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LUKE XIV. 18.
They all with one consent began to make excuse.
So perfect is the truth of those descriptions of our nature which are to be found in the Scriptures; so entirely do they seize those principal points which are applicable to all times and to all countries; that when we quote them in reference to the common circumstances of our daily life, the effect is almost startling; and it seems almost like an irreverent use of them, to bring them so closely in contact with our ordinary language and practices. But the fact is, that this wonderful capability of being brought home to common life, constitutes a great part of their perpetual value. The parable in the text was spoken immediately with reference to the various reasons which made
the Jews in that day refuse God's call to enter into the kingdom of his Son. Yet so much is human nature the same from one age to another, and so exactly does the parable describe this nature, that the words of the text may just as fitly be applied to ourselves. “ They all with one consent began to make excuse.”
In which I shall note two things : first, the disobedience to the call of God; and then, the tendency to make excuses for that disobedience, by which, in fact, we condemn ourselves.
In my last sermon, I spoke of that particular call of God which is here addressed to you. We have all of us here assembled, our particular call relating to the several duties which our respective situations impose upon
Do we not all of us too often refuse to listen to this call, and then make our disobedience worse by the vain excuses which we plead for it? I proceed to explain what I mean more particularly.
That the call is disobeyed is a matter of fact, of which our consciences cannot pretend to be ignorant. You are not fitting yourselves carefully and humbly for that state to which it may please God to call you; you are too many of you not bringing up to godliness
and good learning. But the nature of the excuses given for not being so is well worthy of our consideration. I do not mean that these excuses are given outwardly to other persons; perhaps you would be ashamed so to state them: but they are, at any rate, excuses with which you cheat yourselves, and your own consciences, and remain satisfied with not doing what God requires of you.
One of these excuses arises out of a feeling that your common work is not a matter of religion; and that, therefore, it is not sinful to neglect it. Idleness and vice are considered as two distinct things,-and it is very common to say, and to hear it said, of such an one, that he is idle, but that he is perfectly free from vice. It would, indeed, be using words contrary to their common meaning, if we did not make this distinction; and it is true also, that a vicious boy is a great deal worse than an idle one, because he sins much more directly against his own conscience, and because, after all, it is worse to do evil than to leave good undone. But what is not vicious may yet be sinful; in other words, what is not a great offence against men's common notions of right and wrong, may yet be a very great one against those purer notions which
we learn from the Scripture, and in the judgment of the most pure God. Thus idleness is not vicious, perhaps, but it is certainly sinful,—and to strive against it is a religious duty, because it is highly offensive to God. This is so clearly shown in the parable of the ten talents, in that of the sower and the seed, and even in the account of the day of judgment, given by our Lord in the twentyfifth chapter of St. Matthew, that it cannot require a very long proof. In the parable of the talents, the whole offence of the servant, who is cast out into outer darkness, consists in his not having made the most of the talent intrusted to him : in the parable of the sower, those soils are alike represented as bad, “which bring no fruit to perfection,”— whether the ground be overrun with thorns and briers, or whether it fail to produce any thing, from its mere shallowness and lightness. And in the description of the day of judgment, the sin for which the wicked are represented as turned into hell, is only that they had done no good. It is not mentioned that they were vicious in the common sense of the word; but they were sinful, inasmuch as they had not done what God commanded them to do. And if it be said that this relates to the
improvement of the heart, rather than of the understanding, and that though it may be a sin to neglect deeds of charity, it does not follow that it should be a sin to neglect working at books and tasks; the answer is, that it relates to neglecting the main duty of our lives, be it of whatever nature it may.
If your principal work be of a different kind, show what it is, and let the fruit of it be seen; and if your lives are actively useful, if you are labouring in God's service heartily, and if study be taken up merely as a recreation, as the amusement of your leisure hours,—then I do not deny but that very great ignorance and dislike to study may be faults of a much lighter character; it may be foolish rather than sinful to indulge them. But as it is plain that you have no other principal duty but that of improving your minds,-as you have no other way in which you can bring forth fruit,so it is plain, that to neglect this in you is the same sort of sin as if a king were to neglect the care of his people, or a minister of Christ the spiritual benefit of the congregation committed to his charge: the ground does not bring forth the fruit which the sower looks for; and it is, therefore, rejected and judged unprofitable.