« AnteriorContinuar »
guage has been verified, all who have made the trial can testify. To them, as to the only competent witnesses, I appeal.
It is not merely the nature of the soul however, but its depravity, from whence our necessities arise. We are sinners. Every man who believes there is a God, and a future state, or even only admits the possibility of them, feels the want of mercy. The first inquiries of a mind awakened to reflection will be, how he may escape the wrath to come; how he shall get over his everlasting ruin. A heathen, previously to any Christian instruction, exclaimed, in the moment of alarm, What must I do to be saved? And several Mahometans, being lately warned by a Christian minister of their sinful state, came the next morning to him with this very serious question, Keman par hoibo?—" How shall we get over?" To answer these inquiries is beyond the power of any principles but those of the gospel. Philosophy may conjecture, superstition may deceive, and even a false system of Christianity may be aiding and abetting; each may labor to lull the conscience to sleep, but none of them can yield it satisfaction. It is only by believing in Jesus Christ, the great sacrifice that taketh away the sin of the world, that the sinner obtains a relief which will bear reflection; a relief which, at the same time, gives peace to the mind and purity to the heart. For the truth of this also, I appeal to all who have made the trial.
Where, but in the gospel, will you find relief under the innumerable ills of the present state? This is the well-known refuge of Christians. Are they poor, afflicted, persecuted, or reproached ? They are led to consider Him who endured the contradiction of sinners, who lived a life of poverty and ignominy, who endured persecution and reproach, and death itself, for them; and to realize a blessed immortality in prospect. By a view of such things their hearts are cheered, and their afflictions become tolerable. Looking to Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God, they run with patience the race that is set before
* Acts xvi. 30.
+ Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, No. IV. p. 326.
them. But what is the comfort of unbelievers? Life being short, and having no ground to hope for any thing beyond it, if they be crossed here they become inconsolable. Hence, it is not uncommon for persons of this description, after the example of the philosophers and statesmen of Greece and Rome, when they find themselves depressed by adversity, and have no prospect of recovering their fortunes, to put a period to their lives! Unhappy men! Is this the felicity to which ye would introduce us? Is it in guilt, shame, remorse, and desperation that ye descry such charms? Admitting that our hope of immortality is visionary, where is the injury? If it be a dream, is it not a pleasant one? To say the least, it beguiles many a melancholy hour, and can do no mischief; but if it be a reality, what will become of you?
I may be told, that if many put a period to their lives through unbelief, there is an equal number who fall sacrifices to religious melancholy. But to render this objection of force, it should be proved that the religion of Jesus Christ is the cause of this melancholy. Reason may convince us of the being of a God, and conscience bear witness that we are exposed to his displeasure. Now, if in this state of mind the heart refuse to acquiesce in the gospel way of salvation, we shall of course either rest in some delusive hope or sink into despair. But here, it is not religion, but the want of it, that produces the evil; it is unbelief, and not faith that sinks the sinner into despondency. Christianity disowns such characters. It records some few examples, such as Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas: but they are all branded as apostates from God and true religion. On the contrary, the writings of unbelievers, both ancient and modern, are known to plead for suicide, as an expedient in exextremity. Rosseau, Hume, and others, have written in defence of it. The principles of such men both produce and require it. It is the natural offspring of unbelief, and the last resort of disappointed pride.
