« PreviousContinue »
but in health, to set out on their journey; that they shall meet with no cross accidents by the way; that the goods which they carry along with them shall be protected against thieves and robbers; and that in due time they shall arrive at the city where their plan of business is to be carried into execution. But what follows is still more extravagant. They promise upon life for a full year: “ We will continue there a year": and not upon life only, but on health of body, and soundness of mind, during all that time. No allowance is made for the change of climate, or the fatigues of business: they are always to be in a condition to buy and sell, and to manage their affairs with activity and prudence. Nay, more, they assure themselves of success. “We will buy and sell, and get gain.” They undertake, not for themselves alone, but for all whom they shall employ, or with whom they shall have commerce-that they shall have diligent and faithful servants; that they shall have large profits from those to whom they sell, and cheap bargains from those of whom they buy. In a word, they speak as if every thing relating to themselves and others were so dependant on their will, that they might command the events which they desired, and dispose of all things according to their own pleasure.
Well might the Apostle give this the name of boasting, as he doth at the 16th verse of this chapter; and had it suited the gravity of an inspired writer, he might have examined the different parts of the scheme, computed the risks which were plainly against them in every step, and thus turned the whole design into matter of contempt and ridicule. But instead of this, he arrests them at the very first outset. You talk of " going to such a city, of continuing there a year, of buying, of selling, and getting gain :"_" whereas ye know not what shall
be on the morrow." The present moment is all that ye can call your own. This night your souls may be required of you: to-day you are ; but to-morrow ye may be nambered with those who have been. He would not trifle with miserable men, who might die wbilst he was speaking to them. He therefore seizeth one important truth, the force of which could not be denied, and instantly placeth it full in their view. “What is your life?” saith he, “it is even a vapocr.” At present it appears; but while I yet speak to you it may vanish away. Cease tben, vain boasters, to talk of a year bence, until ye can say something with certainty of the succeeding day. Thus the visionary Babel falls to the ground. This plain proposition, “Life is a vapour," undermines it at once, and overwhelms the proud builders with shame.
It hath often given me pleasure to observe, that the truths which are best fitted to touch the heart, and to influence the life, are universally the most simple and obvious, and lie so near us, that we need only to stretch forth our hand to take hold of them. God knows, that we have much work to do, and little time to do it in: and therefore, that we may lose no part of it, the most useful and necessary things are scattered around us with the greatest profusion. Were it otherwise, the opportunity of acting might frequently pass away before the means of action were ready. Yet such, alas! is our folly and perverseness, that overlooking what is near, we roam abroad, and always grasp most eagerly at those things which are farthest from us. Thwarting the merciful de. signs of God, we despise common truths, merely because they are common; and wander in pursuit of abstruse and intricate speculations, which puzzle the understanding, and amuse the fancy, but leave the heart cold and insen.
sible. How much better was the course which the Apostle took with those who held the language of the text, in order to bring them to a sense of their folly? He doth not go about in quest of remote objects, nor seek to surprise them with new and uncommon discoveries; but he surprised them most effectually, by pointing to an object just at hand, one view of which was sufficient to check their presumption.—an object which stood always before their eyes, though overlooked through the pride, or inattention, or perverseness of their minds.
It bath already been observed, that the matter of the project, here represented by the Apostle, is in itself plausible; and that his reproof is chiefly aimed at the form or manner of expressing it. And if he treated this with so much severity, what would he have said, had the end proposed been criminal in its own nature, or the means of obtaining it base and dishonourable? What would be have said to those who puzzle themselves with schemes to get rid of their money, or to throw it away apon the most ridiculous trifles? who have no bigber objects than the superfluities of dress, the luxury of entertainments, the multiplicity of diversions, and all the expensive arts of dissipation and sensuality? What would he have said to those who, in the same presumptuous style, lay deli. berate schemes for low vice and debauchery, for drun. kenness and whorerlom, and other works of the flesh? What would be bave said to those who devise methods of making gain by secret fraud or open violence? to those who practise deceit in buying and selling, or who, without either buying or selling, support a useless and pernicious life by the base and infamous occupation of gaming? Compared with these, the scheme which the Apostle condemns is wisdom, and honour, and virtue.
But the Apostle doth not rest in censuring what was
wrong. He goes on at the 15th verse to correct what was faulty, and to supply what was defective. “ For that ye ought to say,” adds he, “ If the Lord will, we sball live, and do this or that.”—This amendment, suggested by the Apostle, was the
Second thing which I proposed to consider.—And,
1st. It furnisheth us with a rule by which all our undertakings ought to be examined. Whatever scheme we have in view, to which we cannot prefix this preface, “ If the Lord will,” we may be assured is essentially wrong, and ought to be abandoned without delay. There is nothing truly good or profitable to us, for which we may not address God by prayer. Let us then convert the views which we have in any undertaking into the form of a petition, and try whether we can, with decency or propriety, offer up such a petition to God. Let us consider, whether the means by which we propose to compass these views are of such a nature, that we may ask or expect the divine blessing to accompany them. Happy were it for us, that all our schemes and projects were brought to this test. We should then be seasonably delivered from that fatal enchantment which first engageth us in unlawful pursuits, and then stimulates us to persist in them against the remonstrauces of our own consciences.
We should then escape from those fatal snares into which our rash unadvised plans betray us. For who would dare to say, “ If the Lord will, I shall live," and rob and steal, game and defraud, oppress and overreach my neighbour? Such a connexion of thought would startle the mind at the first conception of lust, before it bad brought forth sin. And I am persuaded, that if men were faithfully to practise this one easy and reasonable precaution, they would at least avoid many
of those presumptuous offences which lay waste the con. science, and destroy the peace of the soul,
2dly. This amendment, which the Apostle suggests, teacheth us to consider the shortness, and particularly the uncertainty, of life. “Ye know not,” saith he, “ what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? it is even a vapour wbich appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Thus David describes the life of man by those things which are most frail and fugitive in pature. “ As for man, his days are as grass.” Nay, as if the grass, which endures for a season, were too permanent an object of comparison, he immediately corrects the similitude, “ As the flower of the field, so he flour. isheth :" As the flower of the field, which is exposed to the foot of every passenger, to the tooth of every wild beast, to the wanton hand of every destroyer. It is not by rare and striking events only that the thread of life may be broken. There is no need that the thunder should break on you, or that the fire should devour you, or that the earth should open and swallow you up. Things far more common and familiar are sufficient for so easy a purpose, as that of cutting off your days. There is not an element so friendly, nor a circumstance so trifling, that it may not become the minister of death. Ought not this manifest uncertainty of life, then, to cool our pursuit of earthly projects? We are apt to meditate great and complicated schemes to attain wealth, or power, or honour in the world. But could we penetrate a little into futurity, we might perhaps see our grave opened far on this side of half way to the objects of our keenest pursuit. “ For what is our life ? it is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that we ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that."