Page images

which they saw as through a mist, having no solid argument by which they could establish, to their own satisfaction, the truth of so wonderful a doctrine. But whereas the Philosophers employed themselves in anxious inquiries relating to the chief good; whereas Epicurus with his followers denied the immortality of the soul, while with much wavering and hesitation it was defended by Socrates and Plato, and held only as an uncertain conjecture by the Brahmins of India and the Druids of Gaul; and whereas the Poets enveloped the whole doctrine of a future state in numberless fables;-the glories of eternity are now clearly and certainly revealed in the Gospel, that we may not only believe, but so anticipate them in our own souls, that from what we now possess, perceive, and taste, our faith may rise to full assurance.

LXXXI. Mahommed, when he intends to point out the highest rewards which he teaches his followers to expect, speaks of nothing but carnal enjoyments. The splendid mansions of Paradise; chambers containing couches of gold, and strewed with silk, tapestry, and precious stones; an unknown abundance of silver and gold; waters whiter than snow and sweeter than honey, and nigh them as many crystal glasses as there are stars in heaven; a table of adamant, with chairs of gold and silver; oranges to be presented to each of the guests, which they no sooner smell, than straightway, the most beautiful virgins burst forth from them to embrace the followers of Mahommed ;-these, and other things of the same sort, or still more absurd, which it would be tedious and disgusting to detail, are the remunerations which that impostor proposes.

LXXXII. Nor do the Jews discover a greater share of wisdom and sobriety, when they talk of the magnificent

feast of their Messiah, consisting of a woodland ox formed and fattened for the purpose, of the fish Leviathan, of the bird Bar Juchna, and of wines of the most delicate flavour produced in paradise, and reserved in Adam's cellar till the last day. Their ravings about these things are so ridiculous, that Manasseh himself was ashamed of them, and laboured strenuously, how unsuccessfully soever, to convert them into allegories. They entertain opinions wretchedly erroneous with regard to the condition of separate souls; which they represent as wandering about their own corpses, prompted by the love they bear for them, for a whole year after death; and as frequently employed for performing magical arts, by Demons that infest the air. The metempsychosis also, or the transmigration of souls into other bodies, was believed by the ancient Pharisees; and it is still maintained by the modern Cabbalists. They debase, too, the doctrine of the resurrection, by a multitude of fables, such as that which they tell of an incorruptible small bone in the chine-bone of the back, from which alone, after the rest of the body shall have been consumed, it may be entirely recovered and restored; and of a certain celestial dew, by which that bone is to be mollified and extended, like leaven which diffuses itself through the whole mass;-to pass over the fable of the rolling of bodies through secret passages of the earth to Palestine, that they may be raised up in that country. All these notions are equally contrary to the dictates of sound reason, and the doctrine of sacred writ.

LXXXIII. How much more noble and sublime is the divine doctrine of the Gospel, which teaches us that the happiness of man is not to be sought in created objects, far less in those gross and animal pleasures


3 P


which gratify his bodily appetites; but in the pious contemplation, the delightful enjoyment, and the holy resemblance of the Supreme Being:-that, through the grace of God and of Christ, the beginnings of these felicities are imparted to true believers even in the present life, and are more richly conferred on the souls of the godly at death, that, released from the body of sin, they may rejoice in the embraces of God and the Redeemer, till, at last, being re-united to their bodies, which shall be raised up to glory, they experience God, without the intervention of any medium, to be to them “all in all.” These blessings are truly sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul that is desirous of the highest good; and beyond these, is nothing desirable, which it either knows or seeks. And who can question the truth and Divinity of that doctrine, which so clearly teaches, and so strongly assures us of, so great a felicity! Who would not rejoice that, after the reign of the grossest darkness, this Gospel has been so extensively preached, known, and embraced! Who would not cordially exult in it, as a treasure of inestimable value !88

LXXXIV. It is necessary for us, however, to take heed, lest amidst a general knowledge of these glories, we rest satisfied with a hope of them that is either precipitate or not well founded. Every exertion must be made to obtain solid and convincing evidence, that we are entitled to hope for this glorious felicity. It is proper, therefore, to inquire, with the greatest possible solicitude, both what is essential to the character of those whom God, in his testament, constitutes heirs of these blessings; and also whether those marks of Divine grace are to be found in us.


LXXXV. We ought, in the first place, to regard it certain and indubitable, that all are not to be admitted to a participation of eternal blessedness; nay, that this will not be the privilege of many, but of very few, compared with the multitudes that perish." They are a "little flock." In Noah's ark, "few, that is, eight "souls were saved by water." A still smaller number escaped the burning of Sodom, which amongst all its numerous inhabitants had not ten righteous persons. Of the six hundred thousand Israelites that departed from Egypt, only two entered Canaan. So here, "many are called, but few are chosen." The awful admonition of Chrysostome to his hearers at Antioch is well-known: "How many do you suppose there are "in our city, that shall be saved? What I am about "to say, is indeed unpalatable; yet I will say it. Among so many thousands, not a single hundred can "be found that shall be saved: and I even doubt if "the number be so large." It is not our province indeed, presumptuously to determine the number of those that perish and of those that are saved; much less to pronounce a rigorous sentence respecting our neighbour, who is perhaps no worse, or even better than ourselves. Yet according to the example of our Saviour himself we earnestly press it on the attention of men, that by far the smallest proportion of them are to inherit the life everlasting. Were this duly considered, would not every one anxiously inquire; "Lord, do I belong "to the number?"e


LXXXVI. Further, notwithstanding this warning of

a Mat. vii. 13, 14.

e 1 Pet. iii. 20.

• Mat. xxvi. 22.

b Luke xii. 32.

d Mat. xxii. 14.

our Lord, there are very many that deceive themselves. Poor vain mortals! we are so blinded by self-love, and so void of understanding, that when asked what hope of future happiness we cherish in our breast, we generally class ourselves, with great confidence, among the few of whom our Lord speaks as walking in the way that leadeth unto life; and perhaps none will reply with hesitation, except the man who has the surest title to that felicity. Truly amazing, and never to be sufficiently deplored, is that supine indifference, which induces us, although so often and so faithfully warned, to suspend that incalculable weight of glory upon the slender thread of a proud imagination, and so to speak, upon a spider's web. Who is there that, though he bends his attention with energy to the most unimportant of his other affairs, yet doth not flatter himself most stupidly in this highly momentous concern, on which all depends, and doth not presume to affirm that he has a title to heaven, although he be possessed of no evidence, and can produce no proof of his title. Are we so absolutely lost to all rationality, as thus to trifle with our life, with our soul, with our salvation? We hear that salvation is obtained by few. And are we all bold enough to number ourselves amongst the few? For what reason? On what ground? None at all, but that we think proper to do so. But why do we think proper to entertain that view of our state? We know not; and we have no reason for our confidence to assign to our own mind, much less to others, much less to God. Oh what folly! what madness! what frenzy! What term sufficiently strong can I find, to stigmatize such deplorable supineness!

LXXXVII. Let us at length shake off this fatal lethargy, and know at least in this our day the things

« PreviousContinue »