« AnteriorContinuar »
just notions of his attributes, and think him at all concerned in the government of this his world, we must conclude that virtuous nations are under his peculiar care : this point enlarged on. Yet though all allow that virtue is the true foundation of the happiness and prosperity of public societies, men differ much in opinion and practice respecting the choice and pursuit of happiness for themselves; yet the same thing which is necessary to the happiness of a kingdom, is also necessary to that of private families and private men: this point enlarged
Since then all allow that virtue is the true way to public happiness, they must confess that private happiness is to be obtained only by the same method : whence then the inconsistency of men in preferring the momentary pleasures of vice to the solid happiness arising from virtue ? Whence is it that they think, that what makes others miserable will make them happy? This difference arises not from the nature of the things considered, which is always the same, but from the passions of men, which are excluded in the one case, and admitted in the other with all their force to bias the judgment. We can deliberate calmly on what is right for other men, as their passions have no effect on our understanding; but in our own case all our passions are roused, and often prove too strong for it. There is much truth in the common observation, that it is easier to give good instructions than to follow them : but this ought to be no prejudice to the cause of virtue ; for when a man speaks reason, and at the same time acts against it, he ought to be taken as a strong witness for the truth. It may be asked perhaps, why we prefer the judgment of a man when he chooses happiness for others, to his judgment when he chooses it for himself. Do we not know that men are most sincere when their own prosperity is concerned ? this point enlarged on, from the consideration of men who should form laws for suppressing vices which they themselves practised. But by this method of arguing, there is but one law for man and beast : reason makes no difference in the case, since the happiness of both consists in the mere gratifications of sense ; a conclusion too absurd for any reasonable man to embrace: this point enlarged on. But we have no reason to decline the comparison between the pleasures of vice and the calm enjoyments of virtue ; let us view these conditions nearer, and see whether there be no reason to wish that we may live the life of the righteous as well as die his death. The wicked can make out no peculiar title to the good things of this life, which may be held and enjoyed by the righteous as well as by the wicked, though they differ much in the use which they make of them : therefore the only question is, whether a man is happier with a large fortune, used within the bounds of virtue, or made subservient to all the ends and pleasures of vice; or fortune being removed out of the case, whether the difficulties of life attendant on mean circumstances, are more tolerable to a virtuous or a vicious man. If we allow the vicious man to have a greater share of sensual gratifications, he can claim no more advantages; and let him set his own value on them, which however enables him not to judge of the happiness or unhappiness of those who deny themselves the same liberties. The virtuous man not only abstains from the pleasures of vice, but subdues the passions of it, and thus renders himself capable of much nobler enjoyments, which perpetually delight the mind; so that even in this case there is reason to believe that virtue has the advantage over vice. But the consequences of their different
ways of living, such only as are soon made manifest to the eyes of the world, render the case very clear : observe the health and vigor attendant on virtue, the pains and diseases which closely follow vice; the mind of the virtuous man surrounded with a constant calm serenity, that of the other by disturbed imaginations, restless desires, and unpleasant thoughts : this topic enlarged on, showing that reason will have the last influence in making us happy or miserable. The wounds of the body may be cured, but for the wounds of the spirit the world affords no salve : the truest touchstone to prove the things that are conducive to our happiness, is to consider their future operations on the mind for the rest of our life : this point illustrated by the case of a man, who, having got possession of an estate through wicked measures, is haunted by his own thoughts ; and whether this man is happy who lives under a continual displeasure with himself, let any one judge. This displeasure is inconsistent with any real enjoyment; so that sin lays the foundation of misery immovably and close to us. Besides, the sense of virtue, which does and will exist among reasonable beings, must render a vicious man contemptible both to himself and others, and therefore unhappy; for no man can easily bear contempt, knowing that he deserves it. Thus in this case also does the wicked man appear given up to misery. But hitherto his case has been considered with respect only to this world, and the natural effect of his vice; which he will himself confess to be but an imperfect description of his condition; for he has other foreboding fears of future misery sufficient to poison all the pleasures of life. He sees that in this life all things come to an end, and that the wicked and the righteous equally go down to the grave; but what future distinctions there
may be, answerable to the natural hopes and fears of the mind, he hates to remember, yet cannot forget. The satisfied passion haunts him in the language of Israel's king : know that for all these things God will call thee unto judgment. Say however, and it is all the wicked have to say, that such imaginations may be delusive, and such fears vain ; yet weak as these fears may be, we must be still weaker before we can get rid of them ; we must lose our reason and understanding, before we can forget that there is a God 'who will judge the world righteously. This result of innate reason, true or false, must affect our present happiness; and if true, will add eternity to the misery of the wicked. Some sinners indeed are found, so hardened as to be for many years proof against all such considerations; yet they are not secure: vice will soon impair their strength, and bring down the pride of their hearts: and when infirmities lay hold of them, and death draws near to execute his commission, they awake as one out of a dream; and their long silenced fears begin to speak with double terror. Then what is the sinner's condition ? Ask him then whether the fears of futurity are all idle dreams ? And as you like his answer, follow his example. Concluding reflexions.
NUMBERS, CHAP. XX111.-VERSE. 10.
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
There is something very affecting in these words, and apt to engage us on the first hearing to become parties to the good wish contained in them. Whatever our present thoughts, views, and inclinations are, yet when our eyes are called off from the prospects of the world, and fixed on the last point of life, and. we stand as it were beholding ourselves under the arrest of death, and just ready to expire, we want no arguments to direct our choice to what is best for ourselves. These circumstances carry conviction with them; and how indisposed soever we are to live the life of the righteous, we are wiling to die his death, and that our last end should be like his.'
There is a comparison implied in the words of the text, between the case of the wicked and the case of the righteous, which the mind readily supplies. The comparison is stated under such circumstances as throw out all prejudices and partialities, and bring only the merits of the cause on both sides into judgment. You are called on to behold the wicked and the righteous, both at the point of death, and to say which condition you would choose for yourself: in this view, the pleasures and allurements of the world on one side, the supposed difficulties and hardships on the other, are equally set aside : virtue and vice are brought naked to the bar, clothed only in their own natural features, without color or disguise ; and being thus placed before you, your judgment is desired. We have no exceptions to take in behalf of virtue to any judge; let the most corrupt give sentence, yet corruption shall not