Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

and to God: we are hereby better disposed, and in a manner constrained to betake ourselves to the practice of piety and devotion, to a diligent cultivation of the means of grace, and a more steady and ardent faith in the promises of glory. Good men themselves have someiimes occasion for these severer castigations of heaven, —and need the bad then complain? Ease and indolence, indulgence and worldly security, are apt to steal in upon, and mix with, the peaceable and more prosperous fruits of righteousness; and what is the damage, or, rather, how infinite is the gain, if, for the pleasures, the honours, and fortune, that the world affords us, we obtain a sense of God's mercy, a taste of his love, and of the powers of the world to come, a powerful, a living and happy sense of the divine presence and perfections, and a clearer prospect and assurance of future glory?

Thus the miserable world we complain of, considered as a stage for the exercise and improvement of our virtues, and for the advancement of our most important and lasting happiness, appears no longer a delect in the works of God, or an objection to his providence. A scheme of things, answerable to the demands of the Epicurean, wanting nothing, and abounding in all things that could gratify sense and passion, anticipate our wants, and prevent our very wishes, superseding the itse of every faculty, and the exercise of every virtue, would indeed be a formidable objection. It would destroy not only the virtues of the man, but the most eminent graces of the Christiancharity and brotherly affection, all piety and prayer, all humility and resignation, all faith in the invisible God, and all hope of immortal life; for who that was perfectly happy on earth would set his affections on things in heaven? Away then with all such objeclions against Providence, as, under the pretence of reason and philosophy, would destroy our truest comforts at present, and the glorious hopes of blessedness for ever!

This world is a scene of misery only to those who look no further, and behold not the Deity in the 21.

4 N

one.

immensity of his works, in the power and perfection of his attributes, or the fulness of his dispensations; but the religious and virtuous man considers this earth as a colony of heaven, or rather as a nursery of immortal souls, exposed to, and tried for a moment by, the rigour of the climate, whereby they gain health and vigour, and, watered by the dews of heaven, grow up, flourish, and expand their beauties, and breathe their fragrance, till they are transplanted by their Almighty cultor's hand to a happier clime, more open to his benign influence, and the radiant glories of his throne.

Man is certainly not doomed to be unhappy. It is no just cause of complaint, that God, having created him in such a rank as to render it necessary that he should be endowed with nobler powers and faculties than the brutes, has placed him in a more precarions state, at the same time that it is a more elevated

It is true, that few of the brules are likely to fall short of the happiness destined for them; they have, indeed, but little chance to miss it, as being more effectually confined to the track appointed them, than a probationary creature like man could have been: but is not the great superiority of happiness to which a human mind may rise, by the improvement and proper exertion of its faculties, a vast overbalance for all the disadvantages under which our species labours, were they even more numerous than we find them? Would any man, to whom the choice of existing either in the human or brute species were permitted, deliberately choose the latter, in which he knew it were impossible for him to attain any thing worth desiring, beyond the narrow bounds of instinct, rather than the former? in which, if not wanting to himself, he might still exalt the dignity of his nature, and probably acquire a considerable share of happiness and perfection, even in his present condition? What no reasonable being would choose, let not presumptuous man blame his Maker for not putting to bis choice. Jf man is what he ought to be, and is placed where he ought to be, what should be his object, but to conform his conduct to his station, in order to attain his own proper happiness and perfection, in the only way in which they are attainable ?

The evils of life are necessary for the production of the greater good. One honest man shall be forced, on account of his openly bearing testimony to the truth, to experience opposition and scorn, lose his posts and his dignities, be deprived of many advantages and comforts of life. But it was proper that he should learn to love and revere truth as such, and to prefer the confession of it to his outward welfare; and when he has learned this, when he has thus brought himself nearer to superior intelligences, and to the Father of spirits, will he regard that loss as any rea? evil ?-Another, though of a wise, prudent, temperate, and affectionate behaviour, is obliged to suffer many disappointments, calamities, sicknesses ; must submit perhaps to be often contradicted by fools ; must be surrounded by persons of violent, implacable, discontented, uncomplying tempers ; must meet with a hundred impediments in all that he undertakes. But it was necessary that he should make greater progress in meekness, in self-command, in patience, in fortitude, in placability, in magnanimity; and if he attain, in an exalted degree, these generous sentiments, will the afflictions he has undergone appear to him absolute evils ?--Such a one is doomed to experience many misfortunes that are not of his own procuring, fall into many perils, see his best plans defeated, and, in regard to every thing future, live in more than common upcertainty. But be was to be taught to trust in God, to repose in the determinations of his providence, to submit to be guided wholly by him, to seek his happiness more within than without, to learn to comply with his circumstances, and to be contented in all events; and if he learn and practise these, how much will his mind have profited, what permanent felicity will he not reap from them hereafter.

