« PreviousContinue »
Yet, all we can say of this Primary, Uncreated Majesty and Felicity, is but mere talking to little or no sort of purpose : for here, not only words fail us, but even thought is at a stand, and quite overpowered, when we survey the Supreme, Selfexistent Being *, perfectly happy and glorious in the sole enjoyment of His own infinite perfections, throughout number,
ages, without angels, men, or any other creature : so that the poet had reason to say, “ What eye so strong, that the matchless brightness of Thy glory will not dazzle it, and make it closet".
Let us, therefore, descend into ourselves, but with a view to return to Him again : and not only so, but in such a manner, that the end and design of our descending to inquire into our own situation, be, that we may, with greater advantage, return and reascend to God. For, if we inquire into our own ultimate end, this disquisition must rise above all other beings, and at last terminate in Him; because He Himself is that very end, and out of Him, there is neither beginning nor end. The felicity of angels, which is an intermediate degree of happiness, we shall not insist on, not only because it is foreign to our purpose, but also, because our felicity and theirs will be found, upon the matter, to be precisely the same.
With regard to our own happiness, we shall first shew, that such happiness really exists ; and, next, inquire, what it is, and wherein it consists.
We assert, then, that there is such a thing as human felicity, And this ought rather to be taken for granted as a matter unquestionable, than strictly proved. But when I speak of human felicity, I am well satisfied you will not imagine, I mean such a happiness as may be had from human things, but that I take the term subjectively, and understand by it the happiness of man. Now, he who would deny, that this is not only
among the number of possibles, but actually attained by some part, at least, of the human race, would not only render himself unworthy of such happiness, but even of human nature itself; because he would thereby do all in his power to deprive it of its highest expectations and its greatest honour ; but whoever allows, that all things were produced by the hand of an infinitely wise Creator, cannot possibly doubt, that man, the head and ornament of all His visible works, was made capable of a proper and suitable end. The principal beauty of the creation consists in this, that all things in it are disposed in the most excellent order, and every particular intended for some noble and suitable end; and if this could not be said of man, who is the glory of the visible world, what a great deformity must it be, how great a gap in nature ! And this gap must be the greater, in that, as we have already observed, man is naturally endued with strong and vigorous desires to wards such an end. Yet, on this absurd supposition, all such desires and expectations would be vain, and to no purpose ; and so, something might be said in defence of that peevish and impatient expression which escaped the Psalmist in a fit of excessive sorrow, and he might have an excuse for saying, Why hast Thou made all men in vain? Psal. Ixxxix. 47. This would not only have been a frightful gap in nature, but, if I am allowed so to speak, at' this rate, the whole human race must have been created in misery, and exposed to unavoidable torments, from which they could never have been relieved, had they been formed, not only capable of a good quite unattainable and altogether without their reach, but also with strong and restless desires towards that impossible good. Now, as this is by no means to be admitted, there must necessarily be some full, permanent, and satisfying good, that may be attained by man, and in the possession of which he must be truly happy.
When we revolve these things in our minds, do we not feel from within, a powerful impulse, exciting us to set aside all other cares, that we may discover the one chief good, and attain to the enjoyment of it? While we inhabit these bodies,
I own, we lie under a necessity of using corporeal and fading things; but there is no necessity that we should be slaves to our bellies and the lusts of the flesh, or have our affections glued to this earth: nay, that it should be so, is the highest and most intolerable indignity. Can it be thought, that man was born merely to cram himself with victuals and drink, or gratify the other appetites of a body which he has in common with the brutes ? to snuff up the wind, to entertain delusive and vain hopes all the days of his life, and, when that short scene of madness is over, to be laid in the
and reduced to his original dust ? Far be it from us to draw such conclusions: there is certainly something beyond this, something so great and lasting, that, in respect of it, the short point of time we live here, with all its bustle of business and pleasures, is more empty and vanishing than smoke.
