« PreviousContinue »
CHRISTIANITY IS A SOURCE OF HAPPINESS TO INDIVIDUALS AND
SOCIETY : BUT DEISM LEAVES THE ONE AND THE OTHER WITH
Though the happiness of creatures be not admitted to be the final end of God's moral government, yet it is freely allowed to occupy an important place in the system. God is good; and his goodness appears in having so blended the honour of his uame with the felicity of his creatures, that in seeking the one they should find the other. In so important a light do we consider human happiness, as to be willing to allow that to be the true religion which is most adapted to promote it.
To form ad accurate judgment on this subject, it is necessary to ascertain wherein happiness consists. We ought neither to expect nor desire, in the present life, such a state of mind as wholly excludes painful sensations. Had we less of the exercises of godly sorrow, our sacred pleasures would be fewer than they are ; or were we unacquainted with the afflictions common to men, we should be less able to sympathize with them ; which would be injurious, not only to society, but to ourselves, as it would deprive us of one of the richest sources of enjoyment.
Mr. Hume, in one of his Essays, very properly called The Sceptic, seems to think that happiness lies in having one's inclinations gratified; and, as different men have different inclinations and even the same men at different times, that may be happiness in one case which is misery n another. This sceptical writer, however, would hardly deny, that in happiness, as in other things, there is a false and a true, an imaginary and a real; or that a studied indulgence of the apetites and passions, though it should promote the one would destroy the other. The light of nature, as acknowledged even by deists, teaches that self-denial, in many cases, is necessary to self preservation; and that to act a contrary part, would be to ruin our peace and destroy our health.* I presume it will be granted, that no definition of happiness can be complete, which includes not peace of mind, which admits not of perpetuity, or which answers not the necessities and miseries of human life.
But if nothing deserves the name of happiness which does not include peace of mind, all criminal pleasure is at once excluded. Could a life of unchastity, intrigue, dishonour, and disappointed pride, like that of Rousseau, be a happy life? No; amidst the brilliancy of his talents, remorse, shame, conscious meanness, and the dread of an hearafter, must corrode bis heart, and render him a stranger to peace. Contrast with the life of this man, that of Howard, pious, temperate, just, and benevolent, he lived for the good of mankind. His happiness consisted in serving his generation by the will of God. If all men were like. Rousseau, the world would be abundantly more miserable than it is : if all were like Howard, it would be abundantly more happy. Rousseau, gov. erned by the love of fame, is fretful and peevish, and never satisfied with the treatment he receives : Howard, governed by the love of mercy, shrinks from applause, with this modest and just reflection, “ Alas, our best performances have such a mixture of sin and folly, that praise is vanity and presumption and pain, to a thinking mind." Rousseau, after a life of debauchery and shame, confesses it to the world, and makes a merit of his confession, and even presumptuously supposes, that it will avail him before the Judge of all : Howard, after a life of singular devotedness to God, and benevolence to men, accounted himself an unprofitable servant, leaving this for his motto, his last testimony, Christ IS MY
Can there be any doubt which of the two was the happiest man ?
Further: If nothing amounts to real happiness which admits not of perpetuity, all natural pleasure, when weighed against the hopes and joys of the gospel, will be found wanting. It is an
* Volney's Law of Nature, p. 12.
expressive characteristic of the good things of this life, that they all perish with the using. The charms of youth and beauty quickly fade. The power of relishing natural enjoyments is soon gone. The pleasures of active life, of building, planting, forming schemes, and achieving enterprises, soon follow. In old age none of them will flourish; and in death they are exterminated. The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator, all descend, in one undistinguished mass, into oblivion. And, as this is a truth which no man can dispute, those who have no prospects of a higher nature must often feel themselves unbappy. Contrast with this the joys of the gospel. These, instead of being diminished by time, are often increased. To them the soil of age is friendly. While nature has been fading, and perishing by slow degrees, how often have we seen faith, hope, love, patience, and resignation to God, in full bloom. Who but Christians can contemplate the loss of all present enjoyments with satisfaction ? Who else can view death, judgment, and eternity, with desire ? I appeal to the hearts of libertines and unbelievers, whether they have not many misgivings and revoltings within them; and whether, in the hour of solitary reflection, they have not sighed the wish of Balaam, Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.
The following extract from a letter of a late nobleman, of loose principles, well known in the gay world, and published as authentic by a respectable prelate, deceased, will show the dreadful vacancy and wretchedness of a mind left to itself in the decline of life, and unsupported by Christian principle.-"I have seen the silly round of business and pleasure, and have done with it all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their real value, which in truth is very low : whereas those who have not experienced always overrate them. They only see their gay outside, and are dazzled with their glare; but I have been behind the scenes. I have seen all the coarse pullies and dirty ropes which exhibit and move the gaudy machine: and
I have seen and smelt the tallow candles wbich illomine the whole decoration, to the astonishment and admiration of the ignorant audience. When I reflect on wbat I have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done, I cannot persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry of bustle and pleasure of the world had any real. ity: but I look on all that is past as one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly occasions ; and I do by no means wish to repeat the nauseous dose for the sake of the fugitive dream. Shall I tell you that I bear this melancholy situation with that meritorious constancy and resignation that most men boast ?
No Sir, I really cannot help it. I bear it because I must bear it, whether I will or no. I think of nothing but killing time the best way I can, dow that time has become my enemy. It is my resolution to sleep in the carriage during the remainder of the journey."
"You see," reflects the worthy prelate," in how poor, abject, and unpitied a condition, at a time when he most wanted help and comfort, the world left him, and he left the world. Compare these words with those of another person, who took his leave in a very different manner: I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also who love his appearing."
It is observable, that even Rousseau himself, though the language certainly did not become his lips, affected, in advanced life, to derive consolation from Christian principles. In a letter to Voltaire he says, "I cannot help remarking, Sir, a very singular contrast between you and me. Sated with glory, and undeceived with the inanity of worldly grandeur, you live at freedom, in the midst of plenty, certain of immortality; you peaceably philosophize on the nature of the soul; and if the body, or the heart are indisposed, you have Tronchin for your physician and friend. Yet with all this you find nothing but evil on the face of the earth. 1, on the other hand, obscure, indigent, tormented with an incurable disorder, meditate with pleasure in my solitude, and find every thing to be good. Whence arise these apparent contradictions ?
You have yourself explained them. You live in a state of enjoyment, I in a state of hope ; and hope gives charms to every thing.'
Finally: If nothing deserves the name of happiness which meets not the necessities, nor relieves the miseries of human life, Christianity alone can claim it. Every one who looks into his own heart, and makes proper observations on the dispositions of others, will perceive that man is possessed of a desire after something which is not to be found under the sun-after A GOUD WHICH HAS NO LIMITS. We may imagine our ideas are moderate, and set boundaries beyond which we may flatter ourselves we should never wish to pass; but this is self-deception. He that sets his beart on an estate, if he gain it will wish for something more.
It would be the same if it were a kingdom ; or even if all the kingdoms of the world were united in one.. Nor is this desire to be attributed merely to human depravity; for it is the same with regard to knowledge: the mind is never satisfied with its present acquisitions. It is depravily that directs us to seek satisfaction in something short of God; but it is owing to the nature of the soul that we are never able to find it. It is not possible that a being created immortal, and with a mind capable of continual enlargement, should obtain satisfaction in a limited good. Men may spend their time and strength, and even sacrifice their souls in striving to grasp it, but it will elude their pursuit. It is only from an uncreated source that the mind can drink its fill. Here it is that the gospel meets our necessities. Its lan guage is, Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and inilk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not ? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live. In the last day, that great duy of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.--He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. How this lan