« 前へ次へ »
created; that you are intelligent beings, moral agents, candidates for immortality. If you courageously resist the enticement of sinners; if you act your parts well; if you show yourselves true servants of God, and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ; you will be placed in a region, where you will be out of the reach of temptation ; where a confirmed habit of virtue will secure you against falling into vice; and where your moral powers being continually improved, you will increase in knowledge, in holiness, and in felicity to all eternity.
JAMES 1. 6.
HE THAT WAYERETH IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, DRIVEN
WITH THE WIND, AND TOSSED.
It appears from an examination of the verses, which precede and follow the text, that the design of the Apostle James is to condemn wavering or irresolution in praying to God; but as he expresses himself in indefinite terms, his sentiment may be applied to other cases. I will thus apply it in the following discourse ; in which I will endeavor to point out the mischievous effects of irresolution, first, in the choice of our religious sentiments ; secondly, in our prudential conduct; and, thirdly, in our moral conduct.
I. In the choice of our religious sentiments, and an external profession conformable to them, it is pernicious to hesitate too long, or to be irresolute in fixing. It is, I confess, the duty of a Christian to inquire after truth during his whole life, and to preserve his mind open to conviction. If he finds reason to change his sentiments, he ought to do it, nay, he cannot avoid doing it, even when he has passed far beyond the period of youth. There is no want of resolution manifested in this change ;
for he ought not to resolve to adhere to doctrines, after he has discovered them to be erroneous. A man of a cool and candid mind will always remain in a state of suspense, where there is not sufficient evidence to determine his opinion. He will not, in this case, suffer prejudice, or fancy, or interest, to turn him ; but will persevere in seeking after more light, and will at length yield to nothing except superiority of argument. There are persons, who have materially changed their religious principles late in life. I call them not irresolute; for they have seen sufficient cause for renouncing their former creed. They have acted like honest and humble inquirers, who have not been ashamed to acknowledge that they were wrong, and who have dared to correct their mistakes.
But when we have obtained all the satisfaction, which the nature of the case admits, we ought no longer to hesitate. On each side of almost every question something may be said. For as the human understanding is imperfect and can see in part only, difficulties and objections may appear against probable truths, and may in some measure countenance the opposite errors. In this state of things what is a man to do? He is not to doubt forever; he is not to withhold his belief, because he cannot find absolute demonsiration ; but he ought to submit to the strongest and most weighty arguments. In choosing, for instance, between the belief of Christianity and deism, a man ought not to waver, because specious objections may be alleged against the gospel; but if arguments preponderate in its favor, if there is a respectable weight of evidence which proves its truth and divinity, he ought to reject deism and to admit Christianity. Again, in choosing between two opposite opinions,
which are each of them supposed by different sects to be doctrines of the bible; he ought not, because a few obscure texts may be produced in favor of the one, to hesitate in assenting 10 the other, for which there are many clear passages. I will give an example to illustrate my observation : It is asserted by certain Christians, that good works are not necessary to salvation, an opinion which reason cannot forbear considering as injurious to the cause of virtue, and which therefore we ought not hastily to adopt. It cannot be denied that some dark expressions in St Paul's Epistles, when they are taken separately, appear to give it countenance. But what is the evidence on the other side ? If we examine it, we shall find that the general strain of our Saviour's preaching was this, If ye would enter into life, keep the commandments : that all his Apostles, and even St Paul himself declared, that without holiness no man can see the Lord; and that these obscure texts, when they are compared with the whole of his writings, fairly admit of a different interpretation. To hesitate therefore between these two opinions, on account of the trifling objections which may be urged on one side, discovers a degree of irresolution and weakness of mind of which a Christian and rational man ought to be ashamed. If we determine not to assent to probable arguments, but to waver whilst a shadow of objection can be found, we shall either pass our lives without any religious opinions, or we shall continually wander from one opinion to another. That this is a pernicious state of mind no one can deny. For it must be acknowledged by all, that there is such a thing as truth, and that it is of importance to believe it. He who is irresolute in believing it, to make use of the com
parison of the text is like a wave of the sea, which is perpetually agitated and driven about by the winds.
The mischievous effects of irresolution in religion are most fully displayed in our refusing to admit, and negfecting to act upon, the consequences of our principles. We are chargeable with wavering, when we hesitate between old prejudices and what we now discern to be truth. We are afraid of taking any steps contrary to what we have been accustomed to, though our reason is convinced of their propriety. We hesitate and deliberate, even after we have obtained sufficient light on the subject: and because our conduct would be new to ourselves, we delay to act. Does not this spirit of irresolution betray us into gross inconsistencies? We believe, for instance, and are fully persuaded, that ceremonies do not constitute the essence of religion ; but we dare not say so, or conduct ourselves as if we thought so, lest it should afterwards turn out to be a falsehood. Let us, my brethren, act uniformly and steadily. Let us carefully inquire after truth; but after we have found it, let us live conformably to it, and pursue it through all its consequences. We need not be afraid of doing so; for a good cause must necessarily produce good effects, and truth, the best of all causes, can never lead to anything which is evil. But if the consequences of our opinions appear injurious to piety or virtue, we ought not to be in haste to act upon them, and we ought to apprehend that there is some defect in them, and we ought carefully to review them, and endeavor to find out where the fallacy lies.
II. I proceed, in the second place, to point out the mischievous effects of irresolution in our prudential conduct. The proper meaning of the word prudence is