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strongly illustrating the foregoing truth; namely, that, however much we may exert ourselves, 1. We cannot alter that which is unfavourable
[Every man, by the very constitution of his nature, is dependent on his fellow-man for the greater portion of his happiness. The welfare of a whole empire depends on the wisdom and prudence of the prince; as the prince's prosperity and comfort do on the industry, the fortitude, the loyalty of his people. So it is through all ranks and orders of society; all are deeply affected by the conduct of those around them. In the domestic circle, how impossible is it for the husband or wife, the parent or child, the master or servant, to be happy, if those with whom he is more immediately connected be perverse and obstinate in an evil way! Yet all come more or less in contact with unreasonable men: and, however much they may strive to rectify the views, or reform the habits, of such people, they find it altogether beyond their power: they can as easily change the leopard's spots or the Ethiopian's complexion, as they can prevail on persons to change those habits which are productive of so much uneasiness to their minds. Hence, though they form the wisest and most benevolent plans, they cannot carry them into execution, because of the blindness and perverseness of those whose concurrence is necessary for the accomplishment of them,
In like manner, there is often an untowardness in events as well as in men. The seasons will not consult us; nor will the elements obey us. Accidents utterly unforeseen will occur, and cannot be prevented by human foresight. Hence uncertainty attends our best concerted plans, and failure often disappoints our most laborious exertions. But these are “ crooked things which no man can make straight:” no human wisdom or power can control them. We have a large and abundant harvest in prospect : but, behold, storms and tempests, or blasting and mildew, or insects of some kind, destroy the whole crop. We have gathered the harvest into our granaries, and a fire consumes it; or an enemy overruns the land, and devours it. We have attained the greatest felicity of which we suppose ourselves capable, by a connexion the most desirable, or by the acquisition of a first-born son: but how soon does death invade our dwelling, and blast all our promised joys! These are but a few of the evils to which we are exposed in this vain world ; and they stamp“ vanity and vexation" upon all that we possess.]
2. We cannot supply that which is defective
• This may be noticed especially in the opposition made to the diffusion of the Scriptures, which persons of benevolence and piety labour to circulate through the world.
[The rich, the poor, the old, the young, the learned, the unlearned, all without exception, find that there is much lacking, to render them completely happy. Of those who possess most of this world's good, it must be said, " In the fulness of their sufficiency they are in straits d.” Solomon is a remarkable example of this. He had formed, if not a wise, yet an honourable, connexion with Pharaoh's daughter. Not satisfied, he sought happiness in a plurality of wives. Still not having attained happiness, he multiplied his wives and concubines to the number of one thousand; and found himself, after all, as far from happiness as ever. Every other thing which he thought could contribute to his happiness he sought with insatiable avidity: but, after he had attained all his objects, he found, that "the things which were wanting could not be numbered.” And so shall we find it to the latest hour of our lives. We may fancy that this or that will make us happy; but, when we have gained it, we have only followed a shadow that eludes our grasp. The truth is, that God never designed the creature to be a satisfying portion to man: not even Paradise itself could satisfy Adam: no, nor could the partner which he gave him: he must taste the forbidden fruit: he could not be content without an accession of wisdom, which God did not ever intend him to possess. Thus, even in man's state of innocence, nothing but God could satisfy his soul: nor can any thing, short of God himself, ever be a satisfying portion to any child of man.) ADDRESS1. Set not your affections on things below
[How happy would it be for us, if we could be content to receive the foregoing truths on the testimony of Solomon, instead of determining to learn them by our own experience! How much vexation and misery should we avoid ! But, in spite of the united acknowledgments of all that have gone before us, we still think that we shall find something besides God to make us happy. This however we cannot do, even though we should possess all that Solomon ever enjoyed. We may continue our pursuit as long as we will; but we must come at last to the same conclusion as he, and give the same testimony as to the result of our experience. Be persuaded, Brethren, to credit the Divine testimony, and to spare yourselves all the pain and disappointment which you must otherwise encounter. We mean not that you should renounce the pursuit of earthly things; for you cannot do that without abandoning the duties which you owe to your families and to society at large; but the expectation of happiness from them you may, and must, renounce. You must never forget, that the creature without God is nothing; and that happiness is to be found in God alone.)
d Job xx. 22.
