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judgments, rash resolutions and hasty choices, made and persevered in; partial fondnesses, unreasonable aversions, endless animosities, obstinate pursuits of our own ruin : then utter discontent with ourselves, the whole world, and the Maker of it: every folly, every sin and suffering, of which an ungoverned mind is capable.
Thus then the present wisdom appears of diligently cultivating, and I must add, (for without it, all your diligence will be in vain) earnestly praying for, that calmness and moderation of spirit, which the Apostle requires that we should not only have, but should also let it be known unto all men: an expression comprehending several particulars of great moment : that we should not be satisfied with our own opinion, that we rule our passions well, (a matter about which we are daily deceived) but proceed in the discipline of them, till every one else allows us to be masters; that the good effects of our composure should be perceived and felt, not only at some times, and by some persons, but always by all who are concerned with us; and lastly, that we should be careful to shew the world around us, by our example, set before them with decency and modesty, how possible, how becoming, how beneficial, the practice of this virtue is.
And the motive, subjoined to this precept, is a powerful one indeed: which therefore I proposed to lay before you
III. Its importance to our obtaining a favourable sentence in the approaching day of judgment, and eternal blessedness in our future life. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
However plainly it appears, that strict self-government is the true secret for self-enjoyment here, yet the whole world hath agreed and resolved upon it,
that the contrary shall be true: that the life for a man to lead, who will make the most of his time on earth, is in a course of eager desires, vehement pursuits, and high expectations, unbounded indulgence in what he likes, and keen resentments against all that would disappoint him. Each confirms the other in this way of thinking and acting. That we see one another miserable by it, nay feel ourselves to be so, this avails not: we go on still, and scarce any one hath the courage to trust himself, and call the judgment of mankind in question. If it must be so then, let that point be insisted on no longer. But be the happiness of this life what it will; yet if this life be not all, if it be but a small part of what we are concerned in, it will deserve but a small part of our attention. And looking on human affairs in this light, will soon place before us a very different scene, from that which usually attracts our eye. Here we are pursuing pleasures, riches, rank, power, some imagination or another, belonging solely to this present state of things, as our great good : our whole hearts are engaged and overwhelmed in fears and hopes and joys and sorrows, arising from these objects, and nothing else for any continuance affects them. Yet all the while, this present state, and every thing in it, is confessedly a trifle, compared to that eternal one, which is to follow. What are we about then, and how unaccountably do we deceive ourselves! We are not really miserable, if things go contrary to our wishes here: we are not truly happy, if they go according to them. This world looks considerable, because its objects are near and glaring: but it deludes us. The whole that we have to do with it, is the least and meanest part of the business of our existence : and the time will come, when we shall see its enjoyments and its sufferings, all it can promise or threaten, to be nothing; and that the difference between having gone through it in prosperous or adverse circumstances, is not worth mentioning. Now what we shall see to be true hereafter, is true at present: and we should endeavour to be affected by it accordingly. If we were, we should be little affected by any thing besides : but should pass our days in a happy calm; and pity those, who voluntarily fill theirs with disturbance and hurry; walk in a vain shadow, and disquiet themsewes in vain *.
But the thought of a future state hath a yet farther and stronger influence in this case. The felicity of it is provided for those only, who have made themselves fit for it, through the help of God's grace, by an innocent behaviour, and religious frame of soul; neither of which is consistent with being attached, and given up, to the things here below. A heart and affections tied down to them, will grow like them : become earthly and base, insensible of pious and virtuous movements, unmeet for the inheritance of the saints in light t. If any man love the world inordinately, the love of the Father is not in him f. They are different spirits, thwarting each other continually: and we have only to choose, of which we will be; for of both we cannot.
And it is a most weighty consideration towards determining our choice, that the time which we have, either for busying and gratifying ourselves here, or preparing for hereafter, is of small duration. For the Lord is at hand. All that we can hope or dread, enjoy or suffer, in the present state, will soon be over, possibly very soon: and all that we can do to qualify us for the next, how much soever we want, must * Ps. xxxix. 9 + Col. i. 12. # 1 John ü. 15.
be done in a very short space of time. The holy and self-denying Jesus, who expects and will assist us to imitate him, but will cast us off entirely if we neglect it, he hath said, Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works shall be *. The truth of these things we all know; the consequences of them we all must see; and no words can make them plainer.
Not that either the affections or the appetites of our nature are to be extirpated, but only confined within due bounds. The necessaries of each one's condition in life are still to be provided, because they are necessaries. The duties, which we owe to each other here, are diligently to be done, because they are duties. The comforts of life too, as they ought to be thankfully received, may doubtless be cheerfully used. Nay even as to the lighter amusements, if we make them not a business, but a relaxation only, at fit times, and in a fit degree; since our infirmity may demand a little of them, that little cannot but be lawful. It is in truth, if we would consider justly, a very humbling reflexion to think we need them: but since we do, so much as we need must be innocent. And to perplex ourselves with scruples about small matters of this kind, would be at once distrusting the goodness of God, instead of enjoying it properly; and making our lives uneasy to ourselves, and religion unamiable to others. But though errors on this side ought to be mentioned, and are very pitiable when they happen; yet they are far from being common. It is the opposite extreme that mankind in general wants to be guarded against. Let us then remember that whatever lengths we go in the indulgence of any inclination beyond what is on one account or another plainly requisite, we should be sure to proceed with serious caution : for human virtue is very weak, and the solicitations of things present very powerful. In reason indeed they are of small moment: but in fact we find it infinitely difficult to sit loose to them, and reserve our souls for worthier objects. Take heed therefore to yourselves, that you say not in your hearts, my Lord delayeth his coming, and either begin to smite your fellow servants, or to eat and drink with the drunken: take heed, lest your hearts be overcharged with the cares or the pleasures, the resentments or the sorrows, of this life ; and that day come upon you unawares*. For this I say, brethren, the time is short. It remaineth, that they that weep, be as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as though they used it not. For the fashion of this world passeth away t.
* Rev. xxii. 12.