« VorigeDoorgaan »
tine us here, to the happiness for which we were made, and for which we feel irresistible desires, and a boundless capacity. Thus are we taught, in that which is the only effectual method of instruction, this indispensable and most profitable lesson ; and thus do we become finally convinced, that we are here mere probationers for another and better country, and have in this world no abiding place. Hence we are led to feel as “ pilgrims and strangers on the earth,” and to seek for our permanent residence, “a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God."
On this great lesson is grafted, inseparably, another which is kindred to it; the folly of our attachment to this world.
If the world be thus vain, we cannot but discern the folly of placing our affections inordinately upon it. That, which is of little worth, deserves little of our attention and attachment. That which is fleeting and uncertain, however valuable otherwise, must be of little worth ; and that, which is of little value in itself, and is also transient and precarious, is scarcely of any worth at all. None but a fool, or a madman, can highly prize the most beautiful and splendid bubble; which, though adorned with hues of enchantment, dissolves at a touch, and is changed in a moment into a mere drop of impure water.
Intimately connected with this truth is another of the same useful nature ; the equal, or rather the enhanced, folly of our anxieties and labours, to gain and secure so poor an inheritance in such a world. Think not, that I object to an industrious pursuit of the things of this world. Industry in our respective callings is the duty of us all. But industry, to be lawful, or useful, must be pursued as a duty; and not as an indulgence or instrument of avarice, ambition, or sensuality. We must be industrious, solely because God has commanded it; because good will result from it; and because idleness will ruin us both in soul and body; and not because industry will make us rich, great, or possessed of sensual enjoyment. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world : if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
The usual method, in which men are industrious, is a mere obedience to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” This world is to most men the ultimate object. Instead of labouring that they may serve God, obey his commands, and become benefactors to those around them ; they labour, solely, to gain an inheritance here; confine all their cares and anxieties to this side of the grave; and think nothing of God, duty, or eternal life. Thus they are without God in this world, and without hope in the next.
The first great check, which this wordly, wretched spirit finds, is a conviction, usually produced by mere suffering, that the world itself is a poor, miserable, perishing possession ; in which the good, they seek, can never be found. With this conviction they easily learn, that they “labour for that which is not meat, and spend their strength for that which satisfieth not;" that they have during all their preceding life, “ been feeding on wind, and snuffing up the east wind.”
Hence they, also, naturally learn not to " set their affections on things below," however delightful, and however endeared. Property, power, fame, pleasure, friends, children, parents, husbands, wives, health, and life itself, begin to lose their false value, and deceitful charms. The world universally begins to wear a new and juster appearance. Instead of the Paradise, which it was originally believed to be, fraught with “every thing good for food,” beautiful to the eye, and “pleasant to the taste;" it is now discerned to be a mere wilderness, dry and thirsty, barren of real good, perplexed with thorns and briers, and furnishing to the longing soul no springs of life, no refuge, no home.
Secondly. Afflictions teach us, that our life, as well as our enjoyments, is frail, uncertain and momemtary.
It may seem strange for me to suppose, that any man needs to be taught this truth, after being taught it by every thing which passes before his eyes, and by the testimony of God, and of all his fellow creatures. I do not, indeed, suppose any man ignorant of it, or even doubtful concerning the proposition, as generally stated. Still I believe few men realize this truth, obvious
as it is, with regard to themselves. That they may die, all will acknowledge. Most feel, perhaps, in some degree or other, that, at some distant period, they must die. But few, I suspect, feel that death is near, and life uncertain, or even short. To most, if we may trust the testimony of our eyes, or ears, a long life appears highly probable, if not absolutely secure. Most of the Young promise themselves old age, and most of the aged, one, or several years to come. In a few instances, solitary and transient, it is probable, that all men may believe death near and life precarious ; but, in the usual current of thought they feel secure of future days, and of many such days.
It would also seem, that no reasoning has sufficient power to change this state of the mind; at least none, which is actually employed. We hear arguments ; allow their force ; and then think, and feel and act, just as if they had never been alleged.
