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It is the most delusive of all calculations to put off the acceptance of the Gospel, because of its freeness—and because it is free at all times—and because the present you think may be the time of your unconcern and liberty, and some distant future be the time of your return through that door which will still be open for you. The door of Christ's Mediatorship is ever open, till death puts its unchangeable seal upon your eternity. But the door of your own heart, if you are not receiving him, is shut at this moment, and every day is it fixing and fastening more closely—and long ere death summon you away, may it at length settle immoveably upon its hinges, and the voice of him who standeth without, and knocketh, may be unheard by the spiritual ear—and, therefore, you are not made to feel too much, though you feel as earnestly as if now or never was the alternative on which you were suspended. It is not enough, that the Word of God, compared to a hammer, be weighty and powerful. The material on which it works must be capable of an impression. It is not enough, that there be a free and forcible application. There must be a willing subject. You are unwilling now, and therefore it is that conversion does not follow. To-morrow the probability is, that you will be still more unwilling—and, therefore, though the application be the same, the conversion is still at a greater distance away from you. And thus, while the application continues the same, the subject hardens, and a good result is ever becoming more and more unlikely—and thus may it go on till you arrive upon the bed of your last sickness, at the confines of eternity—and what, I would ask, is the kind of willingness that comes upon you then 7 Willing to escape the pain of hell—this you are now, but yet not willing to be a Christian. Willing that the fire and your bodily sensations be kept at a distance from each other—this you are now, for who of you at on, would thrust his hand among the flames Willing that the frame of your animal sensibilities shall meet with nothing to wound or torture it—this is willingness of which the lower animals, incapable of religion, are yet as capable as yourself. You will be as willing then for deliverance from material torments as you can be now—but there is a willingness which you want now, and which, in all likelihood, will then be still more beyond the reach of your attainment. If the free Gospel do not meet with your willingness now to accept and submit to it, neither may it then. And I know not, my brethren, what has been your exE. in death-beds, but sure I am, that oth among the agonies of mortal disease, and the terrors of the malefactor's cell, Christ may be offered, and the offer be
sadly and sullenly put away. The free proclamation is heard without one accompanying charm—and the man who refused to lay hold of it through life, finds, that in the impotency of his expiring grasp, he cannot apprehend it. And O, if you but knew how often the word of faith may fall from the minister, and the work of faith be left undone upon the dying man, never would you so postpone the purposes of seriousness, or look forward to the last week of your abode upon earth as to the convenient season for winding up the concerns of a neglected eternity. If you look attentively to the text, you will find that there is something more than a shade of difference between being reconciled and being saved. Reconciliation is spoken of as an event that has already happened—salvation as an event that is to come. The one event may lead to the other; but there is a real distinction between them. It is true, that the salvation instanced in the preceding verse, is salvavation from wrath. But it is the wrath which is incurred by those who have sillned wilfully, after they had come to the knowledge of the truth—“when there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” Jesus Christ will save us from this by saving us from sin. He who hath reconciled us by his death, will, by his life, accomplish for us this salvation. Reconciliation is not salvation. It is only the portal to it. Justification is not the end of Christ's coming—it is only the means to an ultimate attainment. By his death he pacified the lawgiver. By his life he purifies the sinner. The one work is finished. The other is not so, but it is only going on unto perfection. And this is the secret of that unwillingness which I have already touched upon. There is a willingness that God would list off from their persons the hand of an avenger. But there is not a willingness that Christ would lay upon their persons the hand of a sanctifier. The motive for him to apprehend them is to make them holy. But they care not to apprehend that for which they are apprehended. They see not that the use of the new dispensation, is for them to be restored to the image they have lost, and, for this purpose to be purged from their old sins. This is the point on which they are in darkness—“and they love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil.” They are at all times willing for the reward without the service. But they are not willing for the reward and the service together. The willingness for the one they always have. But the willingness for
