« ZurückWeiter »
means of reformation, even to you, with all your beauty of virtue, and deformity of vice. This I know must be very mortifying to men, who set up for such refinements in morality, as not only to object to God's threatenings against sin, but even to despise the promises he makes to righteousness, as unworthy of their attention. There must be an error somewhere here. Either your Maker is mistaken in offering you such motives, as you ought to disdain ; or you must be mistaken in thinking you have no need of them. You are but men, and may possibly err. Pride is a most insinuating flatterer. If ever there is reason to suspect its influence, it is when men think highly of themselves, in opposition to the peremptory judgment pronounced on them by the Searcher of hearts; or when they treat with contempt such methods of reformation, as cost the blood of his only-begotten Son to purchase for them. Let me advise you, in the bowels of charity, to examine yourselves more closely on this subject ; for, if you cannot return to an humbler way of thinking concerning yourselves, you must inevitably fall into a total apostacy from the word and covenant of God, which set forth sentiments of you directly contrary to your
Try yourself by facts. Can you resist the allurements of a wanton beauty, merely because virtue is more beautiful? Or does the deformity of fornication or adultery, to which she invites you, give her face the aspect of a fiend in your eyes; however, this perhaps may be no fair trial of your principle. Try yourself in a case of less difficulty. Fraud or imposition is naturally a filthy, a despicable vice. Are you sure you never attempted the property of another by undue arts in trade, gaming, horse-racing, or the like? I ask this the rather, because the low pitiful vice under consideration often disguises itself in lace and jewels, at which time it hath so much the air of a gentleman, that possibly it might pass, on your principle, as a thing not altogether contemptible. I know few vices that make a more abominable figure than drunkenness, or to which a rational creature can have less temptation; yet it may be, for all that, you have been sometimes drunk. If you ever were, where was your passion then for the beauty of virtue, and your aversion to the foulness of vice? Or rather, where were they, when you, yet sober, yielded to the other bottle, or schemed the very carousal itself? Is pride no vice? Or, have you always so abhorred it for its deformity, as never once to have thought too meanly of another, nor too highly of yourself, I mean particularly in point of understanding? Are you sure you never preferred your own opinion on a weak reason, purely because it was your own, to that of another man, founded on a stronger, merely because it was not yours? Have you never attempted, in dispute, or otherwise, to make even the Scriptures ply a little to your preconception ? Or, how often have you resigned your judgment to the dictates of the divine oracles? Try yourself on the point at present under debate. You believe God requires, we should be virtuous. You believe also, there can be no virtue in doing good for the sake of reward; or in abstaining from bad actions for fear of punishment. Yet you know God hath in his word promised infinite rewards to the first, and threatened endless punishments to the last. You know there is nothing he inculcates oftener, nor in stronger terms, throughout his word. How can you, on your principle, clear him of an intention to destroy all virtue? Was it for nothing that he thought fit to bear so strongly on our hopes and fears ? Did he intend we should altogether neglect what he so emphatically urges on the reader? If, on this trial, you still continue to cherish your own opinion, I must tell you, there is one virtue you think very ugly, and that is, the love of truth; and one vice you think very beautiful, and that is, the conceit you have of your own judgment, which, in this instance, is the judgment of an egregious fool; because it judges the Scriptures to be the word of God, who cannot err; and yet holds to its own opinion as right, directly in opposition to the Scriptures.
