« PreviousContinue »
to have restored the soul to its primitive superiority, to have crucified the "body of sin," to lead it in triumph, and to destroy, that is to annihilate it, according to an expression of Scripture, and so to approach those pure spirits, in whom the motions of matter can make no alteration!
The disorders produced by the passions in the imagination, and against which also we ought to furnish you with some remedies, are like those complicated disorders, which require opposite remedies, because they are the effect of opposite causes, so that the means employed to diminish one part not unfrequently increase another. It should seem at first, that the best remedy which can be applied to disorders introduced by the passions into the imagination, is well to consider the nature of the objects of the passions, and thoroughly to know the world: and yet on the other hand, it may truly be said, that the most certain way of succeeding would be to know nothing at all about the world. If you know the pleasures of the world, if you know by experience the pleasure of gratifying a passion, you will fall into the misfortune we wish you to avoid; you will receive bad impressions; you will acquire dangerous recollections, and a seducing memory will be a new occasion of sin: but if you do not know the pleasures of the world, you will be likely to form ideas too flattering of it, you will create images more beautiful than the originals themselves, and by the immense value you set upon the victim, when you are just going to offer it up perhaps you will retreat, and not make the sacrifice. Hence we often see persons whom the superstition or avarice of their families has in childhood confined in a nunnery (suppose it were allowable in other cases, yet in this case done prematurely,) I say, these persons not knowing the world, wish for its pleasures with more ardour than if they had actually experienced them. So they who have never been in company with the great, generally imagine that their society is full of charms, that all is pleasure in their company, and that a circle of rich and fashionable people sitting in an elegant apartment is far more lively and animated than one composed of people of inferior rank, and middling fortune. Hence also it is, that they, who, after having lived a dissipated life, have the rare happiness of renouncing it, do so with more sincerity than others, who never knew the vanity of such a life by experience. So very different are the remedies for disorders of the imagination.
But as in complicated disorders, to which we have compared them, a wise physician chiefly attends to the most dangerous complaint, and distributes his remedies so as to counteract those which are less fatal, we will observe the same method on this occasion. Doubtless the most dangerous way to obtain a contempt for the pleasures of the world, is to get an experimental knowledge of them, in order to detach ourselves more easily from them by the thoough sense we have of their vanity. We hazard a fall by approaching too near, and such very often is the ascendancy of the world over us, that we cannot detach ourselves from it though we are disgusted with it. Let us endeavour then to preserve our imagination pure;
let us abstain from pleasures to preclude the possibility of remembering them; let retirement, and, if it be practicable, perpetual privacy, from the moment we enter into the world to the day we quit it, save us from all bad impressions, so that we may never know the effects which worldly objects would produce in our passions. This method, sure and effectual, is useless and impracticable in regard to such as have received bad impressions on their imagination. People of this character ought to pursue the second method we mentioned, that is to profit by their losses, and derive wisdom from their errors. When you recollect sin, you may remember the folly and pain of it. Let the courtier whose imagination is yet full of the vain glory of a splendid court, remember the intrigues he has known there, the craft, the injustice, the treachery, the dark and dismal plans that are formed and executed there.
I would advise such a man, when his passions solicit him to sin, to call in the aid of some other idea to strike and affect his imagination. Let him inake choice of that out of the truths of religion which seems most likely to impress his mind, and let him learn the art of instantly opposing impression against impression, and image against image; for example, let him often fix his attention on death, judgment, and hell; let him often say to himself, I must die soon, I must stand before a severe tribunal, and appear in the presence of an impartial judge; let him go down in thought into that gulf, where the wicked expiate in eternal torments their momentary pleasures; let him think he hears the sound of the piercing cries of the victims whom divine justice sacrifices in hell: let him often weigh in his mind the "chains of darkness" that load miserable creatures in hell; let him often approach the fire that consumes them; let him, so to speak, scent the smoke that rises up for ever and ever; let him often think of eternity, and place himself in that awful moment, in which "the angel will lift up his hand to heaven, and swear by him that liveth for ever and ever, that there shall be time no longer," Rev. x. 5, 6; and let the numerous reflections furnished by all these subjects be kept as corps de reserve, always ready to fly to his aid, when the enemy approaches to attack him.
