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hardened as to be for many years proof against all such considerations; yet they are not secure : vice will soon impair their strength, and bring down the pride of their hearts: and when infirmities lay hold of them, and death draws near to execute his commission, they awake as one out of a dream; and their long silenced fears begin to speak with double terror. Then what is the sinner's condition ? Ask him then whether the fears of futurity are all idle dreams ? And as you like his answer, follow his example. Concluding reflexions.
NUMBERS, CHAP. XXIII.-VERSE 10.
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
There is something very affecting in these words, and apt to engage us on the first hearing to become parties to the good wish contained in them. Whatever our present thoughts, views, and inclinations are, yet when our eyes are called off from the prospects of the world, and fixed on the last point of life, and we stand as it were beholding ourselves under the arrest of death, and just ready to expire, we want no arguments to direct our choice to what is best for ourselves. These circumstances carry conviction with them; and how indisposed soever we are to live the life of the righteous, we are willing to die his death, and that our last end should be like his.'
There is a comparison implied in the words of the text, between the case of the wicked and the case of the righteous, which the mind readily supplies. The comparison is stated under such circumstances as throw out all prejudices and partialities, and bring only the merits of the cause on both sides into judgment. You are called on to behold the wicked and the righteous, both at the point of death, and to say which condition you would choose for yourself: in this view, the pleasures and allurements of the world on one side, the supposed difficulties and hardships on the other, are equally set aside : virtue and vice are brought naked to the bar, clothed only in their own natural features, without color or disguise ; and being thus placed before you, your judgment is desired. We have no exceptions to take in behalf of virtue to any judge; let the most corrupt give sentence, yet corruption shall not prevail ; but virtue shall be justified out of the sinner's mouth, whilst he wishes to die the death of the righteous, and that his last end may be like his.'
It may seem perhaps that we have but little confidence in the cause of virtue under all other circumstances and conditions of life, when we defer the judgment to the last moments, and bring the wicked and the righteous to the very doors of death, before we venture to ask your opinion on their several conditions: it may be thought unfair too, so to state the case as to exclude all the pleasures and enjoyments on one side, all the difficulties and discouragements on the other, which are the very considerations that are known to weigh most with the generality of mankind, and to leave nothing but the prospect, whether certain or uncertain, of a future state, when every thing is removed out of the contrary scale, which might serve, as in experience we find they do serve at other times, to balance against such hopes and fears: it may be said too, that it is no very great commendation to virtue, that men should prefer the hopes it offers to the fears of iniquity, when all contest is over in other respects, and at a time when nothing is left but mere hope and fear; for who would not prefer the most uncertain chance of being happy to the least degree of fear of being miserable, or even to the thoughts of falling into silence and perpetual sleep?
Were these exceptions well founded, it would take much from the weight of the comparison laid before us in the text: but the truth is, that there is no time or circumstance of life in which virtue may not bear being compared with vice, the passions and prejudices and corruptions of mankind being moved out of the question.
The words of the text, in their first and most natural sense, lead us to compare the wicked and the righteous, not only in their latest hours, but in the whole course and circumstances of their life: they arise from the contemplation of the happiness and prosperity of the people of Israel, and their future greatness and security in the land of promise, compared with the misery of the idolatrous nations, given up to sin and superstition, and therefore devoted to ruin.
The people,' says the prophesier, 'shall dwell' alone, and shall not be reckoned
among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacub, and the number of the fourth part of Israel ? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.' And in the next chapter, · When he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations ; but his latter end shall be, that he perish for ever.'
These two places help to expound each other; for as the prophecy relating to Amalek was completed in the temporal destruction of that people, so by parity of reason the prophecy concerning Israel imported the temporal happiness of that nation. It was denounced against Amalek, that he should perish for ever ;' that he should be cut off, and leave no posterity behind him: but to Israel a long continuance of great increase is promised; Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel ??
If we add to this the remark of the learned Bishop Patrick, that the original words, which our translators render, · Let my last end be like his,' may properly be rendered, 'Let my posterity be like his ;' it will give us farther reason to acknowlege that temporal prosperity was not excluded from the prophesier's thoughts, but was contained in his wish, as the peculiar lot and inheritance of the righteous.
The other sense of the words, which looks beyond the limits of this world, and considers the wicked and the righteous distinguished by their merits in another state of life, has of ancient times been ascribed to the text: nor need we be much concerned to determine between the two expositions; since both fairly arise from the words before us, both are agreeable to the apprehensions, and, as far as experience teaches, to the experience of mankind, and both have a foundation in reason and nature.
That righteousness exalteth a nation, that 'sin' is not only a reproach,' but also a weakening to any people,' are truths so universally received as to want no proof. All lawgivers in all times have thought so, and made it their business to cultivate virtue and justice, temperance and frugality, and to discourage the contrary vices. Philosophers and moralists have been in the same opinion, and have taught with one consent that the virtue of the people is the stability of all governments, and the true source of public prosperity. Practice and experience have, in all ages, answered to the truth of these speculations. If we consult the memoirs of the most renowned nations, which have made a figure in the world, we shall find that they rose to greatness by virtue, and sank into nothing through vice; that they got dominion by their temperance and probity of manners, and a serious regard to religion; and that when they grew dissolute, luxurious, and despisers of religion, they became slaves to their neighbors, whom they were no longer worthy to govern.
Besides the natural tendency which there is in virtue to make nations great and happy, there is this farther to be considered: if we believe the being of a God, and have just notions of his attributes, and think him at all concerned in the government of this world which he made, we must necessarily conclude that virtuous nations are his peculiar care, and under his immediate protection; that he counsels their counsellors, and teaches their senators wisdom; that he goes forth with their armies, and covers them in the day of battle, and brings them home crowned with victory and peace.
Notwithstanding the general consent of men to this truth, that virtue is the true foundation of the happiness and prosperity of public societies, yet they differ much in opinion and practice in the choice and pursuit of happiness for themselves : and yet there is no doubt but that the same thing which is necessary to the happiness of a kingdom, is also necessary to the happiness of private families and private men ; unless we can suppose that the body politic may be in a very florishing condition, whilst every member of it is in misery and distress. As a nation cannot be said to be healthy, when the private families of which it consists are visited with plague and pestilence; so neither can it be said to be rich and happy, when the members are poor and miserable : from whence it follows that whatever is necessary to the public happiness is necessary also to the private happiness of particulars, considered in themselves, and in the more contracted relations of life.
Since then we have the express consent of all men that virtue is the true way to public happiness, we have, in consequence, their confession that private happiness must be obtained in the