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I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man stand
ing on the right hand of God.--Acts, vii. 55.
THE imagination is not always the most usefully employed in matters of religion. Here it is: the holy martyr, St. Stephen, animates himself in the midst of his sufferings by seeing, in a beatific vision, the happiness that awaited him after death. Instead of letting his mind rest on the cruel sufferings he underwent, he fixed it, by an ardent act of faith, upon a scene which occupied all his thoughts—he saw heaven opened, and Jesus sitting on the right hand of God.
This account of St. Stephen's martyrdom, feems to be given us as the proper appendage of a state of trial; as an incentive to make us bear more properly the different situations in which it engages us.-In some happy hour, when we are surrounded with the gaieties of the world, and prone to give way to intemperate joy, let us check the delirium. Cheerfulness is the garb B B 4
of religion : a gloomy melancholy is religion in mourning, which is a dress it should feldom affume; intemperate joy is religion intoxicated. This world is not meant as a state of enjoyment. When we would indulge our minds, therefore, with real enjoyment, let us banish all the little, selfish joys of this world, by letting our imagination loose among the glories of eternity; and feeing, with the dying martyr, beaven opened, and Jesus fitting at the right hand of God,
Again, in the hour of distress, when the world scowls upon us, and all is darkness around, let us endeavour to catch a ray of light through the gloom that surrounds us—let us carry our imagination, on the wings of faith, into the celestial regions above; and comfort ourselves with the thoughts of seeing heaven opened, and Jefus fitting on the right hand of God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net, which was
cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind. Matt. xiii. 47.
Just such a gathering will there be at the last great day : the net will be spread abroad, and a final separation made. The name of Christian will then be a name of great consequence; and many will endeavour to fhield themselves under it.-Let us examine their several pretensions :The first is the nominal christian. He has nothing to say, but that he was born in a christian coun. try, and was baptized in the name of Christ. Of the faith of a Christian, he knows little ; and of the practice, still less.
The moral man comes next. He professes the Testament to be a most excellent system of morals; but he expunges from it the divinity of Christ-his atonement for sin
the assistance of the Holy Spirit; and, in short, all the comfort. able doctrines of christianity. Why he acknow
ledges his Testament to be good authority in one case, and not in another, is a question which may probably give him some difficulty in answering hereafter. It may, however, rather be doubted, whether his contempt for the doctrines of christianity may not somewhat interfere with his exactness in the practice of it. Let us next take a view of the self-righteous
He acknowledges all the doctrines of christianity ; but he thinks he has not much occasion for them. Christ died, he allows, for sinners; but he does not conceive himself in that class. The little errors of his life are loft in the multitude of his virtues; and he has no fear of appearing in the presence of God, clothed merely in his own righteousness. It is well for him, if he do not find his mistake hereafter. How far God's mercy may extend to such presumption, is not for us to say; but we have no gospel-ground to hope for God's mercy, unless we believe and trust in the merits of that Redeemer, through whom alone it is promised.
The innocent man is questioned next. He has no objection to christianity: indeed, he hardly ever thought about it. In a general view, however, he conceives the gospel to be a law against
wickedness; and as such, chiefly, he receives it. He has the guilt of no great fin upon his conscience. He troubles not himself with motives, and what he calls, the refinements of religion ; but hopes, a life free from great wickedness will carry him to heaven.
The real Christian is the reverse of all these. Through faith in Christ, and a firm belief of all the doctrines of christianity, he converts his moral virtues into christian doctrines; and though he may hope, that in some of his works he may please God, yet he presumes not on any of them, acknowledging with contrition that he has no hopes of salvation through his own righteousness, but merely through the merits of his Redeemer. Of course, therefore, he thinks an innocent life is not all that is required ; but endeavours to recommend himself to God, by devotion and prayer-by heavenly affections, and works of charity.
If a set discourse should be taken from this hint, it might conclude with an exhortation to a congregation, to examine themselves by the several characters set before them; from which they might be instructed, on proper motives, to imitate the best.