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we are repelled, and thrown at a distance from whatever is injurious. The latter is no less friendly to man than the former. And how kindly has Providence distributed them both! for suppose, only for a moment, pleasure and pain to be reversed; let pleasure for the future preside over sickness; let health become subject to the dominion of pain ; let tearing and burning the flesh produce agreeable sensations ; let the agonies of death be converted into exquisite enjoyment; to what a miserable, mangled, mutilated species would mankind be reduced! to what a short-lived race of beings! and how quickly would the earth become a desert! But now, those pains which are incident to the human body, are in fact the guardians of its safety and prosperity: wben sickness invades, they incite us to seek relief; when destruction approaches, they instantly give the alarm, and bring others to our assistance; and therefore they are so far from affording a good subject of complaint, that to them we are indebted not only for the perfection of our organs, but even for the preservation of our lives.
We have a strong presumption for believing, that as mankind become more enlightened, and more generally acquainted with their nature and their state, they will gradually become more virtuous, and consequently more happy. Viewed in this light, the prospect brightens, and probably will continue to brighten throughout the succession of ages; not to mention the natural and reasonable expectation of a future state, which alone can afford due scope to our growing capacities of knowledge, virtue, and happiness. Meanwhile, in the commencement of this great plan, evil is made to combat evil, and misery sets bounds to guilt: otherwise, an universal deluge of crimes would break in; the bands of society would be dissolved, the harmony of the world subverted, and the human race extinguished. But Infinite Wisdom converts the guilty passions of men into engines of their own punishment and correction : thus pain and disease wait upon excess; the natural resentment of mankind is in arms against inhumanity and injustice; while remorse pursues crimes of every description; and the awful forebodings of conscience, which create so much secret terror to the guilty individual, are the great safeguard of the peace and welfare of society at large.
It is true, so many restraints cannot be imposed upon the passions and conduct of mankind, without subjecting them to considerable suffering. But what would be the consequence, if all these bars were burst asunder? Would the happiness of the world be, on the whole, increased or diminished ! or, rather, would the world itself, for the shortest space, continue to subsist?
Those evils, therefore, which are the natural punishment of vice, are, doubtless, in the highest degree salutary and benevolent. But what shall we say of those evils which arise, without our own fault, from the course of nature? Are these inconsistent with wisdom and benevolence ? Certainly not. For if a continual flow of prosperity tends to enervate and corrupt the mind, then some intervals of affliction may be necessary to brace and strengthen it: and if this discipline be requisite for the most perfect, much more for the mixed characters of the generality of mankind.
Hence, in every age, adversity has been respected as the school of virtue. There the world is unmasked; there the voice of conscience is heard, and the claims of futurity are felt; there, if any where, we are taught humility; the tear of penitence begins to flow; the soul is attuned to sympathy; fortitude and self-command are called forth; resignation bows submissive to the decree of Providence; while faith and hope lift our views and desires to heaven.
From the vale of sorrow, how chànged, bow refined do we return to the active and pleasurable scenes of life! As the verdure and fragrance succeeding to a summer's shower; so pure and serene, so rich in virtue, so flourishing in every generous sentiment and endearing quality, is the mind which affliction has impregnated with the seed of celestial happiness!
Let man, then, cease to arraign the wisdom and goodness of his Maker; and rather learn to follow the example of his providence, by extracting from the most bitter plants their concealed virtues. With a heart full of grateful adoration, let us look up to Him, both when he pours upon us bright beams of joy, and when, with the same benevolent design, he raises the cloud of sorrow. What proportion of either shall divide our lot, let us leave to his sovereign disposal, who comprebends the whole extent of nature within his view, and penetrates into the most retired recesses of futurity.
