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The principles and prospects of Christianity are, in themselves, so great and so far overbalance all the things of the present life, that they only require to be sufficiently attended to to make any person do or bear any thing for their sake. What hardships will not men undergo, and what risk, even of life, will they not run, in order to obtain a great estate and much more a crown, in this world 1 In such a case as this, the mere pain of dying would not be regarded by them, if they were sure that they should not actually die, but that, after this suffering, they should certainly gain their purpose. This we see in history, and in common life, continually. There can be no doubt, therefore, but that if the same persons had the same firm faith in the future glorious rewards of Christianity that they have with respect to the things of this life, it would enable them to do and to suffer as much in order to obtain them.
It is only a deficiency of faith that makes persons shrink from persecution and death in the cause of Christianity. Because, in reality, all the pains of this transitory life are nothing in comparison of that eternal weight of glory which awaits those who have faith and patience unto death, with respect to another.
As we must not make use of violence or abuse ourselves, so we should take it patiently when it is offered by others. It is generally a proof that our adversaries have nothing better to offer, and therefore is a presumption that we have truth on our side; and surely the sense of this may well enable us to bear up under any insult to which we may be exposed. The apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame in the cause of Christ; and so shall we, if we have their temper, and the same firm persuasion that the cause in which we engage is a good one, and, consequently, that in proper time it will appear to be so; when the insult and reproach that have been thrown upon us all will recoil upon those who had recourse to them.
To an attentive reader there needs no other evidence of the authenticity of the books of Moses than the manner in which they are written; especially his most earnest and affectionate address to the people before his death, contained in the book of Deuteronomy, in which he constantly appeals to the people with respect to what themselves had seen and heard, and makes the most natural observations upon it. I should think it barely possible for any person to read only that book through with attention, and remain an unbeliever in the great events alluded to in it, and related more at length in the preceding books. There is nowhere extant, since the art of writing was known, and since the art has been most improved, a mode of address more expressive of genuine and excellent sentiments, than what we find in this, the oldest of all writers.
That such men as Jesus and the apostles should either form such a scheme as that of the regeneration of the world (for Christianity pretends to nothing less), when it required ages to effect it, or should finally succeed in it notwithstanding all the obstacles that lay in their way, is something more extraordinary, more out of the course of nature, and therefore more properly miraculous, than any thing recorded in the gospels, and consequently, less credible.
Nothing can be more sublime in itself, or tend more to
'levate the mind that contemplates it, than the idea of oneeat Being, one all-comprehensive Mind, equal to the whole work of creation and providence. By the utmost efforts of our minds, we cannot attain to more than a very imperfect idea of such a Being as this; but the very attempt to contemplate it, fills the mind with the deepest reverence and the most joyful confidence, and likewise tends to engage our obedienee to his will; also in the habitual endeavour to resemble the great object of our worship, we shall study to purify ourselves, even as he is pure.
It seems to be the intention of Divine Providence, that every thing should be brought to perfection by degrees. If we have any faith in history and prophecy, the last age of the world is to be infinitely preferable to any thing that we have yet experienced ; and certainly the present state of things is preferable to any that is past. By means of Christianity chiefly, the great Governor of the world is gradually bringing on a state of universal peace and happiness, which must, as I have observed, imply the abolition of slavery, as well as of every other evil. But God works by instruments; and his instruments in things that respect mankind, are chiefly men.
We are all sensible how capable the condition of men is of improvement; and yet even among those who are themselves enlightened and well-intentioned, how few are there who are sufficiently active, so that when they see an evil, they will seriously use their endeavours to remedy it; and when they see any great good to be attained, will excite themselves to attain it! Wealth is a much easier sacrifice than labor, and yet how little of this is well applied! What immense sums are daily squandered away on frivolous and unworthy objects, to speak in the most favorable manner, and how little of it (and much of that little with grudging, or with some sinister view which takes much from the merit of the action) is applied to honorable and public uses! so few there are who attend to the advice of the apostle, exhorting every person to mind not his own things only, but every man also the things of others.
Better, infinitely better, were it to die rich in good works and thus make the world your heirs, than give wealth to individuals, for whose conduct and liberality you cannot answer, and whose independence on personal exertion may do them more harm than good. It is, no doubt, the duty of every man to provide for his own, and especially his children and nearest relations; but wisdom, and even true affection, will set bounds to that provision, and leave them a sufficient motive for industry and economy. Every man, however attached to his own offspring, or near relations, has a clear right to consider himself as a member of the community at large; and it is even incumbent upon him to set his successors an example of that generosity and public spirit, in which, if he be a wise and liberal man himself, he must wish that they would follow his steps.
It is well known that there are states of mind, in which no attention will be given to any thing that is offensive to it. A philosopher of great eminence, having advanced an opinion concerning something that might be determined by a microscopical observation, refused to look through a microscope that was brought to him with the object ready prepared, when he was told that the inspection would refute his hypothesis. And certainly vicious propensities lay a stronger bias on the mind, than any speculative opinions whatever.
It is evident from every thing that Jesus said on the subject of a future state, that he did not infer the doctrine by any kind of argumentation whatever. He did not reason like Plato, but taught it as one having authority from God so to do. He never advanced any thing concerning the natural reasonableness or probability of the thing; whereas an impostor would have endeavoured to make his new doctrine appear as plausible as he could, and, by every mode of address to recommend it to his hearers. But in Jesus we see no act of this kind. What he received from the Father, he delivered unto men, without being at all solicitous about the manner in which they received it.
When we meet with such ideas as these, of the character and disposition of the Hebrews, not only in the book of Psalms, but also through the Old Testament, we must see that all the objections to it by modern unbelievers, from the history of the extermination of the Canaanites and a few other circumstances, must be mere cavils. The minds of the pious Hebrews, who could not but be well acquainted with them all, and, being nearer to the transactions, must have seen them in a truer light than we can do, were, notwithstanding, impressed with the most exalted ideas of the justice and mercy of God, and the maxims of his moral government. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven, and of the Canaanites by the sword of Israel, gave them no other ideas than that of his abhorrence of vice and his love of virtue and goodness. They were in consequence filled with sentiments of the purest love and reverence, and from their admiration and imitation of his conduct were led to every thing that was amiable and excellent in their own. Compared with this, what was the character of the gods that were worshipped by nations of equal antiquity with the Hebrews 1 many of them were of the most flagitious character,