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ON THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.
The reality and eternal duration of a future life being allowed, it becomes of unspeakable importance, to ascertain by what means we may insure or promote its being a happy state of existence to ourselves.
Christianity teaches us that our condition hereafter, depends upon our conduct in the present life; and that in a future and everenduring world, we shall all be rewarded or - punished according to our works. Now in this general notion of the responsibility of man, and of the government of God by rewards and punishments, there is nothing which contradicts either reason or experience. On the contrary, we actually find ourselves placed under the same kind of government in this lower world. Our happiness here is in a great degree placed in our own power, and we are forewarned by nature that certain actions will procure us pleasure, and that others as surely will be productive of pain. Most of the enjoyments of life are bestowed upon us as an effect -- that is, as a reward
of some exertion on our parts; and much of the pain which we suffer, is the consequence of our own inadvertence; it is a punishment which we bring upon ourselves. A man who thrusts his arm into the fire, is punished for his folly by the agony which he endures, and by the loss of his limb.
Experience moreover proves, that present pleasure can be safely pursued only within certain limits, and under proper regulation ; and that watchfulness and self-denial are absolutely essential to our temporal prosperity. If we prefer our known future advantage to immediate gratification, we seldom fail to meet with our reward; but, on the contrary, if we refuse to walk in the ways of wisdom, punishment is sure to overtake us. Often does it happen, that after long delays, at an unexpected moment, and in a degree which seems out of all proportion to our offence, we reap the bitter fruits of our carelessness, or our folly. The imprudence of a passing hour, may entail upon us a life of perplexity and sorrow.
When, therefore, revealed religion declares that we are in a state of trial with a view to
futurity ; that in the eternal world to come, we shall enjoy or suffer the consequences of our present conduct; and that in order to obtain happiness hereafter, we must here exercise continual watchfulness and self-denial it declares those things which are precisely similar to the known constitution of nature and order of Providence. It is certain, that the doctrine of Christianity on this subject, agrees with experience.
These premises being clear, the question immediately arises, what line of conduct must we pursue - what kind of life must we lead
in order to obtain a happy futurity. Christianity answers, “A virtuous line of conduct, a life of righteousness." We learn from the Holy Scriptures, that God not only governs his rational creatures by a system of rewards and punishments, but applies that system according to a moral rule - that he is the moral Governor of the world that in the boundless future, he will reward the good with happiness, and punish the wicked with misery. And does this further development of the government of God over mankind also agree with experience ? Is it rendered credible — is it confirmed to be probable and even true - by those things which
we know in ourselves, and observe in the world around us? Does experience furnish us with any proofs that God, the rewarder and punisher of mankind, is on the side of virtue ?
That these questions may be safely answered in the affirmative, will appear from the following considerations.
I. Every one knows that man is gifted (in distinction we may presume from all the inferior animals,) not only with the powers of reason, but with the faculty of conscience, by which we judge of right and wrong in our own actions. We may safely aver, that there is no man living, whose intellectual powers are not entirely obscured, who is destitute of this faculty; and it seems probable, that the exercise of it is uniformly connected with a sense of the existence of some superior power, to whom we are responsible. The allusion made to this subject by the apostle Paul, corresponds with the results of observation : " When the Gentiles which have not the law (i. e. the written law,) do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another."
The conscience is here justly described as bearing witness in the soul,- as declaring to a man whether the action which he has done or is about to do, is right or wrong. His thoughts accuse him on the one hand, and excuse him on the other ; but it is his conscience which decides the question. Now the conscience, like all our other natural faculties, is liable to great abuse. It may be blinded by ignorance, hardened by sin, and perverted by a mistaken education ; and hence its decisions may sometimes be scarcely perceptible, and at other times er
But although the eye may be darkened, distorted, or even destroyed, the light is in its very nature unchangeable ; and the “law written on the heart” — a work," as I have always believed, of the Holy Spirit — is a light communicated to the soul, by which the conscience is directed, and rectified.
Where the intellectual powers are but little unfolded, as among the more savage tribes of the heathen, this light does indeed appear to be extremely faint. It shines in darkness; and “the darkness" comprehends it not. But al