Page images

they left no room for the expectation of futnrity as a state of being in which individuals are to be rewarded or punished according to their works.

The fact is, that when the artificial and discordant tenets of Greek and Roman philosophers are accurately examined, and the grounds and illustrations of their respective systems are pursued to their legitimate consequences, they will always be found inferior to the Christian doctrine of rewards and punishments, and many of them may be ultimately resolved into principles similar to those, which the followers of Epicurus avowed more openly, and defended perhaps more consistently. Undoubtedly, amidst the subtle controversies of sophists, and the refined conjectures or precarious assumptions of teachers, who deserve a less dishonourable name, the common sense of mankind still kept some hold upon their hopes and fears. It in some instances counteracted, though it could not entirely correct, superstition. It produced the belief of gods as rewarders, according to the various forms of popular theology.

But the corruptions of that theology are notorious; and, whether you consider it as admitting the existence of one deity or more, or as representing him under the character of a judge who will recompense the righteous and punish the wicked, the hardiest infidel would blush to assent, that in point of perspicuity, simplicity, consistency, and useful tendencies, it will for a moment stand the test of comparison with the doctrines which revelation sets before us, upon these and other most aweful and sublime subjects. Hear then the voice of wisdom, as in

Holy Writ she crieth aloud for your comfort and admonition. Have you not been told that the Lord our God is one Godě have you not understood from the beginning that it is He who sitteth on the circle of the earth-He, who stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain-He, who set in them a tabernacle to declare his glory-He, who ordained the moon and the stars in the firmament, which sheweth his handy work—to whom will ye liken me? saith the Holy One. Lift

up your eyes on high, and behold Him who hath created these things; who, by the greatness of his might, bringeth out their host by number, and calleth them all by their names. Remember, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faileth not, neither is weary, nor is there any searching of his understanding. The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea; it is high as heavenwhat canst thou do? it is deeper than the gravewhat canst thou know? Ask the beasts of the field—they shall teach thee; speak to the fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea, and they shall declare unto thee, that the Lord hath wrought this— He, who measureth the waters in the hollow of his hand-He, who weigheth the mountains in a scale, and the hills in a balance. He increaseth the nations and destroyeth them. He giveth the former and the latter rain and fruitful seasons ; and by his commands the clouds drop down the dew. To him come the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow, and are satisfied. His eyes are upon the righteous, his ears are open to their prayers; he keepeth them

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

secretly in a pavilion from the pride of men and the strife of tongues ; he maketh the perfect man, and the end of that man is peace. He so loved the world as to send his only begotten Son, that we might live through him. This is his commandment—that he who loves God loves his brother also. This is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Do you ask what? I answer, the precious and peerless lessons of wisdom, just now delivered to you. They are, you will remember, not drawn from any storehouse of human eloquence; but immediately and unmixedly from the sacred oracles of God. Now, according to the general and serious opinions of all believers, there is appointed a day when Christ will descend with the sound of a trump, and amidst the shouts of angels and archangels a day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be exposed-when every thought, word, and deed, of every human creature shall be brought before a righteous and unerring tribunal-when the wicked shall be sentenced to dreadful torments, and the virtuous exalted to a state of everlasting bliss.

But even if we were to grant hypothetically that these magnificent descriptions are not to be understood literally, that felicity is not to be bestowed with the ceremonies of public trial, and in the simple form of recompenee, nor misery inflicted in the mere form of punishment, but that felicity will be adapted and proportioned exactly to the merits, and misery to the deserts, of mankind; and that this

adaptation and proportion will be effected by a series of natural causes, which God himself has appointed for moral purposes; still the difference between the Christian and the philosopher is little more than circumstantial-still virtue will have, as, according to our clear and unalterable conceptions of fitness, it ought to have, the advantage over vice -still God is the author of unmixed and unceasing happiness to those who seek to please him--still. all the intelligible, and nearly all the credible, ends of divine justice will be substantially answered, and all our conceptions of divine wisdom and mercy, as cooperating with justice, will be verified-still good and evil are set before us, and still our future wellbeing must depend on our present choice.

Let us then hold fast the Christian faith without wavering; let us acknowledge the weighty obligations we have to the Gospel, for the clear, connected, and comprehensive views which it exhibits of the Deity, as our maker, preserver, and judge. Let us remember with gratitude, that even the humblest believer may now obtain fuller and more satisfactory knowledge than many of the wisest heathens , were able to acquire upon these interesting topics. But let us, at the same time, recollect, that speculations, however sound in their principles, however exact in their process, and however important in their results, are insufficient to fill up the measure of our duty, if they terminate solely in our inward persuasion, or in outward profession, or in transient though ardent feeling, or in mere orthodoxy, be it real or imaginary. By the faith which the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and all the other Sacred Writers inculcate, you are to understand, not a confidence in the vast and haughty pretensions of dogmatism, nor in the blind dictates of prejudice, nor in the tumultuous reveries of fanaticism, but a distinct and steady conviction of

your reason. And on such a conviction alone, accompanied by works, all the rewards mentioned in the chapter of the text were bestowed. Faith, as I before told you, was an active, and therefore a meritorious principle in those patriarchs and other worthies, whose example the secred writer has described so luminously and recommended so earnestly. It was active, and therefore meritorious, in the Apostles, who sacrificed the comforts and conveniences of life, and who endured voluntarily stripes and chains, and the most aggravated torments of death in defence of the hallowed truths, committed to their charge. It was active, and therefore meritorious, in the first converts, who either shook off the incumbrances of Jewish ceremonies and traditions, for the sake of adhering to the weightier matters of the law, enforced by a crneified Redeemer, or who abandoned the corruptions of heathenism, polytheism, and licentiousness, and, encouraged by their Christian teachers, were anxious to make the utmost proficiency in temperance, righteousness, and all other preparatory qualifications for a judgment to come.

Meritorious it will be also in yourselves, if to a rational, habitual, and devout spirit of faith, you add the firmness inspired by well-grounded hope, and all the amiable graces of Christian charity — if you bring every proud

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »