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THE MORAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD IS SO CONDUCTED AS TO
LEAD OUR VIEWS TO A FUTURE STATE.
The moral government of God is conducted in such a way in the present life, as unavoidably to lead our views to a future state of being. The reality of such a state is impressed on the mind by reflecting on the intellectual and moral constitution of man, by which he is capable of indefinite and endless improvement, and fitted for enjoying far greater happiness than falls to his lot in the present life. There is, besides, nothing in death that warrants the presumption that it is the entire destruction of our being. The organs through which the soul in this introductory state of being holds intercourse with the material world, are indeed dissolved; but why should this imply the extinction of the living principle of thought and activity ?
The greatness of the transition from the embodied to the disembodied state, leads us to conjecture that the soul in making it will undergo a mighty change ; but to infer its annihilation from this circumstance, is not only an assumption perfectly gratuitous, but contrary to all the analogies of nature. How different is the state of the same identical being, as to capacity of action, exertion, and enjoyment, in the course of the few fleeting years of mortal existence? Who that witnessed Newton when a babe, could have anticipated the day when he should describe the movements, and measure the laws of other worlds. The
various and wonderful transformations through which animals pass, shew that it is possible to undergo them without the destruction of the living principle.
But it is to the circumstances in which mankind are placed, viewed in connexion with the moral government of God, that I would now direct my attention, as suggesting considerations which unavoidably lead us to expect a future state of being. The slightest survey of these circumstances will convince us of the impossibility of governing the world without a belief in the reality of such a state. Without it the best code of laws would be unavailing; and so necessary is its operation to the order and existence of society, that all legislators, ancient and modern, have wisely availed themselves of it as an useful and indispensable auxiliary. Knowing that no human sanction has equal efficacy with that which is divine, and that the fear and hope of things obscurely apprehended, and hid in futurity, take a strong hold on the heart and imagination of man, they have made the fundamental principles of religion subservient to the authority of their laws, and the observance of their institutions.
It was reserved for modern times to make a great and memorable experiment on the practicability of governing mankind without any reference to religion, to God, and to eternity. But the ephemeral transactions of that period of guilt and crime have passed away, and have furnished in their history what may admonish future generations of the inutility of laws unsupported by the principles of religious belief. If, indeed, all the suggestions of conscience, enlightened by a knowledge of the divine will, and acting under
the belief of a judgment to come, be often so inefficient in restraining from vice, and in stimulating to virtue, what would be the condition of society if every such restraint were removed, and men were to look to the present life alone for their rewards and punishments? The obvious inference from this fact is, that if the belief of a future state be so necessary to the order of society, and the moral improvement of mankind this necessity is evidence in favour of its reality. The God of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, who is
supreme Lord and Ruler of all things, would not render a belief in a future existence necessary to society, unless the object of this belief were to be realized. The supposition that the God of truth would govern the world by a delusion is repugnant to every notion we can entertain of his veracity and perfection, and derogatory to the glories of his character.
Besides, a future state of being seems to be necessary to the display and vindication of divine justice. The equity of God will lead him, we are assured, to proportion with perfect exactness the happiness or the misery of his creatures to the degree of virtue or of yice which prevails in their character. But no such unvarying and complete distribution of happiness and misery takes place in the present state; for virtuous men are often exposed to the greatest distresses, while the wicked sometimes live and die in prosperity. It is no sufficient counterbalance to this inequality, that the secret satisfaction accompanying the exercise of virtue, renders a good man happier in his most calamitous state, than it is possible for the
wicked to be in his greatest prosperity; and that without any future reward, the pleasure of an approving conscience in any situation, is not only a compensation adequate to human virtue, but far more enviable than the highest earthly gratification.
This is no sufficient counterbalance to the unequal allotments of Providence, because the support and comfort of the pious in their afflictions chiefly arise from the expectation of a future state ; and since this expectation is their greatest encouragement to maintain their integrity under every trial, we cannot suppose that a God of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness, should so order it, that a principal foundation of virtue should be groundless. There are, moreover, sufferings so extreme which the pious are occasionally called to endure, but which they are enabled to bear with fortitude and resignation, from the lively views which they entertain of the happiness of that eternal state from which death and sorrow shall be excluded. Would it not reflect on the justice, faithfulness, and other perfections of God, if no such state were ever to arrive,-and we were then forced to believe that the Deity places his rational and virtuous offspring in situations in which no doctrines of religion could afford consolation, if the whole truth were known?
Good men, besides, in seasons of calm reflection, often have their tranquillity interrupted by perplexing doubts and fears as to their conformity to the will of God. Their disquieting apprehensions on this head are generally in proportion to the refinement and delicacy of their moral feelings and perceptions. Can
we suppose that God would leave their minds under such distresses, if the present pleasure of virtue were its sole reward. On the supposition that there were nothing beyond death, the man who has lost all shame and remorse in the perpetration of the greatest crimes, has a much larger share of ease of mind than the man of virtue, who is often disquieted by the infirmities incident to humanity, and by the consciousness of falling short of the high standard to which he aspires.
These considerations lead us to believe that God will at some future period interpose for the vindication of the honour of his government; and that every act of self-denying virtue performed from a regard to his authority, and of wilful guilt committed in rebellion against him, shall receive its due award. They shew what are the verdicts of common sense concerning the equity of a judgment to come; and while they place this judgment in our view, entire confidence in the goodness and righteousness of God will readily suggest to our minds that there are the best reasons for the inequalities of the present state. It is not to be wondered at, as has been remarked, that God should not here pour down golden showers on the heads of the righteous, nor send fire from heaven, as angry men would have him, upon every provocation, to consume sinners. This life is not a time of reaping, but of sowing; not of judicial approbation, but of trial; not of triumph, but of combat; not of enjoyment, but of work; not of settlement, but of travail; in which no man should expect more of encouragement than is needful to support him in his way; should look to re