« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour; and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
After making many other observations upon human life, and human pursuits, and shewing how utterly insufficient they all are to constitute any of us truly easy, content, and happy, the royal preacher finishes his excellent sermon by pointing out in a few words, what is the state, the duty, and the true interest of man: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear GOD, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For GOD shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
This is the sum of SOLOMON's experience and knowledge of men and things; and this is the experience of all the world. Religion is always our last resource. We must come to it one time or other, or we are undone for ever, and had better never have been born. Nothing can supply its place. The fear, the love, the service of Gop, can alone make us happy. All other things; all other pur suits; all other pleasures; all other enjoyments, leave us restless, uneasy, discontent, unhappy.
"The soul uneasy, and confin'd from home,
If, to this scriptural sketch, we were disposed to add still more instances from among our own countrymen, of religious wisdom, amidst all the honours, luxury, and hurry of public station, we might observe, that Lord Chancellor PARKER, Earl of Macclesfield, and WILLIAM PULTNEY, Earl of Bath, devoted many of their leisure hours to prayer, reading, and studying the Bible, and afterwards died with a hope full of immortality.
I might call your attention here likewise to a character much more splendid in life, but much less honourable in death. You recollect the extorted and affecting declaration of the degraded, and almost expiring Cardinal:
"Had I but serv'd my GoD with half the zeal
"I serv'd my king, he would not in mine age
Take warning by all these examples, MY COUNTRYMEN; and if by any means you have been led astray from the paths of virtue and religion, be sensible of your folly, and turn back with all speed into the way of piety. It may be old-fashioned, but it is safe and honourable. Keep innocency in future, and take heed to the thing that is right, for that only will bring a man peace at the last. If you make ten thousand efforts to find rest for your mind in any other way, they will all disappoint you. This is the experience of the whole world. And is it not your experience also?
"What nothing earthly gives, or can destroy,
Reflect upon the workings of your own hearts, in the different periods and circumstances of life, and say what your feelings have been. Was it not better with you, when you were humble minded, and went after the commandments delivered by the LORD, than it is now? Making allowance for the difference of station, may not you say with the celebrated Madame de MAINTENON: "Oh! that I could give you all my experience; that I could shew you the heaviness that preys upon the spirits of the Great*, and how hard they will find it to put out their
* An anecdote to this purpose occurs to my mind concerning one of ur present Noblemen, who, being in conversation with a certain gentleman, said, "Oh! how weary am I of this d-d attendance upon Court! Had Providence cast my lot among peasants, I had been an happy
"Beware what earth calls happiness; beware
days! Don't you see that I pine away with melancholy, in the midst of a fortune, that one could hardly have imagined, and that nothing but God's assistance keeps me from sinking under it?-I protest to you, that all stations leave a frightful void, an uneasiness, a weariness, a desire to know something else, because in all worldly attainments there is nothing that gives full satisfaction. We find no rest till we have given ourselves to GOD.Then we find, that there is nothing farther to be sought; that we have attained to that, which is the only good thing in this world. We meet with vexations, but we have at the same time a solid consolation and peace of heart in the midst of the greatest afflictions."If this, or any thing like this, is your experience, why will you any longer spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?
"In vain we seek a heav'n below the sky;
"And, when we grasp the airy forms,
But the grand objects which Religion holds forth to our acceptance, are adequate to the largest desires of the human mind. They are calculated as well for the present as the future world. We may be as happy here, in spite of all the ills of life, as is for our real good, and hereafter our happiness shall know neither measure nor end. Be not like the people then described by the weeping Prophet :-Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, Where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.-But they said, WE WILL NOT WALK THEREIN.-Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.—But they said, WE WILL NOT HEARKEN.
Laugh not at this simple relation, neither despise the warning given. Stop rather for one moment, and consider
*Letters of Madame de MAINTENON, and other eminent persons.
upon what foundation you are building your future expectations. Though you reject Christianity, I should hope, you are not so far gone as to disbelieve a state of future rewards and punishments, of some kind or other *. Your master, THOMAS PAINE, and, indeed, most other Deists, profess thus much at least. Take then into your serious. consideration, whether you think your actions, tempers, and state of mind such, as will, upon your own principles, stand the test at the great day of account. It can do you no great harm to reflect upon your condition, to be serious for a season, and to suspect you may be wrong. Consider, that you differ essentially from some of the greatest and best men that ever lived. You stake your ETERNAL ALL upon the justness-Of what?-Your opinion:-an opinion, in confutation of which multitudes have sacrificed their lives, and which many of the first characters now upon earth, would controvert with the last drop of their blood! This should stagger your confidence. Myriads of the most learned and moral persons of all ranks and degrees, and of all sects and denominations, would this moment burn at a stake in confirmation of the truth of the Bible, and the divine mission of JESUS CHRIST. Are they all deceived? Are you the only wise men upon earth? And would you this moment burn at a stake in proof of Christ's being an impostor? Nothing surely but the most palpable demonstration in favour of Infidelity should suffer you to sleep one night more in your present state of scepticism and unbelief. If you are mistaken, Sirs! Should you be mistaken! The very possibility is enough to overwhelm the human mind:
My hopes and fears
"Start up alarm'd, and o'er life's narrow verge
* For the natural and philosophical arguments in favour of a future state, see Bishop BUTLER'S Analogy, part 1. Bishop PORTEUS has brought them into a very striking point of view in three discourses on the subject in the first volume of his Sermons. Dr. CRAVEN too, Professor of Arabic, and Master of St. JOHN's College in Cambridge, has published eight discourses on the evidence of a future state of rewards and punishments, which are worth the attention of all who have any doubt.
Everlasting existence in misery!-Under the frown and displeasure of the best BEING in the universe, without end! -Debarred of light, and the society of happy spirits!-The associates of lost souls, and miserable angels, through endless ages! The lake which burneth with fire and brimstone!-The worm that never dies!-The fire that never shall be quenched!--Everlasting punishment! Eternal destruction from the presence of the LORD, and from the glory of his power!
Ah! could I (to use the words of a great author) represent to you the different states of good and bad men : could I give you the prospect which the blessed martyr St. STEPHEN had, and shew you the blessed JESUS at the right hand of Gop, surrounded with angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect: could I open your ears to hear the never-ceasing hymns of praise, which the blessed above sing to HIM that was, and is, and is to come; to the LAMB that was slain, but liveth forever; could I lead you through the unbounded regions of eternal day, and shew the mutual and ever blooming joys of saints who are at rest from their labours, and live forever in the presence of GOD! or could I change the scene, and unbar the iron gates of hell, and carry you, through solid darkness, to the fire that never goes out, and to the worm that never dies: could I shew you the apostate angels fast bound in eternal chains, or the souls of wicked men overwhelmed with torment and despair: could I open your ears to hear the deep itself groan with the continual cries of misery; cries which can never reach the throne of mercy, but return in sad echoes, and add even to the very horrors of hell! could I thus set before you the different ends of Religion and Infidelity, you would want no other proof to convince you, that nothing can recompense the hazard men run of being forever miserable through Ubelief."
We too well know you will make yourselves merry with these representations*, but you should not laugh where you
* When the Duke of BUCKINGHAM was once talking profanely before King CHARLES II. EDMUND WALLER, the Poet, reproved him very properly, by saying, "My Lord, I am a great deal older than your Grace,