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- If, indeed, there are any, whom a vicious or perverse disposition hath fixed in the strange persuasion that their existence will terminate here; I grant that, on their principles, the world is a scene of disorder ; the state of things is inexplicable. For perhaps these very persons shall hardly have met with a cross or trouble from infancy to old age
:--blind and infatuated men! not to perceive that their own fortune is a confutation of their principles ; a proof of that very state which they affect to disbelieve. The good and virtuous, whose lives are frequently a continued series of misfortunes, a downright tissue of troubles from one end of them to the other, may be forced by the first furious assaults of grief into hard and unworthy thoughts of the Divine economy: But a little time and attention will enable them to correct these impressions, to rectify these notions, tó discern the wise and merciful intention of the Deity through the darkest cloud of affliction. And what is that intention? What else can it be, but to exalt their nature, to confirm their faith, to perfect their piety? in one word, to teach them, in the seasons of doubt and perplexity, the true language of the Christian and the Philosopher, “ I wait for the issues of things, and I trust the Ruler with his world."
IV. ON CONTINUANCE IN WELL-DOING.
The Disciples of our Lord were struck with the wisdom of his discourses, the majesty of his delivery, the purity of his doctrines, and the excellence of his example: but what raised their attention most were the miraculous displays of his Divine power. The impression these made upon their minds was strong and sudden ; there was some danger lest it should prove transient and temporary. If the belief in him was not properly grounded and settled; if it had not a mind well disposed to reside in, and a heart well prepared to retain it, it was liable to be shaken or destroyed by a thousand accidents. In the very first entrance upon the Christian state we meet with the difficult state and severe duties of suffering and of self-denial. They are imposed upon us with a view to our correction and instruction; to withdraw our minds from a fond attachment to the things of this world; to prepare us for a better, by planting and nourishing in the soul the graces of humility, patience, and contentedness; by inspiring us with pious and benevolent affections, with confidence towards God, and charity towards men. As the purpose of Christianity is to refine our nature, and raise it to higher degrees of purity and perfection, the life of a Christian is suited to this end. It is a perpetual conflict with our own natural infirmities and habitual corruptions, with the united powers of the devil, the world, and the flesh. To bear all events that may befal us, however sad and grievous ; to approve what God ordains, however distasteful to the sense ; to undertake what he requires, however difficult ; to be censured and defamed, to be slighted and scorned for our loyalty to him, and our love of Truth ; this is the principal part of what is to be learnt in the school of Christianity. But it requires strong efforts of the will, and much devout contemplation, to bring ourselves to the relish of this rough discipline. Even the Disciples of Jesus were staggered at their Master's disastrous condition: one basely betrayed him; another, whom he had highly favoured and dignified, publicly denied him; and when his enemies came to apprehend him, they all forsook him and fled.
In the letters and instructions of the Apostles to the several churches planted by themselves in the different parts of the world, we find many. complaints of bold heresy, and base apostacy. In every quarter there started up multitudes of false teachers, who employed all the arts of imposture to inveigle and seduce the new converts : by their clamorous and frothy rhetoric they won over to
their party the weak and credulous; by bold pretences to prophecy and inspiration they wrought upon the sanguine and enthusiastic; by flattering the passions common to all, and the prejudices peculiar to each, they wound up many to what pitch they pleased. They subverted the fundamental principles of the true faith, or polluted it with foreign and spurious mixtures; either inventing new doctrines of their own, or reviving the old exploded errors of the Jews and Heathens. But many other causes conspired to augment the number of apostates.
Some, who set out with zealous resolutions, had not the heart to look the world in the face, when it frowned upon them, menacing disgrace and persecution.
Others were unable to maintain the combat with their own fierce desires and disorderly passions; they perceived the necessity, but failed in the performance of duties so harsh and painful. Others, again, had not attention and industry to examine the grounds of what was proposed, or weigh the reasons inducing them to believe, without which there can be no sure assent or settled persuasion. Of all such persons the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes this observation : “ It is," says he, “impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the pow
ers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance:” they having already resisted all that evidence, which God saw fit to afford them of the truth; evidence which they themselves acknowledged to be convincing once; and which, but for their perverse and inexcusable fickleness, would have continued to convince them always. Our Saviour emphatically declares: “If ye continue in my words, then are ye my Disciples indeed.” And this assertion contains the very terms and conditions of the new Covenant, which are no other than a free and rational assent to the truths revealed in the Gospel, with a full and entire conformity to the rules enjoined in it. Faith and obedience cannot mean less than this.
It is necessary, therefore, on the one hand, that actions which are right in themselves, should flow from a principle of Religion: and, on the other, that such actions as really flow from this principle, should be consistent with moral rectitude.
The mere moral man, who takes Reason only for his guide, will not now be acquitted, as having presumptuously refused, or impiously disregarded the information conveyed to him by the mode of Revelation. And this would be equally true, though he should make the best use of the lights which Nature afforded him. But, should it lead him wrong, or should he follow it ill, both of which suppositions are far from improbable, then would