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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. - xxiii. 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. Everything 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
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,
On EXTREMES in RELIGIOUS and MORAL CONDUCT
PROVERBS, iv. 27.
Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left. I WILL behave myself wisely, said the Psalmist David, in a perfect way.
Wisdom is no less necessary in religious, and moral, than in civil conduct. Unless there be a proper degree of light in the understanding, it will not be enough that there are good dispositions in the heart. Without regular guidance, they will often err from the right scope. They will be always wavering and unsteady; nay, on some occasions, they may betray us into evil. This is too much verified by that propensity to run into extremes, which so often appears in the behaviour of men. How many have originally set out with good principles and intentions, who, through want of discretion in the application of their principles, have in the end injured themselves, and brought discredit on religion? There is a certain temperate mean, in the observance of which piety and virtue consist. On each side there lies a dangerous extreme. Bewildering paths open, by deviating into which, men are apt to forfeit all the praise of their
* Psalm ci. 2.
good intentions, and to finish with reproach, what they had begun with honour. This is the ground of the wise man's exhortation in the text. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eye-lids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot
from evil. In discoursing from these words, I propose to point out some of the extremes into which men are apt to run in religion and morals ; and to suggest directions for guarding against them.
With regard to religious principle in general, it may perhaps be expected, that I should warn you of the danger of being, on one hand, too rigid in adhering to it, and on the other hand, too easy in relaxing it. But the distinction between these supposed extremes, I conceive to have no foundation. No man can be too strict in his adherence to a principle of duty. Here, there is no extreme. All relaxation of principle is criminal. What conscience dictates is to be ever obeyed. Its commands are universally sacred. Even though it should be misled, yet as long as we. conceive it to utter the voice of God, in disobeying, it we sin. The errour, therefore, to be here avoided, is not too scrupulous or tender regard to conscience, but too little care to have conscience properly enlightened, with respect to what is matter of duty and of sin. Receive not, without examination, whatever human tradition has consecrated as sacred. Recur, on every occasion, to those great fountains of light and knowledge, which are opened to you in the pure word of God. Distinguish, with care, between the superstitious fancies of men, and the ever
lasting commandments of God. Exhaust not on trifles that zeal which ought to be reserved for the weightier matters of the law. Overload not conscience, with what is frivolous and unnecessary. But when you have once drawn the line with intelligence and precision between duty and sin, that line you ought on no occasion to trangress.
Though there is no extreme in the reverence due to conscience, there may undoubtedly be an extreme in laying too much stress, either on mere principle, or on mere practice. Here we must take particular care not to turn to the right hand, nor to the left; but to hold faith and a good conscience united, as the scripture, with great propriety, exhorts * us. The errour of resting wholly on faith, or wholly on works, is one of those seductions which most easily mislead men; under the semblance of piety on the one hand, and of virtue on the other. This is not an errour peculiar to our times. It has obtained in every age of the Christian church.
It has run through all the different modes of false religion. It forms the chief distinction of all the various sects which have divided, and which still continue to divide, the church ; according as they have leaned most to the side of belief, or to the side of morality.
Did we listen candidly to the voice of scripture, it would guard us against either extreme. The Apostle Paul every where testifies, that by no works of our own we can be justified; and that without faith it is impossible to please God. The Apostle James as clearly shows, that faith, if it be unproduc
* 1 Timothy, i. 19.