Whether Christianity, or the want of it be best adapted to relieve the heart under its various pressures, let those testify who have been in the habit of visiting the afflicted poor. On this subject the writer of these sheets can speak from his own knowledge. In this situation characters of very opposite descriptions are
found. Some are serious and sincere Christians; others, even among those who have attended the preaching of the Gospel, appear neither to understand nor to feel it. The tale of woe is told perhaps by both but the one is unaccompanied with that discontent, that wretchedness of mind, and that inclination to despair, which is manifest in the other. Often have I seen the cheerful smile of contentment under circumstances the most abject and afflictive. Amidst tears of sorrow, which a full heart has rendered it impossible to suppress, a mixture of hope and joy has glistened. The cup which my Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it? Such have been their feelings, and such their expressions; and where this has been the case, death has generally been embraced as the messenger of peace. Here, I have said, participating of their sensations,―here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.-This is the victory that overcometh the world even our faith.—Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
From individual happiness, let us proceed to examine that of society. Let us inquire, whether there be any well-grounded hope of the future melioration of the state of mankind, besides that which is afforded by the gospel. Great expectations have been raised of an end being put to wars, and of universal goodwill pervading the earth, in consequence of philosophical illumination, and the prevalence of certain modes of civil government. But these speculations proceed upon false data. They suppose that the cause of these evils is to be looked for in the ignorance, rather than in the depravity of men or if depravity be allowed to have any influence, it is confined to the precincts of a court. Without taking upon me to decide which is the best mode of civil government; or what mode is most adapted to promote the peace and happiness of mankind, it is sufficient in this case, to show that wars generally originate, as the apostle James says, in the lusts, or corrupt passions of mankind. If this be proved, it will follow, that, however some forms of government may be more friendly to peace and happines than others, yet no radical cure can be effected till the disposition of men are changed. Let power be
placed where it may, with one or with many, still it must be in the hands of men. If all governments were so framed as that every national act should be expressive of the real will of the people, still, if the preponderating part of them be governed by pride and self-love rather than equity, we are not much the nearer. Governors taken from the common mass of Society, must needs resemble it. If there be any difference at the time of their first elevation to office, owing, as may be supposed, to the preference which all men give to an upright character for the management of their concerns, yet this advantage will be balanced, if not overbalanced by the subsequent temptations to injustice which are afforded by situations of wealth and power.
What is the source of contentions in common life? Observe the discords in neighbourhoods and families; which, notwithstanding all the restraints of relationship, interest, honour, law, and reason, are a fire that never ceases to burn; and which were they no more controlled by the laws than independent nations are by each other, would in thousands of instances break forth into assassinations and murders. From whence spring these wars? Are they the results of ignorance? If so, they would chiefly be confined to the rude, or uninformed part of the community. But is it so? There may, it is true, be more pretences to peace and good will, and fewer bursts of open resentment in the higher, than in the lower order of people: but their dispositions are much the same. The laws of politeness can only polish the surface; and there are some parts of the human character which still appear very rough. Even politeness has its regulations for strife and murder, and establishes iniquity by a law. The evil disposition is a kind of subterraneous fire; and in some form it will have vent. Are they the result of court influence? No. The truth is, if civil government in some form did not influence the fears of the unjust and contentious part of the community, there would be no security to those who are, peaceably inclined, and especially to those who are withal religious, and whose pious conduct, like that of Noah, condemns the world. Now the same disposition which, in persons whose power extends only to a cottage, will operate in a way of domestic discord; in others whose influence extends
to the affairs of nations will operate on a more enlarged scale, producing war and all the dire calamities which attend it. The sum of the whole is this: When the preponderating part of the world shall cease to be proud, ambitious, envious, covetious, lovers of their ownselves, false, malignant, and intriguing; when they shall love God and one another out of a pure heart; then, and not till then, may we expect wars to cease, and the state of mankind to be essentially meliorated. While these dispositions remain, they will be certain to show themselves. If the best laws or constitution in the world stand in their way, they will, on certain occasions, bear down all before them.
An anonymous writer in the Monthly Magazine,* (a_work which, without avowing it, is pretty evidently devoted to the cause of infidelity,) has instituted an inquiry into "The probability of the future melioration of the state of mankind." A dismal pros-· pect indeed it is which he holds up to his fellow-creatures; yet were I an Infidel, like him, I should acquiesce in many things which he advances. The anchor of his hopes is an increase of knowledge, and the effects of this are circumscribed within a very narrow boundary. With respect to what we call civilization, he reckons it to have undergone all the vicissitudes of which it is capable. Scientific rehnement may contribute to the happiness of a few individuals; but, he fears, cannot be made a ground of much advantage to the mass of mankind. Great scope, indeed, remains for the operation of increased knowledge in improvement in government: but even here it can only cure those evils which arise from ignorance, and not those which proceed from intention; which, "while the propensity to prefer our own interests above that of the community is," as he acknowledges, "interwoven into our very nature," will always form the mass of existing ills. If, indeed, the majority of a community, he says, became so enlightened concerning their interests, and so wise, steady, and unanimous in the pursuit of them, as to overcome all that resistance which the possessors of undue advantages will always make to a change unfavourable to themselves, something might be hoped
*For February, 1799, p 9.