In fine, to heal the disorders which the passions produce in the heart, two things must be done. First, the vanity of all the creatures must be observed; and this will free us from the desire of possessing and collecting the whole in order to fill up the void which single enjoyments leave. Secondly, we must ascend from creatures to the Creator, in order to get rid of the folly of attributing to the world the perfection and sufficiency of God.
Let us free our hearts from an avidity for new pleasures by comprehending all creatures in our catalogue of vanities. I allow, inconstancy, and love of novelty are in some sense rational. It is natural for a being exposed to trouble to choose to change his condition, and as that in which he is yields certain trouble, to try whether another will not be something easier. It is natural to a man who has found nothing but imperfect pleasure in former enjoyments, to desire new objects. The most noble souls, the greatest geniuses, the largest hearts
between the motions of my senses and agreeable sensations in my soul, it is God who has established the union between motion and sensation. The particles emitted by this flower could not necessarily move the nerves of my smell, it is God who has established this law; the motion of my smelling nerves cannot naturally excite a sensation of agreeable odour in my soul, it is God who has established this union; and so of the rest. God is supreme happiness, the source from which all the charmis of creatures proceed. He is the light of the sun, the flavour of food, the fragrance of odours, the harmony of sounds, he is whatever is capable of producing real pleasure, because he eminently possesses all felicity, and because all kinds of felicity flow from him as their spring. Because we love pleasure we ought to love God, from whom pleasure proceeds; because we love pleasure we ought to abstain from it, when God prohibits it, because he is infinitely able to indemnify us for all the sacrifices we make to his orders. To ascend from creatures to the Creator is the last remedy we prescribe for the disorders of the passions. Great duties they are: but they are founded on strong motives.
Of these St. Peter mentions one of singular efficacy, that is, that we are "strangers and pilgrims" upon earth. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." The believers to whom the apostle wrote this epistle, were "strangers and pilgrims" in three senses-as exiles-as Christians-and as mortals.
have often the most inconstancy and love of novelty, because the extent of their capacity and the space of their wishes make them feel more than other men, the diminutiveness and incompetency of all creatures. But the misfortune is, man cannot change his situation without entering into another almost like that from which he came. Let us persuade ourselves that there is nothing substantial in creatures, that all conditions, besides characters of vanity common to all human things, have some imperfections peculiar to themselves. If you rise out of obscurity, you will not have the troubles of obscurity, but you will have those of conspicuous stations; you will make talk for every body, you will be exposed to envy, you will be responsible to each individual for your conduct. If you quit solitude, you will not have the troubles of solitude, but you will have those of society; you will live under restraint, you will lose your liberty, inestimable liberty, the greatest treasure of mankind, you will have to bear with the faults of all people connected with you. If heaven gives you a family, you will not have the troubles of such as have none, but you will have others necessarily resulting from domestic connexions; you will multiply your miseries by the number of your children, you will fear for their fortune, you will be in pain about their health, and you will tremble for fear of their death. My brethren, I repeat it again, there is nothing substantial in this life. Every condition has difficulties of its own as well as the common inanity of all human things. If, in some sense, nothing ought to surprise us less than the inconstancy of mankind and their love of novelty, in another view, nothing ought to astonish us more, at least there is nothing more weak and senseless. A man who thinks to remedy the vanity of earthly things by run-mentators are divided. Some think they were ning from one object to another, is like him, Jews who had been carried out of their country who, in order to determine whether there be in in divers revolutions under Tiglath Pileser, a great heap of stones any one capable of nou- Salmaneser, Nebuchadnezzar, and Ptolemy. rishing him, should resolve to taste them all Others think they were the Jewish Christians one after another. Let us shorten our labour. who fled on account of the martyrdom of SteLet us put all creatures into one class. Let us phen. Certain it is these Christians were cry, vanity in all. If we determine to pursue strangers and probably exiles for religion. Now new