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arise indeed; but to what? They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honor, and peace to every one that worketh good.
MARK X. 17.
And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled
to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
The question which was here asked our Saviour, What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' comprehends the whole of religion. He that can tell me this, tells me every thing. All knowledge and all faith is but to ascertain this one great point.
• What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' is a question which there is no man or woman living, one would suppose, but must have thought upon. In the height and vigor of health and spirits, when every night brings rest, and every morning joy, when pleasures, new and fresh, are continually presenting themselves to the imagination, it is possible to be so in love with this world, as to forget, or rather wilfully to shut our eyes against the thoughts that it is ever to have an end. But this round of festivity and delight is not every man's portion, nor any man's portion long. The amusements of life flag and slacken. Vexations and disappointments teach us that they are not to be relied upon. We
them with the eagerness of a child who is chasing a butterfly, and who, when he has caught it, finds that he is only grasping painted dust. We find that something more solid than mere diversion and sport must be attended to, to make even the present life comfortable and satisfactory. When we once grow serious, the most awful of all reflections opens itself full before our eyes; namely, that our interests and pleasures and prospects here will soon be finished ; that we have another, and a far greater concern to take care of. There is, we acknowledge, a period of man's life, about the time of his coming to manhood, when, himself and his acquaintance being all young and strong, he, for a course of perhaps nine or ten years, sees little alteration in the world about him. All things appear to stand firm. His enjoyments and connexions seem secure and steadfast. Instances of the fickleness of human affairs happen, but none which reach him. He is not yet admonished by experience, the only lesson which many will attend to, that this world is not the place to set up our staff in; and that we are called upon by the events of life, which is the voice of God himself, to look beyond it. However, this season, so flattering to thoughtlessness, is of short duration. In the course of no great number of years, the most happy and fortunate have examples brought home to them of the uncertainty of every earthly dependence. Their acquaintance drop off; their friends and equals and companions go down into the grave; instances of mortality take place in their own families, or immediately before their eyes. Decay, and change, and death press upon them on all sides, and in a thousand shapes; the scene of the world moves and shifts; the present generation he sees passing along, and soon to be swept away from off the face of the earth. Finding therefore this world to be no abiding place for any one ; that, however it once smiled and delighted, its gay prospects are either gone or going, have either left us or are preparing to leave us ; finding, I say, this; not taught it by others, but finding it out itself, the mind, musing and meditating upon what is hereafter to become of it, into what new scene it shall next be introduced, is powerfully led into the inquiry which the words of the text presents us with, What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' Diversion, or company, or hurry of business may keep this reflection for a while out of our thoughts; but in a silent hour or a wakeful night, in a solitary walk, or a pensive evening, it must and will come over our souls.
• What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' If there be any who have not yet asked themselves this grand question, let me assure them that the time will come, and that it will not be long before it comes, when it will be the only question in the world which they will think worth caring about at all; that, although they may try to remove it from their minds at present as being too awful for their spirits, they will soon come to know, that awful or not, it must be regarded, and inquired after, and searched into. It is, I think, a strong observation, that in managing our worldly affairs, we always consider ourselves as having an interest and concern after our deaths. Now it appears to me to be the very excess of unreasonableness and stupidity to be so careful and so solicitous, so pleased and distressed as we are, about what is to take place after our deaths in this world in which our existence then is only imaginary, and not to provide and look forward to our fate in the next world, where we are to be, where our interest is real and actual, where we shall ourselves feel, where we shall ourselves enjoy or suffer, the happiness or misery which our former conduct has brought upon us.
These observations are made in order to show the deep importance of the question which was proposed to our blessed Lord, and that it is a point which it is natural for every man and woman breathing to think upon most anxiously. I would next wish you to attend to the character and circumstances of the person who proposed the question ; for that is a consideration of some consequence.
