Page images

these have generally become so thoroughly wrought and set in the character, that they can never afterwards be extracted. How important, then, that you set out in life on the right course, with your resolution firmly fixed, by the divine aid, to persevere in it, whatever sacrifice it may cost you! A single error, committed in the outset, may betray you into a thousand others, which, though you may bitterly regret, you will never be able to retrieve. How often do we not see this to be the case with persons advanced in years. Most sorely do they grieve the consequences of their former folly; the misimprovement of advantages once enjoyed; time misspent; good counsel, given by parents and others, slighted and disregarded. Now, therefore, is the time to prevent these regrets, by avoiding the course which leads to them.

The text not obscurely intimates that,

3. Care and pains are requisite in order to a good and virtuous life. He that would cleanse his way must take “heed to it:" an expression which denotes caution, foresight, and prudent consideration. Now these are precisely the qualities in which young people are generally deficient. They are not conscious to themselves of any thing very evil in their character; nor are they aware that there is so much wickedness in the world as really there is. They have, as yet, met with but little to try them, and put their viriue to the proof. They may have many weak points, therefore, of which they have not the slightest suspicion; and even many seeds of wickedness, that lie dormant in their hearts, which only wait for some adequate temptation to call them forth. Hence they are confident in themselves. They see no danger; and of course feel not the need of caution. Their virtue is yet but negative; it is rather innocent than positively right moral principle; for that has its root in consideration, a state of mind to them al. most wholly unknown. They have, as yet, little sense of obligation; no deep and settled conviction of moral and religious truth; no just views of themselves, nor of human life; nor any steady regard to a future state. Gay and thoughtless, their feelings mostly take their rise from the objects and scenes around them, and seldom from reflection. Such is the character of the young, in general; and though it is a character of comparative innocence, a little reflection will show that its innocence resis on a very precarious foundation. For, as the symmetry of the fairest countenance may be entirely destroyed by the slightest addition to its most prominent features; so as to give to the whole a hideous and distorted appearance; so, it requires the peculiar properties and tendencies of the young to be augmented in but a small degree, to give to the whole moral character the aspect of the most shocking deformity. Take, for instance, a simple young man, whose character is no worse than that which I have ascribed to the young in general, and let his inconsiderateness, by a little augmentation, run into recklessness; his confidence, into arrogance and self-conceit; his gaity, into frivolity; his courage, into obstinacy and audacity; his love of pleasure, into profligate sensuality: and all that will be wanting, is the impact of some adequate occasion to push him off his balance and plunge him, at once, into crime and ruin. It is true, indeed, as a general rule, that— nemo repente fit turpissimus”.

-no one arrives at the summit of wickedness but by degrees. Yet history furnishes instances more than a few, of persons rushing forth, from the ranks of the comparatively young and the seemingly innocent, with a violence and an impetuosity which seemed to hurry them over the whole trajectory of the moral sphere, as if by the impulse of one fearful move. ment, landing them at once in the very extremes of wickedness. Nor is this so strange as to be altogether unaccountable. For innocence is not virtue: neither is the absence of any actual volition to sin, innocence: and the “ fountains of the great deep” in man's corrupt nature, may be covered over and concealed by a superficial incrustation of seeming goodness, composed and held together by the restraints of circumstances; and, when this is the case, the first shock of the tem. pest will break them up, and a scene of moral desolation will ensue.

These remarks, for the justness of which I may safely appeal to the voice of experience, show us the need of something to supply to the young that caution and reserve, that prudence and foresight, and, in short, that strength of moral principle, which they have not yet lived long enough to have derived from habit and experience. And this, as I shall attempt to show in another part of the subject, to which we shall instantly proceed, is no where to be found but in the careful study of the Holy Scriptures.

