« ПредишнаНапред »
were displayed to his aght, he would sojourn on earth as a melancholy exile. Whatever Providence has prepared for the entertainment of man, would be viewed with contempt. Whatever is now attractive in society, would appear insipid. In a word, he would be no longer a fit inhabitant of this world, nor be qualified for those exertions which are allotted to his in his present sphere of being. But, all his faculties being sublimated above the measure of humanity, he would be in the condition of a being of superior order, who, obliged to reside among men, would regard their pursuits with scorn, as dreams, trifles, and puerile amusements of a day.
But to this reasoning it may perhaps be replied, that such consequences as I have now stated, supposing them to follow, deserve not much regard. For what though the present arrangement of human affairs were entirely changed, by a clearer view, and a stronger impression of our future state ; would not such a change prove the highest blessing to man? Is not his attachment to worldly objects the great source both of his misery and his guilt ? Employed in perpetual contemplation of heavenly objects, and in preparation for the enjoyment of them, would he not become more virtuous, and of course more happy, than the nature of his present employments and attachments permits him to be ?-Allowing for a moment, the consequence to be such, this much is yielded, that upon the supposition which was made, man would not be the creature which he now is, nor human life the state which we now behold. How far the change would contribute to his welfare, comes to be considered.
If there be any principle fully ascertained by religion, it is, that this life was intended for a state of trial and improvement to man. His preparation for a better world required a gradual purification, carried on by steps of progressive discipline. The situation, therefore, here assigned him, was such as to answer this design, by calling forth all his active powers, by giving full scope to his moral dispositions, and bringing to light his whole character. Hence it became proper, that difficulty and temptation should arise in the course of his duty. Ample rewards were promised to virtue ;, but these rewards were left, as yet, in obscurity and distant prospect. The impressions of sense were so balanced against the discoveries of immortality, as to allow a conflict between faith and sense, between conscience and desire, between present pleasure and future good. In this conflict, the souls of good men are tried, improved, and strengthened
la this field, their honours are reaped. Here are formed the capital virtues of fortitude, temperance, and self-denial; moderation in prosperity, patience in adversity, submission to the will of God, and charity and forgiveness to men, amidst the various competitions of worldly interest,
Such is the plan of Divine wisdom for man's improvement. But put the case, that the plan devised by human wisdom were to take place, and that the rewards of the just were to be more fully displayed to view ; the exercise of all those graces which I have mentioned, would be entirely superseded. Their very names would be unknown. Every temptation: being withdrawn, every worldly attachment being subdued by the overpowering discoveries of eternity, no trial of sin cerity, no discrimination of characters, would remain ;.no opportunity would be afforded for those active exertions, which are the means of purifying and perfecting the good. On the competition between time and eternity, depends the chief exercise of human virtue. The obscurity which at present hangs over eternal objects, preserves the competition. Remove that obscurity, and you remove human virtue from its place. You overthrow that whole system of discipline by which imperfect creatures are, in this life, gradually trained up for a more perfect state.
This, then, is the conclusion to which at last we arrive : that the full display which was demanded, of the heavenly glory, would be so far from improving the human soul, that it would abolish those virtues and duties, which are the great instruments of its improvement. It would be unsuitable to the character of man in every view, either as an active being, or a moral agent. It would disqualify him from taking part in the affairs of the world ; for relishing the pleasures, or for discharging the duties of life: in a word, it would entirely defeat the purpose of his being placed on this earth. And the question, why the Almighty has been pleased to leave a spiritual world, and the future existence of man under so much obscurity, resolves in the end into this, why there should be such a creature as man in the universe of God ?-_Such is the issue of the improvements proposed to be made on the plans of Providence. They add to the disGoveries of the superior wisdom of God, and of the presump tion and folly of man.
Youth is the proper season for gaining knowledge, and form.
ing religious habits.
The duty which young people owe to their instructers, cannot be better shown, than in the effect which the instructions they receive have upon them. They would do well, therefore, to consider the advantages of an early attention to these two things, both of great importance, knowledge and religion.
The great use of knowledge, in all its various branches, (to which the learned languages are generally considered as an introduction,) is to free the mind from the prejudices of ignorance; and to give it juster and more enlarged conceptions, than are the mere growth of rude nature. By reading, we add the experience of others to our own. It is the improvement of the mind chiefly, that makes the difference between man and man; and gives one man a real superiority over another.
Besides, the mind must be employed. The lower orders of men have their attention much engrossed by those employments, in which the necessities of life engage them : and it is happy that they have. Labour stands in the room of education ; and fills up those vacancies of mind, which in a state of idleness, would be engrossed by vice. And if they, who have more leisure, do not substitute something in the room of this, their minds also will become the prey of vice; and the more so, as they have the means to indulge it more in their power.
