« PreviousContinue »
His rational faculties give him a vast superiority above the rest of the beings on this earth. Nevertheless, he is on some accounts the least provided for of any, if there be no future state;
and his rational powers the least of all taken care of. He has a discernment between good and evil, and a power of choosing the one, and refusing the other. He is therefore the subject of moral government, and accountable to his Creator, who is all-knowing, and all-powerful. But this moral government of the Divine Being would be very imperfectly administered if there are to be no other distinca tions made between good and bad, than those in this present life.
Supposing such a being formed, as just described, he will certainly be rewarded or punished, according to his choice . and conduct. As that is not done now, it is reasonable to expect that it shall be done hereafter in another state.
A learned writer discoursing on this very point, has this observation. Were there to be no life hereafter, every * man would undoubtedly be happy or unhappy here in • proportion to his virtues and vices. All the events and
dispensations of Providence would turn upon this hinge, • and the blessings of heaven be distributed by this rule.
But since we find it in fact very much otherwise, the doc• trire before us seems as clear and certain, as that God $ " loveth righteousness, and hateth iniquity:
What encouragement would there be to deny present appetite and inclination ? or to forego private interest for the sake of the public? What inducement could there be, with present self-denial, to seek the happiness of particular persons, if there be no future recompences ?
What profit could there be of the study of virtue? What inducement to advance therein, if the progress of it is to. come to an end at death, and can last no longer, at the utmost, than the period of this very short and uncertain life? What benefit has such an one from his labour and application in the highest design conceivable? What profit has he of his labour, who has contemplated the divine perfections, who has considered the reason of things, the beauty of virtue, and the deformity of its contrary, who has moderated and subdued his affections, till he has gained in a great measure the conquest of anger, ill-will, envy, and every passion, or
, degree of it, that is unworthy his nature? What profit, I say, is there of this labour and increase, if this noble design is to come to an end at the period of this mortal life? This might be an indelible blemish on the divine govern
* Five Sermons, &c. p. 84, 85.
ment, if it could be supposed, For it is as easy for God to raise to another life, or to continue the rational life, the thinking power, as to bestow it at first.
This argument therefore for a future state, which reason affords from the consideration of the divine perfections, and the circumstances of things in this world, is conclusive.
It is also obvious. And accordingly different recompences for good and bad, in another state after this, have been the general belief and expectation of all nations and people upon the face of the earth. And hereby some have been animated to great and generous actions, and have been induced, with much disinterestedness, to promote religious truth, and virtuous conduct among their fellow-citizens and countrymen; and have at length freely and deliberately submitted to sufferings from overruling power and malice, when by compliance with the majority, and recanting the principles they had recommended, they might have saved themselves, and obtained preferment.
2.) I shall now consider objections,
Obj. 1. It may be said, Did not some of the ancient heathens, and particularly some of the philosophers, dispute or deny this doctrine ?
To which I answer, that some persons entering far into abstruse and metaphysical speculations about the Deity, and matter, and the human soul, and taking offence at the vulgar, prevailing sentiments concerning future rewards and punishments, as low and mean, might dispute the truth of this expectation, or admit of doubts about it. But that future recompences were the common belief of heathen people, is evident from many ancient writings still extant. And if some, and those of reputed knowledge and learning, did by some discourses weaken this expectation, it does not follow, that there was no good foundation for it in reason.
For it is not uncommon for men, by prejudice and false reasonings, to be misled against evidence; as we still see among christians. The sadducees in our Saviour's time denied the resurrection of the body, and all rewards after this life. But yet it cannot be said, that the Jewish people at that time had no good reason to expect another life after this.
Obj. 2. St. Paul says, that Jesus Christ“ had abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, through the
gospel,” 2 Tim. i. 10. True. But these expressions are to be understood comparatively, not absolutely; as if a future state of immortal life had been altogether hid from men till the coming of Christ. For it is certain, that among the Jews at least there were expectations of a resurrection,
and of eternal life. And the apostle to the Hebrews, speaking of the ancient patriarchs says: “ they confessed, that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth : and looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” Heb. xi. 10, 13. The meaning therefore of that text is, in general, that the doctrine of a future state had been set in a much clearer light by the gospel than before.
Obj. 3. St. Paul, writing to the christians at Ephesus, who were once in the darkness of heathenism, reminds them, “ that at that time they were without Christ, being alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,” Eph. ii. 12.
