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THE FOLLY OF HAZARDING ETERNAL LIFE FOR TEMPORAL ENJOYMENTS.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”—MATT. xvi. 26.
THE great question that a wise man puts to himself in any design or undertaking, is this—What shall I be the better for it, if I obtain what I seek for?” If all things succeed according to my desire, what benefit and advantage will it be to me?” Or, if I gain in one respect, shall I not be as great or a greater loser in another? When all things are calculated and cast up, what will be the foot of the account?” Upon the whole matter, and in the final issue and result of things, what will be the gain or loss? For though the advantage appear never so great in one respect, yet if this be overbalanced by a greater hazard and loss in another kind, far more considerable; it is upon the whole matter a foolish bargain, and a wise man will not meddle with it. And this is the question which our Saviour here puts, “What is a man profited?” &c.
For the understanding of which words, we must look back to the verses immediately before, wherein our Saviour tells his followers upon what terms they may be his disciples, and list themselves in his service: (ver. 24, 25.) “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, 55and follow me. Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it;” that is, Whosoever, by declining the profession of the gospel for fear of persecution, shall hope to save this temporal life, shall lose that which is infinitely more considerable, eternal life: and whoever for my sake and the gospel’s shall expose himself to persecution, and the loss of this temporal life, shall find a better life in lieu of it, shall at last be made partaker of eternal life. And this certainly is wisdom, not to lose that which is more valuable, for the purchasing of that which is less considerable; “For what is a man profited,” &c.
“What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Here our translators have unnecessarily changed the signification of the same word that was used before: for the word here translated soul, is the very same which is used for life, in the verse before; and there is no reason to alter the rendering of it; for the sense is very current thus: “Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his life?” or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?”
This was a proverbial speech used among the Jews, to signify that men value life above any thing in this world, and it seems to allude to that expression in Job, “Skin for skin, and all that a man hath will he give for his life;” that is, men will part with any thing in this world to save their lives.
Now this proverbial sentence, which the Jews used concerning this temporal life, our Saviour does very fitly apply to the purpose he was speaking of, and argues a fortiori from this temporal life to eternal 56life. For if we think all that we have well lies to wed to ransom our lives, then much more should we be willing to part with this mortal life, and all the enjoyments of it, to purchase eternal life, which doth in true value more exceed this life, than this life does any thing else in this world.
And that our Saviour doth apply this proverb of the Jews to a higher purpose, namely, to eternal life, is plain, from what he adds in the verse after the text, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works;” that is, there is another life after this, wherein men shall be happy or miserable, according as they have behaved themselves in this world, and then it will appear who have made the best bargain, and who at last will prove the greatest gainers, they who by following me have hazarded this temporal life, and receive in lieu of it life eternal; or they who by denying me, have secured their temporal lives, but forfeited the eternal life and happiness of the next world.
So that the meaning and force of our Saviour’s argument is plainly this: What advantage would it be to any man, if he could gain the whole world, and should be ruined for ever?” or what would a man that had brought himself into this miserable condition, give to redeem and rescue himself out of it?”
And that this is plainly our Saviour’s meaning, will appear, if we consider how St. Luke expresseth the same thing: (Luke ix. 25.) “What is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and be cast away?” So that the emphasis and force of our Saviour’s argument, is not to be laid 57upon the soul, as our translators seem to have laid it; for St. Luke hath omitted this word: but it lies in the application of this proverbial speech, which the Jews used concerning this temporal life, to life eternal.
Having thus cleared the true meaning and intention of these words, I shall consider in them, what may be most useful for us to fix our thoughts and meditations upon.
In these words we have two cases supposed, and a question put upon each of them.
First, Suppose a man should gain the whole world, and ruin himself for ever, what would be the advantage of it?” “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself?”
Secondly, Suppose a man had made such a bargain, and undone himself for ever to gain the world; when he comes to be sensible of his folly, what would he not give to undo this bargain?” “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” that is, to redeem and recover what he hath lost.
And indeed these questions carry their own answer and resolution in them. Suppose a man should gain the whole world, and ruin himself for ever, what advantage would it be to him?” would it be any?” No, certainly, very far from it; for the words are a μείωσις and signify more than they seem to express; “What is a man profited?” that is, he would be so far from being a gainer, that he would be a vast loser by it.
And suppose a man had made such a bargain, had thus undone himself to gain the world, would he not reflect severely upon his own folly afterward?” Yes, certainly, he would give the whole world, if he had it, to undo it again.58
So that the sense of these words may be resolved into these two propositions:”
First, That it is a foolish bargain for a man “to lose his soul,” and forfeit his eternal happiness, upon any terms, though it were “to gain the whole world.”
