« AnteriorContinuar »
The hope thus authenticated, becomes, at once, a light and a blessing to the heart. Elevating our contemplations, as it does, to a Deity no less perfect in wisdom and goodness than in power ; teaching us where to repose our confidence in the day of trial, and to seek for aid in the period of conflict; contrasting the evils and sufferings of the present life, with the palms, and robes, and scepters of the just in heaven; it affords ample grounds for those emotions of love and reverence towards God, which quicken the sense of duty and obligation in the heart. And, while it speaks to us of future blessedness, while it announces the glad tidings of favour and acceptance with the Almighty, and proclaims to the sinner the means by which he may be saved ;-can we hear the voice that tells us of these things, without being impressed, in the most affecting manner, with a consciousness of the obligations we owe to God, and without being encouraged to contend for the prize of our high calling, and to run with patience the race that is set before us ?
Hope and faith, in their genuine and evangelical character, cannnot but exist together, and co-operate for the moral improvement of man. Hope springs from faith, faith is animated by hope. Faith is obedience, hope desire. Faith elevates our views to celestial blessings, hope aspires to their attainment. Faith exhibits to us the Omnipotent in the mighty but merciful operations of redemption and providence ; hope deduces the inference from the facts which are thus disclosed, and reposes on the attributes which are thus displayed. Faith soars from the cross of Calvary to the throne of mediation and of grace; hope feeds on the persuasions which are thus matured in the bosom of man. It is
the peculiar office of faith to tender to the sinner, dead in his trespasses and sins, the means of life. It is the peculiar office of hope, rich in the consolations of the gospel, to become the soother of human misery, to rock the cradle of old age, to seat itself by the bed of disease, to hold the cup of peace to the parched lip, and to soften the agonies of death by prospects of heaven. In thus administering to the aid of afflicted man, it establishes the resignation and fortitude of the heart, and supports and encourages the perseverance of virtue. Without it, the Christian would be left to suffer in darkness and despair; and, with it, darkness is converted into light, and despair is elevated to confidence and joy.
If there be some who describe evangelical hope but as the fair vision of enthusiastic credulity, a fabled form of ideal and unsubstantial beauty, which fades into nothing before the light of reason and truth, how many are there in the secret walks of life to testify the reality of its existence, and the efficacy of its power! That which the pretended philosopher may deride, the martyr and the saint take to their bosom ; and suffering is endured, and integrity is sustained, with heroic magnanimity. Sad, indeed, would be the pilgrimage of man, if his trust and expectation were confined to this dim spot. Scanty would be the encouragement of virtue, if it were limited in its confidence to earthly recompence. But, when the voice of promise is heard, and eyangelical hope proclaims the everlasting destiny of the children of God, sorrow may well rejoice, and integrity will persevere. The glooms of trial are gilded as if by a beam from heaven; and the disciples of virtue prosecute their journey with a fortitude and a trust which sustain their strength, and cheer and elevate their spirit.
In this manner the institutions of Christianity, and the views of faith and hope, contribute to form and fortify the moral temper of man. We can scarcely meditate on the being and attributes of God, as they are described in the Gospel, with less salutary effect. In the religion of the Greek and of the Hindu, the divine example was often to encourage the breach of the divine precept; in that of the Koran, the authority of the Almighty was brought down to afford its sanction to fraud, to libertinism, and to persecution. The Christian is taught to look up to a deity of a different character, and to deduce from the views which are opened upon him of celestial justice and mercy, inferences in the highest degree salutary to piety and to virtue. What encouragement to sin can he experience, who beholds in the being he adores but sinless perfections ? What inducements to injustice, to malignity, to cruelty, or to falsehood, may not be resisted by him who venerates in God but illimitable benevolence and immutable truth? Or is he not to learn the offence and danger of disobedience and of crime, and to feel, deeply and intensely, the obligations of virtue, while he raises his eyes to him whose justice is concerned to punish the guilty and recompence the upright, and who has declared that his
his vengeance shall overtake the first, and his blessing descend upon the last.
From these more general views we may proceed to examine the morality itself which derives from them such high authority, and such affecting motives.
I. And here we may first observe, that the sum and substance of the Christian law are included in the love of God, and the love of man; that the love of man is described as the test of the love of God; and that the good and merciful offices of the first are required and enforced as yet more acceptable to heaven, than the prayers and sacrifices of the last: Consistently with this great and primary principle, the Gospel, in almost every page, adds precept to precept, and motive to motive, to purify the heart, in the first instance, from all those evil and malignant passions which are directly opposed to individual and social happiness; and, in the next, to awaken that warm and generous benevolence which extends itself in good will, and, as far as possible, in good deeds, to all the family of mankind.' It may be, therefore, affirmed, that wherever the religion of Christ prevails in its purity, “ it promotes the inno“ cence of village neighbourhood, and inculcates " a universal community of bosom * ;” the innocence, which mingles itself in the intercourse of life, with guileless and affectionate simplicity; and the community, which flows from a spirit of unsuspecting amity, and connects man with man in the bonds of confidence and of love.
The graces of benevolence which are thus inculcated by evangelical wisdom, are not merely to display themselves in beneficent deeds. They are to reach and humanize the manners and modes of life; to extend their influence to the forms of intercourse, and the habits of intimacy; and, for the polished dissimulation, the politeness existing only in pretence, and the smooth and artificial address in which the world may instruct its disciples, to substitute the courtesy which issues from the heart, the patience that endures all things rather than offend in any, and the gentleness which subdues asperity and wrath, by the unrebuking meekness of its demeanour, and by that gracious and unassuming spirit which, “mind• ing not high things, but condescending to men of " low estate, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh “ not its own, is not easily provoked, and, as much “ as possible, liveth in peace, and kindness, and
* Davenant. Pref. to Gondibert.
good will with all men *.”
Behold this blessed virtue in action! It cloathes the naked, feeds the hungry, visits the sick, strengthens the infirm, reconciles the hostile, and exercises itself in all good, and kindly, and compassionate deeds. Is this enough ? Are we to believe that the charity, occupied in this wide circle of active and endearing benevolence, has fulfilled its duty ? On the contrary, the charity which proceeds no further, is but as “sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal." “ Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, " and though I give my body to be burned, and “ have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Charity is to inspire benevolence of heart, as well as beneficence of action. It is to rest
It is to rest upon the lips, as well as issue into deeds. It is to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. It is to throw a veil over the infirmities of others, and to cover with its own garment the multitude of the sins of men. It is to leaven and sweeten the whole mass of human qualities and opinions; and, finally, in the accomplishment of its duties, 66 it is to bear “ all things, believe all things, hope all things, and “ endure all things,” with a spirit that thinketh no
* Epist to the Romans xii. 16, 18.