« PreviousContinue »
served the characters of men with any attention, have seen, and often with astonishment, different individuals, judging not only differently from each other, but in modes directly opposite, where the subjects and the evidence were exactly the same, and equally in the possession of all. This diversity cannot be the result of mere understanding. Among the proofs, which are abundantly furnished of this truth, a decisive one is, that where we have exactly the same means of judging, and are entirely uninterested, or have exactly the same interest, we judge in the same manner. The cases in which we judge differently, (the same evidence being in our possession,) are those in which we are interested to judge differently. Our passions and appetites in such cases influence, and often absolutely control our judgment. This influence is the great evil under which we labour in all those intellectual decisions, which respect subjects of any serious importance to what we think our own good. We judge in modes directly opposite to each other, with slender evidence, with no evidence, and in direct opposition to all evidence. Of this truth, he who looks even with a slight attention at the political and religious divisions of mankind, existing everywhere and in every age, will ask for no additional proof. All doctrines have had their partizans; and the worst doctrines and the grossest absurdities have had more numerous supporters than truth and righteousness could ever boast. Mankind have arrayed themselves in great numbers, not only on the side of the calves in Bethel and Dan, and the bull of Egypt, but cats also, and frogs, and flies, blocks of wood, and images of stone. They have worshipped Moloch and Juggernaut, the worst of men, and even demons.
The most abandoned profligates of the human race have multiplied their trains of devotees. Crowds have attached themselves to Jeroboam, Nero, Charles II., and Napoleon. More than three-fourths of the human race are now, and ever have been, either heathens or Mohamedans. A few of the leaders in each case have probably seen the absurdity of the opinions adopted by the train of their followers. The great mass, and among them many persons of understanding, have judged, as well as acted in accordance with their professed
opinions. But no errors can be more monstrous, or more mischievous than these. Passion and appetite, therefore, influence men to judge and conclude, and that everywhere, in favour of the worst of errors.
All our passions and appetites have this influence; pride, vanity, ambition, avarice, voluptuousness, prodigality, sloth, together with those which are appropriately called affections of the mind, such as love and hatred, hope and fear, joy and sorThese causes of our unhappy judgments are very numerous and powerful, are always at hand, and exert their efficacy with respect to every subject in which we are interested.
That this efficacy is most malignant with regard to our real interests, is sufficiently evident from what has been already said. If it can persuade mankind, that calves and cats, frogs and flies, stocks and demons are gods; if it can persuade men to sacrifice their fellow-men, parents their children, and husbands their wives to these deities; if it can induce them to renounce all connection with their Maker, and all hope of his favour, there is no absurdity which it cannot persuade them to receive, no crime which it cannot induce them to perpetrate. From reasonable beings it can convert them into lunatics and fiends.
By this time my audience are probably convinced, that passion and appetite exert a real, extensive, powerful, dangerous, and malignant domination over our judgment. The consequence follows irresistibly. If we would escape from all these mischiefs, we must establish an exact and habitual control over our passions and appetites. So long as they govern our judgment, we shall regularly judge falsely, and be led to the commission of innumerable sins. In this case, we shall have no soundness of mind. Our understandings will be disordered, as well as our dispositions; our opinions will be false; our affections polluted, and our conduct odious in the sight of God. In a word, all these things will be as we actually find them. Our judgment will be false, our opinions absurd, and our actions criminal, just as we see those of others, and just as ours have been heretofore.
Third, Sobriety of mind includes, or perhaps more properly
infers, that conduct which springs of course from the character already described.
Whatever we highly value, when it is within our reach, we diligently pursue. Useful business and real religion are always within our reach, in such a sense that they may be hopefully pursued. Every man of this character will be regularly found acting diligently in useful business. To religion he will give the place and importance in his pursuits which it holds in his judgment. He who possesses sobriety of mind in such a manner as it can be possessed by one who is not a Christian, will be awake and alive to the attainment of Christianity. To all the means of instruction and impression which he thinks will enlighten his understanding or affect his heart, he will betake himself with anxiety, diligence, and perseverance. If the subject of this character be already a Christian, he will labour with all earnestness to make his calling and election sure. His efforts no length of time will lessen, no arguments delay, no difficulties discourage, and no obstacles overcome. His face will be set as a flint in the pursuit of this great object, and, when death arrives, he will be found vigorously engaged in the solemn employment.