Secondly, That whoever makes this bargain, will one time or other sadly rue it, and be sensible of the monstrous folly of it. “What would a man give in exchange for his soul?” that is, What would he not give to be put in his former condition, and be left to make a new choice?”
First, That it would be a most foolish bargain, for a man to purchase the whole world with the loss of his soul, and his eternal happiness.
The folly of this one would think sufficiently evident at first sight; yet we see men every day guilty of it, so that either they do not discern it, or they do not consider it; therefore, to make men sensible of their monstrous folly herein, we will consider these two things:”
I. How inconsiderable the purchase is. And,
II. How great a price is paid for it. For that is a foolish bargain, when we pay a great deal too much for a thing, a mighty price for that which is little worth.
I. The purchase is inconsiderable. Our Saviour here puts the case to the greatest advantage on the purchaser’s side, and makes the very best of it; he supposeth the gain much greater than any man ever made, he puts a case next to an impossibility, that “a man shall gain the whole world,” which no man ever did, or was in any probability of doing. Alexander bid fairest for it, and because he over run a few great countries, is called a conqueror of the world: but let a man survey the globe, and he 59will soon see how small a part of the world he had mastered; it was but inconsiderable in comparison of the rest of the then known world; and much less if we take in those vast and spacious regions, which have since been discovered: so that if he had understood either the world or himself better, he might have spared his crying for want of more to subdue. But suppose a man could gain all the world, and command all the conveniences and pleasures of it, yet all this, if it be duly weighed, will be found to be no great purchase, especially if we consider these three things:”
1. If we had it all, yet the great uncertainty of holding it, or any part of it.
2. The impossibility of using and enjoying it all.
3. If we had it, and could use it all, the improbability of being contented with it. If a man had the whole world, it is uncertain whether he could hold it, or any part of it, for any time; if he should hold it, it is impossible he should use and enjoy it all; if he could use it, it is probable he would not be contented with it: and what a goodly purchase is this when it is all of it uncertain; and the greatest part of it useless to us; and when we have it, we are as far from satisfaction, as if we were without it! All these considerations must needs mightily sink the value of this purchase, and take us off from our fondness of a small part, when the whole is so in considerable.
1. If we had it all, the uncertainty of holding it, or any part of it. The very supposition of gaining the world doth imply, that it is lost from those that had it before; which shews the possession of these things to be uncertain, and that they are not sure to continue in the same hand. “When Alexander conquered 60Darius, and took his kingdoms, just so much as Alexander got, Darius lost; so that if a man could gain the whole world from those who are now the lords and possessors of it, the very gaining it from others, must needs be a demonstration to him of the fickleness and uncertainty of these things.
No man is sure of any thing in this world for his life, or for any considerable part of it: and if he were, yet no man is sure of his life for one moment. How many ways hath the providence of God to change the greatest prosperity of this world into the greatest misery and sorrow, and in an instant to overturn the greatest fortune, to throw down the proudest aspirer, to impoverish the wealthiest prince, and to make extremely miserable the most happy man that ever was in this world! This change of fortune may be made by the rapine of our enemies, or the treachery of our friends; by a storm at sea, or a fire at land; by our own folly, or by the ma lice of others, or by the immediate hand of God.
Nay, all the outward circumstances of happiness may continue firm and unshaken, and yet a man may be extremely miserable by the inward vexation and discontent of his own mind; and if riches, and greatness, and prosperity, would stick by us, w; e ourselves are fickle and uncertain. “Our life is a vapour” easily blown away, and though it be the foundation of all other enjoyments in this world, yet it is as frail and inconstant as any of them; so that if a man could gain the whole world, yet this great purchase would be clogged with a double uncertainty, either of losing it, or leaving it; either of having these taken from us, or ourselves snatched from them.
2. Suppose a man had gained the whole world, and were sure to keep it for a considerable time, yet 61it is impossible he should enjoy it all. Though no man yet ever had, yet it is possible he may have a title to the whole world, and a great deal of care and trouble to secure that against the violence and ambition of others: but a title to a thing is one thing, and the real use of it another. There are a great many things in the world, of which no man ever yet understood the true nature and proper use; to these a man may have a title, and be actually possessed of them, yet no man can be said to enjoy any thing farther than he understands the nature and use of it. But suppose this great man had a mind and understanding vast and boundless as his dominions and possessions are, yet he could enjoy but a very small part of what he possesseth: there are millions in the world, that in despite of him would share these pleasures equally with him; equally, I say, to all the purposes of human life, and of a temporal felicity, and enjoy as much as he.
