English Baptist Minister, Bishop
English Baptist Minister, Bishop
Let us beseech you then to make them [religion and eternity] familiar with your minds, and mingle them with the ordinary stream of your thoughts: retiring often from the world, and conversing with God and your own souls. In these solemn moments, nature, and the shifting scenes of it, will retire from your view, and you will feel yourselves left alone with God; you will walk as in his sight; you will stand, as it were, at his tribunal. Illusions will then vanish apace, and everything will appear in its true proportion and proper color. You will estimate human life, and the work of it, not by fleeting and momentary sensations, but by the light of reflection and steady faith. You will see little in the past to please, or in the future to flatter: its feverish dreams will subside and its enchantment be dissolved.
Prayer serves as an edge and border to preserve the web of life from unraveling.
That a creature formed for an endless duration should be disposed to turn his attention from that object, and to contract his views and prospects within a circle which, compared to eternity, is but a mathematical point, is truly astonishing; and, as it is impossible to account for it from the natural constitution of the mind, it must originate in some great moral cause. It shows that some strange catastrophe has befallen the species; that some deep and radical malady is inherent in the moral system.
The labor of intellectual research resembles and exceeds the tumultuous pleasures of the chase, and the consciousness of overcoming a formidable obstacle, or of lighting on some happy discovery, gives all the enjoyment of a conquest, without those corroding reflections by which the latter must be impaired. Can we doubt that Archimedes, who was so absorbed in his contemplations as not to be diverted by the sacking of his native city, and was killed in the very act of meditating a mathematical theorem, did not, when he exclaimed eureka! eureka! I have found it! I have found it! feel a transport as genuine as was ever experienced after the most brilliant victory?
The veneration we shall feel for the Bible as the depository of saving knowledge will be totally distinct, not only from what we attach to any other book, but from that admiration its other properties inspire; and the variety and antiquity of its history, the light it affords in various researches, its inimitable touches of nature, together with the sublimity and beauty so copiously poured over its pages, will be deemed subsidiary ornaments, the embellishments of the casket which contains the pearl of great price.
To say nothing of the inimitable beauties of the Bible, considered in a literary view, which are universally acknowledged, it is the book which every devout man is accustomed to consult as the oracle of God; it is the companion of his best moments, and the vehicle of his strongest consolations. Intimately associated in his mind with everything dear and valuable, its diction more powerfully excites devotional feelings than any other; and when temperately and soberly used, imparts an unction to a religious discourse which nothing else can supply.
When the inductive and experimental philosophy recommended by Bacon had, in the hands of Boyle and Newton, led to such brilliant discoveries in the investigation of matter, an attempt was soon made to transfer the same method of proceeding to the mind.
Man is naturally a prospective creature, endowed not only with a capacity of comparing the present with the past, but also of anticipating the future, and dwelling with anxious rumination on scenes which are yet remote. He is capable of carrying his views, of attaching his anxieties, to a period much more distant than that which measures the limits of his present existence; capable, we distinctly perceive, of plunging into the depths of future duration, of identifying himself with the sentiments and opinions of a distant age, and of enjoying, by anticipation, the fame of which he is aware he shall never be conscious, and the praises he shall never hear. So strongly is he disposed to link his feelings with futurity, that shadows become realities when contemplated as subsisting there; and the phantom of posthumous celebrity, the faint image of his being impressed on future generations, is often preferred to the whole of his present existence, with all its warm and vivid realities.
Recollect for your encouragement the reward that awaits the faithful minister. Such is the mysterious condescension of divine grace, that though it reserves to itself the exclusive honor of being the fountain of all, yet, by the employment of human agency in the completion of its designs, it contrives to multiply its gifts, and to lay a foundation for eternal rewards. When the church, in the perfection of beauty, shall be presented to Christ as a bride adorned for her husband, the faithful pastor will appear as the friend of the bridegroom, who greatly rejoices because of the bridegroom?s voice. His joy will be the joy of his Lord,?inferior in degree, but of the same nature, and arising from the same sources: while he will have the peculiar happiness of reflecting that he has contributed to it; contributed, as an humble instrument, to that glory and felicity of which he will be conscious he is utterly unworthy to partake. To have been himself the object of mercy, to have been the means of imparting it to others, and of dispensing the unsearchable riches of Christ, will produce a pleasure which can never be adequately felt or understood until we see him as he is.
The actions of men are oftener determined by their character than their interest: their conduct takes its color more from their acquired tastes, inclinations, and habits, than from a deliberate regard to their greatest good. It is only on great occasions the mind awakes to take an extended survey of her whole course, and that she suffers the dictates of reason to impress a new bias upon her movements. The actions of each day are, for the most part, links which follow each other in the chain of custom. Hence the great effort of practical wisdom is to imbue the mind with right tastes, affections, and habits; the elements of character and masters of action.
The most admired poems have been the offspring of uncultivated ages. Pure poetry consists of the descriptions of nature and the display of the passions; to each of which a rude state of society is better adapted than one more polished. They who live in that early period in which art has not alleviated the calamities of life are forced to feel their dependence upon nature. Her appearances are ever open to their view, and therefore strongly imprinted on their fancy.
The wheels of nature are not made to roll backward: everything presses on toward eternity: from the birth of time an impetuous current has set in, which bears all the sons of men toward that interminable ocean. Meanwhile heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature, is enriching itself by the spoils of earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom whatever is pure, permanent, and divine.
