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say to you the rather because he hath used you to mysteries, by giving you a nature exceedingly mysterious, and by placing you here in a system of mysteries. You see, you breathe, you eat, you drink, you live on, nothing but mysteries; mysteries, every one of them, as hard to be accounted for or comprehended as the Trinity. While he gives a dignity to your nature by thus feeding and surrounding you with wonders, remember, he, at the same time, and by the same means, preaches humility to your bounded understanding, inasmuch as he hath made it impossible for you to comprehend, either what you yourself are, or how you are subsisted.
Can you, after all this, stumble at any thing merely mysterious in regard to his nature, who is altogether mysterious and incomprehensible to the highest angel of light? Is it harder for your reason to believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, than it was for that of Abraham to believe, that he should have a numerous posterity by his son Isaac after he had put him to death, when he was yet unmarried and childless? Or is it harder for you, in consequence of your faith in the Trinity, to submit your inordinate affections to the several precepts of the gospel, in order to eternal life, than it was for Abraham to give up his parental affection, pursuant to the divine command, and slay his son with his own hands on the distant, and probably incomprehensible, prospect of having an innumerable issue by a son at that instant to be cut off? Consider, if you cannot follow Abraham, although at so great a distance, in his faith, you cannot follow him in his practice, the effect of that faith; and if you can neither imitate the faith nor works of Abraham, you cannot be one of his children, who is the father of all the faithful; nor can you be gathered into his bosom, when you leave this world.
Consider this, and God give you understanding in all things, through Christ Jesus our Saviour, to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
[PREACHED ON EASTER SUNDAY.]
CHRISTIAN FAITH DEMONSTRATED BY THE
ACTS XVII. 31.
He hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Two things are more especially observable in these words, first, that God will, at a certain time, known only to himself, try and pass sentence on all men by his Son Christ Jesus; and secondly, that sufficient assurance of this his intention hath been published to all men by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. As to the rewards or punishments to which, on that occasion, we shall be doomed, they are represented in many other parts of Scripture in terms expressive of somewhat inconceivably desirable or dreadful, which is never to have an end.
It would not only prevent all possibility of virtue, but throw every community into confusion, were each man tried, sentenced, and rewarded, or punished, immediately upon every good or evil action. In all kingdoms and communities, therefore, stated times are appointed for this purpose. In the kingdom of God particularly, men are suffered to live such lives as they think fit, with very moderate temporal encouragements to virtue, and discouragements to vice; and sometimes, in appearance, the contrary, till death finishes their state of trial. After this, assurance is given, that they shall be raised again to life, as Christ was, and shall all appear before his judgment-seat, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.'
This is the great assize of God's kingdom, wherein all
men shall be tried by unerring wisdom, sentenced by divine justice, and rewarded or punished according to their deeds. The good man under oppression may think it long to wait till that day for justice; but this he is to consider as the trial of his faith, and the exercise of his patience. The bad man may encourage himself in his wickedness by the distance of that time; but the triumphing of the wicked shall be short;' for, at most, it can last no longer than his life; and what will that be to the length of his punishment? God in his wisdom defers the reward of the good, that his virtue may be perfected and known; and in his mercy, the punishment of the guilty, that he may have time to repent. Sometimes, however, he interposes by judgments on the one, or blessings on the other, which shew, his eye and hand are always over us.
As, for certain reasons too well and too commonly understood to require being told you on this occasion, the doctrine I have here laid down is much more apt to terrify than to please; so there are some that refer the whole of our rewards to the pleasure we find in doing good, and of our punishments, to the distaste and uneasiness we perceive in doing evil actions. These, they say, prevent the neces→ sity of future rewards and punishments, and do ample justice on the spot in regard to all parts of our moral behaviour.
