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SERMON LXII.

THE DUTY OF SELF-DENIAL.

1 Cor. xv. 32, 33.

23. 10; Deut. 32.

56. 12;

See Numb. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. Be not deceived :

evil communications corrupt good manners. 29; Isa. 22. 12, 13;

THERE is nothing so serious, but wicked men will make a Luke 12. 20; Heb. jest of it. To make a jest of dying is so monstrous, that 9. 27.

one would think human nature could hardly be capable of it. But the truth is, very many who dare not speak at this rate, do yet live at this rate: that is, they will not deny themselves any sort of satisfaction this life affords, let what will follow; they will enjoy the good things of this world while they can, and not trouble their heads or their hearts with cares and fears of what may come hereafter ; in short, death, let them talk of it never so familiarly, is the very least of their thoughts.

We are not now speaking of wicked infidels, who believe nothing of a world to come; but of the generality of Christians, who profess to believe a judgment to come, and rewards and punishments in another life: even many of these are as little concerned for the condition in which death will put them as the merest heathens.

They that are rich are but too apt to take it for granted, that they have a right to please themselves in spending their incomes.

They that need not work for their daily bread, but have time to spare, conclude that it cannot be better spent than in diverting themselves.

Such as are young will very hardly be persuaded to believe any other, but that theirs is the age of pleasure and delight,

and that it would be ridiculous to talk of death to them that are but just come into the world.

And even when men come to be old, they are apt to put the thoughts of death far from them, and to make the remainder of their lives as easy and pleasant as possibly they can, by not thinking of what must become of them when they die.

So that, in short, corrupt nature, multitude of examples, an untoward way of reasoning, all combine and plead for this : that the great business of life is to make ourselves easy while we may; that we need not deny ourselves, nor take up the cross; and that, if it is forced upon us, we may lay it down as soon

as ever we can; and that to do otherwise would be to make ourselves fools and miserable without any reason : for who would not be easy when he may ?

And the truth is, these are things so very grateful to flesh and blood, that one would despair of ever convincing Christians of the necessity of laying restraints upon themselves, if Jesus Christ and His Apostles had not so often declared the absolute necessity of self-denial in order to eternal happiness, and by their examples and voluntary sufferings taught us, how very little the pleasures or the miseries of this world are in comparison of those of the next life.

The Apostle St. Paul, whose words we have chosen for the text, was well aware how very apt people are to indulge themselves, and to persuade others to do so too: “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;" to which sort of argument he makes this reply: “Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners :” that is, take care of being led into a wicked error-of believing, for instance, that to cast away care is the way to be freed from it; that to strive to please one's self is the way to be happy ; and that, when we die there is an end of all pleasure as well as pain. For these are not the reasonings of people who live by Scripture, but they are the discourses of such as, having corrupted themselves, desire to corrupt all others, that they may have companions in their infidelity. This is what is plainly implied in St. Paul's answer.

Now, that which I aim at in the discourse I am going to make upon these words is this:

SERM.
LXII.

First; we acknowledge that what such people say is really true; "to-morrow we die;" that is, our time is really short, and we ought to make use of it while it lasts. But then,

Secondly; this is no reason why we should give up ourselves to sensual pleasures; for these will neither make our lives longer, nor our deaths happy. But,

Thirdly; this is what, in all reason, we should resolve upon : that since we must die so soon, our hearts shall not be set upon such pleasures as will make us forget the end of our creation ; such as will make death more bitter to us when we come to die, and will quite unfit us for that happiness which after death good men are sure to enjoy.

Lastly; therefore we ought, as we value our souls, to avoid the company and conversation of all such as would persuade us, either by their words or examples, to follow our natural inclinations, which, if we do not resist them, will infallibly ruin us for ever.

1. And first, This is certainly true, TO-MORROW WE DIE ; our lives are short, and they are uncertain; we may die in a few days, but we shall die in a few years. Why, all people own this. That is very true. But then, there is a great deal of difference betwixt owning a thing, and considering, and being convinced of its importance.

