If there be a pleasure on earth which angels cannot enjoy, and which they might almost envy man the possession of, it is the power of relieving distress. If there be a pain which devils might pity man for enduring, it is the death-bed reflection that we have possessed the power of doing good, but that we have abused and perverted it to purposes of ill.
We are, therefore, irresistibly led to the conclusion that the voice of conscience, in such cases, is the voice of God, declaring his abhorrence of wicked deeds and the punishment which they deserve, and that his providence presides over the actions of moral agents, and gives intimations of the future destiny of those haughty spirits who obstinately persist in their trespasses. And, consequently, as the peace and serenity of virtuous minds are preludes of nobler enjoyments in a future life, so those terrors which now assail the wicked may be considered as the beginnings of that misery and anguish which will be consummated in the world to come, in the case of those who add final impenitence to all their other crimes.
Dr. Thomas Dick: Philos. of a Future State, pt. i. sec. vii.
Behold all the gloomy apartments opening, in which the wicked have died: contemplate first the triumph of iniquity, and here beheld their close; witness the terrific faith, the too late repentance, the prayers suffocated by despair and the mortal agonies! These once they would not believe; they refused to consider them; they could not allow that the career of crime and pleasure was to end. But now truth, like a blazing star, darts over the mind, and but shows the way to that darkness visible which no light can cheer. Dying wretch! we say in imagination to each of these, is religion true? Do you believe in a God, and another life, and a retribution?Oh, yes! he answers, and expires.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 217.
A man cannot spend all his life in frolic: age, or disease, or solitude, will bring some hours of serious consideration, and it will then afford no comfort to think that he has extended the dominion of vice, that he has loaded himself with the crimes of others, and can never know the extent of his own wickedness, or make reparation for the mischief that he has caused. There is not perhaps in all the stores of ideal anguish a thought more painful than the consciousness of having propagated corruption by vitiating principles, of having not only drawn others from the path of virtue, but blocked up the way by which they should return, of having blinded them to every beauty but the paint of pleasure, and deafened them to every call but the alluring voice of the syrens of destruction.
And surely, if we are conscious that we have not contributed to our own sufferings, if punishment falls upon innocence, or disappointment happens to industry and prudence, patience, whether more necessary or not, is much easier, since our pain is then without aggravation, and we have not the bitterness of remorse to add to the asperity of misfortune.
Such are the sentiments with which we finally review the effects of passion, but which we sometimes delay till we can no longer rectify our errors. Let us therefore make haste to do what we shall certainly at last wish to have done; let us return the caresses of our friends, and endeavour by mutual endearments to heighten that tenderness which is the balm of life. Let us be quick to repent of injuries while repentance may not be a barren anguish, and let us open our eyes to every rival excellence, and pay early and willingly those honours which justice will compel us to pay at last.
Man has an unlucky tendency in his evil hour after having received an injury, to rake together all the moon-spots on his antagonist, and thus change a single deed into a whole life, so as more fully to relish the pleasure of wrath. Fortunately, with regard to love, he has the opposite tendency,that of pressing together all the lightsall the rays emitted from the beloved object,by the burning-glass of fantasy, into one focus, and making of them one radiant sun without any spots. But, alas, man too often does so for the first time when his beloved oneyes, often blamed onehas passed beyond the cloudy sky of his life.
Now, in order that we may act thus sooner and oftener, we should follow Winckelmanns example; only in another way: viz., as this man spent one half-hour every day barely in contemplating and reflecting upon his unfortunate existence in Rome, so ought we daily or weekly to dedicate and sanctify a solitary hour to the reckoning up of all the virtues of ones belongings,wife, children, friends,and contemplating them then in a beautiful collection. And we should do so now, that we may not pardon and love in vain and too late, after the beloved one has been taken from us to a better world.
Thus, with all the good intentions in the world to amendment, this creature sins on against Heaven, himself, his friends, and his country, who all call for a better use of his talents. There is not a being under the sun so miserable as this: he goes on in a pursuit he himself disapproves, and has no enjoyment but what is followed by remorse; no relief from remorse but the repetition of his crime. It is possible I may talk of this person with too much indulgence; but I must repeat it that I think this a character which is the most the object of pity of any in the world. The man in the pangs of the stone, gout, or any acute distemper is not in so deplorable a condition, in the eye of right sense, as he that errs and repents, and repents and errs on.