Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

The following remarks, at the close of the third sermon, on The good man's protection and support, will be read with deep 'interest by every parent, and by every ingenuous youth.

“With paternal anxiety I have often warned and advised and directed you; and with the same anxiety I now look forward to what may be before you. The first and most serious thought which strikes my mind, and which ought to affect yours, is, that God only knows who of you will live and who of you will not live, to take an established standing in society. The catalogue of our college exhibits the note of mortality affixed to the names of a number who, a very short time since, left this place in as much health, and with as bright and cheering prospects, as any of you now possess. Some of your names, it is highly probable, will soon be marked in the same manner. Oh! think on this -and if any of you have not yet begun to be followers of that which is good, begin without delay. Without this you cannot be safe for a day or an hour : with it you are safe, whether life or death await you.

“If you live, you ought to be sensible, that you cannot live long without meeting with difficulties, and enemies, and sufferings. Form what plans, or take what course you may, you cannot avoid them; they will still assail you. If you are not followers of that which is good, you will find more of them than if you are; and you will have to encounter them with every disadvantage. Remember, then, that I have shewn you the way in which you will meet with the smallest share of adversity; and in which you will have the greatest support under that which is unavoidable; nay, in which adversity itself will be made to contribute to your felicity.

“ By taking this way, you will also take the bigh road to usefulness, honour and distinction. For if you act consistently, as followers of that which is good, you will be careful to make the best use of the advantages which you have derived from a liberal education. You will feel bound to make improvement in knowledge, and to employ all your knowledge for some useful purpose. The natural result of this, will be influence, esteem and honour. I do earnestly wish that these ideas were more seriously considered and regarded than they commonly are. Improvement in knowledge ought not to be regarded, as it commonly is, merely as a matter of taste and inclination. It is certainly more. There is, unquestionably, a moral obligation imposed on all who possess the means of improvement, to make improvement to the whole extent of their means. They are entrusted with a talent, for which they must render a strict and solemn account. In like manner, every man who possesses useful knowledge, is bound, whatever be his profession or vocation in life, to employ his whole stock of intellectual strength and furniture, in the best manner he can, for the promotion of God's glory and the good of his fellow men. And doing this conscientiously and steadily, he will certainly be useful and respected. Commonly he will have much inAuence; and often he will rise to high honour and distinction. View the subject in this light, my young, iends; act upon this plan; be governed by these principles; be consistent followers of that which is good; and you cannot fail to pass your lives happily, and to close them peacefully or triumphantly.

*Writers, I know there are, and some of considerable character, who have attempted to delineate a happy and useful life, without giving to religion any place in their system. And it is doubtless true that worldly honour and inte. grity, sobriety, benevolence, public spirit and intellectual pleasures, will always be productive of unspeakably more enjoyment and more respect, than can be found in any course of life which excludes them, or leaves them unregarded. Yet, after all, this system is miserably imperfect: so imperfect, indeed, that we must consider that man as wretched who is destitute of religion. He has no resting place for his soul while he lives; no rational hope in death; no satisfy. ing prospect beyond the grave. The Creator has evidently intended that man should find his highest enjoyment even in prosperity, and his chief solace in adversity, in genuine piety. For this, therefore, no human ingenuity or efforts have ever found a substitute, and they never will find one. My dear young friends, seek no such substitute. Seek the grace of God to make you, and

keep you, truly pious. Take the entire character of a follower of that which is good, as I have presented it to you, and try to make it your own. You will find that it will be more, far more advantageous, than I have been able to represent it. If you possess it, nothing, as you have heard, will be permitted really to harm you, because the Almighty God will be your friend and protector. Oh! may his grace guide you, may his providence protect you, may his richest blessing rest upon you! Amen." p. 81.

Discourses fourth and fifth, on The word of God the guide of Youth, abound with weighty and instructive matter, well arranged, and forcibly expressed. The following truly valuable observations on the manner in which the sacred scriptures are to be received and explained, we extract with pleasure from the fourth discourse.

