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Secondly, How deplorable is the condition of an intellec tual being, who feels no other effects from his presence, than such as proceed from divine wrath and indignation!
Thirdly, How happy is the condition of that intellectual being, who is sensible of his Maker's presence, from the secret effects of his mercy and loving-kindness!
First, How disconsolate is the condition of an intellectual being, who is thus present with his Maker, but at the same time receives no extraordinary benefit or advantage from presence! Every particle of matter is actuated by this Almighty Being which passes through it. The heavens and the earth, the stars and planets, move and gravitate by virtue of this great principle within them. All the dead parts of nature are invigorated by the presence of their Creator, and made capable of exerting their respective qualities. The several instincts, in the brute creation, do likewise operate and work towards the several ends which are agreeable to them, by this divine energy, Man only, who does not cooperate with his holy spirit, and is inattentive to his pre sence, receives none of those advantages from it, which are perfective of his nature, and necessary to his well-being. The Divinity is with him, and in him, and every where about him, but of no advantage to him. It is the same thing to a man without religion, as if there were no God in the world. It is indeed impossible for an infinite Being to remove himself from any of his creatures; but though he cannot withdraw his essence from us, which would argue an imperfection in him, he can withdraw from us all the joys and consolations of it. His presence may perhaps be necessary to support us in our existence; but he may leave this our existence to itself, with regard to its happiness or misery. For, in this sense, he may cast us away from his presence, and take his holy spirit from us. This single consideration one would think sufficient to make us open our hearts to all those infusions of joy and gladness, which are so near at hand, and ready to be poured in upon us : especially when we consider,
Secondly, The deplorable condition of an intellectual being, who feels no other effects from his Maker's presence, than such as proceed from divine wrath and indignation. We (may assure ourselves, that the great Author of nature will not always be as one who is indifferent to any of his crea
tures. They who will not feel him in his love, will be sure
at length to feel him in his displeasure. And how dreadful
is the condition of that creature, who is sensible of the being of his Creator, only by what he suffers from him! He is as essentially present in hell as in heaven; but the inhabitants of those dismal regions behold him only in his wrath, and shrink within the flames to conceal themselves from him. It is not in the power of imagination to conceive the fearful effects of Omnipotence incensed.
But I shall only consider the wretchedness of an intellectual being, that, in this life, lies under the displeasure of him, who, at all times, and in all places, is intimately united with him. He is able to disquiet the soul, and vex it in all its faculties. He can hinder any of the greatest comforts of life from refreshing us, and give an edge to every one of its slightest calamities. Who then can bear the thought of being an outcast from his p esence, that is, from the comforts of it, or of feeling it on v in its terrors? How pathetic is that expostulation of Job, vhen for the real trial of his pa tience, he was made to look upon himself in this deplorable condition! "Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am become a burthen to myself?"
But, thirdly, how happy is the condition of that intellec tual being, who is sensible of his Maker's presence, from the secret effects of his mercy and loving-kindness! The blessed in heaven behold him face to face, that is, are as sensible of his presence as we are of the presence of any person whom we look upon with our eyes. There is doubtless a faculty in spirits, by which they apprehend one an other, as our senses do material objects; and there is no question but our souls, when they are disembodied, or placed in glorified bodies, will, by this faculty, in whatever part of space they reside, be always sensible of the divine presence. We, who have this veil of flesh standing between us and the world of spirits, must be content to know that the spirit of God is present with us, by the effects which he produces in us. Our outward senses are too gross to apprehend him. We may, however, taste and see how gracious he is, by his influence upon our minds; by those virtuous thoughts which be awakens in us; by those secret comforts and refreshments which he conveys into our souls; and by those ravishing joys and inward satisfactions which are frequently springing up, and diffusing themselves among the thoughts of good men. He is lodged in our very essence, and is as a soul within the soul, to irradiate its understanding, rectify its will, purify its passions, and enliven all the powers of
man. How happy therefore is an intellectual being, who, by prayer and meditation, by virtue and good works, opens this communication between God and his own soul! Though the whole creation frowns, and all nature looks black about him, he has his light and support within, that are able to cheer his mind, and bear him up in the midst of all those horrors which encompass him. He knows that his helper is at hand, and is always nearer to him than any thing can be, which is capable of annoying or terrifying him. In the midst of calumny or contempt, he attends to that Being who whispers better things within his soul, and whom he looks upon as his defender, his glory, and the lifter-up of his head. In his deepest solitude and retirement, he knows that he is in company with the greatest of beings; and perceives within himself, such real sensations of his presence, as are more delightful than any thing that can be met with in the conversation of his creatures. Even in the hour of death, he considers the pains of his dissolution to be only the breaking down of that partition, which stands betwixt his soul and the sight of that Being who is always present with him, and is about to manifest itself to him in fulness of joy.
