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OF DILIGENCE IN OUR GENERAL AND PARTICULAR CALLING.
[Preached at Whitehall, 1685.]
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.—Eccl. ix. 10.
THESE words of the royal preacher are a general exhortation to diligence and industry, in that work which is most proper for us to do in this world. And I shall consider in them these two things:
First, The matter of this advice and exhortation; and that is, that we would use great diligence about those things which are the proper work and employment of this life. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”—“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do;” that is, the work which is before thee, which is most proper for thee to propose to thyself, as the great end and design of thy life, the province and charge which is appointed thee. So that these words, in the full compass and extent of them, may very well comprehend every reasonable purpose and undertaking, whatever is incumbent upon us as a duty, and is matter of reasonable choice. “Do it with thy might;” that is, set about it with great care, use all possible diligence and industry for the effecting and accomplishing of it.
Secondly, Here is the argument whereby the wise 61preacher doth enforce this counsel and exhortation; because this life is the proper season of activity and industry, of designing and doing those things which are in order to a future happiness; and when this life is at an end, there will be no farther opportunity of working, there will nothing then remain, but to reap the fruit, and to receive the just recompence of what we have done in this life; “For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”—“In the grave,” this the LXX. render by the word ἅδης, by which the Greeks used to express the state of the dead, the condition of separate souls of good or bad men after they are departed this life, and entered into another world. In which state, Solomon does not mean that departed souls have no knowledge and sense of any thing, but that then there will be no place for any counsel and design, for any activity and industry, in order to our happiness: what we do to this purpose, we must do whilst we are in this world; it will be too late afterwards to think of altering or bettering our condition.
These are the two parts of the text, and they shall be the two heads of my following discourse; and God grant that what shall be said upon them, may be effectual to persuade every one of us seriously tο mind our great interest and concernment, and to apply ourselves with all our might to that which is our proper work and business in this world.
First, We will consider the matter of this counsel and exhortation; and that is, that we would use great diligence and industry about that which is our proper work and business in this life: and this may very probably comprehend in it these two things:
I. Diligence in our great work and business, that 62which equally concerns every man; I mean the business of religion, in order to the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls.
II. Diligence in our particular calling and charge, whatever it be.
I. Diligence in our great and general work, that which equally concerns every man, the business of religion, in order to the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls; and this consists in these two things:
1. In a sincere care and endeavour of universal obedience to God, by the conformity of our lives and actions to his laws.
2. In case of sin and miscarriage, in a sincere repentance for our sins, and a timely care to be reconciled to God.
1. In a sincere care and endeavour of universal obedience to God, by the conformity of our lives and actions to his will and law. And this is a great work, and requires our greatest care and diligence to rectify our minds, to restrain our evil inclinations, to subdue and mortify our lusts, to correct the irregularity of our passions, to moderate and govern our appetites and affections, and to keep them within due and reasonable bounds, “to take heed to our ways, that we offend not with our tongue,” nor transgress our duty by word or deed; to serve God with true devotion of mind, both in public and private; to attend upon the duties of his worship, and to perform all acts of piety and religion, with care and constancy, in the sincerity and uprightness of our hearts; to be meek and humble, peaceable and patient, cheerful and contented with our condition; to be ready not only to forgive injuries, but to requite them with kindness and good turns; to do all offices 63of humanity and charity to all men, according to our ability and opportunity; to instruct the ignorant, and to reduce those that are in error to the knowledge of the truth, by wise counsel and good example; to endeavour “to turn men from the evil of their ways,” and “to save their souls from death; to be ready to supply men’s outward wants and necessities, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to relieve them in their affliction and distress.
And these works of compassion and charity are, perhaps, more particularly intended here in the text; for so the Chaldee paraphrase interprets these words of Solomon, as a precept of charity, rendering them thus, “Do all thou canst, according to thy utmost ability in alms and charity:” for nothing but this will turn to our account in another world; no other way of laying out our estates will be of any advantage to us in the future state. And though I do not think Solomon did here intend to exclude any part of religious practice, yet he might very well have a more especial eye and regard to this, as one of the principal instances and best evidences of a true and sincere piety, according to that of St. James, (chap. i. ver. 27.) “Pure religion, and undefined before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” To be sure, our Saviour lays mighty weight upon it, by making it the great article by which men shall be tried at the judgment of the great day. And, indeed, no religion is to be valued, that wants humanity and compassion; for so far as it departs from this, it departs from the true nature of God and religion.
