Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

emblems of authority, accompany the other: and if it is any advantage to have a numerous attendance, without comparison the felon has the greater train.

When the pangs of death are over, does not the difference made between the corpses consist more in appearance than reality? The murderer is dissected in the surgeon's hall gratis, and the rich sinner is embowelled in his own apartment at great expense. The robber, exposed to open air, wastes away in hoops of iron; and the gentleman, confined to a damp vault, moulders away in sheets of lead: and while the fowls of the air greedily prey upon the one, the vermin of the earth eagerly devour the other.

And if you consider them as launching into the world of spirits, is not the advantage, in one respect, on the malefactor's side? He is solemnly assured he must die; and when the death warrant comes down, all about him bid him prepare and make the best of his short time: but the physician and chaplain, friends and attendants, generally flatter the honourable sinner to the last: and what is the consequence? He either sleeps on in carnal security, till death puts an end to all his delusive dreams; or if he has some notion that he must repent, for fear of discomposing his spirits, he still puts it off till to-morrow: and in the midst of his delays God says, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." What wonder is it, then, if, when the converted thief goes from the ignominious tree to paradise, the impenitent rich man passes from his " purple bed" into an awful eternity, and there "lifts up his eyes" in unexpected "torments?"

If these are truths too obvious to be denied, wilt thou, sinner, as the thoughtless vulgar, blunt their edge by saying, with amazing unconcern, "Death is a debt we must all pay to nature?" Alas! this is granting the point; for if all have contracted so dreadful a debt, all are in a corrupt and lost estate. Nor is this debt to be paid to nature, but to justice; otherwise dying would be as easy as sleeping, or any other natural action: but it is beyond expression terrible to thee from whose soul the Redeemer has not extracted sin, the monster's sting: and if thou dost not see it now in the most alarming light, it is because either thou imaginest it at a great distance, or the double veil of rash presumption and brutish stupidity is yet upon thy hardened heart.

Or wilt thou, as the poor heathen, comfort thyself with the cruel thought, that "thou shalt not die alone V Alas! dying companions may increase, but cannot take off the horror of dissolution. Beside, though we live in a crowd, we generally die alone: each must drink the bitter cup, as if he were the only mortal in the universe.

What must we do then in such deplorable circumstances? What but humble ourselves in the dust, and bow low to the sceptre of Divine justice; confessing that since the righteous God has condemned us to certain death, and in general to a far more lingering and painful death than murderers and traitors are made to undergo, we are certainly degenerate creatures, and capital offenders, who stand in absolute need of an almighty Redeemer.

Permit me now, candid reader, to make a solemn appeal to thy reason, assisted by the fear of God. From all that has been advanced, does it not appear that man is no more the favoured, happy, and innocent creature he was, when he came out of the hands of his infinitely gracious Creator? And is it not evident that, whether we consider him as bom into this disordered world, or dying out of it, or passing from the womb to the grave, under a variety of calamitous circumstances, God's providential dealings with him prove that he is by nature in a corrupt and lost estate?

A part, how small! of this terraqueous globe

Is tenanted by man, the rest a waste,

Rocks, deserts, frozen seas, and burning sands,

Wild haunts of monsters, poisons, stings, and death.

Such is earth's melancholy map! But far

More sad, this earth is a true map of man;

So bounded are its haughty lord's delights

To wo's wide empire, where deep troubles toss,

Loud sorrows howl, envenom'd passions bite,

Ravenous calamities our vitals seize,

And threatening fate wide opens to devour! Young.

PART III.

We have hitherto considered man as a miserable inhabitant of a wretched world. We have seen him surrounded by multitudes of wants; pursued by legions of distresses, maladies, and woes; arrested by the king of terrors; cast into the grave; and shut up there, the loathsome prey of corruption and worms. Let us now consider him as a moral agent; and by examining his disposition, character, and conduct, let us see whether he is wisely punished, according to the sentence of impartial justice; or wantonly tormented, at the caprice of arbitrary power.

We cannot help acknowledging it is highly reasonable, First, that all intelligent creatures should love, reverence, and obey their Creator; because he is most eminently their Father, their Master, and their King: Secondly, they should assist, support, and love each other as fellow subjects, fellow servants, and children of the same universal Parent: and, Thirdly, that they should preserve their souls and bodies in peace and purity; by which means alone they can be happy in themselves, profitable to man, and acceptable to God. This is what we generally call natural religion, which is evidently founded upon eternal reason, the fitness of things, and the essential relation of persons.