But these expressions should not be understood absolutely, as if those persons had not, and could not have any knowledge of God, or hopes from him. For in the epistle to the Romans the
apostle says of Gentile people, that “ whereas they knew God, they glorified him not as God;" and that “ they knew the judgment of God,” though they did not act accordingly, Rom. i. 21, 32. Therefore those Ephesians also, before their conversion to christianity, were without God, and without hope, comparatively. They had not that knowledge, and that hope, which they now had through the gospel, nor which the Jews had; they having been, in their Gentile state, strangers from the covenants of promise, delivered to that people.
Obj. 4. Still it may be urged: would it not be more for the honour of the gospel, to suppose, that a future state is an entirely new discovery? Would it not tend to induce people, who have only the light of nature, to embrace the christian religion, if they were told, that they have not any ground at all for the belief of a future life, and that revelation alone can give men hopes of it?
I answer, No. This would not be of use. If you met a heathen, who already had an apprehension of future recompences for good and bad : [which is certainly the general expectation of all people upon the face of the earth; though their ideas may be low and imperfect, yet however somewhat inviting and agreeable for the good, and disagreeable and frightful for the bad :] would you venture to tell him, that he has no foundation for such a belief? and that it is to be had from the gospel only? I think we should be cautious of saying any thing which would tend to diminish in men honourable apprehensions of the Deity.
It cannot but be of advantage for men to have honourable sentiments of God, as a Being of wisdom, power, righteous
ness, goodness, and equity. Otherwise, what reason can they have to receive a revelation which may be depended upon as true and genuine ?
And it must always be sufficient to induce men to receive à revelation, to show them, that it has uncontested marks and evidences of a divine original, from miraculous works performed in support of it : and that it affords men many advantages, superior to those of the light of nature. • Accordingly, St. Paul was not wont to deny or contest, but to improve the natural notions which men had of religion. This we perceive in his discourse at Athens, saying: “God that made the world, and all things therein, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is he worshipped with men's hands, as if he needed any thing:" and, that “ he is not far from every one us,” Acts xvii, 24, 25. “ For in him we live, and move, and have our being. As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think, that the Godhead is like unto
o gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device," ver. 27–29. And in another discourse to heathen people he says: “ God had not (in former times] left himself without witness, (though he had not given them an express revelation,] forasmuch as he did good, and gave us rain, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness, chap. xiv. 17.
And it seems to me, that St. Paul often argues the truth and certainty of future recompences in a rational way, much in the same manner that we have now done, from the consideration of the present state of things, and the perfections of the Divine Being: “ Seeing it is a righteous thing with God, to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven to take
vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel,” 2 Thess. i. 6, 7. This, he says, is a righteous thin with God: that is, it is reasonable, and fit, and becoming the divine perfection.
And in the epistle to the Hebrews it is said: “ He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," Heb. xi. 6. Which is as much as to say, that there can be no religion without believing that God is, and that he is a rewarder of virtuous and upright, and an avenger of evil men. If therefore the light of nature does not teach these principles, there can be no natural religion; and they who have not the benefit of revelation, are excusable in their irregularities. But that is contrary to the apostle's long and full argument at the beginning of the epistle to the Romans. Where he says: “ That which may be known of God is manifest in them :-For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. So that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God," Rom. i. 19–21. And again :
And again :" As many as have sinned
“ without law,” that is, who bave not had the benefit of revelation, “ shall also perish without law,” chap ii. 12. They shall not be judged by a revealed law, but by the laws and rules of reason only.
3.) In the third place I proposed to take notice of some inquiries relating to this matter.
But they shals be these three only, as of special moment,
Question 1. What notion could men form of the future recompences of good and bad by the light of reason ?
I answer: it is highly probable, that their ideas would fall much short of those which revelation is able to afford. But, in general, men might refer themselves to the judgment of God, as equitable and impartial. They would, it is likely, suppose the virtuous to be separated from the wicked : and whilst these are punished with a variety of torments, they would conceive the virtuous to be disposed of in some delightful regions, and abodes, enjoying intellectual entertainments, or the pleasures of the mind : improving themselves and one another in agreeable conversation, and contemplating the Deity, the all-perfect mind, and those works of his with which they are acquainted, and continually advancing in the discovery of truth, and the improvement of virtuous habits.
Q. 2. Does reason afford any ground to suppose, that the future state of happiness for good men will be eternal, or of perpetual duration ?
think it does. For life, which is to come to an end, is not a reward for a rational being, who aspires to immortality. The period in view, though at the distance of many years, or ages, as we now compute time, would blast every enjoyment, and reduce the happiness of the most agreeable situation to nothing, and render it mere vanity and emptiness.
Moreover, we suppose, these beings, in a state of recompence, to be past a state of trial, and to be so confirmed in virtue, and to be so much out of the way of temptations, as to be in little or no danger of transgressing any reasonable laws, and of thereby offending God. What reason then can