So that it is a vast work which lies upon our hands, and which every one of us, from the highest to the lowest, are engaged in; this business of religion, 64this care of our whole man, and of our whole duty, of the inward frame and disposition of our minds, and of all our words and actions, “to keep our hearts with all diligence,” and carefully to observe and govern all the inclinations and motions of our souls, and “to order our whole conversation aright;” in a word, to do God all the service, and men all the good, that possibly we can, while we are in this world. This is the first.
2. And, because “in many things we offend all, and there is no man that sinneth not,” another part of our work and care is, in case of transgression and miscarriage in any part of our duty, to exercise repentance for it, that so we may be reconciled to God, and at peace with him.
And this is absolutely necessary, because our life and happiness depend upon it, and “except we repent we must perish,” and be miserable for ever. It cannot be denied but that this work of repentance is very harsh and unpleasant, like the taking of physic, and searching into a wound; but because it tends to our health and safety, and is the necessary way and means to a better condition, this severity must be submitted to, if we desire to be cured, and have a mind to be well; and the sooner we make use of this remedy the better, we shall find so much the less difficulty and pain in the cure.
And there is great reason why we should frequently exercise and renew our repentance, because our failings are frequent, and in one kind or other we offend and provoke God every day: especially when we are coming to the holy sacrament, in which we solemnly renew our covenant with God, and promise him better obedience for the future; we should examine our lives more strictly, and call 65our sins more particularly to remembrance, and exercise a most solemn and deep repentance for them; this is the way to keep our accounts in a good measure even. And this surely is great wisdom, to provide that we may have no long account to make up, no great scores to wipe off, when we come to be overtaken by sickness, and to lie upon our death bed; that innumerable transgressions unrepented of may not then compass us about, and stare us in the face, and fill our souls with fear and confusion, with horror and amazement, in a dying hour; that an insupportable load of guilt may not then lie upon our minds, and oppress our consciences, when we are least able to bear it, and most unfit to deal with it, when we may not have time to call our sins particularly to remembrance, and to exercise a particular repentance for them, and yet perhaps a general repentance may not be sufficient, and available with God, for the pardon and forgiveness of them.
Therefore we should exercise ourselves much in this work of repentance in the days of our health, when we are fittest for it, and when it will be most acceptable to God, and when the sincerity of it will be most evident and comfortable to us, when we may know it to be true by the real and certain effects of it, in the change and amendment of our lives. Whereas a death-bed repentance is infinitely hazardous, because we may not perhaps have time and opportunity for the exercise of it; or if we should have that, yet hardly can we have opportunity for the trial of it, whether it be sincere or not, and consequently must needs die very uncomfortably, and in great doubt and anxiety of mind, what will be our fate and doom in another world.66
So that it is a great work which lies upon our hands, and equally concerns every one of us. The business of religion, which consists in the strict care of our duty to God and man, and in the frequent exercise of repentance for the sins and miscarriages of our lives; and we may consequently judge, how great a care and diligence a work of so much difficulty, and of so great moment and importance, does require and call for at our hands. But besides this, we must in the
II. Second place, likewise, be diligent in our particular calling and charge, in that province and station which God hath appointed us, whatever it be; whether it consists in the labour of our hands, or in the improvement of our minds, in order to the gaining of knowledge for our own pleasure and satisfaction, and for the use and benefit of others; whether it lie in the skill of government, and the administration of public justice; or in the management of a great estate, of an honourable rank and quality above others, to the best advantage, for the honour of God, and the benefit and advantage of men, so as, by the influence of our power and estate, and by the authority of our example, to contribute all we can to the welfare and happiness of others.
