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NEGLECT OF PRESENT DUTY THE RUIN OF MAN
1 Kings xx. 40.
As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. VARIOUS and deeply interesting are the instruc
tions of the sacred oracles. The revelation which God has given, is both glorious and worthy its author; and suited to the state and condition of mankind. On the one hand, the divine character is exhibited in all its glory and beauty; on the other, that of man in all its pollution and deformity. The great design of divine revelation is the glory of God, and the salvation of man. But, in order to this, we may see the propriety of those facts being recorded of the conduct of both good and bad men; of the faithful and unfaithful, and all their varied circumstances, to be a terrour to evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. Hence, a passage of scripture seemingly indifferent in itself, by its connexion becomes momentously interesting.
The words of the text are the account of a man's negligence, which cost his life. The connexion, is solemn and instructive. And a certain man of the sons of the prophets, said unto his neighbour in the word of the Lord, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him. Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, Behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him and slew him. Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee! And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded
him. So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face. And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king; and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a man turned aside and brought a man unto me and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgement be, thyself hast decided it. And he hasted and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him, that he was of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.
By this account we are taught, that to be busy about remote concerns, to the neglect of immediate duty, proves the destruction of man. The subject may be illustrated with great variety for our present and future well-being.
1st. As it respects the various evils of civil life, the true reason to be assigned, is, that mankind are so much busied in concerns remote from their present duty. Society is burdened by manifold evils, because so many are busy here and there; and for the greater part of their time, and the chief part of their conduct, no satisfactory account can be given. Mankind are generally busied about something; and if it be not for good, it must be for ill. Those pursuits which cannot be for the benefit of individuals and community, must be for their injury. And to turn aside but one step from what is consistent with known duty, is to enter a course which may end in lasting disgrace and infamy. When the mind is not employed with subjects which relate to immediate duty, a person is peculiarly exposed to temptation.
To be busy here and there, by spending much of our time in loitering or frivolous pursuits, is to be in danger of some destructive vice; of intemperance, profanity, theft, or lasciviousness: and to an unfeeling mind and abandoned life. Would all be occu pied in some of the varied duties of life, how quickly would bitter animosities, and painful and lasting contentions have an end. Why are our prisons filled with malefactors? Because many are busy here and there, contemplating schemes to which duty does not call, and inventing projects which are not their true interest. Forgery and robbery so often take place on the account of some who would be busy, but not in some honest calling. Why are locks necessary? For fear that some would be busy here and there, from motives foreign from present duty. The same reasoning will account for the conduct of duelists. Would the person on the gallows assign the true reason and first cause how he came to ascend the scaffold to be a spectacle for the world, he would tell us he first embarked in some trivial pursuits, aside from the path of duty; and, persisting in this course by a climax of vices, he is suspended between the heavens and earth. Murder, at first, was far from his intentions; his soul even shuddered at the thought of a profligate life, and of abandoned and desperate attempts. How varied the vices and evils of this present world! But to be busy about remote concerns to the neglect of immediate duty, proves the destruction of man in his present state, as it respects the various evils of social and civil life.
2d. Negligence and trivial pursuits, instead of industry and economy, cause many to live in the want of the conveniences of life. Earthly good things must not be accounted our chief portion, as they are only the temporal blessings of heaven. Still no person of reflection can be insensible how desi rable and necessary they are in this life, both for
usefulness and comfort. Although they are only temporal gifts, yet they are essential for our subsistence and for the support of society. Hence, then, we are not only to desire them; but to labour, and by all prudent means, endeavour to procure them. In time of health property is desirable, that we may have a competence; bear our part in the support of religious institutions, and contribute to the support of the poor and needy, and to the necessities of the sick and distressed. And how culpable must that person be, who by idleness or prodigality, has rendered himself unable to discharge such offices of humanity. Sin lieth at the door of him who will be busy here and there, in pursuits remote and inconsistent with his worldly interest. If the time and means for accumulating earthly goods be mispent, how can we comply with the kind exhortation, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? Without the means of relieving the necessities of the afflicted, how can we succour them? To endure a distressing and lingering sickness, or to bear the infirmities peculiar to old age, and at the same time to be destitute of the comforts and aids requisite to such a state, through former indolence or extravagance, must fill the mind with keen reflection and painful reproaches. Youth is the season peculiarly favourable to a preparation and beginning, to accumulate the varied blessings of life. But parents, who are the instruments of bringing their children into the world, are bound to make suitable provision for their several wants. Hence says the apostle Paul, The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. Instead of this, however, we behold some profusely squander wealth, and waste their fortunes; and others, who are too indifferent to exert themselves for their children's welfare. They are busy here and there; but their daily employments are wholly incompatible with the peace and pros
perity of their families. How should a parent's heart be pained at the thought of having his children dependant on others for support, when his own misconduct is the chief cause of such dependance. Then may industry and economy witness our conduct; that negligence, indolence, and trivial pursuits may not cause us to live in the want of the comforts and conveniences of life, and prove the ruin of our interests as it respects the temporal blessings of heaven.
3d. Mental improvement forbids, that we be busy about remote concerns, to the neglect of immediate duty. It depends upon our own exertions, whether our minds be employed in treasuring up trivial and vain ideas, or those which are interesting and useful. Some are busy here and there in the pursuit of knowledge, which cannot benefit themselves nor others, instead of that which is worthy to be remembered and communicated. But how important that the several faculties of the mind, be exerted on subjects suited to the dignity of its rational nature, that sensual and sinful thoughts be not intruding. Youth is the season peculiarly favourable to mental improvement; for then, with the growth of the animal frame, the mind is capable of the greatest expansion. If this precious season be unimproved, the intellectual nature must sustain a loss which no future exertions can possibly retrieve. Then may diligence, and a seasonable attention to study and reflection, refine the mind and enlarge the understanding. Let virtuous principles and habits be instilled into the minds of children, lest they indulge in those that are vicious. The mind that is uncultivated, like a field, is liable to be overgrown with thorns and briers; which, when deeply rooted and wide spread, can scarcely be eradicated. May our adorning be that of the inner man, that the mental powers be invigorated and brightened, and not stupified and darkened.
4th. Mankind should not be busy about remote