There is no one, probably, that has lived to the years of maturity, in a Christian country, who has not heard and understood something of the doctrine of future retributions, as it is revealed in the Bible; and there is no one that has ever heard it who can avoid frequently thinking of it; and there is no one who frequently thinks of it, but will be in some degree influenced by it. For as, on the one hand, it must be granted, that no one now in life knows, to an absolute certainty, the truth of the doctrine, -since thus to know it a man must actually prove it by dying and going to eternity,—and since, whatever evidence of it we may have here is only of the nature of faith, which, in its highest degrees, is still less than sight; yet, on the other hand, it is reasonable to suppose, even if experience were silent on the subject, that as, on the scale of moral evidence, there is a gradation from the lowest point on the scale, where the light of probability first faintly glimmers, till we reach the full assurance of faith, where the light of evidence shines wïth but a shade less bright than that of absolute certainty: since this is the case, I say, it is reasonable to suppose that a man may, by taking the proper course, have his mind brought up to such a state of habitual, constant, and settled satisfaction, in regard to the truth of the doctrine, as to feel no longer any serious doubts on the subject. Now, your philosophy has taught you—and your Bible will confirm the truth of it—that interest, or a regard to one's good upon the whole, is one of the two great principles on which the mind acts in coming to a decision in matters of practical morality; and fur

ther, that hope and fear, which have been justly called the main springs of action, are moved by interest. It follows, that a belief in the doctrine of future retribution, must, in the very nature of things, exert an influence on these mainsprings, which will be transcendent; since that doctrine, as it is taught in the sacred Scriptures, carries our conceptions of the good we are to hope for, and the evil we are to dread, to the utmost boundary of thought itself. And, since the rewards expected and the evils dreaded, are to be bestowed and inflicted respectively on virtue and on vice, and on nothing else but virtue and vice—for so reason and Scripture jointly proclaim-it follows, that the influence of the doctrine must be as salutary as it is transcendent. Yet this influence, nobody will pretend, is too great even in those who most fully believe the doctrine. Do not the interests of public virtue imperatively demand that it should be much greater and more general than it is? And will there arise, think you, in the course of your future experience, no occasions which will demand all its strength? When you shall see, as you will see, should life be prolonged, others rising in the world around you to wealth and eminence by evil and dishonorable practices, will

you be able to keep your minds free from vexation, mortification, and envy? Not by the mere force of a resolution to do so; not by a sense of propriety alone, unsupported by a belief of the doctrine in question. When you shall meet with unreasonable, selfish people—and you will meet with them-people, who will regard with an evil eye whatever credit and reputation you may honestly gain in the world, as if it were so much wrong and injustice inflicted directly on themselves, and who will lose no opportunity to oppose your interests and detract from your merits, actuated by the double purpose

of gratifying their malice and raising themselves on the ruins of your reputation; will you be able to preserve your tranquillity? will you able to avoid turning aside from the regular discharge of your duties to repel their attacks, and perhaps to hurl back upon them their own poisoned weapons; thus sacrificing the purity and peace of your mind on the altar of resentment? Not by the mere force of a resolution previously adopted; not by a sense of propriety alone, unsupported by a religious belief of the doctrine in question. When men, who have adopted for their motto the licentious maxim that, “ the world is a cheat, and he is a fool who will not have a hand in it," ask you to join their company, and demand of you either to unite in their measures or at least connive at them, and moreover, threaten you with their deadliest vengeance in case of refusal—and you will be fortunate if you do not meet with such cases-what shall prevent you from acceding to their infamous proposals? Not your resolutions to the contrary; not your sense of propriety merely, unsupported by a religious belief of the doctrine in question. When repeated instances shall occur—as occur they will, unless you take better care of yourselves than any good and virtuous person is ever likely to do-instances in which, after having labored to promote the interests of the public and of individuals to the very utmost of your abilities, with zeal, and dili


gence, and vigilance, and care; watching as if your life were at stake for an opportunity to serve them, you will find yourself repaid with the blackest ingratitude, and when, on the back of that, as a justification of that same ingratitude, your beneficiaries become your accusers and lay to your charge the most atrocious villainies; what shall prevent you from becoming soured at such ill treatment-hating and loathing such miscreants; and hating and loathing your species because they belong to it; and wishing yourselves out of a world that contains such monsters? Or, at least, what shall prevent you from growing weary in well-doing, and ceasing to make further effort to benefit a race who know not how to distinguish a benefactor from an enemy? Not, I assure you, any resolutions you can make; not your mere sense of propriety, unsupported by a religious belief of the doctrine in question. Or, whe scenes of worldly prosperity open around you, bright and glowing with whatever can regale the sense, or delight the fancy, or charm the affections—and possibly God may call you to this so severe a trial—what shall keep you from drinking in the fascinating influence, and becoming enervated, stupefied, delirious? Not any resolutions to the contrary; not the most stoical fortitude; not the strength of mere human virtue, if not supported by a religious belief in the grand doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments: a doctrine which teaches us that to save life, in the sense of making the most of present circumstances, is to lose it for ever; that to live for pleasure here, is to incur the certainty of endless suffering hereafter.