For it is a great mistake to think that any man is without a calling, and that God does not expect that every one of us should employ himself in doing good in one kind or other. Some persons indeed, by the privilege of their birth and quality, are above a common trade and profession, but they are not hereby either exempted or excused from all business, and allowed to live unprofitably to others, be cause they are so plentifully provided for themselves: nay, on the contrary, they have so much the greater 67obligation, having the liberty and leisure to attend the good of others; the higher our character and station is, we have the better opportunities of being publicly useful and beneficial; and the heavier will our account be, if we neglect these opportunities. Those who are in a low and private condition, can only shine to a few, but they that are advanced a great height above others, may, like the heavenly bodies, dispense a general light and influence, and scatter happiness and blessings among all that are below them.
And as they are capable of doing more good than others, so with more ease and effect; that which persons of an inferior rank can hardly bring others to, by all the importunity of counsel and persuasion, as, namely, to the practice of any virtue, and the quitting and abandoning of any vice, a prince and a great man that is good himself may easily gain them to, without ever speaking a word to them, by the silent authority and powerful allurement of his example. So that though every man have not a particular profession, yet the high est among men have some employment allotted to them by God, suitable to their condition, a province which he expects they should administer and adorn with great care.
The great business of the lower part of mankind is to provide for themselves the necessaries of life, and it is well if they can do it with all their care and diligence; but those who are of a higher rank, their proper business and employment is to dispense good to others; which surely is a much happier condition and employment, according to that admirable saying of our Saviour, mentioned by St. Paul, “It is a more blessed thing to give, than to 68receive.” Those of meaner condition can only he men to one another, and it were well if they would be so; but he that is highly raised and advanced above others, hath the happy opportunity in his hands, if he have but the heart to make use of it, to be a kind of god to men.
Let no man then, of what birth, or rank, or quality soever, think it beneath him to serve God, and to be useful to the benefit and advantage of men; let us remember the Son of God, a person of the highest quality and extraction that ever was, who spent himself wholly in this blessed work of doing good, toiled and laboured in it as if it had been for his life, submitted to all the circumstances of meanness, to all the degrees of contempt, to all kind of hardship and sufferings, for the benefit and salvation of men, sweat drops of blood, and at last poured it all forth in full streams, to save us from eternal misery and ruin; and is any of us better than “the Son of God, the heir of all things, and the elder brother of us all?” Shall any of us, after this, think ourselves too good to be employed in that work which God himself disdained not to do, when he appeared in the likeness and nature of man?
If we would esteem things rightly, and according to reason, the true privilege and advantage of greatness is, to be able to do more good than others; and in this the majesty and felicity of God himself doth chiefly consist, in his ready and forward inclination, and in his infinite power and ability, to do good. The creation of the world was a great and glorious design, but this God only calls his work; but to preserve and support the creatures which he hath made, to bless them and to do them good, to govern 69them by wise laws, and to conduct them to that happiness which he designed for them, this is his rest, his perpetual sabbath, his great delight and satisfaction to all eternity; to do good is our duty and our business, but it is likewise the greatest plea sure and recreation, that which refreshed) the heart of God and man.
I have insisted the longer upon this, that those who are thought to be above any calling, and to have no obligation upon them, but to please themselves, may be made sensible, that, according to their ability and opportunity, they have a great work upon their hands, and more business to do than other men; which, if they would but seriously mind, they would not only please God, but, I dare say, satisfy and please themselves much better than they do in any other course. I know it is a duty particularly incumbent upon the lower part of man kind, to be diligent in their particular calling, that so they may provide for themselves and their families; but this is not so proper for this place, and if it were, the necessity of human life will probably prompt and urge men more powerfully to this, than any argument and persuasion that I can use. I proceed therefore, in the
Second place, To offer some considerations to excite our care and diligence in this great work, which God hath given us to do in this world, I mean chiefly the business of religion, in order to the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls. And to this purpose, I shall offer five or six arguments, reserving the great motive and consideration in the text to the last, because “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”70
I. Let us consider the nature of our work, which is such, as may both excite and encourage our diligence and care about it. It is indeed a service, but such as is our perfect freedom; it is the service of God, whom to serve is the greatest honour that man or any other creature is capable of; it is obedience, but even obedience, considering our ignorance and frailty, is much wiser and safer for us, than a total exemption from all law and rule; for the laws which God hath given us, are not imposed upon us merely for his will and pleasure, but chiefly for our benefit and advantage. So that to obey and please God, is in truth nothing else but to do those things which are really best for ourselves.
