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evidences as nature furnished, to give them a hope that they might live again They saw how the flower springs from the decayed seed; how the winged and animated insect proceeds from the torpid worm. They saw how in the external world nothing is altogether destroyed : and they would not believe that the mind of man was to perish by a change which was incapable of destroying the principle of existence even in the meanest reptile.
Thus they had a hope, and often it was a strong hope, of a life after death; but it was not an abiding hope. It was not a hope which could remain fixed within their souls secure against the assaults of sophistry, or steadfast even under mental depression. It served, no doubt, for many an important use.
It gave majesty to the philosopher's speculations: it refined the tone of civilized society: and it shed a pure, a solemn, and a tender interest over the conferences of the wise, and the friendships of the affectionate. But as it had in the deductions of human judgments its sole foundation, it necessarily partook of the frailties of human nature, variable in its strength, and tardy in its operations. In retirement and security, when the philosopher calmly examined his hopes, it had considerable power over his mind : he acknowledged its interest, and he felt and respected his authority. But in the sudden emergencies of life; amidst the basty sallies of the passions, when terror shook the soul, cr the senses warred against virtue; in these, and all such cases, the existence of the hope was scarcely to be perceived, and its authority was uniformly disregarded.
T'he hope on which Christian men rely was different in its origin, as well as its nature. For this there was no need to pursue long processes of reasoning; for this there was no need to scrutinize nature, and see what comparisons she might suggest that would encourage it. The Christian bad seen unquestionable proofs of the resurrection ; he felt the powers of the world to come: and therefore was his faith steadfast. To the heathen, God spake through probable analogy, and arguments which his reason might examine. To the Christian, he spoke with authority by his only-begotten Son; by whom also he made the worlds. Here was the foundation of the Christian's faith: and as the foundation was strong, so was the belief steadfast, and the hope effectual. And yet upon this hope the heathen thought that none but madmen could build: it was to them foolishness. They would acknowledge in our blessed Lord only “ a man of sorrows," one who had “no form or comeliness that they should desire him." They saw him through his life occupying no splendid eminence in the world's regard ; and in his death experiencing the torments of the vilest malefactor. They saw him, not like their own demagogues, terminating a bright and terrible career in that blaze of glory in which a hero sets, and leaves the world behind him ; but concluding a life of sorrows by an end as ignominious as it was painful; condemned among an obscure people, and incapable of escaping the condemnation. And while they beheld him thus “ despised and rejected of men," so they did esteen him also “ stricken of God and afflicted."
The Christian looked upon the life of his blessed Master in a different light from that which guided others: they did not see our Lord ; they saw no further than the tabernacle in which he dwelt, the veil he had assumed in his humiliation : the Christian, through that veil, saw where the glory dwelt that was fall or grace
and truth. The heathen thought he had crushed what he accounted a pes tilential superstition, when he had put its Founder to an ignominious death. He thought of death as the natural man might think of the insults of the persecuting populace; the forlorn condition of the sufferer, the torment, and the shame. The Christian saw that this was the death his Blessed Mastercame to
that this was the struggle in which he had won from death his victory; that this was the mighty effort by which he had burst the chains of death, loosed the bonds of sin, and brightened the grave with the glory of the resurrection. Therefore, as the Christian looked upon the life and the death of our Blessed Lord with light so different to that which exhibited him to the heathen ; so was it natural that the blessed hope of the Christian should elevate him into acts and endurances which caused his persecutors to marvel. The world was in arms against the Christian ; but his hopes, his conversation, were not in the world. The names of the Christians were blotted from the rolls of society's cold intercourse: but they were written in the Book of Life. The law was fierce against them; power gave them no protection. The law issued dread proclamations; and the loosened passions of the insatiate people fiercely raged against them. But through all the storms, through all the tumult, they adhered to the principles they professed, and were supported by the hope that was vouchsafed to them ; ready to sink, if God so willed it, in the dread commotion; but not to be influenced by all that power or terror could do to loose them from the hold to which they clung, to dissever them from that hope which was the anchor of their souls.
