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will it tend to the peace and composure of our own spirits. It is as unprofitable to us as it is unjust towards him. True wisdom would teach us to humble ourselves in his presence, and to renew our supplications with greater earnestness. This conduct is as sure to succeed, as the other is to fail of success.] It manifests the most obstinate impenitence
[Both sins and sorrows ought to produce humility. When they increase our rebellion, our state is almost desperate! How awfully does such a temper characterize God's enemies m! and make us resemble those that are consigned over to perdition"! Surely nothing more heinous can be laid to our charge, nor any thing more speedily fit us for destruction.]
It evinces the most consummate arrogance• [To fret and murmur is, in fact, to reprove God. God himself considers it as a direct attack upon himo; and can any thing be more presumptuous in such worms as we? St. Paul reprobates this impiety with holy indignation P, and every one who allows himself in it, must answer it at his peril 9] We conclude with suitable ADVICE· 1. Let us search into the occasions of our sins and sorrows
[We may be surprised into sin by a sudden temptation, but may trace our fall to preceding unwatchfulness; nor can we expect God to keep us, if we neglect to keep ourselves. We are rarely earnest enough in using the means of safety. We are too backward to meditation, prayer, and fasting. Our afflictions also may have come without any misconduct on our part: but who has not merited them by his sins ? Men should only be considered as instruments in God's hands?: and the consideration of his will should silence every murmurs.] 2. Let us always be careful to justify God
[We may not always be able to account for his dispensations, but we should not on that account doubt the equity of them: whatever we suffer, we should not “ charge God foolishly.” Under the darkest dispensations we should say as the Psalmistt. If we wait we shall see the wisdom of many things which now seem utterly inexplicable; we may rest assured that David's assertion shall be verified u.]
3. Let us see what improvement may be made of our troubles
k Prov. xxviii. 13.
1 Isai, i. 5.
m Rev. xvi. 9.
(There is no rod which has not a voice to us. Our very sins may be permitted, in order to humble us, and to make us more thankfully cleave to the Saviour. Our trials, of whatever kind, are to purge away our dross, and to fit us for our eternal rest. To view them in this light will greatly compose our minds; instead of fretting against the Lord, we shall be thankful to him; and instead of increasing our misery, we shall make it a source of joy.]
THE CONSEQUENCE OF SLOTH. Prov. xx. 4. The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold;
therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. ARGUMENTS from analogy, when the analogy itself is just, are easy of apprehension, and well calculated to convince the mind : and one distinguished excellence of the Book of Proverbs is, that it abounds with such arguments; and without any formal statement of premises and conclusions, presents the truth to us in short, sententious aphorisms, that are plain, obvious, incontrovertible. Whoever has made the least observation on human affairs, must have seen the evil consequences of neglecting our proper business in life, whether in husbandry, or trade, or any other line : and it is easy to infer from thence, that similar consequences must attend a neglect of our Christian duties. Nor is it necessary that this analogy should be always pointed out to us: the whole scope of that divinely inspired book naturally leads us to make a spiritual improvement of the hints, which, in their literal sense, apply only to the things of this life.
Let us then in this view consider, I. The sluggard's conduct
The duties both of the husbandman and the Christian require industry
[It was a part of the curse introduced by sin, that man should obtain his bread by the sweat of his brow: nor will the earth yield us any thing but briers and thorns, unless we bestow much pains in the cultivation of it. Our attention to it must be unremitted: it is not the labour of a month or a year that will suffice: we must repeat again and again the same processes, in order to guard against the noxious weeds that would overrun it, and cherish the good seed, which we want it to produce. Thus also must the Christian exert himself in order to bring forth the fruits of righteousness. His heart is prolific in what is evil, but barren in what is good: he must therefore daily counteract its natural propensities, and foster the holy desires that have been sown in it. The same work of repentance and faith must be continually renewed, till the Lord himself shall come to gather in his harvest.]