If God and the king would be pleased to declare this, that is, would they be pleased to assure us, that henceforward for ever no sort of notice shall be taken of what any man shall think, speak, or do, in regard to God, his neighbour, or himself; it would certainly save a great deal of trouble to law-makers and judges, and would be fine news, not only to the thief and murderer, who still dread the gallows, but also to the defenders of this notion, and to all legal oppressors, tricksters, drunkards, whoremongers, and hypocrites, who fear the future judgments of God, but could settle matters with themselves on a comfortable enough footing, had they nothing to deal with but their own consciences. The news, however, would not be so welcome to a good man, who would not, or to a weak and poor man, who could not, take advantage of it; the news, I mean, that
all the rest of the world is to be let loose on them with impunity.
But let conscience tell the truth, and say, whether her decisions are always just; whether she is not for the most part overpowered by the pleasure proposed in doing evil, or enjoyed in reflection after it is done; and whether, if divine justice, heaven, hell, and human laws, were out of the tion, her rewards would be equal to the glorious deeds and sufferings of some good men, or her punishments adequate to the horrible crimes of others.
I utterly deny that a man of no hopes in another life could possibly persevere in doing good, even to death, in spite of all a tyrant could do to him by his most barbarous persecutions. But supposing the hopeless hath already done it, will any one in his senses say, he hath been sufficiently rewarded? For my part, I think, instead of being rewarded, he is severely punished, for doing good. Poor virtue! if she can no better encourage her most zealous votaries! On the other hand, this tyrant, without fears in futurity, would soon, perhaps immediately, after the murder mentioned, eat, drink, and laugh as usual; for we see he does so, although under some fears of a future reckoning. Nay, we see him in a few hours so perfectly easy, and, soon after that, so apt to boast of what he did, perhaps to repeat it, and even to build a prosperous scheme of worldly wealth and honour upon it, that we cannot help saying, if there is no judgment to come, he is rewarded for being wicked.
Whatsoever may be said to prove that virtue rewards herself, yet I can never think, vice, if she could help it, would be willing sufficiently to punish herself; the character of her impartiality is not so thoroughly established. On the contrary, when she is hampered with a troublesome conscience, instead of turning executioner on herself, she is infinitely more apt to shelter one sort of wickedness in having recourse to another. Drunkenness, of all vices, reprieves the greatest number of criminals, and is very charitable to the rest of the confederacy.
Rewards, however, should be conferred, and punishments inflicted, not so much for the sake of justice in regard to what is past, as with an eye to the encouragement of good,
and the prevention of bad actions in time to come. In this respect, the mere rewards and punishments of reflection, when religion is out of the case, are still more deficient than in regard to justice itself.
How little is to be hoped from such reflections in order to the reformation of him who may, or may not make them, we have already considered; and as to the reformation of others, that is wholly out of the question. The pleasure a man takes in doing good, and the remorse he feels on doing evil, are generally known only to himself, and therefore can have no effect on the rest of mankind; whereas it is the business of divine justice to let the whole world see, by an open distribution of rewards and punishments, what it is to please, or offend God; to do good, or to do evil.
Did virtue appear to the eye of our present nature always so beautiful, and vice always so ugly; and were every good action so fully rewarded, and every evil one so amply punished in the doing, as some men would have us think, all legal distributions of good or evil had been utterly useless. The laws of our country had surely been wholly impertinent in threatening the blackest crimes, which we should be most apt to abhor, with the most terrible punishments, and encouraging us to the best actions, which we should be most apt to love, by proposing their best rewards; nor had they both threatened and promised, after all, so often in vain.
But the whole world hath found by sad experience that human nature is prone to sin; that the thoughts of man's heart are only evil continually;' that 'the heart' itself is desperately wicked,' so that no one can know it, and that therefore it must be hired to good by large premiums, and frightened from evil by the most terrible punishments.
If the understandings of all men, as our libertines insist, were able always, when unbiassed by education, clearly to distinguish between the good and evil action; and if their hearts, as they say, found nothing but pleasure in the former, and pain in the latter; it were surely a wonder, how so many bad actions, and so few good ones, come to be done. Why is the truly good man so great a rarity, that passes for a saint or hero? And why do all ages and