Page images


will make their way to us, though our doors are guarded within and without. We need only have common understanding to see the evil that is in the world; and we must want common sense, if we feel no share of it ourselves.

The distemper then is plain : but who is he that can cure it? who can administer a remedy sufficient to the evil, and give ease to a heart oppressed with sorrows, and weighed down with a multitude of tormenting thoughts ? To find a cure for the evils of life has employed the thoughts of the wisest men in all ages; and the employment was worthy of all their care: but yet the world is where it was, nothing happier for their inquiries; still complaining, still calling out for help, and finding

Some bid us lay hold of the good things of the world, and open our hearts to the pleasures of life. Wholesome advice! but where are the good things to be purchased, the use of which they prescribe ? What merchant can furnish us with sincere pleasures, and ease of mind which knows no grief? Others bid us be above pain and sorrow, and call strongly on our reason to reject these phantoms of the imagination, which can have no effect on a wise man. A hard lesson! for though the master may forget common sense whilst he is teaching, yet the scholar will find it hard to forget it when it comes to feeling. What must we do then ? Must we give ourselves up to despair, and as a prey to the calamities of life ? No: one remedy there still is, unknown to the wisdom of Greece, unsought for by the men of this world, capable of administering pleasure and delight to our minds, amidst all the uncertainties and vexations that surround us. What this is you may learn from the words of the text, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul.'

The plain meaning of this is, that religion, or a just sense of our relation to God, is the only real and solid support against the

many evils of life : this is our sheet-anchor; with this no state of life is insupportable; without it no condition is tolerable.

Give me leave to examine before you the truth of this assertion.

Some evils there are which are natural, which are born with us, and from which no circumstances or condition of life can ever deliver us. Such is the fear of death : it is a fear common to young and old, to master and servant, king and subject : it arises with the first dawnings of reason, and continues with us to its last decay: it lives with us when we are poor, and forsakes us not when we are rich : it'embitters the misery of the oppressed, and corrupts the pleasures of the mighty. We bring with us into the world such an aversion to the going out of it, that, to speak in the language of Scripture, “through fear of death we are all our life-time subject to bondage.'

Now take religion out of the case, and divest a man of all hopes and confidence in God, and what has he to mitigate or lessen this evil? You will ask perhaps, what has he to fear from death, if God be out of the question, and there be no expectation of a judgment to come ? Is it then so easy a thing to reconcile ourselves to the prospect of being nothing? Is it an adequate cure for the fear of death, to be certain that we shall die without hope, and be no more for ever? Nature, we are sure, abhors this prospect; and if there be in it any pleasure, it must arise from some very unnatural cause; and so it always does. It is sin that makes men afraid of judgment, and the fear of judgment makes them willing to compound to be nothing. But this is not curing the fear of death, but it is choosing death out of dread of a much greater evil : it is flying for protection to death to avoid the terrors of judgment, as men leap out of a window when the house is on fire ; which is not despising the fall, but dreading the flame. It is not a remedy which reason would choose, but which it cannot tell how to avoid. When we prefer a less evil to a greater, the nature of things is not altered by our choice ; the evil we choose continues to be an evil, not eligible in itself, but only in respect of a greater evil to be avoided. The man who submits to have a leg cut off to save his life, does not think the losing of a limb to be a desirable thing, though he may be willing to part with & limb to save his life. By the same reason death does not cease to be a natural evil, nor does the natural fear of it vanish, when men hope to die for ever, rather than come to judgment. It shows, indeed, that they fear damnation more than death ; but it never can show that they have not the same natural aversion to death which others have. This comfort, therefore, this only comfort, which irreligion affords, is indeed no support at all against the natural fear of death : if any thing, it is a support against the fear of guilt, but no support against the fear of death. For suppose the man who believes nothing of the being of God, to be however a man of moral virtue, and clear of all guilt which may create a fear of future judgment, what comfort have you to give such an one against the natural aversion to death? Death will deliver him from nothing, and therefore he can have no hope in it: it will rob him of himself, of every thing; and unless he be so unnatural as to have no regard for himself, or any thing else, the prospect of it must be a constant uneasiness to him. Will you bid him steel his mind against these apprehensions, and resolutely cast all thoughts of death behind him? What is this but exhorting him not to exercise his reason on a subject which of all others most nearly concerns him ? And is this a proper instruction to a reasonable creature ? It is bidding men not see what is before them; as if blindness were a security against danger, and want of thought a cure for the natural evils of human life: which, if it be indeed the case, plainly shows that we must cease to be men, and to exercise the faculties of men, before we can lose the sense of these evils. Such, therefore, as reason in this manner,

confess themselves unable to cure the evils of life: since they are forced to destroy the man to get rid of the distemper; a practice which must prove either the physician to be a fool, or the evil to be incurable. Which of the two is the true case, will appear when we consider whether religion affords a proper remedy against this evil or no.