Yet are we ever ready to neglect our work on frivolous pretences
[A regard to temporal interest will often overcome men's natural sloth, and excite them to diligence in their several vocations. Yet are there many instances, where the indulgence of sloth makes men blind to their own happiness, and deaf to the cries of their distressed families. With respect to spiritual concerns, an indisposition to labour universally prevails. The work of the soul is irksome and difficult; and every one either deems it altogether unnecessary, or desires to defer it as long as possible. But it is observable that the sluggard does not absolutely say, “ I hate my work, and therefore will not do it;" much less does he say, “ I am determined never to plough at all :" but he finds some excuse for neglecting what he is averse to perform; and fixes on some plea, which, in certain circumstances and to a certain extent, might be sufficient. Thus the Christian does not say, “ I hate repentance and faith in Christ; much less does he resolve never to repent and believe: but he always has some reason at hand for deferring this unpleasant work, and promises himself a more convenient season, before the time for ploughing be entirely passed away. He has the cares of a family, or a pressure of business, or something that serves him for an excuse: but, upon examination, it will either be found a mere excuse, or a reason, on which he lays a very improper stress; making use of it to justify a total and habitual neglect, when, at the most, it would only account for a partial and occasional omission. But as a husbandman who should yield to such a disposition, is denominated by God himself, “ a sluggard,” so we are sure, that he, who on such frivolous pretexts intermits his Christian duties, will receive no better appellation at the day of judgment than that of a “ wicked and slothful servant."]
But in whomsoever such conduct is found, he will at last have reason to deplore, II. The consequences of it
As industry and wealth, so idleness and want, are very closely connected
(Circumstances occur in this world to interrupt the natural operation of causes and effects: but in general, where any man's subsistence depends upon his labour, the consequences of sloth or activity will be such as might be expected. In spiritual things the rule is absolute and invariable. Every man's progress will be according to his labour. Some indeed may enjoy more of comfort than others, from other causes than their own diligence : but every person's real proficiency in grace will be proportioned to the improvement he makes of the talents committed to him: without detracting at all from the grace of God, we may safely affirm, that the difference between one Christian and another in respect of victory over sin, and happiness in the divine life, must be traced in a very great measure to their different degrees of watchfulness in secret duties.]
This truth however will not appear in its full extent till the day of judgment
[At the time of harvest the care or negligence of the husbandman will very clearly appear; and, if we should suppose a man to have wholly neglected the cultivation of his fields, he would find himself destitute, while others were satiated with abundance ; nor, if he were reduced to beggary, would he find any one to pity his forlorn condition. But his situation, deplorable as it would be, is not to be compared with that of a negligent Christian in the day of judgment. He will see others reaping a glorious harvest, while he is not permitted even to glean an ear: he will behold others “ crowned with glory and honour and immortality," while nothing remains for him but “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” The foolish virgins, who slept while they should have been procuring oil for their lamps, came and pleaded in vain for admittance, when the door was once shut against them: none but the wise virgins were suffered to participate the nuptial feast. In the same manner, the Rich Man, who lived only to the flesh, sought in vain for one drop of water to mitigate his anguish, while Lazarus, who had lived to nobler purposes, had a fulness of joy in Abraham's bosom. Thus also will it be with all, when the great harvest shall arrive: they, who had improved their season of grace, will be partakers of glory; while they, who had wasted it in sloth and self-indulgence, will reap the fruits of their folly, in deserved shame, in perpetual want, in unalleviated, unpitied, everlasting misery.] APPLICATION
1. Let us, in the view of this subject, take shame to ourselves
[How long has our season of grace been protracted ; and what little improvement have we made of it! How apt are we to yield to sloth, and to defer the most important of all duties on slight and frivolous pretences, which we know beforehand will never satisfy our Judge! But what can ever equal this folly? A sluggard in temporal things may find some one to pity his distress; and may learn from his experience to amend. But who will ever pity the self-ruined sinner? Or what further opportunity for amendment will be afforded him? Let us then begin, and prosecute without remission, the work of our souls. Let us “ plow up the fallow ground, and sow in righteousness,” knowing assuredly, that “the diligent hand shall make us rich," and that, “if we sow in tears we shall reap in joy."]
2. Let us look forward with earnestness to the future harvest
[The husbandman waits with patience, in expectation that the harvest will compensate his labours. And will not our harvest repay all the exertions we can use, and all the self-denial we can exercise? Let us then put forth all the energies of our souls in preparing for that day. Let us not suffer any difficulties or discouragements to abate our ardour; but“ whatever our our hand findeth to do, let us do it with our might," "and so much the more as we see the day approaching."]
TRUE PIETY IS RARE. Prov. xx. 6. Most men will proclaim every one his own good
ness; but a faithful man who can find ? IF we were to apply to every individual of mankind for his own character, and to form our estimate of the world from the aggregate report, we should soon find, that self-knowledge is a rare attainment, and that men are but partial judges in their own cause. Hence it is, that the more intercourse we have with the world, the more we learn to distrust the professions of men, and to suspend our judgment of them, till we have more substantial ground whereon to form it. Some indeed, from seeing unsuspecting youth so often become a prey to designing men, and frankness and candour so often fall a sacrifice to deceit and treachery, have been led almost to expel charity from their hearts, and practically to reverse its most established. laws. Charity would require that