To that state all the pious on earth are tending. Heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature; is enriching itself by the spoils of the earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom whatever is pure, permanent, and divine, leaving nothing for the last fire to consume but the objects and slaves of concupiscence; while everything which grace has prepared and beautified shall be gathered and selected from the ruins of the world to adorn that eternal city "which hath no need of the sun or moon to shine in it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
When we mention peace, however, we mean not the stupid security of a mind that refuses to reflect, we mean a tranquility which rests upon an unshaken basis, which no anticipations, however remote, no power of reflection, however piercing or profound, no evolutions which time may disclose or eternity conceal, are capable of impairing: a peace which is founded on the oath and promise of Him who cannot lie; which, springing from the consciousness of an ineffable alliance with the Father of Spirits, makes us to share in his fulness, to become a partner with him in his eternity; a repose pure and serene as the unruffled wave which reflects the heavens from its bosom; while it is accompanied with a feeling of exultation and triumph natural to such as are conscious that ere long, having overcome, they shall possess all things.
Mankind are apt to be strongly prejudiced in favour of whatever is countenanced by antiquity, enforced by authority, and recommended by custom. The pleasure of acquiescing in the decision of others is by most men so much preferred to the toil and hazard of inquiry, and so few are either able or disposed to examine for themselves, that the voice of law will generally be taken for the dictates of justice.
Religion is the final centre of repose; the goal to which all things tend; apart from which man is a shadow, his very existence a riddle, and the stupendous scenes of nature which surround him as unmeaning as the leaves which the sibyl scattered in the wind.
The annunciation of life and immortality by the gospel, did it contain no other truth, were sufficient to cast all the discoveries of science into shade, and to reduce the highest improvements of reason to the comparative nothingness which the flight of a moment bears to eternity. By this discovery the prospects of human nature are infinitely widened, the creature of yesterday becomes the child of eternity; and as felicity is not the less valuable in the eye of reason because it is remote, nor the misery which is certain less to be deprecated because it is not immediately felt, the care of our future interests becomes our chief, and, properly speaking, our only, concern. All besides will shortly become nothing; and therefore, whenever it comes into competition with these, it is as the small dust of the balance.
The most capital advantage an enlightened people can enjoy is the liberty of discussing every subject which can fall within the compass of the human mind: while this remains, freedom will flourish; but should it be lost or impaired, its principles will neither be well understood nor long retained. To render the magistrate a judge of truth, and engage his authority in the suppression of opinions, shows an inattention to the design and nature of political society.
The wheels of nature are not to roll backward; everything presses on toward Eternity; from the birth: of Time an impetuous current has set in, which bears all the sons of men toward that interminable ocean. Meanwhile heaven is attracting to itself whatever is congenial to its nature, is enriching itself by the spoils of earth, and collecting within its capacious bosom, whatever is pure, permanent and divine.
Turn a Christian society into an established church, and it is no longer a voluntary assembly for the worship of God; it is a powerful corporation, full of such sentiments and passions as usually distinguish those bodies: a dread of innovation, an attachment to abuses, a propensity to tyranny and oppression.
When, at the distance of more than half a century, Christianity was assaulted by a Woolston, a Tindal, and a Morgan, it was ably supported both by clergymen of the established church and writings among Protestant dissenters. The labors of a Clarke and a Butler were associated with those of a Doddridge, a Leland, and a Lardner, with such equal reputation and success as to make it evident that the intrinsic excellence of a religion needs not the aid of external appendages; but that, with or without a dowry, her charms are of sufficient power to fix and engage the heart.
Many whose gayety has been eclipsed, and whose thoughtless career of irreligion and dissipation has experienced a momentary check, will doubtless soon return with eager impetuosity to the same course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. The same amusements will enchant, the same society corrupt, and the same temptations ensnare them; with this very important difference, that the effort necessary to surmount the present impression will superinduce a fresh degree of obduration, by which they will become more completely accoutred in the panoply of darkness. The next visitation, though it may be in some respects more affecting, because more near, will probably impress them less; and as death has penetrated the palace in vain, though it should even come up into their chamber and take away the delight of their eyes at a stroke, they will be less religiously moved.
Religion, and that alone, teaches absolute humility; by which I mean a sense of our absolute nothingness in the view of infinite greatness and excellence. That sense of inferiority which results from the comparison of men with each other is often an unwelcome sentiment forced upon the mind, which may rather embitter the temper than soften it: that which devotion impresses is soothing and delightful. The devout man loves to lie low at the footstool of his Creator, because it is then he attains the most lively perceptions of the divine excellence, and the most tranquil confidence in the divine favour. In so august a presence he sees all distinctions lost, and all beings reduced to the same level. He looks at his superiors without envy, and his inferiors without contempt: and when from this elevation he descends to mix in society, the conviction of superiority which must in many instances be felt is a calm inference of the understanding, and no longer a busy, importunate passion of the heart.
The Author of nature has wisely annexed a pleasure to the exercise of our active powers, and particularly to the pursuit of truth, which, if it be in some instances less intense, is far more durable, than the gratification of sense, and is in that account incomparably more valuable. Its duration, to say nothing of its other properties, renders it more valuable. It may be repeated without satiety, and pleases afresh on every reflection upon it.
The nation has certainly not been wanting in the proper expression of its poignant regret at the sudden removal of this most lamented princess, nor of their sympathy with the royal family, deprived by this visitation of its brightest ornament. Sorrow is painted on every countenance, the pursuits of business and of pleasure have been suspended, and the kingdom is covered with the signals of distress.