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In the two last discourses, we learned the use of the passions in matters of religion, and what advantages may be expected from them, in the christian life : We proceed now to the fourth general; and that is, to enquire into the abuse of the passions in religious concerns, or when the exercise of our affections, in the things of God, may be pronounced irregular, and in what manner they should be limited and restrained, and put under better conduct.
Abuse I. Then are the passions irregularly exercised, “ when we suffer them to influence our opinions in religion, and to determine our judgment in any points of faith or practice." The passions were made to be servants to reason, to be governed by the judgment, and to be influenced by truth; but they were never given us to decide controversies, and to determine what is truth, and what is error. Even the best affections, and those that seem to have a strong tendency toward piety, are not always safe guides in this respect; yet they are too often indulged to sway the mind in its search after truth or duty, as I shall make it appear in several instances :
1. Suppose a person should be exceedingly affected with the unlimited goodness and abounding grace of God; if, by this pious affection towards God and his goodness, he is persuaded to think that God has no such severe vengeance for sinful and rebel creatures, and that he will not destroy such multitudes of mankind in hell as the scripture asserts, or that their punishment shall not be so long and so terrible as God has expressly declared ; here the passion of love and esteem for the divine goodness, acts in an irregular manner, for it takes off the eyes of the soul from his awful holiness and his strict justice, and the unknown evil that is in sin. It prevents the mind from giving due attention to God's express word, and to those perfections of the divine nature, and his wise and righteous government, which may
demand such dreadful and eternal punishinent, for the rebellion of a creature against the infinite dignity of its Creator and Governor.
2. Suppose a christian has most powerful impressions made on the passion of fear by the tremendous ideas of God's majesty, and his punishing justice, and thence he concludes that the great
God will pardon no wilful sins, that he will forgive no repeated iniquities, no sius after baptisin and the Lord's-supper, or after vows or soienin engagements, that he will have no mercy upon apostates, even though they turn to him by repentance; this is yielding up truth to the passion of fear, and an abuse of our religious dread of the majesty of God; for such an opinion runs counter to tlie great design of the gospel, which assures us that Christ came to save the chief of sinners; I Tim. i. 15. to remove the guilt of wilful and repeated sins, and to provide forgiveness for some of the nibst profligate rebels, even for all that renounce their rebellion.
3. Some pious persons liave had such an affectionate zeal to honour God, that they have been led by this passion to contrive various forms of service and ceremony, gay and costly rites, with long and painful exercises of devotion, which God never appointed, and have introduced a number of them into his worship. A childish fondness to please the great God with bodily services
, bas tempted them to forget his own divine prerogative, to prescribe how men should worship him. They have been bluded with this sort of fondness for ceremony, in such a degree, as to lead them far astray from the divine simplicity of worship, which the New Testament has appointed.
4. Some persons out of a passionate desire to honour Christ, and ascribe the whole train of their blessings and salvation to him, have been tempted to think that they are to do nothing toward their own salvation, but to lie still and be saved without any labour or care of their own; so that they have sought no more after sanctification and holiness in themselves, than they have sought to make atonement for their own sins. But this zeal has much darkness in it, and betrays them into a gross mistake, as thoogh they could not ascribe their salvation snfficiently to Christ, unless they fancied that he came to save thert in their sins, rather than to save them from sin.
5. It is possible that a person may have so high an esteem and so excessive a love for some near relation, some cliristian friend, some wise and pious minister of the gospel, that he sees no fault in them : He imitates all their practice, as though they were perfect patterns; he receives all their opinions for certain and divine truths, and believes every thing which they teach, as though they were infallible, without comparing it with the bible
, which is the only test of truth in matters of revealed religion. This affection of love to ininisters or christians is certainly irregular, when it tempts us to set up their judgments, their practices and their dictates, in the room of the word of God.
6. Again, it is the same culpalle indulgence of our passions to sway our judgment, and bias our understanding, when our souls are warmed with the holy fire of love and devotion under
particular sermon, and we cry out, “ This is the best sermon that ever was preacăied, or the finest that ever was composed.” Or, perhaps your devout affections flag and languish under a sermou ; you șit indolent and unmoved, and then the sermon goes for a poor dry discourse, and the man that delivered it for a dull and heavy preacher. Each of these hasty and irregular judgments, built on the passions, is very common to christians, and ought to be corrected.
7. I might add another instance a-kin to the last; and that is, when our devoạt affections of fear and hope, of holy love and heavenly delight, are raised in a place of public worship, whether at the established church, or among the several depoipinations of the protestant dissenters, and immediately we conclude, “ This is the right mode of worship, this is most agreeable to the gospel, and these people are the only true church of Christ." How weak is this reasoning! And yet how many are there, who have been determined both in their opinion and practice, for or against such a particular community of christiaus, or mode of worship; and that for their whole life-time, merely by the effects that one or two attendances at such a particular place of worship bave had on their affections ?
