« AnteriorContinua »
not if it would not seem as a thousand years. But (astonishing thought!) after thousands of thousands, he has but just tasted of his bitter cup! After millions of millions, it will be no nearer the end than it was the moment it began!
15. What then is he, how foolish, how mad, in how unutterable a degree of distraction, who, seeming to have the understanding of a man, deliberately prefers temporal things to eternal? Who (allowing that absurd, impossible supposition, that wickedness is happiness,-a supposition utterly contrary to all reason, as well as to matter of fact) prefers the happiness of a year, say a thousand years, to the happiness of eternity, in comparison of which, a thousand ages are infinitely less than a year, a day, a moment? Especially when we take this into the consideration, (which indeed should never be forgotten,) that the refu sing a happy eternity, implies the choosing of a miserable eternity: for there is not, cannot be, any medium between everlasting joy and everlasting pain. It is a vain thought which some have entertained, that death will put an end to the soul as well as the body: it will put an end to neither the one nor the other; it will only alter the manner of their existence. But when the body" returns to the dust as it was, the spirit will return to God that gave it." Therefore, at the moment of death, it must be unspeakably happy, or unspeakably miserable: and that misery will never end.
"Never! Where sinks the soul at that dread sound?
How often would he, who had made the wretched choice, wish for the death both of his soul and body? It is not impossible he might pray in some such manner as Dr. Young supposes :
"When I have writh'd ten thousand years in fire;
16. Yet this unspeakable folly, this unutterable madness, of preferring present things to eternal, is the disease of every man born into the world, while in his natural state. For such is the constitution of our nature, that as the eye sees only such a portion of space at once, so the mind sees only such a portion of time at once. And as all the space that lies beyond this is invisible to the eye, so all the time which lies beyond that compass is invisible to the mind. So that we do not perceive either the space or the time which is at a distance from us. The eye sees distinctly the space that is near it, with the objects which it contains: in like manner, the mind sees distinctly those objects which are within such a distance of time. The eye does not see the beauties of China: they are at too great a distance: there is too great a space between us and them: therefore, we are not affected by them. They are as nothing to us: it is just the same to us as if they had no being. For the same reason, the mind does not see either the beauties or the terrors of eternity. We are not at all affected by them, because they are so distant from us. On this account it is, that they appear to us as nothing; just as if they had no existence. Meantime we are wholly taken up with things present, whether in time or space; and things appear less and less, as they are more and more distant from us, either in one respect or the other. And so it must be; such is the constitution of our nature; till nature is changed by almighty grace. But this is no manner of excuse for those who continue in their natural VOL. II. 2
blindness to futurity; because a remedy for it is provided, which is found by all that seek it: yea, it is freely given to all that sincerely ask it.
17. This remedy is faith. I do not mean, that which is the faith of a heathen, who believes that there is a God, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; but that which is defined by the apostle," an evidence," or conviction, "of things not seen," a divine evidence and conviction of the invisible and eternal world. This alone opens the eyes of the understanding, to see God and the things of God. This, as it were, takes away, or renders transparent, the impenetra ble veil,
"Which hangs 'twixt mortal and immortal being."
"Faith lends its realizing light,
The clouds disperse, the shadows fly;
And God is seen by mortal eye."
Accordingly, a believer, in the scriptural sense, lives in eternity and walks in eternity. His prospect is enlarged. His view is not any longer bounded by present things: no, nor by an earthly hemisphere; though it were, as Milton speaks, "Tenfold the length of this terrene." Faith places the unseen, the eternal world, continually before his face. Consequently, he looks not at "the things that are seen ;"—
"Wealth, honour, pleasure, or what else,
these are not his aim, the object of his pursuit, his desire or happiness; -but at "the things that are not seen;" at the favour, the image, and the glory of God; as well knowing, that "the things which are seen are temporal," a vapour, a shadow, a dream that vanishes away; whereas "the things that are not seen are eternal;" real, solid, unchangeable.