“High as the heaven is above the earth, so high are the ways of God above our ways.” No human comprehension is capable of following them through their long train of consequences, of viewing them in all their complicated connections, or of deriving them, by every intermediate step, from their remote causes. It is evidently the will of the Supreme Being that we should remain ignorant of the reasons of many of his dispensations; and this ignorance may be necessary, not only for the trial of our virtue, but in order to promote our own comfort as individuals, as well as to preserve the general order of the universe. Thus far we are permitted to know, that though good and evil are in most cases inseparably connected, yet every part of the works of creation, and particularly of our own frame, tends to private and public happiness; that the evils of the body are either, immediately salutary, or spring from general laws which are so ; that those of the mind arise partly from principles and passions in themselves excellent and essential to our welfare, partly from that feeble and imperfect reason which best befits our rank and station among the creatures of God; that those evils which arise from the frailty of our nature, are requisite to restrain us from vice; that all the evils of life, from whatever source they arise, may be rendered greatly conducive to our improvement in virtue; and consequently, that if we had prosperity and adversity in our own choice, a wise man would rather leave the determination to God than take it upon himself.
“Who knoweth what is good for man?” But could
we look through the whole plan of Providence; could we view ourselves as connected with all mankind; could we contemplate mankind with reference to distant worlds, and beings of a higher order; could we trace the progression of our species through all future ages, and pursue the present into a state of eternal retribution; then, most assuredly, all the evils of which we complain, like shadows at noon-day, which owe their existence to the surrounding splendour, would appear to originate in the Fountain
of universal happiness; and those who shall at last be raised above the obscurity of terrestrial things, will find that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all;" that he is the Father of his creatures, that his very essence is love, and that he dwelleth in love for ever and ever.
The happiness of rational beings must be founded in virtue, in the system of a righteous and holy God.
The means and dispensations, whether of nature or grace, that tend to promote the virtue, and thereby to advance the happiness, of the human race, declare his beneficence and goodness no less than his righteousness, holiness, and truth. Would you have men happy without virtue,—you destroy the righteousness and holiness of God. Would you detract from the means, the occasions, and exercise of virtue,—you so far detract from the goodness of God; as, in diminishing the occasions of virtue, you abridge the means of happiness. Our truest, our sincerest, and most rational happiness, arises from the exercise of the purest and sublimest virtues; but without misery or distress there would be no room for the display or exercise of such virtues : for instance, without pain, poverty, or distress of any kind, where would be room for patience or contentment, for submission to the will of God, and an entire resignation to his providence? By some signal misfortune, as it is called, the man is often reduced from pride, vanity, insolence, excess, and extravagance, to temperance and economy, to moderation and sobriety of mind, to humility, and a proper knowledge of himself, and of the God that rules over him. By sickness, by some chronic disorder, or acute pain, we are often led, or compelled, to call upon that Almighty helper, whom we had not before in all our thoughts. Crossed in our views, and disappointed in our projects on earth, we take refuge in heaven, where we shall be free from the accidents of chance and time, and where every mystery of the present scene will be unveiled. In the misery and distress under which we see mankind at present labour, and of which we complain, what riot and excess, what rudeness and insolence, what license, what profiigacy, what immorality and impiety, do we observe among them. Let them be indulged, as we seem to require, in full health and ample fortunes, could we expect to see them more modest and moderate, more temperate and regular, more moral in their conduct towards men, or more fervent in their devotion to God, by the change? Say that all abounded, were increased in goods, and had need of nothing; where would be the room for the most amiable of the virtues,-our charity and beneficence? Say that all were happy on earth; and who would entertain a wish, or lift up an eye to heaven? Even with respect to this world, we may venture to affirm, that they whose misery we lament, are, where it has had its proper effect, by far the happiest of their kind, and enjoy such a peace and serenity of mind, such a composure of affections, elevated hopes, and heavenly prospects, as no outward circumstances or accommodations of life, no blaze of titles and honours, no excess of fortune, no height or splendour of greatness can bestow, or will pretend to. Those deemed wretched by you, the wanton objector, and by the world, are the blessed of God. Great without titles, and happy without riches, they require not such an evidence of his goodness as would destroy his moral attributes,—his righteousness, truth, and holiness, and the further display of his mercy.