« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
The miseries which men bring upon themselves and others, are derived from this fountain; and these miseries, which we provide for ourselves and others, will be found, upon a fair computation, to make nine parts out of ten of all the evil, which the world feels and complains of. From whence come wars and fightings among you?' says St. James: 'Come they not hence, even of your lusts, which war in your members?' He might have added to his catalogue many iniquities more, and repeated the same question and answer: For, whence proceed jealousies, suspicions, the violations of friendship, the discord and ruin of private families? Whence come murder, violence, and oppression? are these the works of reason given us by God? No, they are the works of sensuality, and of a reason, made the slave of sensuality. Were all who are given to such works as these, to be deprived of their reason, the world about them would be much happier, themselves more harmless, and, I think too, not less honourable. So effectually do sensual lusts war against the soul, that it would be better for the world, and not worse for the sensualist, if he had no soul at all.
But to be more particular. Let us consider that the only part of man, capable of any improvement, is the soul: it is little or nothing we can do for the body; and if we could do more, it would be little worth. The affections, which have their seat in the body, can yield us no honour: the higher they rise, the more despicable we grow they can yield us neither profit nor credit, but only when we conquer them. If, therefore, we have any ambition of being better than we are in any respect, either in this world or in the next, we must cultivate the mind, the only part of us capable of any improvement.
The excellency of a rational creature consists in knowledge and virtue, one the foundation of the other: but sensual lusts are great impediments to our improvement in either of these, and do therefore properly war against the soul.
As to knowledge, the best and most useful part of it is the knowledge of ourselves, and of the relation we stand in to God and our fellow-creatures, and of the duties and obligations, arising from these considerations. But now this knowledge is such an enemy to sensual lusts, that a sensual man will be very much indisposed to receive it. Now it is selfcondemnation to a sensual man to admit the principles of this
knowledge; and therefore his reason, as long as it continues in the service of his evil passions, will be employed to discredit such knowledge as this, and, if possible, to subvert and overthrow the principles upon which it stands. Hence proceed the many prejudices to be met with in the world against the first principles of natural religion; the many laboured arguments to destroy the very distinction of soul and body, and all hopes of a future existence. Such hard masters are the lusts of the flesh! They compel the soul to deny itself, to resign all its pretensions to present or future happiness, in condescension to the passions and appetites of the body. Take out of the composition of a man the inclinations to sensual pleasures, and he must needs rejoice to hear of another life, in which he may be for ever happy. If he sees not so much reason as to be sure of living for ever, yet he will be willing to hope he may; and his mind will be always open to receive whatever may strengthen and support such hopes. But the sensual man sees nothing, that such a future state can afford him, but misery and destruction: therefore he shuts his eyes against the light, and places a guard over his mind, to secure it from such unwelcome thoughts. He hopes, he believes, at last he comes to demonstrate, that souls, and spirits, and future states, are mere idle dreams, the inventions either of fools or politicians.
Secondly, virtue and morality are the distinguishing charac ters of rational beings: but these will always be lost, where the appetites have dominion.
The sensual man labours in the gratification of his own passions, and has no other end than to serve himself, nay the worst part of himself, in all his actions. This makes him overlook all regards to justice, equity, and compassion, in the eagerness of obtaining the object of his desires. Hence it is, that the covetous man is apt to defraud all he deals with, to betray the trust committed to him; and to make a prey of the widow and the orphan, unhappily placed under his protection. Hence it is, that the ambitious man lays all waste about him, and fills the world with blood, violence, and rapine; sacrificing his country, friends, and relations to his inordinate desire of power. Hence it is, that the lustful man breaks the bonds of friendship and hospitality, and entails dishonour and reproach upon the man who loves him best: hence it is, that he lies in wait to betray unguarded innocence, and is content, for the
sake of his passion, to bring shame, reproach, remorse of conscience, and all the evils of life, upon a fellow creature.-It is the essence of morality to bound the desires within the limits of reason, justice, and equity. The virtue of a man consists in bounding his desires, and restraining them within the limits prescribed by reason and morality: these limits the lusts of the flesh are perpetually transgressing: every such transgression is a wound to the soul, which weakens its natural faculties, and renders it less able to discharge its proper office. But as reason, if often subdued by corrupt affections, will at last give over the contest, this suggests another consideration, to show how effectually sensual lusts do war against the soul, by extinguishing the force of natural conscience. The mind grows sensual by degrees; loses all relish for serious thought and contemplation; contracts a hardness by long acquaintance with sin; and is armed with a brutal courage, which regards neither God nor man. Age and infirmities may free us from our sensual passions; the sinner may out-live his sins: but what is he the better, since his sins perhaps out-live his conscience, and leave him without either will or power to turn to God? This is no uncommon case; and whenever it is the case, the circumstances which surround a man, conspire to make it desperate. His mind by being long immersed in sensuality, is unapt for serious reflection, and indisposed to receive the truths which reason offers; and besides this, the little glimmering lights of religion, which shines but faintly in his mind, yield no comfort or consolation to him; and he dreads the breaking in of more light upon him, lest, by knowing more, he should become more miserable: this makes him love the darkness in which he is, which helps to screen him from a sense of his own misery. And thus the sensual man spends the poor remains of life with very little sense, and yet much fear of religion. And yet were this the worst, happy were his case, in comparison to what it really is: for sensual lusts war against the soul, against the very being itself, and will render it for ever unhappy and miserable.
