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becomes almost insurmountable. In this manner the suppliant finds the world intruding into his prayers; and, when his petitions are ascending to heaven, often perceives his thoughts lagging behind them upon earth. In this manner the sacred season of the Sabbath, even to those who intend to keep it holy, and to turn away their feet from finding their own pleasure, becomes a day half religious and half secular; the soul now struggling to lift its thoughts to God, and to seek eternal life ; and now busily employed in reviewing its bargains, counting its gains, lamenting its losses, planning its business, or projecting its amusements. In the house of God, the prayer and the psalm are by the mind in this state taken up by fragments, while many, and those often long, parentheses intervene, in which it wanders to the ends of the earth after worldly objects. The sermon, also, is half heard, and half unnoticed, and very commonly all forgotten. In this manner even Christians themselves carry much of the week into the Sabbath, and but little of the Sabbath into the week.
The effect of this state of things is truly unhappy. The * interests of the soul are rarely remembered and scarcely felt.
The impressions made by religious objects are few, feeble, and transient. The precepts and doctrines, the warnings and reproofs of the Scriptures barely touch the mind; and, instead of entering deep into its affections, only skim over its surface. For a person thus situated, how little hope can be rationally indulged ? Hardly can he be said even to have an ear to hear, or a heart to understand. Instead of striving to enter in at the strait gate, he can scarcely be supposed to know where it is.
From these evils, unless you choose to encounter them, you are in a great measure exempted. Your proper business is attended with no uncertainty, and demands no contrivance on your part, no solicitude concerning the means of performing it, or the success with which it may be attended. It returns with perfect regularity ; is always done in a stated manner ; and, when thus done, is of course successful. Thus you
have not only leisure hours returning daily, which you may devote to religious attainments, but also minds at leisure for every religious pursuit,—thoughts which may be easily occupied, affections which may be easily engaged about your eternal welfare. !
Youth is also the best season for the performance of this duty, because it is the season at which it will be most acceptably performed. The fact, that these books of Solomon were written peculiarly for the benefit of those who are young, is itself ample proof of this position. We know, also, that youth is, in the ordinary course of nature, as much less corrupted than middle age, as that age than declining years. The beauty of early piety is often acknowledged, even by sinners; and is regarded with peculiar delight by good men. From the manner in which the Scriptures speak of Joseph, Samuel, Abijah, Jabez, Josiah, and Timothy, there is abundant reason to believe, that it is an object of peculiar complacency to the eye of God.
At the same time, the greatest possible opportunity will in this manner be enjoyed for serving God extensively; if we live to the utmost date of human life, of serving him long; if not, of serving him through the utmost period which will be in our power.
All men will hereafter be rewarded according to their works. The servant who, in the parable, with his pound gained ten pounds, was made ruler over ten cities ; while he who gained five, was made ruler only of five cities. The person who bers his Creator in the days of his youth, and who thus possesses the greatest opportunity of serving him, will of course entitle himself to a superior and very glorious reward, because he has served God more than other men. This, however, is far from being his whole advantage. He will serve him better, as well as longer. He will have fewer sins of which he must repent, and for which he must answer at the final day; weaker passions and appetites to overcome ; feebler temptations to resist, and fewer obstinate habits to break down. Hence he will backslide more rarely, and make a more regular progress in the Christian life. He will have less to lament on a dying bed, and more to rehearse with comfort and hope in his final account.
Thirdly, Future seasons will be comparatively unfavourable to this duty.
Every day you neglect this duty, you will advance in sin. You began to sin against God when you began to exert moral agency. From that time, your sins have increased both in number and degree. The mass must therefore have been sufficiently accumulated to alarm any eye, not already blinded by profligacy. Think then, I beseech you, to what a size it will spread, and to what a height it will grow, if you continue to heap up iniquity to old age; and what will be the record of your lives, when the books shall be opened, out of which you will be judged.
At the same time, by continuing to sin, you regularly harden your hearts against reformation. The very gratifications by which you have been tempted to evil become more and more loved, because they have been loved long, and enjoyed often. Thus the sot relishes ardent spirits much more intensely than he did in the early stages of his career of intemperance; and is with far more difficulty withdrawn, if indeed he can be at all withdrawn, from this fatal indulgence of his taste.