A vacant mind is exactly that house mentioned in the gospel, which the devil found empty. In he entered ; and taking with him seven other spirits more wicka ed than himself, they took possession. It is an undoubted truth, that one vice indulged, introduces others; and that each succeeding vice becomes more depraved. If then the mind must be employed, what can fill up its vacuities more rationally than the acquisition of knowledge ? Let us there fore thank God for the opportunities he has afforded us ; and not turn into a curse those means of leisure, which might
But however necessary to us knowledge may be, religion we know, is infinitely more so. The one adorns a man, and gives him, it is true, superiority, and rank in life ; but the other is absolutely essential to his happiness.
lo the midst of youth, health, and abundance, the world is apt to appear a very gay and pleasing scene : it engages our desires ; and, in a degree, satisfies them also. But it is wigdom to consider, that a time will come, when youth, health, and fortune, will all fail us : and if disappointment and vexation do not sour our taste for pleasure, at least sickness and infirmities will destroy it. In these gloomy seasons, and above all, at the approach of death, what will become of us without religion ? When this world fails, where shall we fly, if we expect no refuge in another? Without holy hope in God, and resignation to his will, and trust in him for deliverance, what is there that can secure us against the evils of life?
The great utility therefore of knowledge and religion being thus apparent, it is highly incumbent upon us to pay a studious attention to them in our youth. If we do not, it is more than probable that we shall never do it: that we shall grow old in ignorance, by neglecting the one ; and old in vice, by neglecting the other.
For improvement in knowledge, youth is certainly the fittest season. The mind is then ready to receive any impression. It is free from all that care and attention which, in riper age, the affairs of life bring with them. The memory too is stronger and better able to acquire the rudiments of knowledge, and as the mind is then void of ideas, it is more suited to those parts of learning which are conversant in words. Besides, there are sometimes in youth a modesty and ductility, which, in advanced years, if those years especially have been left a prey to ignorance, become self-sufficiency and prejudice ; and these effectually bar up all the inlets to knowledge.-But, above all, unless habits of attention and application are early gained, we shall scarcely acquire them afterwards.--The inconsiderate youth seldom redects upon
this ; por knows his loss, till he knows also that it cannot be retrieved.
Nor is youth more the season to acquire knowledge, than to form religious habits. It is a great point to get habit on the side of virtue: it will make every thing smooth and easy. The earliest principles are generally the most lasting; and those of a religious cast are seldom wholly lost. Though the temptations of the world may, now and then, draw the well-principled youth aside ; yet his principles being continually at war with his practice, there is hope, that in the ead the better part may overcome the worse, and bring on
a reformation : whereas he, who has suffered habits of vice to get possession of his youth, has little chance of being brought back to a sense of religion. In the common course of things it can rarely happen. Some calamity must rouse him.
He must be awakened by a storm, or sleep for ever. How much better is it then to make that easy to us, which we know is best ; and to form those habits now, which bere. after we shall wish we had formed!
There are persons, who would restrain youth from imbibing any religious principles, till they can judge for themselves ; lest they should imbibe prejudice for truth. But why should not the same caution be used in science also : and the minds of youth left void of all impressions ? The experiment, I fear, in both cases, would be dangerous. If the mind were left uncultivated during so long a period, though nothing else should find entrance, vice certainly woulds and it would make the larger shoots, as the soil would be vacant. It would be better that young persons receive knowledge and religion mixed with error, than none at all. For when the mind comes to reflect, it may deposit its prejudices by degrees, and get right at last : but in a state of stagnation it will infallibly become foul.
To conclude, our youth bears the same proportion to our more advanced life, as this world does to the next. In this life, we must form and cultivate those habits of virtue, which will qualify us for a better state. If we neglect them here, and contract habits of an opposite kind, instead of gaining that exalted state, which is promised to our improvement, we shall of course sink into that state, which is adapted to the habits we have formed.
Exactly thus is youth introductory into manhood ; to which it is, properly speaking, a state of preparation. During this season we must qualify ourselves for the parts we are to act hereafter. In manhood we bear the fruit, which has in youth been planted. If we have sauntered away our youth, we must expect to be ignorant men. If indolence and inattention have taken an early possession of us, they will probably increase as we advance in life ; and make us a burden to ourselves, and useless to society. If again, we suffer ourselves to be misled by vicious inclinations, they will daily get new strength, and end in dissolute lives. But if we cui. tivate our minds in youth, attain habits of attention and industry, of virtue and sobriety, we shall find ourselves well prepared to act our future parts in life ; and, what above all