author to the Hebrews has assured us that even these sacrifices · did not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience. The use he assigns to them is, that they sanctified to the purifying of the flesh,' that is, they gave a legal or external purity; so that he who had duly, in these methods, done away his uncleanness, or atoned for his errors, was a legal member of the external church and commonwealth of Israel. But what is this to the taking away of guilt, and to restoring us to the favor of God ?
It has been pleaded in behalf of sacrifices and the like performances, that they are very expressive signs of a sinner's religion : he who brings a bullock to the altar as an offering for sin, confesses his iniquity; when he slays him, he acknowleges before God what he himself ought to suffer; and deprecates the punishment which he owns to be justly due to himself. Allow all this, and it must appear to you that these external performances are in themselves of no value, but have all their value from that true religion, and those acts of it, of which they are significative. I will not trouble you with inquiring on what motives or principles of reason natural religion dresses herself out in signs and symbols : the inquiry is not pertinent to the present purpose : for be this as it will, the value of the signs depends on the true value of the things signified, which are internal acts : and the question before us