« PreviousContinue »
ment; pleasures of which at present you have no conception ; but which, upon trial, you shall find superiour to the trifling or turbulent amusements, in which you have hitherto passed your days. The true satisfaction of the human mind is only to be found in religion and goodness ; in a purified beart and a virtuous life. All other plans of happiness are fallacious, and pregnant with disappointment. It is only by acquainting ourselves with God that we can find peace : And those who are weary and heavy laden now, shall be weary and heavy laden to the end, unless they come to him who only can give them rest.
On LUXURY and LICENTIOUSNESS.
ISAIAH, v. 12.
The harp, and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine,
are in their feasts ; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.
IT appears from many passages in the writings of
this prophet, that in his days great corruption of manners had begun to take place among the people of Israel. Originally a sober and a religious nation, accustomed to a simple and pastoral life, after they had enlarged their territories by conquest, and acquired wealth by commerce, they gradually contracted habits of luxury; and luxury soon introduced its usual train of attending evils. In the history of all nations the same circulation of manners has been found ; and the age in which we live resembles, in this respect, the ages which have gone before it. Forms of iniquity may vary ; but the corrupt propensities of men remain at all times much the same; and revolutions from primitive simplicity to the refinements of criminal luxury have been often exhibited on the stage of the world. The reproof directed in the text to the Jews of that ancient age will be found equally applicable to the manners of many in modern times. In discoursing from it, I shall first consider the character of those who are described in the text,
and show the guilt that is involved in it. I shall next consider the duties which persons of that character are supposed to have neglected; to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operation of his hands.
I. WHEN we take into view the character pointed at in the text, it is evident that what the prophet means to reprove is the spirit of inconsiderate dissipation, of intemperate indulgence, and irreligious luxury. It is not the feast and the wine, the harp and the viol, which he means to condemn. Music and wine are, in themselves, things of innocent nature: Nay, when temperately enjoyed, they may be employed for useful purposes ; for affording relaxation from the oppressive cares of life, and for promoting friendly intercourse among men.
The opulent are not prohibited from enjoying the good things of this world, which Providence has bestowed upon them. Religion neither abolishes the distinction of rank, (as the vain philosophy of some would teach us to do,) nor interferes with a modest and decent indulgence of pleasure. It is the criminal abuse of pleasure which is here censured; that thoughtless and intemperate enjoyment of it which wholly absorbs the time and attention of men ; which obliterates every serious thought of the proper business of life; and effaces the sense of religion and of God. · It may
proper to remark, that it is not open and direct impiety, which is laid to the charge of the persons here characterised. It is not said, that in their feast they scoffed at religion, or blasphemed the name of God. To this summit of wickedness these persons have not yet arrived ; perhaps the age in which they lived gave not. its countenance to this wantonness of impiety. It is merely a negative crime of which they are accused, that they regarded not the work of the Lord, neither considered the operation of his hands. But this absence of all religious impressions is here pointed out, as sufficient to stigmatise their characters with guilt. As soon as the sense of a Supreme Being is lost, the great check is taken off, which keeps under restraint the passions of men. Mean desires and low pleasures take place of the greater and nobler sentiments which reason and religion inspire. Amidst the tumult of the wine and the feast, all proper views
views of human life are forgotten. The duties which, as men, they have to perform, the part they have to act in the world, and the distresses to which they are exposing themselves, are banished from their thoughts. To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundantly, is the only voice. Inflamed by society, and circulated from one loose companion to another, the spirit of riot grows and swells, till it ends in brutal excess.
Were such disorders rare and occasional merely, they might perhaps be forgotten and forgiven. But nourished by repetition and habit, they grow up among too many, to become the business and occupation of life. By these unfortunate votaries of pleasure, they are accounted essential to happiness. Life appears to stagnate without them. Having no resource within themselves, their spirits sink, and their very being seems annihilated, till the return of their favourite pleasures awaken within them some transient sparkles of joy. Idleness, ease, and prosperity, have too natural a tendency to generate the follies and vices now described. Because they have no changes, said the Psalmist, therefore they fear not
God. * They are the dark, and solitary hours of life, which recall men to recollection and wisdom. They show to the unthinking what this world really is, and what may be expected from it. But the day that is always bright and unclouded, is not made for men. It flatters them with the dangerous illusion, that it is in their power to render life one scene of pleasure ; and that they have no other business on earth, but to spread the feast, and call the harp and the viol to sound. But the examples are so frequent, of the dangers and the crimes which arise from an intemperate abuse of pleasure, that on this part of the subject it seems needless to insist any longer. ceed, therefore,
II. To consider the duties which men are accused of having neglected; and which it is here supposed, if duly attended to, would have acted as the cor. rectives of dissolute and irreligious luxury; these are, to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operation of his hands. -- By recommending such duties, I do not mean to represent it as requisite that the feast should be turned into an act of worship; that the countenances of men should be always grave; or that, in the hours of amusement and of social festivity, no subject may employ their thoughts and their discourse, except God and a future state. All extremes in religion are dangerous ; and by car. rying austerity too far, we are in hazard of only promoting hypocrisy. But though some, in the last age, might be prone to this extreme ; yet, at the present day, there is not much occasion for warning men against it. - What I now insist upon is, that all
* Psalm lv. 19.