« AnteriorContinua »
upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. This is precisely the same promise with that in our text. And what does this promise imply? Does it imply that a religious course of life will insure us the enjoyment of worldly prosperity? Will it conduct us to eminence, or to the possession of affluence? No. Religion does not engage to make its votaries rich, or great, or powerful, in this world. It does not promise to secure them from the external evils and calamities of life. But, notwithstanding of this, it assures us that wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, that her paths are peace, and that they who walk therein, whatever may be their outward circumstances, possess a source of more real and permanent happiness, than those, who pursue an opposite course, under the same or under different circumstances, can possibly possess. The practice of religion, if considered only in relation to the temporal comforts, to the present enjoyments of all who cordially embrace it, claims a decided and unrivalled superiority over the service of sin. It is not only our duty, but our interest to serve God, and to walk in his ways; and our interest, not only in relation to our future prospects, but in reference to our present enjoyments. Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to
This subject would bear an ample and useful illustration, with respect to the influence which religion has upon our temporal interest and happiness but as the promise in the text chiefly relates
to the internal comforts that attend a religious course of life, I shall make these the subject of our present discourse.
It is the rest of the soul that is here promised; and this rests consists,
1. In our being delivered from those uneasy doubts and anxieties of mind which arise from an uncertainty as to the way in which we ought to go.
The traveller who is in continual doubt about the way he is pursuing, must be very uneasy in his mind, especially if he has reason to suspect that it is hazardous, and may lead him to sudden destruction. So, the man who pursues the paths of infidelity and irreligion, must needs be unhappy and dissatisfied with himself. For, whatever pains he may take to persuade himself that there is nothing in religion but vulgar prejudices and superstitious fears, yet he can never so far divest himself of all apprehensions for the future, as not to suspect that it' is possible these things may be otherwise than he imagines. After all his arguments to make himself believe that his end shall be like that of the brutes that perish, yet conscience will sometimes tell him that he may be a manthat his soul may be immortal-and that he himself may be the subject of moral government, and consequently of an awful and righteous retribution. The truth is, absolute scepticism is impossible, even to the sceptic himself. It may go so far as to make men negligent of the duties of revealed religion; it may confirm tyrants and profligates in their oppression and licentiousness; but it will
never extirpate all sense of right and wrongnever completely silence the reproaches of conscience. The still small voice within them will occasionally whisper, that their system is folly, their assertions falsehood, and their object destruction.
Is this representation drawn too high? Penitent Rochester! I appeal to the tears and confessions of thy last moments.-Was not this the language of thy despair, ferocious Blount! whom thy miseries compelled to be thine own executioner ?—“ I am abandoned by God and man!" was the language of Voltaire in his last moments.-The history of the Honourable Francis Newport, who died near the close of the seventeenth century, is well known. He had received a pious education, but had unhappily united himself, at an early period, to an association of infidels. None of them were more profligate or licentious than he. At length he was attacked by a severe illness, which terminated in his death. The torment of mind he endured exceeds all description, and his expressions were such as distressed beyond measure all who had occasion to see him. At the commencement of his illness, he threw himself upon his bed, and exclaimed"Whence this war in my breast! What argument is there now to assist me against matter of fact! Do I assert there is no hell, while I feel one in my own bosom! Am I certain there is no after-retribution, when I feel a present judgment! Do I affirm my soul to be as mortal as my body, when this languishes, and that is vigorous as ever!
Wretch that I am! whither shall I fly from this breast!"-In the progress of his disease he was thrown into absolute despair, and expressed himself in language which, were I to repeat it, would rend the stoutest heart. If the representation of the language of despair is dreadful, how much more to witness the awful scene! Let the idea which you may have conceived of it, so impress your minds with a sense of your obligations to the Author and Finisher of our faith, who hath brought life and immortality to light by his gospel, as to excite you to walk in the good way in which he has gone before you, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. Satisfied of the great principles of religion, from the abundant evidence with which it is attested, and, above all, from its influence on your heart and life, doubt and uncertainty will be banished from your mind. The gospel ascertains the existence, reveals the glory, and secures to you, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the enjoyment of eternal life. It possesses the double property of sweetening the bitter cup of adversity, and of smoothing the swelling of the Jordan of death, which lies betwixt us and the land of promise; on whose peaceful shores the weary traveller is for ever at rest, and enters upon the possession of an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.
2. Those who walk in the good way of religion find rest to their souls, as they are thereby delivered from the great cause of inward uneasiness-the
sense of unpardoned guilt; or, in other words, from the terrors of an accusing conscience.
The most terrible of all apprehensions which shake the soul, is the dread of the vengeance of an offended God. The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity: natural courage, and firmness of mind, may keep a man from sinking under the weight of any outward calamity-but a wounded spirit who can bear? The examples already adduced shew that the terrors of a guilty conscience do as it were form a hell upon earth, and make the sinner to anticipate the horrors of that place where the worm dieth not, and the fire of divine wrath is not quenched. Many are the expedients which men have recourse to, in order to get rid of this unwelcome companion. They endeavour to drown the voice of conscience in the tumult and bustle of the world, or to quiet their minds amidst the intoxicating pleasures and amusements of life. But, alas! all attempts of this kind are vain and fruitless: for a man cannot flee from himself; and though conscience may be soothed for a while by these means, it is only to break in upon his peace with increased fury. What method, then, must be taken to calm the troubled mind, and restore peace and serenity to the soul? The gospel points out an effectual method. It informs us, that God hath laid our help upon One mighty to save us, even his eternal and well-beloved Son, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, and had the chastisement of our peace laid upon him, that by his stripes we might be healed. The blood shed