But this is not all. We love practices as truly as the objects for which they are adopted. The thief loves to steal, as truly as he loves the object which he has stolen. The
gambler loves to game, as truly as the stake for which he games. The employment, in each case, is as truly relished as the expected gain ; and is the more relished the longer it is continued, and the oftener it is repeated. Thus the profane person loves to swear and curse, though he gains nothing by it. Thus the liar loves to lie, though he is sure of being a loser: and the Sabbath-breaker to violate the Sabbath at the expense of his character and his soul. In this manner are formed those which we call evil habits, the effect of which is, universally, to harden the heart, to fix the soul in a course of sin, and to hurry it onward towards perdition. Even this is not all. You will also harden
You will also harden your hearts by self-justification. It is impossible for the mind to fail of being uneasy, when the conscience reproaches it with its sins. At first this uneasiness is great and distressing; because the
conscience is then tender, and strongly susceptible of moral impressions. From the sufferings which it is thus compelled to endure, the mind naturally seeks for relief; and gradually finds it in arguments, employed to annihilate, or at least to lessen, its guilt ; in sport and ridicule summoned to fritter it away ; and in examples which quiet its fears, and strengthen for future perpetrations. That which can be defended, or even palliated, always appears less alarming, than when it was thought absolutely indefensible. That which can be laughed at, ceases to alarm at all : and that which is done by others, it is readily believed, may be done by one's self with some degree of safety. To be no worse than others is, in the view of most persons, to be in no very dangerous or distressing circumstances,
Thus, although the soul was terrified by the first sin, yet with these sources of justification in its possession, it becomes quiet under the second, proceeds familiarly to the third, and cheerfully commits the fourth.
While all these causes thus contribute to harden the heart, it derives, also, not a little consolation and support from the consideration, that neither its own sins, nor those of others around it, are either generally or obviously punished. All things in this world substantially come alike to all ; and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. For this reason no man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him. This, indeed, furnishes no solid reason why any man should encourage himself in sin. For, though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet shall it not be well with the wicked, nor with him any more than with the rest of the wicked. Yet it is true at the present day, no less than in the time of Solomon, that, because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the * heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. To most persons the consciousness of safety, even now, becomes the foundation of a strong and supporting hope, that they shall be safe hereafter.
On all these accounts, the periods of life which succeed youth, and that of old age especially, are, as they are styled
in the text, evil days,—not only uncomfortable, but peculiarly unfavourable to the duty of remembering God, and the attainment of salvation.
Fourthly, These seasons may never arrive.
You have already seen that, if they should actually arrive, and you should live to old age, your prospects of performing this duty would continually lessen. The danger is not only real but great, that your views of all spiritual objects would become more erroneous; your meditations on them more unfrequent and uninteresting ; your affections more obtuse and worldly; your hearts more callous to religious impressions ; your consciences more enervated ; your thoughts more distracted both by business and pleasure; and your hopes more dim, distant, and fading.
But what right have you to satisfy yourselves, that such seasons will ever arrive to you? The uncertainty of human life is so palpable, that, independently of the immense importance of the subject, all observations concerning it would long since have ceased to interest the mind, and become as dull and tedious, as a string of vulgar proverbs. It is written in almost every chapter of the Bible. It is inscribed by the finger of God on almost every page of his providence.
Nor is life less uncertain to youth than to manhood; nor to the most promising youths than to the dullest ; nor to the gayest, than to the most gloomy; nor to those, who assure themselves of the most days, and the best, than to the disconsolate and desponding.
Go to yonder burying-ground, and read the inscriptions engraved on the monuments of the dead. How often will you find them announcing, that those who sleep beneath entered these solitary chambers in the morning of life. How often have you yourselves already followed to the tomb the young, the sprightly, the sportive, your own companions in life, nay your own friends, and seen them lodged in the dark and narrow house ! How often have you seen them in the midst of cheerfulness and activity, in the full possession of health and vigour, full of hopes, and gay with brilliant prospects, promising themselves long life in the sprightliest career of plea