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We can scarcely open the Bible without finding disclosures, in regard to time and eternity-this world and the next, of a character that may well challenge the fixed and earnest attention of every man on earth. The communications of this Holy Book, are grand and mighty beyond all conception. On one page it places before us the infinite, self-existent, eternal, almighty, omnis. cient, and omnipresent Jehovah, in whom we live, move, and have our being. On another, it informs us of the awful fact of our own apostacy, and of the guilt and wretchedness to which the entire race is exposed, both here and hereafter. On another still, it brings into view the glorious doctrine of a Mediator, and we see Jesus travelling in the greatness of his strength, to accomplish the amazing work of man's redemption. While on a fourth page, the scenes of the resurrection, the final judgement, the separation of the righteous and the wicked, and heaven and hell, are spread out in living colors be. fore us.
Can any thing within the whole compass of human thought, be more grand and solemn? Are these subjects about which it is wise to trifle? Men will traverse half the globe to reach the top of some lofty mountain, or to stand a single hour upon the brink of some foaming cataract. Treasure and toil, and even life itself, are deemed to be well expended in tracing the course and fixing upon the head of one remote and wandering river. Things of this kind are wont to raise strong emotions. But tell me, is there nothing great, noth ing sublime, nothing worth research in the idea of a God, a Deity incarnate, a throne of judgment, a crown of glory and a world of wo? The book of God outdoes in all these respects the works of God. On these sacred leaves are things calculated to raise sublimer sensations in the mind,t han either the Alps or the Andes, or any of the far famed seven wonders of the world. Why then are the hearts of men dead to the grandeur of religion, while they are so alive to every other grandeur?
Besides, the matters with which religion has to do, are all practical in their bearing. The Bible does not exhibit to us the attributes of God merely to excite our wonder, but to lead us to love and obey him. It does not place before us a Savior bowing himself under the weight of a world's redemption, merely to move our sympathies, but to produce a permanent influence upon our hearts. It does not reveal to us a future state, merely that we may speculate about its bliss or wo, but that we may secure the one and avoid the other. The God the Bible makes known, is the God whom we are to choose as a Father and Friend. The Savior it reveals, is the Savior to whose bosom we must flee with the cares and sorrows of our aching hearts. The heaven it unfolds, is the heaven where we are to strive to live forever. The hell it tells us of, is the hell from which we are to labor and pray to be preserved. Every thing here comes home at once to the heart, as truth to be believed, as rules to be followed, as principles by which to be actuated, and as supports on which to lean.
No wonder then that religion works such a change in the character of all who are brought savingly under its influence. It lifts the poor out of the dung. hill and sets him far above the princes and nobles of the earth. The Dairyman's Daughter, or even the Praying Negro had loftier conceptions than the hero of the Nile, or the man whose eloquence so long swayed and enchained a British senate. And yet there are those who "care for none of these things." They can read, and think, and feel on other subjects. Heroes, statesmen, and philosophers all engage their attention, and they can admire the exploits recorded on the historic page. But there is nothing in the gospel of the bles sed God, or the story of the wide spread influence of redeeming love upon which they can dwell with the least delight. Oh, is there taste, is there sentiment in such a state of mind as this?
2. The interests at stake here are all personal, and they are immense in
Religion, says the renowned Locke, if any thing, is every thing, and the
bare possibility of its proving true, should secure for it the earnest and solemn attention of every reflecting mind. This is the remark of one of the wisest men that ever lived, and no one can find it in his heart to dissent from its What then should be our feelings on this subject, when proba. bility is reduced to certainty, and reasoning results in complete and triumphant demonstration? To be careless under such circumstances is folly indeed.
The object to be gained is the salvation of the soul. Grant then that the Bible is true, and it follows without dispute, that every man on earth is to enjoy the everlasting favor, or to suffer the everlasting frown of Him that made him. Each one of us is to reign in heaven or to burn in hell forever. What can counterbalance such an object. Put the material universe into the scale, and it has not the weight of a feather against a mountain. All computation fails. Arithmetic has no power to tell what would be the disaster of the man who should gain the whole world amd lose his own soul, or the profit of the man, who should lose the world and save his soul.
Can you measure the blessedness which will be enjoyed by a single redeemed sinner, during the long lapse of eternity? The work is beyond an angel's reach. Well does the Apostle call the happiness of that bright and unchanging world, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
On the contrary, who can describe the misery of an eternal residence in the land of despair? There too all effort fails. No one can tell what will be the pain and agony of dwelling forever with devouting fire, of lying down in everlasting burnings! Never on this side of the grave shall we be able to measure that wretchedness which must be borne by the sinner, as he makes his long and gloomy journey in the world of wo.
Far smaller matters than these excite attention. What lines of care and anxiety are often drawn upon the brow of one, who is struggling after a lit tle political distinction? How does the lover of this world's wealth toil and watch, by day and by night, to gather a heap of shining dust! Think of the tumult and agitation of the man, whose commercial credit is deeply pledged, and who sees no way open for the redemption of that pledge! Here we justify solicitude. But are men to feel no anxiety when the soul is in jeopardy? Is care out of place only when it concerns judgment and eternity? Answer these questions ye who deem it wise to forget God, and lose sight of your own final destiny.
3. We learn from the very nature of man, that religion is the concern to which he ought chiefly to attend.
Man, it has been well said, was made for religion; and religion, it may be added, was made for man. Why else has he an undying soul, as well as a dying body? Why else is not the grave the end of him? Why else does he feel such irrepressible longing after immortality? Why else is the whole world in which he lives unable to carry one cup of real consolation to his mouth? Fallen and ruined as he is, there is a divinity within, which not only "intimates Eternity to man," but urges him to prepare for that eternity.
The voice of nature, as well as the voice of revelation, decides that "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever." This was the design of his Maker in giving him existence, and this should be his own design in reference to that existence. Never should he be willing to live, under any circumstances, or during a single day, for any lower or meaner object than this. To call him a good farmer, an ingenious mechanic, or a prosperous merchant is nothing, unless you can also call him a sincere Christian. To say that he is a moral man, is nothing, unless his morality is based on religion. These may all have been, in some sense, ends of his being, but they were not the chief end, and a thousand woes must rest upon his head if he even regards them so.
Let me illustrate my idea. There is a father, a kind benevolent father, who assigns to a son various items of service, all of which he wishes him to perform in a particular way, and within a specified time. ied time. In order that his
own views may be fully understood, he describes them in writing, and hands the writing to his son. But in regard to the first duty on the list, the father makes a very special charge. Putting his finger on it and pointing it out again and again, he tells the son with deep emphasis, that this service must be attended to whatever else is omitted. Now, suppose the son goes his way, and performs every duty but this one. At length he comes to give in his account, and he does it with a great deal of self complacency, as if nothing further, could with propriety be required at his hands. Ah, cries the disappinted father, this is all well, as far as it goes, but how came you to neglect that first duty? You surely could not suppose that fidelity in these other matters, could atone for the total neglect of that.
Now God is such a Father, men are such sons. They have a list of their duties. At the head of these stands religion. They are commanded to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. But they attend to every thing else, and neglect this. Their bodies are clothed, their houses are made comfortable, their debts are paid, all the claims of good citizenship are regarded, but God, and the soul, and heaven, and hell are lost sight of. Ah this is the boasted wisdom of the world. Well is it called foolishness with God.
4. Every man's truest and firmest friends desire that he should become a Christian.
Is it unsuitable to include God among these friends? Listen then to his language. In one place he entreats, O do not this abominable thing that I hate. In another, he expostulates, why do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? In another, he encourages, let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, who will abundantly pardon him. While in another place he threatens, he that believeth not shall be damned.