objects, let us choose such as are capable people of this character have special motives to of satisfying us. Let us not seek them here govern their passions. below. They are not to be found in this old world, which God has cursed. They are in the "new heavens, and the new earth," which religion promises. To comprehend all creatures in a catalogue of vanities is an excellent rule to heal the heart of the disorders of passion. Next we must frequently ascend from creatures to the Creator, and cease to consider them as the supreme good. We intend here a devotion of all times, places, and circumstances; for, my brethren, one great source of depravity in the most eminent saints is to restrain the spirit of religion to certain times, places, and circumstances. There is an art of glorifying God by exercising religion every where. "Whether ye Besides, the people commonly judge of merit eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to by fortune, and as fortune and banishment selthe glory of God," 1 Cor. x. 13. Do you enjoy dom go together, popular prejudice seldom runs the pleasures of sense? Say to yourself, God high in favour of exiles. Jealousy views them is the author of this pleasure. The nourish- with a suspicious eye, malice imputes crimes to ment I derive from my food is not necessarily them, injustice accuses them for public calamiproduced by aliments, they have no natural ties. we will not enlarge. Let an power to move my nerves, God has communi- inviolable fidelity to the state, an 'unsuspected cated it to them; there is no necessary connexion | love to government, an unreserved conformity
1. As exiles. This epistle is addressed to such strangers as were scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. But who were these strangers? Com
Strangers are generally very little beloved in the place of their exile. Although rational people treat them with hospitality; though nature inspires some with respect for the wretched of every character; though piety animates some with veneration for people firm in their religious sentiments; yet, it must be allowed, the bulk of the people usually see them with other eyes; they envy them the air they breathe, and the earth they walk on; they consider them as so many usurpers of their rights; and they think, that as much as exiles partake of the benefits of government, and the liberty of trade, so much they retrench from the portion of the natives.
to religion, silence accusation, and compel, so to speak, an esteem that is not natural and free. Moreover, religious exiles have given up a great deal for conscience, and they must choose either to lose the reward of their former labours, or to persevere. A man who has only taken a few easy steps in religion, if he let loose his passions, may be supposed rational in this, his life is all of a piece. He considers present interest as the supreme good, and he employs himself wholly in advancing his present interest, he lays down a principle, he infers a consequence, and he makes sin produce all possible advantage. An abominable principle certainly, but a uniform train of principle and consequence; a fatal advantage in a future state, but a real advantage in the present: but such a stranger as we have described, a man banished his country for religion, if he continues to gratify fleshly passions, is a contradictory creature, a sort of idiot, who is at one and the same time a martyr to vice and a martyr to virtue. He has the fatal secret of rendering both time and eternity wretched, and arming against himself heaven and earth, God and Satan, paradise and hell. On the one hand, for the sake of religion he quits every thing dear, and renounces the pleasure of his native soil, the society of his friends, family connexions, and every prospect of preferment and fortune; thus he is a martyr for virtue, by this he renders the present life inconvenient, and arms against himself the world, Satan, and hell. On the other hand, he stabs the practical part of religion, violates all the sacred laws of austerity, retirement, humility, patience, and love, all which religion most earnestly recommends; by so doing he becomes a martyr for sin, renders futurity miserable, and arms against himself God, heaven, and eternity. The same God who forbade superstition and idolatry, enjoined all the virtues we have enumerated, and prohibited every opposite vice. If men be determined to be damned, better go the broad than the narrow way. Who but a madman would attempt to go to hell by encountering the difficulties that lie in the way to heaven!
2. The believers to whom Peter wrote were strangers as Christians, and therefore strangers because believers. What is the fundamental maxim of the Christian religion? Jesus Christ told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world," John xviii. 36. This is the maxim of a Christian, the first great leading principle, "his kingdom is not of this world;" his happiness and misery, his elevation and depression, depend on nothing in this world.
