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for such things, what manner of persons ought we not to be, in all holy conversation and godliness !”
The wisdom and equity of this constitution of things are most evident. It harmonizes perfectly with those conceptions universally formed of the nature of comparative merit. We instinctively, as it were, proportionate the degrees of our approbation to the obvious degrees of moral excellence; and our judgment invariably pronounces that it is entitled to a correspondent recompence. The Universal Lawgiver, who is good, and doeth good continually, commands us to love and practise virtue; because the love and practice of virtue are essential to the improvement of the moral nature of each individual; because they are the means which he has appointed for the production of universal good. Every successful act of virtue is efficient of Good. It communicates some portion of Happi. ness, and must be acceptable to him who wills the happiness of all men : but nothing can be acceptable to God, which shall not meet with its reward. It is in the power of the Almighty to communicate pleasurable sensations to every Individual ; but these sensations would be instinctive, circumscribed, and void of mental approbation; therefore has his wisdom and his
benevolence, constituted the voluntary Agency of his intelligent creatures, as the nedium of enjoymentandof communication. Moral Agents are his instruments. They have the high honour of being denominated fellow workers with God; and he has decreed, that they shall be happy according to the wise controul over their passions and affections, and according to their benevolent exertions in the promotion of happiness. The felicity of all social Beings depends upon reciprocal affections. Reciprocal affections cannot be nourished without indications of good will: Such indications consist in reiterated acts of benevolence. These constitute the bonds, the delectable bonds of union. They render felicity one common stock, as it were, one undivided property, to which all are contributors, and of which all are participants.
We may further observe, that an augmentation of enjoyment will naturally arise from a progressive improvement, in every thing that is deemed an excellence; and particularly in moral excellency. All enjoyments, above sensual gratifications, are seated in the Mind. They must be derived from mental perceptions ; and according to the nature and multiplicity of these percep. tions, may enjoyments be augmented. Ignorant minds have few ideas, few perceptions, few
enjoyments. He that loves and pursues valuable knowledge, is perpetually augmenting the num: her of his ideas, and of the pleasing impressions made by them. He that is distinguished for his personal virtues, will inevitably be distinguished also, in a climate favourable to virtue, by an exemption from all the evils of personal vice and irregular deportment. He will enjoy all the consolations of security, contentment, self approbation. He that loves his fellow creatures, enjoys a pleasure from the affection itself. He that does good to his fellow creatures, enjoys a sensation still more pleasing. By the reiteration of good, is there a reiteration of enjoyment, açising from the augmentation of good, from inward satisfaction of mind, from the love and gratitude of those immediately benefited, from the esteem of the Worthy, and from the approbation of his God, and of his Saviour. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” will be the honourable encomium : " Enter ye into the joy of your Lord,” will be the joyful recompense. How pertinent is the exhortation of the apostle, in this connection ;“Since we look for such things, what manner of persons ought we not to be, in all holy conversation and godliness! Therefore, my brethren, be ye always abounding that your labour will not be in vain in the Lord.”
The above reflections on the nature of future happiness, as it is revealed to us in the scriptures of truth, confirm and illustrate, in a satisfactory manner, the distinctions which we had formerly made, relative to the gradations of merit observable in moral agency; the absolute, conditional, and comparative.
Absolute merit belongs not to the sinful children of God. Even the future, however exemplary, cannot recal the .past. Life and immortality are the rewards of moral perfection only ; and the title of Right is lost by a single act of disobedience. Among those who are clothed with humanity, the claim belongs to the immaculate Son of God alone. He knew no sin, and with him the Father was always well pleased. In him the merit is absolute.
Conditional merit consists in our complying with the terms of salvation proposed. Although a compliance be simply an act of prudence, and can lay no claim to any other kind of merit; although the reward is so infinitely superior to the nature and effects of the acts itself, yet the man who conforms to the injunction, is entitled, by virtue of the promise, to the reward proposed. The terms are, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ;" receive a dispensation which proclaims pardon to the penitent, and assures those who return to
filial obedience, that they shall be entitled to all the privileges of children, by being adopted into the family of heaven. Compliance with such terms is simply an act of discretion; to reject
hem is the extreme of folly, and it indicates the absolute dominion of vice.
On comparative merit is founded the wise determination, to reward every man according to his comparative deserts. By it we perceive the justice of the decree, that “whoever sows sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that sows plentifully, shall reap plentifully.”
The importance of these distinctions is manifest, from the gross abuses committed, by mis-, takes concerning the nature of merit, and deinerit. Some have been so extravagant as to conceive that particular actions, which have generally been of their own devising, are of a nature so meritorious, that they will be received as substitutes for the moral virtues ; that they contain intrinsic merit, sufficient to compensate for every defect or imperfection; without reflecting that a continuance in vice must become a disqualification for a state of purity and perfection; and without considering, that there is more absolute demerit in a single vice, in one act of disobedience to such a Parent, than there can be of merit in the most splendid virtues.