Besides, that this work of religion will abundantly recompense all the labour and pains it can cost, if we consider the fruit and end of it, which is “the salvation of our souls;” so St. Paul assures us, (Rom. vi. 22.) that if we have “our fruit unto holiness,” our end shall be everlasting life. Nay, this work cloth not want its present encouragement and reward, if we consider the peace and pleasure which attends it; “Great peace (saith David) have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” Religion doth not design to rob men of the true delights of life, of any lawful pleasure and enjoyment; it only appoints them their due place, and season, and measure, without which they cannot be truly tasteful and pleasant: if we make pleasure and recreation our business, it will become a burden, and leave a sting behind it; but if we make it our great business to be good, and to do good, we shall then take true pleasure in our recreations and refreshments, we shall “eat our bread with joy, and drink our wine with a merry heart,” as Solomon expresseth 71it a little before the text. Religion doth not ordinarily debar men of any contentment which they can wisely and safely take, in any of the enjoyments of this life, but directs us to do those things which will yield the truest and most refined plea sure, and so governs ns in the vise and enjoyment of worldly comforts, that there shall he no bitterness in them, or after them: and in truth, after all our search and inquiry after pleasure and happiness, we shall find that there is no solid and lasting pleasure, but in living righteously and religiously: and the pleasure of this is so great, that a heathen philosopher, speaking of a virtuous life, according to the true precepts of philosophy, breaks out in this rapture and transport concerning the wonderful pleasure of it, Vel unus dies vere et ex præceptis tuis actus peccandi immortalitati est anteferendus; “Even one day truly spent according to thy precepts is to be valued above an immortality of sinning.” There is no life so pleasant as that of the pious and good man, who being contented with himself, every thing about him contributes to his cheerfulness, Gratior it dies, et soles melius nitent; “The day passeth more pleasantly, and the sun shines brighter to him;” and every object which he beholds is more delightful, because the man is at peace and ease within himself.
II. Let us consider how great our work is, and then we shall easily be convinced what care it requires, what diligence it calls for from us. Very few persons, I doubt, are sufficiently sensible how much thought and consideration, how much care and vigilancy, how firm a resolution and earnest attention of mind, is necessary to the business of religion, to the due cultivating and improving of our minds, to 72the mortifying and subduing of our lusts, to the mastering and governing of our passions, to the reforming of our tempers, to the correcting of all the irregularities of our appetites and affections, and to the reducing of our crooked wills, which have been long obstinately bent the wrong way, to the straightness of that rule which God hath given us to walk by.
Few, I fear, consider how much pains is necessary to the storing of our minds with good principles, and to the fixing and riveting in our souls all the proper motives and considerations to engage us to virtue, that in all the occasions of our lives they may have their due force and influence upon us. Few of us take pains to understand the just bounds and limits of our duty, and so to attend thereto, as to be always upon our guard against the infinite temptations of human life, and the many malicious enemies of our souls, that we may not be circumvented by the wiles of the devil, nor caught in those snares which he lays before us in our ways, that we be not wrought upon by the insinuations, nor overreached by the deceitfulness of sin.
How few consider what care and watchfulness of ourselves, what constancy and fervency of prayer to God, is necessary to the due discharge of every part of our duty; or to the right exercise of every grace and virtue! Besides an earnest imploring of the Divine assistance, there is required likewise a particular care and application of mind, that we may fail in no point; and that, as St. James expresseth it, “We may be entire, wanting nothing;” that our faith and our hope, our devotion and our charity, our humility and our patience, and every other grace, may be exercised in the best manner, and have its proper work.73
III. Consider what incredible pains men take, what diligence they will use, for bad purposes, and for ends infinitely less considerable; Ut jugulent homines, surgunt de nocte latrones, ut teipsum serves, non expergiscere? “Thieves will rise and travel by night to rob and kill, and shall we use no care, no vigilance, to save ourselves?” What drudges and slaves are many men to their sensual pleasures and lusts? How hot and fierce upon revenge? And what hazards will they run to satisfy this unreasonable and devilish passion; and thereby make way for a speedy and bitter repentance, which always treads upon the heels of revenge? For no sooner hath any man executed his rage upon another, but his conscience presently turns it upon himself.