18. What then can be a fitter employment for a wise man, than to meditate upon these things? Frequently to expand his thoughts "beyond the bounds of this diurnal sphere," and to expatiate above even the starry heavens, in the fields of eternity? What a means might it be, to confirm his contempt of the poor, little things of earth? When a man of huge possessions was boasting to his friend of the largeness of his estate, Socrates desired him to bring a map of the earth, and to point out Attica therein. When this was done, (although not very easily, as it was a small country,) he next desired Alcibiades to point out his own estate therein. When he could not do this, it was easy to observe how trifling the possessions were, in which he so prided himself, in comparison of the whole earth! How applicable is this to the present case. Does any one value himself on his earthly possessions? Alas, what is the whole globe of earth to the infinity of space? A mere speck of creation. And what is the life of man, yea, the duration of the earth itself, but a speck of time, if it be compared to the length of eternity! Think of this: let it sink into your thought, till you have some conception, however imperfect, of that
"Boundless, fathomies abyss,
19. But if naked eternity, so to speak, be so vast, so astonishing an object, as even to overwhelm your thought, how does it still enlarge the idea to behold it clothed with either happiness or misery! Eternal bliss or pain! Everlasting happiness, or everlasting misery! One would think
it would swallow up every other thought in every reasonable creature. Allow me only this,-"Thou art on the brink of either a happy or miserable eternity; thy Creator bids thee now stretch out thy hand, either to the one or the other;"—and one would imagine no rational creature could think on any thing else. One would suppose, that this single point would engross his whole attention. Certainly it ought so to do: certainly if these things are so, there can be but one thing needful. Oh let you and I, at least, whatever others do, choose that better part whick shall never be taken away from us!
20. Before I close this subject, permit me to touch upon two remarkable passages in the Psalms, (one in the 8th, the other in the 144th,) which bear a near relation to it. The former is, 'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" Here man is considered as a cipher, a point, compared to immensity. The latter is, "Lord, what is man, that thou hast such respect unto him? Man is like a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow!" In the new translation the words are stronger still: "What is man that thou takest knowledge of him; or the son of man that thou makest account of him ?" Here the Psalmist seems to consider the life of man as a moment, a nothing, compared to eternity. Is not the purport of the former, "How can he that filleth heaven and earth, take knowledge of such an atom as man? How is it that he is not utterly lost in the immensity of God's works?" Is not the purport of the latter, "How can he that inhabiteth eternity, stoop to regard the creature of a day,—one whose life passeth away like a shadow?" Is not this a thought which has struck many serious minds, as well as it did David's, and created a kind of fear lest they should be forgotten before him, who grasps all space and all eternity? But does not this fear arise from a kind of supposition that God is such a one as ourselves? If we consider boundless space, or boundless duration, we shrink into nothing before it. But God is not a man. A day, and millions of ages, are the same with him. Therefore there is the same disproportion between him and any finite being, as between him and the creature of a day. Therefore, whenever that thought recurs, whenever you are tempted to fear lest you should be forgotten before the immense, the eternal God, remember that nothing is little or great, that no duration is long or short before him. Remember that God "ita præsidet singulis sicut universis, et universis sicut singulis:" that he presides over every individual as over the universe; and the universe, as over each individual. So that you may boldly say,
"Father, how wide thy glories shine,
Lord of the universe-and mine!
SERMON LX. On the Trinity.
Some days since, I was desired to preach on this text. I did so yesterday morning. In the afternoon, I was pressed to write down and print my sermon, if possible, before I left Cork. I have wrote it this morning; but 1 must beg the reader to make allowance for the disadvantages I am under; as I have not here any books to consult, nor indeed any time to consult them.
Cork, May 8, 1775.
"There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one," 1 John v, 7.
