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2. Will award with equity
[Here again the appeal is strong, and carries conviction with it. We are sure that “God will judge the world in righteousness,” and “ give to every man according to his works." “ Whatsoever we have sowed, that shall we also reap: if we have sowed to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption ; but if we have sowed to the Spirit, we shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”] Let this subject TEACH US,
1. To be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy
[We are apt to think that conscience is a safe guide, and that we may rest satisfied with its testimony. But conscience is corrupted by the Fall, as well as all the other faculties of the soul. It is blinded, bribed, partial, and in many instances “seared as with an hot iron." "Hence it is that “ way is right in his own eyes.” Paul thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus; and was applauded by his own conscience, whilst he was sinning against God with all his might. Be not therefore satisfied merely because you feel no condemnation in your own minds; but beg of God to enlighten your conscience, that it may guide you aright, and keep you from those delusions which would involve you in everlasting ruin.]
2. To live in daily expectation of the future judgment
[Ask yourselves, not merely, What do I think of this or that conduct? but, What would God say to it, if I were instantly summoned to his tribunal? Such a question as this would often lead you to a very different estimate of yourselves from that which you have formed; and the consideration of his recording every thing in order to a future judgment would tend to keep you vigilant in all your conduct. Walk then as in his sight, and be satisfied with nothing which you are not well assured will satisfy him.]
THE SLUGGARD'S VINEYARD. Prov. xxiv. 30-34. I went by the field of the slothful, and by
the vineyard of the man void of understanding : and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man. IF we have an observant eye, and a mind open
to receive instruction, there is not any thing in the creation which may not afford us some useful lessons. We may learn as much from what we see, as what we hear; and as much from what is evil, as from what is good. Indeed it is a mark of true wisdom to exact a tribute, as it were, from every thing which comes within our reach, and to suffer nothing to pass without contributing its quota to our stock of useful knowledge. Solomon has set us a good example in this respect : he saw a vineyard that had been shamefully neglected : and instead of turning away from it, as incapable of affording either pleasure or profit to his mind, he set himself to “consider it well, and to derive instruction from it.” Surely then we cannot be unprofitably employed while we consider, I. The sight which he observed
It is not uncommon to see ground ill cultivated, or business neglected; but as persons reprehensible for inattention to their worldly concerns are comparatively few, we apprehend that the remedying of the evils arising from it comes rather within the province of private admonition than of public discussion. We shall therefore take occasion from the text to speak of a vineyard which all ought to cultivate, but which all are too prone to neglect. This vineyard is the soul; which, with the generality, lies,
[A man possessed of a common vineyard, ought to procure good plants for it, and to water it regularly, and to weed it carefully, in order that it may yield him its fruits of increase *. And we have the same labour to perform for our souls. We ought to get it filled with the choicest graces from heaven. We should water it with prayers and tears, and seek to have it nourished with the influences of the Holy Ghost, which when duly sought, will descend on it as the dew, and distil upon it as rain upon the new-mown grass. We should be daily occupied in pulling up the thorns and nettles that spontaneously rise, and which, if suffered to remain, will materially impede the growth of every good plant. But is there not reason to fear that the greater part of us have shewn ourselves “ slothful, and void of understanding? Have we not been shamefully remiss in our attention to these great concerns? Have not the fruits produced by us, been “grapes of Sodom, and clusters of Gomorrha?" Have not unbelief and impenitence, pride and anger, envy and malice, covetousness and impurity, with ten thousand other noxious weeds, been suffered to spring up and grow within us, till they have even “covered the face of the ground ?”
a Matt. xxi. 33.
Alas! the proofs of spiritual sloth are but too evident in us all.]
(Whatever care a man should take of his vineyard, he would lose his labour, if he should forget to fence it in; "the wild beast of the field would soon root it up and devour it.” What then can be expected to spring up in our souls, when they are left at the mercy of every enemy that chooses to tread them down? We should long since have fortified them with holy purposes and resolutions. These, it is true, can avail nothing, if made in our own strength; but, if made in reliance upon God, they will be no slight barrier against the invading foe. Joshua, David, Nehemiaho, Paul, found them useful and effectual for their preservation. We should also have had our souls strengthened by the grace of Christ. That would have proved “ sufficient for us : it would have been even as a
as a wall of fire, round about us." Above all, we should have taken care to have them encompassed by God's holy covenant, “ which is ordered in all things and sure.
