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it be which calls forth their mirth and laughter, it is equally unprofitable and equally insane. So Solomon judged; and]
We now proceed-
Let us take a candid view of this matter: let us consider pleasure in its true light: let us consider its aspect on us, 1. As men
[As men, we possess faculties of a very high order, which we ought to cultivate, and which, when duly improved, exalt and dignify our nature. But behold the votaries of pleasure ; how low do they sink themselves by the depravity of their taste, and the emptiness of their occupations ! A man devoid of wisdom may abound in mirth and laughter as well as he: and there will be found very little difference in their feelings; except, as the more enlarged men's capacities are for higher objects, the keener sense will they have of the emptiness of their vain pursuits. In truth, we may appeal even to themselves in confirmation of what Solomon has said : for there are no persons more convinced of the unsatisfying nature of such pursuits, than those who follow them with the greatest avidity. But let Scripture speak: “She that liveth in pleasure is dead whilst she liveth.” It is the fool alone that can say, “ Let us eat, drink, and be merry"."] 2. As sinners
[As sinners we have a great work to do; even to call to mind, and to mourn over, the sins of our whole lives, and to seek reconciliation with our offended God – - The time, too, which is afforded us for this is very short and very uncertain - And, oh! what an issue awaits our present exertions; even heaven with all its glory, or hell with all its inconceivable and everlasting terrors! Have persons so circumstanced any time for mirth, or any disposition to waste their precious hours in laughter? Is it not much more suitable to them to be engaged according to the direction of St. James, “ Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness; humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you upe?"---] 3. As the redeemed of the Lord
[What redeemed soul can contemplate the price paid for his redemption, and laugh? Go, my Brother, to Gethsemane, and see thy Saviour bathed in a bloody sweat. Go to Calvary, and behold him stretched upon the cross. Hear his heartrending cry,“ My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" See the sun himself veiling his face in darkness, and the Lord of glory bowing his head in death : and then tell me, whether you feel much disposition for mirth and laughter? or whether such a state of mind would become you? Methinks, I need add no more. Your own consciences will attest the justice of Solomon's remarks. But if there be an advocate for mirth yet unconvinced, then I put it to him to answer that significant question in my text, What doeth it?"] APPLICATION
c 1 Tim. v. 6. d Luke xii. 19. e Jam. iv. 9, 10.
1. Are any disposed to complain that I make religion gloomy?
[Remember, it is of carnal mirth that I have spoken; and of that, not in its occasional sallies, from a buoyancy of spirit, and in combination with love, but of its being regarded as a source of happiness, and of its constituting, as it were, a portion of our daily employment. And if I wrest this from you, do I leave you a prey to melancholy? Go to religion ; and see whether that do not furnish you with mirth and laughter of a purer kind: with mirth that is not unprofitable, with laughter that is not mad? The very end of the Gospel is, to "give you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness :” and if you believe in Christ, it is not merely your privilege, but your duty to rejoice in him, yea, to “rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and glorified.” If the Church, on account of temporal deliverances, could say,
" Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing?;" much more may you, on account of the salvation which has been vouchsafed to you. Only, therefore, let the grounds of your joy be right, and we consent that “your mourning be turned into dancing, and that to the latest hour of your lives you put off your sackcloth and gird you with gladness. Instead of pronouncing such mirth madness, we will declare it to be your truest wisdom.]
2. Are there those amongst you who accord with Solomon ?
[Remember, then, to seek those as your associates who are like-minded with you in this respect. Affect not the company of those who delight in laughter, and in carnal mirth; for they will only draw you from God, and rob you of the happiness which you might otherwise enjoy. If they appear happy, remember that “ their mirth is like the crackling of thorns under a poth:” it may make a blaze for a moment; but it soon expires in spleen and melancholy. Be careful, too, to live nigh to God, and in sweet communion with your Lord and Saviour: for if you draw back from God in secret, you will, in respect of happiness, be in a worse condition than the world themselves: for whilst you deny yourselves the pleasure which you might have in carnal things, you will have no real pleasure in spiritual exercises. But be true to your principles, and you never need envy the poor worldlings their vain enjoyments. They drink of a polluted cistern, that contains nothing but what is insipid and injurious, and will prove fatal to their souls; but you draw from the fountain of living waters, which whosoever drinks of, shall live for ever.]
f Ps. cxxvi. 1, 2.
8 Ps. xxx. 11.
h Eccl. vii. 6.
THE EXCELLENCY OF WISDOM.
