Page images
PDF

who stand at his judgment seat. Very true, it is not thus in human judicature. The same punishment is inflicted upon crimes of very different color and malignancy; and crimes of the same denomination have very different guilt in different persons and different circumstances. But this is a defect in human laws, and proceeds from a defect of power. We have no knowledge of each other's motives and circumstances, to be able to ascertain with precision our mutual merit or guilt; or, if we could, there exists not within the compass of human treatment that precise gradation of punishment which is necessary to a perfect retribution of so much pain for so much guilt; but no such defect either of knowledge or power can be imputed to the Deity. He knows the secrets of our hearts, the true motive and the exact value of every virtue, all the circumstances of aggravation and mitigation which attend every crime, and he can form and mould his creatures, so as to make them susceptible of every degree of happiness, and of every degree of misery. But in truth, this part of the subject, the consistency of the plan with natural reason and justice, admits of little doubt. The only doubt, if any, is whether it be sufficiently consonant with the several declarations of scripture. I propose to show but three passages of scripture, which expressly affirm this difference and gradation of rewards and punishments, and that there are none inconsistent with it. Passages to this effect are, first, Luke xii. 47. The servant which knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. Here different degrees of punishment are plainly asserted. Both-were evil doers, but in a different degree. Accordingly both were to be punished, but with a proportionable difference; both were to be beaten, but one with many stripes, the other with few. A diversity of rewards is also to be collected from the parable of the ten pieces of money, as recorded in the nineteenth chapter of St Luke. “And he called his ten servants, and delivered unto them ten pounds; and when he returned, the first came, saying, Thy pound hath gained ten pounds; and he said unto him, Well done, thou good servant; because thou hast been faithful over a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds; and he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.” Here, you observe, both were virtuous, both were rewarded ; but the virtue and diligence of the one was double that of the other, and his “ reward was double. When our Saviour speaks of the last in the kingdom of heaven, it shows that there are greater and less in that kingdom. When he says that it shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, by reason of the different warnings they had received, it shows that of the punishment to be denounced at that awful day, some will be more tolerable and some more severe. These are our Saviour's own declarations. St Paul supposes different degrees of punishment in the tenth chapter of Hebrews, twentyeighth, twentyninth verses; ‘He that despised Moses's law died without mercy; of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God P’ And still more positively he notices the difference, in the rewards we are to expect, proportioned to our different merit, 2 Cor. ix. 6; “This I say, he which Soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” These words are directly to our purpose. We are authorized to say, therefore, that there are passages of scripture which plainly suppose a distinction of rewards, and a distinction of punishments. And we further say, that there are none which contradict it. It is true there are various passages of scripture which speak of a place of happiness, and a place of misery, of being received into, and sitting down in the kingdom of heaven, and of being thrust out into outer darkness where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; of the children of God, and the children of the devil; of saving the soul and losing it. These at first sight, and strictly taken, seem to intimate that there are two, and only two states, one of great happiness, and the other of great misery; and that one or other of these two conditions is to be the destiny of every man. But if you come to consider these expressions, what is there in them after all? Do not we ourselves perpetually speak of the good and the bad, of the righteous and the wicked, of virtue and vice, of well doers and evil doers? Yet do these expressions imply, or are the persons who use them understood to assert, that all the good are equally good, and all the bad equally bad that because we mention only two distinctions of actions, of virtue and vice, that there are only two? that there are not also degrees and distinctions in different virtues and betwixt different vices? In like manner we speak of happiness and misery, and of many men as either enjoying the one or suffering the other; but do these terms exclude all degrees of difference in happiness and