2. Seek the Lord Jesus Christ with your whole hearts
[He is a portion in which you will never find any lack: in him is a fulness sufficient to fill all the capacities, and satisfy all the desires of the whole universe. Millions and millions of immortal souls may go to that fountain, and never diminish his exhaustless store. To the possession of him too no disappointment can attach, nor from the enjoyment of him can any vexation ensue. In him all “crooked things are made straight;" and where he is, no want can possibly exist. If you ask of the creature to heal the wounds of sin, to give peace to a guilty conscience, to subdue in us our corruptions, or to cheer us with hopes of immortality, it cannot do any one of these things: no, not even for the body can the creature do any thing to heal its sickness, to assuage its anguish, or to prolong its existence. But the Lord Jesus Christ can do every thing, both for the body and the soul, both for time and for eternity. Seek him, then, Beloved; and seek him with your whole hearts. In seeking him, your exertions cannot be too earnest, nor can your expectations be too enlarged. If he give you his flesh to eat, and his blood to drink, you will never hunger, never thirst again, either in this world or in the world to come. Only be able to say, “My Beloved is mine, and I am his," and then all, as well on heaven as in earth, is yours; according as it is written, " All things are yours; and ye are in Christ's; and Christ is God's."]
THE EMPTINESS OF WORLDLY MIRTH.
Eccl. ii. 2. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What
doeth it? WHO is it that has ventured to speak thus respecting that which constitutes, in the world's estimation, the great happiness of life? Was he an ignorant man? or one who from envy decried a thing which he was not able to attain ? or an inexperienced man, who had no just means of forming a judgment? or an irritated man, who vented thus his spleen against an object that had disappointed him ? Or was he one whose authority in this matter we are at liberty to question? No: it was the wisest of the human race, who had more ample means of judging than any other of the children of men, and had tried the matter to the uttermost: it was Solomon himself, under the influence of the Spirit of God, recording this, not only as the result of his own experience, but as the declaration of Jehovah, by him, for the instruction of the world in all future ages. He had been left by God to try the vain experiment, whether happiness was to be found in any thing but God. He tried it, first, in the pursuit of knowledge; which, to a person of his enlarged mind, certainly promised most fair to yield him the satisfaction which he sought. But partly from the labour requisite for the attainment of knowledge; partly from discovering how little could be known by persons of our finite capacity; partly also from the insufficiency of knowledge to satisfy the innumerable wants of man; and partly from the disgust which had been created in his mind by the insight which his wisdom gave him into the ignorance and folly of the rest of mankind; he left it upon record, as his deliberate judgment, that “ in much wisdom is much grief; and that he who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow." He then turned to pleasure, as the most probable source of happiness : “ I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth : therefore enjoy pleasure.” But being equally disappointed in that, he adds, “Behold, this also is vanityb.” Then, in the words of my text, he further adds, “I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?”
In discoursing on this subject, I shall, I. Shew what that is which he here pronounces to be
vanity”It becomes us, in considering such weighty declarations as that before us, to attain the most precise and accurate views of the terms employed; neither attenuating the import of them on the one hand, nor exaggerating it on the other.
We are not, then, to understand the text as decrying all cheerfulness
[The Christian, above all people upon earth, has reason to be cheerful. And religion in no way tends to destroy the
gaiety of the human mind, but only to direct it towards proper objects, and to restrain it within proper bounds. The ways of religion are represented as “ ways of pleasantness and peace. And “the fruits of the Spirit are, love, joy, peace;" all of which suppose a measure of hilarity, and the innocence of that hilarity, when arising from a becoming source, and kept within the limits of sobriety and sound wisdom. Doubtless that tumultuous kind of joy which is generally denominated mirth, and which vents itself in immoderate laughter, is altogether vain and bad: but a placidity of mind, exercising itself in a way of brotherly love and of cheerful benevolence, can never be censured as unprofitable, much less can it be condemned as verging towards insanity.]
Neither, on the other hand, are we to restrict the text to licentious and profane mirth
[That needed not to be stigmatized in so peculiar a manner; because the folly of such mirth carries its own evidence along with it. We need only to see it in others; and if we ourselves are not partakers of it, we shall not hesitate to characterize it by some opprobrious or contemptuous name. We need neither the wisdom of Solomon, nor his experience, to pass upon it the judgment it deserves.]
The conduct reprobated in our text is, the seeking of our happiness in carnal mirth
[Solomon particularly specifies this: “I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth,” I will see whether that will afford me the happiness which I am in pursuit of. And we may suppose, that, in the prosecution of this object, he summoned around him all that was gay and lively in his court, and all that could contribute towards the attainment of it.
We may take a survey of the state of society in what may be called the fashionable world, and see how the votaries of pleasure spend their time. They go from one vanity to another, hoping that in a succession of amusements they shall find a satisfaction which nothing else can impart. Plays, balls, concerts, routs, the pleasures of the field, of the race-course, of the card-table, form a certain round of employment, which those who travel in it expect to find productive of happiness, of such happiness at least as they affect. And this, I conceive, is what Solomon intended particularly to reprobate as folly and madness. Of course, we must include also in the same description the more vulgar amusements to which the lower classes resort. All, according to their taste, or the means afforded them for enjoyment, whilst they pursue the same object, are obnoxious to the same censure. The degree of refinement which may be in their pursuits makes no difference in this matter, Whatever