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tual assistance in the path of duty, be extricated from all perplexities, made victorious over all enemies, and finally be brought to the enjoyment of eternal felicity. Indeed, whenever we mistake our duty or our interest, or whenever we are cast down on any account, it may be said to us, "Ye "do err, not knowing the scriptures;" and forget that "thus it is written, and thus it must be." We want no other directions, or encouragements, than such as are contained in the Bible: nothing can be added to this perfect rule of faith and practice. All that we can do in this matter to good purpose, consists in calling the attention of mankind to the scriptures, explaining their contents, and exhorting them to believe and obey the divine message: and, if any one, whether he be a moralist or philosopher, an inventor of superstitions, or a pretender to new revelations, attempt to add to the scriptures, or to amend any thing in them; he may be compared to an optician, who should undertake, by new discoveries, and well-constructed glasses, to improve the light of the sun.
Nor is the message of scripture “a vain thing,” or a matter of small importance: Moses therefore added, "because it is your life." "Whatsoever "a man hath will he give for his life," is a maxim that is generally found true, though it was once spoken by the father of lies. The merchant throws his rich freight into the sea, when it endangers his life; and the patient rewards the surgeon for performing some torturing operation, when it is necessary to rescue him from death. In ordinary computations life is deemed our highest interest; capital punishment is regarded as the most formi
dable; and it is an admired, though often a proud and rebellious heroism, when a man prefers death to penury, ignominy, or bondage. Yet our Lord has said, "Fear not them that kill the body, and "after that have no more that they can do; but "fear him, who hath power to destroy both body "and soul in hell:" and, "What is a man profited "if he gain the whole world, and lose his own "soul?" Our temporal life is not principally concerned in the subject before us, but our future and eternal condition. When Christ declares, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, "but the righteous into life eternal;" the same original word is used in both clauses: and the punishment could not be eternal, if the person punished should at length cease to exist. Indeed the strongest expressions of the copious Greek language, that language of speculating philosophers, are used in scripture to denote the eternity of the punishment prepared for the wicked in another world. We are not competent to determine what sin deserves, or how it behoves the Governor of the universe to shew his abhorrence of it. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" It is our wisdom to submit to his justice and to seek his mercy; and not to waste our lives in vain disputations concerning matters too deep for our investigation.
We must, however, close this part of the subject in a summary manner.-It depends on the reception which we give the message of God, whether we shall for ever enjoy his inestimable favour, or feel the weight of his awful indignation; whether our capacity of reflection, memory, and anticipation
shall be our noblest privilege, or our most aggravated misery; whether we shall bear the holy image of God, or be given up to the unrestrained dominion of every hateful passion; and whether happy angels or apostate spirits shall be our companions, during our eternal existence. In the mean time, this must also determine, whether in the present life we shall possess that " peace of "God which passeth all understanding;" or resemble the tempestuous waters of the ocean, in the dissatisfied and unsettled state of our minds; whether we shall pass through life with comfort and usefulness, and meet death in joyful hope; or spend our days in vanity and vexation, and at length be driven away into darkness and despair.
The scriptures certainly require all, who would "declare the whole counsel of God," to use this decided language: and, whatever plausibility may appear in the reasonings or conjectures of those that become the advocates of the heathen, whom St. Paul declared to be "without excuse;" it is impossible, consistently with scripture, to entertain the least hope concerning persons who reject revelation, and prefer their own self-flattering imaginations to the sure testimony of God. It hath therefore been sufficiently shewn, that the subjects of which we treat, as far as we adhere to scripture, are most certain, necessary, and important; and that, in comparison, all the objects, which ambition, avarice, or sensuality pursue, are frivolous as the toys of children, and transient as a dream when one awaketh.
III. Let us then conclude the subject by a practical improvement.
It can scarcely be expected that they, who avowedly disregard all religion, will trouble themselves to attend to these instructions: otherwise we might very forcibly insist on the folly and madness of their conduct. We would say to such men, Do you act upon principle or do you not? If you answer in the affirmative, you profess yourselves to be atheists, or at least to hold sentiments which are practically equivalent to atheism. But does any one of those frantic enthusiasts, whom you despise, imagine so wild an absurdity, as they do, who ascribe this fair creation, in which wise contrivance and boundless goodness emulate each other, to blind chance or necessity; or imagine a Creator who totally disregards the work of his own hands? But, were this absurd principle, which contradicts demonstrable truths, as near to certainty as it is possible, what would you gain by it? Should you at last find yourselves mistaken, your loss would be infinite; should you be right in your notion, you have not the smallest advantage :unless you choose to own, that as you spend your lives it will be an advantage to die like the brutes, and that the atheism of your understandings springs from the depraved affections of your hearts.
But, if you allow that there is a God, who created and governs the world, on whom all are dependent, and to whom all are accountable, how infatuated must you be, to live as if there were none! never to inquire what your Creator commands or forbids! to be indifferent whether he be pleased or displeased! wantonly to do those things, against which your consciences protest, as con
trary to the will of God! bestowing no pains to avert his wrath, when you know you have offended him! but wasting your lives in palling sensualities, ..insipid dissipations, wearisome pursuits, and a constant succession of vain expectations, bitter disappointments, and multiplied crimes, till a hopeless death drops the curtain, and closes the mournful scene!
And are you then entitled, as persons of superior discernment and sagacity, to treat pious Christians with supercilious contempt, as men of weak intellects and disordered minds? when all the instances of credulity and indiscretion, which the whole company of religious people through all generations have exhibited, bear no manner of proportion to the madness and folly of an irreligious life.
Supposing, however, that you do pay some attention to this most important concern, is it not also evident, from the subject we have been considering, that you ought to bestow great pains to discover the true religion, and to discriminate it from all others? Numbers are of opinion, that people should adhere to the religion in which they were educated: but does not this imply that they deem all religion a vain and trifling matter? A nation may retain some inconvenient usages, without much censure: but to support unjust and ruinous laws, because their fathers did so, would imply a most unreasonable and detestable obstinacy. Thus some circumstances in religion may perhaps be retained, because they are deemed venerable for their antiquity; but its grand essentials are "our life," and we are ruined if we