Since death is inevitable, this world can afford no cure for the apprehensions of it; nothing on this side the grave can calm these fears of nature: riches and honors are not worth mentioning in this question ; even the wisdom of the world, and all the solemn lectures of philosophy against the fear of death, are but like cordials given to criminals before execution, which lessen their fears only in proportion as they weaken their sense and understanding. Since then we must necessarily die, the fear of death can be allayed by nothing but the hope of living again : if we can have any good grounds on which we may entertain this hope, it is evident what an alteration it

makes in the case : death is no longer the same thing ; it is a sleep, from which we expect to wake to immortality; it is a step from a life of misery to a life of peace and pleasure, attended with no fears but what are swallowed up in the blessed expectation of eternity. This is the very hope which religion affords. The man who believes in God, and has a trust and confidence in his power, wisdom, and goodness, sees manifold reason to believe that God made him for better purposes, than to live a few years on this stage in misery and affliction : he çannot suppose that a Being of such excellency of wisdom and gooduess sent him into the world merely to live in perpetual fears of going out of it again. All the visible works of nature are liable to decay and dissolution ; and in that we are mortal, we are akin to all things round us: but then, of all the works of God, man alone lives in continual apprehensions of his dissolution : the material world is void of sense, and therefore void of fear; the brutes have so much fear of present danger, as is necessary to their preservation; but remove from them immediate danger, and they show no signs of the fear of death. This fear therefore, which is peculiar to man, if it serves no purpose

beyond this world, is an additional misery, which makes the condition of man to be worse than that of the brute which

perishes. What shall we say then ? that God has made all things perfect in their kind, and suited to their natural enjoyments ; and created man only for misery and affliction ? God forbid. The truth is, that the creatures, made for this world, have such fears only as are necessary for their preservation in this world : but man, ordained to eternal life, has such desires of life, such fears of death implanted in him, as are necessary to preserve to him that immortality to which he is created : these fears of death are perpetual calls to him, to secure to himself that life which shall never fail ; they are constant intimations to him to wean himself from this world, which will so soon fail, and to look out for a more certain abiding place. This is the language of God, speaking to us by the fears and the hopes of nature ; these are the comforts which refresh the soul in the multitude of thoughts which distract it.

But does not this hope, you will say, bring with it a great increase of fear ? The man who lives without God



sometimes at the thoughts of death, and the apprehensions of falling into nothing : but the believer has a much greater terror, even the terror of damnation, to alarm every fear and suspicion of his soul, and to keep him on a perpetual rack. He lives in a state of insecurity ; perfect he is not, but often sins; and every sin refreshes all his fears, and places the awful Judge, armed with anger and vengeance, full in his sight. Put this into his scale, and see which is the happier man, he who has only natural death to fear, or he who fears damnation also.

True it is, there is no comparison between the fear of temporal death and of death eternal : • Fear not them,” says our Saviour, who can only kill the body, but fear him who can cast both body and soul into hell-fire :' a plain intimation, were any intimation wanting in so plain a case, that there is no comparison to be made between the fears. But then it must be considered that the hopes and fears of futurity are not things of our own invention; they will not come at our calling, and go at our bidding ; for men hardly fear death itself more naturally, than they do a judgment to come : and the difference between a religious man and an irreligious man does not lie in this, that one fears a future judgment, and the other fears it not; for, commonly speaking, both fear it, and he the most who has least religion. It is no unusual thing for men to deny God in their actions, who confess him in their fears and apprehensions: and the bravery of irreligion consists more in hiding these fears from the world, than in being able to throw them out of the mind. This being the case, it is very

evident that the natural fear of death is very much heightened by the fears of futurity; which are very corroding and exasperating, where there are no hopes to mitigate and allay them : and this is the irreligious man's case ; he loses all the hopes of futurity by his irreligion, but cannot get rid of the terrors and apprehensions of it. And though the religious man may often have reason to fear, yet even his fear is a symptom of health, and is working towards the repentance not to be repented of : "for the Lord is his refuge, and God is the strength of his confidence.'

But suppose the religious man to be surrounded with the fears of futurity, if he has reason for his fears he must blame himself, and not his religion: religion wants not its comforts,

« PreviousContinue »