How industrious do we see men at their recreations and sports, taking really more pains for the sake of pleasure, than the poor man does that works for his living?
What a violent thirst, and insatiable covetousness, possesseth some men after learning and knowledge! How will they toil and watch, wear out their eyes, and waste their spirits, and pursue their studies, not only with the neglect of fitting diversion, but even of the necessary support and reparation of nature, by meat and sleep? nay, many times, to increase their learning, they weaken their understandings, and for the gaining of more knowledge, do disable that power and faculty which should make use of it when they have it.
How will men attend for several hours to a lewd and extravagant play, and sit not only with patience, but with delight, to hear things spoken, which are neither fit to be spoken nor heard?
And, above all, how eager and earnest, how busy 74and industrious, are a great part of mankind, in the pursuit of their ambitious and covetous designs; how sorely will they labour and travail? how hardly will they be contented to fare, and how meanly will they live themselves, to make they know not whom rich? even any body that happens to come in their way, when they make their last wills.
And are men at all this pains for compassing of their low and mean, of their vile and wicked designs, to do themselves no good; nay, for the most part, to hurt and destroy themselves? and are the present pleasures and satisfaction of our minds, and eternal life and happiness in another world, things of no value and esteem with us? Is salvation itself so slight and inconsiderable a thing, that it deserves none of this care and diligence to be used for the obtaining of it?
IV. Consider that when we come to die, nothing will yield more true and solid consolation to us, than the remembrance of an useful and well-spent life, a life of great labour and diligence, of great zeal and faithfulness in the service of God; and, on the contrary, with what grief and regret shall we look back upon all those precious hours which we have so fondly misplaced in sin and vanity! How shall we then wish that we could recal them, and live them over again, that we might spend them better! all that time which now lies upon our hands, and we know not how to bestow it and pass it away, will then most assuredly lie heavy upon our consciences. What anguish and confusion have I seen in the looks and speeches of a dying man, caused only by the grievous remembrance of an unprofitable and ill-spent life! So foolish are many men, as never seriously to think for what end they came 75into the world, till they are just ready to go out of it.
V. Consider that the degrees of our happiness in another world, will certainly bear a proportion to the degrees of our diligence and industry in serving God, and doing good. And it is an argument of a mean spirit, not to aspire after the best and happiest condition, which is to be attained by us. To be contented barely to live, when by our pains and industry we may become considerable, and raise ourselves above the common level of men, is a sign of a poor and degenerate mind; so it is in the business of religion; to be contented with any low degrees of virtue and goodness, and consequently of glory and happiness, when, by a great diligence and industry in “serving our generation according to the will of God,” we may be of the number of those, “whose reward shall be great in heaven,” and have a place there, among those righteous persons, who “shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Besides that, it may prove a thing of a dangerous consequence to us, to deal thus strictly with God, and to drive so near and hard a bargain with him; we may easily miss of happiness, and come short of heaven, if we only design just to get thither; we may be mistaken in the degree of holiness and virtue, which is necessary to recommend us to the Divine favour and acceptance, and to make us capable of the glorious reward of eternal life: for “unto whomsoever much is given, (saith our Saviour) of him much shall be required;” to him that hath only one talent committed to him, it may be sufficient to have gained one; but he that hath many talents entrusted to him, may gain one, 76and yet be a wicked and slothful servant; proportionably to our advantages and opportunities, our duty increaseth upon our hands, and better and greater things may justly be expected from us. The consideration whereof should make us unwearied in our endeavours of doing good, “and steadfast and unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”
VI. And lastly, Let us consider the argument here in the text, “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither we are going.” Longe quiescendi tempora fata dabunt, we shall then rest from our labours, and our works will follow us. This life is the time of our activity and working, the next is the season of retribution and recompence; we shall then have nothing to do, but either to reap and enjoy the comfort of well-doing, or to repent the folly of an ill-spent life, and the irreparable mischief which thereby we have brought upon ourselves; “there is no work, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest;” intimating, that our life is a continual journey towards the grave, shorter or longer as God pleaseth; and many times when we think ourselves far from it, we may be just upon it, and ready to stumble into it. So that our time of working may be very short, to be sure it is very uncertain.
