Page images
[ocr errors]

like the beasts that perish, or rise again to immortality; whether he is at liberty to pursue all his inclinations here without controul ; or whether he stands accountable to a judgment to come, to be held in his presence who is the Lord of life and death, and will recompence to every man the work which he hath done? If he holds his mind in doubt and suspense, as to this great event, he divests hiinself of all the hopes and comforts of religion, and leaves room for all its fears and terrors to take posseffion of his heart: for he can have no true joy in the prospect of the pleasures of another world, which, for aught he knows, may be all delusion; nor can he enjoy the pleasures of this world, be'cause of the fears of futurity, which, for aught he knows, may be all real, and approaching him every day. Every thought of the heart, labouring under such uncertainty, brings torment and vexation with it ; it renders him incapable of all present joy, and gives no assurance of any to succeed. The man who is to cast lots for his life, is not more restless and uneasy under the expectation of what chance shall determine concerning him, than he is, whose mind is in suspense in the great points of religion ; for these points have in them life and death eternal, and he lives under a perpetual expectation of a sudden determination of his fate ; so that he is all his life-long casting lots for his life.

The uneasiness of this state is such, that no one can endure it long; and in experience it is true, that all hasten to deliver themselves from these torments one way or other. Some labour to shut out all thought and reflection upon these subjects ; they

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

fly to business or pleasure for refuge ; and because business and pleasure have their seasons of remisfion, and leave the mind its vacant hours for confideration, they are forced to take shelter in vice and intemperance, as what alone can secure from the interruptions of thought and reason. Others, resolving to rescue themselves from the perplexities of an unsettled mind, use a kind of force upon themselves in determining their choice, and resolutely fix upon the post which they will maintain ; and thus fome reject all religion, and some take all, without being able, on either side, to give a reason for what they do.

But all these methods are but so many arts, by which men deceive themselves, and gain a false peace, liable to be disturbed by new torments and anxieties': they build without a foundation; and, when the winds and storms arife, their house will fall on their heads, and cover them in ruin and deftruction. Let the man who has long shut out thought and reflection, and, through the power of vice and intemperance, has arrived at his much-defired state of stupidity ; let him, I say, be but awakened out of this lethargy by some uncommon calamity; or let fickness and infirmity render him incapable of vice, and discharge those fetters with which his mind was bound ; and all his fears will return with double force; they will appear no longer in the form of doubts and uncertainties, but will come upon him as the terrors of guilt armed with vengeance; and he will foon find, that the method he took to deliver himself from the uncerSainties of religion, has delivered him from nothing

[ocr errors]

but the hopes and comforts of it, and bound upon his soul all its fears and terrors without remedy. So, again, if the man who is an unbeliever upon the strength of his will, without the consent of his understanding, meets with any shock to disturb his illgrounded peace, his mind will certainly recoil; and, like a spring, when the weight that held it is removed, return to its natural state. Whoever, in these great concerns of life, determines himself without asking advice of his reason, and taking the affent of his mind along with him, will certainly find, sooner or later, that reason will revenge the affront, and make him pay dear for neglecting so faithful a counsellor. And, when such fears and uncertainties return, the second state is much worse than the first: for now they come attended with a consciousness of an obftinate and resolute opposition to God, of an endeavour to harden our hearts against all sense of religion; which, be religion true or false, no sense or reason can justify.

But what shall we say of such, who prefer religion notwithstanding all their doubts, who voluntarily submit to the duties of it, and choose even its uncertain hopes before the present pleasures of the world? Are not such in a safe way? I trust in God, many fuch are : but I must remind you, that the question before us is not, how safe they are, but how they are affected by the fears and terrors of religion. And even, as to this point, the varieties in this case are so many and great, that the same considerations will not reach all who are in this condition. Some there may be who believe the being of God and his providence, who see the difference between moral good and evil, and own all the obligations arising from thence on rational beings; but may

doubt perhaps, as to their own state after this life, and whether God intends them for any thing beyond this world; and yet they may think it highly reasonable and becoming them to worship and obey God, as much as: others, who have better and greater expectations from him for themselves. You have in this description the very best of this case before you; and yet, under these circumstances, religion is all labour, and no benefit : for no man can be so blind, as to think religion a sure way to worldly prosperity and happiness; and, if it is not sure of a future reward, there is no security in it. Here is no remedy in such religion against the natural fear of death, to which all are subject; no consolation against the many evils and afflictions of life, from all of which none are free. When we are surrounded with difficulties and distress, this religion shews us not the way to escape, but gives us up to our present sufferings, void of better hopes and expectations ; at least, uncertain of comfort or relief. Besides, how can a man pofsibly maintain a just and true notion of God, under such a persuasion as this? We are sure the best men often have a portion of misery in this world ; and if we are not persuaded that there is something better for them in reserve hereafter, it is impossible to justify to ourselves the goodness of God towards the children of men: and yet, without this, religion must be all terror, confifting in the belief of an absolute power over us, but a power not rendered amiable by goodness or mercy. While men are easy in the world, they may find some satisfaction

in such a kind of belief, and value themselves perhaps for the submission they pay to God, without being solicitous what shall become of themselves; but distress will shake them, and the forrows of the world will prove their religion to be void of comfort.

But the worst of this case is, when men resolve to be religious out of fear, and merely to secure themselves from some dreadful apprehenfions which they have on their minds; such religion, as it begins in fear, so it lives perpetually in fear, and carries with it all its fears at least as far as the grave. When religion arises from a just notion of God, and from a right apprehension of what is due from a reasonable creature to his reasonable Maker and Governor, there is peace and satisfaction in every step of it; every act of religion carries with it the approbation of our own minds, and is followed by a contentment which nothing can disturb. But he who is religious, not because he knows it is right for him fo to be, but because he dreads to be otherwise, can never know that he is right in any thing he does, but will naturally fall into all the methods of superstition, which some weak ones, and some wise in this world agree to call religion. Hence it is that some, who seem most devoutly disposed, are under a perpetual uneasiness of mind, and never satisfied that they have done any thing as they ought to do. Others, seeing men of such application to the duties of religion under such anxious concern about it, conclude, that religion is a most burdensome thing, and that the wisest way is to be contented without inquiring much after it. Whether they who make

« PreviousContinue »