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peculiar to this affair! The debauchee will not expect happiness in mortification and devotion, nor the prodigal in hoarding up useless wealth ; and yet thus absurdly will they act in their expectations of heaven!
V. And lastly, Is it not the greatest madness to be more concerned about the affairs of time than those of eternity ?
It is plain to any man in his senses, that the happiness and misery which are extreme, and which shall endure forever, are of infinitely greater importance than all the enjoyments and all the sufferings of this transitory state. And you will hardly meet with any man but will own this to be his belief. But, alas ! into what consternation may it strike us, when we survey the conduct of the generality! Are they as much concerned about the eternal world to which they are hastening, as to the concerns of time? Are they as laborious and zealous to obtain everlasting happiness as to gain the riches of this world, or to gratify their sensual appetites ? Are they as solicitous to avoid everlasting misery as to shun sickness, poverty, or any temporal calamity! Are they as cautious of sinning, which ruins their souls forever, as of drinking poison, which may endanger their health or temporal life! Do not many of you know it is quite the reverse with you! Are not the concerns of this life the principal objects of your thoughts, your cares, and labours! And what can be a more consummate folly! You practi. cally prefer a trifle of an hour to a substantial good of endless duration. You are careless about everlasting torment, and yet cautiously shun the light sufferings of a few moments. It matters not what you think, or say in this matter; it is your practice that determines the affair ; and does not that shew that time outweighs a vast eternity with you? And what can be more absurd ! If you should throw away an estate to obtain a farthing, if you should run upon a drawn sword to escape a prickle, if you should prefer pebbles to crowns and kingdoms, darkness to light, or one luxurious meal to the support of your whole life, it would not be so shocking a piece of madness.
I might give you many more instances of the madness of those who do not begin this wisdom with the fear of the Lord, but the inferences from the subject are so numerous and important, that I must reserve the rest of the time for them,
1. Since there is so much folly in the world in matters of religion, how astonishing is it that it is not universally contemned and ridiculed, or pitied and lamented ! If men act a foolish part in
other things, they soon furnish matter of laughter and contempt to the gay and witty part of mankind; and the thoughtful and benev. olent view them with compassion. But let them act ever so fool. ishly in the concerns of eternity, there is hardly any notice taken of it; the absurdity is no way shocking; nay, the generality commend their conduct by imitating it themselves ; and if any are so wise as to find fault with this madness, they are termed fools themselves, and the general laugh is turned against them. How unaccountable is this, that men who act prudently in other things, and are easily shocked with a mad and frantic behaviour, can view the folly of mankind in this respect without horror, or perhaps with approbation! The only reason for it is, that the generality are madmen in this respect, and the folly is approved because it is common. To be singularly wise is to be foolish, in the opinion of the world ; and to be fools with the multitude, is the readiest way to get the reputation of wisdom. They prove religion to be folly, by a majority of votes ; and as many who are fools in this affair are wise in other respects, their judgment is implicitly submit. ted to. But, pray, Sirs, use your own reason, and judge impar. tially for yourselves, and I am sure you must see the wild absurdity of their conduct. Be nobly singular in beginning wisdom with the fear of the Lord ; and whatever others think of you now, God, angels, and good men will applaud your wisdom : and even those who now ridicule it, will approve of it at last.
2. With what an ill grace do the irreligious contemn and des pise those that make religion their great concern, as weak, silly creatures ! Sinners, let your own reason determine, can there be any thing more foolish than your own behaviour ? And does it become you to brand others with the odium of folly ? Alas ! you have reason to turn your contempt upon yourselves, and to be struck with horror at your own wilful stupidity. Do you set your. selves up as the standards of wisdom, who want sense to keep out of everlasting ruin? Are you wise men, who throw away your eternal happiness for the trifles of time? No, they only are wise who are wise for eternity. You may excel them in a thousand things; nature may have favoured you with a better genius ; you may have had a more liberal education ; you may be better acquainted with men and books ; you may manage your secular affairs with more discretion ; in such things you may be wiser than many of them. But they are wise for eternity! they have sense to escape everlasting burnings ! they have wisdom to ob
tain eternal happiness! and this is a more important piece of wisdom than all your acquisitions. The wisdom of Solomon, of socrates, or Plato, is the wildest madness without this. How absurd is it therefore for you, without this, to arrogate the character of men of wisdom, or even of common sense !
3. How absurd is it for men to pretend they will not turn their thoughts to religion, lest it should make them melancholy or dis. tracted ? Alas! sinners, you cannot be more so than you are already ; and you will never come to yourselves till, with the prodigal, you determine to return to your father's house. And will you continue fools through the fear of becoming such ? I can assure you I would rather be the wildest frantic in Bedlam, than be that wretch who ruins his soul for fear of running mad by thinking of it.