But what arguments cannot do, afflictions can. The sickness of ourselves, when brought to the borders of the grave, or the death of our friends, companions and children, beloved of us, and necessary to our happiness is “a hand writing on the wall" to the stupid, wordly mind; and presents before us in solemn, awful, and irresistible language, “ Thou art numbered, and finished.” We now begin to feel, as well as to know ; and, for a short time at least, and in the moment of serious pondering, we discern death really at the door ; and behold the grave opening to receive us to its lonely and desolate mansions. This is the teaching, of which I speak ; and which afflictions almost alone give. Our former convictions had no practical influence. Our present instructions are of higher power, and happier efficacy. From them often springs a change of our thoughts, our affections and our conduct. Our belief becomes practical; and often produces a lasting and saving influence on our lives; and, like David, we find it “good for us to have been afflicted."
Thirdly. Afflictions teach us, that our probation is equally transient.
Few of those, who believe the Scriptures at all, fail to believe, generally and loosely, that life is a day of probation, on which
all their future being depends. By afflicted persons life begins seriously to be thought to be such a day, when their afflictions begin. In consequence of this new thought, a new train of thinking follows. All the work of salvation now first appears to them to be future, and yet to be begun. They discern and feel, that it must, if ever done, be done on this side of the grave. Now they see God reconcilable to them. Now they hear the Saviour invite them to lay hold on eternal life. Now“ the Spirit and the Bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say come ; and let him that is athirst come ; and, whosover will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Now the Word of life is in their hands. But " in the grave, whither they go, there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom.”
Life, therefore, begins now to seem to them of infinite value. In life, if ever, the soul is to be saved. If neglected now, it will be neglected forever. Short and uncertain, as the period is, it is the only period in which salvation is to be secured.
To the mind, in such a state, will naturally recur the thought how much of life it has already lost. Salvation is not already secured by those, of whom I especially speak. Of course, all the preceding part of life has been wasted by them. This may be almost the whole of life, and must be much of it; infinitely too much to have been thus lost and squandered, to have been given to the world, the flesh and the devil, to sense and sin, to guilt and perdition.
To such a mind will naturally rise up, in solemn and dreadful remembrance the numerous Sabbaths, which it has lost, profaned and abused: the ordinances, which it has neglected and despised; the calls of mercy, to which it has turned a deaf ear, and a hard heart; the prayers and praises, in which it has steadily refused to unite ; and the sermons, which it has neglected and trampled under foot.
It will also remember with deep regret, how often and how long the word of God has been left on the shelf, or in the closet, unopened, unread, forgotten, and despised ; how many religious instructions it has cast away, ridiculed, and disobeyed ; and how many good resolutions it has formed, only to be violated, and to be left, as mere memorials of its folly and its sin.
At such a time, it is apt to feel how little it has done, and how much it has had to do; how barren a fig tree it has been in its master's vineyard; and how strongly it has provoked him to say, “Cut it down ; why cumbereth it the ground.”
To the Christian, all these instructions, so far as they are applicable to him, are also given by afflictions. In addition to them, he is most affectingly reminded how cold, stupid and unfruitful, he has been in the service of his Lord; how much of his heart, his labours and his time, he has given to the world, and sin, and folly, and shame; how many opportunities of improving in all Christian graces, and in the divine life, he has either wholly or chiefly lost ; how many opportunities of doing good to the souls of men, of honouring Christ, of glorifying God, of adorning Christianity, of proving a blessing to himself and to mankind. Every such opportunity will now naturally recur to him, as of value mightily enhanced; as most diligently and earnestly to be employed : as eagerly to be seized, and carefully to be husbanded. He will see the world, and life, and talents, in a light, which in various respects is new, and of increased importance. The voice of affliction is to him the voice of God, calling upon him for renewed diligence; to consider life as only a time of doing good; and to feel that his duty is all, for which he was sent into the world, and all, for which his residence in it is continued. Hence he will be quickened to greater and greater efforts ; to lose no time; to neglect no talent; to pass by no opportunity of doing all the good in his power; and especially of promoting the salvation of his fellow creatures.
Religion, and all the means, instructions, precepts and duties, of it will now appear invested with a character and importance, peculiarly solemn and affecting. Religion he will, with new and enlightened vision, behold to be all, for which life is worth having or enjoying ; the end of his creation, preservation and blessings ; the source of his happiness, and his worth ; and the foundation of all his hopes in the future world. Religion is, therefore, seen