But here you will retort, that we Christians, with all the force of our sanctions, can no more stand this examination than
you. If this is true, you cannot say, the sanctions of our covenant deprive us of our freedom, or make us so slavishly regular in our lives, as you foreboded. But our vices do not render you virtuous. You say your sanctions are sufficient. That this is mere speculation, the trial recommended to you clearly proves; for, in fact, you find your love of virtue for its own sake, cannot make you virtuous; nor your hatred of vice, on its own account, hinder you from being vicious. This being the real case, you have as much reason as we to look out for stronger inducements to a good life. We recommend ours as the best, not only because they are the strongest (and yet proved not too strong by the truth of your own retort), but because they are the choice of him who made you, who best knows what you want, who is too wise to err in the choice of means, and too good not to accept of your services on terms of his own proposing. If you are as virtuous as he desires you should be, and on the footing he requires, what else, or what more, can you wish for? But if, through a conceited supposition of your own excellence, and a chimerical attempt to be virtuous, on principles of your own contrivance, which have little or no force, you aim at an unaccountable and unattainable virtue, and fall short of the reality, while you catch at the shadow, will you not have reason in the end, to curse your own vanity and folly? What is the virtue and goodness of an accountable creature? Is it any thing else than duty, than the performance of that duty we owe to the Governor of the world, whom we ought infinitely to revere, because he is just, and will punish, if we sin ; whom we ought infinitely to love, because he is the most excellent and beneficent of all beings, and will if we obey, reward us beyond our merits? If you fear and love him, as reason requires you should, you will, to the uttermost of your power, discharge your duty to him; that is, you will be virtuous, you will be good, you will be what he intended you should be when he gave you being. If virtue is any thing distinct from God, will he be better pleased with your regulating your actions in regard to that, than in regard to his own majesty and goodness ? Take care you do not excite his jealousy by a preference of your own ideal virtue to his real prerogative, by setting up an idol of your own making in your heart, to intercept that duty and devotion, whereof he only ought to be the object. You cannot be guilty either of a greater absurdity, or a greater crime, than a resolution to be accountable to yourself only. You do not depend more on God as a physical being, than as a moral agent. He is the Governor, as well as the Creator, of the world. As your Creator, he knows what you are, infinitely better than you do yourself; and as your Governor, he
chooses to rule over you, according to his attributes, and the nature he hath given you. Judge therefore of your own nature by his commands, rather than by the airy whims of your own brain. If he tells you, the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, you must believe it to be true, that they actually will; just that they should ; and most fit for you, whose affections are so corrupt, and passions so disorderly, to be seriously and awfully laid to heart. If he tells you, the righteous shall go into life eternal,' this also you must believe to be true, consistent with the justice and goodness of God, and perfectly suitable to your nature, that cannot be reduced to its duty without an expectation so highly interesting. If you candidly consult your own experience, you will find this to be the very best method of proceeding with you.
Put the case then, that you have found out God will not be really so bountiful as he promises to the good, nor so very severe as he threatens to the wicked, it will be but prudence in you to conceal your discovery, and to content yourself with living as you list, on the strength of it; for, should you publish it, you will lose the benefit of the secret. Your neighbours will be as wise as you, and will begin to practise those arts of living, those outrages, perhaps on yourself, which the discovery will encourage them to, and which you might have enjoyed the use of alone, while they, poor simpletons ! had they still believed in heaven and hell, being tied up by their faith, must have left you, who are loose, a wider field to range in, and have fallen themselves an easy prey to the designs of a man unawed by expectations so apt to hamper the believer. It will be a silly vanity in you to preach up a doctrine you might otherwise have turned to so good account.
However, to be a little more serious; if the belief of future retributions, in the full extent, is really so necessary to the good government of the world, can that belief be an error? Is God able to manage a world of his own making no otherwise than by idle fears, and groundless hopes ? Or, is the world able to govern itself without him, or his expedients? Or, will mankind be happier, if they shake off all government, and live at random? No; such suppositions would do too much violence to common sense; and therefore we must have recourse to the doctrine of my text, as the great fundamental of all morality, of all society, of all government.
On looking carefully into our own nature, and considering that we are made by a Being of infinite wisdom, goodness, justice, and power, we find it probable, that our souls are intended for immortality. The capacities of the soul are greater than its present occasions require. . The vessel is too large for what we have here to put into it. Its thirst of knowledge, and appetite of grandeur, appear unbounded; at least, there is nothing attainable in this world that can satisfy them. Considered in this light, it assumes the air of somewhat above its present condition; and seems, on many occasions, like a prince in disguise, to move and act with a port superior to the dress it outwardly appears in. If we add to this its eager desire of immortality, and abhorrence of annihilation, and then ask, Why such capacities? why such desires ? we shall find reason to conclude, either that they are unnatural, which cannot possibly be true of the capacities, nor probably of the desires, because proportionate to the capacities; or that they were given us by our Maker for purposes more adequate to their size, than we can discover, in a state of greater importance. This must appear still more probable, when we reflect, that, just as the Governor of the world is, he does not always reward or punish, in this life, the actions of us his subjects; nay, that he never rewards here in proportion to the ideas we have of his goodness, nor punishes in proportion to those we have of his justice. From hence it is but natural to conclude, he will do both hereafter. But whether our future existence will be endless, is another question, and of more difficult solution. However, as there is some reason to believe it will, and none to believe it will not, we cannot help concluding in favour of the former. We grant God can, and may annihilate our souls, if he pleases; but it appears probable he will not; for to what end? May they not be turned to good account in the creation ? May not his justice, his wisdom, his goodness and power, be glorified in their existence to all eternity? To some it seems rational to believe, that, now they are in being, it will as absolutely require an aet of omnipotence to annihilate, as it did to create them.