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who worshipped the image of a hero, or public benefactor, had more to say for their religion, than this idolater, who adores, we may venture to say, one of the silliest and most worthless animals in the creation, as ridiculous and nauseous to every body else, as the deified monkies and garlick of the Egyptians.
Honour is but an airy and notional divinity. Is power more real and solid ? Power is, for the most part, desired chiefly for the sake of honour; and when it is, is esteemed as much inferior to it, as the means are to the end. Power is the most difficult of all acquisitions, and the most troublesome of all possessions. There is generally no struggling up to it in time of peace, without such base means, and servile arts, as it is surprising the proud, and the ambitious, can ever prevail on themselves to stoop to. And what is it they struggle for? Why, to stand on a pinnacle exposed to the same arts incessantly employed to bring them down. There is no arriving at power by the sword, without undergoing toils, and being exposed to dangers, which no man in his senses could think of encountering for the sake of any thing, less than God and heaven. The great ones laugh at the little man, who, with high ambition, aspires to the dignity of a sub-sheriff's rod, or a constable's staff; yet their passion and his are the same, and the end they aim at no way different. He is as vain of his place, and better pleased with it, than Alexander the Great with his vast dominion. And now we have mentioned this most powerful prince, he will serve, better than any other, to exemplify the vanity of ambition and worldly dominion in all men; for none can hope to go higher than he did; none indeed, but a madman, can expect to rise to any thing like the power and grandeur he arrived at. What countries did Alexander conquer ? How long did he reign? What became of him and his power? He conquered but a small spot on a little ball of earth ; and, when he was very young, the juice of a few grapes, trod but a little before by the feet of a poor labourer, went boldly up to him, in the midst of all his guards, his armies, his power; dragged him from his throne, and threw him into a ditch. Why did not his god, whom he had sacrificed so many human victims to, and for whom he had so often exposed himself, deliver him from this contemptible enemy? Power could not make good, what it had so long promised him; all it could gather, to give him contentment from so many glorious victories, was just so much wine as was sufficient to deliver him from the load his successful ambition had laid upon him. Wherein then does the grandeur of this world consist? It is much the same as that of the most considerable bee in a hive, or the strongest reptile in a bed of ants. It is but a poor ambition, that hath no bounds. That of Alexander and Cæsar had none. How did they laugh at the low-spirited aims of such as aspired to some office under them, perhaps to be the servant of their servants, in a succession of many degrees, down to the meanest officer in their courts or armies ! In what a contemptible light does all subordinate ambition appear, when that of the greatest conquerors that ever lived, shews itself to be so very low, so very little, in the eye of sound reason.
As to pleasure, he who makes that his god, should have, one would think, a very indulgent deity of it. The case is however quite otherwise. There is not a severer, nor a more dreadful devil to serve, in all the regions of darkness. The enjoyments, with which he tempts silly people into his service, are trilling to the last degree, and continue but for a moment? for human nature is, by its wise Author, greatly stinted and bounded on the side of sensual pleasure. And what follows these momentary dreams of delight? Why, sudden shame, grievous disappointment, intolerable remorse, painful sickness, shocking death. No sort of slave hath so bad a time of it, or suffers so much as the man of pleasure. The sow, and he, may be almost said to mess on the same dish, which, when they have finished, they roll themselves on a dunghill, think of nothing above it, and lose themselves in filth and stupidity, till they are roused' to the slaughter; and the knife,' or the dart, 'strikes through the liver.'
Are these thy gods, O Christian? O vain, pretended Christian? These! which you renounced, when you took on you the profession of a Christian! But it now appears, your baptismal covenant is forgot and neglected, as an empty ceremony. The word of God too is as little set by, where these things are so often, and in so strong terms, represented as the enemies of God and your soul, as the springs of all evil, as the snares of the devil, as 'vanity and vexation of spirit.' Confess the truth ; does not your experience fully prove the same thing to you? Have you been yet able to raise yourself to such a fortune, to such honours, power, or pleasures, as can satisfy you, or pay you for the labour, and vexation, they cost you ? Or, if you have, how long, think you, will you be able to continue in the enjoyment of them? A few years must infallibly tear you from them. Thou fool, perhaps this night thy soul shall be required of thee.' Can these things defend you against the changes of fortune, against unhappy accidents, against the stings of conscience, or sickness, or death? Are you sure they can deliver you out of the hands of the living God, from whom you have revolted, to serve these vanities? But you will say, I know all this, and do neither rest in the riches, or pomps, or pleasures, of the world; I do not worship them, nor set them above God in my affections ; but however find it necessary, while I am here, to make some provision for a competent and decent subsistence. Do not deceive yourselves, nor mock God. Since you give incomparably more of your thoughts and labours to the world than to God, it is too evident, that the world is uppermost in your heart. Do you labour whole days, do you rise up early, and late take rest, for God, as you do for the bread of affliction? Do you ever spend a whole week in settling a spiritual account? Do you make laborious journeys, do you take long voyages, do you fight dangerous battles, for God? Recollect how often you, who have endured with patience the keenest severity of the weather, and faced outrageous storms in the pursuit of worldly things, have been kept back from the worship of God by a cold day or a slight shower, and you will then perceive, whether it is God or the world that holds the first place in your heart. Did you give to God and religion the tenth part of that care and anxiety, which you lavish on the world, you would stand with the foremost of the saints in God's service; the exercise of private devotion would not seem so irksome to you, as it does; nor would it be so hard a matter to draw you to God's house, or table; you would need no compulsion to bring you in.