This was the faith and the conduct of Christian men, at a time when their profession of obedience to the Lord Jesus was held in universal reprobation. And in looking back to those days, and in comparing them with the times which succeeded, we cannot fail to be impressed with a strong sense of man's perverseness. Whilst the law forbad the profession of Christianity, and whilst the zeal of a misguided people persecuted its professors; while they were obliged to hide within closed doors for fear of the Jews, and while, as they went forth, they found some to denounce and some to persecute them wherever they appeared, they sustained all faithfully: their hopes gave comfort to them, and their faith was fearlessly professed. But when persecution declined, so it would seem did the faith of istian men likewise fail : then the world became more awful in its attractions than it had been in its terrors ; then the passions which demanded instant gratification rebelled against a hope which had its object in futurity; and then it was, when heathen idolatry had passed away, that the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life, and spiritual idolatry, were insinuated into the soul, and raised up to the ascendancy from which the idols of earlier days had been violently displaced.
It would be happy indeed for us, if we could justly consider observations of this kind applicable to other times than the present, and to other beings than ourselves. But it is a truth, to which the memories of all who hear me will bear testimony, and which many may esteem it a tedious common-place to repeat, that the hope for which the early Christians held temporal afflictions as matters of no moment, and for which they were ready to renounce every worldly
advantage, is a hope from which naturally our cares and our stations are 80 remote, that it is not, and cannot plausibly be termed, the anchor of our souls. Is this the case? Examine yourselves, and say whether your hope in Christ resembles the hope of the early Christian, or the hope of the heathens : whether your hope is a kind of ornament to your life, or is its impelling and sufficient momentum. What think you of Christ? To the apostles he was the substitute for all the enjoyment they forfeited; the solace for all the misery they endured ; their guide ; their companion, I might almost say, for he was constant in their thoughts. Is he so to you? Be well assured that heathenism has not departed, because its shrines have been made bare, and its altars overthrown. What Was it in which heathenism was formidable? Was it that the earth groaned under its temples ? Was it that the air was darkened by its idolatrous ceremonies? Or was it that it had made its residence in the hearts of those who did not worship in the spirit of truth? And is it not a mournful truth, and a truth to which there needs no necessity of giving proof, that now, at the present day, in every heart which the Spirit of the Lord does not sanctify, and upon which the law of the Lord is not impressed, there is the spirit of heathenism, and that law of death which heathenism inculcated ? It surely is so. how it is. In truth we should put to ourselves this question. We know perfectly well that man lives by hope, as far as this world is concerned. The bope of pleasure can rouse him ; the hope of wealth can excite him; the hope of distinction can agitate him ; and the hope of immortality remain barren and un productive within his soul. This world is full of interests and affections. Life is kept in perpetual agitation by the active affections of man; and the passions which agitate him, the pleasures which incite him, the hopes which deceive him, are the cause of this agitation : and he is comparatively indifferent to that one hope which cannot be deceived or destroyed; the hope which is beyond the reach of fraud, and the shock of accident; the hope, to communicate which God sent into the world his only begotten Son; to confirm which our Saviour has died for our sins, and risen again for our justification.
Do not mistake me. Do not suppose that I mean to impute to you, knowingly or wilfully, indifference to this hope. I am fully persuaded, that to any frequenter of public worship-I will say the coldest and most careless—if it were proposed that he should have all the enjoyment which the world gives, on condition of formally and for ever renouncing the hope that Christ hath purchased; he would (I speak of the most cold and careless) he would reject the paltry bribe for which his salvation would be renounced, and he would cling to the ill-assured, because not properly sought for, hope, that he might obtain
But the enemy of souls adopts no such clumsy device: he asks of no man to renounce for ever his hopes of salvation. He simply asks you to postpone the laying hold of that hope : he asks you only to give him to-day : each day he renews his demand, that you shall defer unto the morrow, the seeking that hope which purisieth and saveth ; and relies upon that, if he can induce you to persevere in this practice of procrastination : without ever demanding a formal denial of your hopes, he will produce within you an effectual separation from hope.
I wish every man who has upon any occasion said to himself that he would
defer seeking that which is precivus, would propose to his own mind what in reality he does say, not what, to satisfy appearances, he seems to say. What is the meaning of a man's saying that he will give to-morrow to God? Is it promising to-morrow, or to refuse to-day? To-morrow is not yours; you have no assurance that it will be bestowed upon you, no promise. • Night certifieth night, and day certifieth day,” in the world around : but there is no promise that the living to-day, that man's drawing the breath of life to-day, shall ensure his breathing that same breath to-morrow : that he who is a pensioner upon the bounty of an hour, a precarious dependant upon Him who giveth every moment, bas any certain promise of the next. Just judge, each of you, what is in reality the appearance of the meaning of that conditional and postponed promise ; and say whether it is not the truth, that if you say in your heart, “ I will to-morrow address myself to God," you are not, in truth, saying this, and this only—“ I will not to-day address myself to God ?" It is not giving a promise, but a denial.
Let me put to you, what you yourselves would be disposed to judge-put to you a case, and say, how would you be disposed to judge in a matter of far less moment. Suppose a man came to offer himself to be engaged in your service, and that he made his proposals thus : “ I wish you to hire me as your servant: I wish you to bestow upon me food, and raiment, and shelter, and protection : and I in return give you a promise, that at some future period, when it shall be less painful to me than it is now, I will in return for these services that you bestow upon me, render to you such services as I am capable of performing. It is not that I now find my interest separated from your service; it is not that I have more real enjoyment in the courses in which I am engaged than I would in performing duty to you : it is not that these courses conduce more to my worldly interest ; but yet I have some entanglement from which I am not willing at this moment to be lovsed; some occupation in which it is pleasing to me soinetime longer to continue. And therefore if you will take me nominally into your service, and give me all the benefits of service-I will, not now, but at some future period (I cannot exactly specify the time or the hour)—I will give myself in return to your service." Now what would you think of an engagement of this nature ? Would you think it was the engagement of a rational man? Would you not think it was the engagement of one who was mad enough to think he could impose upon you, or that you were so insane that he could impose upon you, and now desired to impose upon you? And will you live day after day in the habit of making to Him upon whom you are dependent for the life you breathe-will you live day after day in the habit of making to Him such professions as would cause you to dismiss from your sight and presence any servant on earth who should presume to address them to you?
Am I not, then, justified in saying, that he who promises that he will at some future period turn himself to holiness, is not promising that he will at some period turn, but is simply denying that he will at the present time? And observe the danger : it keeps up a false and perilous complacency in the soul : it deludes you into the notion that you can at some future period turn yourself ; and it leaves your life meantime, under the influence of sin, which is weaving its chains more closely, and wasting the strength of your heart, and causing you—while you promise at some future period you will awaken to a hope of glory-causing you to live in a state in which, if the doctrine of a future world present itself to your mind, it should be a terror, not a hope. What is it that causes you to be indifferent to this great influence upon yourselves ? Examine for yourselves ; and, before the world has been stripped of its delusions by an unconquerable hand, unveil it for yourselves, and compare its -promises and possessions with the promises of immortality. Are the promises of this world and its possessions so great, as that you should give yourselves up altogether! Is the hope of future blessedness so poor a thing, as to be wisely relinquished for the transient felicities of earth? Are the objects of human avarice and ambition so mighty—are the appetites within the heart of man so resistless, as to justify even to ourselves, the being called off by them from that momentous question—" What shall I do to be saved ?" He does not think so to whom the hour has come; to whom the question is to be, not “ What shall I do?" but “ What have I done?” Wherein bave I trusted that I may have hope? He does not think so to whom the hour has come when death presents itself, either as a beneficent angel, who veils under the solemnity of a strong regard the intimation of approaching joy, or as a tormentor, who desires the despairing victim to read the anticipation of the world to come in the wickedness of the life that has been passed.
Shall we, then, to many of whom this hour may be at hand, continue to comport ourselves as though it were never to come? And shall our conversation be so wholly in this world, that death, whenever it comes, shall surprise us in the midst of our complex machinations ? And this, what is it? Will you say that the influence of the world is such that it interposes between you and God; that the petty objects of this life are so engrossing, as that they do not allow you to think of Him, in whose presence this whole world is as a small grain of dust in the balance, yea, as a drop of the morning dew that falleth down upon the earth? Why is it that this world has the power to eclipse the light of divine truth? It is because you do not look upon it with a mind which the Gospel has enlightened ; and that you do not read the character of the world with a mind which the Gospel has instructed to read it. If you did so, you would find that God has traced upon this world itself, in characters which cannot be inisunderstood, warnings not to bind yourselves in implicit confidence to it. Do you not see that the heavenly bodies increase and decay ? Do you not see that the seasons swell into the ripe summer bloom, and sink again into winter's desolation? Do you not see those insects, whose rejoicing is so thick over the air, at one time swarming with them, at another time all quiet, and calm, and desolate? And shall these things be written night and day-might I not say, too, when I speak of night and day, that sleep convinces you? Could not He who made us, make us so that we should not require the indulgence or the refreshment of sleep? Could He not thus, if it so pleased him, lengthen our time, prolong our existence, by taking out of oblivion the hours now given to it, and leave us still fresh, without so humiliating a means of repairing strength? But it is useful, greatly useful. Every night that we lie down to rest we should remember, that we give ourselves up for a time into