« 上一頁繼續 »
and notions; -faith in we know not whom, hope of we know not what? Can natural propensities be subdued' or superseded, without the excitement of new interests? Is it possible that evil affections should be effectually eradicated, unless others which are more excellent be engrafted? The whole analogy of our nature, all the experience of life, speaks wisdom on this subject. It is the proper office of Hope to triumph over the solicitations of our senses and passions; to “fill us” (in the language of the Apostle) “with all joy and peace in believing.” But Hope is a mere name, if it is fixed on nothing substantial; if it bends its eye on vacancy, and "feeds upon the wind.” Such certainly was not the hope of the early Christians. Such is not the Christian affection which St. Paul has seated on the same throne with Faith and Charity.
And is it then possible for us to form a just idea of the nature of everlasting happiness;—of those joys which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man?” Certainly it is possible, and easy, and essential; nor were the passages in holy writ, which describe the blessed realms of glory as surpassing in brightness all human powers of conception, ever intended to encourage or to justify in us an entire ignorance of their nature. Who ever was presumptuous enough to suppose that he could comprehend his Creator?-"Canst thou by searching find out God?” Yet who, that has any acquaintance with religion, ever doubted that we are capable of knowing him, and most sacredly obliged to study his perfections? “Behold” (said our blessed Redeemer), “ the kingdom of God is within you." “ The kingdom of God” (said the Apostle)" is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." These surely are elements of happiness which we are ca. pable of understanding, attaining, approving; and it is to the diffusion and perfection of these in “an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away," that the hope of the Christian is directed. Hope then, let it never be forgotten, is inseparable from vital experimental religion. It has its birth in the first fruits of practical holiness; it “grows with its growth, and strengthens with its strength;" and enlarges with our increasing 'acquaintance with the blessedness of true piety. It'aspires to the perfection of that, whose excellence has been known and proved; which is seen even upon earth, though, as it were, “in dim eclipse;" which can be conceived clearly, and desired ardently, because it has feelingly been experienced.
There is yet another consideration which may tend to illustrate still more fully the nature and virtue of the affection which we are considering. Hope manifestly supposes that “our conversation be in heaven," “for where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” It implies there fore, in all its essential properties, a deadness to this world; an habitual preference and frequent contemplation of our heavenly and expected inheritance. That such is the true character of this affection, will be questioned certainly by none who have felt its power as directed towards any object of desire in this life. When the mind is filled with the conception of an absent happiness, how difficult is it to confine our attention to the ordinary occupations of life; how slowly do the moments seem to roll; how readily does the imagination wing her flight towards the objects of our wishes! Who ever was long absent from his native country without returning in thought to the haunts of his
happier hours; or approached the shores of his wave-encireled island, without watching eagerly the moment when a dusky speck shall rise in the horizon, and chiding the winds and waves that bear him so slowly homeward? Human nature is the same under all circumstances. Its passions are not changed, though their objects may be altered. If we are really filled with the hope of immortality, we cannot but earnestly desire to possess it; and he but deceives his own heart, who fancies that he is animated with this heavenly affection, while his conduct evinces that his chief desires and anxieties are directed towards earthly things.
Hope then, let us be persuaded that hope which the writers of the New Testament perpetually exalt, and which St. Paul has reckoned among the first of Christian gracesis something far above the vague anticipation of an unknown future good. It has its foundation in a deep and lively faith; it is inseparably allied to vital holiness; and it implies, as a necessary consequence and concomitant, the permanent practical predominance of spiritual affections.
It is impossible to have any tolerable insight into the writings of the Apostles, without being struck with the prodigious energy and life with which the hopes of the Gospel acted upon the minds of the early Christians. They appear to have possessed so lively a perception of the excellency of the treasure which was laid up for them in heaven, that neither trials nor persecutions, neither the temptations of their spiritual nor the malice of their earthly enemies, could quench the ardour, or even long interrupt the pleasures, which flowed from their holy affections. The religion of the early Christians was unquestionably a
cheerful religion; full of feeling, full of energy, full of elevation; triumphant over sin, and sorrow, and suffering, through the power of the Holy Ghost. It was in the midst of pain and weariness and want, in the constraint of a prison, in the anticipation of death, that St. Paul addressed to his young converts most of those Epistles in which the habitual tenor of his feelings is so eloquently pourtrayed; in which he exhibits, with the powers of the deepest sensibility," the riches of the glory of God," and the excellencies of his heavenly inheritance. - Himself he describes as “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing;” “ filled with comfort, exceedingly joyful in all his tribulation.” Of the Thessalonians, he declares, that they became followers of him and of the Lord, “having received the word in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost; so that they were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." For the Ephesians, he prays; "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” For the Roman converts; "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing; that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”. How far it is fitting that Christians in the présent day should indulge that joyful and triumphant spirit which appears to have animated the early Church, must doubtless materia ly depend upon their proficiency in real religion. But it is surely natural to suppose that the temper which the Apostles enjoyed themselves, and laboured to communicate to their disciples, is that to which we should, with all dili
gence, though certainly with all humbleness of mind, 'endeavour to aspire. And when we consider that two' at least of the three chief Christian graces are, in the nature of things, sources of the most lively happiness, and essentially allied to “ the bright sunshine of the soul," it may be reasonably doubted, whether any one can properly rest satisfied with religious attainments, which, with a due allowance for natural temper and incidental circumstances, do not promote a substantial joy and gladness of heart.. (The hopes of a Christian are secured to him by the most sacred and inviolable pledge, even the promise and the oath of Him who cannot fail; "that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.” But St. Paul has urged in another place arguments, if possible, still more powerful: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?”. And, “ if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." It is impossible for any reasoning to be more cogent, or more consoling. The first part of the argument is pretty generally admitted, and doubtless in some measure felt, by every sincere Christian; though very imperfectly by the best of us. But I have doubts whether the second observation is as often remembered; though in its nature practical, and peculiarly fitted for our apprehension. It appeals to our own experience for an assurance of the bounty of our