It may, perhaps, give a man some imaginary pleasure, to survey in his thoughts how much he hath the command of; but when he hath done, he cannot tell what to do with the hundred thousandth part of what he possesseth, he cannot so much as have the slight and transitory pleasure of beholding it with his eyes, any otherwise than in a chart or map, which every man else may do as well as he; but as to all real benefits and advantages, he can enjoy but a very small part of the world, according to the necessity and the capacity of a man.
He hath, indeed, wherewithal to make himself more soft and delicate, wherewith to surfeit sooner and to be sick oftener than other men; but whatever can minister to true pleasure and delight, and serve any real occasions of nature, there are thousands in 62the world will enjoy as well as he. He may have the opportunity of cloying himself with the sight of more dishes, and of being almost every day stifled in the crowd of a numerous train, and of doing every thing with a thousand eyes upon him; but he must of necessity want both the real pleasure and enjoyment of a great many things, which even a poorer man may have; he can neither eat with that appetite, nor sleep with that pleasure, that a labouring man does. The constant fulness, both of his stomach and table, makes him incapable of ever having a feast; and the height and prosperity of his fortune, keep him from having any friends; or, which comes all to one, from knowing that he hath any; for that no man can know, till the change of his condition give him the opportunity to discern between his friends and his flatterers.
So that if a man could “gain the whole world,” it would be no such mighty purchase; and the very first thing such a man would do, if he were wise enough to contrive his own happiness, would be to take so much to himself as would serve all the real uses and conveniences of human life, and to rid his hands of the rest, as fast as he could. And who can think it reasonable, eagerly to desire and seek after that which a wise man would think it reasonable to part with if he had it?”
3. If it were possible that one man could gain, and really use all the world, it is a thousand to one this man would find no great happiness and contentment in it; because we see in daily experience, that it is not the increase of riches, or the accessions of honours, that give a man happiness and satisfaction; because this does not spring from external enjoyments, but from the inward frame and 63disposition of a man’s mind: and that man who can govern his passions and stint his desires, will as soon find contentment in a moderate fortune, as in the revenues of a kingdom; and he that cannot do this, is not to be satisfied with abundance; he hath an unnatural thirst, like that of a dropsy, which is sooner quenched by abstinence, than by drinking; the more he pours in, the more he is inflamed.
He that considers the world, may easily observe, that poverty and contentment do much oftener meet together, than a great fortune and a satisfied mind. All fulness is naturally uneasy, and men are many times in greater pain after a full meal, than when they sat down. The greatest enjoyments of this world, as they are vanity, so they are usually at tended with “vexation of spirit.”
God hath so contrived things, that, ordinarily, the pleasures of human life do consist more in hope than enjoyment; so that if a man had gained all the world, one of the chief pleasures of life would be gone, because there would be nothing more left for him to hope for in this world. For whatever happiness men may fancy to themselves in things at a distance, there is not a more melancholy condition than to be at the top of greatness, and to have nothing more left to aspire after; and he is a miserable man whose desires are not satisfied, and yet his hopes are at an end; so that if a man could do what Alexander thought he had done, conquer the whole world, when that work was over, he would in all probability do just as he did, sit down and weep that there was nothing more left for him to do. You see, then, what the purchase amounts to; suppose a man could “gain the whole world, he would be as far from contentment, as he 64that possesseth the least share and portion of it. Let us now consider, in the
II. Second place, the price that is here supposed to be paid for it; the man “gains the whole world, but he loseth his own soul;” that is, he ruins himself for ever; he deprives himself of a happiness infinitely greater than this world can afford, and that not for a little while, but for ever; and he exposeth himself to a misery so great, as no man that considers it would endure for one hour, for all the pleasures and enjoyments of this world.
And now the purchase may be allowed to be very considerable, when so intolerable a price is paid for it; when for the present enjoyment of so short and imperfect a felicity as this world can afford, a man hath quitted his interest in a blessed immortality, and chose to “dwell with everlasting burnings.” I am really afraid to tell you how much misery is involved in these few words, of” losing a man’s soul;” the consideration is so full of horror, that I am loath to enter into it.
The loss is great and irreparable; great beyond all imagination, for he that loseth his soul, loseth himself; not his being, that would be a happy loss indeed, but that still remains to be a foundation of misery, and a scene of perpetual woe and discontent. The loss of the soul implies the loss of God, and of happiness, and all that is desirable and delightful to a reasonable creature; nay, it does not only signify the privation of happiness, but the infliction of the greatest misery and torment. Could I represent to you those dismal prisons, into which wicked and impure souls are thrust, and the mi series they there endure, without the least spark of comfort, or glimmering of hope; how they are encompassed 65about with woe, and lie wallowing in the flames; how they sigh and groan under the in tolerable wrath of God, the insolent scorn and cruelty of devils, the severe lashes, and raging anguish, and fearful despair of their own minds, without intermission, without pity, without hope; could I represent these things to you, you were not able to hear the least part of what these miserable wretches are condemned for ever to endure.
And the loss is riot only vast, but irreparable; the soul once lost, is lost for ever. We may part with our souls to gain the world; but if we would give a thousand worlds, we cannot regain our souls. “The redemption of a soul is precious, and ceaseth for ever.” The loss of it is so great, that nothing can recompense it; and so fatal, that it is never to be repaired. The happiness that the man parts withal, who makes this mad bargain, is so vast, both in respect of the degree and duration of it, that nothing can make amends for so great a loss; and the sufferings which the man exposeth himself to are so dreadful, that “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” can be no temptation to any man, to run the hazard of enduring them. Epicurus, who very well understood the rates of pain and pleasure, is peremptory in this assertion, that it is great folly for any man to purchase pleasure with equal pain, because there is nothing got by it, they balance one another: it must, surely, then, be a strange madness in any man, for the transitory delights of this world, to forfeit the eternal pleasures of God’s presence, and for the joys of a moment to live in pain for ever.
And is it not then a prodigious folly that possesseth sinners, who can be contented to venture 66their souls and their happiness, their immortal souls and their everlasting happiness, upon such cheap and easy terms?” The folly is great, if we only consider what an unequal price they pay for so small a purchase: but it is much greater, if we regard the foolish order of their choice; first, to please themselves with a shadow and appearance of happiness, and then to be really miserable afterward. If the happiness were true and real, it were an imprudent method. As if a man should choose to enjoy a great estate for a few days, and to be extremely poor the remaining part of his life. If there were any necessity of making so unequal a bargain, surely a man would reserve the best condition to the last; for precedent sufferings and trouble do mightily recommend the pleasures that are to ensue, and render them more tasteful than they would other wise have been; whereas the greatest heightening of misery, the saddest aggravation of an unhappy condition, is to fall into it from the height of a prosperous fortune. It is comfortable for a man to come out of the cold to a warm fire; but if a man in a great heat shall leap into the cold water, it will strike him to the heart. Such is the fond choice of every sinner, to pass immediately out of a state of the greatest sensual pleasure, into the most quick and sensible torments. This our Saviour fully represents to us in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man; (Luke xvi. 25.) where Abraham is brought in upbraiding the rich man for his foolish and preposterous choice; “Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” This made a vast difference; the rich man received his good things first, and then 67was tormented: Lazarus first received his evil things, and then was comforted; and how comfort able was Abraham’s bosom to him, after he had lain in so much misery and want at the rich man’s gate! and, on the other hand, how grievous must pain and torment be to that man, who never was acquainted with any thing but ease and pleasure!
But it may be all this is but a supposition; and there is no man so forsaken of his reason, and of common prudence, as to make such a bargain. Surely no man that is reasonable, no man that considers the difference between time and eternity, between a few years and everlasting ages, can be persuaded to forego the happiness of heaven, and “to fall into the hands of the living God,” no, not if the whole world were offered to him for consideration. Indeed, these large terms of “gaining the whole world,” are but a supposition, which our Saviour makes to shew the unreasonableness of most men’s choice; but in truth, and in effect, the case of sinners is much worse. Among all these numerous troops of sinners that go to hell in such throngs, there is not one of them that ever made himself so wise a bargain; and though the whole world be but a pitiful price to be paid for a man’s soul, yet so stupid are the greatest part of those creatures, whom we call reasonable, as to strike up a bargain for little scraps and portions of this world. There are but a few who stand upon such terms as this world thinks considerable. They are a sort of more generous sinners, that damn themselves for a crown and a kingdom, that will not do an act of in justice upon lower terms than a manor or a lordship. Alas! most men barter away their souls for a trifle; and set their eternal happiness to sale for a 68thing of nought. How many are there, who, to gratify their covetousriess, or lust, or revenge, or any other inordinate passion, are content to hazard the loss of their souls! who will go to hell rather than be out of the fashion! and damn themselves out of mere compliment to the company, and cannot be persuaded to leave off that foolish custom of swearing, which hath neither pleasure nor profit in it, no, riot to save their souls!
