Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

blessedness in store for loftier virtue and holier piety; and let him know, too, that, compared with that loftier standard, he has almost as much reason to tremble for himself as the poor sinner he looks down upon; for if woes are denounced against the impenitent sinner, so are woes denounced, in terms scarcely less awful, against the secure, lukewarm, negligent Christian. God is no respecter of persons, nor of professions. It is written that “ he will render to every man according to his deeds ;” it is written, too, that “ whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

I repeat that language of fearful discrimination, “whatsoever a man soweth, that — not something else- that shall he also reap.That which you are doing—be it good or evil, be it grave or gay—that which you are doing to-day and to-morrow—each thought, each feeling, each action, each event-every passing hour, every breathing moment, is contributing to form the character by which you are to be judged. Every particle of influence that goes to form that aggregate, your character, shall

, in that future scrutiny, be sifted out from the mass, and shall fall, particle by particle, with ages perhaps intervening—shall fall, a distinct contribution to the sum of your joys or your woes.

Thus every idle word, every idle hour, shall give answer in the judgment. Think not against the closeness and severity of this inquisition, to put up any barrier of theological speculation. Conversion, repentance, pardon, mean they what they will, mean nothing that will save you from reaping, down to the very root and ground of good or evil, that which you have sowed. Think not to wrap that future world in any blackness of darkness, nor any folding flame, as if for the imagination to be alarmed were all you had to feel or fear. Clearly, distinctly, shall the voice of accusation fall upon the guilty ear; as when upon earth, the man of crime comes reluctantly forth from his hiding-place, and stands at the bar of his country's justice, and the voices of his associates say, “ thou didst it?" If there be any unchangeable, any adamantine fate in the universe, this is that fate—that the future shall for ever bring forth the fruits of the past.

Take care, then, what thou sowest, as if thou wert taking care for eternity. That sowing of which the Scripture speaketh, what is it? Yesterday, perhaps, some evil temptation came upon you—the opportunity of unrighteous gain or of unhallowed indulgence, came either in the sphere of business or of pleasure, of society or of solitude. If you yielded to it, then and there did you plant a seed of bitterness and sorrow. To-morrow, it may be, will threaten discovery; and agitated, alarmed, you will cover the sin, and bury it deeper, in falsehood and hypocrisy. In the hiding bosom, in the fruitful soil of kindred vices, that sin dies not, but thrives and grows; and other and still other germs of evil gather around the accursed root, till, from that single seed of corruption, there springs up in the soul all that is horrible in habitual lying, knavery, or vice. Long before such a life comes to its close, its poor victim may have advanced within the very precincts of hell. Yes, the hell of debt, of disease, of ignominy, or of remorse, may gather its shadows around the steps of the transgressor even on earth; and yet these—if Holy Scripture be unerring, and sure experience be prophetic—these are but the beginnings of sorrows. The evil deed may be done, alas! in a moment- in one fatal moment; but conscience never dies ; memory never sleeps ; guilt never can become innocence ; and remorse can never, never whisper peace. Pardon may come from heaven, but self-forgiveness may never come.

Beware, then, thou who art tempted to evil—and every being before me is tempted to evil-beware what thou layest up for the future ; beware what thou layest up in the archives of eternity. Thou who wouldst wrong thy neighbour, beware! lest the thought of that injured man, wounded and suffering from thine injury, be a pang which a thousand years may not deprive of its bitterness. Thou who wouldst break into the house of innocence, and rifle it of its treasure, beware! lest, when a thousand ages have rolled their billows over thee, the moan of its distress may not have died away from thine ear. Thou who wouldst build the desolate throne of ambition in thy heart, beware what thou art doing with all thy devices, and circumventings, and selfish schemings! lest desolation and loneliness be on thy path as it stretches into the long futurity. Thou, in fine, who art living a negligent and irreligious life, beware! beware how thou livest; for bound up with that life is the immutable principle of an endless retributionbound up with that life are elements of God's creating, which shall never spend their force, which shall be unfolding and unfolding with the ages of eternity. Beware! I say once more, and be not deceived. Be not deceived ; God is not mocked; God, who has formed thy nature thus to answer to the future, is not mocked; his law can never be abrogated; his justice can never be eluded: beware then-be forewarned; since, for ever and for ever will it be true, that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap!

