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PROVERBS xxiv. 30--32.
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding :
And lo, it was all grown over with thorns! and nettles had covered the face thereof: and the stone-wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it; and received instruction.
No writer in the Scriptures has given us so many lessons on the subject of sloth, as Solomon ; and on no subject has he exhibited more pungent phraseology, or striking imagery. There is a pithiness, a vigour of thought, and a strength of expression, in the compositions of this great man, which are singular; and which are all exhibited in the most vivid manner in his observations concerning sloth. This fact is a forcible proof of his superiour wisdom; and might be fairly expected from the distinguished degree, in which he possessed this attribute.
The text is a beautiful specimen of this nature. “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man, void of understanding : And lo, it was all grown over with thorns! and nettles covered the face thereof: and the stone-wall thereof was broken down."
Fields and vineyards, where vineyards exist, have ever been the chief objects of human cultivation. Both are destined not only to supply important necessaries of life, but to furnish man with those supplies of food, and drink, and with many of those objects of mental taste, which have always been regarded by mankind as eminently delightful. In truth, these, together with gardens,
have been in all ages primary objects of secular attention to the great body of the human race, in every country where the soil and climate would admit an employment of this nature. A garden was assigned to our first parents, as the place of their abode in a state of innocence. Adam was the first husbandman; and Eden was the first scene of agriculture. When, therefore, fields and vineyards are neglected by the proprietor; we may easily believe, that all other objects of his industry will be forgotten: for here very obviously lies his chief secular interest ; and here might plainly and easily be found his first pleasure.
But the field and the vineyard were not merely neglected. They were forgotten; and had long been forgotten. They were all grown over with thorns; and nettles had covered their surface: the stone-wall with which the vineyard had been formerly enclosed by a more industrious hand, was also broken down : probably, because the proprietor was too lazy to put it up himself, or even to employ others for this purpose.
This scene struck the eye of the wisest of men with very great force; as he has taught us by the emphatical language in which he has expressed his feelings. “ Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it; and received instruction.” In this state of deep contemplation, this solemn pondering on the miserable case before him, the emotions of Solomon were excited to such a pitch, that, turning his thoughts to the wretched proprietor, he entered, in imagination, the house where the man lived; and there beheld him stretched upon his bed, at that very time of day, when himself was examining so attentively the deplorable consequences of his sloth. Here, as he fancied, he heard the sottish being exclaim, “Yet a little sleep; a little slumber; a little folding of the hands to sleep." Roused by this effusion; the most striking, which was ever uttered by a mind torpid with indolence; Solomon exclaimed by way of response, “ So shall thy poverty come, as one that travelleth ; and thy want, as an armed man." From this humiliating view of the conduct and consequences of sloth we cannot fail to learn some useful lessons, unless the fault should be our own. Among these the following observations well merit the attention of this assembly.
1. A slothful man is useless to himself.
The first utility of man to himself, the most natural, and that, to which we are led by the strongest and most universal propensity of our nature, is the acquisition of our subsistence. To this we are called by the most absolute necessity ; our exposure to hunger, thirst, and nakedness, to all the sufferings of beggary, and the still keener sufferings of contempt. On the other hand, comfort, reputation, usefulness, duty, and even ambition and avarice, powerfully urge us to industry. These loud calls are heard, accordingly, by almost all men. Even those, who are born in poverty, feel their influence in such a degree, that in ordinary circumstances they struggle vigorously for a comfortable support ; and usually with success. The diligent hand even of these per sons makes them in many instances rich; and in most ensures to them a comfortable subsistence. But the man in the text was plainly born the heir of a patrimonial estate. He had a field and a vineyard, and not improbably many fields; but neither produced any thing beside nettles and thorns. Had any thing better grown in either; it would have been destroyed by cattle : for the enclosure, by which it should have been defended, was broken down. The proprietor, in the mean time, was at home, and not in his field ; stretched on his bed in the day-time, and not at his plough, or his pruning-hook. Instead of cultivating corn and grapes, his proper employment; instead of providing food for himself, and his household; he was crying out beneath the noonday sun, with the feelings of a mere animal, “ Yet a little sleep; a little slumber; a little folding of the hands to sleep."
