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Consistency

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true-think on these things."-PHILIPPIANS, iv. 8.

DISC. VII.

THE primary notion of consist

ency, according to the etymology of the word, is that of the agreement or correspondence, the standing together, of things compared, and it receives different names according to the cause or effects of the agreement in question. When the things compared are our life and opinions, at successive periods of our history, there emerges the meaning of constancy or firmness; the cause of the coincidence-the man, being felt to have stood his ground. When the things compared are our conduct and relations, the agreement or proportion is denominated decency; the effect produced upon the mind of

the spectator. When the relations are moral, the deportment which corresponds to them is virtue; when external and incidental, the deportment is simply decorum. When the things compared are our professions and our deeds, we receive the commendation of sincerity or faithfulness, according to the nature of the professions themselves. The man's principles and life stand harmoniously together. Hence, by an easy and natural application of its primary import, consistency embraces stability of opinion, harmony of life, and decency or propriety of behaviour, including equally the obligations of rectitude and the lesser morality of manners. It is only in the sense of constancy that it is properly referred to the department of truth, as in that sense, it indicates honesty of sentiment, and fulfils the expectations which our principles, character, and conduct, a species of promise, have excited. Though it is essential to integrity, the necessary result of truth in the inward parts, yet, in itself considered, Constancy is neither a virtue nor a vice. Its

moral character depends upon the moral character of the past which it continues to reproduce and to perpetuate. It expresses only the notion of perseverance or continuance; it transmits the man unchanged from one period of his being to another; and as there may be uniformity in wickedness, as well as steadfastness in duty, consistency is entitled to praise or blame, not for itself, but according to the nature of the things in which it pursues the even tenour of its way. There is no credit in perseverance, unless it be a perseverance in right. When our professions and conduct give a promise of sin, we are no more at liberty to gratify the expectations they excite, than to keep any other unlawful engagement. Repentance, or a radical change of mind-a thorough revolution of purpose and of life—is as much a duty, as to be steadfast and unmovable, when our previous course has abounded in the work of the Lord. To persevere is a virtue only when we have begun well. When the past has been right, then, and then only, should the future be shaped in conformity

with it. Consistency, in this case, is nothing but the continued recognition of the supremacy of right; the predominance, in every successive moment of our history, of the unchanging obligations of morality and religion. The obligation of it is only another name for the unceasing obligation of virtue. We are to be uniform and constant in well-doing, because the same reason which requires integrity to-day, will exact it to-morrow; the same reason which requires us to begin, requires us to hold on. The succession of moments or the revolution of years makes no change in the stable principles of rectitude. They, like their eternal Author, are without variableness or shadow of turning; the same yesterday, today, and forever. As long as the elements of moral responsibility attach to us, whether our winters have been few or many, the same rules of truth, justice, piety, and benevolence, must continue to regulate our lives. Duty is determined by our nature and not by our age. Increasing years, it is true, unfold new relations, and develope larger capacities.

The

circle of duty may expand, but its nature is subject to no change. With this preliminary explanation I proceed to the consideration of the general subject of consistency, as embraced under the head of constancy,—the only one which falls within the scope of these discourses,-including stability of opinion and harmony of life.

I. Stability of opinion, it deserves first to be remarked, is not incompatible with all change. Absolute immutability is the prerogative of God alone. It would not be a perfection even in Him, were He not perfect in all other respects, so that the notion of change involves necessarily the notion of deterioration or injury. Finite creatures, from the very law of their nature, are subject to change in being made capable of improvement. Their growth, expansion, and developement of faculties, the invigoration of their habits, and confirmation of their principles are all so many changes for the better. To exempt them from change would be to stereotype their imbecility and ignorance. When we

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