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such a settled change can only be effected by implanting new principles of action within us in other words, by teaching us a new habit.Now a habit is formed by a repetition of individual actions, while each action must spring from some motive or impulse acting immediately upon the feelings. We have just seen that passive impressions by being repeated, grow naturally weaker and weaker,---while the repetition of the action arising from these impressions, strengthens the habit. Therefore what must be the result? Why this, that we shall feel gradually less and less keenly during the formation of the habit, and that when it is perfectly formed, and has become a settled principle, actions will flow from it spontaneously, and unaccompanied in many cases by any perceptible sensation whatever. Thus “ active habits may be gradually forming and strengthening by a course of acting upon such and such motives and excitements, whilst these motives and excitements themselves are by proportionable degrees growing
less sensible, that is, are continually less and less sensibly felt, even as the active habits strengthen ?."
Take an instance of this.-“ Perception of distress in others is a natural excitement, passively to pity, and actively to relieve it : but, let a man set himself to attend to, to inquire out, and relieve distressed persons, and he cannot but grow less and less sensibly affected with the various miseries of life, with which he must become acquainted; when yet, at the same time, benevolence, considered not as a passion, but as a practical principle of action, will strengthen; and whilst he passively compassionates the distressed less, he will acquire a greater aptitude actively to assist and befriend them ?."
Now religion is an active habit, and formed as are other habits, and liable to the same laws, as those by which other habits are influenced. It is very possible, therefore, for the habit of religion, or in other words, for religious principle, to
exist in its full perfection and activity, without any, or with very little, of the passion of religion to accompany it.—And this, as you may readily convince yourselves, my brethren, is ordinarily the
You will generally find, that the most advanced and confirmed Christians have passed beyond the state of passionate excitability, and reached a condition of
alm and satisfied composure. On the other hand, where there are great displays of warmth-where there are frequent exhibitions of intense feeling, it will generally be found that the subject of religion is new—is still an impulsehas not been dwelt upon long enough to have attained the fixed steadiness of a principle.
It is very true, that " love, a passion, is said to be the fulfilling of our law”—but it is a passion which of all others, perhaps, has the least of impulse, and the most of principle in it, viz. filial love. We are to love God, through Jesus Christ, as father, and each other, for his sake, as brethren. Now if we examine the love
which a dutiful and affectionate son bears towards his parent; (and the more consistently dutiful and affectionate he is, the more certain will be the result);—we shall find that there is very little of excitement in the feeling—we shall find that, implanted in the child, it has grown with the growth of the man, until it has well-nigh ceased to be a passion at all, and become a principle, exercising an uniform and powerful, but not always perceptible influence over every thought, and word, and act. Such an one loves his parent sincerely and ardently—but still he does not always feel that he loves him. His whole conduct towards him is such as the purest love would dictate; but still he does not always feel that it flows from love, for it has become habitual and spontaneous.— And the same, or very nearly the same, I imagine to be the case with regard to religion. --- The process seems to be this. Feelings of religion produce actions—the repetition of these actions deadens the feeling, but produces the habit or principle; and from this principle actions again arise as it were naturally and necessarily, and unaccompanied by any strong feeling, any vivid sensation.
I trust, my brethren, that it will not any longerappear strange to you, if I assert that warm feelings in religion are not in every stage indispensable, that the existence of them is by no means an infallible proof of a man's great progress; or farther than this, that the absence of them may be in many cases a good instead of a bad symptom. If I have made this clear, I shall have suggested a subject for consolatory meditation to many a timid, though sincere Christian.
But I have already said, that the task I have now been attempting is both a delicate and a dangerous one.-And why? --Because it may seem to those who are anxious to find excuses for their own indifference about religion altogether, that I have been pleading the cause of lukewarmness and carelessness.--It may seem