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their loss; how to rejoice, and how to weep. It lays down the true Christian principle which should influence our conduct upon such occasions; a principle by the influence of which I am bold to say, that a person will be enabled both to enjoy true happiness and to glorify God, amidst all the various changes and chances of this mortal life.
Here, then, is the direction: “Let those that have wives be as though they had none; and those that weep as though they wept not; and those that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.” And the reason is added which should influence us to adopt such a conduct: “For the time is short, and the fashion of this world passeth away.”
I begin with remarking the wisdom of the Apostle in teaching us how to bear the loss of friends, by first teaching us how to enjoy them. These two points are very closely connected. If a man has enjoyed prosperity in a proper Christian manner, he will be prepared to suffer adversity with the least degree of distress. As he will not rejoice, like one intoxicated, with an insolent and extravagant joy; so he will not be depressed by a grief that overwhelms him with intolerable anguish. All people think they know how to rejoice, though they may not know how to suffer aright: but to do this has more difficulty in it, and requires more of the Spirit of Christianity; than many may be aware. Few people bear prosperity well; and one reason is because they see no difficulty in bearing it. They do not examine themselves upon this head. They do not treasure up rules for the occasion. They do not pray to be taught how to use their happiness. In consequence of this want of a true Christian principle of rejoicing, their grief in the hour of adversity is immoderate; or at least it is restrained by such considerations as tend rather to divert our thoughts from it than to enable us to bear it. Now the excellence of Christian principle is this—that it is of universal operation. It extends its influence to all the various states and circumstances in which a man can be placed, and teaches us to act properly in them all. And we may depend upon it that the same causes which tend to make us bear prosperity well, will teach us also to suffer well.
On the other hand, I would remark also, that the proper use of adversity teaches us to bear prosperity aright. When we are deeply afflicted by the loss of an affectionate relative, we are so strongly impressed with the vanity of all tbings below, or, to use the words of the Apostle, we feel so strongly that "the fashion of this world passeth away,” that even the most careless and thoughtless acquire something of a Christian view. The imperious pressure of calamity forces upon them a measure of what they ought to have learned from the lessons of the Gospel. And thus in grief there is ofien found a disposition very favourable to religion; and they who have been greatly afflicted are generally able to bear prosperity in a much better spirit and temper than they possessed before they were instructed and made wise by the pressure of their affliction.
The Christian principle, then to which I have alluded as equally enabling us to bear prosperity and adversity, is Faith. By this we are taught to feel the vanity, the shortness, the emptiness of every thing in this world; and to realize the views of eternal things which are given us in Scripture. “The fashion of this world passeth away;" that is, this world, with all its varied appearances, its pleasures and its pains, its'sorrows and its joys, passeth away quickly. The scene will soon be shifted. The time is very short. In a little while, a new order of things will arise. A great and glorious state is at hand, even an eternal state, the contemplation of which will enable us to look with a holy indifference upon all things here below. A Christian is one who looks not at the things which are seen, but at those which are unseen. He is represented as being dead to the world. His life is hid with Christ in God. He sets not his affections on things below, but on
things above, where Christ, the object of his faith and hope sitteth at the right hand of God.
But in order that this view of eternal things should have any considerable influence upon the mind, it is necessary that it should have two qualities:-1. That it should be abiding: 2. That it should be pleasing; that is, one in which our hopes are interested.
1. It should be abiding.-However vivid our impression of eternal things may be for a time, yet we know that such is the nature of the human mind that the very strongest impression will soon wear away if not repeated. Nay a very slight impression, frequently repeated, will have more effect upon us than any single impression however strong. Now the things of this life are perpetually before our eyes: they are ever drawing off our attention from better things, and filling our minds with the ideas of themselves; and thus they tend to exclude every other object of consideration. They are, in this respect, like a force which is constantly acting. Will not the consideration of eternal things, therefore, require to be often set before the mind, in order to counteract this force? Will it be sufficient to have had, some time ago, a vivid impression of the excellency of spiritual subjects and of the importance of the eternal world? Is there not something so congenial to our frame in the objects of sense, and so superior to our nature in those of faith, that the latter require even to be more frequently held up to view in order to make an equal impression?
From this constitution of things arises the necessity of continually hearing and reading the word of God. It is no uncommon thing for people to neglect or refuse to attend a particular preacher because, from his alleged want of capacity and information, they can expect to hear nothing but what they already know. In the same spirit they neglect to read the Bible, because they are already, as they conceive, sufficiently acquainted with its contents. Allowing this, still it must be maintained, that they ought both to hear and to read the
word of God; for it is in this way that spiritual ideas are renewed and strengthened, or at least preserved; and it is certain, that if not thus preserved, they will soon be effaced.
It is therefore of the utmost importance to keep up a lively impression of eternal things on the soul; and this cannot be done without daily retirement, meditation, and prayer. By secret prayer, an intercourse is maintained with Heaven, and the ideas of the nearness and the importance of the eternal world become familiar to our souls. But let secret prayer be neglected, and we shall soon lose the impression of Divine things; the eternal world will appear to recede from us; we shall have only an imperfect and confused idea of it as of an object almost vanishing from the sight, and in the same proportion the things of time and sense will occupy our attention and engross our thoughts.
2. But in order that the things of the eternal world may become frequently the objects of contemplation, it is absolutely necessary that the view of them should be pleasant to us.—No man loves to dwell upon painful or unpleasing objects: no man loves to meditate upon the shortness of life, whose prospects of happiness terminate here below. A man must therefore have a good hope beyond the grave, before he can accustom himself to extend his view to this close of his earthly hopes. Whoever dreads death will not often present the image of it to his mind. He that is afraid of God will not often meditate upon his power and his omnipresence.
Now it is the business of the Gospel, and of the Gospel alone, to render the thoughts of death, of eternity, and of God, pleasing to the soul. Christ is there held up to our view as having made atonement for our sins and procured reconciliation with the Father, in order that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” They that come to Christ are represented as justified, as accepted, as adopted into God's family. Christ is spoken of as their Brother, for he was partaker of their flesh. Christ is their Advocate:
he has ascended up into heaven to plead for them, and to prepare a place for them. Hence the believer triumphs over death and the grave, because God hath given him the victory over them through Jesus Christ. Hence the eternal world is no longer the object of his dread; for it is the kingdom of Christ in which he dwells and presides. Hence his affections are set upon things above; for they are placed where Christ sitieth at the right hand of God.
Thus, in all things, we find that Christ is the Centre and the Source of true religion. It is in Him that we obtain just and pleasing views of the eternal world. It is by the knowledge of Him that we obtain that spiritual-mindedness and those affections which render the eternal world the object of our frequent and delightful meditation.
But it will be asked, What has the consideration of the next world to do with our concerns in this? I answer, Much. The proper use of this world depends wholly upon our views of that which is to come. This is the argument of the Apostle: he teaches us, in our relations in life, in our afflictions, in our enjoyments, in our worldly employments and concerns, to act as those who consider this life only in reference to another. We are to act as those that look beyond this world. But this precept we cannot fulfil, unless our views of the world to come be strongly impressed upon our mind. Now they cannot be strongly impressed, unless they are frequent;—they will not be frequent, unless they are delightful;—and they will not be delightful, unless they are seen through Jesus Christ. Thus Christ is the Alpha and Omega. He is the Source of that principle which diffuses itself through the life of a Christian, and regulates all his conduct in the things relating both to this life and to that which is to come.
II. This principle, then, rightly felt, will teach us how to use the world without abusing it; how to enjoy the society of our nearest connexions, and how to sorrow in their loss.