Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

his own destiny, and by diligence and patience to arrive at true greatness and blessedness.

To set forth such a power is the argument of our present discourse, to the perusal of which we pray those who take it up to bring with them a vigorous manly understanding, no crouching timorous faith, for it is our purpose, in the strength of God, the giver of all understanding, to examine this his great revelation of Judgment to Come, with freedom and fairness, and to try if it will stand the test of inquiry and objection. We are not to advocate or eulogise it, as we lately did the Divine Oracles, but we are to expound it according to the Scriptures, and see how it suits human nature, and makes for human welfare. We intend that it should speak for itself, and become its own argument; and by its own grave and weighty character rebuke and ashame those idle parodies of it, which have lately issued from the seething brains of irreligious poets. Our Apology for Judgment to Come, against these idle visionaries and wasteful prodigals of God's high gifts, is to the common sense and good feelings of men.

We would bring the question back from the tribunal of wit and fancy, and ribaldry and worldly wisdom, to the tribunal of grave judgment, that old and hoary discerner of truth.

We are then, first of all, to be occupied with the development of that which must always precede judgment, viz. the promulgated law or statute upon which judgment is to be held. This is the divine constitution contained in the word of God, which it behoves us to understand before we can be able to estimate the fairness of the trial or the appropriateness of the verdict. To unfold that constitution, therefore, we would address ourselves without delay, did a previous question not suggest itself-What good the Almighty proposes by laying us under responsibility, and what right he hath to do so? The mind doth pot easily relinquish its own rule at any time, and looks for a sufficient inducement to do so. And it is to be expected that the Creator, who knows the nature of his handywork, should consult for the nature that he has given it, and in presenting any supplementary code of government, accommodate himself to the conditions in which it is already placed. This is a preliminary inquiry upon which the mind looks to have satisfaction, before it will go with good accord into the details of any constitution or the judgment thereon. The matter of right is the first question, which being disposed of, we are then welcome to make our propositions.

That all fairness may be allowed to that human nature, which is the honoured tribunal we plead before, we shall search a little into her ways, and see whether she doth better to be in a state of responsibility, or to be discharged into her own unbounded freedom. Then

shall examine the grounds upon which the Almighty places himself forward as her lawgiver, and the general tendency of that responsibility with which he hath overlaid her goings out and her comings in, which will occupy the remainder of this first division of our discourse.

In addressing ourselves to the first of these inquiries, Whether human nature does well to sit under a condition of responsibility ? we judge it the most pleasant and satisfactory method of proceeding, to look into the real form which she puts on in families, and in political bodies, and private friendships, and the other institutions which distinguish the nature of men from the nature of the lower animals—then to examine whether there is any analogy between what seems congenial to her in these institutions and that responsibility under which God hath placed her by his judgment.

From the earliest dawn of comprehension, our parents lay down to us things to be done and things to be avoided; praising or blaming, rewarding or punishing, according to our performances. In this they are prompted by a regard to our future happiness, so far as they can discern the way to it; otherwise they would never impose painful restraints upon those whom they love. Accordingly, so soon as we are able to weigh the consequences of things, they point out the good they would secure, and the evil they would avoid by this early discipline, thereby bringing our own will to go along with theirs, and so securing us by two principles, that of parental authority, and that of advantage foreseen. Here from the very first, are all the elements of government-a good end to be secured for the little state-laws drawn out and made known for securing it—one who persuades obedience to them, and sees them obeyed, and if disobeyed, visits the offence with such treatment as may recal the offender, and be a warning to the rest. The parent who is at the head of this little administration is so far from being divested of the sense of responsibility, that he is the one perhaps who feels it most. He makes no regulation according to blind wilfulness, but consults for the future welfare of his offspring—he studies their nature, and so soon as it is ripe, he addresses their understanding—he executes justice amongst them, and preserves consistency in his judgment,

and mingles a reasonable allowance of liberty with the painfulness of restraint ; so that he is responsible to his own wisdom, to their future welfare, to exact justice, besides being responsible to higher powers, which, for the sake of our argument, we must at present keep out of the question. Now, before we pass on to another topic, I pray you to observe, that no family estate would prosper, however well joined by affection and interest, or well ordered by wise regulations, were there not added a judgment, or calling to account when it is necessary; all the rest would go for nought, were there not in the rear of it, the certainty of judgment to pass upon offences. For consider that the reason which moves you to lay down rules to your children, is not that you love to govern, or to see them restrained of their liberty, or that they have a natural pleasure in obeying ; but that you take pity upon their ignorance of the world, and are acquainted with the tendency of their nature to go astray, and would be wanting in affection, and in carefulness, did you not lay down to them the course which you judged best. Now if you do but make them acquainted, taking no cognizance of their observance, and calling no account of it, then you only half attain your object, or rather you do not attain it at all. They know your opinion only, but at first they know not how to value your opinion, they should also know your smiles, your favour, your reward upon the good, your frowns, your discountenance, your chastisement upon the evil. Your commands will be forgotten, if not frequently recommended by all the tokens of affection, and the contrary discommended by all the tokens of displeasure. Therefore in every family there goes on not only a silent operation of law-giving, but also a secret operation of law-enforcing, a system of rewards and punishments ;-judgment as well as affection being a standing order of the house.

