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we are to learn the manner in which we must act, so as to promote the real welfare of our fellow-creatures. And in proportion to the fulness and the accuracy of our acquaintance with the points referred to, will be our success in discharging our social duties, and prosecuting our benevolent objects.
Now, in order to obtain this knowledge, we must go to the word of God. We shall never acquire it, if we apply for it solely to our own independent
Universal experience shows, that in this, more than in any thing else, it is beyond the ability of man to come to a settled and determinate principle. The learned and the illiterate, men of philosophy and men of business, have equally failed to fix the true character of what may be justly deemed the blessedness of our species. And, indeed, from our natural ignorance of the counsels of the Almighty respecting us, the inadequacy of our unassisted powers to discover these, and the undue bias which all our speculations receive from the moral depravity that perpetually cleaves to us, we could never expect, by any efforts of our own, to ascertain, with precision, that which mainly constitutes, or which is really conducive to our well-being. It is to the Bible that we must have recourse, pose of the inspired volume is to “ show us what is good.” It by no means prevents or prohibits us from applying to other sources of information; it rather sanctions the widest range of inquiry that we can take, for satisfying our minds on such an important topic. But it is its own peculiar province to instruct us, with clearness and with certainty, in that which should be accounted the true honour and
One great pur.
felicity of our nature. And while, by teaching us what we are to choose and to pursue for ourselves, it teaches us what we are to be useful in communicating to others; it also affords us a multitude of maxims, and precepts, and examples, bearing directly on the deportment we are to maintain in reference to the welfare of our brethren of mankind, in all that variety of relation in which they stand to us, and in all that variety of condition in which they happen to be placed.
Appealing then to the Scriptures, we find the grand and all-pervading truth respecting man to be, that he is destined for “ life and immortality.” He is represented, indeed, as an inhabitant of this earth; but it is only for a short period that he is to continue here, and when that short period is at an end, he enters upon an eternity of existence, which must be one either of happiness or of misery. His escape from the latter, and his attainment of the former, are clearly pointed out as the only things worthy of his care or his ambition. Heaven, as presupposing his deliverance from destruction, and as implying the interminable perfection and happiness of his being, is that towards which his affections, his views, and his labours are authoritatively directed or attractively beckoned; and in that mighty consummation of his fate, which consists in his being made a partaker of celestial glory, all other interests which can possibly come into his contemplation, are completely absorbed and lost. Having gained it; he is in secure and everlasting possession of all that his heart can desire; but if he lose it, unmixed and irremediable wretchedness must be his portion.
We may safely and properly speak of heaven, not merely as man's chief, but as his only good. For supposing that he had every thing in this world which its votaries are accustomed to value mostsupposing that he had its choicest gifts, unmixed with any of those crosses and pains by which these are so often rendered unavailing-and supposing that he not only enjoyed them in their highest style, and with the keenest relish, but enjoyed them as long as ever mortal was permitted to dwell in this passing scene-supposing all this, is it indeed good in his estimation, or in his experience, when he comes to die, and to appear in judgment, and to enter on a state of retribution, if withal the gate of heaven be shut against him, and he must spend a forever in the abodes of misery and despair? And again, supposing that he had as little temporal gratification as ever fell to the lot of the most destitute of our racesupposing that the earth were to him nothing but a bleak and desolate wilderness and supposing that, to the termination of his “ fourscore years,” he felt nothing but “ labour and sorrow,” yet what could he have to regret, or what could he have to desiderate, if all the while he were an heir of eternal life, and if the conclusion of it all were admission to the blessedness which is without alloy and without end? Amidst the sensible objects, and busy pursuits by which we are so apt to be engrossed, and so long as no adversity has befallen us, to stamp the impress of
on whatever is seen and temporal, we may not be very willing to acknowledge the necessity of looking beyond a present world for the good that will make us truly happy. But let us only recollect that
to our eye
we are destined for another state of being—let us only see what the best of terrestrial possessions and enjoyments are in the light of eternity—let us only conceive ourselves taking the last step of life which shall hide from us all that now occupies our thoughts, and enchants our hearts, and shall disclose
the realities of that state in which we must abide through endless ages; and it will be but the work of a moment to convince us, that to creatures constituted and circumstanced as we are, there is nothing good but heaven.
This being the case, it is not difficult to understand the general duty of doing good. We endeavour to do good to others when we aim at securing their final introduction into heaven. This it is which distinguishes and marks the benevolent character, according to the discoveries made by revelation of the nature and destinies of man. If we have made it an exclusive object in exercising love to our neighbour, that he may at last “sit down in the kingdom of God,” we have pursued, with respect to him, that good which the Scripture tells us to pursue for ourselves, as comprehending in it all that is fit and desirable for us; and to “ love our neighbour as ourselves” is the great and divine law of charity. But if we have neglected that object, or given it only a subordinate place, then, so far as we are concerned, he has not received from us any thing that is good he has not received a single benefit that will survive the few years of his pilgrimage, or that he can recollect with gratitude when he is closing his probationary course, or that can prevent him from accusing us of positive cruelty to his soul, in that,
when we had it in our power to save him, we left him to perish. So far from having done him good, we have done him evil; and whatever praise we may have for our attention to his bodily comfort and his temporal prosperity, that must, ere long, give place to the juster decision, which will condemn us for allowing these to supersede in our regard the peace and happiness of his never-dying spirit.
When we say, that there is nothing good but heaven, we must be understood as including in that idea all which is requisite or useful, in preparing for heaven; because, when any particular means are necessary to the attainment of an end, they must be considered as partaking of the importance by which it is recommended to us, and as entitled to the same
kind of practical regard which it demands from us. | Now the gospel of Christ may be considered as the
great instrument by which sinful men can ever be enabled to reach the heavenly happiness. It is appointed of God for that very purpose. sessed of every quality which can be deemed essential to its efficacy and success. And as without it no man can hope to be saved, so by its influence and power the greatest sinner may be restored to the station from which guilt had banished him, and become an inhabitant of the paradise above. As, therefore, in doing good to others, we should propose to ourselves their final introduction into heaven, so in carrying on our work, we must study to make them acquainted with that plan of divine mer-. cy by which alone their introduction into heaven can be accomplished. If we set aside this method of redemption altogether, or if we do not give it that
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