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PSALM LXXXVIII.- VERSE 15.
While I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted.
As the comforts which true religion affords are the only sure support against the evils and calamities of the world, to which every condition of life is more or less exposed; so the terrors of religion, being very grievous in themselves, exclusive of these comforts, add weight to all our miseries, and are a burden too heavy for the spirit of a man to sustain. But surely there is something monstrous in such terrors ! They come not from religion by natural birth : for it is much easier to believe that all we see is chance and fortune, and religion itself a vain thing, than to believe that an all-wise, all-powerful Being has formed us to be miserable, and given us a sense and knowlege of himself, that we may live in perpetual terror and distraction. And yet, in fact, this is often the case : we see many rendered unhappy by such fears and jealousies; and of all the fears incident to man, these are the most fearful, and give us the quickest sense of misery ; they are, what the Psalmist has described them to be, distraction.' A man in this sad state employs all his reason to his own destruction; he is sagacious in finding out new torment for himself, and can give a thousand reasons to justify his unreasonable fears; if
offer a thousand more for his comfort and consolation, he rejects them all: his mind is under so thick a cloud, that no ray of light can find admittance. This evil is the more to be lamented, because virtue and innocence are not always a security against it; nay, sometimes the very desire to be better than we are, and to render ourselves more acceptable to God, makes us think ourselves to be worse than we are, and quite out of his favor. What a wretched state is this! to sustain at once the burden of the righteous and of the wicked; to deny ourselves and the world for the sake of God, and yet to suffer under the sorest evils which can befall even the wicked in this life, the torments of a distracted mind !
But bad as this case is, it is not always the worst of the case; for as to such who suffer under these terrors, and yet retain their integrity, there is this comfort, which, whether they can receive it now or no, they will one day find, that however they deal with themselves, yet God will judge a righteous judgment; and for the sake of their innocence, deliver them from the fears of the guilty. But others there are, who, not able to bear these fears of religion, in the haste they make to run from them, leave religion itself behind them; and imagining that they cannot be good enough to obtain the rewards of religion, take effectual care to be bad enough to deserve the punishment of it. This is evidently their condition, who fortify themselves against the apprehensions of futurity by vice and intemperance; and seem to have no greater concern on then in this life, than to secure themselves from thought and reflexion. likewise, in some measure, be their case, who employ all their reason in hardening their minds against the sense of religion ; who seem to think it an easier matter to arrive at peace, by rejecting the belief of a God, than to come to any reasonable terms with him, and to find comfort and security under the apprehensions of his power and majesty. This irreligious phrenzy is, of the two, the greatest; and will, in its consequences, be more fatal than the other. A weak man, who fears God more than he should do, may be worthy of compassion; but the bold man, who despises him, has no reason to expect any.
In whatever view we consider the effects of these terrors of religion, they afford us but a melancholy prospect: it is a sad thing to see the wicked desperate, or the righteous in despair. Were these terrors the natural effects of that fear of God which is the foundation of all true religion, religion itself would
This may be distraction, and not the reasonable service of a reasonable creature; unless you can imagine, that he who made us reasonable creatures, and distinguished us by the nobler faculties of the mind, can take pleasure in seeing us lose our reason and understanding.
But since these terrors do often assume the shape and form of religion, and are almost always charged to its account; it may be some service to true religion to show the several kinds of these terrors and the real causes of them : and it will be for our common instruction to consider, at the same time, the vanity of those remedies which men often have recourse to under these evils; and as far as the generality of the case will permit, to point out the true cure for them. i As to the causes and kinds of these terrors, they may be reduced, I think, to the following heads: they are such as arise, either, first, from uncertainty in religion; or, secondly, from false notions of God, and of the honor and worship due to him ; or, thirdly, from a conscience wounded with a sense of guilt; or, lastly, from some accidental infirmities of mind or body.