“There are, my young friends, two great inquiries, relative to matters of religion, into which all others may be resolved. The first is—Are the scriptures the word of God? The second-What do the scriptures teach?* We are to make the best use of our reason, of which we are capable, to answer both these inquiries. “Reason,' remarks one who had examined this subject deeply and accurately, “Reason is, primarily, no more than the test or touchstone of evidence; and in a secondary sense only the standard of truth't Reason must pronounce that to be true, or false, which the competent evidence proves to be the one or the other. If, in the present

case, reason, after fully and candidly examining the evidence-evidence drawn from every source-decide that there is not ground to believe that the scriptures are the word of God, then they have no authority whatsoever, more than other human productions. But if, on the contrary, the evidence is found to be irresistibly conclusive, that the scriptures are the word of God, reason, having ascertained this, cannot legitimately controvert that word for a single moment; but must take it exactly as it is; must labour to understand and explain it, as far as practicable; and when she can go no farther, must reverently submit her powers to the authority of God. In a word, the proper office of reason here, is precisely the same that it is in relation to all the other inscrutable works and ways of God, which, indeed, are very numerous. She is to take facts as she finds them, explain and harmonize them as far as she can; and when she can do no more, fairly acknowledge her ignorance or weakness; and wait for more light in this world, or for more strength in the world to come; recollecting, that at last, and to all eternity, finite reason, or intellect, will never be able to comprehend more than a little, comparatively a very little, of that which is infinite. To act differently from this is manifestly to act most irrationally and impiously; for it is, in the indulgence of a proud and self-sufficient spirit, to follow the uncertain guidance of that twinkling ray of intellect which our Maker has given us; in preference to the unerring guidance of that infinite fountain of intellectual light, of which He is the source and centre, and from which our feeble beam of reason has been derived.

“Can we be more certain of any thing, than we are, that what God says must be true? and do we not know, by much sad experience, that the conclu. sions of our own reason are not always true; that they are often erroneous and delusive? Is it not then, I askall duty apart—is it not one of the plainest dic. tates of reason itself, always to trust God in any thing that he has revealed, rather than to trust ourselves, in any reasoning against it?

“Reason dictates, too, that we should be deeply grateful to God, that he has not left us, as the wisest of the heathen were left, to wander in endless uncertainty, in regard to religious truth and duty; but has told us plainly in his infallible word, what is truth, and what is duty. Are there some things in that word the comprehension of which transcends our powers? That very circumstance goes

See note G at the end of the volume:

† Doctor George Campbell.

to show that the word of God is like all his other works, and by doing so, increases its credibility. Cnsearchableness to human faculties,' says the same able writer, already referred to, is a sort of signature, impressed on the works of the Most High; and which, when found in any thing attested as from him, ought to be held at least a presumption in favour of the testimony.'

"It is, therefore, no objection to the humble Christian, but the contrary, that he cannot fully explain, or comprehend, how it is, that in the perfect unity of the Divine essence, there are three distinctions, usually denominated personsFather, Son, and Holy Ghost. He receives this truth, without difficulty or hesitation, because he finds it unquestionably taught by the word of God; and he applies it to the great and important practical purposes to which that word directs him to apply it. For the same reason he believes that the divine and human natures were united in Jesus Christ; and on this, as the gospel teaches, he founds the mediatorial character of the Saviour; and the great doctrines of his atonement for sin, and the justification of all true believers, by the imputation of his righteousness. He delights exceedingly to observe that the gospel, manifestly considering the Redeemer as God, as well as man, abounds in representations of Ilim as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresentl; always with his people; always protecting them; always helping them; ready to sustain them even in their dying hour;-to take them to his blissful presence; to raise their bodies at the last day; to acquit them in the final judgment; and to receive them, glorified in body and soul, to share with Himself the endless and ineffable bliss of the heavenly state.