The propriety of these sanctions is so self evident, that "the Gentiles, who have not the written law, are a law unto themselves, and do (but alas! how seldom, and from what motives!) the things contained in the law:" thus "showing that the work," the sum and substance "of the law," though much blotted by the fall, is still "written in their heart." Nor will it be erased thence in hell itself; for nothing but a sight of the equity of God's law can clear his vindictive justice in the guilty breast, give a scorpion's sting to the worm that gnaws the stubborn offender, and arm his upbraiding conscience with a whip of biting serpents.

Since the moral law so strongly recommends itself to reason, let us see how universally it is observed or broken: so shall matter of fact decide whether we are pure and upright, or polluted and depraved.

TWELFTH ARGUMENT.

Those who reject the Scriptures, universally agree that "all have sinned;" and that "in many things we offend all." Hence it appears that persons of various constitutions, ranks, and education, in all nations, religions, times, and places, are born in such a state, and with such a nature, that they infallibly commit many sins in thought, word, or deed. But one transgression would be sufficient to render them obnoxious to God's displeasure, and to bring them under the fearful curse of his broken law: for, even according to the statutes of this realm, a man who once robs a traveller of a small sum of money, forfeits his life, as well as the bloody highwayman, who for years barbarously murders all those whom he stops, and accumulates immense wealth by his repeated barbarities.

The reason is obvious: both incur the penalty of the law which for. bids robbery; for both effectually break it, though one does it oftener and with more aggravating circumstances than the other. So sure then as one robbery deserves the gallows, one sin deserves death. "The soul that sinneth," says God's law, and not the soul that committeth so many sins, of such and such a heinousness, " it shall die." Hence it is, that the first sin of the first man was punished both with spiritual and bodily death, and with ten thousand other evils. The justice of this sanction will appear in a satisfactory light, if we consider the following remarks:—

1. In our present natural state we are such strangers to God's glory and the spirituality of his law; and we are so used "to drink" the deadly poison of " iniquity like water," that we have no idea of the horror which should seize upon us after a breach of the Divine law. We are, therefore, as unfit judges of the atrociousness of sin, as lawless, hardened assassins, who shed human blood like water, are of the heinousness of murder.

2. As every wilful sin arises from a disregard of that sovereign authority which is equally stamped upon all the commandments, it hath in it the principle and nature of all possible iniquity; that is, the disregard and contempt of the Almighty.

3. There is no proper merit before God, in the longest and most exact course of obedience, but infinite demerit in one, even the least act of wilful disobedience. "When we have done all that is commanded us, we are still unprofitable servants;" for the self-sufficient God has no more need of us than a mighty monarch of the vilest insects that creep in the dust beneath his feet: and our best actions, strictly speaking, deserve absolutely nothing from our Creator and Preserver, because we owe him all we have and are, and can possibly do. But if we transEress in one point, we ruin all our obedience, and expose ourselves to the just penalty of his broken law. The following example may illustrate this observation:—

"a rich man gives a thousand meals to an indigent neighbour, he acts only as a man, he does nothing but his duty; and the judge allows him no reward. But if he gives him only one dose of poison, he acts as a murderer, and must die a shameful death. So greatly does one act oC sin outweigh a thousand acts of obedience! How exceedingly absurd, then, is the common notion, that our good works counterbalance our bad ones! Add to this, that—

4. Guilt necessarily arises in proportion to the baseness of the offender, the greatness of the favours conferred upon him, and the dignity of the person offended: an insulting behaviour to a servant is a fault, to a magistrate it is a crime, to a king it is treason. And what is wilful sin, but an injury offered by an impotent rebel to the infinitely powerful Lawgiver of the universe, to the kindest of Benefactors, to the gracious Creator and Preserver of men: an insult given to the supreme Majesty of heaven and earth, in whose glorious presence the dignity of the greatest potentates and archangels as truly disappears, as the splendour of the stars in the blaze of the meridian sun? Sin, therefore, flying into the face of such a Lawgiver, Benefactor, and Monarch, has in it a kind of infinite demerit from its infinite Object; and rebellious, ungrateful, wretched man, who commits it a thousand times with a thousand aggravations, may, in the nervous language of our Church, be said, in some sense, to deserve a thousand hells, if there were so many.

