« PreviousContinue »
will furnish us with, to prove the truth in agitation, namely,THE REALITY OF A FUTURE STATE.
Though we should fet mankind before our eyes in the most favourable light, yet the prospect will afford a contemplative perfon but very little, if any confolation; a moment's happiness, that is bought, perhaps, at the expence of years of mifery, and at best, but a short-lived joy, which fickness or misfortune may interrupt, and death will moft affuredly put an end to.-What difference is there between wretchedness in ftate, and mifery in rags? Let us put the cafe as fairly as we can, and confider the condition of those whom the world calls the happy, the profperous, the favourites of fortune:-They are furrounded, it is true, with attendants, and refide in pompous habitations ;--but will not the joy which thefe glittering objects create, foon grow familiar? Will they not foon cloy, and leave nothing behind but impotent wishes for fome yet untafted trifle ?-How few are there amongst these envied mortals, that are not, when young, allured to wantonnefs and fome fenfual delights? How foon do they grow tired with what is falfely termed pleasure, and how eafy is the tranfition from joy to forrow? The flashings of a gay fortune make them but the furer prey to the deepest dejection. Could we change our ftation in life, as much and as often as we thought fit, what would the gain be, but a different kind of mifery? Are not the rich and powerful as fubject, if not more, to the violent fhock of contending paffions, eager appetites, and wild defires than other men? Are they not as often fcorched with fevers, chilled with agues, and tormented with gouts, and racking pains? And if this be the condition of the man who has gained this world, what profpect will the other fide afford us, but multitudes worn out with age, labour, and infirmities, ftruggling with penury and want, I made a prey to cruelty and oppreffion; and amidst a variety of other cares, devoured by diseases, and enfeebled with fickness? Is VOL. III. N
there fuch a thing in nature as a perfectly happy, or thoroughly contented man? We imagine not. True it is, we daily fee many fmiling faces, and promifing outfides; but upon examination, they will most affuredly be found full of dreary thoughts and melancholy reflections, emblems of thofe painted fepulchres, which they are haftening to inhabit. Some will fay, perhaps, this is carrying things too far; mankind are not fo very wretched as fome would describe them. But could we fee the inward motions of the foul; were we acquainted with what paffes in the mind, when the body is difcompofed, and the fpirits drooping, we are apt to imagine, thofe very objectors would fecretly affent to thefe affertions there are none, I believe, but what have either real or imaginary evils to interrupt their delights, dash with gall their joyous moments, and leave them only vivacity enough to make a fpecious fhew of happiness to the world. To feem eafy and happy, and really to be so, are very different things; but it shocks the pride of man to discover his fecret discontent. I know no article in life, wherein mankind are so univerfally hypocrites; there seems to be a general combination to deceive one another in this particular; there are few, but very few, who are fo open and ingenuous as to confefs that they have no relish for any earthly enjoyments, but on the other hand, there are numbers who take a pride in entertaining you with their eafy circumftances, their fullblown fatisfactions, the tranfports of friendship, the charms of wit, and gay diverfions. If you will credit them, their lives flow in a continued stream of gentle ease and happiness; but alas! is not this grimace? How diftant from truth are all these boasts? How is it poffible for man to be this happy creature here on earth? For can we conceive any one fo fortunate, as to have nothing to wish for? No fears to alarm him, no anxious thoughts to deject him, no imprudent child, no relation, or friend, labouring under fuch misfortunes as are not in his power to remove? Has he a constant
conftant appetite for mirth, and such a robust constitution as no noxious vapours can affect? Can fuch an uninterrupted feries of profperous events be long the portion of any man on earth? No, doubtless; and every man that asks his heart the question, I prefume, will be of my opinion. I make no question, however, but that many would be apt to fay, nay; and speak no more than their real fentiments; had I but an eftate equal to fome of my neighbours; were I as healthy as fome of them are; had I the learning of fuch a philofopher, or divine; was I the favourite of my prince, as such a courtier is; were my children as dutiful, my friends as tender and indulgent, as thofe of fome others are; or had my merit the reward it justly deserves, I should then be easy and happy, be chearful and contented. Alas! fhould you fucceed in fuch your defires, how great would the advantage arifing from it be?-Why, no more than this: you would find how delufive a thing hope is; that happiness, in the distant profpect, is far different from what it is in the actual poffeffion, and that the imagination goes here below, as far beyond the mark it aims at, as it falls short of thofe everlasting joys, " which eye hath not feen nor "ear heard; neither hath it entered into the heart of man to con"ceive."
