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A FUTURE LIFE, THE MOTIVE TO VIRTUE.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by pa tient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.
CALL to mind that doctrine of revelation, which affords to virtue a stronger motive than any other, and is better than any other adapted to engage mankind in the service of God, and lead them to their intended perfection. Can there be any doubt of the doctrine which we mean? Will any one, who has not discarded all motives of a religious nature, hesitate for a moment to point out that one by which he is principally actuated? What is the most powerful inducement to virtue? Is it not the belief, that it will be rewarded hereafter? And what is the most powerful restraint upon sin? Is it not a belief, that it will be punished hereafter? What is our best consolation in the loss of friends? Is it not that they have gone to be happy, and that we shall see them again? What is our best comfort in every misery, except in that which vice produces? Is it not that we shall soon be received to a state in which there will be no more of it? And in that solemn hour, into which the hopes and the fears, the thoughts and the actions of life are crowded together; when we hear the voice of an awful authority calling upon us to make haste, for it was time that we were gone; when we feel that we must leave all that we ever knew of enjoyment, all that we have ever proved of existence; when we see the veil descending, which is to drop between us and the world forever, what is our support, what is our hope, what is our doctrine then? Are we employed in investigating whether this doctrine be not a sound one, and that other, a heresy? No-the great support of dissolving nature is the trust that it will again be restored to us, and with higher exercises and powers than ever; the blessed hope to which we turn from all dispute and noise, is the hope of immortality; the great question which lingers on the tongue till it can articulate no longer, and then stays upon the mind till reason leaves it, is this: "If a man die shall he live again?"
All our hopes, fears and thoughts concerning our future state. thus rest upon the previous belief, that there is a future state. If we are told, that no christian ever thinks of doubting that there is another life, we answer that we are glad, and that no christian ever should think of doubting it; but we ask in our turn, why he never thinks of doubting it? Because it is so plainly revealed in the christian scriptures; because the whole christian dispensation is founded upon it and because Christ himself died to confirm it; because, in short, he is a christian. The heathen thought of doubting it; in fact, they never thought of it with certainty; and it is a full belief in this doctrine, as taught and proved by Jesus Christ, which, together with its proper effects, makes a man a christian. If therefore the doctrine of immortality be our highest motive, consolation and hope, it takes the greatest share in enabling us to fulfil the design of God in our creation, by making ourselves virtuous and happy; that is to say, it is the most important doctrine of revelation. With this doctrine is connected that of equal rewards and punishments; our future state will be a state of exact retribution. Every good deed will produce its happy, and every bad deed, its evil influence upon our condition hereafter.
CRIMINALITY OF FALSEHOOD.
Speak every man the truth to his neighbour.
WE should suppose the odious vice of lying would be so deeply and generally detested, as to work its own cure. But, every day we have reason for distrust and caution. We cannot give implicit faith to the declarations we hear, or the movements we notice. I shall mention but a few instances.-I. A common mode of lying is, by exaggeration. There are persons who deal altogether in superlatives, who cannot endure a plain honest delineation. Hence we find them swelling and stretching a description beyond nature and truth. This impairs the power of accurate discrimination, and perverts the moral sensibility.-II. Another mode is by equivocation; clothing our thoughts in words, which we intend shall bewilder, or shall convey a meaning different from the one in our minds. This ballancing of remarks upon a pivot, leaving them to weigh one side or the other, as interest shall afterwards demand, shows a deep and watchful dishonesty.-III. A third mode is, by flattery. The flatterer, without feeling any alarm, puts on the garb of honesty. How disgusting to hear men repeating over to every attractive face, the same alphabet of warm professions. The sincere and feeling expressions, which are sacred to friendship, are debased to the langguage of imposition. Is it any palliation for having poisoned your friend, that what you gave him was concealed in honey ?-IV. Another mode is, in common business. Base enough is he, who represents his goods in a light he knows they do not deserve; making his quantity of praise rise in proportion to the ignorance of his customer. This has produced a lamentable state of incredulity, and confidence is no where safe.-V. Another mode is, in small things. The evil here is great. He who deceives me to day in a trifle, will tomorrow become bold enough to attempt more.-VI. Another mode is, in speaking of characters. The evil here is greater. One rash or prejudicial word may cast a stain upon a character which can never be wiped off. Put the case to yourself. Think with what feelings you hear an ill founded and malicious report about yourself; and that report too, carried from fireside to fireside in the form of a secret-a form which generally secures its currency. We see persons who are willing to pull down from their elevation those with whom they cannot rise to an equality. Do you think the criminality of such envy and malice, small? The slanderer is the incendiary of society.-Truth is violated, too, by excessive praise, bestowed on men whose office or wealth only protects them from general execration.-VII. Another mode is, in expressing opinion. There are persons who will tell the truth, but not the whole truth. He who adds to, or withholds from, a narration, any fact which belongs to it, is a falsifier; and sacrifices the principle which binds society together. We fear there are some who esteem lightly the solemnity of an oath; some, who have invited the eye of God to witness their perjury!
