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It is much easier to preserve these just views of the object and end of our profession in an openly hostile, than in a seemingly friendly world, from the constant opposition of principles and objects in the former circumstances. In this case, that is, in a state of persecution, whether we voluntarily attend to it or not, we cannot help seeing, and reflecting continually, that this world is not our home. While we preserve the profession of our faith uncorrupted, and while we retain our integrity in asserting that faith, without any of those unworthy artifices, whereby too many evade the consequences of a frank and open declaration of their real principles, we see there is no state of enjoyment or repose to be looked for here; and we therefore naturally, and indeed necessarily, look forward to “that rest which yet remaineth for the people of God,” where alone “the wicked cease from troubling.” In this situation we want no motives to cultivate that temper and disposition of mind, which alone can qualify us for the happiness of that heavenly state.
But when the world is not apparently hostile to us, it is most of all truly so. For then it is, that, not being molested by the world, at the same time that we are subject to the influence of it, being “men of like passions with others,” the same things that strike others, strike us. By mixing with the world and sharing the emoluments of it, we naturally become fond of them, and attached to them; and with certain limits this is unavoidable and not amiss. But is it in human nature, without particular efforts with ourselves, to which the bulk of mankind are much averse, to keep within the bounds of moderation, and not to become too much attached to the world, and those things of it which are foreign to our main object and ultimate views 2 Living with the world, we naturally live as the world does, and become gradually, in all respects, like the world; and the great objects of our Christian profession, being too long kept out of sight, lose their influence, and we are in danger of abandoning the pursuit of them altogether.
RELIGIOUS USE OF THE WORLD,
THE world in which we live, with all the influences to which we are subject, may be equally our friend or our enemy, according to the use we make of it. It is wonderfully adapted, by the exercise it gives to our faculties, and to our passions and affections, to establish, strengthen, and settle us in the habit and practice of all virtue, and to raise us to a pitch of excellence to which Adam in paradise could never have attained; but then it is equally possible that, by sloth and indulgence, we may debase our natures to a degree equally wonderful. The knowledge and belief of Christianity itself, as well as every other advantage of which we are possessed, is also capable either of promoting the moral perfection of our natures, and our fitness for immortal happiness, or of making us the proper objects of a greater condemnation than that of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment.
It behoves us, then, to consider our situation and all our privileges very attentively, that we may make the best use of them. It is not in our option to be in any other circumstances than those in which our Maker has placed us. It will also avail us nothing to hide any talent in a napkin. As we have received it, we must give an account of the use we make of it.
We are likewise ignorant of the time when this account will be called for; and great and serious as the business of life is, the time allowed for the despatch of it is both short and uncertain; but though short, it is sufficient for the purpose of it, if it be rightly improved; and then the uncertainty of its duration is a circumstance that does not need to give us any concern. “At such an hour as we think not, the Judge may come; ” but then, “blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching.”
CHRISTIANITY ELEWATES THE CHARACTER.
CHRISTIANITY is the last dispensation of God to mankind; and it doth not seem possible, that more ample provision should be made to enlarge the views and comprehension of the human mind, in order to fix its attention upon great and remote objects, and raise it above the influence of present and temporary things.
A true Christian, like his great Master, is not of this world, but a citizen of heaven. He considers himself as a stranger and pilgrim here below, and lives by faith, and not by sight. Let him be ever so poor and despised here, he looks upon himself as an heir of immortal glory and felicity, of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him. He may see his body decaying with old age, wasting with a disorder, or mangled with torture, and every way at the mercy of his enraged persecutors ; but he rejoices in the firm belief and expectation of its rising again incorruptible at the last day, and that when Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, shall appear, he also shall appear with him in glory.
What an elevation of thought and sentiment is here! How must this faith make us overcome the world, and render us superior to its allurements or its threats | With this enlarged comprehension of mind, which brings the future consequences of his actions into immediate prospect, it is impossible that a sincere Christian should live addicted to vicious gratifications and pursuits, which he must see to be destructive of these his animating hopes; and he must
necessarily grow more in love with that temper and conduct which is, with the greatest propriety, called Christian, and which ensures to him these glorious expectations. As He who has called him to these great privileges is holy, so will he also be holy in all manner of conversation. It will be his daily endeavour to cultivate that holiness of heart and life, without which, he is sensible, no man can see the Lord. With this hope set before him, all the afflictions of this present life will seem light, trifling, and not worthy to be named with, but will be absolutely lost in the consideration of, that eternal weight of glory which awaits his patient continuance in well-doing. This superiority to present and temporary things, which is attained by truly Christian principles, is of the most rational nature, being of the same kind with that which is acquired by experience, and which necessarily results from the structure of our minds, and the circumstances in which Divine Providence has placed us in this world: for it is only perfecting the association of those ideas which have a real connexion, and uniting in our minds the several parts of one whole, and things which nothing but time separates. If it be compared with that kind of superiority which might be acquired by other principles, those of the Stoics, for instance, its advantage will appear to be exceedingly great. The Stoic affects to despise pain, because, according to his arbitrary definition of things, it cannot be called an evil, and does not depend upon himself. Having imagined, though without any ground, that every man's happiness must, in any case, arise from himself (in exclusion even of the Divine Being,) he thinks it absurd to complain of any thing which he could not help. Complaint implies a sense of unhappiness; and this, according to his hypothesis, can never take place without his own consent. If his wife of child be in the most dreadful agonies, he looks, or affects to look, on their condition with the greatest tranquillity and the most unfeeling indifference, satisfied that sickness and