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life. And is it for such doubtful and fallacious rewards, that the deceiver fills his mouth with lies, the friend betrays his benefactor, the apostate renounces his faith, and the assassin covers himself with blood ?
Whoever commits a crime, incurs a certain evil for a most uncertain good. What will turn to his advantage in the course of this life, he cannot with any assurance know. But this he may know with full certainty, that by breaking the Divine commandments, he will draw upon his head that displeasure of the Almighty, which shall crush him for ever. The advantages of this world, even when innocently gained, are uncertain blessings ; when obtained by criminal means, they carry a curse in their bosom. To the virtuous, they are often no more than chaff. To the guilty, they are always poison,
V. Let our imperfect knowledge of what is good or evil, attach us the more to those few things concerning which there can be no doub of their being truly good. Of temporal things which belong to this class, the catalogue, it must be confessed, is small. Perhaps the chief worldly good we should wish to enjoy, is a sound mind in a sound body. Health and peace, a moderate fortune, and a few
friends, sum up all the undoubted articles of temporal felicity. Wise was the man who addressed this prayer to God; Remove far from me vanity and lies. Give me neither
poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for Lest I be full and deny thee, and say,
who is the Lord ? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. * He whose wishes, respecting the possessions of this world, are the most reasonable and bounded, is likely to lead the safest, and, for that reason, the most desirable life. By aspiring too high, we frequently miss the happiness which, by a less ambitious aim, we might have gained. High happiness on earth, is rather a picture which the imagination forms, than a reality which man is allowed to possess.
But with regard to spiritual felicity, we are not confined to such humble views. Clear and determinate objects are proposed to our pursuit ; and full scope is given to the most ardent desire. The forgiveness of our sins, and the assistance of God's holy grace to guide our life; the improvement of our minds in knowledge and wisdom, in piety and virtue ; the protection and favour of the great Father of all, of the blessed Redeemer of mankind,
* Prov. XXX, 8, 9.
and of the Spirit of sanctification and comfort; these are objects in the pursuit of which there is no room for hesitation and distrust, nor any ground for the question in my Text, Who knoweth what is good for man? Had Providence spread an equal obscurity over happiness of every kind, we might have had some reason to complain of the vanity of our condition. But we are not left to so hard a fate. The son of God hath descended from heaven to be the Light of the world. He hath removed that veil which covered true bliss from the search of wandering mortals, and hath taught them the way which leads to life. Worldly enjoyments are shown to be hollow and deceitful, with an express intention to direct their affections towards those which are spiritual. The same discoveries which diminish the value of the one, serve to increase that of the other. Finally,
VI. Let our ignorance of what is good or evil here below, lead our thoughts and desires to a better world. I have endeavoured to vindicate the wisdom of Providence, by shewing the many useful purposes which this ignorance at present promotes. It serves to check presumption and rashness, and to enforce a diligent exertion of our rational powers, joined with a humble dependence on Divine aid. It moderates eager passions respecting worldly success. It inculcates resignation to the disposal of a Providence which is much wiser than man. It restrains us from employing unlawful means in order to compass our most favourite designs. It tends to attach us more closely to those things which are unquestionably good. It is therefore such a degree of ignorance as suits the present circumstances of man, better than more complete information concerning good and evil.
At the same time, the causes which render this obscurity necessary, too plainly indicate a broken and corrupted state of human nature. They shew this life to be a state of trial. They suggest the idea of a land of pilgrimage, not of the house of rest. Low-minded and base is he, who aspires to no higher portion; who could be satisfied to spend his whole existence in chasing those treacherous appearances of good, which so often mock his pursuit. What shadow can be more vain, than the life of the greatest part of mankind? Of all that eager and bustling crowd which we behold on the earth, how few discover the path of true happiness? How few can we find whose activity has not been misemployed, and whose course terminates not in confessions of disappointment? Is this the state, are these the habitations, to which a rational spirit, with all its high hopes and great capacities, is to be limited for ever? Let us bless that God who hath set nobler prospects before us; who, by the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, hath begotten us to the lively hope of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in the heavens. Let us shew ourselves worthy of such a hope, by setting our affections upon the things above, not upon things on the earth. Let us walk by faith, and not by sight ; and, amidst the obscurity of this faint and dubious twilight, console ourselves with the expectation of a brighter day which is soon to open. This earth is the land of shadows. But we hope to pass into the world of realities; where the proper objects of human desire shall be displayed; where the substance of that bliss shall be found, whose image only we now pursue ;
where no fallacious hopes shall any longer allure, no smiling appearances shall betray, no insidious joys shall sting; but where truth shall be inseparably united with pleasure, and the mists which hang over this preliminary state being dissipated, the perfect knowledge of good shall lead to the full enjoyment of it for ever.