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opportunity, and defer to come to a full determination, and form effectual resolutions of obedience to all God's commandments; that delay will sometime be matter of grief and bitter lamentation.
This discourse may then be considered as an invitation to young persons, to be truly religious without delay: to weigh and consider the things of religion seriously, and to determine accordingly to "remember now their Creator in the days of their youth," Ecc. xii. 1, and to serve him constantly with inviolable fidelity.
But it suggests no discouragements to others who have as yet deferred. It does indeed shew, in some measure, the evil of procrastination. But it does not insinuate, that there is no hope or remedy for those who have long delayed.
They who have feared God from their youth have some distinction. They were early wise, and they have proceeded in wisdom's paths. But they are not taught to boast, or say scornfully, They are not as other men. They likewise have failings: and do own, that if God were strict to mark iniquity, they could not be justified in his sight. Their hopes therefore are founded in the mercy of God. They believe, and it is what they would recommend to the consideration of others, that "with God there is forgiveness, that he may be feared," Ps. cxxx. 4, and served by such weak and fallible creatures as we are.
Goodness is as certainly a property of the Deity, as any other. If sinful men "forsake the evil of their ways, and" unfeignedly "return to God," they will find rest for their souls: for "he will have mercy upon them, and will abundantly pardon," Is. lv. 7.
A FUTURE STATE PROVEABLE BY REASON.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalm lxxxiv. 11.
"THE Lord God is a sun." He is not only glorious and excellent in himself: but from him issue streams of knowledge, and wisdom, joy and comfort. Whatever the sun is to the material world, that God is in the most eminent manner to his people.
He is also "a shield." God is not only a light to guide and direct, but likewise a shield to protect and defend. He can secure us in the midst of dangers, and defend from the violent and artful designs and attempts of enemies.
"The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." He will bestow every kind of good, both favour and honour. Nor will he give sparingly but will plentifully enrich, and abundantly bless them that walk uprightly.
By which uprightness is not meant absolute perfection, but sincerity; serving God in truth, and with a willing mind; and having a respect to all his commandments: not only observing, very punctually, ordinances of positive appointment, and the stated seasons of public worship: but living in the practice of all righteousness. It is, to be faithful to God in all circumstances, in prosperity and adversity, and in the general tenour of our life and conversation. Such as these God will abundantly bless.
Having thus briefly explained these words, I shall mention some observations.
I. Here is a property of the Divine Being, which deserves our serious attention. As God is full and perfect in himself, so he favours, and has a special regard for righteous and upright
The Psalmist, and other good men, who lived under the Mosaic dispensation, did, possibly, expect temporal advantages for the truly religious, more than it is reasonable for us to do under the gospel. But in general the observation must be right: the truth of it may be depended
upon, and ought to be maintained in all times: that "God loveth righteousness; his countenance beholds the upright," Ps. xi. 7. These he approves and favours; whilst he is displeased with such as wilfully transgress, or contemptuously neglect and disregard his holy laws.
II. We should improve this truth for our establishment in the steady and delightful practice of all holiness.
Virtue, real righteousness, has an intrinsic excellence: it is fit in itself, and very becoming. But we ought to take in every other consideration that tends to secure the practice of virtue, and perseverance therein, in this state of temptation. We should strengthen ourselves by a respect to the divine will, as well as by a regard to the reason of things.
When we do so, mindful of the divine authority, desirous of his favour, and fearing his displeasure, we may be said to walk with God. There will be then a comfortable fellowship between God and his rational creatures. We steadily and conscientiously eye his commands. He graciously approves us, and the way we are in: and will manifest himself favourably
III. We may hence receive encouragement to trust in God, and serve him faithfully in every circumstance of life, even though we are in some difficulties and troubles, as the Psalmist now
For virtue, though well pleasing to God, may be tried and exercised. The reward is sure, though deferred: and it may be the greater in the end, if by afflictions it be refined, improved and perfected.
IV. This text may teach men to be cautious how they injure, offend, or grieve any sincere and upright persons whom God approves.
It is spoken of as a remarkable instance of the folly of bad men: "Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people, as they eat bread, and call not upon God!"
Ps. xiv. 4.
We ought to be careful how we offend any walking in the way of righteousness: though they appear to us to be mistaken in some things. It must be imprudent to oppose those who have God for a sun and shield. At the same time it appears to be our duty to uphold to the utmost of our power the cause of the righteous. This seems to be what David engages to do, if settled in peace and prosperity. "O my soul, thou hast said unto God: Thou art my Lord. My goodness extendeth not unto thee, but unto the saints that are in the earth, even to the excelÏent, in whom is all my delight," Ps. xvi. 2, 3. I have always trusted in God: and it has been my unfeigned desire to serve him. Not that I thereby merit of him. Nor is he advantaged by my services. But I shall think it a happiness, if ever I have it in my power to protect and encourage upright men, whom I sincerely love and esteem.'
V. We are also led to observe upon these words, that from the divine perfections may be argued a future state of recompenses.
This observation I intend to enlarge upon.
1. In the first place I shall propose an argument for a future state from reason.
2. I shall consider some objections against this doctrine.
3. I will endeavour to answer divers inquiries relating to this matter.
4. And then conclude with some inferences.
1.) The argument from reason in behalf of a future state of recompenses is to this purpose. It appears to us agreeable to the perfections of God, that he should shew favour to good and virtuous men. But it is obvious to all, and more especially evident to careful observers, that good and bad men are not much distinguished in this world. This, I say, is obvious to all, and especially manifest to those whose observations are of the greatest compass: who have considered the consequences of virtue and vice, relating to this life: who have compared the conduct of good and bad with the prosperous or afflictive circumstances they have been in: who have taken notice of the rules and maxims, the successes and disappointments of the great and small, the high and low of mankind.
How frequent and copious upon this head is Solomon, who had himself enjoyed so much power and grandeur, and had been very curious in his remarks upon men and things! “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity. There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness: and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness," Ecc. vii. 15. And, "there is a vanity, which is done upon the earth, that there be just men, unto whom it hap
peneth according to the work of the wicked," ch. viii. 14. "And there be wicked men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous. No man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him. All things come alike to all. All things come alike to all. There is one event to the righteous, and the wicked: -to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not. As is the good, so is the sinner-This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. There is one event unto all," ch. ix. 1-3.
And afterwards: "This wisdom have I seen under the sun and it seemed great unto me. There was a little city, and few men within it: and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no man remembered that same poor man," ver. 13-15. If the place had been saved by some rich citizen, the performance would have been applauded: and honour, and many distinguishing advantages would have been heaped upon him. But the great and eminent wisdom of the poor man was despised and forgotten, because of his mean condition. Such is the partiality of men! such their respect for outward appearances! So that suitable recompenses are not to be looked for from fellow-creatures, in proportion to virtue, or wisdom, from any considerations whatever, either of gratitude or interest.
These and other things said by Solomon, are not proposed with a view to disparage the divine government. For, notwithstanding all these disorders and inequalities in the present scene of things, he is persuaded of the righteousness, and of the remunerative, rewarding providence of God in due time. For which reason he shuts up his book with that important advice: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments. For this is the whole of man :" his whole duty, or his whole interest and happiness. "For God will bring every work into judgment, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." And indeed, in the course of his observations, in that work, he more than once asserts the righteousness of God, and his favourable respect to good men. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged: yet surely I know, that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him," viii. 12.
I forbear to recite any passages at length from any of the Psalms: in which the prosperity of bad men, and the afflictions and sufferings of the righteous are taken notice of. See Ps. xvii. and lxxiii.
With regard then to this inquiry: whether the reason of men, or light of nature, teaches a future state of recompenses: we may put the issue upon this one question: "Can we maintain the perfections of God, and the wisdom of his government, upon the supposition, that there is to be no future state of recompense for good or bad? Would it be agreeable to his wisdom, his righteousness, and goodness," that all things should always come alike to all? and that there should be finally one and the same event to the good and the bad?" If it be not, then we may be assured there is another state after this. For we are persuaded of the perfection of the Deity. We have antecedent proof of this in the reason of things. God is as certainly wise, and holy, as he is knowing and powerful. It may be righteous and equitable to permit virtue to be tried with afflictions and sorrows for a while: but it cannot be consistent with the perfection and rectitude of the Divine Being, the creator and governor of the world, to suffer good men to perish finally in their righteousness.
It may be said, that virtue has a reward in this world. For it is in itself an excellence and perfection: and cannot but be chosen by every rational and considerate person. And, if it be chosen and preferred, it must be an advantage, and contain in itself its own reward.
And it must be owned, that virtue is excellent, and therefore is approved. But yet it is exposed to many difficulties in this world, where iniquity is frequent: where there is abundance of partiality, and ingratitude, and perpetual emulation and contention: where success and prosperity are not annexed to any good dispositions, nor to the most valuable services. As Solomon says: "Wisdom is better than weapons of war. But one sinner destroyeth much good," Ecc.
Nor can it be allowed to be fit, that he who has a strict regard to the reason of things, who conscientiously endeavours to perform his duty to God and man, and laments all the neglects and trangressions which at any time he falls into, should upon the whole, and in the end, at the most, have only some small degree of happiness above those who without reluctance break through all the obligations of reason and religion. Would this be answerable to the descriptions
of the divine perfection, sometimes given by wise and good men? Would it be suitable to the instruction in the text, and the consequence thence deduced? "The Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."
Man is the most excellent part of this lower creation. His rational faculties give him a vast superiority above the rest of the beings on this earth. Nevertheless, he is on some ac counts the least provided for of any, if there be no future state: and his rational powers the least of all taken care of. He has a discernment between good and evil: and a power of choosing the one, and refusing the other. He is therefore the subject of moral government, and accountable to his Creator, who is all-knowing, and all-powerful. But this moral government of the Divine Being would be very imperfectly administered if there are to be no other distinctions made between good and bad, than those in this present life.
Supposing such a being formed, as just described, he will certainly be rewarded or punished, according to his choice and conduct. As that is not done now, it is reasonable to expect that it shall be done hereafter in another state.
A learned writer discoursing on this very point, has this observation. • Were there to be no life hereafter, every man would undoubtedly be happy or unhappy here in proportion to his virtues and vices. All the events and dispensations of Providence would turn upon this hinge, and the blessings of heaven be distributed by this rule. But since we find it in fact very 'much otherwise, the doctrine before us seems as clear and certain, as that God "loveth righteousness, and hateth iniquity.'
What encouragement would there be to deny present appetite and inclination? or to forego private interest for the sake of the public? What inducement could there be, with present self-denial, to seek the happiness of particular persons, if there be no future recompenses?
What profit could there be of the study of virtue? What inducement to advance therein, if the progress of it is to come to an end at death, and can last no longer, at the utmost, than the period of this very short and uncertain life? What benefit has such a one from his labour and application in the highest design conceivable? What profit has he of his labour, who has contemplated the divine perfections, who has considered the reason of things, the beauty of virtue, and the deformity of its contrary: who has moderated and subdued his affections, till he has gained in a great measure the conquest of anger, ill-will, envy, and every passion, or degree of it, that is unworthy his nature? What profit, I say, is there of this labour and increase, if this noble design is to come to an end at the period of this mortal life?
This might be an indelible blemish on the divine government, if it could be supposed. For it is as easy for God to raise to another life, or to continue the rational life, the thinking power, as to bestow it at first.
This argument therefore for a future state, which reason affords from the consideration of the divine perfections, and the circumstances of things in this world, is conclusive.
It is also obvious. And accordingly different recompenses for good and bad, in another state after this, have been the general belief and expectation of all nations and people upon the face of the earth. And hereby some have been animated to great and generous actions: and have been induced, with much disinterestedness, to promote religious truth, and virtuous conduct among their fellow-citizens and countrymen and have at length freely and deliberately submitted to sufferings from overruling power and malice: when by compliance with the majority, and recanting the principles they had recommended, they might have saved themselves, and obtained preferment.