This, if I mistake not, is peculiarly the character here intended by St. Paul, as being the end for which sobriety of mind is chiefly valuable. In whatever form it exists, it is no other than such a temperament of the soul, as leads us to regard the various things with which we are conversant agreeably to their importance, and to act accordingly,—a temperament resulting more from the disposition than from the understanding, and existing therefore as perfectly, and as often where the intellect is limited, as where it is great. The man in whom it exists gives the business of life, as I have observed, a higher place in his estimation than its amusements; the great interests of mankind than their ordinary ones; those of the soul than those of the body, and those of the future than those of the present world. This regard is not mere cold, uninterested speculation, but a combination of thought and reflection influencing the heart and the life. The sober-minded man does not think and reason only, but feels also and acts, as the com
parative importance of the objects with which he is concerned, demands.
As the soul is infinitely more valuable than the body, as eternity is immeasurably more important than time, the soberminded man will bend all his attention to the concerns of the soul, and all his efforts to the attainment of a happy eternity. Nothing will stand between him and the exertions necessary to secure an interest in the everlasting love of God.
In this amazing pursuit, sobriety of mind is peculiarly manifested. Useful and commendable in all cases, it is here peculiarly useful and honourable.
The man who possesses this character in the happy and evangelical degree here specified will never be contented to stop short of the highest attainments and the richest consolations which can be acquired by a life of piety. Originally, when he betook himself to a just and solemn consideration of the things which belong to his peace, he discovered a rational, steadfast concern for his salvation, a realizing sense of his guilt and danger, a high value for an interest in the Saviour, a supreme regard to the favour of God, an earnest desire to flee from the wrath to come, and a settled determination to lay hold on eternal life. All these things appeared in him, not by the impulse of sudden passion, but as the steady, vigorous energy of the mind, directed in this manner from solid conviction, that thus to act was wise and right. Accordingly, he did not, like a false blossom, make a fair show for a few days in the spring, and then fall and wither, without yielding any fruit. Far from this, he appeared more and more beautiful and promising, until the fruits of righteousness succeeded and clustered in abundance. After his entrance into the kingdom of God, such a man keeps the great subjects of resisting temptation, avoiding sin, and advancing in holiness ever in view. In the pursuit of them he neglects no means, and spares no endeavours. In his closet, at his Bible, in the house of God, in the company of the wise and good, in his solitary walks, and even in the crowded haunts of business, he labours faithfully and diligently to grow in wisdom and in grace, and to advance daily towards the heavenly world and the heavenly character.
Religion with him does not proceed by fits and starts, now bursting with the violence of a torrent, and now stagnant with the sluggishness of a pool; at some times full of earnestness and zeal, and at others absorbed and lifeless in the concerns of time and sense. It is a flame kindled to burn steadily, to shine always, to grow brighter the longer it continues, until it shall apparently expire in death, to be lighted up again with superior and immortal splendour. I do not mean that all Christians are alike possessed of this uniform and evenly improving character, nor that unequal professors, whose passions are suddenly heated and cooled, are not often Christians, nor that the most uniform Christians do not at times shine feebly and obscurely. What I intend is, that the sobriety of mind enjoined in the text is in its nature such as I have represented, and that those in whom it most prevails exhibit most a fair resemblance to this representation. I will now proceed,
II. To suggest several reasons for the adoption of this character by the youths who are now before me.
In the first place. One of these reasons, of vast importance, is, their situation demands it.
The youths before me have entered upon the beginning of eternal existence, and will be holy or sinful, happy or miserable for ever. Each has a soul, committed to his own peculiar care. The value of that soul is inconceivable. It is infinite. The world, nay the universe, weighed against it is nothing. To each also it is his all. It claims, therefore, it deserves, all your attention, all your labours, all your prayers. If it is lost, you are undone for ever. If it is saved, you are made rich, happy, and glorious, throughout ages which shall know no end. What situation can be more solemn than this, or can more imperiously demand the combined exertion of all your powers?
At the same time your earthly concerns are not to be forgotten. They, too, have their importance. To neglect them is neither your interest nor your duty. Happily for you the attention which they really demand is in no degree inconsistent with the effectual promotion of your eternal welfare. The same sobriety of mind, which is so useful to the advancement