both they never have. They have it not
to-day—and it is not the operation of time
To all those who are conversant in the scenery of external nature, it is evident, that an object to be seen to the greatest advantage must be placed at a certain distance from the eye of the observer. The poor man's hut, though all within be raggedness and disorder, and all around it be full of the most nauseous and disgusting spectacles— yet, if seen at a sufficient distance, may appear a sweet and interesting cottage. That field where the thistle grows, and the face of which is deformed by the wild exuberance of a rank and pernicious vegetation, may delight the eye of a distant spectator by the loveliness of its verdure. That lake, whose waters are corrupted, and whose banks poison the air by their marshy and putrid exhalations, may charm the eye of an enthusiast, who views it from an adjoining eminence, and dwells with rapture on the quietness of its surface, and on the beauty of its outline—its sweet border fringed with the gayest colouring of Nature, and on which spring lavishes its finest ornaments. All is the effect of distance. It sostens the harsh and disgusting features of every object. What is gross and ordinary, it can dress in the most romantic attractions. The country hamlet it can transform into a paradise of beauty, in spite of the abominations that are at every door, and the angry brawlings of the men and the women who occupy it. All that is loathsome and offensive, is softened down by the power of distance. You see the smoke rising in fantastic wreaths through the pure air, and the village spire peeping srom among the thick verdure of the trees, which embosom it. The fancy of our sentimentalist swells with pleasure, and peace and piety supply their delightful associations to complete the harmony of the picture.
This principle may serve to explain a feeling which some of you who now hear me may have experienced. On a fine day,
when the sun threw its unclouded splendours over a whole neighbourhood, did you never form a wish that your place § be transferred to some distant and more beautiful part of the landscape? Did the idea never rise in your fancy, that the people who sport on yon sunny bank are happier than yourself—that you would like to be buried in that distant grove, and forget, for a while, in silence and in solitude, the distractions of the world—that you would like to repose by yon beautiful rivulet, and soothe every anxiety of your heart by the gentleness of its murmurs—that you would like to transport yoursels to the distance of miles, and there enjoy the peace which resides in some sweet and sheltered concealment? In a word, was there no secret aspiration of the soul for another place than what you actually occupied ? Instead of resting in the quiet enjoyment of your present situation, did not your wishes wander abroad and around you—and were not }." ready to exclaim with the Psalmist in the text, “O that I had the wings of a dove; for I would fly to yonder mountain, and be at rest?” But what is of most importance to be observed is, that even when you have reached the mountain, rest is as far from you as ever. As you get nearer the wished-for spot, the fairy enchantments in which distance had arrayed it, gradually disappear; when you at last arrive at your object, the illusion is entirely dissipated; and you are grieved to find, that }. have carried the same principle of restlessness and discontent along with
Ou. - y Now, what is true of a natural landscape, is also true of that moral landscape, which is presented to the eye of the mind when it contemplates human life, and casts a wide survey over the face of human society. The position which I myself occupy is seen and felt with all its disadvantages. Its yoations come home to my feelings with all the cer
tainty of experience. I see it before mine eyes with a vision so near and intimate, as to admit of no colouring, and to preclude the exercise of fancy. It is only in those situations which are without me, where the principle of deception operates, and where the vacancies of an imperfect.experience are filled up by the power of imagination, ever ready to summon the fairest forms of pure and unmingled enjoyment. It is all resolvable, as before, into the principle of distance. I am too far removed to see the smaller features of the object which I contemplate. I overlook the operation of those minuter causes, which expose every situation of human life to the inroads of misery and disappointment. Mine eye can only take in the broader outlines of the object before me, and it consigns to fancy the task of filling them up with its finest colouring. Am I unlearned 7 I feel the disgrace of ignorance, and sigh for the name and the distinctions of philosophy. Do I stand upon a literary eminence? I feel the vexations of rivalship, and could almost renounce the splendours of my dear-bought reputation for the peace and shelter which insignificance bestows. Am I poor? I riot in fancy upon the o of luxury, and think how great I would be, if invested with all the consequence of wealth and of patronage. Am I rich 2 I sicken at the deceitful splendour which surrounds me, and am at times tempted to think, that I would have been happier far, is, born to a humbler station, I had been trained to the peace and innocence of poverty. Am I immersed in business? I repine at the fatigues of emso and envy the lot of those who ave every hour at their disposal, and can spend all their time in the sweet relaxations of amusement and society. Am I exempted from the necessity of exertion? I feel the corroding anxieties of indolence, and attempt in vain to escape that weariness and disgust which useful and regular occupation can alone save me from. Am I single 7 I feel the dreariness of solitude, and my fancy warms at the conception of a dear and domestic circle. Am I embroiled in the cares of a family 7 I am tormented with the perverseness or ingratitude of those around me; and sigh in all the bitterness of repentance, over the rash and irrecoverable step by which I have renounced for ever the charms of independence. This, in fact, is the grand principle of human ambition, and it serves to explain both its restlessness and its vanity. What is present is seen in all its minuteness, and we overlook not a single article in the train of little drawbacks, and difficulties and disappointments. What is distant is seen under a broad and general aspect, and the illusions of fancy are substituted in those places which we cannot fill up with the details of
actual observation. What is present fills me with disgust. What is distant allures me to enterprise. I sigh for an office, the business of which is more congenial to my temper. I fix mine eye on some lofty eminence in the scale of preferment. I spurn at the condition which I now occupy, and I look around me and above me. The perpetual tendency is not to enjoy his actual position, but to get away from it—and not an individual amongst us who toes not every day of his life join in the aspiration of the Psalmist, “O that I had the wings of a dove, that I may fly to yonder mountain, and be at rest.” But the truth is, that we never rest. The most regular and stationary being on the face of the earth, has something to look forward to, and something to aspire aster. He must realize that sum to which he annexes the idea of a competency. He must add that piece of ground which he thinks necessary to complete the domain of which he is the proprietor. He must secure that office which confers so much honour and emolument upon the holder. Even after every effort of personal ambition is exhausted, he has friends and children to provide for. The care of those who are to come after him, lands him in a never-ending train of hopes, and wishes, and anxieties. O that I could gain the vote and the patronage of this honourable acquaintance—or, that I could se– cure the political influence of that great man who honours me with an occasional call, and addressed me the other day with a cordiality which was quite bewitching—or that my young friend could succeed in his competition for the lucrative vacancy to which I have been looking forward, for years, with all the eagerness which distance and uncertainty could inspire—or that we could fix the purposes of that capricious and unaccountable wanderer, who, of late indeed has been very particular in his attentions, and whose connection we acknowledge, in secret, would be an honour and an advantage to our family—or, at all events, let me heap wealth and aggrandizement on that son, who is to be the representative of my name, and is to perpetuate that dynasty which I have had the glory of establishing. This restless ambition is not peculiar to any one class of society. A court only offers to one's notice a more exalted theatre for the play of rivalship and political enterprise. In the bosom of a cottage, you may witness the operation of the very same principle, only directed to objects of greater insignificance—and though a place for m girl, or an apprenticeship for my boy, be that I aspire after, yet an enlightened observer of the human character will perceive in it the same eagerness of competition, the same jealousy, the same malicious attempts to undermine the success of a more likely pretender, the same busy train of passions and anxieties which animate the exertions of him who struggles for precedency’ in the cabinet, and lists his ambitious eye to the management of an empire. This is the universal property of our nature. In the whole circle of your experience, did you ever see a man sit down to the full enjoyment of the present, without a hope or a wish unsatisfied ? Did he carry in his mind no reference to futurity—no longing of the soul after some remote or inaccessible object—no day-dream which played its enchantments around him, and which, even when accomplished, left him nothing more than the delirium of a momentary triumph 2 Did you never see him, after the bright illusions of novelty were over—when the present object had lost its charm, and the distant begun to practise its allurements—when some gay vision of futurity had hurried him on to a new enterprise, and in the fatigues of a restless ambition, he felt a bosom as oppressed with care, and a heart as anxious and dissatisfied as ever? . This is the true, though the curious, and I had almost said, the sarcical picture of human life. Look into the heart which is the seat of feeling, and you there perceive a perpetual tendency to enjoymrent, but not enjoyment itself—the cheerfulness of hope, but not the happiness of actual possession. The present is but an instant of time. The moment you call it your own, it abandons you. It is not the actual sensation which occupies the mind. It is what is to come next. Man lives in futurity. The pleasurable feeling of the moment forms almost no part of his happiness. It is not the reality of to-day which interests his heart. It is the vision of to-morrow. It is the distant object on which fancy has thrown its deceitful splendour. When to-morrow comes, the animating hope is transformed into the dull and insipid reality. As the distant object draws near, it becomes cold and tasteless, and uninteresting. The only way in which the mind can support itself, is by recurring to some new anticipation. This may give buoyancy for a time—but it will share the fate of all its predecessors, and be the addition of another folly to the wretched train of disappointments that have gone before it. What a curious object of contemplation to a superior being, who casts an eye over this lower world, and surveys the busy, restless, and unceasing operations of the people who swarm upon its surface. Let him select any one individual amongst us, and confine his attention to him as a specimen of the whole. Let him pursue him through the intricate variety of his movements, for he is never stationary; see him with his eye fixed upon some distant ob
ject, and struggling to arrive at it; see him
pressing forward to some eminence which perpetually recedes away from him; see the inexplicable being, as he runs in full pursuit of some glittering bauble, and on the moment he reaches it, throws it behind him, and it is forgotten; see him unmindful of his past experience, and hurrying his footsteps to some new object with the same eagerness and rapidity as ever; compare the ecstacy of hope with the lifelessness of possession, and observe the whole history of his day to be made up of one fatiguing race of vanity, and restlessness, and disappoint
ment; - ,
“And, like the glittering of an idiot's toy, Doth Fancy mock his vows." To complete the unaccountable history, let us look to its termination. Man is irregular in his movements, but this does not hinder the regularity of Nature. Time will not stand still to look at us. It moves at its own invariable pace. The winged moments fly in swift succession over us. The great luminaries which are suspended on high, perform their cycles in the heaven. The sun describes his circuit in the firmament, and the space of a few revolutions will bring every man among us to his destiny. . The decree passes abroad against the poor child of infatuation. It meets him in the full career of hope and of enterprise. He sees the dark curtain of mortality falling upon the world, and upon all its interests. That busy, restless heart, so crowded with its plans, and feelings, and anticipations, forgets to play, and all its fluttering anxieties are hushed for ever.
Where, then, is that resting-place which the Psalmist aspired aster? What are we
to mean by that mountain, that wilderness,
to which he prayed that the wings of a dove may convey him, asar from the noise and distractions of the world, and hasten his escape from the windy storm, and the tempest 2 Is there no object, in the whole round of human enjoyment, which can give rest to the agitated spirit of man Will he not sit down in the fulness of contentment, after he has reached it, and bid a final adieu to the cares and fatigues of ambition ? Is this longing of the mind a principle of his nature, which no gratification can extinguish 2 Must it condemn him to perpetual agitation, and to the wild impulses of an ambition which is never satisfied ? We allow that exercise is the health of the mind. It is better to engage in a trifling pursuit, if innocent, than to watch the melancholy progress of time, and drag out a weary existence in all the languor of a consuming indolence. But nobody will den that it is better still, if the pursuit in whic we are engaged be not a trifling one—is it conducts to some lasting gratification-if it leads to some object, the possession of which confers more happiness than the
