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death to be deprived of its wholesome terror, because our sympathy is powerfully excited for the unhappy being, who is so soon to enter that dark and mysterious abode. Better is it to unfold the book of God in all its awful truth-to explain its promises, but not conceal its threatenings. Neither of wisdom nor of kindness would it be the act, to infuse groundless apprehension-yet surely the minister of God ought not to withhold the admonition of salutary fear. Hope may perhaps be expressed, even in such cases, from the goodness and mercy of God; but not in terms to encourage presumption. The proffers of Christ to awakened and thoroughly contrite sinners may be made known; yet neither His righteousness nor His justice should be forgotten.
What then are the conclusions to be drawn from the various solemn considerations, which have been laid before you ? Briefly these ;— That it is above all things necessary to instil sound principles of religion into the youthful mind; since they alone, under the guidance of God's good providence, can preserve us from falling into spiritual danger; or, if we fall, can give us any chance of escaping ;-That each of us be ever on our guard against the growth of evil habits ; since they gain upon us so imperceptibly, yet are with such uncommon difficulty, if ever at all, eradicated.—Lastly; that we neither encourage ourselves nor others in the hope of pardon for sin upon terms too easy. For though our God be a God of love, yet is he a God of holiness ; though our Lord Jesus Christ be mighty to “save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,” yet is He “holy
harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” a; Though He be ready to bestow “ eternal life upon them, who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality;" yet does His Gospel authoritatively denounce, and He will himself execute the denunciation of “ indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth
a Heb. vii. 25, 26.
Rom. ii. 7, 8, 9.
FOR THE SON OF MAN SHALL COME IN THE GLORY OF HIS
FATHER, WITH HIS ANGELS; AND THEN HE SHALL REWARD (or RECOMPENSE) EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS WORKS.
The question of a future state of reward and punishment is undoubtedly the grandest object, that can be presented to the contemplation of any human mind. It is grand from its very immensity; it is grand, as having occupied the thoughts, and distracted the hopes and fears, of the wisest men in the heathen world ; it is grand to us Christians, as having been obtained at no less price than the blood of Jesus Christ. Grand however as it is in all these respects, its real and paramount importance consists in its being a practical question ; as being that intended dispensation of the Deity, by which our destiny, as to happiness or misery in all the periods of time succeeding the present life, must be determined. Who can consider such a doctrine even for a moment, and not be penetrated with a sense of the deep responsibility, which is annexed to every one of his actions ? Who can hesitate about the paltry and short-lived gratifications of life, if they be set in opposition, as they sometimes must be, to the joys of eternity ?
In proportion however to the indescribable importance of this doctrine, arises the most urgent necessity of committing no mistake respecting its real nature ; the conditions, upon which such a gift is placed within our reach ; the part we must act in order to obtain it.— The book of life and death; of heaven and hell; is in our hands. The book is written by the very finger of the Almighty-and surely it must be the extreme of folly and no small degree of guilt, if we neglect to peruse it with the seriousness and the reverence, which are due to the supreme wisdom and goodness of the Author, no less than the intrinsic value and magnitude of its contents.
Nevertheless, too many Christians have mistaken, and are continually mistaking, characters very legibly traced in this stupendous book; and, as if there were no danger of error to the human mind in pondering such a subject as this ; or as if the dispensations of the future world were to be regulated by the principles, which direct the petty cabals and party intrigues of this; we find many around us taking little or no heed about the real meaning of the sacred volume, yet lavishing their abuse and uttering their anathemas, with most presumptuous confidence, against all who espouse a different interpretation, or belong to a different sect, from themselves.
It will be my endeavour upon the present occasion, to rectify some of the mistakes into which some, even Christian teachers, have fallen in treating this very important subject ; especially as they regard the manner, in which Divine Revelation assures us the rewards and punishments of the future world shall be distributed.— These, we may learn from the text, will be awarded to “every man according to his works”; or, in proportion to the actual amount of good or evil in his actions. And here, before I enter fully into those remarks, which appear to be warranted by the words of the text, I cannot help adverting to a very striking passage in the works of an eminent writer upon the question of a future state of retribution.
“ It is a doctrine," observes this moral Philosopher, “ in every respect so venerable, so conformable to the weakness, so flattering to the grandeur of human nature, that the virtuous man, who has the misfortune to doubt of it, cannot possibly avoid wishing most earnestly and anxiously to believe it.--It could never have been exposed to the derision of the scoffer, had not the distribution of rewards and punishments, which some of its most zealous asserters have taught us was to be made in that world to come, been too frequently in direct opposition to all our moral sentiments." a
It would have been desirable that a writer, so versed in moral science as Adam Smith, had marked more precisely those points, in which he conceived that the advocates of the Christian doctrine of life eternal had caused that doctrine to assume such an objectionable appearance.
The impressions, which he appears to have received from the erroneous or capricious manner, in which he
Theory of Moral Sentiments, Vol. I. p. 267. Part III. c. 2.