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end.—The former mainly respects their personal interests: the latter is intimately connected with the glory of God, and the credit of the gospel in the world, together with the interests of religion and the salvation of souls: the former is important; the latter vastly more so.
Self-love alone may
influence a man to desire to be saved from misery, and made eternally happy; but nothing short of divine grace, producing genuine love of God, attachment to the cause of godliness, and benevolence to the souls of men, can render us anxious about the latter. To suppose a man awakened and converted, and then returning into the world and sin, and after a long interval, perhaps of many years, just brought back again to escape hell; and to suppose this a general and common case, and to accommodate the doctrine to it; is to make a perseverance pleasing to hypocrites, dishonourable to God, scandalous to religion, subversive of holy practice, and unsuitable to true Christians, who all long to persevere to the end in increasing holiness, and dread sin as the greatest evil, and cannot bear the thoughts of dishonouring God, and being hurtful examples to others, even though they should not be sent to hell for it.—A few anomalous cases we may allow of; but the general rule is, a perseverance in holiness, even to the end.
IV. Finally, How shall this perseverance be effected :
The Lord himself will either by his continual grace uphold his people in the uniform holy walk which he requires, daily exercising repentance “ towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” and cheerful universal obedience; or, if at any time they are left to step aside, he will withhold comfort from their souls, rebuke them by his word, chastise them with his rod, till he bring them to repentance, and lead them, “ with weeping and “supplication,” back into the forsaken paths of holy obedience. Did it consist with the purpose and counsel of God to leave a true Christian to depart from him, and return into the world and sin, and die impenitent, he not only might, but certainly would perish. Our security is, that God hath promised that he will “put his fear into the “hearts” of all his true servants, that they shall not thus depart from him.
Thus stated and guarded, this doctrine may be of eminent use to the true Christian, to quicken his diligence, arm him with courage, and invigorate his resolution to press forward ; to be “ steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in “ the work of the Lord, forasmuch as he knows " that his labour is not in vain in the Lord.” And, if hypocrites will abuse it, they do it at their peril.
ANSWER TO A QUERY RESPECTING ECCLES. IX. 13-16.
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me.
There was a little
a city and few men within it; and there came a great king against it and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man; and he by his wisdom delivered the city : yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
In explaining the word of God, we should remember that there is in every portion one precise meaning, previously to our employing our ingenuity upon it; which meaning it is our business, with reverent attention, to investigate. To discover that meaning, we should soberly and carefully examine the context, and consider the portion in question in the relation in which it stands.
Now, whatever difficulties may occur in the book of Ecclesiastes, the grand scope of it is evident; namely, from experiment and observation to draw a practical proof of the vanity of all worldly possessions, enjoyments, attainments, and distinctions; from which this conclusion is deduced, That “ to fear God and keep his com“ mandments is the whole of man :" his whole business, interest, honour, and felicity, as well as duty; all else being “ vanity and vexation of
Among other instances, the inspired writer adduces, as a case in point, this anecdote, if I may so call it, of the poor wise man; who, though eminently useful in delivering the city by his wisdom, yet was ungratefully neglected and forgotten by his fellow citizens; and had conse
quently rather mortification than benefit from his superior endowments, and the good use to which he put them; except what arose from the satisfactions of benevolence, the testimony of his conscience, and the expectation of a gracious recompense from God.
What city this was, or who the great king that besieged it, or who the wise man that delivered it, may employ man's curiosity, but can never be known by us, and is nothing at all to our purpose. But it is much to our purpose to learn from this scripture.
1. That even wisdom, or superior abilities improved by learning, and matured by experience and observation, though far the most valuable of natural distinctions, yet abstracted from religion, and considered merely with reference to our situation in life, can do just nothing towards rendering us happy; but is equally vain and vexatious with those other distinctions that nature values and grace despises. When accompanied with external wealth, authority, and eminence, it exposes a man to more malignant opposition and envy: and“ who can stand before envy?” When found in a poor obscure person, others reap the benefit ; but it does not rescue the possessor from hardship and penury, whilst it embitters them to him, through more exquisite sensibility, irritated by disappointment, and the ingratitude which he experiences. Thus “ all is vanity;" and we "are taught to despair of happiness from ourselves, and from the world, and to seek it from God alone.
2. We may hence learn to do good from higher
motives than the expectations of gratitude, respect, praise, or kindness from man: namely, from love to God, gratitude to the Author of all our mercies, disinterested benevolence, and an expectation of the gracious recompense to be conferred at the resurrection of the just. Thus we shall “not be weary of well-doing ;” which otherwise we shall be, first or last, through the perverseness and ingratitude of mankind.
3. We are taught to watch and pray against such a perverted judgment, as is here stigmatized. It is very common to judge of the action by the person, not of the person by the action; and to neglect, nay despise and condemn, the very same things in one, which we affect to admire in another. External prosperity, greatness, and reputation give a splendour to trivial actions; and it becomes fashionable, and even creditable, to applaud. In so doing men consult their own reputation, and endeavour to obtain admiration by being admirers of an admired character. But poverty and obscurity cloud and degrade even what is really excellent; and he who can confer no eclat, must expect few to notice him. But this is a very unreasonable prejudice, looks very ill in the example before us, is condemned by St. James, and should be avoided by the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus.
4. We are taught to prefer solid usefulness to empty praise. The poor wise man's services, though forgotten by man, are recorded with honour in holy writ. We are all greatly beset