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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: Theb 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 extinction. Their faculties must grow, • their capacities enlarge, and all their improvements in* crease, 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 con
templating, admiring and enjoying the Author of all good, 6 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, . contrary 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.
b As before, p. 95.
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 gospelrevelation, and the assurances it gives of everlasting happiness for them that walk uprightly, or that believe in Jesus Christ, and obey his commandments.
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 recompences.
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 recompences, 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 recompences 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 “ 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 cus
toms 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 show unto
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. And it is put, as it seems, with a better temper than that
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 shalt be saved." Thirdly, the connection between faith in Jesus Christ and salvation, with the evidence of it.
I. In the first place I should show, what is meant by. “ believing on the Lord Jesus Christ."
One thing plainly implied is, believing him to be a divine teacher sent from God; and that he is the Christ, or the Messiah, the great person spoken of by the prophets, and whom God had promised to send. This we may learn by comparing some texts in the gospels.
In the sixteenth of St. Matthew is an account, how our Lord asked the disciples concerning the opinions which men had of him, and then their own. And when Peter answered, for himself, and the rest : “ Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;" he commended him, and declared him blessed.
Again, John vi. 68, 69, “ Peter answered, and said, Lord, to whom should we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
John xi. 37, Martha says: “ Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” And at ver. 41, 42, of the same chapter, our Lord having, at the grave of Lazarus, addressed a particular thanksgiving to the Father, adds: “ And I know that thou hearest me always; but because of the people that stand by, I said it; that they might believe that thou didst send me.”
John xvi. 30, the disciples say: “ By this we believe, that thou camest forth from God." And in the following chapter, our Lord, in his prayer and thanksgiving to the Father, says: “ This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And of the disciples he says: ver. 8, “ They have surely known, that I came out from thee; and have believed, that thou didst send me."
John vi. 28, 29, “ Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God ? Jesus answered, and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
And it is often taken notice in the gospels, that many believed on Jesus, but the pharisees believed not; that is,