That fuch and fo deplorable is the state and condition of human life is a truth, we are all too feelingly convinced of; and a very little reflection will render us as certain, that we must be the work of an almighty and beneficent God; and if fo, we cannot suppose that he made any thing to be of neceffity miferable; for if he, who is infinitely good and perfect, has thought fit to place us in such a state of infelicity, we may, doubtless, have a wellgrounded hope from his goodness, and our own prefent unhappy fituation, that he has made other and better provifion for us, and that there will be a life after this, "where all tears fhall be wiped "from our eyes." For can we fuppofe, that our affectionate N 2 Creator
Creator will be deaf to our fighs, or take any pleasure in our diftreffes? Is not the inferior part of the creation free from that load of ills which we groan under; and do not even the brute beasts enjoy a happiness fuitable to their respective natures? No intruding cares dash the current of their delights; and shall we fuppofe, that man, the nobleft part of the creation, and the exprefs image of his Maker, is the only object unregarded, and that the ever-gracious king of heaven fet him up alone to be a monument of his divine vengeance?-Such suppositions as these would derogate from the perfection of the divine nature, and yet would be mournful truths were there no life after this.
"For who did ever yet, in honour, wealth
"Or pleasure of the fenfe, contentment find?
But what shall we fay, if befides the unavoidable evils to which we are continually expofed, we should take a survey of the GREAT WORLD and view therein all nature moving with the utmost harmony, and confpiring with a loud and conftant voice, to proclaim the justice and goodness of God; and yet turn our eyes towards the LITTLE WORLD, 'I mean man, and there fee treafon and villainy flourish; tyranny and oppreffion prove fuccessful; the juft and noble made a prey to the fons of violence, and the meek and lowly objects of perfecution and reproach; merit and induftry, in poverty and rags; and ignorance and vice, in pomp and grandeur; the righteous man despised, evilly entreated, and neglected, and his oppofite careffed, loaded with preferments, courted, and almost idolized? Providence feems here as filent as the grave, and the unbeliever will be ready to conclude, fince these things are fo, God doth not fee nor regard the fate nor actions of mankind.
SIR JOHN DAVIES.
It is too notorious to be denied, that this is the posture of things below; and and yet, that a wise and juft God prefides over the world very manifest in all things elfe. He feeds the beasts of the foreft; he fends his showers at their appointed season, to replenish the earth; he lets fall the refreshing dews, and causes the fruits tò fpring forth in their season; and shall we fuppofe that he will not find a time to reward diftreffed virtue, and to avenge the cause of the injured and oppreffed?—And yet we plainly fee, that too often they meet with no redrefs in this life; for the virtuous are frequently oppreffed by the frowns of the world, and lay down their forrows only at the grave; and the wicked run through a long feries of fuccefsful villainies, and yet die at laft unpunished. Is it then any unfair conclufion to affert, that thefe diforders can no where be rectified but in a life to come? Nay, would it not reflect dishonourably on God, were it to be otherwise ?-Moreover, were the wicked to meet their punishment, and the righteous their rewards in this life, all virtue would be merely mercenary; but fince it is otherwife, may we not be as certain that there will be a life after this, as that there is a fupreme Being the creator, the preferver, the fole governor of the univerfe in whom we live, move, and have our being.
"Come then, fince now in fafety we have past
"But claims by nature immortality:
"God, who created it, can make it end,
With strong ideas of all perfect good;