THIRTEENTH ARGUMENT.

Our natural depravity manifests itself by constant omissions of duty, as much as by flagrant commissions of sin, and perhaps much more. Take one instance out of many that might be produced. Constant displays of preserving goodness, and presents undeservedly and uninterruptedly bestowed upon us, deserve a perpetual tribute of heartfelt gratitude: God demands it in his law; and conscience, his agent in our souls, declares it ought in justice to be paid. But where shall we find a Deist properly conscious of what he owes the Supreme Being for his "creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life?" and where a Christian duly sensible of " God's inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ?" A due sense of his ever-multiplied mercies would fill our souls with never-ceasing wonder, and make our lips overflow with rapturous praise. The poet's language would suit our grateful sensations, and without exaggeration paint the just ardour of our transports:—

Bound every heart, and every bosom burn:Praise, flow for ever; (if astonishment Will give thee leave;) our praise, for ever flow;Praise, ardent, cordial, constant, &c. Is not any thing short of this thankful frame of mind a sin of omission, a degree of ingratitude, of which all are naturally guilty; and for which, it is to be feared, the best owe ten thousand talents both to Divine goodness and justice?

Throw only a few bones to a dog and you win him: he follows you; your word becomes his law: upon the first motion of your hand he flies through land and water to execute your commands: obedience is his delight, and your presence his paradise; he convinces you of it by all the demonstrations of joy which he is capable of giving: and if he unhappily loses sight of you, he exerts all his sagacity to trace your footsteps; nor will he rest till he finds his benefactor again.

Shall a brute be so thankful to a man for some offals, while man himself is so full of ingratitude to God who created him, preserves his life from destruction, and hourly crowns him with mercies and loving kindness! How should shame cover our guilty faces! Surely, if the royal prophet could say," He was a beast before God," may we not well confess that in point of gratitude we are worse than the dullest and most stupid part of the brute creation? For even "the ox," says the Lord, "knoweth his owner," and "the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know" me, "my people do not consider" my daily favours. And if the very heathens affirmed that "to call a man ungrateful" to a human benefactor, "was to say of him all possible evil in one word ;"* how can we express the baseness and depravity of mankind, who are universally so ungrateful to so bounteous a benefactor as God himself!

FOURTEENTH ARGUMENT.

But though we seem made of cold inattention, when the sight of Divine mercies should kindle our hearts into gratitude and praise, we soon get out of this languid frame of mind: for, in the pursuit of sensual gratifications, we are all activity and warmth; we seem an ardent compound of life and fire.

What can be the reason of this amazing difference? What but rebellious sense and wanton appetite, raised at the sight and idea of some forbidden object! The bait of pleasure appears, corrupt nature summons all her powers, every nerve of expectation is stretched, every pulse of desire beats high, the blood is in a general ferment, the spirits are in a universal hurry, and though the hook of a fatal consequence is often apparent, the alluring bait must be swallowed. The fear of God, the most inestimable of all treasures is already gone; and if the sinful gratification cannot be enjoyed upon any other term, a good reputation shall go also. Reason indeed makes remonstrances; but the loud clamours of flesh and blood soon drown her soft whispers. The carnal mind steps imperiously upon the throne; sense, that conquers the greatest conquerors, bears down all opposition; the yielding man is led captive by a brutish lust; and while angels blush, there is joy in hell over the actual and complete degradation of a heaven-born spirit.

Some indeed affirm that these conflicts suit a state of probation and trial. But it is evident that either our temptations are too violent for our strength, or our strength too weak for our temptations; since, notwithstanding the additional help of Divine grace, there never was a mere mortal over whom they never triumphed.

Nor can we exculpate ourselves by pleading that these triumphs of sense over reason are neither long nor frequent. Alas! how many perpetrate an act of wickedness in a moment, and suffer death itself for a crime which they never repeated!

See that crystal vessel. Its brightness and brittleness represent the shining and delicate nature of true virtue. If I let it fall and break it, what avails it to say, "I never broke it before: I dropped it but once: I am excessively sorry for my carelessness: I will set the pieces together, and never break it again V Will these excuses and resolutions

* Ingratum si dixeris, omnia dicia.—Juv.

« AnteriorContinuar »