And it is very well worth our consideration, that as “there is no work nor wisdom in the grave,” so there is very little to be exercised when we come to draw near to it, whether it be by sickness or old age: “Sufficient (surely) for that day will be the evil thereof.” We had need then to have nothing else to do, but to be old and weak, to be sick and 77die; we shall find that to be burden and trouble enough.
“Let us, therefore, work the work of him that sent us into the world while it is day; for the night cometh,” saith our Saviour (by which may probably be meant the time of sickness or old age), “the night cometh, when no man can work;” so that what we do, we must do quickly, mind the work which is before us, and ply it with all our might, as if it were the last opportunity we should ever have; and so it may prove, for aught we know, for it is ten to one but that some here present, and God knows which of us it may be, may now have the last opportunity in our hands, and that but a slippery hold of it, and may never have this counsel given us again, nor, perhaps, be long in a capacity to make use of it; for when death hath once over taken us, it will fix us in an unchangeable state, “as the tree falls, so it shall lie.”
This is the time of our work and preparation for another world, and what we do towards it in this life, will avail us in the other; but if this opportunity be neglected, there is nothing to be done by us afterwards, but to inherit the fruit of our own folly and neglect; to sit down in everlasting sorrow, and to be immutably fixed in that miserable state, which whilst we were in this world we could never be persuaded to take any tolerable care to avoid.
And if we can do nothing for ourselves to help and relieve us in that state, much less can we think it can be done for us by others, by the consigning of masses and prayers, of merits and indulgences, to our use and benefit in another world. No, so soon as ever we are passed into the other state, we shall enter upon a condition of happiness or misery, 78that is never to be altered. So that this life is the proper season for wisdom to shew itself, and to exercise our best industry for the attaining of happiness; it will be too late afterwards to think of altering or bettering our condition, for death will conclude and determine our state one way or other, and what we are when we leave the world, good or bad, fitted for happiness or misery, we shall remain and continue so for ever.
Therefore it infinitely concerns all of us, to exercise our best wisdom in this present life, and what we have to do for our souls, and for all eternity, to do it with our might: to contrive and use the best means to be happy, while the opportunity of doing it is yet in our hands; we may easily let it slip, but no care, no wisdom, no diligence, no repentance, can retrieve it; when it is once lost, it is lost for ever.
Hear then the conclusion of the whole matter; would we enjoy ourselves and the peace of our minds while we live? would we have good hopes and comfort in our death, and after death would we be happy for ever? Let us lay the foundation of all this, in the activity and industry of a religious and holy life; a life of unspotted purity and temperance in the use of sensual pleasures, of sincere piety and devotion towards God, of strict justice and integrity, and of great goodness and charity, towards men.
And let us consider that many of us are a great way already on our journey towards the grave, that our day is declining apace, and the shadows of the evening begin to be stretched out; therefore, that little of our life which is yet behind us should be precious to us, ut esse solis gratius lumen solet, jam 79 jam cadentis, we should improve that which yet remains, as it were for our lives, always remembering that our only opportunity of working, of designing, and doing great and happy things for ourselves, is on this side the grave, and that this opportunity will expire and die with us; “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave,” whither we are going.
“Now God of his infinite mercy grant, that we may all of us know, in this our day, the things which belong to our present peace, and future happiness, before they be hid from our eyes, for his mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ; to whom, with thee, O Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, thanksgiving and praise, now and for evermore.”80
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