2.) I shall now consider objections.
Obj. 1. It may be said: did not some of the ancient heathens, and particularly some of the philosophers, dispute or deny this doctrine?
To which I answer, that some persons entering far into abstruse and metaphysical speculations about the Deity, and matter, and the human soul: and taking offence at the vulgar, prevailing sentiments concerning future rewards and punishments, as low and mean, might dispute the truth of this expectation, or admit of doubts about it. But that future recompenses were
• Five Sermons, &c. p. 84, 85.
the common belief of heathen people, is evident from many ancient writings still extant. And if some, and those of reputed knowledge and learning, did by some discourses weaken this expectation, it does not follow, that there was no good foundation for it in reason. For it is not uncommon for men, by prejudice and false reasonings, to be misled against evidence: as we still see among Christians. The Sadducees in our Saviour's time denied the resurrection of the body, and all rewards after this life. But yet it cannot be said, that the Jewish people at that time had no good reason to expect another life after this.
Obj. 2. St. Paul says, that Jesus Christ" had abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, through the gospel," 2 Tim. i. 10. True. But these expressions are to be understood comparatively, not absolutely: as if a future state of immortal life had been altogether hid from men till the coming of Christ. For it is certain, that among the Jews at least there were expectations of a resurrection, and of eternal life. And the apostle to the Hebrews, speaking of the ancient patriarchs, says: "they confessed, that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth and looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God," Heb. xi. 10, 13. The meaning therefore of that text is, in general, that the doctrine of a future state had been set in a much clearer light by the gospel than before.
Obj. 3. St. Paul writing to the Christians at Ephesus, who were once in the darkness of heathenism, reminds them: " that at that time they were without Christ, being alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world," Eph. ii. 12.
But these expressions should not be understood absolutely, as if those persons had not, and could not have any knowledge of God, or hopes from him. For in the epistle to the Romans the apostle says of Gentile people, that "whereas they knew God, they glorified him not as God;" and that " they knew the judgment of God," though they did not act accordingly, Rom. i. 21, 22. Therefore those Ephesians also, before their conversion to Christianity, were without God, and without hope, comparatively. They had not that knowledge, and that hope, which they now had through the gospel, nor which the Jews had; they having been, in their Gentile state, strangers from the covenants of promise, delivered to that people.
Obj. 4. Still it may be urged: would it not be more for the honour of the gospel, to suppose, that a future state is an entirely new discovery? Would it not tend to induce people, who have -only the light of nature, to embrace the Christian religion, if they were told, that they have not any ground at all for the belief of a future life, and that revelation alone can give men hopes of it?
I answer: no. This would not be of use. If you met a heathen, who already had an apprehension of future recompenses for good and bad: [which is certainly the general expectation of all people upon the face of the earth: though their ideas may be low and imperfect, yet however somewhat inviting and agreeable for the good, and disagreeable and frightful for the bad:] would you venture to tell him, that he has no foundation for such a belief?, and that it is to be had from the gospel only? I think we should be cautious of saying any thing which would tend to diminish in men honourable apprehensions of the Deity.
It cannot but be of advantage for men to have honourable sentiments of God, as a Being of wisdom, power, righteousness, goodness and equity. Otherwise, what reason can they have to receive a revelation which may be depended upon as true and genuine?
And it must always be sufficient to induce men to receive a revelation, to shew them, that it has uncontested marks and evidences of a divine original, from miraculous works performed in support of it: and that it affords men many advantages, superior to those of the light of
Accordingly, St. Paul was not wont to deny or contest, but to improve the natural notions which men had of religion. This we perceive in his discourse at Athens, saying: "God that made the world, and all things therein, does not dwell in temples made with hands: neither is he worshipped with men's hands, as if he needed any thing:" and, that "he is not far from every one of us," Acts xvii. 24, 25. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being. As certain also of your own poets have said: for we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think, that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device," ver. 27-29: And in another discourse to heathen people he says: "God had not [in former times] left himself without witness, [though he had not given