A man that considers, and is convinced of any thing of moment that concerns himself, will have it much in his thoughts, and much at heart. Is it thus that Christians are convinced of the shortness and uncertainty of this present life? Is it thus they are convinced of the reality of a life after death? It is plain they are not. Shall it be said, for instance, that men who make no scruple how they live, no conscience of their ways, who spend their lives in sin and vanity, who know they are sinners, and at enmity with God, and yet never think of making their peace by a timely repentance; can it be said with any truth, that such are convinced that they are in a very little time, perhaps ere this day twelvemonth, to die; and that from that moment, if they die in their sins, they are to be miserable for ever.

And indeed this is the case, not only of such as live in open rebellion against God, but of all such as pass their days without any concern whether they have got such habits of virtue, of piety, humility, charity, and purity, as are absolutely necessary to fit them for heaven.

Let us but observe the behaviour of such as we are sure are convinced of the shortness of their time; such for instance as are under the sentence of death, or such as are seized with some mortal distemper. These we shall find, if they have any sense of religion, more concerned for their everlasting wellbeing, than for all the world beside. How seriously do they lament their misspent time! How much convinced are they of the madness of that mirth which made them put off their conversion! What self-denial, what mortification, would not they wish to have chosen, which might have cured them of those sins which now lie heavy upon their consciences ?

It is but too plain that people in health are not generally thus affected, and therefore we justly conclude, that their belief of a life to come, and of the uncertainty of this life, is of little advantage to them; they have not considered what it is to die before they are prepared for such a change.

Indeed, if the bitterness of death were past, when once our heads are laid in the grave, it would be of no great moment what lives we lead, or what end we make; but when we have the greatest assurance, that “God will bring every work (Eccles. 12. into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good 25. 41, 46. ] or evil;” that “they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire;” the knowledge and belief of this makes death a very serious thing indeed, and not to be thought of, not to be spoken of, but with great concern. And it is as absurd to persuade people to divert themselves, and to drive away the thoughts of death, as to tell a man who is in debt, that the best way is not to think of his accounts, nor to make agreement with his creditors, till they have cast him into prison.

If Christians would but consider the work they have to do, “ before the night cometh when no man can work,” they would (John 9. 4.] be better able to judge how much time of a short life they have to spend in sin and vanity. For besides the particular duties of every man's proper condition and calling; whether he be magistrate or subject, whether master or servant, whether parent or child, whether poor or rich (all these having their

SERM.
LXII.

proper

duties to learn and to discharge as they will answer to God); besides these, we have another life to provide for :

we have all sinned, and as we hope for pardon from God, [Matt. 8. 8.] we must all repent, and " bring forth fruits meet for repent

ance.” We are all in the midst of temptations, and all stand in need of God's grace and assistance, which no man must expect without praying for them daily. And lastly, (which I beseech you to take especial notice of,) every soul who hopes to be happy in the next life must be restored to the image of God, in which we were created, before he leaves this world.

It will not be sufficient, after a long life spent in vanity, in thinking of nothing but the things of this world, or it may be in sinful pleasures; it will not be enough to say when we come to die, I am sorry I have lived at this careless rate, and I hope God will forgive me and make me happy; for be assured of it, good Christians, every one that does not sincerely love God here; who does not desire to be like Him; who does not love what He loves, and hate what He hates; who does not, with all his heart, desire to please God by keeping His commandments; who does not love his neighbour, do him good when it is in his power, be just to him in all his dealings, &c. ; whoever has not strove to wean his affections from sensual pleasures, and made the service of God, in some good measure, his delight as well as his duty; whoever has not done this here, must not hope to be happy hereafter.

It is necessary, absolutely necessary, that Christians should (Phil. 2. know this, that they may "work out their salvation with fear 12.]

and trembling;” that is, with the concern of people whose souls are at stake; that they may not only carefully avoid all such sins as make them enemies to God, and will shut them out of heaven, but that they may be always endeavouring to get such dispositions as may fit them for the company of

saints and angels, by following the rules of the Gospel, which (Col. I. 12.] are given us for this very purpose, "to make us meet to be

partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
This is what Christians that have any

oncern for their souls should do ; and one would hope that there are many (God increase their number !) that do so; but there are too many who choose another way of thinking and living, who think they make the best use of a short life by giving them

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