THE LAW OF RETRIBUTION.

GALATIANS vi. 7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked : for whatsoever a

man soweth that shall he also reap."

The views which are usually presented of a future retribution are characterized, as I have observed in my last discourse, rather by strength than by strictness of representation. The great evil attending the common statements of this doctrine, I shall now venture to say, is not that they are too alarming. Men are not enough alarmed at the dangers of a sinful course. No men are; no men, though they sit under the most terrifying dispensation of preaching that ever was devised. But the evil is, that alarm is addressed too much to the imagination, and too little to the reason and conscience. Neither Whitfield, nor Baxter, nor Edwards, - though the horror produced by his celebrated sermon “on the justice of God in the damnation of sinners is a matter of tradition in New England to this very dayyet no one of them ever preached too much terror, though they may have preached it too exclusively; but the evil was, that they preached terror, I repeat, too much to the imagination, and too little to the reason and conscience. Of mere fright there may be too much; but of real rational fear there never can be too much. Sin, vice, a corrupt mind, a guilty life, and the woes naturally flowing from these, never can be too much dreaded. It is one thing for the preacher to deal in mathematical calculations of infinite suffering; to dwell upon the eternity of hell's torments; to speak of literal fires and of burning in them for ever; and with these representations, it is easy to scare the imagination, to awaken horror, and a horror so great, as to be at war with the clear, calm, and faithful discriminations of conscience. With such means it is easy to produce a great excitement in the mind. But he who should, or who could, unveil the realities of a strict and spiritual retribution; show what every sinner loses; show what every sinner must suffer, in and through the very character he forms ; show, too, how bitterly every good man must sorrow for every sin, here or hereafter ; show, in fine, what sin is, and for ever must be, to an immortal nature, would make an impression more deep, and sober, and effectual.

It is not my purpose at present to attempt any detail of this nature, though I shall be governed by the observations I have made in the views which I am to present, and for which I venture to ask a rational, and calm, and most serious consideration.

The future is to answer for the present. This is the great law of retribution. And so obviously necessary and just is it; so evidently does our character create our welfare or woe; so certainly must it give us pain or pleasure, as long as it goes with us, whether in this world or another world, that it seems less requisite to support the doctrine by argument, than to save it from evasions.

There are such evasions. No theology has yet come up to the strictness of this law. It is still more true that no practice has yet come up to it. There are theoretical evasions,—and I think they are to be found in the views which are often presented of conversion, and repentance, and of God's mercy, and the actual scenes of retribution; but there is one practical evasion, one into which the whole world has fallen, and so dangerous, so momentous in its danger, that it may well deserve, for one season of meditation, I believe, to engross our entire and undivided attention.

This grand evasion, this great and fatal mistake, may be stated in general terms to be, the substitution of something as a preparation for future happiness, in place of devoting the whole life to it, or to a course which is fitted to procure it. This evasion takes the particular form, perhaps, of an expectation, that some sudden and extraordinary experience may, at a future time, accomplish what is necessary to prepare the mind for happiness and heaven; or that certain circum. stances, such as sickness and affliction, may, at some subsequent period of life, force the growth of that which is not cultivated now, and may thus remedy the fearful and fatal neglect; or it is an expectation and this is the most prevalent form of the error—that old age or death, when it comes, will have power to penetrate the heart with emotion, and subdue it to repentance, and prepare it for heaven. The subject-yet, it must be feared to be the victim—of this stupendous error is convinced that in order to be happy eventually, he must become pure ;

