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made to the Most High God! But we need not collect this in a way of inference ; for God himself has expressly told us, that we must pay our vows to him; that we must do it without delay; that if we defer to pay them, it will be imputed to us as a most heinous sin; and that he will surely require it at our handso. And in the text itself he tells us, that however criminal it must be to feel such alienation of heart from God as not to vow any vow to him, “it were better for us never to vow at all than to vow and not pay."] ADDRESS1. The young who have been just confirmed
[Remember, I beseech you, that “the vows of God are upon you." And now hear what Almighty God says unto you: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth P.” Now you, my Beloved, have “bound your souls with a bond ;" you have “sworn unto the Lord, and cannot go back :” remember then that you “must not break your word;" you must, you “ shall do according to all that has proceeded out of your mouths.” O bear in mind the particular vows which you have madey, and set yourselves diligently to the performance of them. See how determined David was, under your circumstances"; and make him the model of your conduct. And begin now without delay to prepare for attending on the Lord's Supper. Your Confirmation is but a step to something beyond, even to a dedication of yourselves to God at the table of the Lord. I mean not that you are to be hasty in taking this further step; because you ought doubtless to be well instructed in the nature of that ordinance before you partake of it; and to be fully determined through grace to live, not unto yourselves, but unto Him who died for you. But that you should keep this in view, and with all convenient speed renew at the Lord's table the vows which you have now made, the holy Psalmist informs yous: and his resolutions on the subject I earnestly recommend for your adoption.] 2. The elder part of this audience
[To you the younger will look for instruction and encouragement in the ways of God. But many who desire to have their children confirmed, would actually oppose them if they should begin to execute their vows. If a young person should begin to renounce the world, to mortify the flesh, and to live by faith on the Son of God, the generality of persons
o Deut. xxiii. 21–23. P Numb. xxx. 2.
Ps. cxix. 106.
would rather be alarmed than comforted, and would exert their influence to divert his thoughts from such ways. But beware how any of you put a stumbling-block in the way of your children, either by your influence or example. Beware how, after having instigated them to vow unto the Lord, you tempt them to forget and violate their vows. Rather take occasion from the confirmation of your children to look back upon your own conduct, and to see how you have kept your own vows. Do not imagine that a lapse of years can make any difference in your obligations to serve the Lord, or that, because you have forgotten your vows, God has forgot them too: they are all written in the book of his remembrance; and every word which we have addressed to the young people in reference to this matter, is applicable to you; yea, to you it applies with double force, because your more advanced age qualifies you so much better to see and follow the path of duty. I call upon you then to watch over your children, and to promote, by every possible means, their progress in the divine life. Encourage them to read the Scriptures diligently, to give themselves much to meditation and prayer, and to commence in earnest that race, which must be run by all who would obtain the prize.]
DCCCXXXIII. THE HOUSE OF MOURNING TO BE PREFERRED. Eccl. vii. 4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning;
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. IN order to learn what loss we have sustained in our intellectual powers through the introduction of sin into the world, it is not necessary for us to investigate the mysteries of our holy religion, which exceed the comprehension of any finite intelligence: we need only look to the ethics that are revealed to us in God's blessed word; and we shall see, even in them, that darkness has veiled the human mind, and there is an utter contrariety between the sentiments of fallen man and the plainest declarations of Almighty God. Take, for instance, the declarations which precede my text: “ The day of death is better than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting :” and “ sorrow is better than laughter.” Will any one say that these apophthegms are agreeable to the general appre
hension of mankind ? Is there not, on the contrary, something in them extremely paradoxical, and, at first sight, almost absurd ? Yet are these sentiments unquestionably true, as are those also which my text records : “ The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
It shall be my endeavour,
It is not Solomon's intention to say, that a wise man can never go to the house of mirth, any more than that a fool may not sometimes go to the house of mourning. The question is not, To which of the places these different characters may occasionally go; but, To which of them their “ hearts" are inclined. Let us then inquire, 1. Where is the heart of the wise ?
[We hesitate not to say, that a man who is taught of God, and made wise unto salvation, has “his heart in the house of mourning;" and that for the following reasons :
First, because he there learns the most invaluable lessons. There he sees what is the lot of fallen man; “He is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." He sees, also, what may speedily become his own lot; for “he knows not what a day or an hour may bring forth.” He sees how vain and empty are all earthly things; in that not all the wealth or honour that ever was possessed by man can either avert calamity, or assuage the pain arising from it. Above all, he sees the excellence of true religion, which can apply a balm to every wound, and turn tribulation itself into an occasion for joya.
Next, his heart is in the house of mourning, because there he has scope for the exercise of the finest feelings of his soul. There is compassion excited towards his suffering fellow-creature, and sympathy with him in his afflictions. True, these feelings are in some respects painful: but there is in them something so exquisite and refined, that they afford, if I may so speak, the sublimest pleasure of which the human mind is capable; and assimilate us, in a very eminent degree, to our God and Saviour, who “is touched with the feeling of our infirmities"," and “in all our afflictions is himself afflicted.” Nor can the sufferings of a fellow-creature be seen without exciting in our bosoms thanksgivings to God, who has been pleased to withhold
a Rom. v. 3. Heb. iv, 15. Isai. Ixiii. 9.
his chastening rod from us, and to make us his honoured instruments of imparting comfort to our afflicted brethren. This also, though not attended with any ebullition of joy, is a very sublime and delightful feeling; not unlike to that of Joseph, when his bowels yearned upon his brother Benjamin, and a prospect was opened to him of making his own advancement an occasion of benefit to his whole family: "He made haste, and sought where to weep; and entered into his chamber, and wept thered."
A still further reason why his heart is in the house of mourning is, that there he meets, and enjoys, and honours God. God has said, that “he meeteth those who rejoice in working righteousness.” And, truly, he fulfils this word in a more especial manner to those who abound in works of mercy, because he considers himself as the object of that love, wherever it be exercised, and in whatsoever it be employed. I will appeal to those who have frequented the house of mourning, whether they have not often found God more present with them there, than even in their own chamber. In truth, God is honoured there with more than common tributes of acknowledgment. There is he referred to as the All-wise Disposer of all events, and as the gracious Father that corrects only in love and for his people's good. There, too, is he set forth in all his glorious perfections, and especially in all the wonders of redeeming love: and there is he invariably set forth as the author of the very good which is at that hour dispensed to the troubled soul; so that the creature, his instrument, is overlooked, and he alone is glorified.
Say then, Brethren, whether here be not ample reason for the preference shewn to “ the house of mourning :” and whether he be not truly wise, whose heart has dictated such a choice as this?
In contrast with this, we ask,]
[It is “in the house of mirth.” And why? One reason is, that there he is enabled to forget himself. Men do not like to reflect upon their own state before God: and they account any thing desirable, which can dispel unwelcome thoughts, and furnish a pleasing occupation for their minds. Hence it is that all places of amusement are so thronged: and even the house of God is made to administer to our satisfaction; the irksomeness of prayer being rendered tolerable by the fascinations of music, and the charms of eloquence. Hence, too, every one who can devise a new expedient for preventing time from hanging heavy on our hands, will be sure to gain our patronage, and be welcomed and rewarded as a public benefactor.
d Gen. xliii. 29, 30. e Isai. Ixiv. 5. Matt. xxv. 35, 36. Another reason is, that the fool there finds what is most gratifying to his corrupt taste. One has an appetite for conviviality and licentiousness: another affects the more decent gratifications of music, and dancing, and such like: another, more elevated in the scale of being, desires rather the intellectual and refined pleasures of science and philosophy. But each is an epicure in his way; and, though their pursuits be different, each in his own line is as insatiable as the other. He is never weary of his favourite pursuit. He desires to be amused; and makes the gratification of his own particular taste the end of all his studies and pursuits. In a word, he lives only to have his own taste gratified, and to administer to the gratification of those who are like-minded with himself: and wherever he can attain these ends, there his heart is, and there his most select abode.
But there is yet another reason for his preference; and that is, that " in the house of mirth” he finds himself countenanced in his neglect of God. Every man has a secret consciousness that he ought to seek after God in the first place, and to postpone to that every other duty and enjoyment. But when he sees others as remiss in this duty as himself, he comforts himself with the thought, that he is no worse than others; and with the hope, that God will never mark with his displeasure what is so generally regarded as innocent and inoffensive. At all events, he finds nothing to reproach him there. “In a house of mourning” he would see many things repugnant to his habits; for even a fool there puts on, for the time, the semblance of wisdom ; and assents to the truth, that the care of the soul is the one thing needful. But “in the house of mirth,” all that he either hears or sees bids him to be of good courage, and not to question for a moment the approbation of his Judge.]
I think that the positions in my text are now made sufficiently clear; so that we may with propriety proceed, II. To point out their bearing on the Christian's life
and conversationThese principles may doubtless be pressed too far: and they are then carried to excess, when they are regarded as prohibiting all friendly intercourse with the ungodly world: for our blessed Saviour himself honoured with his company a wedding feast, and a feast, too, that was provided for him by an ignorant and unhumbled Pharisee. But, taking these different positions with such a latitude as both reason and Scripture will fairly admit, the least that we should learn from them is,