But a severer trial than any of these is awaiting you. In what is called the Christian world, there is but too little of real Christianity. Some who call themselves Christians, are no better than infidels; some may bė not even so good. And when you mingle among them and witness their course of life, differing in nothing from that of the mass of mankind, except, perhaps, that they are scrupulously nice and exact in their observance of certain modes and forms, and rigidly tenacious of certain peculiarities of their creed, while they hate and villify all who differ from them, you will perhaps be ready to say, So! here is Christianity; and I am bound to reject it with abhorrence. Not so; you must “ cleanse your way" from the fatal errors into which a judg. ment so rash and unfounded would be likely to lead you, by w taking heed thereto according to the Scriptures.” There you will find, especially in the discourses of the Great Teacher himself, that Christianity is as different from the caricature of it presented in the lives of such men, as was the character of the ancient Pharisees from that of the divine Master himself.

Another doctrine of the sacred Scriptures, which furnishes a source of strong and peculiar motives to a virtuous life, is that of our redemption by the death of Christ. This is a theme, to contemplate which, we must rise far above the range of our ordinary conceptions; we must take our stand within the vail which separates the things of time from those of eternity; and, on an eminence, so to speak, near the throne of God; mighty angels, cherubim and seraphim around us; spirits of the

[ocr errors]

just made perfect chanting hallelujahs in our raptured cars; mercy and truth met together; righteousness and peace embracing; sin and death vanquished; and a new order of things arising to view out of the ruins of the apostacy. And all this is the achievement of almighty love: for God is love. “ Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world! Behold the way of access into the holiest, laid open by the blood of Jesus.

What motives to love God and keep his commandments are here! We know, we feel, that mere authority can never command our love; but we feel, also, that the love of God, our heavenly Father, can gain it. This, or nothing can.

But the Scripture doctrine of redemption exhibits also another trait in the character of God. See there, that bloody spectacle! Hark! that cry

agony: “ My God!

my God! why hast thou forsaken me!” Hark again:

“ It is finished!” That was a note of triumph. He dies—the God-man!—dies under the curse, a victim to justice, in our stead. Let not men hereafter make a mock at sin: for punishment from the Almighty follows it! “ It is a fearsul thing to fall into the hands of the living God." True, he can, and will pardon the penitent; but “on the wicked God shall rain snares; fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup.” All this is consonant with right reason, which teaches that the attributes of God are proportionate. It clearly comports with the same character of .perfect rectitude to punish vice as to reward virtue: and both are illustrated with equal clearness in the doctrine of our redemption. Whoever, consequently, believes this doctrine, in a right manner, must receive the impression of both on his heart; the one to attract, the other to awe; the one to encourage his confidence in its object, the other to prevent that confidence from degenerating into presumption and indecent familiarity. Can there be any state of mind either more proper in itself, or more likely to exert a good moral influence upon the chaacter, than the one which is thus produced?

It is further to be observed here, that the position in which the doctrines of the Bible place every serious inquirer, in relation to the great question of his acceptance with God, is precisely such as is most favorable to virtue; because it gives scope for the fullest operation, at once, of both hope and fear. A state of perfect certainty would exclude one or the other. If we were sure of final happiness, fear, and if, of final misery, hope, would expire; and, in either case, we should have no stimulus to exertion arising from considerations of the future. A man may, indeed, pretend that gratitude for so great a boon as the certainty of his eternal salvation, supersedes the necessity of fear, by the introduction, in its place, of a more generous motive. To this I would reply, that, supposing it to be true, as some hold, that an inad. missible title to eternal life may be made out for a man in this world and that it is his privilege to know the fact; yet it might be well for him still further to inquire how he knows it. Is his knowledge of it complete? If he says it is, we may at once set him down for a con

« PreviousContinue »