« PreviousContinue »
and our conduct and feelings are at variance with the convictions of our judgment. We believe that this life is a mere point, in comparison of the life to come: we act as if it were infinitely more important. We believe that the life to come will endure through endless ages: we act as if it were as short as the present fleeting existence. We believe that this life is a scene of vanity and vexation: we act as if it were the only place of rest and enjoyment. We believe that heaven is the seat of infinite and ever-during happiness, in which age rolls on after age, in endless succession without any diminution of enjoyment: we act as if it it were not worth our while to bestow any pains in securing a share in that heavenly inheritance.
It may be said, indeed, that if our minds were occupied by the contemplation of heaven, in a degree proportioned to its excellence, we should be unfit for the ordinary business of the world. “This world” it way be said, “is doubtless a poor and mean place, in comparison of heaven; its employments low and sordid; its enjoyments few and imperfect and transitory: yet it is the world in which our Creator has placed us for a a time; and he has given us capacities and feelings and tastes congenial to it. He has made it necessary for us to toil and labour in it; and the constitution of the world is such as to require attention and activity, and a considerable degree even of eagerness and solicitude about worldly things, in order to discharge the necessary
offices of life. It becomes our duty, therefore, whilst we are in the world, not to undervalue it too much, nor to long after another in such a manner as would tend to disqualify us for this.”
This objection would be very formidable, if it were founded on true premises; for, undoubtedly, whatever tends to unfit us for the ordinary duties of life, as well as whatever tends to render us dissatisfied with our present lot, must be wrong. But it will be easy to shew, that all the objections which represent that joyful hope and earnest desire of heaven which religion inspires,
as incompatible with the business of this life are founded upon a misapprehension of the nature either of that hope, or of the proper business of life.
1. If our hope and desire of heaven were of a nature to produce either discontent or listless indolence, with respect to the affairs of this life, we admit they might fairly be represented as injurious. But this is very far from being the case. Indeed, there is nothing which tends more to repress discontent, and to excite a cheerful spirit of thankfulness to God than the hope in question. It soothes us, amidst all our troubles, with the cheering contemplation of a glorious state of rest and enjoyment, when this short and fleeting life is ended. It represents all the afflictions we suffer here as very light, as enduring but for a moment, and as working out for us a far more exceeding, even an eternal, weight of glory. What man will be discontented with his state, be it what it may, if he knows that it is but for a moment, and if he has before his eyes a scene of boundless happiness to which it is introductory? No: it is the man who is earthly-minded, who builds all his hopes on this world, and expects no other enjoyment but what this uncertain life may afford: he it is who when he is crossed and disappointed in his expectations, is apt to murmur at his lot, to sink into despair, and even to loathe the boon of life. A worldly frame of mind is fitted to feel trouble and affliction keenly and bitterly; heavenly mindedness teaches us to use the world without overvaluing it: to enjoy its lawful pleasures, yet not unduly to grieve for their loss. And if ever religion fails ultimately to produce cheerfulness, it is because it has not had its proper and full influence; it is because it has not yet produced a lively and cheering hope of immortality.
Neither does a just hope of heaven tend to produce a listless indolence with respect to the lawful business of this life: for heaven when rightly understood, is but the perfection of holiness, the complete and perfect fulfilment of the will of our heavenly Father. The
happiness of heaven consists in submission to God's appointments, and active obedience to his will. It is not a paradise of sensual enjoyment, and dishonourable sloth; but it is the exertion of the best energies of the soul, directed to the highest and noblest objects. He, therefore, who entertains a just idea of heaven, and desires its happiness, will be disposed by that very desire to be active in doing whatever is pure, and just, and honourable and holy: and bis activity will flow from the noblest and the most powerful motives by which men or angels can be influenced.