mere prospect—if the mere pleasure of the chase is not the only recompense—but where, in addition to this, we secure some reward proportioned to the fatigue of the exercise, and that justifies the eagerness with which we embarked in it. So long as the exercise is innocent, better do something than be idle: but better still, when the something we do, leads to a valuable and important termination. Any thing rather than the ignoble condition of that mind which feels the burden of itself—and which knows not how to dispose of the weary hours that hang so oppressively upon it. But there is certainly a ground of preference in the objects which invite us to exertion— and better far to fix upon that object which leaves happiness and satisfaction behind it, than dissipate your vigour in a pursuit which terminates in nothing—and where the mere pleasure of occupation is the only circumstance to recommend it. When we talk of the vanity of ambition, we do not propose to extinguish the principles of our nature, but to give them a more useful and exalted direction. A state of hope and of activity is the element of man——and all that we propose, is to withdraw his hopes from the deceitful objects of fancy, and to engage his activity in the pursuit of real and permanent enjoyments. Man must have an object to look forward to. Without this incitement the mind languishes. It is thrown out of its element, and, in this unnatural suspension of its powers, it feels a dreariness, and a discomfort, far more unsufferable than it ever experienced from the visitations of a real or positive calamity. If such an object does not offer, he will create one for himself. The mere possession of wealth, and of all its enjoyments, will not satisfy him. Possession carries along with it the dulness of certainty, and to escape from this dulness, he will transform it into an uncertainty—he will embark it in a hazardous speculation, or he will stake it at the gaming-table; and from no other principle than that he may exchange the lifelessness of possession, for the animating sensations of hope and of enterprise. It is a paradox in the moral constitution of man; but the experience of every day confirms it—that man follows what he knows to be a delusion, with as much eagerness, as if he were assured of its reality. Put the question to him, and he will tell you, that if you were to lay before him all the profits which his fancy anticipates, he would long as much as ever for Some new speculation; or, in other words, be as much dissatisfied as ever with the position which he actually occupies—and yet, with his eye perfectly open to this circumstance, will he embark i.'. power of his mind in the chase of what he knows to be a mockery and a phantom.
Now, to find fault with man for the plea. sure which he derives from the mere excitement of a distant object, would be to find fault with the constitution of his nature. It is not the general principle of his activity which I condemn. It is the direction of that activity to a useless and unprofitable object. The mere happiness of the pursuit does not supersede the choice of the object. Even though you were to keep religion out of sight altogether, and bring the conduct of man to the test of worldlyP. you still presuppose a ground of preference in the object. Why is the part of the sober and industrious tradesman preferred to that of the dissipated gambler? Both feel the delights of a mind fully occupied with something to excite and to animate. But the exertions of the one lead to the safe enjoyment of a competency. The exertions of the other lead to an object which, at best, is precarious, and often land you in the horrors of poverty and disgrace. The mere pleasure of exertion is not enough to justify every kind of it: you must look forward!) the object and the termination—and it is the judicious choice of the object which even in the estimation of worldly wisdom, forms the great point of distinction betwo prudence and foily. Now, all that I ask of you, is to extend the application of the same principle to a life of religion. Compare the wisdom of the children of light, with the wisdom of a blind and worldly generation; the prudence of the Christian who labouts for immortality, with the prudence of him who labours for the objects of a vain and perishable ambition. Contrast the littlenes of time, with the greatness of eternity-ho restless and unsatisfying pleasures of the world, with the enjoyments of heaven, so pure, so substantial, so unfading—and me which plays the higher game—he whose anxiety is frittered away on the Pu. suits of a scene that is ever shifting, all ever transitory; or he, who contemplates the life of man in all its magnitude; who acts upon the wide and comprehensives* vey of its interests, and takes into his “". mate the mighty roll of innumerable ago.
There is no resting-place to be found." this side of time, it is the doctrine of to Bible, and all experience loudly proclaim” it. I do not ask you to listen to the Co. plaints of the poor, or the murmurs of . disappointed. Take your lesson from the veriest favourite of fortune. See him pla in a prouder eminence than he ever asp after see him arrayed in brighter colo" than ever dazzled his early imagina” See him surrounded with all the homo that same and flattery can bestow—and ter you have suffered this parading ex". to practise its deceitfulness upon you.” into his solitude-mark his busy, res!” dissatisfied eye, as it wanders uncertain"