Eccl. ii. 13. Then I saw, that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as
light excelleth darkness. THE more exact is our scrutiny into the things of this world, the more decided will be our judgment respecting them. If persons ever think highly of them, it is because they have never set down seriously to examine their true character, or laboured to form a right estimate respecting them. Solomon possessed means of ascertaining their real value beyond any other
person that ever existed: for, possessing wisdom above any other of the sons of men, he had a greater capacity to extract all the sweetness that was in them; and, being a monarch, he could command all things through the whole range of nature, to present to him their tribute of gratification according to their respective abilities. But, after a minute examination of every thing, he was constrained to give this, at last, as the result of his experience: “ Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.”
Now this, I conceive, refers in part to human wisdom, as occupied in intellectual pursuits. For it is certain, that amongst objects that relate only to this present life, there is nothing to be compared with this. Intellect is that which distinguishes man from the brute creation; and the enlargement of it with arts and sciences is that which elevates man above his fellows. The cultivation of it is more suited to the dignity of man than the gratification of his sensual appetites; in all of which the beasts have as large a capacity of enjoyment as he. The pleasures arising from it are also less apt to cloy; and will endure, when a taste for other enjoyments is passed away. It will gratify, also, when it is not the object of immediate pursuit; because it will supply in reflection much of what it conferred in the actual acquisition. It is also of great use, and qualifies a man for conferring extensive benefits on the world; at the same time that it opens to him a thousand channels of pleasure which are utterly unknown to the unfurnished mind. A person habituated only to bodily exertion has no conception what a fund of satisfaction the exercises of the mind supply, or what delight attaches to the investigation of science and the discovery of truth. Corporeal indulgences, indeed, strike more strongly upon the senses; and therefore, to a carnal mind, seem to furnish a greater measure of delight. But the more eagerly they are sought, the less pleasure they afford; and they bring with them, for the most part, many painful consequences: so that, in comparison of intellectual pursuits, they deserve the name of “folly;" whilst the prosecution of the other may properly be called “wisdom.” Yet it must be confessed, that there is much truth in that observation of Solomon, “ In much wisdom is much grief : and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrowa.” For “ much study is undoubtedly a weariness to the flesh.” and it is often followed by painful disappointment. I conceive, therefore, that we are by no means to limit the import of our text to human wisdom; but must extend it to that which is divine: in reference to which we may say, without any limitation or exception, “ It excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.”
Of this therefore, even of spiritual wisdom, I will now proceed to speak; and its transcendent excellence I will point out in reference to, a Eccl. i. 18.
Eccl. xii, 12.
I. Its own proper character“ Wisdom” is another word for piety[Piety in the Scriptures is frequently called by this name.
The fear of the Lord that is wisdom." And Moses prays, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom d.”
But, not to rest in a mere general definition of the term, I shall consider it as embracing these two points, The receiving of the Gospel, as sinners ; and the adorning of it, as saints.
The very first part of wisdom is to receive the Gospel of salvation into our hearts. We all need it; nor can any human being be saved without it; and God offers to us all the blessings of it, freely, without money and without price. Were we under a sentence of death from a human tribunal, and were offered mercy by the Prince, it would be accounted wisdom to accept the offer, and folly to reject it. How much more is it our wisdom to accept a deliverance from eternal death, together with all the glory and felicity of heaven! This must commend itself to every man who reflects but for a moment: and to despise these proffered benefits must, of necessity, be regarded as folly, bordering upon madness
The next part of wisdom must be, to adorn that Gospel by a holy life and conversation; since it cannot otherwise be ultimately of any avail for our acceptance with God. The very intent of the Gospel is to transform man into the Divine image, and thereby to prepare him for the enjoyment of his God; and if this be not attained, heaven itself would be no place of happiness to him. Indeed, if a man profess to embrace the Gospel, and yet continue to walk unworthy of it, he dishonours God far more than he could do whilst he made no such profession: for he “tramples under foot the Son of God, and counts the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and does despite unto the Spirit of Grace®;" yea, he crucifies the Son of God afresh, and puts him to an open shamef." I think, therefore, that the pursuit of holiness in all its branches, with an uniform endeavour to glorify our God, must commend itself to every considerate mind, as true “wisdom.") And this far excelleth “ folly”—
[I will not go into particulars to characterize “folly:" it shall suffice to take the most lenient view of it that can be imagined : I will comprehend under it no positive vice, nothing that can render it odious in the eyes of men: I will take it only in a negative view, as importing a neglect of the two foregoing dictates of sound wisdom. And now I will ask, Who does not see the superiority of wisdom; and that "it excelleth folly as c Job xxviii. 28. d Ps. xc. 12. e Heb. x. 29. f Heb. vi. 6.