- there is no principle of indulgence, there is no gospel of mercy, that can absolve him from that necessity—he must become pure; he must be pious; his nature must be exalted and refined. It is his nature, his mind that is to be happy, and he is convinced by experience that his mind must be cultivated, purified, prepared for that end. But he is not doing this work to-day, nor does he expect to do it to-morrow; be is not doing it this month, nor does he expect to do it next month; he is not doing it this year, nor does he, in particular, expect to do it next year; and thus, month after mouth, and year after year, are passing, and one season of life after another is stealing away; and the only hope is, that in some tremendous exigency, or by some violent paroxysm, when fear, and remorse, and disease, and death, are darkly struggling together, that may be done for which the whole previous course of life has not been found sufficient.

But is it true—for I am willing to pause at this point, and deliberately to consider the question—is it true, can it be true, some one may ask, that a mistake so gross, so irrational, so at war with all that we know about character, about its formation, and its necessary results; can it be true, that such a mistake about the whole vast concern of our happiness is actually made by any of us? Can it be, you will say, that men with reason, and experience, and Scripture, to guide them; can it be, that men in their senses, are substituting in place of that deliberate formation of their character for happiness, for which life is given, some brief preparation for it at a future period, and especially at the last period of their lives?

I am persuaded that it is true, my brethren, however strange; and these are the considerations that convince me of it.

In the first place, there are multitudes around us that hope and expect to be happy hereafter, who are conscious that they are not preparing for it; who acknowledge at every successive stage of life, that if they were instantly to die, without any further opportunity to prepare for it, there would be little or no hope for them; who feel that if the very character, which they are now every day forming, were to go to the judgment, their case would be desperate; who hope, therefore, most evidently, not to be judged by the prevailing tenor of their lives, but secretly expect to do something at last to retrieve the errors, the follies, and sins, which they are now daily committing.

Again, although it is a common impression that but few live in a habitual preparation for heaven, the impression is almost as common, that but few actually die unprepared. Of almost every individual who leaves the world something is told which encourages the hopes of survivors concerning him. I stand before you, my brethren, as a Christian minister, and I solemnly declare, that familiar as I have been with that sad and mournful scene, the death of the wicked, it has almost invariably left this strange and delusive hope behind it. Indeed, the extreme solicitude with which every symptom of preparation is marked in these circumstances, the trembling anxiety with which every word and look is caught, but too plainly indicate the same impression. What the amount of this proof is we will presently consider. It is sufficient at this point of the inquiry to state, that it is collected and arranged as carefully, and offered as confidently, as if it were material ; that it encourages those who repeat and those who hear it; that the instance of death is very rare in which surviving friends do not tell you that they trust and believe that all is well. Even when a man has led an eminently pious life, many are apt to feel as if the proof of his piety was not consummated, unless he had died a happy and triumphant death: as though it were to be expected—it may happen so, indeed, and we have great cause to thank God when it does—but as though it were to be expected and looked for as a matter of course, that in feebleness, and distress of body and mind, and the sinking of all the faculties, the mind should exhibit its utmost energy-az if, amidst the cold damps of death, the expiring flame of sensibility should rise the highest. It is to be feared that good men, and with the best intentions, no doubt, have yet given great distress to many faithful Christians, and done great injury to others, by countenancing this unreasonable notion. The great question is, not how a good man dies, but how he has lived.

The third and final reason, which convinces me of the prevalence of this mistake which I am considering is, the almost universal dread of sudden death. It is not to be denied, indeed, that a change so great as that of death, and so mysterious, too, is in itself, and naturally, fitted to awaken a feeling of apprehension. But I maintain, that the principal reason for this apprehension is the fear of consequences, dread of something after death ;" and that there is a vague hope in almost every mind that some preparation could be made at the last, if only a little time were granted for it. And indeed, if we all entertained a settled conviction that we are to reap as we have sowed; that we are to be miserable or happy in the other world, according to the character we have formed in this; that we are to be judged by the life we live, and not by the death we die; what would it import to us whether we fell suddenly in the paths of life, or slowly declined from them?-whe

is the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »