Page images
PDF
EPUB

of being or existence, and contend that it is more desirable to be miserable, than not to be at all. For my part, I am fully satistied, they can never persuade any man of the truth of their assertion, nor even believe it themselves, when they think seriously on the subject. But, not to insist on this—it is certain that, all kind of delights are for ever banished from that eternal and frightful prison. There is there no light, no day, nor sleep which is the blessing of the night, and indeed nothing at all but places full of darkness, precipices, nakedness, and all kinds of horror; no entertainments, merry meetings, nor any sensual pleasure ; and to be for ever separated from all such must be no small misery, especially to those who used to pass their time amidst such scenes of mirth and jollity, and imagined themselves in some measure happy therein. And that the remembrance of this may distress them the more, they will be continually haunted with a thought, that will cleave to them like a worm devouring their bowels, and constantly keep them in mind, that out of a distracted fondness for these fleeting pleasures, which have now flown away without hope of returning, they have lost those joys that are heavenly and eternal; whereof they will have some knowledge, but what kind of knowledge that will be, and how far extended to enhance their torments, is not ours to determine. But who will attempt to express the excess of their misery, or describe those streams of brimstone and eternal flames of divine wrath ? Or rather, who will not tremble, I say not in describing them, but even in thinking of them, and be quite overpowered with an idea so shocking ?

That I may no further attempt to speak things unutterable and to derogate from a grand subject by inadequate expressions, behold now, my dear youths, if you believe these things; behold, I say, you have now life and death laid before you ; choose for yourselves. And that you may not put off a matter of such importance, consider these things, I pray, seriously, and say to yourselves, concerning the vanishing shadows of eternal thingsHow long will these enjoyments last? O how soon will they pass ! Even while I am speaking these words, while I am thinking of them, they fly past me. Is any one oppressed with calamities? Let him say cheerfully with a

remarkably good man, “Lord, while I am here, kill' me, burn me, only spare me there. Is there any one among you of weak capacity, unhappy in expressing himself, of an unfavourable aspect, or deformed in body? Let him say with himself – It is a matter of small consequence; I shall soon leave this babitation, and, if I am but good myself, be soon removed to the mansions of the blessed. Let these thoughts prevent his being dejected in mind, or overcome with too much sorrow. If any one is distinguished by a good understanding, or outward beauty, or riches, let him reflect and seriously consider how soon all excellencies of this kind will pass away, that he may not be vain, or lifted up with the advantages of fortune.

Let it be the chief care and study of you all to avoid the works of darkness, that so you may escape utter and eternal darkness; and to embrace with open and cheerful hearts that divine light which hath shone from heaven, that when you are divested of these bodies, you may be received into the glorious mansions of that blessed and perfect light.

LECTURE XVIII.
of the Christian Religion, and that it is the true

Way to Happiness. I confess, that whenever I think on the subject, I cannot help wondering at the indolence and madness of mankind; for though we boast that to order our affairs with prudence and discretion, and conduct our lives according to the principles of reason, is the great privilege and ornament of our nature wbich distinguishes us from the brute creatures; how few are there, who in this respect act like men, who propose to themselves an end, and direct all their actions to the attainment of it! It is very certain, that the greatest part of mankind, with a folly something more than childish, go in quest of painted butterflies, or commonly pursue the birds with stones and clods. And even those that spin out their lives to the utmost extent of old age, for the most part gain little by it, but only this, that they may be called very aged children; being as ignorant as infants why they came into the world, and

what will become of them when they leave it. Of all questions, none therefore can be more properly proposed to you, who are just upon the verge of manbood, I mean entering upon a rational life, tban this—Whither are you going? What good have you in view ? To what end do you propose to live ? For hence possibly your minds may be excited within you to an earnest desire after that perfect and supreme good ; and you may not content yourselves with cool speculations upon this subject, as if it were a logical or philosophical problem, that falls in your way of course; but with that application which is proper in a question concerning a matter of the greatest moment, in which it highly concerns us to be well informed, and where the bighest rewards and greatest dangers are proposed to our view. And, in this hope, I have often addressed myself to you upon the subject of happiness or the supreme good at different periods of time; entertaining you in the intervals with essays and suitable exhortations upon other subjects, yet so as to observe a kind of method, and keep up a connexion throughout the whole. I have taken notice of the name and general notion of happiness, the universal desires and wishes whereby men are excited to the pursuit of it, the no less universal because natural ignorance of inankind, and their errors and mistakes in the search of it: whence it happens, that as they all run the wrong road, the faster they advance, the further they depart from it; and like those who ply the oars in a boat, they look one way and move another. And though it seemed almost unnecessary, as facts sufficiently demonstrate the truth of our assertion, yet by a brief recapitulation, wherein we took notice only of the principal heads and classes of things, we proved that happiness is by no means to be found in this earth, nor in any earthly enjoyments whatsoever. And this is no more than all, even fools as well as wise men, are willing to own. They not only pronounce one another unhappy, but with regard to this life, all of them in general, and every one for himself in particular, acknowledge that they are so. And, in this respect, experience fully justifies their belief; so that if there were no farther prospect, I am apt to believe all mankind would agree in that common saying,