If you read St Matthew's account of the transaction, xix, 20, you will find, that the person who addressed this question to our Saviour was a young man ; and that is the circumstance in the history which I desire may be particularly taken notice of. The earnestness and anxiety with which he sought to know what he was to do to inherit eternal life, are most significantly expressed by the manner in which he presented himself to Christ; “And there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' From what he had seen of our Saviour's mighty works, and heard of his divine discourses, he seems to have been assured, that, if ever there was a person appeared in the world who could tell him what he was to do to be saved, our Saviour was that person. This was the question which hung and dwelt upon his mind; and now that he had an opportunity of being informed and satisfied concerning it, he most eagerly and devoutly embraced it. He came running, and kneeled to him. Here therefore you have a youth, in the bloom and vigor of his age, in full possession of every thing which this world can give, for it appears that he was rich as well as young, solicitously searching after eternal life. He knew, that amidst all the pleasures of his age and station, amidst all the delights and recreations of youth, the salvation of his immortal soul was not to be forgotten or neglected ; nay, was the thing which stood before all other things, the business to be regarded with the deepest anxiety. This disposition was highly acceptable to our blessed Lord. • Jesus beholding him, loved him; that is, approved affectionately that pious serious
temper of mind, which led a young man in the midst of health and strength and pleasure, to fix his thoughts upon the concerns of religion. And it is from this example, as well as from the supreme advantage of following it, that I would put it to the consciences of young persons of every rank and station of life, to take
religion betimes. And there is a particular reason to young members of our church for giving attention to this matter at this time, because the bishop is about to hold a public confirmation, which is or ought to be a solemn initiation of young persons into the duties and hopes of a Christian. It is to be considered, with respect to religion, as a point for them to set off from upon their own bottom; as the line from which they start in the great race that is set before them; the term from which they may date their having their spiritual concerns in their own hands, and when it becomes their business to look to themselves and their behaviour, and begin that progress in virtue, which is the only course that can lead them, and which infallibly will lead them, to everlasting peace and rest and happiness in heaven. Such a point, such a term in a man's wife, ought to be marked by some peculiar solemnity. And none seems better suited to the purpose, more becoming, or more affecting, than that ancient rite which Christ's church hath practised for a great many ages past, and which so many wise and good men, who have gone before us in the steps and ways of godliness, have left us to celebrate in the office of confirmation.
I have endeavoured to impress upon your attention that the great question, What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' will one day be the only question we shall care about at all. I will now point out the happiness and wisdom of those who make it their care betimes, in their youth, and during the season of strength and activity. And I will admit that sentiments of religion are not the natural growth of youth, nor to be cherished without training and reflection. With us the case is rather different; the time of our life, or the state of our health, may have reminded most of us that our sojourning here cannot be long. But in youth, as I observed before, every thing wears the appearance of firmness and stability. The appearance, I say, for in truth, it is a delusion. What is the difference of ten or twenty years to eternity? What matters it to those who are dead, whether they died yesterday, last year, or many years ago ; in youth, in manhood, or old age? What, in short will it signify to us? Besides this, young persons are very much deceived in their calculations. The probability of life is not,
as they suppose, in proportion to the shortness of our past years. Many distempers are peculiar to youth ; many which are more dangerous at their time of life than at any other; many common to them with others, and quite as frequent amongst persons of their age as amongst persons of advanced years. Every day's experience proves, the very tombstones in the churchyard show, that, whilst one, now and then, reaches three or four score of years, which all young persons reckon upon as a kind of certainty and calculate upon having before them, by the far greatest number are cut off at a much earlier period, and very inany in the prime of their lives. There is no age that is safe, no constitution that is secure from the visitation of death ; nay, the strongest men and women are more liable to inflammatory disorders than those who are weaker ; and these disorders are more fatal to them than to persons in less vigorous health.
But the grand reason for setting forwards early in a religious course, is undoubtedly this; namely, that as according as a man sets out at first, his character most frequently is fixed for ever, for good or for bad. This is a most solemn consideration indeed, and the fact is so; I mean humanly and generally speaking. Such as is the youth, such is the man. And I further believe it to be true, and the same thing has been remarked by very wise observers of human nature, that the character seldom changes much after the middle of life. I say seldom; I do not say never; because I hold it possible, with the assistance of God's grace, to put away our sins; and that that assistance may always be procured by sincere prayer and corresponding endeavours, forasmuch as whilst God spares life, he spares it,
not willing that any should perish, but that all should come and turn to him.' We therefore do not now talk of possibility ; for who would trust to possibility in a matter which is of infinite moment? we are speaking of probability as gathered from actual experience, and experience proves, that if a person go into a course of vice and irreligion, and hold on in that course through youth to manhood, and from the dawn of manhood towards the middle of life, he seldom changes it effectually. Whether it be owing to the strength of habit, or that the conscience loses its sensibility and timorousness, the fact is so ; and the knowledge of this fact, when they are informed of it by those who would be very unwilling to impose upon them, ought at least to quicken the attention, or rather ought to alarm the fears of young persons, I mean persons from the age of fourteen or fifteen to that of twenty. They ought to consider