2. The objection is likewise founded on a misapprehension of the proper business of life.--If, indeed, the business of life consisted in accumulating worldly conveniences, in obtaining worldly possessions, in gratifying to the utmost worldly passions, then the hope of heaven, deeply implanted in the mind, might unfit us for an eager application to such pursuits; but the true business of life, as intended by our Creator, and sanctioned by reason and religion, is of a very different kind: it is to fulfil most conscientiously all the duties we owe to God; the duties of piety, love, reverence resignation, confidence, humility, obedience;—as well as the duties we owe to our fellow-creatures. It is to be diligent in the discharge of the duties of our station; to be meek and merciful, kind and forgiving, just and temperate in all our conduct. And as for worldly desires and pleasures, our business is to bring them under subjection; to be very moderate and guarded in our pursuit of them, while we sit loose to the world, despise its vanities and are indifferent to its pomps. If this be a just view of the business of life, it is evident that, in the hope of heaven, there is nothing which does not coincide with it, and which will not tend to make a man fulfil, more faithfully and diligently, every obligation of life.
Indeed, it must be acknowledged, that the grand business of religion, is to correct those views, and mortify those dispositions, which nourish worldliness of mind. We must remember that this is a fallen world, and that we inherit a corrupt nature; and that God has ordained religion as a means of weaning the heart from the love of the world and its objects, and fixing the affections upon higher and better things above. This life is not the whole, nor even the principal part, of our existence; nay, it is only an extremely small part of it. We are apt, indeed, to place far too high a value upon it. But it never ought to be considered, by us, in any other view than as it stands related to the life to come; the life which endures through millions of ages; the glorious inheritance to which we are born again in Christ Jesus. Hence religion is continually setting before us that world, and that life, and exhorting us to become dead to this world; that a better life may be laid up for us above with Christ in God. How reasonable and how just an expectation! My brethren, if there is indeed an eternal life to come, never, never ought it to be long absent from our contemplation. It ought to be the grand regulator of all our present desires, hopes, pursuits, and employments. Never, never do we live aright, because we never live rationally till our life here is rendered wholly subservient to that which is to come. Never can we have even the true enjoyment of this life till we are looking for and hasting to the coming of Christ; looking for it with anxiety, as the consummation of all our wishes: and hasting to it, as a person just finishing a painful journey hastens his steps as he draws near to his beloved home.
The hope of heaven is a principle peculiarly Christian. Life and immortality were communicated by Christ. Heaven is his kingdom, prepared by him for the reception of his disciples, that where he is there they may be also. In the heathen world, the views of a future state were too dark and uncertain to render it an object of hope or strong desire; and, even in the Jewish dispensation, the nature of the life to come, its certainty and glory, were only darkly revealed, and became a strong spring of action only to the few who studied
the Word of God with a more than ordinary degree of attention and humility. But our blessed Saviour, who is himself the Resurrection and the Life, has revealed to us the future world fully and clearly: he has set it before us, as a constant object of hope and motive to action,--the purest, the noblest, and the strongest which can animate the human breast. The possession of this hope lightens every care; sooths every sorrow; and enables us to bear the heaviest afflictions without repining. It endears to us the blessed dispensation in which it is revealed: it gives a new, a holy, a delightful aspect to this life, and elevates its importance when considered as a preparative for endless felicity: and it throws a glorious splendour about that exalted Saviour, who bestows upon us such an inheirtance as the reward of our faithful service. Through this glorious hope many have triumphed in the flames: others have been tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and the whole body of real Christians, in every age, have held on their way, through the wilderness of this world, patient, and even joyful in tribulation; they have lived in all purity, and died in peace; trusting, through a Saviour's intercession and grace, to obtain a glorious kingdom above.
My Christian brethren,-on whom, as your minister in Christ, it is my duty to urge every Christian motive,- earnestly and affectionately pray that I may be made instrumental, through the Divine blessing, in building you up in your most holy faith, and in training you for the mansions of eternal glory. You believe in the life to come; you acknowledge that heaven contains every thing to which your purest and dearest hopes can aspire: but still I fear lest the impression produced by this persuasion should not be deep, and powerful, and abiding. It is possible to hold all Christian doctrines, and yet to hold them so coldly, so negligently, so much as a mere matter of speculation, that no practical benefit, no regenerating influence on