Thus it is in truth, and the supposition which our Saviour here makes of “gaining the whole world,” is but a feigned case, the market was never yet so high, no sinner had ever yet so great a value for his immortal soul, as to stand upon such terms; alas! infinitely less than the whole world, a little sordid gain, the gratifying of a vile lust, or an unmanly passion, the smile or the frown of a great man, the fear of singularity, and of displeasing the company; these, and such-like mean and pitiful considerations, tempt thousands every day to make away with themselves, and to be undone for ever.
I have done with the first thing, the folly of this adventure; “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I proceed to the
Second, The severe reflection men will make upon themselves for this their folly. What would they not give to undo this foolish bargain?” “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” to redeem and recover so great a loss?” And sooner or later every man will be sensible of this folly; probably in this world, but most certainly in the other; and then, “What would a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Whenever the sinner comes to reflect upon himself, 69and to consider seriously what he hath done, with what indignation will he look upon himself, and censure his own folly! Like a man who, in a drunken fit, hath passed away his estate for a trifling consideration; the next morning, when he is sober and come to himself, and finds himself a beggar, how does he rate himself for being such a beast and a fool, as to do that in a blind and rash heat, which he will have cause to repent as long as he hath a day to live!
Or, if the sinner be able to keep off these thoughts, while he is well in health, yet, when he is seized upon by sickness, and comes to lie upon a death bed, he will then, in all probability, be sadly sensible what a fool he hath been. When he shall stand upon the confines of eternity, and look back upon this world; which, how considerable soever it once appeared to him, can signify nothing now that he is to leave it; when he considers how much he hath parted with, and is now like to lose for ever, for the false and treacherous advantages of a vain world, he will then need nobody to convince him of his error, to aggravate his folly to him; he now repents heartily that he was not wiser, and wisheth for nothing so much, as that God would grant him time to revoke and undo this foolish bargain; and how glad would he be to give the world back again to secure his soul, and to throw up all his unjust gain, and the advantages he hath indirectly made by fraud, or violence! This, I doubt not, is the sense of most men, when they come to leave the world: and if it is true then, it is so now. Let us, then, while the opportunities of life are before us, suffer these considerations to take place and prevail, which otherwise would wound us to the heart, and 70fill our souls with anguish and despair in a dying hour.
O the folly and stupidity of men! to be so transported with present and sensible things, as to have no consideration of our future state, no pity for our souls, no sense of our everlasting abode in another world! to be so blinded by sense, so bribed by “the pleasures of sin, which are but for a moment,” as to forfeit the happiness of all eternity! when the pleasure is past and gone, and the dear price comes to be paid down, and our souls are leaving this world, and going to take possession of that everlasting in heritance of shame and sorrow, of tribulation and anguish, which we have purchased to ourselves by our own folly, how shall we then repent ourselves of that bargain which we have so rashly made, but can never be released from!
It is our lot, who have the souls of men committed to our charge, to see many of these sad sights. O my God! what confusion have I sometimes seen in the face of a dying man! what terrors on every side! what restless working, and violent throes of a guilty conscience! and how are we tempted (who commonly are sent for too late to minister comfort to such persons), I say, how are we tempted to sow pillows under their uneasy heads, and, out of very pity and compassion, are afraid to say the worst, and are grieved at our very hearts to speak those sad truths, which yet are fit for them to hear! It is very grievous to see a man in the paroxysms of a fever, or in the extreme torment of the stone, or in the very agony of death: but the saddest sight in the world is the anguish of a dying sinner: nothing looks so ghastly, as the final despair of a wicked man, when God is taking away his soul!
But whatever sense men have of these things, 71when they come to lie upon a sick bed; every sinner will most certainly be convinced, when he comes into another world. We shall then have nothing to divert us from these thoughts; we shall feel that which will be a sensible demonstration to us of our own folly. Then men will curse those false and flattering pleasures which have cheated them into so much misery; but their own folly most of all, for being so easily abused. Then would they give ten thousand worlds, if they had them, to recover the opportunity of a new choice; but it cannot be: they parted with their souls once at a cheap rate; but no price will then be accepted for the redemption of them.
O that men would consider these things in time! for they are plain and evident to those that will consider them. Our Saviour tells us, we have so much evidence, that he that will not be convinced by it, would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead to testify unto him. We have Moses and the prophets: nay, we have the Son of God himself, who hath revealed these things to us; and if we would but attend to them, and suffer them to sink into our hearts, nothing in this world could be a temptation to any of us to do any thing, or to neglect any thing, to the prejudice of our immortal souls.
Therefore, to conclude this discourse, whenever by any present pleasure or advantage, we are tempted to provoke God, and to destroy our own souls; let us consider what an unequal bargain we make, how little we purchase, and how much we part withal. Whenever we are solicited to any sin, let us take time to answer the question here in the text, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” &c.72
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