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THE REALITY OF OUR CHRISTIAN HOPES AND PROSPECTS.
1 John i. Ist and part of 3rd verse. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life ;—that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.
In these words, and those which follow, the apostle laboured to overthrow a strange and fantastic doctrine which certain visionaries of his time had devised respecting the person and character of Christ; and in accomplishing this purpose, the object which he particularly aimed at in the text, was to show the prodigious power of those evidences- brought home as they were to their
very senses, their touch, their sight, their hearing-by which the disciples knew the reality, not only of the existence of their Lord, but of all the promises also and truths of his gospel. The same consideration requires frequently to be brought before the notice of Christians of every age. The spirit of religion, which refers to the future and the invisible world, has often fearful struggles to maintain with the seductions of the present, and the things of sense. Many deluded beings, indeed, there have been who, in the abject degradation of vice, or in subservience to a cold philosophy which would materialize, as it were, all the best aspirations of the heart, have been even content to confine the whole of their prospects and their hopes to the dark and contracted sphere to which the mere operations of sense belong. But even the best of Christians, not for want of evidence on God's part, but from infirmity on his own,– requires often to be reminded how entirely and intrinsically real are the treasures and the satisfactions of the gospel. That, though the things of this world may often, for a while, rivet themselves with a firmer and keener impressiveness on his mind, or play round the heart with a more vivid and present fascination, yet that the things of the spiritual world are not less essentially substantial, but rather infinitely
more so, than they. That he has indeed “ followed no cunningly devised fables” in accepting the promises of the gospel. That the foundation of his hope is as strong as “the everlasting hills which cannot be moved.” That the precious principles in which he trusts alone remain truly permanent and unchanged amidst the many vicissitudes of life. And that, as, hereafter, “though heaven and earth may pass away, yet the words of Christ shall not pass away, so amidst the transitory delusions of “the world and the lusts thereof, he” alone " that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”t
propose, therefore, with the divine blessing, to deduce from these words--not an evidence for the certainty of the gospel promises, (for such an evidence to a Christian reader cannot be required)—but a few considerations which seem calculated to confirm our strong assurance of the real and substantial value of our religious prospects. In a mind not sufficiently impressed with such a conviction, there is danger lest the feeble spark of faith should be extinguished, or the tender plant should perish under the withering influence of a cold and heartless world. And I believe there are many circumstances which will be naturally suggested by the text, (although in a somewhat different sense from that in which it was first applied) calculated to evince the substantial reality of our Christian hopes, and tending to erase that too broad fine of partition which we are wont to draw between the present and visible and the future and unseen, bringing the former into a prominence that it does not deserve, and obscuring the latter with a veil of needless mystery and doubt.
Matthew xxiv, 35,
1 John ii. 17.
I. And,- to begin with that which, in order of time, demands our first attention,--the words of the text have a direct and obvious application, in the first place, to the principles of natural religion. That there is a God; that he made and governs the world; that the heart of man is subject to his chastening power; that there is a vicegerent conscience also in the human breast, wielding his commissioned thunders, and executing his delegated laws--all these doctrines reason itself, which was not indeed “that light” which we so greatly needed, but which still, like John the Baptist, “came to bear witness to that light,” could antecedently discover. And many of the heathens themselves would rise up in judgment against him who, in defiance of the accumulated evidences that surround him, should mistrust the acknowledged truths that all things in their appointed time must perish ; that man, though
in the order of his course he is doomed to share the mortal destiny of the rest of creation, still shall not die eternally ; that the soul shall rise and live again; and that there will be a place of punishment and reward everlasting ;-doctrines all of them calculated to restrain us from the ways of sin, and, if rightly understood, to carry on our hopes and affections unto further and more complete satisfactions than this life can yield, and to raise them from the present world to the more enduring prospects of the future.
But, while we so universally recognize the truth of principles like these, is it from any mysterious or remote original that they are derived ? any regions beyond the reach of sense, whereunto thought only can penetrate, or imagination soar? Are they asserted—I will not say on insufficient evidence-but without even a vivid and realizing impressiveness which compels the assent of the understanding, and carries conviction to the heart? Is there no reality in those “ visible things” by which the unseen wonders of God are known in the “heavens which declare the glory of God,” and “the firmament” which “sheweth his handy work”? Is there nothing real in the evidences which tell us that man must die? Is there nothing real in those death-bed struggles which we ourselves must