Obrazy na stronie
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


they are not derived from that source, though unconsciously, by their author? But this is not all: they are liable to a still more serious objection. If it be true, that the light of nature is sufficient for the discovery of a complete system of religion, where was the necessity, or the utility, of those two Divine dispensations which are contained in the Bible? Is it conceivable that the Almighty would have employed such stupendous means for our instruction in truths relating to himself, to ourselves, and to each other, to our present and our future state, if he had already endowed us with faculties to discover all these things? Yet such is the conclusion to which all such arguments inevitably tend. For it is soon perceived by those who employ them, that without the doctrine of a future state they are quite unsatisfactory; and, accordingly, they are reduced to the necessity of endeavouring to establish that also, upon the ground of natural reason and thus to dispense with one of the main objects of the Gospel Revelation.

Of all the questions which have ever occu

Wollaston's Religion of Nature, page 399.

H 2




pied the minds of reflecting men, that of a future state is undoubtedly the most momen

Whether this life be the whole of our existence, or but a stage in our progress to another, it concerns us above all things to know. Now, it is not enough to say, that the wisest of the heathen philosophers had doubts upon this matter, and that


few of them advanced even so far as that ; but we may safely affirm, that the united wisdom of all the sages who have ever lived, would be insufficient to determine this point with certainty. What was the precise state of the question amongst the Jews at the coming of our Saviour, is not quite clear. We read, indeed, that they were divided upon

it. For that the Sadducees say, there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. But Grotius' is of opinion, that this notion of the Pharisees was founded rather upon tradition and conjecture, than upon any certain grounds. This at least is clear, that if they were firmly convinced of it, their conviction could only be derived from the doctrines of their prophets, who, being inspired

[blocks in formation]

to predict the coming of the Saviour, might also foretel one of its most important consequences; namely, the clearing up of this great point ;—in other words, that their knowledge must be traced to Revelation. For, notwithstanding all that has been written upon that subject, if it were possible for us to unlearn all that we have acquired from that source ; I would

put it to any man, whether, even in the present highly cultivated state of the reasoning faculties, his mind must not instantly relapse into all that doubt and perplexity, which the wisest men of antiquity felt and expressed upon this awful subject. Our Saviour then, in bringing life and immortality to light, by assuring us of a future state of retribution, has communicated to us from heaven that information, which only from thence we could obtain ; and has finally settled that great question upon which we must otherwise have speculated continually, and speculated in vain.

But it is obvious, that even this information, important as it is, would have been almost useless if it had rested there. The knowledge of a future life, with its rewards and punishments, would have been any thing but a blessing to us, if we had not also been taught by the same Divine authority, how to secure the one and to avoid the other. The sublime simplicity of the Christian morality, though in the highest degree characteristic of its sacred original, is probably the reason why it is so frequently disregarded or undervalued. Did mankind consist of nothing but philosophers, whose lives were passed in ease and opulence, in contemplative retirement, or in splendid and honourable activity, we might perhaps have expected to have found amongst the precepts of the Gospel, some of a different kind from those which we there meet with ; some rules of conduct in cases which then might be common, though now they are of rare occurrence. But even then, I doubt whether the maxims of Jesus, if pursued to their legitimate consequences, would not be found amply sufficient for the regulation of human beings, in any circumstances in which they could be placed. But when we consider what the bulk of mankind always must be, in point of intellectual acquirements, what the nature of their occupations, and what the relations which they have with each other ; and when we reflect that the Gospel was preached especially to the poor, doubtless, because under that description so large a portion of mankind is included, and because religion, which is equally the concern of all, must, to be beneficial, be rendered intelligible to all ; we shall be little inclined to wonder at the plain but comprehensive character of the morality upon which, (so far as depends upon ourselves,) no less than our eternal salvation is at issue. But on the contrary, we shall recognize with sincere conviction, the Divine mind of our Lord, in that vigorous compression, with which, after having upon various occasions laid down so many admirable rules for our conduct, he summed them

in those two great commandments, the love of God and of our neighbour; thereby establishing for ever a code of virtue, which, “ he that runs may read,”—which the simplest can hardly misunderstand, and the wisest will vainly endeavour to improve.

If this be (as it evidently is,) the prominent feature of the Gospel—if addressing itself especially to the poor—and offering them heaven as the reward of those humble virtues, which their condition and circumstances would enable them to practise--if speaking occasionally to the rich, and teaching them to enter into life by keeping the command

all up

« PoprzedniaDalej »