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While health, prosperity, and riches last, they harden the heart and stiffen the neck of every worldly-minded man; and so long 'the things of the spirit,' or of God,' are foolishness unto him. But as soon as these fail, we see, even he is forced to own, that the wisdom of this world, which was always · foolishness with God, is really foolishness in itself, and downright destruction to him that trusted in it.
Let us, my brethren in Christ, who are or ought to be, dead to the world, and hid from it with Christ in God, now with all our hearts, as well as understandings, resolve to improve on the hidden man of the heart, and to seek only the wisdom that is from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy; and let us also with heart and understanding, utterly renounce the wisdom of this world, that wisdom which is not from above, but is earthly, sensual, develish.' That it is equally necessary to our happiness, that we should do both, may be as safely left to the vote of sober reason and universal experience, as to the word of God. Reason and experience make it a clear point, that nothing but vanity and vexation here, with infamy and disgrace hereafter, if there is to be an hereafter, can be hoped for from the wisdom of this world.
On the other hand, God's word makes the doctrine affirmed in my text, absolutely necessary to salvation. We must die to the flesh and the world, that we may not be condemned with the world. Now this death consists in loving the world no longer, but rather hating it as the enemy of God. • Love not the world,' saith St. John,' neither the things that are in the world ;' for as St. James assures us,
the friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever, therefore, will be a friend to the world, is the enemy of God.' This hating the world is that death, St. Paul tells us, we pass through in baptism, when we put off the old man. How shall we,' saith he,' that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin, for he that is dead is freed from sin.'
You now see plainly the necessity of this death to the flesh, to the world, and to sin ; and that you cannot possibly live! to Christ, without [first dying to them all. You will quickly see, that it is as necessary to be born again, in order to be saved ?
Hear the words of Christ to Nicodemus," verily, verily, I say
unto you, except a man be born again of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' Such is the necessity of entering upon a new life in order to be saved; and a new life is nothing else but this, an'abstinence from sin, and a continual practice of the duties required by the gospel. · Whosoever,' saith St. John, is born of God, doth not commit sin. Whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world.' . If any man be in Christ,' saith St. Paul, he is a new creature. They, therefore, which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them. If they breathe the spirit of the new life, how can they do otherwise than live unto him, with whom their lives are incorporated and hid ? Are they not one living body with Christ, their head? Or can they have any other life, but the very life, of that head? If, as Christ himself saith, he hath made all things new,' surely every one who is really united to him, and become a true member of his body, must have put off the old man, and must be renewed in the spirit of his mind, or the inward man, day by day.' Other things are yet as they were ; or are become new in regard to their new regenerated, or new-created possessor; or have perished; the members of Christ only, that is, they who are regenerated and converted from this world, and their sins, they only are made new by a change of nature.
You by this time may have seen what it is to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.' You may have seen also the necessity of the former in order to the latter. It only remains, that you consider, with all possible attention both of understanding and heart, the necessity of this latter, or the life in God, in order to your eternal peace and happiness.
Fear not. The change, recommended to you by the word of God, consists not so much in the pangs of dying, as in the pleasure of a revival into your only real and natural life. Sin is the only death ; and goodness, the only life. Hate this death, love this life; and then your change will afford infinitely more joy to your spiritual, than pain to your fleshly nature.
But whatsoever degree of pain it shall be, that may attend your dying to a world, on which you have foolishly, but habitually fixed your heart, let it be the wisdom of your now sounder thoughts, cheerfully to submit to the revealed appointment of your Maker, and the common law of his creation.
All the creatures are subject to change. God only is immutable. How can you pretend to this distinguishing attribute of your Creator? Behold! the heavens are subject to perpetual revolutions, and the earth to annual changes of seasons, light, and darkness, heat, and cold, pursuing each other in regular, but swift successions. The vegetable world, conforming to the same law, revives or withers, puts on, or puts off its attire, at the call of nature. In like manner, the animal creation undergoes a variety of changes peculiar to itself. One casts its old hair, another its skin or shell, another molts its feathers; and all of them, as if created anew, come forth in fresh liveries.