Now if from the family we pass upwards to the state, we shall find the same principle of responsibility regulating and ruling its affairs, with this difference, that here every thing is open and visible; whereas in the other, it was silent and invisible, yet not on that account the less certain or strong. The first thing in the state is to obtain a lawgiver, no one being so naturally the guardian of the rest as the father is of the family, who are his offspring and his dependants. Superior wisdom in the infancy of states was wont to confer this distinction of lawgiver which nature had not decided. But as soon as this difficulty is got over, and a code of laws hath been adopted and spread abroad, there begins a general bending of the common will to its obedience, and whosoever does not choose to obey, is fain to take his leave of the society. The judge is no part of the law, but only the mouth which utters it. The magistrate also is no being the hand to enforce it. The law, the naked law, is sovereign over all. And when a necessity arises for amending the law, then the best method is taken of collecting the common sentiment of the community. But no one voice can alter the law, or set the law at naught-no, not the highest personage of the realm, who has his powers defined no less strictly than the meanest. Thus men, in order to bring themselves to any condition of prosperity or enjoyment, find it necessary to submit themselves to a law, to disarm themselves of their natural strength and natural freedom, and go into a state of bondage and responsibility to the common sense or recorded conscience of those amongst whom they dwell. Now here again we remark, that were there not judgment days, no wisdom nor wise administration could protect the law from being trampled under foot of men. You might preach obedience at every corner, and show how it promotes the good of each, by securing the welfare and peace of the whole ; but it were vain, had you not a regular roll made up of the offenders, and a regular assize holden of their offences, and proper sentences adjuged to their transgression. Some would always be found ignorant enough not to comprehend their own well-being secured in the common weal-others wilful enough to provide for themselves at the expense of the common weal, and therefore measures must be taken that the well-informed and well-disposed suffer not at the hands of the ignorant and the wicked.-Judge ment and discrimination must take place, or the whole platform of a well-ordered state will be speedily undermined.

What hath been said of our living under constant responsibility to law and judgment in the family and in the state, is no less true of the many other relationships which preserve and comfort life. Those of servant to master, and wife to husband, we do not speak of, because they are in some measure under cognizance of the law; yet who does not know that our happiness in them is secured far more by unseen and unknown acts of mutual obligation between the parties, and that an interior state of responsibility becomes generated of its own accord. A master hath enjoyment in his household according as he fulfils to them kindly and faithfully his duties of encouragement, and his duties of discouragement, from which when he withdraws his care, he

ceases to be respected ; confusion introduces itself into the establishment, and disputes arise which call for the adjudication of law. In friendships, there are distinct obligations contracted of love and fidelity and mutual assistance, which not being discharged by either party, he is adjudged unwor. thy and cut off from our intimacy. In private circles of acquaintance, there is imposed another set of obligations, those of hospitality, good breeding, and general good offices; which being violated, the offender is marked, and perhaps excommunicated from the privileges of the society. In the general acknowledgments of politeness, such as street salutation, which is the loosest, largest kind of society, there are imposed manifold obligations of good behaviour, good temper, and even appearance suitable to our condition, of which a loose account and an occasional reckoning is kept.

These instances may serve to show how familiar the mind of man is to the feeling of responsibility, and how full his life is of its exercise ; how he regulates himself after a law expressed or understood, and submits the issues of his character and his condition to judgment and arbitration, and is himself the judge and arbitrator of the character and condition of others. They also serve to show how necessary to the well-being of every society is a judgment of the members, and a punishment of the offenders. Nothing will do in its room in the family state, where are our strongest affections, judgment is needed; in the political state, where are vested our strongest interests, judgment is needed; in our household state, where are vested our dearest enjoyments, judgment is needed; in our friendly state, where are vested our chief confidences, judgment is needed; in our social state, whence flow all mutual attentions, judgment is needed.

And while I thus argue the necessity of judgment, I am willing to allow that in each of these states, it is the last thing which should be resorted to, and should rather stand at the gate to guard the sanctuaries of society from evil intrusion, than enter in to regulate the service. Family duties should be fed with affection, political duties with the promotion of interest, friendly duties with unbosomed confidence, and duties of acquaintanceship with good and kindly offices. The terrors of judgment should stand to a side, and not interfere till the others have failed to preserve harmony and peace. Severity should be the last act of man towards his brother men, as suspicion should be the last sentiment he admits into his bosom. Yet just as it doth not hinder us from keeping our eyes open to investigate the truth, that we know

« ForrigeFortsæt »