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evermore" is not the portion of those who climb the steeps of ambition, who wander heedless in the bowers of sensual delight, or who toil along the crowded roads of avarice and worldly business.But it is not the objects only, in which happiness may be found, that men mistake. Even when right as to the object, they err as fatally with respect to the means, by which it may be attained. After repeated disappointments in their foolish schemes of earthly bliss, they are, sometimes, at last convinced, that religion is the only source of real and permanent enjoyment: and they endea◄ vour to draw, from that fountain, the felicity elsewhere denied. Yet even in this attempt, they are often disappointed: for they seek the happiness of religion, on forbidden terms. Some endeavour to pacify their consciences, and to obtain the favour of God, solely by calling forth the energies of their own minds to the obedience of his law. But of their labours, we have the fruitlessness on record: Israel," says the apostle, "which followed after "the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the “law of righteousness. Wherefore? because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works "of the law."* Such may continue, for a while, to enjoy security in the fabric which they have reared. But when the floods of adversity beat, or the blast of death arises, its foundations are shaken'; and they are crushed in its fall. Some, again, cunning to deceive themselves, contrive to lull their minds into tranquillity, and to forge an imaginary title to eternal life, by strong professions of religion;
* Rom. ix, 31, 32.
by speaking loudly of their faith in its doctrines, and by a regular attendance on its ordinances; by preserving a mighty form of godliness, while they are destitute of its power. And there are others, who have devised for themselves a scheme of repose, by assigning to the Deity the sole attribute of mercy; and believing him to be as ready as themselves, to make every indulgent allowance, for what they are pleased to term their frailties, and to pass unnoticed their transgressions of his law.
Such are the mistaken objects of happiness which men pursue and such, even when the true object is perceived, are the erroneous means, by which they endeavour to attain it.
In opposition to these, I shall endeavour
I. To point out, and to illustrate, some of the chief means and sources of that rejoicing, to which the believer is exhorted in the text.-This will lead us,
II. To consider some of the peculiar properties of christian joy.
III. I shall conclude with stating some motives to the exercise of this pleasing duty.
I. The willing obedience of God's commandments is one great mean and source of the believer's joy.
I mention this first among the grounds of rejoicing; because you may rest assured that, if you can sincerely rejoice in the law of the Lord, the happiness which flows from the exercise of your faith and hope, is well founded, and imperishable: while, if you cannot, you may be equally assured that you can have no real or lasting enjoyment, from any
other source.That the obedience of God's law is a source of satisfaction to the christian, is evident, both from the testimony of scripture, and of common experience.
The condition of the disobedient is, in scripture, uniformly represented as full of trouble and uneasiness. "The wicked are like the troubled sea, "when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire "and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to "the wicked."*"Wasting and destruction are in "their paths: and the way of peace they know not. They have made them crooked paths: Whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace." On the contrary, scripture as uniformly represents satisfaction and tranquillity of mind, as resulting from a life of obedience to the divine commandments. It affirms that," in the keeping of them, there is a great reward:" that " light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."§ "Great peace," it testifies, "have they, which love "God's law and nothing shall offend them."|| "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and "the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance "for ever."¶
If, from the testimony of scripture, you turn to that of experience, and the nature of things; you will perceive, that a disposition to obey the commandments of God must lay the foundation of joy, by suppressing those passions, which ruffle and torment the mind. A disobedient temper is its own punishment: a life of sin is a life of misery. There is, either in the nature of things, or by the positive
* Isaiah lvii. 20, 21. † Ibid. lix. 7, 8.
+ Psalm xix. II.
|| Psalm cxix. 165. ¶ Isaiah xxxii. 17.
appointment of the most High, an indissoluble connexion between an evil disposition, and uneasiness of mind. And it is as impossible for the wicked man to enjoy internal quiet, as for the unhealthy to possess external ease. Gloomy imaginations, distressing fears, deceitful hopes, and turbulent passions, cloud his understanding, vex his heart, and discompose his whole frame. Impatient desire, burning anger, gnawing envy, rankling spite, wasting care, racking suspicion, insatiable avarice, or distracting ambition, continually preys on and torments his mind. But from all these sources of disquietude, a disposition to obey the laws of heaven frees us; and thus restores to us that contented, tranquil, and cheerful state of mind, which is itself an important part of happiness, and which renders us fit for receiving the remainder.
But mere tranquillity, a deliverance from the uneasiness of turbulent passion, and alarming fear, is not the whole fruit of a willing obedience to the law of God. An obedient disposition begets real satisfaction and joy, from the consciousness which we possess of doing what is fit and reasonable; and from the evidence, which the practice of duty af fords, that we are in favour and friendship with God.
The practice of the duties of religion is the practice to which we are called, by the author and preserver of our being, as the test of our gratitude, and the mean of our happiness. It is, therefore, in every view, a reasonable service: and an obedient temper may well be termed the proper and natural state of every reasonable being. What health is to the body, a pious disposition is to the mind, There cannot but be much satisfaction and delight
in reflecting, that we are what we ought to be; that all is regularity and harmony within, no unhallowed desire deranging the movements of the soul, but every faculty exerting itself, according to the primitive intention of the author of our being; pursuing his glory, and promoting our own welfare, by conformity to his will. If we know the obedience of God's law to be reasonable, as it is the will of our sovereign proprietor; if we see his statutes to be just in themselves, and good as they relate to us; we must admire, and love, and, without constraint, obey them; nay, a pleasure inexpressible must result from their practice and contemplation. The sacred writers accordingly, who, while they were best qualified to delineate the divine law, had the most perfect experience of its effects, dwell with rapture on the pleasures which attends its study and obedience. "I have rejoiced," said David, "in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all "riches." "I will delight myself in thy com"mandments, which I have loved." Thy sta"tutes have been my song, in the house of my (6 pilgrimage." "The law of thy mouth is better "unto me, than thousands of gold and silver."* And, says Paul, "Our rejoicing is this; the tes
timony of our conscience, that in simplicity and "godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by "the grace of God, we have had our conversation "in the world."+
If, farther, we attend to the various branches of the divine law, you will more plainly perceive what pleasures must necessarily result from the practice of each.
Psalm cxix. 14, 47, 54, 74.
+ 2 Cor. i. 124