As to that which you call by the name of competency and decency, words big with deceit, ought it not to have some bounds? And are you not yet sensible you have set no bounds to your desire of riches, to your thirst of honour and power, to your appetite of pleasures ? Do you not still go on, desiring more, and aiming at greater matters? Or do you hope still to persevere, labouring with so great anxiety to secure a greater interest in worldly things, and at the same time to be acceptable to God? Vain imagination! You cannot serve God and mammon.' The moment you cleave to the latter, that moment you cut yourself off from God, who places too high an esteem upon your affections to endure to be rivalled in them, especially by so infamous and odious a rival. Think not, because the love you bestow on, and the confidence you repose in, these enemies to God, are not called idolatry by the world, which never gives the right names to its own crimes, that they are therefore the less properly and truly idolatrous. I have given, I think, sufficient reasons to prove, that they really are ; but what at least ought to convince you, is, that God, who cannot lie, hath in his word called them by that name.
This, I know, is a subject, on which you do not care for thinking closely, and therefore have formed but confused and unaffecting notions about it. But consider, that God is not a man that he should be deceived; and surely no sensible man, who had a right to your services or friendship, would be satisfied with a thousand professions, if he saw by your actions, that you had little or no regard for him. Now, God is wiser than man, and sees into your heart; and, as he hath the double right of a Maker and a Saviour to all the honour you can do him, and all the services you can pay him, you may take it for granted, that a cold or outward shew of worship will be far from satisfying him, especially when he sees you joining yourself to his enemies, and putting your chief trust in them. Consider with yourself, how odious in the sight of God these objects are, that make you so inattentive to his word, so deaf to the advice of his ministers, so forgetful of all his tender mercies, and alarming judgments. Reflect how often these rivals of God have withheld you from his house and table, those outward signs, by which you hope to shew you are his worshippers; and how often, when you are persuaded, or compelled to come in, they attend you to the place of worship, engage your thoughts even there, and intercept that application of the heart, in which consists the very nature and being of adoration, and turn it downward from God to those vanities, which, as they engrossed your hearts on other occasions, cannot be kept at a distance on this.
The profits, and honours, and pleasures of this world, are but the inferior deities, through which the god of this world maintains his correspondence with your imagination, your mistaken notions, and lusts; and, by means of that deceitful intercourse, seduces you to the dishonourable worship and service of himself. When you consider, that he is a fallen angel, an enemy to God and your soul, shocking in his person and nature, and infinitely mischievous in his designs, you utterly abhor the least thought of worshipping him, or entering into any league or combination with him. It is for this reason, that he does not appear, and openly so. licit your devotion; but keeps behind the curtain, and plays such engines on you, as are less apt to excite your suspicion or aversion. It is through these that he establishes his power over you; and it was by these, that, with infinite impudence, he attempted to seduce the human nature of Christ himself. He shewed him all the kingdoms of the earth and said unto bim, All these things will I give unto thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me;' but he was answered by infinite wisdom, in the words of my text; “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.'
When he sets forward any of these tempting objects to ensnare us, let us consider, that it is only his image; that he lurks within it, and gives it by far the greater part of its bewitching allurements; kindles up the beauty of the lewd woman; teaches the wine to move itself aright in the glass, and exalts its spirits ; gives the high seasoning of the luxurious dish, the proud splendour to the gay clothes, the tempting brightness to the gold, the pomp and grandeur to worldly power. These things have, in themselves, but feeble attractions for rational souls, before whose eyes religion hath placed the glories of heaven, and who, if they examine the best things this world can promise them, with but a small degree of care and fairness,can discover that they are all only outward shew, all vanity and vexation, the furni-ture only of an inn, where we cannot stay; the ornaments of