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society, and may be valuable in the eyes of the world, yet that they are mere hypocrisy, and can never be pleasing to God; because he looketh not on the outward appearance, but on the heart; and hath respect, not to the deed itself, but to the principle from which it flows.
The reply to this objection will, I conceive, throw light on the subject, and determine what influence the fear of punishment has in religion. The chief design of threatenings, which excite such fear, appears to be to awaken attention, and to lead men to serious reflection. When by the practice of vice they have deadened their moral feelings, are not touched by generous motives, and have become deaf to the gentle calls of Heaven, the sound of thunder assails their ears. As they cannot be persuaded to abandon the paths of destruction, they must be snatched from them with violence. Infatuated by temptation, they wish to persevere in sin ; and they even lament that it is not always attended with joy. But the terrible consequences of sin are, by a divine threatening, displayed in such vivid colors, that they perceive it would be destructive to commit it any longer. They turn back with reluctance. With aversion they enter the confines of virtue. They view her as a severe mistress; and hope, that it will once more be in their power to indulge their guilty passions. But as they proceed, they find that temptation had given them a false representation of virtue; and they see that her ways are pleasant, and her “paths tranquil. Vice, as they retire further from her tyrannical dominion, becomes in their sight, at first, less desirable, and at last detestable. The just being, who, in consequence of his denunciations of punishment, appeared to them, whilst they were in misty
regions of sin, as a hard master, is, by the pure and heavenly light, which they now enjoy, contemplated as an indulgent parent; and though they entered into the course of religion from what has been termed a servile principle of fear, yet they soon learn to persist in it from higher motives.
An attention to the power of habit will confirm the truth of this representation. Habits are of two kinds,
, bad and good. Bad habits become every day more inveterate, and more difficult to be removed; but time is so far from rendering them agreeable, that he, who is subjected to their tyranny, is continually plunging himself more deeply in wretchedness. Good habits have a contrary effect; for it is evident, that by means of this part of human nature, actions which were at first laborious, and even disgusting, provided they are good and useful, become in time tolerable, and at last pleasant. We daily observe instances of men, who began a course of life, which was irksome to them, and who are now, long use, not only reconciled, but warmly attached to it. If this effect follows the continued practice of other good things, it is in particular the result of the practice of religion ; of which we may with truth affirm, that it becomes more and more easy, constant, and delightful by habit, whether a man is led to it at first by force or persuasion.
It is evident, from the observations which have been made, that fear of punishment alone will not be sufficient to guide us through the whole course of virtue. No; it is necessary that other motives should step in to its assistance; if we would become complete in holiness, it is necessary that we should feel the influence of love and gratitude. But a man, who enters on the practice of
religion, by whatever just cause he may first be brought into it, will find other motives springing up and increasing in his heart. When he learns by experience, that the denunciations of wrath, which at first appeared to him to proceed from harshness, were in reality produced by mercy, affection toward his heavenly Father will arise in him. This affection will by degrees increase in his soul ; till at length, having obtained entire possession of it, perfect love will cast out fear. In a word, the fear of punishment cannot be deemed a complete instructer in religion; but it may be justly considered in the sanie view, in which St Paul exhibits the law of Moses, as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
Thus it appears that the fear of punishment is adapted to reform men; and that the Supreme Being is wise and merciful in displaying his terrors, as well as his mercies, to their view. The same observation may be made on punishment itself; for the arguments which have been alleged, apply as forcibly, and even with more strength, to punishment, than to the fear of punishment: because if only an apprehension of evil is sufficient to induce the wicked to forsake their sins, the actual suffering of evil must more effectually ansiver the purpose. To render this argument conclusive, we must, I confess, suppose, that as God does not threaten sinners, merely to terrify them, so neither does he punish them for the sake of punishment. The Scriptures however justify us in making this supposition : for both in the Old and in the New Testament it is declared, that whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father, the son in whom he delighteth. It is evident that punishment is often, if not generally, disciplinary, and is intended for the benefit of him, by whom it is endured: and it is probable, that whilst the sin
ner retains his free agency, and till he has acquired such an inveterate habit of wickedness, that it is morally impossible to reform him, it must be in his power to repent and to turn to God.
The conclusion from the subject is, that our heavenly Father has in mercy excited our fear, by threatening us with punishment, or by making known to us the consequences of sin, in the present, and in the future state. It follows therefore, that he is not less benevolent, not less an object of love, when he arrays himself with terror, than when he publishes good tidings of great joy. In all his dispensations he is infinitely good. He is good, when he promises, he is good, when he rewards us; he is good, when he threatens, he is good, when he punishes
His character is uniform ; it appears amiable and adorable in every view; and it should influence us to fear and serve him with reverence and grateful devotion.
2d. S. after Easter,
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD; I SHALL NOT WANT. HE
MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES; HE LEAD-
In this passage we have a pleasing picture of a life of content. By content I mean a moderate degree of happiness, that happiness, which leaves the mind satisfied without producing rapture ; where under the protection of God, the kind shepherd, there is no want of any necessary comfort; but we are led to repose on pastures of tender grass, and drink the healthful waters of a brook, which flows quietly at our feet. This content is in general all, which we can expect to obtain in the present world. We may esteem ourselves favored, if we can pass along without having cause to complain. If our minds are gently stirred with pleasant emotions, it is all that we can hope, and all that we ought to desire; for on earth there are few causes of ecstatic pleasure. Sometimes perhaps the man of taste may feel it, on the view of an exquisite production of art or the imagination; but this sensation passes away in a moment; and it is seldom excited more than once by the same object.