Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

OF JUDGMENT TO COME.

PART V.

PRELIMINARIES OF THE SOLEMN JUDGMENT.

The Almighty Governor of heaven and earth, having such claims

upon the human race and such a regard for their well-being, as we set forth in the first head of this argument, did accord to the wants and welfare of human nature that constitution of laws whereof we have unfolded the principles, and the excellent adaptation both to the individual and the social state of man. Having done so much, he might have left it to make way upon the strength of its own merits without any further recommendation than its present fitness and advantage ; in which case he would have stood to us in the relation of a counsellor who points out the good and evil of conduct, and the way to reach tranquillity and happiness; or of a father who, before he departs, bequeathes to his children the legacy of his wisdom and affection. Even so, God, having revealed his best counsels to the sons of men, might have retired within the veil and left all beyond the grave secret and unknown.

But perceiving in us such contumacious neglect of himself and of all that he could do for our sakes, and such base preference of sensual and temporary interests over spiritual and eternal, he hath appointed a day in which he will call an account of the good and the evil, and make a grand and notable decision between those who regarded him and those who regarded him not. For he hath too tender an interest in that which is good not to sustain it by every means, while for that which is evil he hath too great an abhorrence to keep its direful consequences secret ; therefore, it hath pleased him to lift up the veil of death and the grave, and show the spectacle of eternal judgment and the separate is. sues of obeying and disobeying his revealed law. Frequent

descriptions are given of this judgment in the Scriptures, and allusions to it are ever recurring throughout the preaching of Christ and of the Apostles. It is used to arrest the fears of the wicked, and to rejoice the patience of the righteous. To escape the wrath to come, is the ground upon which all men are commanded to repent and to believe in Christ, who came into the world that men might not perish, but have everlasting life. By this institution of judgment, God hath superinduced, upon the affectionateness of the father and the kindness of the counsellor, the authority of the lawgiver and governor; and his revelations, from being admonitions and exhortations, pass into the severe character of laws which it is perilous to disobey. All that hath been hitherto propounded of their good consequences must therefore be regarded, not as acts of judgment so much, as natural effects Aowing from their obedience. We come now to the awful exercise of Almighty judgment, having hitherto treated only of his exquisite wisdom, his long-suffering, mercy, and his most abundant kindness.

Now, though this be a subject of pure revelation, it is one which

may be handled with great deference to human reason and to our natural sentiments of justice; and therefore we solicit, as formerly, from our reader, a lively exercise of all his faculties, and a ready proposal of all his doubts; our object being not to overawe him with terrific descriptions of things unseen, in which imagination may at liberty disport, but to convince him how consonant things revealed are to the best sentiments and interests of mankind. We have seen how exquisitely God hath accorded his law, to the honour and advantage of man, and he may therefore be expected to accord the judgment thereof no less exquisitely to our sentiments of justice and equity ; for we take it to be a first principle of every communication from a wise and good God, that it should have something in it for the advantage of the creature to whom it is made : and, accordingly, we hope to make it appear that God doth not preserve his dignity at the expense of his justice, or wield his authority at the expense of his mercy, but consulteth for all his noble attributes equally and alike; in every action making their combined lustre to shine forth.

In order, therefore, to carry the reason of men along with us into this solemn subject of judgment to come, we shall consider the doubts and difficulties which the mind hath in meditating the transactions of the great day, and endeavour to render the best resolution of them in our power, before

entering upon the very article of the judgment and the principles upon which it proceeds. These preliminary doubts and hesitations are of two classes; one arising from the difficulties of conception, the other arising from our apprehensions lest justice should be violated.

The first class to which we shall give immediate attention, springs from ruminating upon the magnitude of the work to be performed, and the incredible multitude to be judged. When we would grapple with the subject, conception is stunned and calculation confounded, and a most unpleasant incertitude induced upon the mind. Our slow-moving faculties cannot reckon the countless multitude, our subdivisions of time cannot find moments for the execution of the mighty work. The details of each case reaching to the inmost thought, the discrimination of their various merit and demerit, with the proportionate award of justice to each, seem a weary work for which infinite time as well as Almighty faculties are required. Taking advantage of this confusion of the faculties of conception, many evil suggestions enter into the mind, and destroy the great effect which the revelation of judgment to come is designed to produce. One thinks he will pass muster in such a crowd, and that he need not take the matter to heart ; another, that he will find a sort of countenance in the multitudes that are worse than he; a third, that if he be condemned it will be in the company of those whose company he preferred on earth, and will continue to prefer so long as he continues to be himself ; and thus the whole power of the revelation is laid prostrate.

In like manner have I seen every other revelation of God deflowered of its beauty and defeated of its strength by similar endeavours to dive into the methods by which it is to be carried into effect. For example, out of all the good which there is in the revelation of creation and providence, it were as easy to escape by similar interrogations into the metho of operation.

It is said that God created man of the dust of the earth, and that he formed Eve of a rib from Adam's side. This, as it stands, is a sublime lesson of God's power and our humble origin, and of the common incorporate nature of man and woman ; but if you go to task your powers of comprehension, you are punished for your presumption by the arid scepticism and barrenness of heart which comes over you. Make man of dust? we soliloquize, How is that? Of dust we can make the mould or form of man, but what is baked clay to living flesh and conscious spirit? Make it in one

day?- these thousand fibres, more delicate than the gossamer's thread—these thousand vessels, more fine than the discernment of the finest instrument of vision—these bones, balanced and knit and compacted so strongly these muscles, with their thousand combinations of movement-this secret organization of brain, the seat of thought—the eye, the ear, the every sense, all constructed out of earth, and in one day? This stately form of manhood, which requires generation and slow conception, and the milky juices of the mother, and ten thousand meals of food, and the exercise of infinite thought and actions, long years of days and nights, the one to practise and train, the other to rest and refresh the frame, before it can come to any maturity—this is to be created in one day out of primitive dust of the ground ? Impossible ! unintelligible! And if we go farther into the thing, and meditate that, seeing there was no second act of God, this creation out of dust was not of one man and one woman, but of all men and all women that have been and are to be for ever; that it was virtually the peopling of all nations and kingdoms of the earth in one day out of inanimate dust-who can fathom the work? It is inconceivable, idle, and not worthy a thought. Thus the mind becomes the dupe of its own inquisitiveness, and loseth all the benefit of this revelation.

Not less out of the comforts of Providence have I seen the wisest men beguiled by the nicety and importunateness of their research. They have reasoned of the multitude of God's avocations throughout the peopled universe, in every star imagining the centre of some revolving system, in every system the dwelling-place of various tribes of beings, until they had the Almighty so occupied as neither to have time nor care for our paltry earth. And if you can fix their attention upon the earth, they do straightway so overwhelm themselves with the myriads who dwell thereon, and their own insignificant place amongst so many, that they cannot see the small part of his providence which can be afforded unto them; and thus, from prayer, from trust and hope of future bliss, they escape into a heartless indifference and a wreckless independence towards their Creator ;-all which ariseth from their subdividing, by active calculation, the great work which God hath to do, without, at the same time, multiplying the power of the Almighty to discharge it all, untroubled and undisturbed. I could show equally

fatal results wrought by the same unrestrained appetite for speculation in the great work of redemption, but it would lead me away too far from the scope of the argument.

Now, as in creation I pretend not to unfold the methods of bringing all things into being and harmonious action, neither in providence to disclose the means for dealing out to them, day by day, those supplies of nourishment and power by which their being and their action are sustained ; no more do I undertake to unfold the forms of process by which, in the last dread day, the Almighty Judge will deal out to each mortal the measure of his deserving or delinquency ; being convinced that from any such attempt there would come up over my mind a mist thicker than that which cov. ered the land of Egypt, in the midst of which I should wander like the sinful men of Sodom. But will I therefore abide from sceptical men any derision or scorn to be cast upon this solemn affair? Never. The mole, who worketh his little gallery under ground, may as well pretend to understand the minings and counterminings of a mighty army; the New Holland savage may as well pretend to understand the noble forms of a British Assize by his own club-law administration, as may vain man, though educated in these enlightened times, pretend to understand the forms of the Almighty procedure of judgment. Nor are these perplexities to be resolved by any supply of intelligence, for we shall never be able to understand any of the works of God; but they are rather to be carried off by meditating upon the magnitude of the Almighty's power and wisdom to do all the pleasure of his will. As to founding scepticism or disbelief upon this incompetency of our conception, it is the height of weakness and ignorance; seeing there is not one single case in which conception does not suffer the same eclipse, and calculation the same confusion of their powers, when they would essay to contend with any other of the doings of the Lord. Let them endeavour to reckon up the number of mouths which he sustains in the various animal tribes ; or the number of organs which go by their healthy operation to continue the well-being of each,--the fibrous sinews, the cellular folds, the pipes and channels through which life's fluids are diffused. Let them reckon up the number of seeds which he generates every year for their sustenance, or the many-webbed structure of one single plant. Let them tell the number of imaginations which the indwelling soul can conceive, the rate at which they speed through the provinces of time and space, the number of past impressions which lie treasured in the mind, and the number of hopes and wishes which it sendeth scouting into the portentous future. Let them fathom the depths of space, and circumnavigate the outward

« ForrigeFortsæt »