Another labours with unabated sincerity, with indefatigable zeal, for the general good, and is repaid with ingratitude. But he was thus to learn to think and act more disinterestedly, to love, and to do good, and to be satisfied with the consciousness of his integrity and the good pleasure of God; and if he learn this by it, will that ingratitude, however deeply it may have wounded him at first, be a real, a permanent evil to him ?-One man, by the loss of his fortune, is to be preserved from the excesses of luxury, and be taught inoderation, industry, and content: another must suffer unmerited affronts; that he may not be vain and proud, and by vanity and pride be injurious to himself and to others: a third must submit to be deprived of the person, the friend, the earthly comfort, whereon his whole heart was set; that his affections may take a better turn, that he may acquire a nobler, a more heavenly mind : a fourth must, more than once in his life, be brought to the brink of the grave, and feel the horror of approaching dissolution; that he may be made acquainted with the sentiment of death and its consequences, and thence become wiser and better. And what reflecting man will hold things for absolutely bad, which may and should have such effects,-and in numberless cases actually have thein,how disagreeable and painful soever in themselves they

may be?

See, in the very evils that befall thyself and others, in what are called punishments and chastisements, the traces of the parental love of the All-gracious, and learn to take evils, punishments, and chastisements for what they really are,--for limitations grounded in our nature, in our essence, in our condition, in our connection with the whole; for cautions against far greater evils, far more lasting pains; for incentives and motives to action, to the expansion of our capacities, to the exertion and exercise of our powers; for means of education and improvement; for lessons of several generous sentiments and excellent dispositions; for, indeed, a dark and toilsome, but a sure road to superior perfection and happiness. Such are all the troubles and calainities of this life, all the punishments and chastisements which the All-gracious inflicts upon us. In his fatherly hand, no evil is everlasting ; never does he lay burdens on us on purpose to oppress us, never subjects us to afflictions that were inevitable, or are entirely unprofitable, and unattended with any good consequences; never does he punish purely for the sake of punishing us; never does he chastise without a just cause; never, with any other than a beneficent design; and never can, nor will, his purposes be defeated.

Beware only of sin. Sin is undoubtedly the greatest of all evils,—the only real evil,--the only one that can render you truly unhappy, and injure you for ever. Have you vanquished this disturber of human contentment and joy, this foe to your happiness ? are you, through Jesus, become free from its dominion! Oh! then nothing will or can harm you,—then nothing will or can be dreadful to you,-nothing render you dejected and dismayed. Evil and good, sorrows and joys, the present and the future, heaven and earth, God and the world, all are yours; all serve and work to your advantage, and to the furtherance of your happiness; all eternally declare this truth, that God is love. Is their tendency, then, love, universal, disinterested, generous, active love among Christians, amongst all mankind ? Love is the sum and the fulfilling of the law, the vital spirit of Christianity, the distinctive character of the disciples of our Lord, the honour and the nobility of every genuine Christian, the rule by which all our fates will be determined at that great day, the day of judgment and of retribution; and the God who gave us these commandments, who prescribed and sanctioned these laws, who established them as the rule of our life and the source of our felicity, the God with whom mercy is of more account than sacrifice, to whom relief administered to the wretched is of greater value than sabbaths and festivals, he beholds nothing with more inward complacency than the mutual benevolence and beneficence of his children.

Sin then is the only real evil we need to fear; but she is a deceitful enemy. She appears to the race of man, not to be that which she is; she has the art of concealing her shocking form, and to deck herself

« ПредишнаНапред »