misery Do they import that the happy are equally blessed, or the miserable equally wretched 2 If, therefore, no such construction is to be put on the terms and phrases we are every day using, is it to be insisted on, or supposed to be intended, in similar terms and phrases when they occur in scripture ? Having then shown that it is both reasonable and scriptural to believe that there are prepared for us rewards and punishments of every possible degree, from the highest happiness down to extreme misery, I proceed to consider the uses to be made of the doctrine, for the purpose of resolving the difficulties and objections before stated. And first, as to the objection that is made to the scriptures, that they have not defined with exactness the precise quantity of virtue necessary to salvation, we conceive that this, so far as we can judge, was impracticable, and upon the plan we have explained unnecessary. It is impracticable; for however a revelation be imparted origimally to the prophet or apostle who receives the inspiration from God, it must be communicated from him to others, by the ordinary and natural vehicle of language. It behoves those who make the objection to show that any form of words could be devised, which might express this quantity, or that it is possible to constitute such a standard of moral attainments, accommodated to the almost infinite diversities which subsist in the capacities and opportunities of different men. Would it be equitable, according to our conceptions of equity, to exact the same from an unbelieving Indian, that might reasonably be required of a well informed Christian 2 and if you attempt to compute the degrees that exist between these two extremes, they will soon be found too numerous and too various to be ascertained by any description which words can convey. Secondly, it is unnecessary; for upon the plan of a gradation of rewards and punishments, whatever advancement we make in virtue, we procure a proportionable accession of future happiness; as on the other hand, any accumulation of vice is the treasuring up so much wrath against the day of wrath ; which is all that is needful for us to know or to act upon. And this contains an answer to the objection, that there is no encouragement to strive after superior attainments in virtue and holiness. According to this account there is the greatest. In our Father's house are many mansions, of different capacities for happiness; and it is our business, as it is in our power, to promote and advance our good hereafter, by suitable endeavours and exertions here. Again, we are thus enabled to reply to the difficulty that has been started, that this distribution of rewards and punishments into heaven and hell, into a state of happiness and a state of misery, cannot easily be reconciled to practice, because there must be little to choose between the worst who are received into the kingdom of heaven, and the best who are excluded; for how know we but that there may be little to choose in these conditions? It will be so upon the supposition, which appears so agreeable to reason and scripture, that the various conditions of our future life will descend by insensible steps from extreme happiness to extreme misery. Lastly; the whole doctrine, and these several observations upon it, all meet in one point, tending to establish that one magnificent conclusion, that be our endeavours after virtue ever so vigorous, continued or well directed, our labor is not in vain. We know in whom we trust; that from his righteous judgment we may look for a full and complete reward, for a crown of glory and bliss, not only proportioned to, but exceeding, all we may, as well as can, either conceive or desire.

LVI.

THE BEING OF GOD DEMONSTRATED IN THE WORKS OF CREATION. *

PART I.
HEBREws XI. 3. '

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

THE belief of a God is the corner stone of all religion. Whatever be a man’s persuasion, whether he be Christian, Jew, Mahometan, or Pagan, this is the point assented to by all; because, without this, if there be in truth no God, all religions are equally vain. It is said that there neither is, nor ever was, a country or nation in the whole world that did not believe a God in some way, how much soever disguised and corrupted. Whatever senseless opinions and absurd and barbarous rites were mixed up with it, whatever superstructure of superstition and idolatry had been built upon it, still there was a belief of God at the bottom. Whether this be exactly true or not, I do not know; but it is undoubtedly true, that, if there be any tribe of men without the notion of a God, it is some tribe so stupid and savage, so destitute of all heed and consideration, as to be, in the concerns of religion, precisely in the condition of a child of two or three years old. There may be, perhaps, some few who are taken up entirely with things present, with sensual and animal gratifications, without any more idea of religion, or of what is to become of them after death, or of a God, ruling and existing above them, than an infant has among us; possibly there may be a very few such. But of all others, of all the civilized, of all the rational, of all the cultivated parts of the world, it may be affirmed with certainty, that the belief in a God is universal. Now, undoubtedly, there must be some strong plain reason for this opinion, that would strike the understanding of mankind in all ages and countries so forcibly as to produce such a universal agreement amongst them. Distant regions and distant ages could never all hit upon the same conclusion, if there was not some evident proof that led them to it, some argument comprehended, that carried irresistibly to the same truth. Which argument is no other than simply this; marks of contrivance in nature abound every where about us, therefore there must have Been a contriver; proofs of design and intention are to be seen on all hands, therefore there must have been some one to have designed and intended. But this we are clear in ; that no human being, no being we see upon the face of the earth, could be the author of these contrivances; therefore it must be some other being, whom we do not see. This is the upshot of the argument; and it is not an argument for scholars only, for men of study and learning; it is an argument open and level to every capacity in the world; a sensible husbandman and a sensible mechanic, who think at all, will see thus far as perfectly as the best scholar in the world. Does any one doubt that vegetation was a thing designed 2 The seed, the blade, the stem, the flower, the ear ; the whole process, from the first budding to final decay, was a process planned and laid down. I say, that proofs of contrivance, and design, and intent, abound. Does any man doubt but that the eyes in our head were designed, intended, and contrived to see with ; that the tongue was designed to speak, the teeth to eat, the hands and fingers to handle and touch, the feet to walk with ? If there be a man

* The few following Sermons may seem placed out of their order; but they are added as protographs of the Natural Theology and the Evidences of Christianity. They appear to have been written between 1780 and 1790.

« PreviousContinue »