If we would be thus happy, and thus sensible of our Maker's presence, from the secret effects of his mercy and goodness, we must keep such a watch over all our thoughts, that, in the language of the Scripture, his soul may have pleasure in us. We must take care not to grieve his holy spirit, and endeavour to make the meditations of our hearts always acceptable in his sight, that he may delight thus to reside and dwell in us. The light of nature could direct Seneca to this doctrine, in a very remarkable passage in one of his epistles: "There is (says he) a holy spirit residing in us, who watches and observes both good and evil men, and will treat us after the same manner that we treat him." But I shall conclude this discourse with those more emphatical words in divine revelation: "If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
Our imperfect knowledge of a future state, suited to the con dition of man.
THE sceptic, who is dissatisfied with the obscurity which Divine Providence has wisely thrown over the future state, conceives that more information would be reasonable and salutary. He desires to have his view enlarged beyond the limits of this corporeal scene. Instead of resting upon evidence which requires discussion, which must be supported by much reasoning, and which, after all, he alleges yields very imperfect information, he demands the everlasting mansions to be so displayed, as to place faith on a level with the evidence of sense. What noble and happy effects, he exclaims, would instantly follow, if man thus beheld his present and his future existence at once before him! He would then become worthy of his rank in the creation. Instead of being the sport, as now, of degrading passions and childish attachments, he would act solely on the principles of immortality. His pursuit of virtue would be steady; his life would be undisturbed and happy. Superior to the attacks of distress, and to the solicitations of pleasure, he would advance, by a regular progress, towards those divine rewards and honours which were continually present to his view.Thus fancy, with as much ease and confidence as if it were a perfect judge of creation, erects a new world to itself, and exults with admiration of its own work. But let us pause, and suspend this admiration, till we coolly examine the consequences that would follow from this supposed reformation of the universe.
Consider the nature and circumstances of man. Introduced into the world in an indigent condition, he is supported at first by the care of others; and, as soon as he begins to act for himself, finds labour and industry to be necessary for sustaining his life, and supplying his wants. Mutual de
fence and interest give rise to society; and society, when formed, requires distinctions of property, diversity of conditions, subordination of ranks, and a multiplicity of occupa tions, in order to advance the general good. The services of the poor, and the protection of the rich, become reciprocally necessary. The governors and the governed, must coopcrate for general safety. Various arts must be studied; some respecting the cultivation of the mind, others the care of the body; some to ward off the evils, and some to provide the conveniences of life. In a word, by the destination of his Creator, and the necessities of his nature, man commences, at once, an active, not merely a contemplative being. Religion assumes him as such. It supposes him employed in this world, as on a busy stage. It regulates, but does not abolish, the enterprises and cares of ordinary life. It addresses itself to the various ranks in society; to the rich and the poor, to the magistrate and the subject. It rebukes the slothful; directs the diligent how to labour; and requires every man to do his own business.
Suppose, now, that veil to be withdrawn which conceals another world from our view. Let all obscurity vanish; let us no longer "see darkly, as through a glass ;" but let every man enjoy that intuitive perception of divine and eternal objects, which the sceptic was supposed to desire. The immediate effect of such a discovery would be, to annihilate in our eye all human objects, and to produce a total stagnation in the affairs of the world. Were the celestial glory exposed to our admiring view; did the angelic harmony sound in our enraptured ears; what earthly concerns could have the power of engaging our attention for a single moment? All the studies and pursuits, the arts and labours, which now employ the activity of man, which support the order, or promote the happiness of society, would lie neglected and abandoned. Those desires and fears, those hopes and interests, by which we are at present stimulated, would cease to operate. Human life would present no objects sufficient to rouse the mind; to kindle the spirit of enterprise, or to urge the hand of industry. If the mere sense of duty engaged a good man to take some part in the business of the world, the task, when submitted to, would prove distasteful. Even the preservation of life would be slighted, if he were not bound to it by the authority of God. Impatient of his confinement within this tabernacle of dust, languishing for the happy day of his translation to those glorious regions which