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of the divine perfection, sometimes given by wise and good men? Would it be suitable to the instruction in the text, and the consequence thence deduced? "The Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."
Man is the most excellent part of this lower creation. His rational faculties give him a vast superiority above the rest of the beings on this earth. Nevertheless, he is on some ac counts the least provided for of any, if there be no future state: and his rational powers the least of all taken care of. He has a discernment between good and evil: and a power of choosing. the one, and refusing the other. He is therefore the subject of moral government, and accountable to his Creator, who is all-knowing, and all-powerful. But this moral government of the Divine Being would be very imperfectly administered if there are to be no other distinctions made between good and bad, than those in this present life.
Supposing such a being formed, as just described, he will certainly be rewarded or punished, according to his choice and conduct. As that is not done now, it is reasonable to expect that it shall be done hereafter in another state.
A learned writer discoursing on this very point, has this observation. Were there to be no life hereafter, every man would undoubtedly be happy or unhappy here in proportion to his virtues and vices. All the events and dispensations of Providence would turn upon this hinge, and the blessings of heaven be distributed by this rule. But since we find it in fact very 'much otherwise, the doctrine before us seems as clear and certain, as that God "loveth ⚫ righteousness, and hateth iniquity.'
What encouragement would there be to deny present appetite and inclination? or to forego private interest for the sake of the public? What inducement could there be, with present self-denial, to seek the happiness of particular persons, if there be no future recompenses?
What profit could there be of the study of virtue? What inducement to advance therein, if the progress of it is to come to an end at death, and can last no longer, at the utmost, than the period of this very short and uncertain life? What benefit has such a one from his labour and application in the highest design conceivable? What profit has he of his labour, who has contemplated the divine perfections, who has considered the reason of things, the beauty of virtue, and the deformity of its contrary: who has moderated and subdued his affections, till he has gained in a great measure the conquest of anger, ill-will, envy, and every passion, or legree of it, that is unworthy his nature? What profit, I say, is there of this labour and increase, if this noble design is to come to an end at the period of this mortal life?
This might be an indelible blemish on the divine government, if it could be supposed. For it is as easy for God to raise to another life, or to continue the rational life, the thinking power, as to bestow it at first.
This argument therefore for a future state, which reason affords from the consideration of the divine perfections, and the circumstances of things in this world, is conclusive.
It is also obvious. And accordingly different recompenses for good and bad, in another state after this, have been the general belief and expectation of all nations and people upon the face of the earth. And hereby some have been animated to great and generous actions: and have been induced, with much disinterestedness, to promote religious truth, and virtuous conduct among their fellow-citizens and countrymen and have at length freely and deliberately submitted to sufferings from overruling power and malice: when by compliance with the majority, and recanting the principles they had recommended, they might have saved themselves, and obtained preferment.
2.) I shall now consider objections.
Obj. 1. It may be said: did not some of the ancient heathens, and particularly some of the philosophers, dispute or deny this doctrine ?
To which I answer, that some persons entering far into abstruse and metaphysical speculations about the Deity, and matter, and the human soul: and taking offence at the vulgar, prevailing sentiments concerning future rewards and punishments, as low and mean, might dispute the truth of this expectation, or admit of doubts about it. But that future recompenses were
Five Sermons, &c. p. 84, 65.
the common belief of heathen people, is evident from many ancient writings still extant. And if some, and those of reputed knowledge and learning, did by some discourses weaken this expectation, it does not follow, that there was no good foundation for it in reason. For it is not uncommon for men, by prejudice and false reasonings, to be misled against evidence: as we still see among Christians. The Sadducees in our Saviour's time denied the resurrection of the body, and all rewards after this life. But yet it cannot be said, that the Jewish people at that time had no good reason to expect another life after this.
Obj. 2. St. Paul says, that Jesus Christ" had abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, through the gospel," 2 Tim. i. 10. True. But these expressions are to be understood comparatively, not absolutely: as if a future state of immortal life had been altogether hid from men till the coming of Christ. For it is certain, that among the Jews at least there were expectations of a resurrection, and of eternal life. And the apostle to the Hebrews, speaking of the ancient patriarchs, says: "they confessed, that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth and looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God," Heb. xi. 10, 13. The meaning therefore of that text is, in general, that the doctrine of a future state had been set in a much clearer light by the gospel than before.
Obj. 3. St. Paul writing to the Christians at Ephesus, who were once in the darkness of heathenism, reminds them: "that at that time they were without Christ, being alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world," Eph. ii. 12.
But these expressions should not be understood absolutely, as if those persons had not, and could not have any knowledge of God, or hopes from him. For in the epistle to the Romans the apostle says of Gentile people, that "whereas they knew God, they glorified him not as God" and that "they knew the judgment of God," though they did not act accordingly, Rom. i. 21, 22. Therefore those Ephesians also, before their conversion to Christianity, were without God, and without hope, comparatively. They had not that knowledge, and that hope, which they now had through the gospel, nor which the Jews had; they having been, in their Gentile state, strangers from the covenants of promise, delivered to that people.
Obj. 4. Still it may be urged: would it not be more for the honour of the gospel, to suppose, that a future state is an entirely new discovery? Would it not tend to induce people, who have -only the light of nature, to embrace the Christian religion, if they were told, that they have not any ground at all for the belief of a future life, and that revelation alone can give men hopes . of it?
I answer: no. This would not be of use. If you met a heathen, who already had an apprehension of future recompenses for good and bad: [which is certainly the general expectation of all people upon the face of the earth: though their ideas may be low and imperfect, yet however somewhat inviting and agreeable for the good, and disagreeable and frightful for the bad:] would you venture to tell him, that he has no foundation for such a belief?, and that it is to be had from the gospel only? I think we should be cautious of saying any thing which would tend to diminish in men honourable apprehensions of the Deity.
It cannot but be of advantage for men to have honourable sentiments of God, as a Being of wisdom, power, righteousness, goodness and equity. Otherwise, what reason can they have to receive a revelation which may be depended upon as true and genuine?
And it must always be sufficient to induce men to receive a revelation, to shew them, that it has uncontested marks and evidences of a divine original, from miraculous works performed -in support of it: and that it affords men many advantages, superior to those of the light of
Accordingly, St. Paul was not wont to deny or contest, but to improve the natural notions which men had of religion. This we perceive in his discourse at Athens, saying: "God that made the world, and all things therein, does not dwell in temples made with hands: neither is he worshipped with men's hands, as if he needed any thing:" and, that "he is not far from every one of us," Acts xvii. 24, 25. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being. As certain also of your own poets have said: for we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think, that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device," ver. 27-29: And in another discourse to heathen people he says: "God had not [in former times] left himself without witness, [though he had not given
them an express revelation,] forasmuch as he did good, and gave us rain, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness," chap. xiv. 17.
And it seems to me, that St. Paul often argues the truth and certainty of future recompenses in a rational way, much in the same manner that we have now done, from the consideration of the present state of things, and the perfections of the Divine Being: "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God, to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven-to take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel," 2 Thess. i. 6, 7. This, he says, is a righteous thing with God: that is, it is reasonable, and fit, and becoming the divine perfection.
And in the epistle to the Hebrews it is said: "He that cometh to God, must believe, that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," Heb. xi. 6. Which is as much as to say, that there can be no religion without believing, that God is, and that he is a rewarder of virtuous and upright, and an avenger of evil men. If therefore the light of nature does not teach these principles, there can be no natural religion: and they who have not the benefit of revelation, are excusable in their irregularities. But that is contrary to the apostle's long and full argument at the beginning of the epistle to the Romans. Where he Where he says: "That which may be known of God is manifest in them:-For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. So that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God," Rom. i. 19-21. And again: "As many as have sinned without law," that is, who have not had the benefit of revelation," shall also perish without law," chap. ii. 12. They shall not be judged by a revealed law, but by the laws and rules of reason only.
3.) In the third place I proposed to take notice of some inquiries relating to this matter. But they shall be these three only, as of special moment.
Question 1. What notion could men form of the future recompenses of good and bad by the light of reason?
I answer: it is highly probable, that their ideas would fall much short of those which revelation is able to afford. But, in general, men might refer themselves to the judgment of God, as equitable and impartial. They would, it is likely, suppose the virtuous to be separated from the wicked and whilst these are punished with a variety of torments, they would conceive the virtuous to be disposed of in some delightful regions, and abodes, enjoying intellectual entertainments, or the pleasures of the mind: improving themselves and one another in agreeable conversation, and contemplating the Deity, the all-perfect mind, and those works of his with which they are acquainted, and continually advancing in the discovery of truth, and the improvement of virtuous habits.
Q. 2. Does reason afford any ground to suppose, that the future state of happiness for good men will be eternal, or of perpetual duration?
I think it does. For life, which is to come to an end, is not a reward for a rational being, who aspires to immortality. The period in view, though at the distance of many years, or ages, as we now compute time, would blast every enjoyment, and reduce the happiness of the most agreeable situation to nothing, and render it mere vanity and emptiness.
Moreover, we suppose, these beings, in a state of recompense, to be past a state of trial, and to be so confirmed in virtue, and to be so much out of the way of temptations, as to be in little or no danger of transgressing any reasonable laws, and of thereby offending God. What reason then can be assigned, why they should be removed, or their condition be altered for the worse?
Once more: these virtuous beings, once placed in a state of great advantage, will be continually improving in knowledge and virtue. The temper of the mind, and their adorations, and all their services, will be more and more perfect and delightful; and also more acceptable to the Deity. Their love of God is continually growing more and more ardent, and their desire toward him more strong and vehement. How contrary to reason is it to suppose, that these so improved beings should be at length destroyed or annihilated, with the approbation and by the almighty power of God!
As the learned writer, before cited, says: The longer virtuous men live in such a state, the fitter they must be for life: and therefore we may presume, the less will be the danger of
As before, p. 95.
extinction. Their faculties must grow, their capacities enlarge, and all their improvements increase, through every part of duration. Great advances must be ever made in knowledge, virtue and happiness. They must be continually more and more capable of contemplating, • admiring and enjoying the Author of all good, and the fountain of all perfection. To imagine, ' after this progress, and these exaltations of nature, that God should cut the thread of their existence, and put an end to their being, is to suppose him acting, so far as we can judge, con'trary to the reason of things, and the chief ends of the creation.
Q. 3. Does reason teach us to hope, that good men may pass directly into a state of happiness after death? Or, does it not leave room to apprehend, that imperfectly good men must after this life undergo some farther trial for their purification, before they enter upon a state of unmixed happiness, free from all grief and pain?
Here I apprehend reason to be at a loss: and that it must leave this point undecided. All that can be done is for men, in that case, to resign themselves to God, and refer themselves to his equitable judgment and disposal: hoping, and believing, (if they have here endeavoured to approve themselves to him by an upright conversation) that he will not leave them utterly to perish: and that he will some time, either immediately after death, or after some farther trials and purifications, admit and advance them to a condition of much comfort and joy.
I presume, this may be a just solution of this question. We may be confirmed in it by the consideration, that the doctrine of transmigrations has been very common among those who have had no other instruction than the light of nature.
4. I shall now conclude with the four following reflections.
1.) We hence perceive, that we have great reason to be thankful to God for the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherein there is so clear and affecting evidence of another life, suited to the capacities of all men: and also a just and attractive representation of the glory and happiness of it. A future state, as ascertained, and described in the gospel, affords the best support under the afflictions, and the best assistance against the temptations of this world.
2.) This discourse may confirm our faith in the gospel revelation, and the assurances it gives of everlasting happiness for them that walk uprightly, or that believe in Jesus Christ, and obey
Christians who exercise their rational powers, and perceive the principles of revelation to be reasonable, cannot but be firmly established in the belief of them. They have the evidence of a two-fold argument: reason, and divine authority. Though the representation, which revelation gives of the future happiness for good men, surpasseth all that mere reason could encourage to hope for, that creates no difficulty. The thing is received with ready assent. God does not appear worse, but better; more gracious, more bountiful, than the reason of men alone presumed to think. And the mind being enlarged by the discoveries of revelation, it cheerfully admits the noblest and most delightful idea of the future recompenses.
3.) This argument may deserve the serious consideration of those who reject revelation. For whether there be any revelation from God or not, there will be a reckoning, and suitable retributions after this life. Reason teaches as much beyond the possibility of a fair confutation, or well grounded doubt and question. You will come into judgment after death, and receive according to the things done in the body. Let not then any shyness of that awful proceeding, which the gospel speaks of, in a general day of judgment, form any unhappy prejudice in the minds of any. For reason itself teaches, that the actions of men will pass under a review, either in public, in one general judgment, or in particular: and that a retribution will be made accordingly.
Let all therefore attentively consider the evidences of the gospel revelation. For if it be attested by good evidence, and should be rejected by men, to whom it is proposed, this is one thing of which they will give an account.
4.) Lastly, the argument from reason in behalf of future recompenses, may be made use of as a warning to some weak and inconsiderate Christians: and establish the persuasion, that "without holiness no man shall see God," or attain to happiness in a future state.
The cogent argument for a future state, now proposed, is founded upon the divine perfections. God is not here, in this world, an avenger of evil, or a rewarder of good, so fully as is reasonable to expect. Consequently there will be another state, and farther recompenses for good and bad, according to their works here. No revelation therefore can propose an act of
grace for obstinate and impenitent sinners. Reason and Revelation concur, and are entirely harmonious. Both say: "There is no peace to the wicked." And: "It shall be well with the righteous." But revelation excels in the justness of its descriptions of the misery of the one, and the happiness of the other.
THE GOSPEL THE TRUE WAY OF SALVATION.
And they said: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts xvi. 31.
THESE Words contain an answer to a very important question: "What must I do to be saved?" And we have reason to think, that it is here rightly answered. It does therefore deserve our serious and attentive observation.
St. Paul was now at Philippi, a Roman colony, and large city in Macedonia; where he preached the gospel, without any very great molestation that we know of, till he healed the indisposition of the maiden said to have a spirit of divination:" by whom some artful men had made profit, pretending to answer the curious inquiries of people concerning divers matters. These, now deprived of farther gain in that way, raised a clamour against the apostle, and those with him, saying, that " they troubled the city, and taught customs contrary to their laws, as Romans." And they so far incensed both the people and the magistrates, that Paul, and Silas one of his fellow-labourers, "were beaten, and thrust into prison." But there being in the night an earthquake, which was plainly miraculous: the prison being shaken, the doors opened, and the fetters of all the prisoners loosed, whilst yet no one escaped: the keeper of the prison, who before had heard somewhat of Paul and Silas, and had some general notion of their doctrine, now terrified, and perceiving this extraordinary event to be a divine interposition in their favour, put to his prisoners, with solicitude, and with respect and esteem, hoping for a full and satisfactory answer, that momentous question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
We need not, I think, hesitate to understand this question in the most comprehensive sense. This person could not be ignorant of the general principles of religion, so far as usually known by heathen people, living in the politer cities of Greece, and the Roman empire, who all had some notions of a future state. Moreover, Paul and his fellow-labourers had been some time at Philippi. And the young woman before-mentioned, had followed them in the streets of the city, many, that is, several days, crying aloud: "These men are servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation." When therefore the keeper of the prison says: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" the question cannot be reckoned less important for the meaning, than that put to our Saviour by the young man among the Jews, related in the gospels: "What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" Matt. xix. 16; and Mark x. 17. Änd it is put, as it seems, with a better temper than that was.
The answer to that inquiry is in the text. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved:" that is, Believe in Jesus Christ as a divine teacher, and receive the doctrine taught by him, and you will know how you may be saved. Observe and follow the precepts and rules of that doctrine, and you will obtain salvation.`
The former may be thought the primary and most obvious meaning of the words: but the latter is also implied. The question is: What must I do to be saved?" The answer is: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ: and thou shalt be saved." That is, you will know what you ought to do in order to obtain salvation; you will have all the means of salvation, every thing requisite for your direction and assistance. Consequently, if you observe and follow the rules contained in the religion of Jesus Christ, you will be saved.
There are therefore three things to be spoken to. First, the direction here given: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Secondly, the benefit proposed and annexed thereto: " And thou