These arguments drawn from the passions, have been oftea employed to support idolatry and transubstantiation, and all the wild inventions of men in the worship of God. What sighs and tears, what warin affections of sorrow and joy, have been some. times produced by some ingenious orators in the Roman church, in their sermons at Lent, whicu they have held up a crucifix before the face of the people in the midst of their discourse ? While they set forth the sufferings of our Saviour in most pa, thetic language, the preachers have fallen down on their knces, and embraced and adored the wooden image: The natural affections of the hearers have been awakened in a very sensible manner, and being mingled with some thoughts of Christ and religion, they have fallen down and worshipped the idol, and have imagined all this to be pure devotion and piety towards God, and bis Son Jesus; and after all they have made their lively passions a sutfiçient argument that God approved all their fooleries, though in his own word, he hath expressly forbidden. the worship of images.
I have read of another instance ; when a poor deçout cream ture hath come to the sacrament of the mass of the Romish church, and her passions being raised to a rapturous degree, as she thought, by the presence of Christ there, under the form of the consecrated wafer, she hath boldly declared, “ should all the men on earth, and all the angels in heaven, join together to assure me, that God himself was not there, I would not believe them, for I have seen himn, and felt his divine preseuce. What a wretched and mischietous abuse of passion is this, when persons shall suffer it to lead them to such unwarranted and sinfo! modes of worship, and persuade them to believe such strange doctrines, as are not only contrary to the express word of God, but a perfect contradiction to nature, sense, and reason! Instapces of this kind might be still multiplied. I have mentioned these few only to make it appear how unreasonable a thing it is to form our opinions in religion by the influence of the passions.
II. Then must the affections in matters of religion be pronounced irregular, " when they run before the understanding, or when they rise higher toward any particular object than the judg. ment directs.” As in the foregoing particular, I told you that the passions were not designed to be directing powers of the soul, in the search of truth or duty; so neither are they made to rule all within us; but they are to be governed by reason and andere standing : And in whatsoever instances they assume a superiority over the understanding, or run before it, they are excessive and irregular. Let us enter into a few particulars :
1. Some persons as soon as they begin to find further light dawning upon their minds, and are let into the knowledge of some doctrine or sentiment, which they knew not before, immediately set their zeal to work : Their zeal is all on a flame to propagate and promote this new lesson of truth, before their own hearts are well established in it, upon solid reasonings, and before they have considered whether it be a doctrine of great importance, and whether it merit such a degree of zeal. How common a case is it among christians, and too often found among ministers of the gospel, to give a loose to their affections at the first glimpse of some pleasing opinion, or some fresh discovery of what they call truth? They help out the weakness of the proof by the strength of their passions, and by the pleasure they take in the opinion they have embraced. This confirms their assent too soon, and they grow deaf to the arguments that are brought to oppose it. They construe every text in the scripture to support this doctrine, they bring in the prophets and apostles to maintain. it. They fancy they see it in a thousand verses of their bibles, and they pronounce all men heretics that dare maintain the contrary opinions. Their conduct in this matter is so vehement, as though every gleam of light were sufficient to determine their faith, because it happens to fire their affections; they grow so warm about it, as though every opinion in religion were fundamental; and so fiery is their zeal, as though every mistake deserved the severest censures.
Nor is this the case of christians only, with relation to the new opinions they receive: There are too many who take up most of their articles of faith at first without due examination, and without sufficient argument: Their veneration for great
names, or their affection to a particular party, has determined their opinions long ago : Their passions and other prejudices have formed their schemes of doctrines, with the neglect or abuse of their understandings; and yet they pronounce as positively upon truth and error, as though they were infallible. Happy are those whose faith is built on better foundations !
2. Again, there are some persons, when they begin to be convinced that such a particulăr practice is culpable or unlawful, their indignation is too soon awakened, and rises too high ; immediately they condemn it, as inconsistent with salvation : Their hatred of' it grows as violent, as if it were blasphemy or idolatry: They are ready to break out into hard speeches and railing accasations against all that practise it, and pronounce them apostates and sinners of the first rank. The sudden rise and warmth of their passions does not suffer them to consider that there are sojne faults and follies that a good christian may be guilty of through ignorance or inadvertence; there are some sins that do not carry in them such malignity and poison as to destroy all our christianity.
3. There have been some weak christians, when they have heard a sermon, or read a discourse full of sublime language and mysterious darkness, and especially, if the style and manner has been very pathetic, and they have been raptured and transported, as though it contained the deepest sense, the noblest truths of religion, and the highest discoveries of grace and the gospel : Whereas, perhaps there may be scarce any thing in it which has a just agreement with reason or scripture ; but when well er. amined, it proves to be a mere jargon of words, a mixture of unintelligible and unmeaning sounds, with some affectionate airs among them, whereby their passions were fired, and that without knowledge, and beyond all reason: And it is well, if after these flashes of affection and violent transports, they are not deluded into shameful iniquities. This has been the case of some high pretenders in elder and later days. They have spoken great swelling words of vanity, they are murmurers and complainers against the common rank of christians, but they “ wulk after their own ungodly lusts; they turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and they allure others into lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, and while they promise liberty, they are the servants of corruption ; 2 Pet. ü. 18, 19. and Jude, verses 4, 16, 18.
4. This irregular exercise of the affections running before reason, is eminently exemplified also in another weak sort of people, who are very sincere in the main, but if they read an awful and terrible threatening, or if they hear it pronounced in the pulpit with a just degree of authority and proper accent, their fears are raised in an excessive manner, and their soul is