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Some sort of apology may be framed for them who seek to extract from the world, pleasure of one kind or other. But for those who know no pleasure, farther than adding house to house, and field to field, and calling them their own, it is hardly possible to frame any apology. Such persons are idolaters of the worst kind; for they have made the world their God. They daily worship and bow down before it ; and hold nothing to be mean or base, which can promote the enlargement of their fortune. He is an abuser of the world, let his possession of it be ever so ample, who knows nothing higher than the gains of the world. He is an abuser of the world, who sacrifices probity, virtue, or humanity, to its interests. He is an abuser of the world, who cannot occasionally retreat from it, to consider what character he bears in the sight of God; and to what issue his conduct will bring him at last. In a word, the world is then properly used, when it is generously and beneficially enjoyed; neither hoarded up by avarice, nor squandered by ostentation.
III. THE world is abused, by those who employ its advantages to the injury or oppression of their brethren. Under this class are included the worst and most criminal abusers of the world; who turn against their fellow-creatures those advantages with which it has pleased Heaven to distinguish them. It is a class which comprehends the sovereign who tyrannises over his people; the great man who depresses his dependants; the master who is cruel to his servants; every one, in fine, who renders his superiority of any kind, whether of wealth or power, innecessarily grievous to those who are his inferiours;
whose superciliousness dejects the modest; whose insolence tramples on the poor; whose rigour makes the widow and the orphan weep. Persons of this character, while thus abusing the advantages of the world, may, for a while, enjoy their triumph. But let them not think their triumph is always to last. Their turn shall come to be humbled as low as those whom they now oppress. For there is a vigilant eye in the heavens, attentive to observe their procedure. There is an impartial ear which listens to every just complaint preferred against them. There is an irresistible arm stretched over their heads, whose weight they shall one day feel. The sovereign of the universe characterises himself in the sacred writings, as peculiarly an adversary to the insolent and haughty. For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. * I will come near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right. He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker. ‡ The Lord will plead their cause; and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them. S
After hearing these awful words, is it not strange, O men, at once infatuated and cruel! that you cannot use the world without abusing it to the distress of your brethren? brethren? Even supposing no punishment
to be threatened, no arm to be lifted up against you, is there nothing within you that relents at the cir
* Psalm xii. 5.`
+ Malachi, iii. 5
§ Prov. xxii. 23.
cumstances of those below you in the world? Is it not enough, that they suffer their own hard fate, without its being aggravated by your severity and oppression? Why must the aged, the poor, and the friendless, tremble at your greatness? Cannot you be happy, unless you make them eat their scanty morsel in bitterness of heart? You happy!-profane not the word-what is such happiness as yours, compared with that of him who could say, When the ear heard me, then it blessed me: and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me; because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. I was a father to the poor. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow's heart to sing for *joy. How properly did such a man use the world, and with what just honour did he flourish in it! Unto me men gave ear; they kept silence, and waited for my counsel. The princes refrained talking. The aged rose and stood up. My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay upon my branch. Not only unknown to you are such pleasures of virtuous prosperity; but even previous to prepared punishment, be assured, that remorse is approaching to wring your hearts. Of the world, which you now abuse, in a short time nothing shall remain, but the horror arising from remembered crimes. The wages you have detained, the wealth you have squeezed from the needy, shall lie heavy on your souls. The stately buildings which your pride has erected, by means of violence and oppression, shall seem haunted by injured ghosts. The stone shall cry
* Job, xxix. 9 — 21.
out of the wall; and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. * When you lie on the bed of death, the poor whom you have oppressed, shall appear to you as gathered together; stretching forth their hands, and lifting up their voices against you, at the tribunal of Heaven. I have seen the wicked great in power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree. But he passed away, and was not. I sought him, but he could not be found. They are brought down to desolation in a moment, and utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. +
THUS I have shown what it is to use and what to abuse the world. When, according to our different stations, we enjoy the advantages of the world with propriety and decency; temperate in our pleasures; moderate in our pursuits of interest; mindful of our duty to God, and at the same time, just, humane, and generous to our brethren; then, and then only, we use the world, as becomes men and Christians. Within these limits, we may safely enjoy all the comforts which the world affords, and our station allows. But if we pass beyond these boundaries, into the regions of disorderly and vicious pleasure, of debasing covetousness or of oppressive insolence, the world will then serve only to corrupt our minds, and to accelerate our ruin. The licentious, the avaricious, and the insolent, form the three great classes of abusers of the world.
Let not those who are in wealthy and flourishing circumstances, complain of the restraints which reli
*Habak. ii. 11.
+ Psalm xxvii. 35. lxxiii. 19
gious doctrine attempts to impose on their enjoyments. For, to what do these restraints amount? To no more than this, that, by their pleasures, they would neither injure themselves, nor injure others. We call not on the young, to relinquish their gaiety; nor on the rich, to forego their opulence; nor on the great, to lay aside their state. We only call on them, not to convert gaiety into licentiousness; nor to employ opulence in mere extravagance; nor to abuse greatness for the oppression of their inferiours: While they enjoy the world, not to forget that they are the subjects of God, and are soon to pass into another state. Let the motive by which the Apostle enforces the exhortation in the text, present itself to their thought; Use this world as not abusing it; for the fashion of the world passeth away. Its pomp and its pleasures, its riches, magnificence, and glory, are no more than a transient show. Every thing that we here enjoy, changes, decays, and comes to an end. All floats on the surface of a river, which, with swift current, is running towards a boundless ocean. Beyond this present scene of things, above those sublunary regions, we are to look for what is permanent and stable. The world passes away; but God, and heaven, and virtue, continue unchangeably the same. We are soon to enter into eternal habitations; and into these, our works shall follow us. The consequences shall for ever remain of the part which we have acted as good or bad men; as faithful subjects of God, or as servants of a vain world.