A more useless being than this, even to himself, cannot be imagined by the human mind. In defiance of all the powerful motives, which I have mentioned, he was contented to be hungry and naked, despised and forgotten, if he might only be permitted to dissolve in sloth and lose himself in sleep.
This is an exact as well a strong picture of every lazy man. Every such man is of the same useless character: useless I mean to himself. Every one has not indeed fields and vineyards, to cultivate or neglect : but all manage whatever possessions they have in a similar manner.
This however is not the worst of the case. He is not merely useless to himself; but is his own enemy. The whole character of an enemy is exhibited in destroying or preventing the happiness of him, whom he hates. The slothful man is his own enemy, because he both destroys and prevents his own happiness. This truth, if it needs proof, will be abundantly evident from a few observations.
He prevents his own happiness by wasting his property. This effect of indolence is so inseparably connected with it, and so universally seen to flow from it, that no words are necessary to establish the position in the most incredulous mind.
The same evil he produces also by wasting his time. God thought it necessary, and gave it as a law to mankind, that they should labour six days every week, and in this manner do all their work. Experience has abundantly shown the wisdom and the goodness of this law. But, every week, the slothful man spends six days in idleness; and does not labour even one. All these, therefore, are by him voluntarily lost; and all the blessings, which would spring from using them wisely, and diligently. Thus the desire of the slothful killeth him : for his hands refuse to labour. I need not observe that he, that he who wastes six days in the week, will certainly squander the seventh.
Equally does he waste his talents. The employment of our faculties is in itself, probably, the greatest secular pleasure which we enjoy. Neither health, nor property, nor reputation, nor all of them, nor, as I believe, even Religion itself, so far as its existence is possible on such a supposition, will make men happy or keep them from being wretched, without the employment of their faculties. Accordingly, all the miserable beings who are without useful business or refuse to perform it, are driven for the mere purpose of killing time to the card-table, the dram-shop, the horse-race, the corners of streets, or some other miserable haunt of those who do nothing, and who seek here to while away their heavy hours.
But, should it be said, that the slothful man thinks himself as happy as other persons, and is therefore to be accounted so; I ask, Vol. II.
is this happiness ?" The answer plainly is, “ that of an
found in a mere exemption from insensibility. The employment of our faculties produces enjoyment also, in a rich train of consequences. Property, character, influence, consciousness of being useful, provision for the wants of sickness and old age, and the satisfaction of providing for the comfort and usefulness of those who are dependent on us; all follow in a regular train the employment of our faculties in the business for which they were designed. All these the lazy man relinquishes for the privilege of setting in his chair, lolling on his bed, and lounging in taverns.
Nor is he less an enemy to his reputation. Laziness is so contemptible a character, and sinks a man down so near to the verge of nibility, that it is despised by every eye, and reproached by every tongue. Contempt snuffs it as his proper prey; and infamy follows it unceasingly with her hiss and her sting. But “a good name is better than great riches; and loving favour than silver and gold.” Disgrace on the other hand is probably felt by mankind as the last evil, usually suffered in the present world.
Equally is he an enemy to his usefulness. To be useful is in every sense a blessing, of high moment. The most melancholy lamentation of an old man is, “I am good for nothing.". But the slothful is voluntarily good for nothing throughout life. His usefulness is all given up of design: and he will not suffer himself to be useful, even in his own person, and by his own faculties. Influence, the great source of our usefulnes, where others are to be persuaded and engaged, he has not, and cannot have. All influence is acquired by reputation : but of this he has deprived himself. His wishes therefore, and his plans, will only be oppo. sed, and despised, by others.
Finally he is an enemy to his soul. “ Therefore,” says St. James, “ to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” In this manner the whole life of a lazy man is passed. Much good, which he perfectly well knows, is every day left by him undone. Day by day, therefore, he accumulates sins from morning to night. How vast, then, must be their num