" that if mankind were apprized beforehand of the nature of this

life, and it were left to their own option, none would accept of it.

As the immortality of the soul has a near connexion with this subject and is a natural consequence from it, we therefore, in the next place, bestowed some time in illustrating that doctrine. In the last place we advanced:some thoughts upon future happiness and misery, so far as is.consistent with the weakness of our capacities to comprehend things so little known, and to express such as are in a great measure ineffable.

Having treated of these things according to our measure, it remains that we now inquire about the way which directly leads into that happy city, or to that happiness which is reserved in the heavens. . This is a great and important article, comprehending the end and design of our life, as well as the hopes and comforts of it; and is very proper to be first treated of in a catechetical or, indeed, any methodical system of theology, as appears from reason and precedents; for by this discussion we are immediately introduced into the whole doctrine of true religion. Accordingly the first question in the generally received catechism, which you have in your hands, is, What is your only consolation in life and in death ?! And the first question of another catechism which not long ago was used, particularly in this university, is, “What is the only way to true felicity ?" For the salvation and bappiness of mankind, in subordination to the glory of God, which is undoubtedly the supreme end of all, is the peculiar and genuine scope of theology; and from it, the definition of this science seems to be most properly drawn. - Nor do I imagine that any one is so weak as from hence to conclude, that it ought to be called anthropology rather than theology; for though it not only treats of the happiness of mankind, but also has this happiness, as has been observed, for its chief end and design, yet, with good reason and on many accounts, it has obtained this more sublime title. It has God for its author, whom the wisest of men would in vain attempt to find out, but from the revelation he has made of himself; every such attempt being as vain as it would be to look for the sun in the night time, by the light of a candle; for the former, like the latter, can only be seen by its own light. God cannot be known but so far as he reveals himself; which Sopho

cles bas also admirably well expressed. “You will never," says he, “understand those divine things which the gods have thought proper to conceal, even though you should ransack all nature."

Nor has this sacred science God for its author only, but also for its subject and its ultimate end; because the knowledge of him and his worship comprehends the whole of religion, the beatific vision of him includes in it the whole of our happiness, and that happiness is at last resolved into the divine grace and bounty.

I should therefore choose to give this brief and clear definition of theology, that it is a divine doctrine, directing man to real felicity as his chief end, and conducting him to it by the way of true religion. I call it a doctrine, because it is not considered here as a habit in the mind, but as a summary of celestial truth. I call it a divine doctrine, for all the reasons already mentioned, because for instance, it is from God; he is the subject of it, and it all terminates in him at last. I call it a doctrine directing man, for I confine my notion of it to that doctrine only, which was sent down from heaven for that purpose. What signify then those distinctions, which are indeed sounding, but quite tedious and foreign to the purpose, that divide theology into archetypal and ectypal, and again into the theology of the church militant and that of the church triumphant ? What they call archetypal theology is very improperly so named, for it is that perfect knowledge which God has of himself; and the theology of the church triumphant ought rather to be called Deoxia, the beatific vision of God. The theology in question, is that dayspring from on high, which hath visited us, to give light to them which sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace. That peace is true happiness, and the way of peace is true religion ; concerning which I shall offer a few thoughts and very briefly.

First of all you are to observe, that man is not a lawless creature, but capable of a law and actually subject to one. This expression conveys no harsh, no dishonourable idea; nay, this subjection is so far from being a burden, that it is the greatest honour. To be capable of a law is the mark and ornament of an intelligent, rational soul, and

« PreviousContinue »