« VorigeDoorgaan »
nal; though it is a great presumption that God, not having fitted this world to our desires, has fitted our desires to another world, and has not given us these cravings of nature merely to vex us without the possibility of their being satisfied. The things of this world however being temporal, is a proof that they cannot make us happy. Hence religion becomes a very serious concern, since it alone can furnish objects adapted to our natural desires. Is it not then very unnatural to see a man rejoice and triumph in the thoughts that there is no eternal life or happiness? It is indeed better not be, than to be miserable; the thoughts therefore of dropping into eternal silence may be the refuge of guilty fear, but never can be a natural joy to the soul of man, which longs for everlasting life. The only reason why any man can wish there may be no other world is, that he may more freely enjoy this; a wise reason, if we consider the value of this world, and how fleeting the things of it are. So little do men gain by gaining this world, or lose by losing it, that its concerns would weigh but light in this question, were not men guided more by the violence of passion than either by reason or the regular desires of nature. For, secondly, suppose that religion were very uncertain, and a man liable to be deceived in his hopes of future rewards; let us again examine by this rule, that the things which are seen are temporal, the consequence of this mistake, and how much a man would suffer by it. In ordinary life the pleasures that are consistent with innocence will be found to afford more real satisfaction than the vicious man can ever receive from the gratification of his sensual desires. But we will waive this topic, as the text supposes us to give up this world, and submit to many hardships in order to obtain the other; and it is always difficult to submit to the restraints of religion, till men have mastered their appetites, and learned to use this world as not abusing it. Say then, that a man loses the pleasures of this
world in pursuing those of another; his loss must be valued according to the worth of the thing lost. Now the things of this world being very uncertain possessions, their loss cannot be set very high : ill-success and disappointments often render all our labor in pursuing them abortive; and few attain to the end of their desires. This being the case, he that pursues the glories of another world to the neglect of this, may perhaps lose just nothing at all: this point enlarged on. We may learn then, from the nature of worldly possessions and our own experience, what chance a man has of being satisfied with the enjoyments of life, even if he takes the utmost pains for them: possibly he may never get them; for there are many pretenders who are ever jostling one another out: possibly too, if he does get them, they may leave him before he has half done with them, or he may even not relish them; for many things are proved by possession to be but empty and vain allurements. Now this chance for worldly happiness is all that a man quits for religion : this point enlarged on. On the other side, if religion reaches no farther than this life, still it makes men easy under its disappointments; so that whatever the loss of the world may be to a worldly man, yet to a truly religious one it is inconsiderable, as he is comforted and confirmed against such losses by the hopes of more solid enjoyments. Add this therefore to the account, and religion will appear to be the surest step, if not to happiness, yet to ease and contentment: this topic enlarged on, showing that, as things go, it is well if the pain and uneasiness of losing the world be not all we get by pursuing it; whilst religion teaches us that not to enjoy its pleasures is no great mischief : so that, if there be no other world but this, we are sure by religion to get the second best thing that can be had, that is, contentment. Admit that the principal thing is to have and enjoy the things we want; the next best is to be easy without them : the first the world rarely grants ; the next
religion never denies. And thus far we may argue from the nature of worldly things, without making any comparison between them and those of another life; for this comparison will even make it reasonable to choose the sorrows of life for the sake of future glory; since the things which are not seen are eternal. Of the nature of future happiness we know but little : the descriptions of it in Scripture are figurative, and lead not to the true knowlege of its glories: possibly this world affords no notions proper to express the happiness of Heaven, which therefore can be described only by figures taken from our present sense of pleasure; from hence we only argue that the happiness is very great: but we have a clear notion of duration; here therefore the Scripture speaks plain, and tells us that this happiness is for evermore. Whosoever, says our Saviour, believeth in me shall live, though he die; and whosoever believeth on me shall not die eternally. This is the natural happiness of man, since this alone can answer his natural desire of eternal life; and nothing can be more evident to sense than this is to reason, that something has been from all eternity, and shall continue to all eternity; so that our desires of eternity are not loose ill-grounded desires, but have objects in nature fitted to them. This being the case, is it not agreeable to the very instinct of our nature to seek those things which can alone make for our happiness, if by any means we may attain to them? To lead us to them is the work of religion : to be employed in it therefore, is to be employed in the work of nature, which is to seek its own happiness and perfection. If religion be attended with difficulties, yet the glories we attain thereby are worth the purchase: this point enlarged on. It is wise to retire from the pleasures of the world, if it were only to guard against this certain evil consequence, that if we follow things present to the neglect of future happiness, the time will come when our present enjoyments will be past, when things future will be growing into things present: then this evil thought
alone will haunt us, that for the time past we have been comforted, but must be for the time to come tormented. Shortlived as men are, they often outlast the world, that is, its enjoyments : this point enlarged on. Concluding reflexions.
For the things which are seen are temporal ; but the things which
are not seen are eternal.
PART I. The motives to obedience in all religions are thus far the same, that they depend on the belief of another invisible world, and the different state and condition of good and bad men in it: for though it has been maintained, with some show of reason, that virtue is its own reward, and that man's chief happiness would consist in the practice of it, though there were no other rewards annexed to it, yet this, supposing it to be true, is by much too narrow a foundation to build religion on; for this could influence only men of abstracted thought and reason, who are in comparison a very inconsiderable part of mankind. The generality of the world live by sense, and take their measures of happiness not from the remote conclusions of reason, but from their present feeling, from the impressions which are made on them by the things which they deal and converse with every day; and the rewards and punishments of religion are calculated to this sense and feeling, excepting only that they are distant, and not capable of being made the present objects of sense : for the punishments denounced in the gospel against the unrighteousness of men, are such as nature recoils at; such as, according to the sense the world has of misery and pain, are insupportable evils; and the only reason why they operate so weakly on the minds and affections of men is this, that they are not seen. The same may be said of the rewards of the gospel : they contain the very happiness that nature thirsts after,