1. WHATSOEVER the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion: no, not right opinion; assent to one, or to ten thousand truths. There is a wide difference between them: even right opinion is as distant from religion as the east is from the west. Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions. Can any one possibly doubt of this, while there are Romanists in the world? For who can deny, not only that many of them formerly have been truly religious, (as Thomas à Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de Renty,) but that many of them, even at this day, are real inward Christians? And yet what a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from their fathers! Nay, who can doubt of it while there are Calvinists in the world, assertors of absolute predestination? For who will dare to affirm that none of these are truly religious men? Not only many of them in the last century were burning and shining lights, but many of them are now real Christians, loving God and all mankind. And yet what are all the absurd opinions of all the Romanists in the world, compared to that one, that the God of love, the wise, just, merciful Father of the spirits of all flesh, has, from all eternity, fixed an absolute, unchangeable, irresistible decree, that part of mankind shall be saved, do what they will, and the rest damned, do what they can!
2. Hence, we cannot but infer, that there are ten thousand mistakes, which may consist with real religion; with regard to which every candid, considerate man will think and let think. But there are some truths more important than others. It seems there are some which are of deep importance. I do not term them fundamental truths; be cause that is an ambiguous word: and hence there have been so many warm disputes about the number of fundamentals. But surely there are some, which it nearly concerns us to know, as having a close connection with vital religion. And doubtless we may rank among these, that contained in the words above cited, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.' "2
3. I do not mean, that it is of importance to believe this or that explication of these words. I know not that any well judging man would attempt to explain them at all. One of the best tracts which that great man, Dean Swift, ever wrote, was his Sermon upon the Trinity. Herein he shows, that all who endeavoured to explain it at all, have utterly lost their way; have, above all other persons, hurt the cause, which they
intended to promote; having only, as Job speaks, "darkened counsel by words without knowledge." It was in an evil hour, that these explainers began their fruitless work. I insist upon no explication at all; no, not even on the best I ever saw; I mean, that which is given us in the creed commonly ascribed to Athanasius. I am far from saying, he who does not assent to this, "shall without doubt perish everlastingly." For the sake of that and another clause, I, for some time, scrupled subscribing to that creed; till I considered, 1. That these sentences only relate to wilful, not involuntary unbelievers; to those who, having all the means of knowing the truth, nevertheless obstinately reject it: 2. That they relate only to the substance of the doctrine there delivered; not the philosophical illustrations of it.
4. I dare not insist upon any one's using the word Trinity or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: but if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them? I cannot much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist green wood, for saying, “Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible." These are the words which merciful John Calvin cites as wrote by Servetus in a letter to himself. I would insist only on the direct words, unexplained, just as they lie in the text: "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."
5. "As they lie in the text:"-But here arises a question: Is that text genuine? Was it originally written by the apostle, or inserted in later ages? Many have doubted of this; and, in particular, that great light of the Christian church, lately removed to the church above, Bengelius, the most pious, the most judicious, and the most laborious, of all the modern commentators on the New Testament. For some time he stood in doubt of its authenticity, because it is wanting in many of the ancient copies. But his doubts were removed by three considerations: 1. That though it is wanting in many copies, yet it is found in more; and those copies of the greatest authority:-2. That it is cited by a whole train of ancient writers, from the time of St. John to that of Constantine. This argument is conclusive: for they could not have cited it, had it not then been in the sacred canon :-3. That we can easily account for its being, after that time, wanting in many copies, when we remember, that Constantine's successor was a zealous Arian, who used every means to promote his bad cause, to spread Arianism throughout the empire; in particular, the erasing this text out of as many copies as fell into his hands. And he so far prevailed, that the age in which he lived, is commonly styled, Seculum Arianum, the Arian age; there being then only one eminent man, who opposed him at the peril of his life. So that it was a proverb, Athanasius contra mundum: Athanasius against the world.
6. But it is objected: "Whatever becomes of the text, we cannot believe what we cannot comprehend. When, therefore, you require us to believe mysteries, we pray you to have us excused."
Here is a twofold mistake: 1. We do not require you to believe any mystery in this; whereas you suppose the contrary. But, 2. You do already believe many things which you cannot comprehend.