The first principle is the ground of the apostle's exhortation. The passions destroy this maxim by supposing the world capable of making us happy or miserable. Revenge supposes our honour to depend on the world, on the opinion of those idiots who have determined that a man of honour ought to revenge an affront. Ambition supposes our elevation to depend on the world, that is, on the dignities which ambitious men idolize. Avarice supposes our riches depend on this world, on gold, silver, and estates.
These are not the ideas of a Christian. His honour is not of this world, it depends on the ideas of God, who is a just dispenser of glory. His elevation is not of this world, it depends on VOL. II.-11
thrones and crowns which God prepares. His riches are not of this world, they depend on treasures in heaven, where "thieves do not break through and steal," Matt. vi. 20. It is allowable for a man educated in these great principles, but whose infirmity prevents his always thinking on them; it is indeed allowable for a man, who cannot always bend his mind to reflection, meditation, and elevation above the world; it is indeed allowable for such a man sometimes to unbend his mind, to amuse himself with cultivating a tulip, or embellishing his head with a crown: but that this tulip, that this crown, should seriously occupy such a man; that they should take up the principal attention of a Christian, who has such refined ideas and such glorious hopes, this, this is entirely incompatible.
3. In fine, we are strangers and pilgrims by necessity of nature as mortal men. If this life were eternal, it would be a question whether it were more advantageous for man to gratify his passions than to subdue them; whether the tranquillity, the equanimity, the calm of a man perfectly free, and entirely master of himself, would not be preferable to the troubles, conflicts, and turbulence, of a man in bondage to his passions. Passing this question, we will grant, that were this life eternal, prudence and self-love, well understood, would require some indulgence of passion. In this case there would be an immense distance between the rich and the poor, and riches should be acquired; there would be an immense distance between the high and the low, and elevation should be sought; there would be an immense distance between him who mortified his senses, and him who gratified them, and sensual pleasures would be requisite.
But death, death renders all these things alike; at least, it makes so little difference between the one and the other, that it is hardly discernible. The most sensible motive therefore to abate the passions, is death. The tomb is the best course of morality. Study avarice in the coffin of a miser; this is the man who accumulated heap upon heap, riches upon riches, see a few boards enclose him, and a few square inches of earth contain him. Study ambition in the grave of that enterprising man; see his noble designs, his extensive projects, his boundless expedients are all shattered and sunk in this fatal gulf of human projects. Approach the tomb of the proud man, and there investigate pride; see the mouth that pronounced lofty expressions, condemned to eternal silence, the piercing eyes that convulsed the world with fear, covered with a midnight bloom, the formidable arm, that distributed the destinies of mankind, without motion and life. Go to the tomb of the nobleman, and there study quality; behold his magnificent titles, his royal ancestors, his flattering inscriptions, his learned genealogies, are all gone, or going to be lost with himself in the same dust. Study voluptuousness at the grave of the voluptuous; see, his senses are destroyed, his organs broken to pieces, his bones scattered at the grave's mouth, and the whole temple of sensual pleasure subverted from its foundations.
Here we finish this discourse. There is a
great difference between this and other subjects of discussion. When we treat of a point of doctrine, it is sufficient that you hear it, and remember the consequences drawn from it. When we explain a difficult text, it is enough that you understand it and recollect it. When we press home a particular duty of morality, it is sufficient that you apply it to the particular circumstance to which it belongs.
other enemies! Enable us to triumph over our passions as thou hast enabled us to succeed in levelling the walls of a city! Stretch out thy holy arm in our favour, in this church, as in the field of battle! So be the protector both of the state and the church, crown our efforts with such success, that we may offer the most noble songs of praise to thy glory. Amen.