The sensual man has but one hope with respect to futurity, and a sad one it is, that he may die like the beasts that perish : but nature, reason, religion, deny him even this comfort, and with one voice proclaim to us that God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world.' When that day comes, and
he shall stand before the throne of God with all his sins about him, and every injured person ready to accuse and demand justice against him,-it is much easier to imagine what his distress and misery will be, than for any words to describe it. Be the consequence of that day what it will, it must be fatal to sinners. Should the much talked-of, and the more wishedfor annihilation be their doom, it is a sentence that destroys both body and soul; a sentence shocking to nature, and terrible to all our apprehensions; and to which nothing but a guilty conscience, and a fearful expectation of something worse, could possibly reconcile the sentiments of a man. But neither will this be the case: there is a fire that shall never go out, prepared for the spirits of the wicked; a worm that never dies, ready to torment them.
Let us now look back, and take a short view of the sensual man's condition. In this world, his passions find so much employment for his reason, that he is excluded from the improvements peculiar to a rational being, and which might recommend him to the favour of his Maker: with respect to his fellow-creatures, he is void of morality; with respect to God, he is void of religion: he has a body worn out by sin, and a mind hardened by it: In his youth he strives to forget God; in his old age, he cannot remember him: he dies fuller of sins than of years; and goes down with heaviness to the grave; and his iniquities follow him, and will rise with him again, when God calls him to appear and answer for himself. --Then will his lusts and appetites, and all the sins which attended on them, appear in judgement against him, and sink his soul into everlasting misery. The sum, then, of his account is this; the sensual man has his portion of enjoyment in this world with the brutes; and, in the next, his punishment with wicked spirits.
This is the war, which the lusts of the flesh wage against the soul.
1 PET. ii. 11.
THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
LIFE A JOURNEY.
-Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
THE character of stranger and pilgrim, is that in which every son of Adam appears, and acts, upon the stage of life. have all a home, but that home is in heaven. A consideration thus striking and affecting, cannot be without its use in the regulation of our manners :-taking, therefore, for our ground, that life is a journey, and man a traveller, let us enquire, what manner of persons, upon this principle, we ought to be.
And here it will immediately occur to us, in the first place, that wherever, in the course of his journey, a traveller may be, his heart is still at home. Nothing can detain his thoughts, for any long time together, from his country, his house, and his family, to which he is returning. The spirit of man is not a native of this lower world. It came originally from above; and, upon the dissolution of the body, will return to God who gave it, to its own proper country, to the house and family of its heavenly Father. These, then, are the objects, which, if once we are accustomed to regard ourselves as strangers and sojourners upon earth, will continually employ our thoughts.
The end of our journey will ever be uppermost in our minds, according to the precepts delivered in the scriptures, and the examples afforded us by the prophets and apostles-'Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. Seek those things which are above; where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.-My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord: when shall I come and appear before God!-I desire to depart, and to be with Christ.-Let us go forth bearing our reproach; for here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.' These are the wishes and the expressions of men like ourselves, encompassed with the same infirmities. Why, then, are they not ours? Plainly, because we mistake or forget our true condition in this present