Imágenes de páginas

history of the heathen world will abundantly testify; for they ascribed divine qualities and paid divine honours, not only to men like themselves, but to beasts and reptiles, to the inanimate parts of nature, the sun and moon and stars, and even to evil beings, distinguished for cruelty, lust, and other evil passions. The services, by which they attempted to recommend themselves to the favour of such objects of worship, corresponded with the ideas they had previously formed of their characters, being unmeaning and absurd, cruel and impure. To commit acts of lewdness and fornication, to prostitute the person, to put to death unoffending individuals, both men and infants, were considered as acts of religion, and as recommending the persons by whom they were performed to the favour of the deity, The effects, which such opinions and practices must have upon

the human character, may be easily conjectured; they sunk mankind into the lowest state of vice and depravity:

From this state they have been in some degree recovered by the Gospel of Christ, which introduced them to the knowledge of the true God, an almighty, all wise, and perfectly good Being; and they would have been recovered completely from it, had not mistaken notions of the deity again prevailed, and been accompanied with a like train of evils, nor can we justly expect, that the human character will ever attain that perfection, of which it is capable, until

men have acquired perfectly just views of the object of

supreme veneration.

II. A regard to the will of God furnishes the best rule for those duties which men owe to themselves, or for personal virtue. Of this no doubt can be entertained, if we consider, that God is the being, who gave us that constitution of body and mind we possess, who knows, therefore, what powers he has bestowed upon us, and what we are capable of doing for our own improvement and happiness; and if we further recollect, that he loves us as his children, and that he can require nothing from us but what is conducive to our welfare.

On the subject of personal virtue two questions will necessarily occur to us, but which we shall not always find it easy to resolve by the dictates of our own understandings. What am I able to do? and how much am I able to bear? Can I resist the violence of passion, and lay it under restraint, or is it's influence incontrollable ? Are the evils of life capable of being borne with contentment and patience, or are they often insupportable ? Now, in each of these cases, a love of ease or a desire of excusing our own misconduct will suggest such an answer, as would be destructive of every personal good quality. For ghey will tell us, if we consult them, that the appetites of the body are so headstrong and impetuous that it is necessary to gratify them, and that temperance is impracticable, that pride is so natural to man that it cannot be checked, and that we do right,

when the evils of life amount to a certain magnitude, to murmur at our lot, or to'adopt any method that may be suggested for removing them. Such are the dictates of self love. It is necessary, therefore, to have recourse to a more impartial guide ; and such a guide we find in the supreme Being. For, if he require us to observe the rules of temperance and to lay our appetites under restraint, it must be, not because he can envy us any kind or degree of enjoyment we are capable of possessing, (for it would be absurd to suppose, that after having furnished us with a capacity of receiving pleasure, he should forbid us to exercise it, that he should put the cup to our lips, and then forbid us to taste it), but because this moderation in our enjoyments is necessary to preserve the health of the body and to secure the continuance of pleasure, and because he knows we are capable of practising such a degree of self denial. If he command us to be patient and contented under the calamities of life, it is because he knows such a temper of mind to be attainable, and conducive to internal peace and self enjoyment. Here, then, we have a sure and infallible guide, which we may trust upon all occasions. Some will perhaps say, that self interest would alone lead us to the practice of every personal yirtue, since there is no excellence of this kind which does not contribute to the happiness of the individual, and which a man's regard for himself ought not to induce him to cultivate; and that this is true of the virtues to be exercised toward

others, as well as of those which relate immediately to ourselves, for that to be kind and forbearing toward our brethren is the way to procure kindness and forbearance for ourselves. It must be acknow. ledged that truly enlightened self interest would

produce this effect; since our duty and real happiness are necessarily connected together, and cannot possibly be distinct and separate, if we take into our account the whole of our existence. But he, who should never act until he sees the connection betweeen the action and his happiness, must in many instances neglect his duty; for how often will it happen, that this connection cannot be perceived on account of future and distant consequences ? Nay, how often will cases occur, in which our duty will appear wholly inconsistent with our interest, and where nothing but a regard to the favour of God and the rewards of a future life could induce us to make the sacrifices required ? Who, for instance, could be induced to sacrifice his life in support of the truth, except from some such motive? On the other hand, the temptation to some vices is so strong, and the evils which arise from them in this life appear so inconsiderable and uncertain, that nothing would enable us to resist it, but the prospect of a righteous retribution from the hand of God:

How unsafe it is to trust to the decisions of our own reason in regard to our personal conduct is evident from experience as well as reason. Those, who have not been guided in their researches after


their duty by the will of God as communicated to mankind by revelation, have fallen into the grossest

The Epicureans and other sects of antiquity placed man's chief good in the possession of sensual pleasure, in which he was to indulge himself without restraint as long as he was able; and, when it could no longer be enjoyed and life became a burden, they recommended to him suicide as the means of delivering himself from trouble. Even the Stoics, who professed to despise pain and to place their happiness in virtue, yet allowed and encouraged this practice. Referring to this it was their favourite maxim; if the house be smoky, the door is open, and you may walk out. What they thus recommended upon principle, we are not to be. surprised if they frequently practised. Even Cato, with all the heroism and magnanimity of his character, was guilty of this fault.

From modern unbelievers, aided by the superiour light and information of later times, better things may perhaps be expected ; yet we shall find them also falling into the same errours. By a philosopher of a neighbouring kingdom it is asserted, that the love of pleasure is the voice of God; which pleasure he represents as consisting in gratifying the senses, and in procuring the means of gratifying them,

Upon this pleasure, therefore, he would have no restraint imposed. By several modern unbelievers self murder has been recommended, and

« AnteriorContinuar »