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ON THE PRESENT STATE, AS A STATE of probaTION, IMPLYING TRIAL, DIFFICULTIES, AND DANGER.
ARGUMENT.-The moral government of God implies, that our present life is a state of trial and probation for a future one; the fact of our temporal interest and happiness, whilst we are now under God's natural government, being made to depend upon our conduct here, renders it highly credible that our future interests and happiness will be regulated in an analogous manner; and that as dangers and difficulties beset us in the former, rendering prudence on our parts highly necessary,—so, there is great hazard and risk as to the latter, calling for the exercise of virtue to secure it.
RELIGION teaches us that our present state is one of probation;—the general meaning of which is, that our
future interest is depending upon ourselves; and that there are both scope and incitements to good, and also to bad conduct, which God will reward or punish hereafter.
And, this is almost tantamount to saying, we are under the moral government of God; only the word probation seems more particularly expressive of allurements to wrong, and obstacles in the way of doing right.
As God's moral government implies a state of trial with respect to a future world, so His natural government does with respect to the present one. Now the natural government of God consists in annexing pleasure or pain, of which we are previously apprised, to voluntary actions; and hence our happiness or misery in some measure depends upon ourselves; a temptation to do what will occasion greater temporal uneasiness than satisfaction, is a trial as to our temporal interest. Many in a great degree (and perhaps every one does, in some degree) fail to obtain such a measure of happiness as he might have enjoyed. Many plunge themselves into distress and misery ; and this frequently not through incapacity, but by their own fault. Temptations, therefore to such courses of vice as are contrary to our temporal good, are temptations to forego our present and future in
terest. Thus our natural condition is a state of natural trial, analogous to moral and religious trials.
That which constitutes this trial in both capacities, is something either in external circumstances, or in our nature. For persons may be surprised and overcome into wrong, by sudden or extraordinary external occasions; whence the wrong would be imputable to those circumstances. But men having become habitually vicious, will seek occasions to gratify their evil passions, at the expense of wisdom and virtue, not induced by external temptation, but led by their own lusts. These passions, therefore, are as much opposed to worldly interest, as to religion; and, consequently, are as much temptations to act imprudently, as they are, to act viciously.
However, as when men are misled by external temptation, there must be something within, susceptible of the outward impression; so, when they are misled by passions, there must exist some external object of gratification. And, therefore, temptations from within, and from without, mutually imply each other.
Now, external objects of gratification, offering themselves, as well when they may be indulged in innocently, as also where they can only be so, imprudently and viciously, form a temptation for men to forego their
present interest and good, as well as their future; and we are placed in a state of trial with respect to both, by the very same passions.
Thus, men having a temporal interest depending on their prudent conduct, and an inordinate passion impelling them, they act imprudently, and forego what is, on the whole, their temporal interest for present gratification. And this forms their state of trial in a temporal capacity. Substitute future for temporal, and virtuous for prudent, and it will justly describe our state of trial in a religious capacity.
And as the state of trial in both capacities is analogous, so is men's conduct under it analogous. Carelessly enjoying present gratification, deceived by inordinate passion, or hurried on by it, in spite of their better judgment,-nay, even in open, determined defiance,—they act as foolishly with respect to their future ease and comfort here, as to their happiness hereafter.
Again: As a foolish education, bad example, mistaken notions, throw obstacles in our path of prudence; so the self-same things cause obstacles to spring up in our religious course.
We are evidently in a state of degradation; and one which is not the most advantageous for securing, either naturally or morally, our present and future happiness. But as by care, we may obtain a fair share of
happiness here; so, with respect to religion, no more is required than we are able to do. Hence there is no reasonable ground of complaint.
But the chief point insisted upon is, "That the state of trial which religion teaches us we are in, is rendered credible, because it is uniformly analogous with all the other known dispensations of Providence towards us." Were our natural state one of perfect happiness, security and peace, without any care of our own, then it might afford a presumption against the truth of religion, that it represents our future interest as requiring exertion and self-government to obtain it; for the analogy of our experience would then be against it; and we might say, "the whole of our present interest is secured without care of ours, why not also our future?". But the reverse of this being the case with the one, renders a similar state credible in the other.
As to the specious plea, "that since every thing is certain in God's foreknowledge, it is improbable that any thing should depend upon us;" admitting our present incapacity to judge properly of such things, we may at least say, that our temporal happiness or misery seems to depend upon our conduct; various miseries are caused by negligence and folly, which might have been avoided by prudent conduct; and these miseries are, beforehand, just as contingent as the conduct that produces them.