It is a matter of doubt, whether there be any of the human race so absolutely degenerate as to be void of all sense of religion : that there are any such has not yet been proved, though the point has been much labored : but if any such there be, they are evidently out of the present question: for whatever anxieties may reach men in such a state of stupidity, they cannot be ascribed to religion, from the sense of which the sufferers are supposed to be exempted. But many there are whose minds are disturbed with perpetual variety of opinions, and enjoy no more rest than a ship left to the mercy of the winds in a tempestuous sea. The concern which every man has in the issue of religion, is too great to be submitted with indifference to chance and uncertainty : for the question before him is, whether he must die like the beasts that perish, or rise again to immortality; whether he is at liberty to pursue all his inclinations here without control ; or whether he stands accountable to a judgment to come, to be beld in his presence who is the Lord of life and death, and will recompense to every man the work which he hath done ? If he holds his mind in doubt and suspense as to this great event, he divests himself of all the hopes and comforts of religion, and leaves room for all its fears and terrors to take possession of his heart : for he can have no true joy in the prospect of the pleasures of another world, which, for aught he knows, may be all delusion; nor can he enjoy the pleasures of this world because of the fears of futurity, which, for aught he knows, may be all real, and approaching him every day. Every thought of the heart, laboring under such uncertainty, brings torment and vexation with it; it renders him incapable of all present joy, and gives no assurance of any to succeed. The man who is to cast lots for his life, is not more restless and uneasy under the expectation of what chance shall determine concerning him, than he is, whose mind is in
suspense in the great points of religion; for these points have in them life and death eternal, and he lives under a perpetual expectation of a sudden determination of his fate : so that he is all his lifelong casting lots for his life.
The uneasiness of this state is such, that no one can endure it long; and in experience it is true, that all hasten to deliver themselves from these torments one way or other. Some labor to shut out all thought and reflexion on these subjects; they fly to business or pleasure for refuge ; and because business and pleasure have their seasons of remission, and leave the mind its vacant hours for consideration, they are forced to take shelter in vice and intemperance, as what alone can secure from the interruptions of thought and reason. Others, resolving to rescue themselves from the perplexities of an unsettled mind,
a kind of force on themselves in determining their choice, and resolutely fix on the post which they will maintain; and thus some reject all religion, and some take all, without being able, on either side, to give a reason for what they do.
But all these methods are but so many arts by which men deceive themselves, and gain a false peace, liable to be disturbed by new torments and anxieties : they build without a foundation; and when the winds and storms arise, their house will fall on their heads, and cover them in ruin and destruction. Let the man who has long shut out thought and reflexion, and through the power of vice and intemperance has arrived at his
much-desired state of stupidity; let him, I say, be but awakened out of this lethargy by some uncommon calamity; or let sickness and infirmity render him incapable of vice, and discharge those fetters with which his mind was bound ; and all his fears will return with double force; they will appear no longer in the form of doubts and uncertainties, but will come on him as the terrors of guilt armed with vengeance; and he will soon find that the method he took to deliver himself from the uncertainties of religion, has delivered him from nothing but the hopes and comforts of it, and bound on his soul all its fears and terrors without remedy. So, again, if the man who is an unbeliever on the strength of his will, without the consent of his understanding, meets with any shock to disturb his illgrounded peace, his mind will certainly recoil; and, like a spring, when the weight that held it is removed, return to its natural state. Whoever, in these great concerns of life, determines himself without asking advice of his reason, and taking the assent of his mind along with him, will certainly find, sooner or later, that reason will revenge the affront, and make him pay dear for neglecting so faithful a eounsellor. And when such fears and uncertainties return, the second state is much worse than the first : for now they come attended with a consciousness of an obstinate and resolute opposition to God, of an endeavor to bardén our hearts against all sense of religion; which, be religion true or false, no sense or reason can justify.
But what shall we say of such, who prefer religion notwithstanding all their doubts, who voluntarily submit to the duties of it, and choose even its uncertain hopes before the present pleasures of the world ? Are not such in a safe way? I trust in God, many such are: but I must remind you that the question before us is not how safe they are, but how they are affected by the fears and terrors of religion. And even, as to this point, the varieties in this case are so many and great, that the same considerations will not reach all who are in this condition. Some there may be who believe the being of God and his providence, who see the difference between moral good and evil, and own all the obligations arising from thence on rational beings; but may doubt, perhaps, as to their own state