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made to our wealth; yet, if our desires are moderated, and our expenditure restrained, the same effect is ultimately produced: for we are not more truly enriched by the increase of our substance, than we are by the diminution of our wants and our consumption.] Let me now point out THE BEARINGS of this subject, 1. On those who are engaged in visiting the sicko
[Persons engaged in imparting instruction to the ignorant, and consolation to the afflicted, have yet, in a more eminent degree, the promise in our text fulfilled to them. Their light perhaps, at first, is but very imperfect; but by imparting it to others, their own views become enlarged, and their own experience of divine truth becomes deeper, from the very circumstance of their improving it for the benefit of others. Indeed, I can hardly suggest any better method for enlarging our own knowledge, than the making use of it for the instruction of our less enlightened brethren: for, besides the natural effect which may be expected from the communication of knowledge, we may expect a peculiar blessing from God whilst we are so employed. A remarkable instance of this may be found in Apollos: “He, when he knew only the baptism of John, spake and taught diligently the word of the Lord.” “ Aquila and Priscilla hearing him in the synagogue, took him, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” And then, going forth with his augmented light, he prospered far more in his labours of love, not only “convincing the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, but helping them much who had believed through gracep.” This example is most encouraging to all, to improve for God the light which they possess : for, whatever we do for God, is regarded by him as a loan which he will repay 4: and in every instance shall it be found, that “he who watereth
ers, shall be watered also himself."]
2. On those who contribute for the support of the charity
[On these, the subject bears to its full extent; and we are warranted to affirm, that men shall “reap either sparingly or bountifully, according as they sows." But there is one point of view in which they pre-eminently “honour God,” and with peculiar advantage secure their reward. They honour God particularly, not merely by the distribution of their alms, but by employing and calling forth into activity the piety of others,
• This part must be varied, according to the occasion. It was preached in behalf of a Visiting Society; but it may easily be accommodated to a Spital Sermon, or any other Charitable Institution. P Acts xviii. 24–28.
a Prov. xix. 17. I Prov. xi. 25.
s 2 Cor. ix. 6.
for the benefit of their fellow-creatures. It is obvious that individuals of small property could not, without assistance from others, relieve the necessities of the poor to any great extent: and if they could not administer some temporal relief, they could not find easy access to the chambers of the sick. But being furnished with the means of easy access, they can pour the light of instruction and the balm of consolation into the souls of the afflicted to great advantage; and the persons so instructed and comforted, not only abound in thanksgivings to God for the benefits received, but in prayers to God in behalf of their benefactors. This St. Paul speaks of, as ennobling charity far beyond the mere conveyance of temporal relief
- Now, then, let me ask, How can you honour God more, than in causing thanksgivings to arise to him from the altars of many hearts? and, What compensation under heaven can equal the prayers and intercessions of saints in your behalf? Put your
alms in one scale, and the prayers offered to a prayerhearing God in the other, and say whether your recompence be not very abundant, or whether it is possible to lay out money in any
other way to such advantage? Let all of you, then, according to your power, “abound in this heavenly grace" of charity, after the example of your blessed Lord; “who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be richu.” Only get a sense of his love upon your souls, and a “ sincere love to him" in return, and we shall have no occasion to entreat liberality from you; for “you yourselves will be willing of your own accord, and will be ready to pray us, with much entreaty, that we will take upon ourselves the office of ministering to the saints" as your stewards. ]
+ 2 Cor. ix. 12, 13. Cite the words, and mark what is said of their thanksgivings and prayers. u 2 Cor. viii. 9.
* 2 Cor. viii. 3—8.
THE PLEASANTNESS OF RELIGION.
Prov. iii. 17. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her
paths are peace. TO be sincerely and eminently religious is considered by the world as a symptom of weakness and folly. But the Scriptures represent such a life as characteristic of true wisdom. Upon such “wisdom ” Solomon bestows the highest commendations: he speaks of it as incomparably more precious than gold, or rubies, or any earthly good whatever : he paints her as a queen disposing of riches, honour, and longevity to all her subjects: and, because we are more captivated by the idea of pleasure than of any thing else, he commends her to us in the text as productive of it in the highest possible degree.
a ver. 13–16. That this is the true meaning of “wisdom" and “understanding," is evident from Job xxviii. 28.
We are naturally led to shew from the words before us, that the duties of religion are, I. Pleasant in their exercise In confirmation of this truth, let us consider religion, 1. In a general and comprehensive view
[Religion, as our Lord informs us, is comprehended in two things; the love of God, and the love of our neighbour.
Let us then inquire into the love of God. Suppose a person filled with admiration of the divine perfections as exhibited in the works of creation, must not that be a pleasant exercise of mind? Suppose him rising yet higher to the works of redemption, and contemplating the justice and the mercy, the truth and the love, the wisdom and the goodness of the Deity, as united, and harmonizing, and glorified in the cross of Christ; suppose him, I say, contemplating these with rapture, till he burst forth in songs of praise similar to those uttered by the angels at the birth of Christ, or those which are now sung around the throne of God; would there be no pleasure in such an employment? Suppose him yet further meditating upon the mercies of God vouchsafed to himself in particular, and adoring the triune God for all the wonders of electing, redeeming, sanctifying grace; must not such a frame be pleasant ?
