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deeds with the dearth of great and generous actions, and you have the exact picture of that condition of society which completes the degradation of the species—the frightful contrast of dwarfish virtues and gigantic vices, where every thing good is mean and little, and every thing evil is rank and luxuriant: a dead and sickening uniformity prevails, broken only at intervals by volcanic irruptions of anarchy and crime.
4.-RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE A SOURCE OF CONSOLATION. WITHOUT the belief and hope afforded by divine revelation, the circumstances of man are extremely forlorn. He finds himself placed here as a stranger in a vast universe, where the powers and operations of nature are very imperfectly known; where both the beginnings and issues of things are involved in mysterious darkness; where he is unable to discover, with any certainty, whence he sprung, or for what purpose he was brought into this state of existence; whether he be subjected to the government of a mild, or of a wrathful ruler; what construction he is to put on many of the dispensations of his providence; and what his fate is to be when he departs hence. What a disconsolate situation to a serious, inquiring mind! The greater degree of virtue it possesses, its sensibility is likely to be the more oppressed by this burden of labouring thought. Even though it were in one's power to banish all uneasy thoughts, and to fill up the hours of life with perpetual amusement, life so filled up would, upon reflection, appear poor and trivial. But these are far from being the terms upon which man is brought into this world. He is conscious that his being is frail and feeble; he sees himself beset with various dangers, and is exposed to many a melancholy apprehension, from the evils which he may have to encounter, before he arrives at the close of life. In this distressed condition, to reveal to him such discoveries of the Supreme Being as the Christian religion affords, is to reveal to him a father and a friend; is to let in a ray of the most cheering light upon the darkness of the human estate. He who was before a destitute orphan, wandering in the inhospitable desert, has now gained a shelter from the inclement blast. He now knows to whom to pray, and in whom to trust; where to unbosom his sorrows, and from what hand to look for relief.
Upon the approach of death especially, when, if a man thinks at all, his anxiety about his future interests must naturally increase, the power of religious consolation is sensibly felt. Then appears, in the most striking light, the high value of the discoveries made by the Gospel ; not only life and immortality revealed, but a Mediator with God discovered ; mercy proclaimed, through him, to the frailties of the penitent and the humble; and his presence promised to be with them when they are passing through the valley of the shadow of death, in order to bring them safe into pinseen habitations of rest and joy. Here is ground for their leaving the world with comfort and peace. But in this severe and trying period, this labouring hour of nature, how shall the unhappy man support himself, who knows, or believes not, the hope of religion? Secretly conscious to himself, that he has not acted his part as he ought to have done, the sins of his past life arise before him in sad remembrance. He wishes to exist after death, and yet dreads that existence. The Governor of the world is unknown. He cannot tell whether every endeavour to obtain his mercy may not be in vain. All is awful obscurity around him; and in the midst of endless doubts and perplexities, the trembling, reluctant soul is forced away from the body. As the misfortunes of life must, to such a man, have been most oppressive; so its end is bitter : his sun sets in a dark cloud; and the night of death closes over his head, full of misery. BLAIR.
5.-ON SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS.
