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For now is our salvation nearer than when we
In the last discourse, we took occasion from these words, to direct your attention to the peculiar circumstance, that the increased proximity of a future state of existence should have been regarded by the first Christians, not merely as an argument for applying a more earnest attention to the precepts of the Gospel, or for withdrawing their affections from the objects of a fugitive world, but as a topic of gratulation; and remarked that it evinced a state of the feelings relative to the life to come, a liveliness of hope and expectation, which Christians rarely attain in our own time. However we may be solaced in our departure from this world by our faith in the Gospel, and however reconciled to the com
mon necessity of dying, it is not our wont to felicitate ourselves or our fellow Christians on our approach to a future and superior condition of existence; and however concerned and successful in ensuring our final salvation, we are not habitually conscious of an additional degree of satisfaction, in the reflection that “our salvation is nearer," by a certain space of time, “ than when we believed.” Without attempting a full and conclusive exposition of the causes to which this characteristic of the first Christians might be traced, it is proposed to consider the peculiar views and anticipations relative to the present world, with which they assumed the profession of Christianity. The subject is not one of speculation merely ; but may tend to the comfort of some, who lament their inability to participate in their feelings, and is surely applicable to the spiritual improvement of
It would argue, we apprehend, a somewhat superficial knowledge of the constitution of our nature, to suppose that the perfect and enduring happiness of the heavenly state, however firmly believed and expected by the Christian, would, in itself considered, be sufficient to excite his desire of immediately entering upon it, and create an increasing satisfaction in the thought that he was continually approaching it. In order that he should thus contemplate the exchange of his earthly condition for the state of heaven, it were not sufficient that he entertained the expectation of an indefinitely greater happiness in the world to come, than he had experienced, or could hope to realize, in the present stateit were not sufficient that he should be actuated by a desire, common to all mankind, of enlarging the scope of his enjoyments, or of bettering his condition : he must have surrendered the world “ that now is," and have overcome the love of life. For the strength, the tenacity of this principle, the love of life, is not strictly proportioned to the happiness which our life is felt to confer— not properly determined by a reasonable estimate of its value. The aged are not always alienated from the love of life by a blunted sense of its pleasures, or an acuter feeling of its pains and infirmities; nor do the wretched
* The topic may be of use on another account to remove an imputation on the sincerity or self-knowledge of Christians : for we have heard their defect of such feelings, spoken of as though it betrayed the absence of a true belief of Christianity, or a doubt of the reality of a future happiness.
find a certain consolation in the knowledge of its brevity, or the prospect of its end. On the contrary, our life may have been to us an incessant scourge; a series of ineffectual efforts, and disappointed hopes; every page of the volume of our earthly destiny may have been perused in sadness, and blotted with our tears, and each successive page we may tremble to unfold; yet do we pore and linger upon that volume, and are loath that it should be for ever closed :-in the hope, undoubtedly, that happiness is yet before us—but to sustain that hope, with such a memory of the past, how importunate, unreasoning, and unteachable is the love of life !
It is too true that many of us, and most if not all at some seasons, must confess to the accusation of the great poet and observer of mankind—for an accusation it is to a Christian—that we are moved by " the dread of something after death,” and “would rather bear those ills we have, than fly to those we know not of” – that “conscience makes cowards of us.” But if this be the great and universal cause of our cleaving to life in the experience of its evils, we have nothing farther to explain in the character of the first Christians: for, assuredly, they had no such dread
of something after death, of unknown ills in futurity. They owned a firmer belief in the Gospel of their salvation : they prized it more highly, and obeyed it more conscientiously. But the comparison is not so condemnatory of our character as professed believers of Christianity. Our attachment to a troubled life is equally a principle of our nature, as the affection which lingers in the breast of a parent towards an obdurate and impracticable child. That child interrupts and essentially impairs—not increases—the happiness of those who nourish and protect him; there is, it may be, no worse disturber of their peace, no equal cause of sorrow and vexation; yet not until disobedience shall have become insurportable, and reformation hopeless, will parents, in general, disown their offspring; and not until life exceeds the powers of endurance, do we ordinarily prefer the alternative of dying, and turn a wishful eye to the sepulchre as an asylum from despair. But, pursuing this topic no farther, we may justly conclude that the check which the believer experiences to his desire of a better state of existence, or his unreadiness to rejoice at the apparent nearness of his salvation, is, in a considerable measure, the effect of a natural, spontaneous