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you, if you do them. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, 1 John ii. 4. John xiii. 17. James i. 27. When we speak of Christian obedience, we do not mean some transient acts of devotion; we mean a submission proceeding from a source of holiness, which, however mixed with imperfection in its efforts, piety is always the predominant disposition of the heart, and virtue triumphant over vice.
These two points being indisputably established, we may prove, I am confident, from our own constitution, that a tardy conversion ought always to be suspected; and that, by deferring the work, we risk the forfeiture of the grace.-Follow us in these arguments.
This is true, first, with regard to the light essential to conversion. Here, my brethren, it were to have been wished, that each of you had studied the human constitution; that you had attentively considered the mode in which the soul and body are united, the close ties which subsist between the intelligence that thinks within, and the body to which it is united. We are not pure spirit, the soul is a lodger in matter, and on the temperature of this matter depends the success of our researches after truth, and consequently after religion.
Now, my brethren, every period and age of life is not alike proper for disposing the body to this happy temperature, which leaves the soul at liberty for reflection and thought. The powers of the brain fail with years, the senses become dull, the spirits
evaporate, the memory weakens, the blood chills in the veins, and a cloud of darkness envelopes all the faculties. Hence the drowsiness of aged people; hence the difficulty of receiving new impressions; hence the return of ancient objects; hence the obstinacy in their sentiments; hence the almost universal defect of knowledge and comprehension; whereas people less advanced in age have usually an easy mind, a retentive memory, a happy conception, and a teachable temper. If we, therefore, defer the acquisition of religious knowledge till age has chilled the blood, obscured the understanding, enfeebled the memory, and confirmed prejudice and obstinacy, it is almost impossible to be in a situation to acquire that information without which our religion can neither be agreeable to God, afford us solid consolation in affliction, nor motive sufficient against temptation.
If this reflection do not strike you with sufficient force, follow man in the succeeding ages of life. The love of pleasure predominates in his early years, and the dissipations of the world allure him from the study of religion. The sentiments of conscience are heard, however, notwithstanding the tumult of a thousand passions they suggest, that, in order to peace of conscience, he must either be religious, or persuade himself that religion is altogether a phantom. What does a man do in this situation? He becomes either incredulous or superstitious. He believes without examination and discussion, that he has been educated in the bosom of truth; that the religion of his fathers is the only one which can be good; or rather he re
gards religion only on the side of those difficulties which infidels oppose, and employs all his strength of intellect to augment those difficulties, and to evade their evidence. Thus he dismisses religion to escape his conscience, and becomes an obstinate atheist to be calm in crimes. Thus he wastes his youth, time flies, years accumulate, notions become strong; impressions fixed in the brain; and the brain gradually loses that suppleness of which we shall now speak.
A period arrives in which these passions seem to die; and as they were the sole cause of rendering that man superstitious, or incredulous, it seems that incredulity and superstition would vanish with the the passions. Wishful to profit by the circumstance; we endeavor to dissipate the illusion; we summons the man to go back to the first source of his errors; we talk; we prove; we reason; but all is unavailing care; as it commonly happens that the aged talk of former times, and recollect the facts which struck them in their youth, while present occurrences leave no trace on the memory, so the old ideas continually run in their mind.
Let us further remark, that the soul not only loses with time the facility of discerning error from truth, but after having for a considerable time habituated itself to converse solely with sensible objects, it is almost impossible to attach it to any other. See that man who has for a course of years been employed in auditing accounts, in examining the nature of trade, the capacity of his companions, the fidelity of his correspondents: propose to him, for instance, the solution of a problem, desire him to investigate the
cause of a phenomenon, the foundation of a system, and you require an impossibility. The mind, however, of this man, who finds these subjects so difficult, and the mind of the philosopher who investigates them with ease, are formed much in the same way. All the difference between them is, that the latter has accustomed himself to the contemplation of mental objects, whereas the other has voluntarily debased himself to sordid pursuits, degraded his understanding, and enslaved it to sensible objects. After having passed our life in this sort of business, without allowing time for reflection, religion becomes an abyss; the clearest truth, mysterious; the slightest study, fatigue; and, when we would fix our thoughts, they are captivated with involuntary deviations.
In a word, the final inconvenience which results from deferring the study of religion, is a distraction and dissipation proceeding from the object which prepossesses the mind. The various scenes of life, presented to the eye, make a strong impression on the soul; and the ideas will obtrude even when we would divert the attention. Hence distinguished employments, eminent situations, and professions which require intense application, are not commonly the most compatible with salvation. Not only because they rob us, while actually employed, of the time we should devote to God, but because they pursue us in defiance of our efforts. We come to the Lord's house with our bullocks, with our doves, with our projects, with our ships, with our bills of exchange, with our titles, with our equipage, as those
profane Jews whom Jesus Christ once chased from the temple in Jerusalem. There is no need to be a philosopher to perceive the force of this truth; it requires no evidence but the history of your own life. How often, when retired to the closet to examine your conscience, has worldly speculation interrupted the duty! How often, when prostrated in the presence of God, has this heart, which you came to offer him, robbed you of your devotion by pursuing earthly objects! How often, when engaged in sacrificing to the Lord a sacrifice of repentance, has a thousand flights of birds annoyed the sacred service! Evident proof of the truth we advance! Every day we see new objects; these objects leave ideas; these ideas recur; and the contracted soul, unable to attend to the ideas it already possesses, and to those it would acquire, becomes incapable of religious investigation. Happy is the man descended from enlightened parents, and instructed like Timothy in the Holy Scriptures from his infancy! Having consecrated his early life to the study of truth, he has only, in a dying and retiring age, to collect the consolations of a religion magnificent in its promises, and incontestible in its proofs.
Hence we conclude, with regard to the speculative part of salvation, that our conversion becomes the more difficult in proportion as it is deferred. We conclude, with regard to the light of faith, that we must seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near. We must study religion while aided by a recollected mind, and an easy conception. We must, while young, elevate the heart