Inquire, next, into the love of our neighbour: suppose one to be exercising all those dispositions towards him which his relation to us or his situation demand: suppose one to be rejoicing with him in his prosperity, or to be weeping over his adversity in tender sympathy; suppose one to be stretching out the hand of charity for his relief, or administering consolation for his support;—is there no pleasure in all this? Surely he has not the heart of a man, who can question this obvious, indubitable truth.] 2. In its most difficult and painful duties
[Repentance is a principal duty of religion : but can we find, it may be asked, any pleasure in that? We answer, Yes: only view repentance in its proper light, and we will affirm that it is pleasant. Suppose that one of us had by mistake swallowed somewhat that was poisonous; that we felt the deadly venom preying on our vitals; and that our medical attendant informed us, that, unless removed from our stomach, the poison would destroy us in a few hours; should we deem the exertions necessary for the removal of it a painful task? Should we not gladly renew them, till we had accomplished our end? Should we not, instead of regretting the pain occasioned by them, feel thankful that we had an opportunity to use them? And would not the success that accompanied our efforts turn our pain into a pleasure? Such then is repentance; it is a painful exertion to get rid of sin, which, if not expelled from our hearts, will utterly and eternally destroy us: and, though we do not say that pain can ever be pleasure, yet we affirm, that the very pangs
of contrition, considered in a complex view, as consonant with our wishes and conducive to our good, are really pleasant: and for the truth of our assertion we will appeal to all who ever experienced those pangs: we will ask whether the seasons of their deepest humiliation have not been the sweetest seasons of their lives? We fear no contradiction upon this point, unless from those who are wholly ignorant of the matter.
Self-denial is another, and a very important, duty. But this, it should seem, precludes, in the very nature of it, the idea of pleasure, because it is a thwarting our own inclinations. We must however include this also among the
that are ways of pleasantness. That the gratifying of a corrupt inclination is pleasant to flesh and blood, we cannot deny: but that the mortifying of it is abundantly more pleasant, we do not hesitate to affirm. Suppose a person tempted to yield to the solicitations of lust, or to gratify a no less keen appetite for revenge; would not a victory over his evil passions afford him more pleasure than a compliance with them? would not the mortifying of an unchaste desire be attended with a pleasure more pure and refined than could be attained by the indulgence of it? And, granting that the overcoming of evil with evil would be pleasant, (for revenge, they say, is sweet,) would not the "overcoming it with good” afford him incomparably sublimer happiness b? Let us illustrate each of these positions by an example. Joseph, we know, resisted the importunity of his mistress : but were his sensations less pleasing when he had got out of the reach of temptation, than they would have been if he had consented to her wishes ? David, when enraged at the ingratitude and insolence of Nabal, went to avenge himself by his destruction : but when stopped and pacified by Abigail, did he regret the loss of any satisfaction which he would have felt in executing his cruel designs? No: he blessed her, and blessed God for her; and found infinitely more delight in the exercise of a forgiving spirit than the completest revenge could ever have afforded him. We maintain it then, that the self-denial which religion calls for, is a source of real pleasure to the soul.
b Rom. xii. 21.
c 1 Sam. xxv. 31-33.
The bearing of the cross is another duty inculcated on all the followers of Christ. And can this be pleasant? Yes, we must affirm that this also is a source of pleasure to the true Christian. Doubtless the contempt and hatred which we must expect from an ungodly world are not pleasant in themselves : to be shut up in prison, and scourged, and put to a cruel and lingering death, are not pleasant in themselves : but, as endured for the sake of Christ, they are pleasant. To ascertain this, inquire of those who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods e;" or those who, with their feet in the stocks and their backs torn with scourges," sang praises to God at midnight?;" or those who, after their imprisonment, “ rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Christ." Ask what our Lord meant, when he taught his followers to “rejoice and be exceeding glad,” whenever they should be called to sufferh? and inquire of all the primitive saints who had learned, through grace, to “glory in tribulationi.” Inquire of him, who suffered more than any other of the Apostles, and who, speaking of his expected martyrdom, exults in it as a matter of the warmest congratulationk. The experience of all true Christians is the same at this day: they "count themselves happy when they are called to endure!;" and look upon it as a special honour conferred upon them, when “it is given them to suffer any thing for their Redeemer's sakem.” In a word, religion raises us so much above earthly pains and pleasures, as to render us altogether independent on them for our happiness".
Seeing then that even the most painful duties of religion are sources of pleasure, we may confidently affirm the same respecting “all” her ways.]
To this blessed account of wisdom's ways, we may add, that they are, II. Peaceful in their issue
Mark the influences of religion on all who walk in her ways: mark them,
1. In life
[None know any thing of “peace," except the true Christian. As God has said, so experience proves, that " there is no peace to the wickedo.” The cisterns to which they go for refreshment, are polluted; or rather, they are
d Luke ix. 23. 2 Tim. iii. 12.
k Phil, ii. 17, 18. m Phil. i. 29.
n Hab. iii. 17, 18. VOL. VII.
e Heb. x. 34.