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3. What has been said upon this argument may be of use to show the mistake of those who despise, and speak lightly of morality. Possibly, they do not thereby mean the same thing which those do who magnify it and earnestly recommend it. But they should consider that morality, in its more proper sense and meaning, is not merely honesty in the traffick and commerce of this world; nor is it only outward action. But virtue, or morality, in its comprehensive meaning, as before observed, takes in the love of God and our neighbour, or every thing that is fit and reasonable in itself. Its laws and precepts regulate thoughts, as well as outward actions. It is true holiness. It is the image of God in man: it is a meetness for the rewards and happiness of another life.
4. We may conclude from what has been said upon this subject, that the promoting of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness, or a right moral conduct, will be one great design of any revelation that comes from God : forasmuch as these things are truly excellent, and useful in their natural and genuine tendency. And since these things are always obligatory, it is very probable, that one great design of revelation will be to perfect men in virtue, or moral righteousness, to encourage and enforce that righteousness by new and powerful motives and arguments, and to deter men from the contrary, unrighteousness. And, as before observed, we do evidently perceive this to be the great design, the sum and substance of the law, the historical writings, the book of Job, the Psalms, and Prophets of the Old, and of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament.
5. He that has some just sentiments of God, and a serious regard to moral obligations, is in a great measure fitted and prepared for revelation. For he must be disposed to pay a regard to one who speaks in the name of God, and gives proof of a divine commission by works of mighty powe and teaches a doctrine enforcing real holiness. This is what our Lord declares wben he says : “ If any inan will do his will, he shall know the doctrine; whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,” John vii. 17. And when one had acknowledged, “ that there is one God, and that to love the Lord with all the heart, and his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices;" he declared, that he was " not far from the kingdom of God," Mark xii. 32-34. This is what he teaches also, when he
“ No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him :" and, “
that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me,” John vi. 44, 45.
6. From what has been said, it appears to be a dreadful thing for any man to lessen the obligation of virtue and true holiness, or moral righteousness: or to abate men's regard thereto by any means whatever, or with a view to any particular and favourite scheme of his own, or of other men's invention. Our blessed Lord has declared, that such “ shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven,” Matt, v. 19, And he freely reproved the scribes and pharisees, who taught for doctrine the commandments of men, and made void the law of God by traditions, which they received, and recommended, Matt. xv. 16.
7. We are likewise carefully to avoid misrepresentations of the Divine Being, and to be very cautious of admitting any principles derogatory to the moral perfection and righteousness of God, the creator and the governor of the world. We are not only to be concerned for the honour of God, as perfect in knowledge and power : but we should also maintain his moral perfection, as a Being perfectly true, righteous, good, merciful. Are these perfections in some men ? Would men want what is their greatest glory and excellence, if they should be arbitrary and unequal ? And can we suppose the divine government to want justice and equity ? Are great and good men merciful and forgiving? And can we deny those properties to God, the source of all being and perfection? It is easy to observe, that in scripture the greatness and majesty, and the goodness and mercy of God, are often joined together. “ Thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity: I dwell in the high and holy place: with him also, who is of a humble and contrite spirit For I will not contend for ever. Neither will I be always wroth. For the spirit should fail before me, and the souls that I have made," Is. lvii. 15, 16. And Elihu strongly argues : " Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquityYea surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment,” Job. xxxiv. 10, 12.
8. We may hence infer the difficulty of describing particularly and exactly the services and enjoyments of good men in the heavenly state. They will be then perfect in holiness, and complete in happiness. Consequently a love of God and fellow-creatures will abide, and be in great perfection. But many branches, various exercises of virtue, necessary and reasonable on earth, can have no place in heaven, where we are to be as the angels of God.
Particular descriptions therefore of the future happiness of good men, however agreeable and entertaining, will be for the most part conjectural and uncertain. We know enough from reason and scripture, to fill us with great hopes and expectations, and inspire us with the utmost zeal and diligence in perfecting holiness. The future happiness is, we know, the perfection of soul and body: it is freedom from all the imperfections of this condition. It is immortality, everlasting life, a glorious kingdom, a crown of glory that fadeth not away, an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, reserved in heaven. We are then to see God, and to be like unto Jesus Christ. But it is observable, that neither Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, have delivered particular and precise representations and descriptions of the glories of the other world, or of the services and enjoyments of good men therein. And St. Paul,
who was caught up into the “ third heaven and paradise," 2 Cor. xii. 3–5, absolutely declines a representation of the things he had seen and heard, and considers them as unspeakable.
9. By what has been said we may be led in some measure to the knowledge and understanding of those words of St. Paul: “ Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father: when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. And when all things shall be subdued under him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under bim, that God may be all in all,” 1 Cor. xv. 24–28.
Notwithstanding these expressions of the apostle, certainly Jesus Christ, the second Adam, will continue to be the head of his church and people, and the glory of the human nature, and will in all things have the pre-eminence, 1 Cor. XV. 45. There will for ever be given to him honour, respect, and gratitude, for what he has done for us. His people will be with him. And his presence with them will be a main source of their happiness. For, as St. Paul says: “ So shall we ever be with the Lord," 1 Thess, iv, 17. And our Lord prayed, saying : “ Father, I will, that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am, that they may behold the glory which thou hast given me,” John xvii. 24.
The meaning of that passage I apprehend to be this: that the design of Christ's undertaking is then accomplished. And as the motives and arguments taken from his life on earth, from his death, resurrection, and ascension, were especially suited to a state of weakness and imperfection, temptation and affliction; those motives and considerations
will then in a great measure cease. And the people and followers of Jesus, brought to a state of perfection, will for the future be entirely governed by the reason of things, and the will of God. Yet still they will be for ever thankful for the gospel-dispensation, and for all the condescension and humiliation of the Lord Jesus, and for his after exaltation : by which their hearts were won to God, and they were established, and upheld in the practice of virtue, under all the difficulties they met with here, until they were brought to glory.
10. Though duties of moral obligation have the preference above others, yet positive appointments, of divine authority, are not to be omitted or neglected. These also have their use, and are expedient in the present state of things. They were wisely appointed, and therefore ought to be submitted to and obeyed. It is our Lord's own determination upon the point : “ These ought ye to have done;” meaning the weightier matters of the law; “ and not to leave the other undone,” Luke xi. 42.
11. Finally, let us not rest satisfied with observing positive appointments, or with any external performances, or the profession of the principles of religion, or a partial obedience: but let us sincerely do the whole will of God so far as we are acquainted with it.
It may afford matter of sorrowful thought and consideration, that so many are far from that righteousness which is recommended both by reason and revelation: that so few are eminent therein : and likewise that there are others whose character is but doubtful, both to themselves and others.
However, our main business is not to lament or aggravate the faults or defects of others, but to amend our own. And since there is reason to fear, that many will hereafter seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and shall not be able; since we have the prospect of a rest remaining for the people of God, let us take heed that we fail not thereof.
If any are able to assure their hearts before God, as sincere and upright, and have a comfortable hope of the future heavenly inheritance reserved for his children: let them take the comfort of it. If ever we attain that felicity, we shall have clearer apprehensions of these truths, than now we have, and shall be ennobled by them. Now we know but in part, and prophesy but in part, and are sanctified but in part.“ But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part,” all imperfection, of every kind, “shall be done away,” 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10,
WISDOM ATTAINABLE BY THOSE WHO SEEK IT.
I love them that love me. And they that seek me early, shall find me.
Prov. viii. 17. THE book of Proverbs is a large collection of excellent rules, maxims, and observations, for directing the conduct of men of every age, and almost every circumstance and condition of life. À particular regard is herein had to persons of tender age, unexperienced, and entering into the world. Counsels are delivered with much affection and earnestness. The same things are repeated, and inculcated again and again. The attention of men is excited by frequent representations of the importance of right conduct, and of the snares they are exposed to, by which they are in danger of being misled to their utter ruin.
More effectually to recommend the reasonable and useful counsels and observations here proposed, they are often delivered in the name of Wisdom. Wisdom herself is introduced, as teaching these things. So at the beginning of this chapter: “ Doth not Wisdom cry, and Understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way, in the places of the paths :Unto you, O men, I call: and my voice is to the sons of men. And, as an encouragement to all to hearken to her, and pursue the rules she lays down, she says in the words of the text: “ I love them that love me: and they that seek me early, shall find me.”
If it were a thing of any moment, I might just observe to you, that what in our English translation is rendered, seek early, is but one word in the original. The Hebrew therefore might be as well rendered, they that seek me, shall find me. However, our translators have not done much amiss in adding something concerning the best manner of seeking wisdom: or in expressing what may be supposed to be implied in the word. “I love them that love me: and they that seek me early,” or diligently, 6 shall find me.”
Without any farther preface, I would now immediately lay down the method in which I intend to discourse on these words.