« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
ly in promoting the well-being of particular per sons, but of public communities, and of mankind in general,--agreeable to what the wise man has left us on record, that righteousness exalteth a nation ..... Insomuch,.......that could we, in considering this argument, suppose ourselves to be in a capacity of expostulating with GoD concerning the terms upon which we would submit to his government........and to choose the laws ourselves, which we would be bound to observe, it would be impossible for the wit of man, to frame any other proposals, which, upon all accounts,would be more advantageous to our own interests, than those very conditions to which we are obliged by the rules of religion and virtue. And in this does the reasonableness of christianity, and the beauty and wisdom of Providence, appear most eminently towards mankind, in governing us by such laws, as do most apparently tend to make us happy,....... and, in a word, in making that (in his mercy) to be our duty, which in his wisdom he knows to be our interest,.......that is to say, what is most conducive to the ease and comfort of our mind,....the health and strength of our body,.....the honor and prosperity of our state and condition............ the friendship and good-will of our fellow-creatures; ....to the attainment of all which, no more effectual means can possibly be made use of, than that plain direction,.....to lead an uncorrupted life, and to do the thing which is right,....to use no deceit in our tongue, nor do evil to our neighbor.
For the better imprinting of which truth in your memories, give me leave to offer a few things to your consideration.
The first is,....that justice and honesty contribute very much towards all the faculties of the mind: I mean, that it clears up the understanding from that mist, which dark and crooked designs are apt to raise in it,....and that it keeps up regu
larity in the affections, by suffering no lusts or bye-ends to disorder them .....that it likewise preserves the mind from all damps of grief and melancholy, which are the sure consequences of unjust actions....and that, by such an improvement of the faculties, it makes a man so much the abler to discern, and so much the more cheerful, active and diligent to mind his business.....Light is sown for the righteous, says the prophet, and gladness for the upright in heart.
Secondly, let it be observed,......that in the continuance and course of a virtuous man's affairs, there is little probability of his falling into considerable disappointments or calamities;....not only because guarded by the providence of God,but that honesty is in its own nature the freest from danger.
First, because such a one lays no projects, which it is the interest of another to blast, and therefore needs no indirect methods or deceitful practices, to secure his interest, by undermining others.....The paths of virtue are plain and strait; so that the blind, persons of the meanest capacity, shall not err......... Dishonesty requires skill to conduct it, and as great art to conceal.....what it is every one's interest to detect. And I think I need not remind you, how oft it happens in attempts of this kind....where worldly men, in haste to be rich, have over-run the only means to it,..... and, for want of laying their contrivances with proper cunning, or managing them with proper secrecy and advantage, have lost for ever, what they might have certainly secured by honesty and plain-dealing.....the general causes of the disappointments in their business, or of unhappiness in their lives, lying but too manifestly in their own disorderly passions, which, by attempting to carry them a shorter way to riches and honor,disappoint them both for ever, and make plain, their ruin is from themselves,and that they eat the fruits which their own hands have watered and ripened.
Consider, in the third place, that the religious and moral man (one of which he cannot be without the other) not only takes the surest course for success in his affairs, but is disposed to procure a help which never enters into the thoughts of a wicked one; for, being conscious of upright intentions, he can look towards heaven, and, with some assurance, recommend his affairs to God's blessing and direction :-Whereas the fraudulent and dishonest man dares not call for God's blessing upon his designs, or if he does, he knows it is in vain to expect it. Now, a man who believes that he has GoD on his side, acts with another sort of life and courage, than he who knows he stands alone ;-like Esau, with his hand against every man, and every man's hand against his.
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry,-but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
Consider, in the fourth place, that in all good governments, who understand their own interest, the upright and honest man stands much fairer for preferment, and much more likely to be employed in all things where fidelity is wanted;-for all men, however the case stands with themselves, they love at least to find honesty in those they trust; nor is there any usage we more hardly digest, than that of being outwitted and deceived.This is so true an observation, that the greatest knaves have no other way to get into business, but by counterfeiting honesty, and pretending to be what they are not; and when the imposture is discovered, as it is a thousand to one but it will, I have just said, what must be the certain consequence For, when such a one falls, -as he has none to help him, so he seldom rises again.
This brings us to a fifth particular, in vindication of the text,-That a virtuous man has the strong advantage on his side, (the reverse of the
last) that the more and the longer he is known, so much the better is he loved,- -so much the more trusted,- —so that his reputation and his fortune have a gradual increase; and if calamities or cross-accidents should bear him down,-(as no one stands out of their reach in this world),if he should fall, who would not pity his distress,who would not stretch forth his hand to raise him from the ground! Wherever there was virtue, he might expect to meet a friend and a brother. And this is not merely speculation, but fact, confirmed by numberless examples in life, of men falling into misfortunes, whose characters and tried probity have raised them helps, and bore them up, when every other help has forsook them.
Lastly, to sum up the account of the temporal advantages which probity has on its side,-let us not forget that greatest of all happiness, which the text refers to,-in the expression, of all its paths being peace, peace and content of mind, arising from the consciousness of virtue, which is the true and only foundation of all earthly satisfaction; and, where that is wanting, whatever other enjoy. ments you bestow upon a wicked man, they will ' as soon add a cubit to his stature as to his happiness. In the midst of the highest entertainments, ―this like the hand-writing upon the wall, will be enough to spoil and disrelish the feast;—but much more so, when the tumult and hurry of delight is over, when all is still and silent,-when the sinner has nothing to do but attend its lashes and remorses ;—and this, in spite of all the common arts of diversion, will be often the case of every wicked man ;-for we cannot live always upon the stretch;-our faculties will not bear constant pleasure, any more than constant pain;—there will be some vacancies; and when there are, they will be sure to be filled with uncomfortable thoughts and black reflections. So that, setting aside the
great after-reckoning, the pleasures of the wicked are over-bought, even in this world.
I conclude with one observation upon the whole of this argument, which is this
Notwithstanding the great force with which it has been often urged by good writers,-there are many cases which it may not reach,-wherein vicious men may seem to enjoy their portion of this life,—and live as happy, and fall into as few troubles as other men ....And therefore, it is prudent not to lay more stress upon this argument than it will bear :.....But always remember to call in to our aid, that great and more unanswerable argument, which will answer the most doubtful cases which can be stated,.............aud that is, the certainty of a future life, which chistianity has brought to light. However men may differ in their opinions of the usefulness of virtue for our present purposes, no one was ever so absurd, as to deny it served our best and last interest,when the little interests of this life were at an end: ....Upon which consideration we should always lay the great weight,....it is the fittest to bear the ⚫ strongest appeal, and is the most unchangeable motive that can govern our actions at all times. However, as every good argument on the side of religion, should, in proper times, be made use of, ....it is fit sometimes to examine this,....by proving virtue is not even destitute of a present reward, ....but carries in her hand a sufficient recompence for all the self-denials she may occasion :....she is pleasant in the way,....as well as in the end ;....her ways being ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace.....But it is her greatest and most distinguished glory,.....that she befriends us hereafter, and brings us peace at the last ;........and this is a portion she can never be disinherited of....which may GOD of his mercy grant us all, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST.