Page images

the world : and if it be so, then his justice must first or last discover itself in distributing rewards and punishments to men, according as they obey or violate the laws of his government. For what justice can he express in governing the world, if he rules at random; if he never makes any difference between the good and the bad, but rewards and punishes his subjects promiscuously, without any distinction between the loyal and rebellious ? And yet in the ordinary course of divine providence in this world, we see little or no distinction made between them; but,

the Wise Man hath observed, Eccles. ix. 2. all things come alike to all: so that we cannot know God's love or hatred by any thing that is before us; nay, many times we see the wicked, as the Psalmist describes them, flourishing like a green bay tree, Psalm xxxvii. 35. whilst the righteous are sorely oppressed and crushed under the triumphal chariots of their barbarous enemies. So that were there no other state of things but what we see before us, it would be impossible for us to give any tolerable account of the just retributions of the divine providence. For if when we have all acted our parts upon this stage of time, we were to lie down together, and sleep for ever in the dust, how many millions of good men are there that have thought nothing too dear for God, and have not only sacrificed their lust, but their lives and fortunes to his service, who would have no other recompense for so doing, but a miserable life and a woful death, and an obscure and dishonourable grave! And on the contrary, how many millions of millions of wicked men are there, whose whole lives have been nothing but one continued act of rebellion against God, who have blasphemed his honour, and affronted his authority, and openly contemned all the laws of his government; and yet would undergo no other punishment for so doing, but only to live prosperously, to die quietly, and then to be gloriously enshrined in monuments of marble! And can we think this, and at the same time believe that there is a righteous providence which superintends the affairs of the world? Certainly, if not to govern this material world, and to put things into such a regular course as may be suitable to their natures, and the operations for which they are designed, would argue some defect of wisdom in God; then doubtless, not to compensate virtue and vice, and adjust things suitably to their qualifications ; but thus crossly to couple prosperity with vice, and misery with virtue, would argue him deficient both in wisdom, and goodness, and justice. And perhaps it would be no less expedient, with Epicurus, to deny all providence, than to ascribe to it such defects; it being less unworthy of the divine nature to neglect the universe altogether, than to administer human affairs with so much injustice and irregularity, So that either we must deny providence, or (which is worse) deny the justice of it; or believe that there is a future state, wherein all things shall be adjusted, and good men crowned with the rewards of their obedience, and the wicked undergo the punishment of their own follies. For this we are sure of, that the Judge of all the world will do righteously; and that first or last he will distribute his rewards and punishments according to the merit and demerit of his subjects: and therefore, because we see he doth not ordinarily do it in this world, we have great reason to conclude that he will do it effectually in the world to come.

Fourthly and lastly, That there is a state of future happiness prepared for good men is evident from the revelation of his will, which God hath made to us by Jesus Christ. And this, I confess, is the most concluding argument of all. As for the former arguments, they render the case so highly probable, that this at least must be acknowledged, that we have far more reason to believe and expect a future happiness, than we have to doubt or despair of it: but as for this last, it puts all out of question, and leaves us no pretence of reason why we should doubt or suspect it. For eternal happiness and salvation is the great blessing which our Saviour hath promised us, to encourage us to perseverance in well-doing; and in that everlasting gospel which he preached to the world, he hath in the name of God proposed to us a heaven of endless joys and felicities, and brought life and immortality to light. So that if he were commissioned from God to make this great proposal to mankind, we have as much security of a future happiness as we can have of the truth of God; which is the foundation of all the certainty we have, whether in philosophy or divinity. Now that he was commissioned from God to promise what he did to us is apparent, because God himself by sundry voices from heaven declared him to be his ambassador to the world; and proclaimed him his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased, and whom he had substituted the supreme minister of his grace and goodness to mankind; and, what he declared in words, he also demonstrated in deeds. For when Christ was bap

[ocr errors]

tized, God sent down his holy Spirit upon him in a bright shining flame, which, spreading itself round his head, encircled his brows like a crown of sunbeams, and remained upon him: which glorious appearance, answering to that visible glory by which God appeared from between the cherubims, declared him to be the temple of God, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily, and in which he meant to take his residence for ever. · And accordingly after this visible shechinah or glory disappeared, we find most palpable and apparent signs of the presence of God in him: for by this it was that he cured the sick, and calmed the seas, and raised the dead, and wrought all those wondrous works by which he proved his mission from above. For so we are told, that he went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil; for God was with him, Acts x. 38. And after all the miracles that he did in his life, by this power and presence of God that was in him, being barbarously murdered, he rose from the dead by the same power, and ascended triumphantly to heaven. Of the truth of all which we have as clear and credible testimony as ever was given to any matters of fact; the report of them being handed down to us from those who were eye and ear witnesses; who in the defence of what they testified exposed themselves to infinite hazards, and at last confirmed their testimony with their dearest blood; which is the greatest security that any witness can possibly give of his honesty. For what should move them to testify these things, had they not known them to be true? It was apparently their temporal interest to have concealed them; and their religion, in which their eternal interest was involved, prohibited them all wilful lying, under the penalty of an endless damnation : and would any men in their wits have maintained a known imposture, when they were assured beforehand, that all they should gain by it was to die for it here, and to be damned for it hereafter? And if their testimony be true, as we have all manner of reason to believe it is, then what they testify doth plainly denote the blessed Jesus to be the holy one of God; from whom, as from his most holy habitation, God would hereafter communicate all his blessings to mankind. And if so, then we are sure of eternal life, upon condition of our patient continuance in well-doing: for whatsoever be hath promised us, he must have promised us from God; who dwelt in the sacred temple of his, body, and from thence pronounced the oracles of his grace and goodness, and manifested himself perpetually by sundry miraculous effects.

From the consideration of our future happiness many useful inferences may be raised : and first, from hence we may perceive what an unreasonable thing it is for us Christians immoderately, to dote upon the world. I confess, if our chief or only interest were involved in this world, and we had no hopes beyond the grave, there were then some excuse to be made for immoderate solicitude about the trifling concerns of this present life; but when it is so apparent that we are born to higher hopes, and are here but candidates and probationers for an everlasting preferment in the highest heaven, methinks the sense of it should make us blush at our own follies, to think how busy we are in pursuing the fading vanities of this world, whilst the great interest of our eternity is wholly neglected and forgotten.



« PreviousContinue »