Think of the angels too. What is it that excites their interest as they wing their way on errands of mercy to this lower world? Upon what objects do they gaze with holy delight, as they pass over our cities, and towns, and villages? O, it is the penitent sinner that excites their regard. No matter how lowly he is in his own eyes, or how humble the cottage in which he lives, angels notice with intense interest, his tears of godly sorrow.
Pious relations also feel a deep interest in this matter. You can never know but by experience, how deep is the solicitude of a godly father, who sees his children growing up to trample the blood of the covenant under their feet. Words cannot express the feelings of a Christian mother, who enters day after day into her closet, exclaiming, what my son, what the son of my womb, and what the son of my vows. No language can describe the burden which lies up. on the heart of some pious affentionate wife, whose husband is never seen to kneel in prayer by her side. These are things which must be felt in order to be understood.
Nay, we may go a step further, for bad men often wish to see their friends pious. The following case once occurred, a shrewd and intelligent father had embraced the cold and cheerless scheme of infidelity, while the wife of his bosom was a meek and devout Christian. They had a lovely daughter, who was suddenly brought to the borders of the grave. The father was sitting in an adjoining room conversing with a friend, when they were both summoned to the bed side, to witness the closing scene. As they stood by the pillow of deaththe father, the mother, and this friend, the daughter raised her anxious eye to him who had been the instrument of her existence and said, Father I am about to die; do you wish me to die in the principles which you have taught me, or in those which my mother has taught me? This was a solemn question to the infidel parent. To waver now was virtually to abandon ground which he had long been occupying. But conscience even in this case was on the side of truth. Die, said he, my daughter, die in the principles which your mother taught you.
Yes, Hume himself would have said the same thing. Many a skeptical father and gay mother could be found, who would be grieved beyond measure to see a blooming and beautiful daughter giving herself up to the service of God. They would deem religion a poor appendage to the ball room, or the fashionable party But let mortal disease invade the fair form of this same daughter, and bring her down pale and languid to her last bed, and their feelings wauld probably be entirely changed. The Bible, and the minister of the gospel, and prayer are not deemed out of place now. Ah, this is nature, in her extremity, coming to invoke the aid of religion. And shall she be branded with weakness for so doing?
5. The wisest and best men of every age have treated religion as a matter of high importance.
We do not ask you to call any man father on earth, or to pay any undue deference to mere opinions, by whomsoever such opinions are held. The reli. gion of the Bible stands on a thousand times stronger basis than this. But who, that knows any thing of the world, is not aware that multitudes are governed almost altogether, in matters of this sort, by the authority of great names? The literary fame of some of the champions of infidelity has gone far to hide the enormity both of their creed and their conduct. But after all we need not fear to put the question at issue upon this ground alone. Immense as is the stake we hesitate not deliberately to make it, and we call upon the careless and unbelieving world to bring forth their strong array of bright and splendid names against God and religion. Let us stop a little to decide this point.
On our part we might refer for legislative wisdom to Moses, for sublime and lofty conceptions to Isaiah, for tender and moving pathos to Jeremiah, for pure doctrines and precepts to the Son of Mary, for close and manly argument to Paul, and for untiring benevolence, to all the Prophets and Apostles. But perhaps unbelievers will refuse to admit such testimony. Men of this stamp may be disposed to say of all such evidence, thou bearest record of thyself, thy record is not true. For the sake then of not seeming to take any advantage, we give up these names. Neither will we rely upon such cases as those of Solomon, and Daniel, and Nehemiah, though one of them was a king, another a statesman, and the third a courtier, and neither a minister at God's altar.
We are then to look about in the world to see on which side of this great question wisdom aud virtue and goodness lie.
The great Lord Bacon is a host in himself. The early youth of this man, gave very striking indications of his future greatness, and he lived to scatter more light upon almost every field of knowledge, than was ever done by any uninspired man before. No other age can boast such a man. Now what did Bacon think about religion? Let the whole careless and skeptical world hear it, and be checked. "A smattering of philosophy may lead a man to infidelity, but a thorough insight into it will bring him back to the truth. The first principle of right reason is religion, and for my own part, I dare not die with any other thoughts." Thus felt, and thus spoke one of the profoundest men the world has ever seen.