But what regards the passions is of universal and perpetual use. We always carry the principles of these passions within us, and we should always have assistance at hand to subdue them. Always surrounded with objects of our passions, we should always be guarded against them. We should remember these things, when we see the benefits of fortune, to free ourselves from an immoderate attachment to them; before human grandeur to despise it; before sensual objects to subdue them; before our enemy, to forgive him; before friends, children, and families, to hold ourselves disengaged from them. We should always examine in what part of ourselves the passions hold their throne, whether in the mind, the senses, or the imagination, or the heart. We should always examine whether they have depraved the heart, defiled the imagination, perverted the senses, or blinded the mind. We should ever remember, that we are strangers upon earth, that to this our condition calls us, our religion invites us, and our nature compels us. But alas! It is this, it is this general influence, which these exhortations ought to have over our lives, that makes us fear we have addressed them to you in vain. When we treat of a point of doctrine, we may persuade ourselves it has been understood. When we explain a difficult text, we flatter ourselves we have thrown some light upon it. When we urge a moral duty, we hope the next occasion will bring it to your memory: and yet how often have we deceived ourselves on these articles! How often have our hopes been vain! How often have you sent us empty away, even though we demanded so little! What will be done to-day? Who that knows a little of mankind, can flatter himself that a discourse intended, in regard to a great number, to change all, to reform all, to renew all, will be directed to its true design!
But, O God, there yet remains one resource, it is thy grace, it is thine aid, grace that we have a thousand times turned into lasciviousness, and which we have a thousand times rejected; yet after all assisting grace, which we most humbly venture to implore. When we approach the enemy, we earnestly beseech thee, "teach our hands to war, and our fingers to fight!" When we did attack a town, we fervently besought thee to render it accessible to us! Our prayers entered heaven, our enemies fled before us, thou didst bring us into the strong city, and didst lead us into Edom, Ps. lx. 9. The walls of many a Jericho fell at the sound of our trumpets, at the sight of thine ark, and the approach of thy priest: but the old man is an enemy far more formidable than the best disciplined armies, and it is harder to conquer the passions than to beat down the walls of a city! O help us to subdue this old man, as thou hast assisted us to overcome
HOSEA vi. 4.
Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
THE church has seldom seen happier days than those described in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus. God had never diffused his benedictions on a people in a richer abundance. Never had a people gratitude more lively, piety more fervent. The Red Sea had been passed, Pharaoh and his insolent court were buried in the waves, access to the land of promise was opened, Moses had been admitted on the holy mountain to derive felicity from God the source, and sent to distribute it amongst his countrymen; to these choice favours promises of new and greater blessings were yet added, and God said, "ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me, above all people, although the earth be mine," ver. 4, 5. The people were deeply affected with this collection of miracles. Each individual entered into the same views, and seemed animated with the same passion, all hearts were united, and one voice expressed the sense of all the tribes of Israel, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do," ver. 8. But this devotion had one great defect, it lasted only forty days. In forty days the deliverance out of Egypt, the catastrophe of Pharoah, the passage through the sea, the articles of the covenant; in forty days vows, promises, oaths, all were effaced from the heart and forgotten. Moses was absent, the lightning did not glitter, the thunder claps did not roar, and the Jews "made a calf in Horeb, worshipped that molten image, and changed their glorious God into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass," Ps. cxi. 19, 20. It was this that drew upon Moses this cutting reproof from God, Go, said he to Moses, to that Moses always fervent for the salvation of his people, always ready to plead for them, "go, get thee down, for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them," Exod. xxxii. 7, 8. They
* Preached the first Lord's day of the year 1710. The Lord's Supper day.
have quickly turned aside, this is the great de-ferings to thee may be without repentance! O fect of their devotion, this is that which ren- that we may be able to reply, "the mountains ders all devotion incomplete. shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my fidelity shall never depart from thee, neither shall the dedication which I have made of myself to thee, ever be removed! I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments." Amen.
