« PreviousContinue »
that covenant of which it was a part. It was local, temporary, and obligatory only on one people. Jesus commanded his laws to be published to every creature and throughout every land: he delivered them in a general manner, suited to every case, to every climate, and to every stage of society: he laid men under obligations that were universal, immutable, and everlasting. The Jewish law was mixed and accompanied with many ceremonies and rites, with sacrifices, offerings, and burnings of incense, with washings and purifications, with keeping of days and fasts, new moons and sabbaths, and solemn assemblies. The observance of it was, thus, rendered highly burdensome and expensive; and, while they were careful of the smaller matters of the law, viz. the ceremonial part, they forgot the weightier matters, mercy and judgment. On the other hand, the precepts of the gospel are all pure, spiritual and moral, unmixed with any unmeaning ceremony, unaccompanied with any burdensome service. The commandments of Jesus are not grievous;
yoke is easy, his burden is light.” True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, according to the definition of one of his
Apostles, is this, to visit the fatherless and the widow, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
We may add, that the christian morality is superiour to every other system, on account of the example of him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
But here let us draw back with awful reverence from so grand an object. For, with what. ever instruction and profit the character of Jesus may be studied and imitated, as delivered in the simple and unadorned page of the Evangelists, and as intermixed and spread out with the transactions of his life, whereby its splendour is softened and allayed; yet to delineate it by itself is a task for which the human powers are unequal; to collect all the scattered rays of excellence into one point, would form an object too bright and too glorious for human eyes to contemplate. We could no more behold it than we could look
the sun in his noontide blaze.
IV. Jesus Christ has discovered many important truths concerning our state after death; he has assured mankind of an immortal existence beyond the grave; he has brought to light, life and immortality, and a state of ever
lasting reward and punishment when this life is at an end. There is a thick cloud which hangs over the close of life, and which renders the objects that lie beyond it dark and invisible. He, who yesterday exulted in his strength, to day lies numbered with the dead. He is no longer reckoned among the sons of men.-Does he continue to exist somewhere else? Or, are those passions and affections which in the present life are so interesting; those thoughts and understandings which wander through eternity, those boasted powers of reason and conscience for ever lost and swallowed
in the womb of nothing? Let us hear the voice of nature, and then let us attend to the still louder voice of revelation. Mankind, in every age and nation, led by instinctive feeling, or by a native desire of immortality, have had some expectation and belief, that, the present life was not the whole of our duration, but, that, it was only an introduction to an eternal existence in a more perfect state of being. There are many facts in human nature which give some confirmation to this hope. When men contemplated the extent of their faculties, and the great dignity of the human soul, it must have been
with great difficulty they could ever bring themselves to believe, that, they were to share the same fate with the beasts which perish. They could not think it consistent with wisdom and goodness to suppose, that, such a being as man was made, only to pass a few days in frivolous pleasures and occupations, (and the life of most men amounts to nothing more,) and then to drop insensibly out of existence.When they viewed this world, and saw the unequal distribution of good and evil which took place in it: when they compared this with the notions, even the imperfect ones which they had formed, of the Governour of the universe, they presumed, that, there would be another scene of things, wherein happiness and misery would be exactly proportioned to virtue and vice. This presumption was, still, farther strengthened by those anticipations of punishment, and those horrours of conscience felt by bad men, even when out of the reach of juslice, in their moments of solitude and retirement; by that principle of the mind, curiosity, which perpetually leads us on to new and farther discoveries in knowledge, and, by the soul's continual progress toward perfection. But all this amounted, only, to probability
and hope. About the existence of a future life, men were still in great doubt and uncertainty. It was not sufficiently clear and plain to have much influence on their conduct. The joys and sorrows of a world which was invisible, and distant, and uncertain, could never have weight sufficient to overbalance those pleasures and objects of sense which were seen, which were near at hand, and which, strongly, solicited their acceptance. Something, in short, was wanting to confirm the wishes and expectations of nature. This aid was received from the light of the gospel. Jesus has dispelled the doubts and fears of mankind: he has established the belief of a future life upon a foundation no less certain and stable than that of the rock of ages whereon his religion itself is built: he has assured us, upon the authority of God, who cannot lie, that, though death may destroy our viler part, yet it dare not touch the image of God, that we are immortal, and that spirits formed by the breath of heaven cannot be extinguished.
We may add, that Jesus Christ has exemplified a future state, if the expression be allowable, has made it a matter almost of demonstra