« FöregåendeFortsätt »
soil and climate, it is capable of producing as great variety and abundance as any country upon earth, yet, so successful have its spiritual directors been in the management and retail of these blessings, that they have found means to allay, if not entirely to defeat, them all, by one pretence or other. Some bitterness is officiously squeezed into every man's cup for his soul's health, till at length, the whole intention of nature and Providence is destroyed. It is not surprising that, where such unnatural severities are practised and heightened by other hardships, the most fruitful land should be barren, and wear a face of poverty and desolation ; -or that many thousands, as have been observed, should fly from the rigours of such a government, and seek shelter rather amongst rocks and deserts, than lie at the mercy of so many unreasonable taskmasters, under whom they can hope for no other reward for their industry-but rigorous slavery, made still worse by the tortures of unnecessary mortifications.-I say unnecessary, because, where there is a virtuous and good end proposed from any sober instances of self-denial and mortification,God forbid we should call them unnecessary, or that we should dispute against a thing-from the abuseto which it has been put :-and, therefore, what is said in general upon this head, will be understood to reach no farther than where the practice is become a mixture of fraud and tyranny, but will nowise be interpreted to extend to those self-denials which the discipline of our holy church directs at this solemn season; which have been introduced by reason and good sense at first, and have since been applied to serve no purposes but those of religion ;
these, by restraining our appetites for a while, and withdrawing our thoughts from grosser objects, -do, by a mechanical effect, dispose us for cool and sober reflections, incline us to turn our eyes inwards upon ourselves, and consider what we are,— and what we have been doing ;-for what intent we were sent into the world, and what kind of charac-, ters we were designed to act in it.
It is necessary that the mind of man, at some certain periods, should be prepared to enter into this account; and without some such discipline, to check the insolence of unrestrained appetites, and call home the conscience, the soul of man, capable as it is of brightness and perfection, would sink down to the lowest depths of darkness and brutalityHowever true this is, there still appears no obligation to renounce the innocent delights of our beings, or to affect a sullen distate against them :-nor, in truth, can even the supposition of it be well admitted; for pleasures arising from the free and natural exercises of the faculties of the mind and body, to talk them down, is like talking against the frame and mechanism of human nature; and would be no less senseless than the disputing against the burn. ing of fire, or falling downwards of a stone.-Besides this, man is so contrived, that he stands in need of frequent repairs :-both mind and body are apt to sink and grow inactive under long and close attention; and, therefore, must be restored by proper recruits. Some part of our time may doubtless innocently and lawfully be employed in actions merely diverting ;-and, whenever such indulgencès become criminal, it is seldom the nature of the
actions themselves, but the excess which makes them so.
But some one may here ask,-By what rule are we to judge of excess in these cases?-If the enjoyment of the same sort of pleasures may be either innocent or guilty, according to the use or abuse of them, how shall we be certified where the boundaries lie? or be speculative enough to know how far we may go with safety ?-I answer, There are very few who are not casuists enough to make a right judgment in this point ;-for since one principal reason why God may be supposed to allow pleasure in this world, seems to be for the refreshment and recruit of our souls and bodies, which, like clocks, must be wound up at certain intervals,-every man understands so much of the frame and mechanism of himself, to know how and when to unbend himself with such relaxations as are necessary to regain his natural vigour and cheerfulness; without which it is impossible he should either be in a disposition or capacity to discharge the several duties of his life. -Here then the partition becomes visible.
Whenever we pay this tribute to our appetites any further than is sufficient for the purposes for which they were first granted,-the action propor. tionably loses some share of its innocence.-The surplusage of what is unnecessarily spent on such occasions, is so much of the little portion of our time negligently squandered, which, in prudence, we should apply better; because it was allotted us for more important uses; and a different account will be required of it at our hands hereafter.
For this reason, does it not evidently follow,— that many actions and pursuits, which are irre
proachable in their own natures, may be rendered blameable and vitious, from this single consideration," That they have made us wasteful of the moments of this short and uncertain fragment of life, which should be almost one of our last prodigalities, since, of them all, the least retrievable."-Yet how often is diversion, instead of amusement and relaxation, made the art and business of life itself! -Look round,-what policy and contrivance is every day put in practice, for pre-engaging every day in the week, and parcelling out every hour of the day for one idleness or another,-for doing nothing, -or something worse than nothing;-and that with so much ingenuity, as scarce to leave a minute upon their hands to reproach them!-Though we all complain of the shortness of life, yet how many people seem quite overstocked with the days and hours of it, and are continually sending out into the highways and streets of the city for guests to come and take it off their hands!-If some of the more distressful objects of this kind were to sit down and write a bill of their time, though partial as that of the unjust steward,-when they found, in reality, that the whole sum of it, for many years, amounted to little more than this,-That they had rose up to eat, to drink,-to play,—and had lain down again, merely because they were fit for nothing else ;when they looked back and beheld this fair space, capable of such heavenly improvements,-all scrawled over and defaced with a succession of so many unmeaning cyphers,-good God,-how would they be ashamed and confounded at the account!
With what reflections will they be able to support themselves in the decline of a life so miserably cast
away, should it happen, as it sometimes does,that they have stood idle even unto the eleventh hour! We have not always power, and are not always in a temper, to impose upon ourselves.-When the edge of appetite is worn down, and the spirits of youthful days are cooled, which hurried us on in a circle of pleasure and impertinence, then reason and reflection will have the weight which they deserve;-afflictions, or the bed of sickness, will supply the place of conscience ;-and, if they should fail,-old age will overtake us at last, and shew us the past pursuits of life,-and force us to look upon them in their true point of view. If there is any thing more to cast a cloud upon so melancholy a prospect as this shews us,-it is surely the difficulty and hazard of having all the work of the day to perform in the last hour;-of making an atonement to God, when we have no sacrifice to offer him but the dregs and infirmities of those days, when we could have no pleasure in them.
How far God may be pleased to accept such late and imperfect services, is beyond the intention of this discourse. Whatever stress some may lay upon it, a death-bed repentance is but a weak and slender plank to trust our all upon.-Such as it is; -to that, and God's infinite mercies, we commit them, who will not employ that time and opportunity he has given to provide a better security.
That we may all make a right use of the time allotted us,-God grant, through the merits of his Son Jesus Christ.