Imatges de pàgina
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« season we shall reap, if we faint not." 2 John, 8. « Look to yourselves, that we lose not those " things which we have wrought; but that we reor ceive a full reward."

It was the great maxim of the heathen philosophers of old, as it is with almost all those who reject christianity at present, to think with the wise, and det with the vulgar ; but a perfect consistency of character and profession is strictly required of christians. In time of persecution we are allowed, and even commanded, to endeavour to avoid it, by all fair and honest methods ; so that if we be persecuted in one city, we may fee to another; but on no consideration whatever are we to make ship. wreck of faith and of a good conscience, by denying or concealing our christian profession. With respect to this great hour of trial, the declarations of our Lord are most express and folemn. · Having foretold his own sufferings, and severely rebuked Peter, who could not bear the thought of them, we are told, Mark viii. 34. that “ he called " the people unto him with his disciples, and said “ unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let “ him deny himself, and take up his crofs, and « follow me. Whosoever will fave his life shall 6 lofe.it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my 6 fake and the gospel's, the fame shall save it." Matt. x. 32. “Whosoever shall confess me be“ fore men, him will I confess also before my ~ Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall "deny me before men, him will I also deny be« fore my Father who is in heaven.”

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These admonitions the apostles keep in mind in their writings, and therefore the apoítle Paul says, 2 Tim, ii. 12. “ If we suffer, we shall also reign “ with him: if we deny him, he will also deny “ us.” And, acting upon this maxim, thousands of christians have chearfully laid down their lives for the profession of the christian faith.

It is to be observed, that, in the scriptures, though the rewards of virtue are only promised to persons of a truly virtuous character and conduct, they are promised to those who shall so repent of their fins, as to manifest a change of character and conduct at any time of the active part of their lives. No person, however, has any encouragement from any part of scripture, to expect that he shall be entitled to the rewards of the gospel, who repents so late, that he has no opportunity of shewing a change of conduct at all.

Besides, few of those late professions of repentance are sincere, or, if sincere, would have been lasting; and, according to the uniform language of the scriptures, it is “according to the deeds that men have actually done in this life," that they shall receive at the hand of God hereafter. 2. Cor. V. 10.“ for we must all appear before the judga

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« ment seat of Christ; that every one may receive as the things done in his body, according to that he “ hath done, whether it be good or bad. Know“ ing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we per“ fuade men.”

It is alledged, indeed, that our Saviour promised the thief upon the cross, that he should be with him in paradise; but nothing can be inferred from a case so very obscure as this is; for we know nothing of the previous character of this man, we can guess but very imperfectly at what is meant by his request, nor do we know precisely the full import of what our Lord did promise him. Besides, this story is only found in one of the evangelists, viz. Luke, who appears, by many circumstances, to have been the least informed of any of them ; and Matthew, who was upon the spot, says, that both the thieves reviled Christ, without adding one word in favour of either of them. As, therefore, there is no other fact in the history of the Old or New Testament, that gives any countenance to expectations of mercy in a proper death-bed repentance, and all the general rules and precepts of the scripture absolutely exclude all hope in this case, it must be very dangerous to rely upon it; though it is to be feared that many persons continue to live in a manner which their conscience.disapproves, in consequence of deluding themselves with this miserable fallacy.

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I shall conclude this account of the morality of the scriptures with observing, that it is not delivered systematically, and at large, either in the Old or New Testament; but that it is not on this account the less, but, in fact, the more valuable, because it is delivered in a manner that is both more intelligia ble, and more forcible. For, being delivered as partieular occasions suggest, it has necessarily the advantage of a peculiar emphasis and energy. What precept, for instance, against pride or hypocrisy, in a general system of morals, would have had the force of our Lord's vehement reflections upon the Scribes and Pharisees, and of his affectionate admonitions to his own disciples on those subjects; or what other manner of instruction would have recommended a great variety of amiable virtues so much as our Lord's method of inculcating them by example and pertinent parables.

Besides, what men really want, is not so much to know what is their duty, as proper views and motives to induce them to practise it. It is, therefore, in general, very properly taken for granted, in the scriptures, that men know what it is that God requires of them; and almost all the admonitions to virtue go upon that supposition, enforcing the practice of what is acknowledged to be right, by motives adapted to peculiar situations and circumstances.

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SECTION VI.

Of positive institutions.

D ESIDE the duties of strictly moral obligation,

D on the observance of which our moral character, and happiness, chiefly depend : we find in revelation, that the divine being has been pleased to enjoin several observances, which are not in themselves of a moral nature, but which ultimately tend to promote good morals, and that just state of mind, which makes the practice of our duty in other respects easy to us. These are the observance of one day in seven for the purpose of rest from labour, which is obligatory on all mankind; the observance of a large ritual of ceremonies by the Jews, and of baptism and the Lord's fupper by the christians. Of each of these, in the order of which I now have mentioned them, I shall give a general account, with a view to explain the nature and use of them.

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