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3dly, I shall add a few words of consolation to those who do really and constantly believe it.
And 1st, In addressing myself to those who would seem to doubt of this fundamental doctrine of a judgment to come, I shall not endeavour to shew the unreasonableness and folly of those arguments and objections on which they pretend to found their doubts: I will rather content myself with putting the whole matter upon this short and plain issue: that if we should for once be so kind as to suppose, what they will never be able to prove, that it is a very
is a very doubtful thing whether there be another life after this; that it is possible that all these notions of a judgment hereafter, of heaven and hell, are mere fables, the invention of policy, or the produce of superstition; yet, granting all this, I will clearly shew that it is our duty, if we act wisely, and consult our own safety, to believe and live as if these doctrines of religion were certainly and infallibly true.
And the truth of this, I think, will sufficiently appear, if we consider,
1st, What little hazard he runs, and how little loss he undergoes, who believes apd acts
according to the principles of religion, should his expectations at last prove false ; and,
2dly, What a desperate hazard he runs, and what a dreadful situation he will be in, who does not believe and act according to the dictates of religion, should they at last prove true.
And 1st, All that he can lose or venture, who acts agreeably to the principles of religion, and in expectation of a life to come, is only some present gratification and enjoyment of his sensual appetites. He crosses, indeed, the irregular inclinations of his nature; he forbears every criminal excess; he is solicitous about the concerns of another world; he ties himself to the observance of some strict duties and rules ; and is, perhaps, exposed to the reproaches of evil men, and the contempt of an evil world. And this is the worst that can possibly be said of his case by infidelity itself. But then, on the other hand, is he not conscious of acting up to the dignity of his nature? Do not those virtues and austerities, generally and in the natural course of things, ensure to him health, reputation and fortune? Has he not a contented mind and peace of conscience here? Is he not animated and supported by joyful hopes hereafter? If then he be in the right, he is happy for ever :
and if he be mistaken, his condition is at least not worse than that of other men ; he can but: lie down in silence with the forgotten multitudes of former ages. In one word, he is safe, if his hopes be false; and if they be true, he will be unspeakably happy for ever. But, on the other, hand, consider what a desperate hazard he runs, who does not act according to this belief of a future state. For the sake of a few momentary gratifications, he stakes all that can be called valuable or desirable. On a precarious and fal-; lible opinion he ventures the fate of eternity. If it be true, his eye-lids inust soon be closed in death, and then he has no hope beyond the brute that perisheth. But if it should be false, tell, Oh! tell him, ye accursed in hell, the pains of the worm that never dieth, and the fire that cannot be quenched.
Surely then we may be allowed to conclude, that even if a judgment to come were a thing doubtful, yet it is our interest to live and act agreeably to the principles of religion, rather than our own corrupt lusts; since in the one case we must be safe, and in the other we run the dreadful hazard of being for ever miserable.
I proceed, 2dly, To address myself to those who profess to believe a judgment to come, but
yet do it not heartily and sincerely. And this,
The sad truth is, that the generality of Christians, whatever they profess, either do not hear-, tily believe this doctrine, or else do not duly consider it. Would but God Almighty be gra-. ciously pleased to indulge to us a sight of those future rewards and punishments which he has revealed in the Gospel ; would he give us a · view of these glories which are in his presence for evermore; would he unbar the gates of hell, that we might for a moment see the miseries and torments of the wicked; perhaps we inay. think we should want no farther conviction or argument. But God's ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts : he go-, verns men in a method suited to their reasone, able natures, and has given us such assurances of another life as are abundantly sufficient to satisfy and convince the understandings of
men; but yet may be resisted by those who shut their eyes against the truth, and resist clear and sufficient evidence. And from this obstinacy in resisting the evidence of a judgment to come, arises a considerable part of that indifference which many profess about it.
There are others, in whom this indifference about futurity arises not so inuch from a want of knowing the truth, as from a neglect of considering it. For though the understanding may be convinced, yet it has not such an absolute power over the will, as to determine it always to what is best and fittest; but after our understandings have yielded, our wills too often stubbornly hold out against the powers of reason ; especially where the truths proposed are contrary to our fleshly lusts and worldly interests. It is not enough, therefore, that we believe the great truths of religion, unless we also can prevail upon ourselves seriously to attend to them. And the only way to do this, is frequently to revolve them in our minds ; in an hour of retire. ment, to set the temptations of the world at a distance from us; to weigh the immense value of the happiness that is offered to us, and the greatness of the misery that is threatened; to look forwards for the end of this vain and tranitory world; to consider that solemn word