Falsehood is dishonourable, for there is a tacit agreement among men to speak the truth to each other.-It is fatal to a man's worldly interest; and it is strictly forbidden by christianity.
Falsehood thou misery making demon;
It is thou that fill'st our life with wo.
Truth! sustainer of the world, and God's own friend.
WIDOW AND FATHERLESS.
Pure religion and undefiled, before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
AT this inclement season are there no widows and fatherless who need your aid? Do they live in your neighbourhood? God then has committed them to the care of your charity. He has given you, that you may give them; he has thus afforded you the opportunity of making yourself and others happy. He calls you to be a fellow labourer with him in providing for his great family. Yours it is to enjoy the luxury of doing good, of relieving distress, of comforting sorrow. You see a widow surrounded by her dependent, helpless and suffering children. She feels the severe pressures of poverty, has but few opportunities of relieving her distress. She has the strongest of all claims to your prompt and generous charity. Her family has experienced the sad change from comfort and safety, to want and fear. Poverty and humiliation found them, perhaps, unprepared; their claim on your compassion therefore is of singular weight and urgency; they are poor and have known better days; they deserve your pity, and want your aid, in common with all the fatherless and indigent, and they deserve and want them the more, because they knew not that they should ever need them; because their life was a life of hope, and because that hope is gone. They had comforts; those comforts are fled. Put yourself in their place. Their's is a bitter sorrow, a marked, a melancholy destitution. The sufferings you can, but do not relieve, you may be said to inflict.Look, then, once more, on that little group, left to the bleak mercy of public provisions! If I had an angel's eloquence, such a family would deserve it all, to plead for their supply. Shall the early years of those children be consigned to the pains, disappointment, ig norance and deception of penury? God has not abandoned them, for he has appointed you the almoner of his bounty. He calls to you from heaven-will you not hear, succour and relieve? Your duty is its own reward. Thus it is that the Almighty compensates, even in this world, the evil which he inflicts on one, by the good which he dispenses to another; that very dispensation indicates his pleasure, and thus is it that he keeps alive the great principle of charity upon its right foundation, a reference to him and to his goodness. They whom you relieve will bless heaven that you were the instruments of good to them; and you yourselves, if you see not in your habitual enjoyments your constant dependence upon the Author of all happiness, yet will you not fail to see it in the privations and wants of others. You might have been as they; even yet you may know, like them, the bitterness of humbled fortune. If you may never know the pangs of poverty, yet shall you know sorrow, and sickness, and the dread of death. Take with you the blessings of these children, and their afflicted mother; take with you the soothing consciousness that you have used aright the benefits which you enjoyed, and that you have been to your fellow creatures merciful and tender and bountiful, as the Almighty was to you, and because he was so; take with you this holy consolation, and it shall not depart from you in sorrow, in sickness, or in death; whatsoever faileth, this shall not fail; it shall live with you here ; it shall not die hereafter !
But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again?
THESE remarks against mourning apparel, are admitted with the sincerest kindness towards the afflicted.-These trappings of grief seem indifferent and childish where there is real grief; and where there is not, they are a mockery. The principal objections against the custom of wearing mourning apparel, are, that it is useless, inconvenient and expensive.
For what use does it serve? To remind me that I am in affliction? I do not need any such memento. To point me out to others as a mourner? I do not wish to be so pointed out. Shall the sable garb be adopted then, because it is grateful to my feelings,— because it is a kind of solace to me? I can gain no consolation from it.
But if the custom is useless, its inconvenience forms a still greater objection. It is inconvenient, because it throws the care of purchasing and making clothes, upon a family, at the very moment, when on every account it most needs seclusion and quietness-when, worn out with care and watching and sorrow, it needs retirement and relief. There is a shocking unseemliness, I had almost said, a sacrilege in turning the house of death into a shop for the dress maker ! Who that has ever witnessed what is passing on one of these occasions,-who that has seen the broken hearted victims of affliction brought forth to be dressed up as pageants, and harassed with inquiries about mourning gowns and bonnets, or heard, intermingled with their sighs and tears, paltry and vain discussions about the adjustments of mourning caps and ribbons,-who, I say, has not felt that all this is inconvenient, ill-timed and unbecoming, beyond what any force of language can express?
But the greatest objection after all, to the use of mourning apparel is the expense. That the expense presses heavily upon the poor is a matter very well known, and, I believe, very generally regretted. But this is not all; it presses heavily upon the body of the community. None but the opulent, in fact, can easily afford it.— There are few families in the country, with whom the expense of mourning apparel does not form a burdensome addition to the bills of the merchant.-Besides, this is the most expensive kind of apparel; and there is always on these occasions-from haste and the natural improvidence of an afflicted mind, about worldly thingsthere is a great deal of extravagance and waste. And more than all; this expense comes at a time when of all times, it can be least easily borne. It comes in addition to all the expenses of sickness, the paying of attendants, and the charges of the physician. It comes, perhaps, at the very moment, when the main support and reliance of a family is taken away. When the husband, the father, the provider, is cut off when he has departed from the world with no feeling of distress so deep, as that he was to leave destitute those who were dearer to him than life,then it is, that the desolate and deprived, under a false notion of showing respect to him, are obliged, by the customs of society, to abridge the already narrow means on which they have to rely. How many are the cases in which a considerable portion, and even the whole of what remains for the widow and the fatherless, is expended, not in providing for their wants, but in merely arraying them for their desolate condition.
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order.
A WHOLE book or epistle should be read at once, if its full force and appositeness would be clearly perceived. Every attentive student of the New Testament generally has his favourite author.— While one admires the ardour of Peter, another prefers the sedate accuracy of James.-One is delighted with the methodical comprehension of Luke, and another is absorbed in the classick glow of Paul. To one, the quiet unpretending detail of Matthew is most agreeable, while another is wholly charmed with the heavenly spirit and simplicity of John.-It is allowable to cherish these associations with the various writers of scripture, if they lead us to more frequent perusal and a warmer love of them. A passage, or section, or entire book, may have been peculiarly blessed in the perusal, by awakening conscience to a sense of sin, opening the understanding, to the knowledge of divine sovereignty and grace, leading to thorough conviction, and conversion, and sanctification. Or, it may have afforded, in some hour of temptation or trial, the needed motive and help to duty; or, under the anguish of bereavement or the wasting of disease, may have given the "abundant consolation and good hope through grace," which to be duly prized, must have been experienced. Independent of these causes, it is not unusual, that the appropriate manner of composition, or manifest indications of personal character, may be easily discerned in each of these writers, may lead some, perhaps all of us, more frequently to recur, and usually with greater pleasure and profit, to one than to another of these sacred authors.
The book of Matthew, the first in order, and most probably the first prepared and published, is the work of a converted Jew of natural good understanding, well versed in the scriptures of the Old Testament, and who was himself the witness and hearer of most that he relates. The second writer, Mark, was not one of the twelve; but was assisted by information received from Peter. His narrative has, by a few, been called the gospel according to Peter, not meaning thereby to claim it as the work of this latter, so much, as to give additional value to the book, as having the concurrent sanction of that disciple, who, perhaps, as closely and constantly, as any one of the brethren, attended on our Lord's ministry. Luke, the penman of the third gospel, was likewise not a companion of our Saviour; but the intimate companion, and assistant in preaching, of Paul, as Mark was of Peter. He appears to have possessed strong natural powers, as well as considerable learning, and is, without doubt, he, of whom affectionate notice is taken, in the epistle to the Colossians, as the "beloved Physician." The last gospel, in the order of arrangement, that of John, is manifestly posteriour in date to the others, and contains much internal evidence, of the correctness of the traditionary account, that it was prepared, by this favoured companion of Jesus, to supply the omissions of his predecessors, and with express reference to some errours, which at the time of his writing it, (probably about the year XC. of our era,) began to be advanced, on the subject of the person of the Saviour. He, all must remember, was honoured by a title, infinitely more exalting, even than that just quoted, as ascribed to his brother in Christ, by Paul.