Do you know this portrait, my brethren? Has this history nothing in it like yours? Are any days more solemn than such as we observe in our present circumstances? Did God ever draw near to us with more favours than he has this day? Did we ever approach him with more fervour? On the one hand, the beginning of another year recalls to mind the serious and alarming discourses, which the ministers of Jesus Christ addressed to us on the last anniversary, the many strokes given, to whom? To the enemies of God? Alas! To the state and the church! Many cut off in the field of battle, many others carried away in the ordinary and inevitable course of things, many perils, in one word, with which we were threatened, but which thy mercy, O God, has freed us from! On the other hand this sacred table, these august symbols, these earnests of our eternal felicity, all these objects, do they not render this day one of the most singular in our lives?
If heaven has thus heard the earth (we are happy to acknowledge it, my brethren, and we eagerly embrace this opportunity of publishing your praise) the earth has heard the heaven. To judge by appearance, you have answered our wishes, and exceeded our hopes. You were exhorted to prepare for the Lord's supper, you did prepare for it. You were called to public worship, you came. You were exhorted to attend to the word of God, you did attend to it. You were required to form resolutions of a holy life, you made these resolutions. It seemed, while we saw you come with united ardour this morning to the table of Jesus Christ, it seemed as if we heard you say, with the Israelites of old, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do."
But we declare, my brethren, a cloud comes over the bright scene of this solemnity. I fear, shall I say the forty? alas, I fear the four succeeding days! These doors will be shut, this table will be removed, the voice of the servants of God will cease to sound in your ears, and I fear the Lord will say of you, "they have quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them."
Let us not content ourselves with foreseeing this evil, let us endeavour to prevent it. This is the design of the present discourse, in which we will treat of transient devotions. To you, in the name of God, we address the words, the tender words, which will occasion more reflections than they may seem at first to do, but which no reflections can exhaust, "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away."
O Almighty God! We humbly beseech thee, enable us in the offerings we make to thee to resemble thee in the favours which thou bestowest upon us! Thy gifts to us are without repentance, thy covenant with us contains this clause, "the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed. I have sworn that I will not be wroth with thee!" O that our of
"O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee?" Ephraim, Judah, are terms of the text that have very little need of explication. You know that the people of God were united in one state till the time of Jeroboam, when he rent apart from Rehoboam the son of Solomon, thus two kingdoms were constituted, that of Judah and that of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital city of Judah, and of Israel Samaria was the metropolis, and it is sometimes called Ephraim in Scripture. By Judah and Ephraim the prophet then means both these kingdoms. This wants no proof, and if there be any thing worth remarking on this occasion, it is that most interpreters, who are often the echoes of one another, describe the ministry of Hosea as directed only to the kingdom of Israel, whereas it is clear by the text, and by several other passages, that it was addressed both to Israel and Judah.
But of all unlucky conjectures, I question whether there be one more so than that of some divines, who think our text prophetical. In their opinion the goodness mentioned in the text is the mercy of God displayed in the gospel. The dew signifies Jesus Christ. The morning, "thy goodness is like the morning dew," intends the covenant of grace. As every one proposes his opinion under some appearance of evidence, it is said in favour of this, that the expression, thy goodness, does not signify the goodness of the people, but that which is manifested to the people, and in proof of this the idiom of the Hebrew tongue is alleged, with divers passages that justify this tour of expression, as this, "my people are bent to their backsliding," that is to backsliding from me. The dew, say they, signifies the Messiah, for he is promised under that emblem in many passages of Scripture. They add farther, the morning signifies the new dispensation of the gospel, which is often announced under this idea by the prophets, and all this text, "thy goodness is as the early dew which goeth away," opens a wonderful contrast between the law and the gospel. The law was like a storm of hail destroying the fruits of the earth, but the gospel is a dew that makes every thing fruitful. The law was a dark night, but the gospel was a fine day; "thy goodness is like the morning dew which goeth away," that is to say, which cometh. Here are many good truths out of place. Thy goodness may signify, for any thing we know, goodness exercised towards thee; the Messiah is represented as a dew; the gospel economy is promised under the emblem of the morning; all this is true, but all this is not the sense of the text. The word goodness, which is the first mistake of the exposition just now given, may be understood of piety in general. It has that meaning in many passages of Scripture. The substantive derived from it is usually put for pious persons, and