« PreviousContinue »
deemed, at so dear a rate. Remember that the title of Christian, or follower of Christ, implies a more than ordipary degree of holiness and goodness. As our motives to virtue are stronger than those which are afforded to the rest of mankind, our guilt will be proportionably greater if we depart from it.
Our Saviour appears to have had three great purposes in descending from bis glory, and dwelling amongst men. The first, to teach them true virtue, both by his example and precepts: The second, to give them the most forcible motives to the practice of it,"
by bringing life and immortality to light;" by shewing them the certainty of a resurrection and judgment, and the absolute necessity of obedi. ence to God's laws: The third, to sacrifice himself for us, to obtain by his death the remission for our sins upon our repentance and reformation, and the power of bestowing on his sincere followers the inestimable gift of immortal happiness.
What a tremendous scene of the Last Day does the gospel place before our eyes !--of that day when you shall awake from the grave, and behold the Son of God, on his glorious tribunal, attended by millions of celestial beings, of whose superior excellence we can now form no adequate idea :- When, in presence of all mankind, of those holy angels, and of the great Judge himself, you must give an account of your past life, and hear your final doom, from which there can be no appeal, and which must determine your fate, to all eternity. Then think, if for a moment you can bear the thought, what will be the desolation, shame, and anguish of those wretched souls, who shall hear these dreadful words, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”Oh! may you never become one of those undone, lost creatures, may God's
you a better use of that knowledge of his will, which he bas vouchsafed you. Let us therefore turn from this horrid, this insupportable view, and rather endeavour to imagine, as far as is possible, what will be the sensations of your soul, if you shall hear our heavenly Judge address you in these transporting words, " Come, thou blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, from the foundation of the world.”Think what it inust be, to become an object of esteem and applause, not only of all mankind together, but of all the host of heaven, of our blessed Lord himself; nay, of his and our almighty Father-to find your frail flesh changed
in a moment into a glorious celestial body, endowed with perfect beauty, health and agility-to find your soul cleansed from all its faults and infirmities; exalted to the purest and noblest affections, overflowing with divine love and rapturous gratitude !-10 have your understanding enlightened and refined- your heart enlarged and purified !-and every power, and disposition of inind and body, adapted 10 the highest relish of virtue and happiness! - Thus accomplished, to be admitted to the society of amiable and happy beings, all united in the most perfect peace and friendship, all breathing nothing but love to God, and to each other, -with them to dwell in scenes more delightful than the richest imagination can paint-free from every pain and care, and from all possibility of change or satiety :—but, above all, to enjoy the more immediate presence of God himself-to be able to comprehend and admire his adorable perfections in a high degree, though still far short of their infinity-to be conscious of his love and favour, and to rejoice in the light of his countenance! But here all imagination fails: we can form no idea of that bliss which may be communicated to us by such a near approach to the source of all beauty and all good :-we must content ourselves with believing that it is what mortal eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive. The crown of all our joys will be to know that we are secure of possessing thein for ever. What a transporting idea!
Can you reflect on all these things, and not feel the most earnest longing after immortality? Do not all other views and desires seem mean and trifling, when compared with this? And does not your inmost heart resolve that this shall be the chief and constant object of its wishes and pursuit, through the whole course of your life? If you are not insensible to that desire of happiness, which seems woven into our nature, you cannot surely be unmoved by the prospect of such a transcendent degree of it; and thai continued to all eternity, perhaps continually increasing. You cannot bur dread the forfeiture of such an inheritance as the most insupportable evil :--remember then the conditions on which alone it can be obtained, God will not give to vice, to carelessness, or sloth, the prize he has proposed to virtue. You have every help that can animate your endeavours :--you have written laws to direct you—the example of Christ and his disciples to encourage you—the post awakening inotives to engage you--and you have, besides, the comfortable promise of constant assistance from the Holy Spirit, if you diligently and sincerely pray for it. Let not all this mercy be lost upon you--but give your attention to this your only important concern, and accept, with profound gratitude, the inestimable advantages that are thus affectionately offered you.
Though the four Gospels are each of them a narration of the life, sayings, and death of Christ; yet, as they are not exactly alike, but some circumstance and sayings, omitted in one, are recorded in another, you must make yourself perfectly mistress of them all.
The ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, who were endowed with the Holy Ghost, and authorised by their divine Master, come next in order to be read. Nothing can be more interesting and edifying than the history of their actions—of the piety, zeal, and courage, with which they preached the glad tid ings of salvation--and of the various exertions of the wonderful powers conferred on them by the Holy Spirit, for the confirmation of their mission.