“Once more ; it is no stumbling block to him who takes revealed truth ex. actly as he finds it, that he is not able fully to explain the connexion which subsists, between the perfect freedom and accountableness of man, and the absolute sovereignty of the grace and providence of God. He will find, upon due examination, that there is a depth in this subject, as in many others, which he cannot fatbom; and into which, therefore, he must adventure with caution, and beware not to proceed too far. His principal concern will be to understand what is practical; and this, with the right temper of mind which he possesses, he will not find difficult. He will not want arguments to convince him that he is a free and accountable creature, because he is conscious of it-he feels that he is so; and because he perceives that the scriptures continually suppose it, and that the whole organization and arrangements of human society are, and must be, built upon it, as a conceded, or self-evident truth. At the same time, his own experience, as well as the unerring word, will teach him, that he is entirely dependant on Divine grace, for every right and holy exercise of his mind; and for strength and ability properly to discharge every duty. He can cordially subscribe to the apostle's declarations—By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.' Let others, then, explain this subject as they like, or lose themselves in it, as they often do; or let his own speculations on it be what they may, still he has for practice, which he chiefly regards, a plain and satisfactory rule of duty-a rule dictated by common sense and experience, and sanctioned by the word of God, namely, that he is entirely responsible for all his voluntary actions, thoughts and desires; and that he is to look to God, sensible of an entire dependance on him, for grace and assistance to think, and will, and act aright, at all times and in every duty.” p. 94.

We cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of making one extract from the seventh sermon, entitled A Plea for Early Piety; the whole of which, though it will not, perhaps, be found to contain many thoughts that are entirely original, abounds in judicious views, powerful argument, and affectionate paternal wisdom. Our extract is taken from that subdivision, under the second general head, in which the preacher is urging his youthful hearers to make an early choice of piety, from the considera

tion, that it is, in every point of view, productive of pleasure and satisfaction through life.

“Or do any of you suppose that true piety is unfavourable to a reputable standing in society? Nothing is more contrary than this, both to reason and experience. Religion in all ages and countries, has been considered as the guard of integrity and confidence. Without her oaths and sanctions society cannot exist. Hypocrisy itself bears testimony to the excellence of religion, in inspiring respect and confidence. Knaves become hypocrites that they may be trusted. Their pretence is detestable, but it proves that genuine piety is of acknowledged value, for nothing that is base is ever counterfeited. Let a man be believed to be really and deeply under the influence of religious principle, and he is trusted without reserve. It gives a dignity and a weight to his character which nothing else can confer.

Religion too is friendly to industry. Industry, indeed, is a part of religion. He that provideth not for his own household,' says an inspired apostle hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.' Now character, confidence, and industry, are confessediy favourable to worldly prosperity, and they are all unquestionably promoted by religion.

“That religion preserves from vice and moderates the passions, is implied in its nature and name. A vicious Christian is a perfect solecism. An ambitious, proud, revengeful, drunken, unclean, profligate Christian, is language of which every one instantly perceives the absurdity. And does religion afford the best guard against all the evils that vice and intemperate passions and appetites produce? Assuredly it does. Look round then upon the world, and when you see-as you certainly may see-that the greater part of all the miseries of human nature proceed from these causes, confess that the remedy of these evils, -a remedy which heals the very fountain of them in the human heart,-cannot be hurtful to happiness, but must abundantly increase it.

“ Neither is religion injurious to the accumulation of property, to the com. fortable enjoyment of our possessions, nor to a participation in any rational pleasure. The limits which it sets and the restraints which it imposes, in re. gard to these particulars, are precisely those which reason itself prescribes to every prudent man. Religion forbids avarice, but it also forbids prodigality. The beneficence and charity which it requires, are unspeakably a lighter tax than that which dissipation and sinful indulgence levy on their votaries. The pleasure too, which arises from doing good with our substance to the bodies and the souls of men, is far greater than that which arises from splendour of equipage, from the indulgence of animal appetite, or even from the imitative arts.

“Every gratification and pleasure of the senses, which does not weaken, degrade, or injure our nature, nor intrude on more important concerns and pleasures, religion permits. And who, that values himself on being raised above the level of the brutes, would wish for more than this? To crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts,” Christianity certainly requires; but this self command and self denial are really conducive to the greatest enjoyment on the whole. They render him, who complies with the precept, infinitely happier than the slave of appetite, even when appetite can be indulged. That man has not yet learned the laws of his nature, any more than the laws of the gospel, who does not know that moderation, forbearance, and even a degree of abstinence, is necessary to the highest gratification of his senses.

“To all the pleasures of friendship and society true piety is peculiarly favour. able. There is something in that softening which genuine religion gives to the heart, or affections, which peculiarly qualifies its possessor to be a friend. So true is this, and so much verified by experience, that I would beg you to make the observation for yourselves, whether in the sphere of your own acquaintance, the warmest, the tenderest, the most lasting, and the most valuable friendships are not found among persons of piety, of both sexes and of every age.” p. 177.

The eighth Discourse, On False Honour, is one of the most striking and powerful in the volume. It contains a great deal

of instructive matter, and several admirable appeals. The following paragraph is uncommonly vigorous and eloquent.

“ It is not certain, however, that Herod had time or sobriety enough to think of such an alternative as this; nor, if it had been suggested, that either he or his companions would have judged that its adoption would preserve his honour. It is true, indeed, that those who claim for themselves exclusively the character of men of bonour, do seem, at times, to go a good deal farther than their own principles require. But it must be recollected that those who have not been taught in their school, are probably not competent judges, either of their mar. ims or their feelings. The wretched monarch whose case we consider, had sworn to give Salome whatever she should ask. Now, to propose any thing else than what she did ask, might seem to reflect on her choice; and not to consist with that high and delicate regard to sex and rank, which men of honour always affect. It might also appear unprincely; as implying, either that he wanted the power, or else that he was afraid, to do what had been required: and to be afraid of any thing, except the loss of honour-afraid even of the wrath of Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,' is what I speak it with horror-is never permitted to a man of false honour, when that honour is at stake. The fact undoubtedly was, that the fidelity of John had given an offence to Herodias, for which she was resolved that nothing but his blood should ever atone. No gratification could be put in place of this; Herod knew it well, and probably they who sat with him knew it too. When there. fore, this was asked, his honour, he thought, was concerned to grant it, without hesitation or evasion; because to do otherwise, would be considered as a reproachful shrinking from his promise and oaths, by those with whom he was associated. Yes—though the plain truth must appear like paradox or irony—a nice sense of honour required, in his opinion, that he should immediately kill the best man in his kingdom, and cause his reeking bead to be brought in a charger to a royal banquet, and therc that it should be formally delivered to the enchant. ing damsel, who had requested this princely present, and that she should take it and deliver it to her mother, who had prompted her to demand it. The point of honour required exactly this bloody proceeding, and admitted of no alternative. It was nothing, therefore, though the thing itself was shocking beyond all description—so shocking that we wonder how female lips could ever request it, or female hands help to execute it; nothing, though the king was exceeding sorry' that he had sworn to comply with this request; nothing; though the compliance would strike at his character, safety and conscience, all at once; nothing, though it was forbidden by every law of God, of justice and of humanity—as a man of honour, he could not and would not refuse it. He did not refuse it—the holy Baptist was that night beheaded; and a sting was fastened in the bosom of this man of honour, which no time or efforts could cver extract, whose poison no art could mitigate, and whose corroding anguish, through the whole of subsequent life, was, we have reason to fear, the earnest only of the gnawings of that worm which should never die, and the torments of that fire which should never be quenched.” p. 209.

For the following passage, toward the close of the same discourse, every parent will think himself indebted to the venerable president.

“Consider the duellist. He has adopted a standard of honour, in opposition to the dictates of revelation, reason and conscience. In a hasty or unguarded moment, or perhaps, indeed, with coolness and deliberation, he has given or provoked a challenge, and is pledged to a deadly combat-it may be with one whom he has loved or venerated. He has a wife, or children, or parents, or friends, who, in a few hours, may stand over his lifeless corpse, and to the latest hour of life suffer anguish, and perhaps poverty too, as the consequence of his rash act; while his own soul, all covered with its crimes, and self-sent to the har of God, shall stand there to receive its unchanging destination. Or sup

« PoprzedniaDalej »