The awakening from spiritual death calls for a peculiar and a preternatural application. We say preternatural, for such is the obstinacy of this sleep of nature, that no power within the compass of nature can put an end to it. It withstands all the demonstrations of arithmetic. Time moves on without disturbing it. The last messenger lifts many a note of preparation, but so deep is the lethargy of our text that he is not heard. Every year do his approaching footsteps become more distinct and more audible-yet every year rivets the affections of sense more tenaciously than before to the scene that is around him. One would think that the fall of so many acquaintances on every side of him might at length have forced an awakening conviction into his heart. One would think, that, standing alone, and in mournful survey amid the wreck of former associations, the spell might have been already broken which so fastens him to a perishable world. Oh! why were the tears he shed over his children's grave not followed up by the deliverance of his soul from this sore infatuation? Why, as he hung over the dying bed of her with whom he had so oft taken counsel about the plans and the interests of life, did he not catch a glimpse of this world's vanity, and did not the light of truth break in upon his heart from the solemn and apprehended realities beyond it? But no. The enchantment, it would appear, is not so easily dissolved. The deep sleep which the Bible speaks of is not so easily broken. The conscious infirmities of age cannot do it. The frequent and touching specimens of mortality around us cannot do it. The rude entrance of death into our own houses cannot do it. The melting of our old society away from us, and the constant succession of new faces and new families in their place, cannot do it. The tolling of the funeral bell, which has rung so many of our companions across the confines of eternity, and in a few little years will perform the same office for us, cannot do it. It often happens in the visions of the night, that some fancied spectacle of terror or shriek of alarm have frightened us out of our sleep and our dream together. But the sleep of worldliness stands its ground against all this. We hear the moanings of many a deathbed, and we witness its looks of imploring anguish, and we watch the decay of life as it glimmers onward to its final extinction, and we hear the last breath, and we pause in the solemn stillness that follows it, till it is broken in upon by the bursting agony of the weeping attendants; and in one day more we revisit the chamber of him who, in white and
shrouded stateliness, lies the effigy of what he was; and we lift the border that is upon the dead man’s countenance, and there we gaze on that brow so cold and those eyes so motionless; and in two days more we follow him to the sepulchre, and mingled with the earth among which he is laid, we behold the skulls and the skeletons of those who have gone before him; and it is the distinct understanding of nature, that soon shall every one of us go through the same process of dying, and add our mouldering bodies to the mass of corruption that we have been contemplating. But mark the derangement of nature and how soon again it falls to sleep, among the delusions of a world, of the vanity of which it has recently got so striking a demonstration. Look onward but one single day more, and you behold every trace of this loud and warning voice dissipated to nothing. The man seemed as if he had been actually awakened, but it was only the start and the stupid glare of a moment, after which he has lain him down again among the visions and the slumbers of a soul that is spiritually dead. He has not lost all sensibility any more than the man that is in a midnight trance, who is busied with the imaginations of a dream, But he has gone back again to the sensibilities of a world which he is so speedily to abandon, and in these he has sunk all the sensibilities of that everlasting world on the confines of which he was treading but yesterday. All is forgotten amid the bargains and the adventures and the bustle and the expectation of the scene that is immediately around him. Eternity is again shut out, and amid the dreaming illusions of a fleeting and fantastic day, does he cradle his infatuated soul into an utter unconcern about its coming torments or its coming triumphs. Yes! we have heard the man of serious religion denounced as a visionary. But if that be a vision which is a short-lived deceit, and that be a sober reality which survives the fluctuations both of time and of fancy-tell us if such a use of the term be not an utter misapplication, and whether, with all the justice as well as with all the severity of truth, it may not be retorted upon the head of him who, though prized for the sagacity of a firm, secular, and much-exercised understanding, and honoured in the market-place for his experience in the
walks and the ways of this world's business, has not so much as entered upon the beginning of wisdom, but is toiling away all his skill and all his energy on the frivolities of an idiot's dream,
6.-ON THE WORKS AND ATTRIBUTES OF THE ALMIGHTY. CONTEMPLATE the great scenes of nature, and accustom yourselves to connect them with the perfections of God. All vast and unmeasurable objects are fitted to impress the soul with awe. The mountain which rises above the neighbouring bills, and hides its head in the sky—the sounding, unfathomed, boundless deep—the expanse of Heaven, where above and around no limit checks the wondering eye—these objects fill and elevate the mind—they produce a solemn frame of spirit, which accords with the sentiment of religion. From the contemplation of what is great and magnificent in nature, the soul rises to the Author of all. We think of the time which preceded the birth of the universe, when no being existed but God aloue. While unnumbered systems arise in order before us, created by his power, arranged by his wisdom, and filled with his presence—the earth and the sea, with all that they contain, are hardly beheld amidst the immensity of his works. In the boundless subject the soul is lost. It is he who sitteth on the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers. He weigheth the mountains in scales. He taketh up the isles as a very little thing. Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him!
The face of nature is sometimes clothed with terror. The tempest overturns the cedars of Lebanon, or discloses the secrets of the deep. The pestilence wastes—the lightning consumes—the voice of the thunder is heard on high. Let these appearances be connected with the power of God. These are the awful ministers of his kingdom. The Lord reigneth, let the people tremble. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations! By the greatness of thy power thine enemies are constrained to bow.