Inclosed by that, we might defy all the assaults of earth and hell.
But have we been careful thus to protect our souls? Have we not rather left them open to the incursion of our enemies, the sport of every temptation, the prey of every lust?]
Such a melancholy sight should make us doubly attentive to, II. His reflections upon it
Solomon was more desirous to benefit himself, than to criminate others, even though their conduct was justly reprehensible. His reflections therefore on the sight which he beheld, were of a general nature respecting the evil and danger of sloth. The state of our souls may well lead us to similar reflections, and convince us that sloth is, b Josh. xxiv. 15.
c Ps. cxix. 106. d Neh. vi. 11.
e Acts xxi. 13.
[The slothful man does not intend to involve himself in ruin: he only pleads for a little more indulgence of his indolent habits : but, alas! His“ little slumber” insensibly becomes a great deal : bis time passes away, and his work is left undone. The rest which he takes, instead of refreshing him, enfeebles all his powers, and indisposes him for action; so that, though he never intends to plunge himself into difficulties, he does it most effectually. And how lamentably does an indisposition to spiritual labour deceive us! No man intends to destroy his own soul : he only pleads for a little more delay, a little more slumber: he thinks he shall awake time enough to do all that is necessary. Thus, while he sleeps, the thorns and nettles grow, and seed, and multiply, and také such deep root, that they can scarcely ever be eradicated: in the mean time, every good desire that may at any time have sprung up within him, is choked ; and the decaying wall that should protect him falls to the ground. Ah! how many thousands have perished, like Felix, while they were waiting for “a more convenient season!" There has always been some “lion in the way," whenever the time came for labour and exertion ; and thus they have lost the only season which the great Husbandman had allotted for the performance of their work.] 2. Ruinous
[The ruin of a man who neglects his farm or merchandize is gradual and irresistible : his circumstances become more and more embarrassed; and at last he is apprehended for debt, immured in a prison, and reduced to utter “poverty and want. What a picture does this exhibit of a man who neglects his soul! He does not feel the consequences all at once ; but “his poverty comes as one that travelleth:” it proceeds gradually step by step: it is not one hour, or day, that makes a very great difference to a man that is travelling many hundred miles on foot; but every step in reality brings him nearer to his journey's end : and so it is with the man that indulges spiritual sloth ; his ruin approaches, though imperceptibly, every day and hour: but though it comes insensibly, yet it will seize upon him irresistibly, even “ as an armed man." How glad would many be in their dying hours, if a portion of the time which they have wasted, could be restored to them! How glad would they be if they could recover the seasons they have lost! But death waits not their leisure: when sent, he executes his office, and transmits them, however reluctant, to the tribunal of their Judge. O that we would endeavour to realize these reflections in our minds, that we may not learn the truth and awfulness of them by bitter experience!)
f Prov. xxvi. 13--15.
By way of IMPROVING this subject, we will entreat you
all, 1. To inquire into the state of your vineyard
[Look well, and compare your ground with that of others; not of sluggards like yourselves, but of the Apostles and primitive Christians. And do not mistake, as, alas! too many do, weeds for plants (worldliness for prudence, levity for cheerfulness, formality for devotion, or pride and hypocrisy for zeal and piety;) but consult those who are able to instruct you, and be willing to have your vineyard weeded, your plants pruned, your wall reared, and your habits of indolence subdued and rectified.] 2. To cultivate it with speed and diligence
[Had we improved our past time with diligence, how different would have been the state of our souls! O think of the time that is irretrievably lost; and the probable shortness of that which remains ! Let not sloth deceive you any more. There is not one amongst us who may not see in his own soul what advances it has made, and what an increase of work it has occasioned. Let us be thankful that the period for cultivation is not yet ended : and let us henceforth "walk, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil."]
RETURNING GOOD FOR EVIL.
Prov. xxv. 21, 22. If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread
to eat, and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink : for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head; and the Lord shall reward thee.
THE morality both of the Old and New Testament is the same. Some have imagined, that, because our blessed Lord said, “A new Commandment give I unto you,” he has in his Gospel enlarged the duties of his followers beyond what was required by the moral law. But no command of his was new in itself, but only in its circumstances ; as being enjoined from new principles, and illustrated by new examples. Morality does not depend on any arbitrary appointment: it arises out of the relation which we bear to God as our common Parent, and to each other as Brethren : and, irrespective of any express revelation of it, “ To love God with all our heart and mind