66 I am more considerable,” says one, “and born to greater matters, than to become the slave of my diminutive body *.” With how much greater truth might we speak thus, were we regenerated from Heaven! Let us be ashamed to live with our heads bowed down, like grovelling beasts gazing upon the earth, or even to catch at the vain and airy shadows of science, while, in the mean time, we know not, or do not consider, whence we took our rise, and whither we are soon to return, what place is to receive our souls, when they are set at liberty from these bodily prisons. If it is the principal desire of your souls to understand the nature of this felicity, and the way that leads to it, search the Scriptures ; for, from them alone, we all think, or profess to think, we can have eternal life. I exhort and beseech you, never to suffer so much a one day to pass, either through lazy negligence or too much eagerness in inferior studies, without reading some part of the sacred records with a pious and attentive disposition of mind; still joining with your reading, fervent prayer, that you may thereby draw down that Divine light, without which spiritual things cannot
* Major sum, et ad majora genius, quam ut sim mancipium mei corpusculi.
be read and understood. But with this light shining upon them, it is not possible to express how much sweeter you will find these inspired writings, than Cicero, Demosthenes, Homer, Aristotle, and all the other orators, poets, and philosophers. They reason about an imaginary felicity, and every one in his own way advances some precarious and uncertain thoughts upon it; but this Book alone shews clearly, and with absolute certainty, what it is, and points out the way that leads to the attainment of it. This is that which prevailed with St. Augustine to study the Scriptures, and engaged his affection to them. “ In Cicero, and Plato, and other such writers,” says he, “I meet with many things wittily said, and things that have a moderate tendency to move the passions; but in none of them do I find these words, Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest *.'
In which it is proved that Human Felicity cannot be found either in the
earth or earthly things,
We are all in quest of one thing, but almost all of us out of the right road ; therefore, to be sure, the longer and the more swiftly we move in a wrong path, the further we depart from the object of our desires : and if it is so, we can speak or think of nothing more proper and seasonable, than of inquiring about the only right way, whereby we may all come “ to see the bright fountain of goodness*.” I know you will remember, that on the last occasion, we proposed the most important of all questions, viz., that concerning our ultimate end, or the way to discover true happiness; to which, we asserted, that all mankind do aspire with a natural, and therefore a constant and uniform ardour; or rather, we supposed, that all are sufficiently
* Apud Ciceronem et Platonem, aliosque ejusmodi scriptores, multa sunt acute dicta, et leniter calentias sed in iis omnibus hoc non invenio, Venite ad me, &c. [MATT. xii. 28.!
opo Boni fontem visere lucidum.
acquainted with this happiness, nay, really do, or at least may feel it within them, if they thoroughly know themselves. For this is the end of the labours of men; to this tend all their toils. This is the general aim of all, not only of the sharp-sighted, but the blear-eyed and short-sighted; nay even of those that are quite blind, who though they cannot see the mark they propose to themselves, yet are in hopes of reaching it at last : that is to say, though their ideas of it are very confused and imperfect, they all desire happiness in the obvious sense of the word. We have also observed, that this term, in its general acceptation, imports that full and perfect good which is suited to intelligent nature*. It is not to be doubted but the felicity of the Deity, as well as His being, is in Himself, and from Himself. But our inquiry is concerning our own happiness. We also positively determined, that there is some blessed end suited and adapted to our nature, and that this can by no means be denied; for since all parts of the universe have proper ends suited and adapted to their natures, that the most noble and excellent creature of the whole sublunary world, should in this be defective, and therefore created in vain, would be so great a solecism, such a deformity in the whole fabric, and so unworthy of the supreme and all-wise Creator, that it can by no means be admitted, nor even so much as imagined. This point being settled, viz., that there is some determinate good, in the possession whereof the mind of man may be fully satisfied and at perfect rest, we now proceed to inquire what this good is, and where it may be found. The first thing, and at the same time a very
considerable step towards this discovery, will be to shew where and in what things this perfect good is not to be found; notonly because this point being settled, it will be easier to determine wherein it actually consists; nay, the latter will naturally flow from the former; but also because, as has been observed, we shall find the far greater part of mankind pursuing vain shadows and phantoms of happiness, and, throughout their whole lives, wandering in a
* Πρώτον τε, εχατον τε, και μέγιστον καλόν,