Sir Isaac Newton is another name to which we turn with confidence. This man moved in an exalted sphere, when he counted the stars and measured the planets, and became as familiar with the face of the heavens, as the husband. man is with the surface of the fields over which he daily treads. But to speak of Newton as a philosopher merely, is not to tell half his worth. He delighted to look above the innumerable worlds and systems hanging in the immensity of space, to Him who made, and who governs them all. This man appears most truly great, when we see him laying down the telescope and taking up the Bible, when he turns aside from viewing the stars, to worship the babe of Bethlehem, and when he comes down from the proud eminence to which his talents
Does the careless world know
had raised him, to kneel at the foot of the cross. that the great Newton was such a man?
The case of the celebrated Dr. Johnson, is equally in our favor. No name stands higher in English literature than that of Johnson, and from his deci sion in all matters of taste in criticism, it would be deemed almost presumptuous to take au appeal. But did this gigantic mind ever tremble and quail before the powers of the world to come? Yes, Johnson himself felt the need of religious consolations. You can scarcely conceive what an impression the things of eternity sometimes made upon his heart. He meditated, he reasoned he read the Bible, he wept, he prayed, and it was only the light of evangelical truth cheering his soul, that enabled him to die in peace and triumph. Thus ended the days of this wonderful man.
We might tell you too of the child-like piety of a Boyle, the refined taste of an Addison, the acute discrimination of a Locke, the strict conscientiousness of a Hale, and the unwearied compassion of a Howard. But we pause and ask for counter testimony. Exhibit a catalogue of the men, who have trampled religion under foot, and lived as if there were no God, and no judgment bar. Who are they? What are the enduring monuments of their wisdom? What the unfading traces of their goodness? There is Voltaire, with his dying breath cursing the companions of his folly, at one moment calling upon Christ for help, and at another blaspheming the name of the Nazarene. There is Paine, afraid to be left one moment alone in the dark, and at last a poor bloated, forsaken wretch, yielding up his soul in an agony of despair. Yes, and there is Hume too, the philosophic Hume, scarcely less an object of pity, not to say contempt. He plays at whist on his dying bed, and endeavors to keep his sinking courage up, by pitiful jests, on the very borders of the grave.
I beg you to weigh these cases. Then listen to Francis Newport, and hear bim exclaiming just as the breath was leaving the body, "O, the insufferable pangs of hell and damnation." Contrast this with the last moments of the devout Payson. Hear him cry out, "The battle is fought, the battle is fought, and the victory is won, the victory is won forever." Then go and decide whether carelessness is reasonable. If it is wise and prudent to forget God, language has lost its meaning, death is an eternal sleep, and damnation is a dream."
6. Once more, the sorrows and death of Christ rebuke the apathy and indifference of men.
No one denies that there was such a man as Jesus Christ—if as Josephus says, it be lawful to call him a man-that he lived a blameless and benevolent life, and at last was put to death on the cross. The most careless man in the land will go as far as this. Now, if no more was true, we find enough in the history of the Savior's life, in the labors he performed, in the tears he shed, and in the agonies he bore, to melt any heart, not made of adamant. But if Jesus was Divine, if he died for a lost world, if there is no hope but in his blood, the case becomes interesting beyond all description.
Look at him as he preached, and toiled, and suffered, and mark the contrast between his anxiety and man's indifference. What multitudes are light aud frivolous and gay; while he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Thousands of men can be found who never pray at all; but Jesus could spend every hour of a long and lonely night in prayer. They chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, but he was a companion of the afflicted. Why this difference? How is it that the Savior should have had such an overwhelming load of care upon him, and the very men for whom he bore it all, be merry and thoughtless?
See the holy sufferer. His cup was bitter, but rather than a world should die, he would not put it from his lips till it had been drained to its very dregs. The work must cost him his life, but his ardor was such, that he cried out, how am I straightened till it be accomplished? Follow him through his last