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In the close of the book, the gospel institution is spoken of under the figure of a city-a holy city coming down from God out of heaven; into this pure and happy place none are admitted but such as are pure in character: "there shall in nowise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" the gates thereof are never to be closed, inasmuch as at all times it is to be accessible to all, upon their faith and reformation. In it is no darkness, nor sin, nor death, nor sorrow; old things are there done away, and all things are new. This highly colored description of the gospel state on earth has been often supposed to refer to a time called Millennium, when Christ shall literally descend, and live with his saints on this terrestrial globe for a thousand years: but there is no necessity for so extravagant a supposition; any one who has familiarized himself with the poetic style of the sacred penmen, will easily believe that nothing more is intended in this beautiful vision, than the setting up of the kingdom or church of Messiah in the world; the joy, and hope, and purity, and peace, which are the lot of its subjects, and the prospects it would afford to all believers, of a final and glorious issue from the sorrows, and death, and guilt, of this earthly state, in the unending felicity and immortality of heaven.
The Savior never intimated, at any time, in any of his several discourses with his apostles, that he was to come in latter times, and establish a civil dynasty in this world; he would certainly not have left a matter of this consequence unrevealed: we never find it referred to in any of the apostolic epistles, which it unquestionably would have been if it were to take place. It seems to me a weakness, a puerility, to base a doctrine of such magnitude upon a passage or two in a book, which is avowedly the least understood of all the sacred writings! It is admitted that Christ has now a spiritual kingdom on earth-it is admitted that he is present, in doctrine and spirit, in this kingdom—it is admitted that this divine dynasty is extending its conquests over the globe, dispelling sin, and darkness, and despair, and imparting holiness, and light, and hope-it is admitted, moreover, that in the light of this kingdom, death and hades lose their blighting influence over the mind of man, and a clear end, and glorious issue, are seen to all the evils which now infest the world. What more is needed,
then, to meet the just and sober expectations which (making due allowance for the poetic coloring employed in this enigmatical part of the sacred oracles) arise out of what is said by the revelator, about the thousand years' reign of Messiah on the earth? Candor replies—nothing.
Reader, I am greatly averse to dogmatizing, and will not pretend, therefore, that I have infallibly unfolded the true significance of the parts of this mystical book which I have touched upon; but this I will affirm, that I have given you my own views with all candor, and that I have formed those views with the utmost care, and without implicitly following the steps of any of the numerous expositors thereof, and consequently I shall not ask you implicitly to follow mine.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION CONSIDERED.
I have several times anticipated the question, whether the Creator could not have accomplished all his proposed ends of benevolence, without subjecting us to those preliminary sufferings which form so considerable a part of our present allotment? "Was it not," we are frequently asked, "equally possible for him to have made us perfectly happy at once? and if so, must he not be wanting in goodness not to have done so ?" It is not for us to say what the Almighty could or could not have done, in this case; it seems probable, however, that with every degree of imperfection in being, there must necessarily be a corresponding degree of imperfection in happiness himself alone is infinitely perfect in nature, and, consequently, himself alone is infinitely perfect in felicity. If he could have made us as perfect, he could also have made us as happy, as himself: but then we could have known no progression in happiness; we could not have passed from this state to a better, from that to a better still, and so on, ad infinitum, as seems to be our destination under the present order of things. This is one view of the case which tolerably well solves the enigma of the existence of suffering, under the government of infinite love: but there is another.
VOL. I.-2 C
We frequently hear the remark, that all our happiness is com→ parative, or that it arises from contrast-that we could not enjoy food if we never experienced hunger-nor drink, if we never knew thirst-nor rest, if we were strangers to fatigue, etc. This is a mistake, however; all our pleasure is not relative, although much unquestionably is; but our senses are so contrived as to be media of positive enjoyment to us. It is not essential to our appreciating the fragrance of the rose or violet, that we previously respire the sulphuretted hydrogen arising from fœted house-drains: the infant, it may be presumed, without previous experience, enjoys the food with which nature has so kindly furnished the mother for its sustenance. No, all our happiness does not result from contrast; yet who can doubt that it is incalculably increased thereby? A man who is born to affluence-whose whole existence has been spent in all the enjoyments which wealth could supply-who has never known the fatigues of labor, nor the gnawings of want-has but small zest for the pleasures which offer themselves ready culled to his hand; but he becomes sick of satiety, and a prey to that stagnation of soul proceeding from the want of an object to engage its energies. But conceive a poor man, accustomed from his birth to severe drudgery, and the coarsest fare: or conceive the pampered son of wealth first supposed-let him be cast by accident upon an inhospitable coast-he must needs traverse a savage desert ere he can reach the abodes of civilized life-days and nights of want and suffering elapse during his toilsome journey-hunger, and thirst, and weariness, and burning heat, and dangers innumerable; he reaches the goal at length, is kindly received, furnished with all the luxuries of tropical existence-delightful groves overshadow him-breezes laden with aromatic incense fan his framethe melody of birds regale his ear—and all that appetite-all that fancy can crave, is subject to his wish. Is argument needed, reader, to convince you that our traveler enjoys these luxuries with a more intense delight than, before he tasted of adversity, he ever experienced?