Now, none of these alterations are brought about in them without a considerable degree of uneasiness and pain. The old nature in them sickening, and in some sense dying, is repaired and revived, as it were into anew.
It is, on good grounds, believed, that the very angels make a progress, and arrive not at the perfection of their natures, or of their glory, but by certain changes and degrees'; who can tell what struggles their virtue was tried with, before they were entrusted with the thrones and principalities, ascribed to them in the holy Scriptures ?
And who art thou, O man, so frail, so imperfect, and even so loaded with corruption and sin, that thou shouldest hope to be good without a change; or happy, without being good? Know, that your own nature hath made this impossible, and God hath decreed the contrary, for, 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord; nor without keeping his commandments, shall any man enter into life. If therefore, for a time, the very pains of hell should be the price of so great and necessary a change; you could in nothing shew yourself so wise, as in courting and inviting them with infinitely more earnestness, than you ever did, the keenest pleasures of sense.
But, as I have already intimated, the pain of dying to a world, so vain, so deceitful, so vexatious, cannot be very great to a sensible and thinking soul, that knows it, as having already smarted in it, and begins to be disgusted with it.
Besides, whatsoever of bitterness may be tasted in the administration, or of pain felt in the operation, of the spiritual physic; the whole is greatly abated in this, as in bodily disorders, by the sure and certain hope of recovery, nay, by the immediate sense of a recovery, actually begun from the first moment of the application.
Where is the great matter in forsaking a world, of which we are perpetually, and with infinite reason, complaining, and that soon will forsake us? In the continual disappointment of our hopes, or crossing of our schemes, or impairing of our fortunes, or thwarting our pleasures, or loss of our friends, do we not die daily ? die to the world, and the things of it, against our wills? And shall it seem too much, to die once voluntarily and totally for our souls, for heaven, and for God?
How shocking to nature would it be, to see the dead and the living intermixed, forming one society, and conversing together! But how much more shocking to the eye of faith, to behold those who by their deeds are known to be dead to God, blended with his true and living people, merely on the strength of an outward profession; and calling themselves the members of Christ, the children of God, and heirs of eternal life, when all the time, it is as evident, as the light of God's word, compared with their crimes, can make it, that they are only the servants of sin, the children of the devil, and heirs of no other portion, but that which is reserved for the hypocrites? evident, that in the face of day, they walk in darkness; and in the house, at the table, and even in the name of God, promote the interest, and give vogue to the service, of his enemy; and the more for professing Christianity.
Not less shocking would it be, were it not so common, to see the same man, religious, and atheistical; virtuous, and vicious, by turns; to-day, travelling in the narrow way, and to-morrow, in the broad; but there slowly dragged, and here driving at full speed; now dying to sin, and then, to God; and consequently walking in the sight of sound reason, the frightful spectre of both worlds, rather than the real inhabitant of either. Nature, reason, Scripture, all teach us to abhor such spectacles. How then comes it, that we are so little startled at feeling, what we are so powerfully instructed to tremble at the sight of ? Can the same thing that is so hideous in principle, be ever admitted, be even courted in practice? Can a rational creature, a creature, that fears death more than every thing else, voluntarily give himself up to innumerable deaths, to a succession of agonies, which cannot possibly, after all, end in any thing but eternal death; rather than to that one death, which he knows, is "the only gate to everlasting life?
True are thy words, O blessed Redeemer,' he that would save his life,' his sinful life, shall lose it, and he that will lose his life for thy sake, shall find it,' shall surely find it, hidden with thee in God.
Teach us, O infinite truth and wisdom, a right sense of this thy declaration, so mysterious to a blinded world; and ever powerfully intercede for us with the Father, to whom, in the unity of the ever blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
The Grace of our Lord, &c.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be alway ac
ceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. This Psalm, which ends with my text, hath been justly esteemed one of the noblest strains both of poetry and devotion, that have ever been employed to raise the thoughts of the religious, and to carry them up to God. Every reader,