The character of St. Paul, and his miraculous conversion, demand your particular attention: most of the apostles were men of low birth and education ; but St. Paul was a Ronan citizen; that is, he possessed the privileges annexed to the freedom of the city of Rome, which was considered as a high distinction in those countries that had been conquered by the Romans. He was educated amongst the most learned sect of the Jews, and by one of their principal doctors. He was a man of extraordinary eloquence, as appears not only in his writings, but in several speeches in his own defence, pronounced before governors and courts of justice, when he was called to account for the doctrines he taught. He seems to have been of an uncommonly warm temper, and zealous in whatever religion he professed: this zeal, before his conversion, shewed itself in the most unjustifiable actions, by furiously persecuting the innocent Christians : but, though his actions were bad, we have reason to believe his intentions were good. This affords us an example of the mercy of God towards mistaken consciences, and ought to inspire us with the most enlarged charity and good will towards those whose erroneous peinciples mislead their conduct: instead of resentment and hatred against their persons, we ought only to feel an active wish of assisting them to find the truth, since we know not whether, if convinced, they might not prove, like St. Paul, chosen vessels to promote the honour of God, and of true
religion. It is not a proper time now to enter into any of the arguments for the truth of Christianity, otherwise it would be impossible wholly to pass over that which arises from this remarkable conversion, and which has been so adınirably illustrated by a noble writer (Lord Lyttleton) whose tract on this subject is in every body's hand.
Next follow the EPISTLES, which inake a very important part of the New Testament; and you cannot be too much employed in reading them. They contain the most excel. lent precepts and admonitions, and are of particular use in explaining, more at large, several doctrines of Christianity, which we could not so fully comprehend without them. There are indeed, in the Epistles of St. Paul, some passages which at an early age are hard to be understood : such, in particular, are the first eleven chapters to the ROMANS, part of his Epistles to the CORINTHIANS, and some chapters of that to the Hebrews. Instead of perplexing yourself with these more obscure passages of Scripture, you may employ your attention chiefly on those that are plain; and thus judge of the doctrines taught in the other parts, by comparing them with what you find in these. "It is through the neglect of this rule, that many have been led to draw the most absurd doctrines from the Holy Scriptures. Particularly, be careful to peruse the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. In the 14th chapter, St. Paul has in view the difference between the Jewish and Gentile (or Heathen) converts at that time; the former were disposed to look with horror on the latter, for their impiety in not paying the same regard to the distinctions of days and meats, that they did; and the latter, on the contrary, were inclined to look with contempt on the former, for their weakness and superstition. Excellent is the advice which the Apostle gives to both parties : he exhorts the Jewish converts not to judge, and the Gentiles pot to despise ; remembering that the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; endeavour to conform yourself to this advice: to acquire a temper of universal candour and benevolence; and learn neither to despise nor condemn any persons on account of their particular modes of faith and worship: remembering always, that goodness is confined to no party--that there are wise and worthy men among all the sects of Christians--and that, to his own master, every one must stand or fall. · Read those passages frequently, which, with so much
fervour and energy, excite you to the most exalted piety and benevolence. If the effusions of a heart, warmed with the tenderest affection for the whole human race-if precept, warning, encouragement, example, urged by an eloquence which such affection only could inspire, are capable of influencing your mind; you cannot fail to find, in such parts of his Epistles as are adapted to your understanding, the strongest persuasives to every virtue that can adorn and improve your nature.
The Epistle of St. James is entirely practical, and exceedingly fine; you cannot study it too much. It seems particularly designed to guard Christians against inisunderstanding some things in St. Paul's writings, wbich have been sometimes perverted to the encouragement of a dependance on faith unaccompanied by those good works which can only prove its reality.
The Epistles of St. Peter are also full of the best instructions and adınonitions, concerning the relative duties of life; amongst which are set forth the duties of women in general, and of wives in particular. Some part of his second Epistle is prophetical; warning the church of false teachers, and false doctrines, which should undermine morality, and disgrace the cause of Christianity.
The first of St. John is written in a highly figurative style, which makes it in some parts hard to be understood : but the spirit of divine love, which it so fervently expresses, renders it highly edifying and delightful. That love of God and of man which this beloved apostle so pathetically recommends, is in truth the essence of religion, as our Saviour himself informs us.
The Book of Revelation contains a prophetical account of most of the great events relating to the Christian church, which were to happen from the time of the writer St. John, to the end of the world. Many learned men have taken a grcat deal of pains to explain it; and they have done this in many instances very successfully : at some future period there may be no objection to your attempts ing the study of this part of scripture. May you love and reverence, as it deserves, this blessed and invaluable book, which contains the best ryle of life-the clearest declaration of the will and laws of the Deity--the reviving assorance of favour to true penitents—and the unspeakably joyful tidings of eternal life and happiness to all the truly pious through Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Deliverer of the world!