4. If the fear of the Lord, religion, is the perfection of wisdom, how unreasonably does the world charge it with making people mad? There are multitudes that lose their senses by excessive sorrows and anxieties about some temporal affair ; many more than by religion ; and yet they never fall out with the world on this account. But when any one, that seemed thoughtful about religion, loses his senses, then religion be sure must bear all the blame ; and sinners are glad to catch at such a handle to expose it. Melancholy persons are wont to derive terrors from every thing in their reach ; and, among other things, will pore upon all those doctrines of religion that can affright them. But this melancholy, as such, is a bodily disorder, and therefore has no more religion in it than a fever or a consumption. It is indeed very possible that too intense application of the mind to divine things, with a deep concern about our everlasting state, may be the occasion of melancholy ; but there is nothing peculiar in this ; let the mind be excessively attentive to any thing, it will have the same effect. How many disorders do men contract by their eager pursuit of the world ? and yet the world is their favourite still. But if one here and there suffers by occasion of religion, O! they bless themselves from it, and think it is a terrible gloomy thing. Those that are pious, let me tell you, are many of them much superior to the wisest of us in all accomplishments; and they are generally as far from madness as their neighbours. Therefore drop this senseless slander, and be yourselves holy, if you would be truly wise.
5. Since men are such fools in matters of religion, since they censure it with so much severity and contempt, how astonishing is it that God should send down that divine, heaven-born thing, religion, into our world, where it is so much neglected and abused! Where the celestial guest meets with but few hearts that will en. tertain it ; where its professors neglect it, contradict it, and by their practice call it madness; and where even its friends and subjects frequently treat it very unkindly! What astonishing condescension and grace is it, that God has not left our mad world to themselves, since they are so averse to be reclaimed ! But lo! he hath sent his Son, he hath instituted the gospel, and a thousand means of grace, to bring them to themselves !
6. And lastly, Hence we may infer, that human nature is exceedingly depraved and disordered. I think this is as plain as any disorder incident to the body. Men are universally indisposed as to religion ; and on this account our world is, as a great genius calls it, the Bedlam of the universe.' The same natural faculties, the same understanding, will, and affections, that render us able to act with prudence in the affairs of this life, are also sufficient for the affairs of religion ; but, alas ! with regard to this, they are disordered, though they exercise themselves aright about other things. They can acquire the knowledge of languages and sciences; but, alas ! they have no disposition to know God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent.They understand how to trade, and carry on schemes for this world ; but they will not act wisely for eternity. They have sense enough not to run into the fire, or to drink poison ; but they will run on in the ways of sin to everlasting misery. They will ask the way when they have lost themselves ; but how hard is it to bring them to inquire, What shall I do to be saved? They will ask help for their bodies from their fellow-creatures, but how hard is it to bring them in the posture of earnest petitioners to ask immortal blessings for their souls from God! In short, they can contrive with prudence, and act with vigour, courage, and perseverance, in the affairs of time; but in the concerns of religion and eternity they are ignorant, stupid, languid, and careless. And how can we account for this, but by supposing that they are degenerate creatures, and that their nature has suffered a dreadful shock by the first fall, which has deprived them of their senses ? Alas ! this is a truth too evident to be denied !
REJECTION OF CHRIST A COMMON, BUT MOST UNREASONABLE
MARK XII. 6.-Having yet therefore one Son, his well-beloved, ho
sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my Son.
THERE is no sin more common or more pernicious in the christian world, than an unsuitable reception of Jesus Christ and the gospel. It is not only the sin of professed unbelievers and profane scoffers, but it often hides itself under the cloak of religion, and a profession of faith. It is of so subtle a nature, that it is often unsuspected, even by those who are destroyed by it: and it is of so deadly a nature, that nothing can save a soul under the power of it. A soul that has the offer of Christ and the gospel, and yet neglects him, is certainly in a perishing condition, whatever good works, whatever amiable qualities or appearances of virtue it may be adorned with. If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lo81. He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 2 Cor. iv. 3. John iii. 18.
This was the sin of the Jews in Christ's time, and this brought temporal and eternal ruin upon them. To represent this sin in a convictive light, is the primary design of this parable.
The blessed God had chosen the Jews, out of the world, to be his peculiar people, and distinguished them with the gracious privileges of his church. Hence they are represented as his vineyard, enclosed from the wilderness of the world, and furnished with every thing necessary to render it fruitful. And hence God is represented as expecting fruit from them, as a man expects it from his vineyard ; which intimates the reasonableness of their obedience : it is what any one would expect, who would judge by what is due and reasonable. But it does not intimate that God does properly look for or expect what will never come to pass ; for the certainty and universality of his fore-knowledge excludes all possibility of a disappointment. It is speaking to us in our own language, which we are most likely to understand ; but it must be explained agreeably to the perfection of the nature