That our enjoyment is incalculably enhanced by contrast, then, s past denial, and we hence obtain an idea of the probable use of our present suffering; the bliss of eternity may be the more exquisite for the tears of time, and the happiness of each succeeding stage of our existence may be heightened by the deficiencies
of the stage preceding it; for I am far from thinking that we shall arrive at once, on our reaching heaven, at the acme of felicity, but we shall be progressing toward it, to eternity. From this reasoning, it seems probable that the bliss of an infant spirit (which has had little or no experience of suffering) is not so great on its first arrival in the abodes of bliss, as is that of the adult who has reached the haven after long struggling against the winds and tides of time.
By those who suppose our first parents to have been placed in a condition of perfect happiness before their fall, their case may seem a refutation of this theory concerning the utility of suffering; but I do not admit the premises. If the first pair had been completely happy ere they sinned, they could not have been tempted as they were; the very manner of the temptation proves their felicity to have been incomplete; their appetite coveted the interdicted fruit; this implied want, which they were forbidden to gratify, and ungratified want (however unreasonable that want in itself) is one of the ordinary elements of misery. They desired, too, to be as Gods, knowing good and evil, which clearly implied a discontent with the lot assigned them; they aspired to a higher sphere, and this is the essence of ambition. They experienced also a hunger of intellect, a desire to know good and evil, and this knowledge they supposed the tree would impart. It is therefore exceedingly clear that they were not absolutely happy, although more happy, undoubtedly, than subsequent to their fall.
"What can we reason, but from what we know?" the poet asks; and from all that we can know at present the probabilities seem decidedly against the supposition, that it is possible for Jehovah to create sentient creatures, who, from the commencement of their existence, shall be in possession of absolute and unmixed felicity; it seems a fair presumption, that, were it possible, his infinite goodness would have so created and circumstanced their's, that to all eternity, all creatures should be utter strangers to want, or pain, or to any thing which would render their happiness incomplete; for benevolence cannot approve of misery for its own sake, although for the end's sake it may; and if misery be not absolutely indispensable to the end, it cannot approve it at all, for the plain reason that it must always prefer to effect the best ends by the best
Behold, then, fellow mortals, the use of the sufferings of which you at present complain! Let your souls be bowed in adoration and love before the throne of your Almighty Father, who permitteth no evil to come upon you but such as he sees will turn out for your greatest good in the end.
"God nothing does, nor suffers to be done,
Give not place to impatience, then, nor to profitless repining under affliction. Call not his wisdom, nor his justice, nor his love, into question, as though the sorrows or disappointments you experience were supernumerary; not one of them is such-each hath its own assigned weight and bearing on the great and glorious issue.
"His purposes will ripen fast,
The bud may have a bitter taste,
And you, afflicted fellow pilgrim through a world of sin, who have been oft and deeply stricken with the shafts of sorrow, most welcome are you to a share in the comfort with which this doctrine is fraught; and if you find the remedy herein for which your heart is seeking, I give you joy of your discovery, and shall feel most thankful if my instrumentality have led to it.
"Peace to thee, mourner, coming years
Will give thee joy instead of tears."
For myself, if the reader will pardon the egotism, I will say, that the light of this theory is the most placid and cheering which can be brought to shine upon the pathway of my life; in it my heart can most cheerfully bask when the darkness of disappoint❤ ment is settling upon all its earthly hopes. Courage! courage, my soul! Thou art clad with a panoply which makes thee invulnerable to the shafts of despair-thou mayst sow in tears awhile, but anon thou shalt reap a plentiful harvest of joy.
Past my fleeting term of sorrow,
And in cloudless regions shine.