Page images
PDF
EPUB

tion, he himself, and every spectator, pronounce him to be deserving of suffering for his folly and indiscretion. Nor is the remorse merely a sentiment of regret for having missed that happiness which we might have enjoyed. We are dissatisfied, not with our condition merely, but with our conduct; with our having forfeited by our own imprudence what we might have attained. Hence it is that the imprudence that attends the commission of sin is no inconsiderable aggravation; and that its guilt is increased by the circumstance of our hazarding our present and future happiness *

In this respect man has a duty of the most solemn importance and awful consequence to perform to himself-a duty which the will of his Maker, the voice of conscience, the high and immortal destination of his nature, render imperiously binding. His prospects stretch far beyond the horizon of time, and extend to that futurity which the Creator has assigned to his being and enjoyment. Impressed with the greatness of those objects that have a reference to his nature, not as an animal that has a temporary connexion with this earth, but as an intellectual, moral, spiritual and religious being, capable of advancing in indefinite improvement, and who is to live for ever,--should he not conduct him. self and his plans so as to subserve their attainment ? Is it wise or prudent in him so egregiously to miscalculate, as to satisfy himself with inferior and fleeting gratifications, to the neglect of the greatest and enduring happiness?

• Stewart's Outlines, p. 280.

If, indeed, man were only to live for the few hours in which he dwells on earth, it would be unnecessary to give his pursuits a higher aim than the enjoyments of this short existence; and his wisdom might consist in acquiring that share of virtue which may be deemed requisite for the full participation of earthly happiness, regardless of every attainment which had an aspect beyond the grave. But man is immortal, endowed with the powers and susceptibilities which shew him to be formed for an endless existence; and the measure of moral and spiritual excellency which he attains now, will have an influence on his happiness in eternity. And being thus destined by his Creator for immortality, and being formed so as to be the instrument of his own eternal happiness or misery, constituted a moral agent and an accountable creature, no sacrifice can be deemed too great, and no efforts too laborious, to attain the approval of his Supreme Governor and Judge.

We are not left to the deductions of reason on this subject ;-though even these go far to point out the high destiny and duty of man. A Divine Messenger from heaven has diffused around us the light of heavenly truth; has given us the knowledge of ourselves and of that future existence that awaits

and has rendered earthly objects comparatively trivial, by extending our view to the grandeur and glory of invisible realities. As the objects, which the darkness of night magnifies, appear in their proper dimensions when the light of the morning shines, so the pursuits of time, and the confines of eternity, assume a new aspect, when illuminated with the rays of that moral sun which has brought earth and heaven into nearer view, and which points out to man the glory and immortality of his being. It is not till we thus contemplate human nature in the interesting relations which it bears to God and to an endless existence, that we can feel the force and the solemn import of the question, “ What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" or, “ what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?”

us;

There are, indeed, some situations in which the force of this inquiry is more likely to be felt than in others. When placed in circumstances which largely minister to pride and vanity, the mind is in danger of becoming insensible to the most impressive views of its chief good; and dazzled with the perishable glories that surround it, as if there were no higher sources of enjoyment to which it might aspire, it practically forgets the near approach of their termination, and the value of that state of being into which it is about to enter. But when the enchantment vanishes, and the world begins to recede from the view, and eternity occupies its proper place in the field of vision, in what a different light are the objects of time, and religion, and the soul contemplated, and how novel are the feelings and the sentiments which engage the heart! Go to the house of mourning, surround the bed of sickness and of death, hear the impressive attestations of the value of religion on the confines of eternity, witness the departure of the soul into the unseen world,

[ocr errors]

exhorting, in its flight to immortality, the objects of its tenderest regard ;-when you thus behold, accompanied by the most affecting circumstances, the termination of earthly enjoyment, you have demonstration of the perishable nature of all that has an exclusive reference to this life; and that when the spirit of man relinquishes its present temporary abode, it leaves behind it the attainments acquired in time, and only bears along with it the holiness that fits it for eternity, or the guilt that comes between the sinner and his God.

In this view, then, the duty which man owes to himself in providing for the welfare of his being, is of incalculable importance. He has a prize at stake, the full value of which it is impossible to estimate. The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. It is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto it. It is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon it; and happy is every one that retaineth it.

All that can be said of the value of the soul,of its growing capabilities of enjoyment,—of the strength and elevation of its intellectual powers, and of its destination to advance through an endless existence, only illustrates the importance of true religion to man, and the magnitude of the duty of giving it his immediate, earnest, and chief attention. If the Son of God condescended to veil in human form the attributes of the Divinity, and laid down his life as an atonement for sin, it was no object of trivial moment which he died to accomplish, and

which no sacrifice of inferior efficacy could possibly secure. When we consider the figurative ritual of the Mosaic economy, the long train of prophets, and the splendid series of typical events that preceded the coming of the Redeemer ; when we reflect on the glories of his character, the condescension of his personal ministry, the extent and bitterness of his sufferings, and the pain and ignominy of his death: when we are assured that the design of these astonishing acts of power and mercy, was to procure eternal redemption for us; to raise us to higher glories than those which we had lost, and to the possession of far richer gifts than those which we had forfeited, we can require no higher evidence of the unspeakable worth of the soul, and of the importance of that duty which man owes to himself in regard to it.

Thus are all our previous convictions confirmed, of the extent of man's powers, and of the immortality of his nature. This nature has within it the principle of never-dying existence; and the helpless infant, which has just entered into being, is in the possession of a mind whose faculties may rise with Newton to measure the distances of the planetary worlds, and to admire with Paul the height and depth of the love of God that passeth knowledge. But these powers, though capable of indefinite improvement, are worse than useless to their possessor, without moral culture, without the renovating influence of religion, by which they are fitted for their noblest exertions and employments in time

« PreviousContinue »