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Others think, by sending for the minister, when the phylician hath given them over, to receive in a sew hours such advice and direction, as will do their business as effectually, as if they had minded religion all their lives long; and that a few devout prayers said over them, when they are just embarking for another world, will, like a magical wind, immediately waft them over into the regions of bliss and immortality.
» But let us not deceive ourselves ; we may defer the business so long, till we shall get nothing by our late application to God, and crying to him., Lord, Lord, open unto us, but that severe answer, Depart from me ye workers of iniquity, I know you not whence ye are. If we would not have this our doom, let us first seek the kingdom os God, and his righteousness, that so having our fruit unto holiness, our end may be everlasting life.
The wisdom os religion.
P S A L. cxix. 96. I have seen an end of all perfection ; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
THts Psalm seems to have a great deal more of poetical number and skill in it, than at this distance from the time and age in which it was written, we can easily understand: the main scope and design of it is very plain and obvious; namely, to magnify the law of God, and the observation of its precepts, as that wherein true religion doth mainly consist. And indeed, if we attentively read and consider it, every part of this Psalm does with great variety of expression, and yet very little difference of the sense, discant upon the same ground, viz.. the excellency and perfection of the law of God. And ^vVI - - - - the the words of the text seem to be as full and comprehensive of the fense and design of the whole Psalm, as any one sentence in it; I have seen an end ofall perseciion; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
These words are variously rendered, and understood by interpreters, who yet in this variety do very much conspire and agree in the same sense. The Chaldee paraphrase renders the words thus, / havt seen an end of all things, about which I have employed my care; but thy commandment is very large. The Syriac version thus, / have seen an end of all regions and countries, (that is, I have found the compass of this habitable world to be finite and limited ) but thy commandment is of a vast extent. Others explain it thus, / have seen an end os all perfection, that is, of all the things of this world, which men value and esteem at so high a rate; of all worldly wisdom and knowledge, of wealth and honour, and greatness, which do all perish and pass away; but thy law is eternal, and fill abideth the fame; or, as the scripture elsewhere expresseth it, the word of the Lord endureth for tver.
Thy law; that is, the rule of our duty natural and revealed; or, in a word, religion, which consists in the knowledge and practice of .the laws of God, is of greater perfection than all other things which are so highly valued in this world: for the perfection of it is infinite, and of a vast influence and extent; it reacheth to the whole man, to the happiness of body and soul; to our whole duration both in this! world, and the next; of this life, and of that which is to come. And this will clearly appear, if we consider the reasonableness and the wisdom of religion, which consists in the knowledge of God, and the keeping of his laws. . .
First, The reasonableness of religion, which is able to give .1 very good account of itself, because it settles the mind of man upon a firm basis, and keeps it from rolling in perpetual uncertainty-, whereas atheism and infidelity wants a stable foundation, it centers no where but in the denial of God aud religion, and yet substitutes no principle, no tenable and constituent scheme of things in the place of them; its whole business is to unravel all things, to unsettle the mind of man, and to shake all the common notions and received principles of mankind; it bends its whole force to pull down and to destroy, but lays no foundation to build any thing upon, in the stead of that which it pulls down.
It runs upon that great absurdity which Aristotle (who was always thought a great master of reason) does every where decry, as a principle unworthy of a philosopher; namely, a progress of causes in infinitum, and without end; that this was the cause of that, and a third thing of that, and so on without end,which amounts to just nothing; and finally resolves an infinite number of effects into no first cause ; than which nothing can be more unskiful and bungling, and less worthy of a philosopher. But this I do not intend at present to insist upon, having treated largely 011 the same subject upon another * occasion. 1 shall therefore proceed in the
Second place, to consider the wisdom of religion. The sear of the Lord is wisdom, so faith the Psalmist; it is true wisdom indeed, it is the beginning of wisdom, caput (apientii, the top and perfection of all wisdom. Here true wisdom begins, and upon this foundation it is raised and carried on to perfection; and I shall in my following discourse endeavour to make out these two things.
First, That true wisdom begins and is founded in religion, in the fear of God, and in the keeping of his commandments.
Secondly, That this is the perfection of wisdom 5 there is no wisdom without this, nor beyond it.
First, True wisdom begins and is founded in religion, and the fear of God, and regard to his laws. This is the first principle of wisdom, and the foundation upon which the whole design of our happiness is to be built. This is in the first place to be supposed, and to be taken into consideration in all the designs and actions of men: This is to govern one
Vol. V. M whole
» Vide Ser. I. of the first Vol. published by the author,
whole life, and to have a main influence upon all the affairs and concernments of it. As the firit principle of human society, and that which is to run through the whole frame of it, is the publick good; this was always to be taken into consideration, and to give law to all laws and constitutions about it: So religion is the first principle of human wisdom, by which all our actions are to be conducted and governed; And all wisdom, which does not begin here, and lay religion for its foundation, is preposterous, and begins at the wrong end; and is just as if in the forming of .human society, every .one in the settlement of the constitution, and the framing of laws, should have an eye to his own private and particular advantage, without regard to the publick good, which is the great end of society, and the rule and measure of government and laws, and in the last istue and result of things, the only way to procure the settled welfare, and to secure the lasting interests of particular persons, so far as that is consistent with the publick good. And it would be a very preposterous policy to go about to found human society upon any other terms, and would certainly end in mischief and confusion.
And such is all the wisdom of men, in relation to their true happiness, which does not begin with religion, and lay its foundation there; Which does not take into consideration God'and his providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments after this life. All wisdom which does not proceed upon a supposition of the truth and reality of these principles, will certainly end in shame and disappointment, in misery and ruin; because it builds a house upon the sand, which when it comes to be tried by stress of weather, and assaulted by violent storms, wfll undoubtedly fall, and the fall of it will be great.
And this error every man commits, who pursues happiness 'by following his own inclination, and gratifying his irregular desires, without any consideration ef God, and of the restraint which his laws have laid upon us, not for his own pleasure, but for our good, for when all things are duly considered, and
all accounts cast up, it will appear upon a just calculation of things, that all the restraints which the laws of God lay upon men, are highly reasonable, and greatly for their benefit and advantage, and do not abridge us of any true pleasure or happiness, but are wife and merciful provisions of heaven, to prevent our harm and mischief; so that we are not wife, if we act without regard to God, and his laws, and are not willing to be governed by him, who loves us better than we do ourselves, and truly designs our happiness, and commands us nothing but what directly tends to it. For the laws of God are not arbitrary constitutions, and mere instances of sovereign will and power; but wise rules and means to procure and advance our happiness.
And in like manner, all that wisdom which men use to compass their worldly designs, of riches and greatnes?, without consideration of the providence of God, and dependence upon it for the success of our affairs, is all perfect folly and mistake. For though the design be never so well laid, and vigorously prosecuted, and no means which human wisdom can devise for the attaining of our end, have been omitted by us; yet if we leave God out of the account, we forget that which is principal, and signifies more to the success of any design, than all other things put together. For if God favours our designs, the most improbable shall take effect; and if he blow upon them, the most likely shall miscarry. Whenever he pleaseth to interpose to cross the counsels and designs of men, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; neither yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill; but time and chance happens to all.
So that it is great folly not to consider the providence of God in all our designs and undertakings, not to implore his favour and blessing, without which nothing tnat we take in hand can prosper. That which is principal to any purpose, ought to be considered in the first place, nothing being to be attempted either without, or against it. And such is the providence of God in all human affairs; it is more t <. Ma «>n