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Moses, also, who had attained all the learning of the Egyptians, and was next in power to the king upon the throne, regarded it all as unworthy of a thought, not only for the crown of Christ, but in comparison of his cross; "esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt1." Yes, spiritual wisdom "has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come:" and fully merits that high encomium which the wisest of men has bestowed upon it" "Whoso findeth it, findeth life, and shall to all eternity obtain favour of the Lord "."]
Let us then LEARN,
1. To form a correct estimate of all that is before us
[Earthly things are not to be despised. Religious persons just emerging from darkness unto light, are apt to pour contempt on wealth as if it were good for nothing, and greatly also to undervalue even intellectual attainments. But we should give to every thing its due. Even to money are we indebted for numberless comforts, and to wisdom for much more; because to men's progress in science we owe those very things which money enables us to procure. Doubtless, in comparison of spiritual attainments, those which have respect only to the things of time and sense are of but little value. We may say of the moon and stars, that they are of small utility to us in comparison of the sun: but this does not render them of no value in themselves. The heavenly bodies possess great beauty and utility, notwithstanding they are eclipsed by the sun: and the true way to judge of their value to us is, to consider how painful the loss of them would be. So, whilst to heavenly things we ascribe, as we ought to do, a paramount importance, let us remember, that, for the purposes of this life at least, those things which are mainly regarded by the unregenerate, are, in their place, deserving also the attention of the godly. We may say of them, as our blessed Lord does of some other things of subordinate importance, "These things ought ye to do, and not to leave the other undone."]
2. To seek every thing according to its real importance
[When it is said, "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, we are not to take the expressions absolutely, but only comparatively; exactly as when it is said, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." I say, then, to those who are engaged in worldly business, Follow it diligently: and to those who are prosecuting
1 Heb. xi. 26.
m 1 Tim. iv. 8.
• Prov. viii. 35.
any department of science, Strive to excel in it: "Whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might P." The point on which I would entertain a jealousy is, "the placing of your affections on any thing here below; for they are to be reserved exclusively for things above 9." But I am aware that there is great reason for caution on this head. I well know how easy it is to enter with zeal into earthly pursuits; and how difficult to maintain the same ardour in the prosecution of heavenly things. Let me then remind you, that, whatever importance you may assign to the things of time and sense, they have no real importance, by reason of the superior importance of the things which are spiritual and eternal. These must occupy the whole soul, and engage all its powers. We must run as in a race;" and "strive as for the mastery;" and 'fight" as for our very lives: and we may rest assured, that the crown of victory that shall be awarded to us, will recompense all the labours we have endured, in the prosecution of our duty, and in the service of our God.]
AGAINST AN OVER-RIGHTEOUS SPIRIT.
Eccles. vii. 16. Be not righteous overmuch.
THIS is the sheet-anchor of ungodly men. They hate to see a zeal for God, and therefore endeavour to repress it. From the days of Cain to this hour, they who have been born after the flesh, have persecuted those who have been born after the Spirit". And when they find that neither contempt nor threatenings will avail any thing, they will venture, as Satan before them did, to draw their weapons from the very armoury of God.
It must be confessed, that the sense of this passage is not obvious at first sight; and it has been variously interpreted by commentators. Some have thought it to be the speech of an infidel recommending Solomon, in reply to his observation in the preceding verse, to avoid an excess either in religion or in vice. But it is evidently a serious admonition given by Solomon himself. In ver. 15. he mentions two things which had appeared strange to him, namely, Many righteous
people suffering even unto death for righteousness sake; and, many wicked people, whose lives were justly forfeited, eluding, either through force or fraud, the punishment they deserved. From hence he takes occasion to caution both the righteous and the wicked; the righteous, ver. 16, not to bring trouble on themselves by an injudicious way of manifesting their religion, or to "suffer as evil-doers;" and the wicked, ver. 17, not to presume upon always escaping with impunity; for that justice will sooner or later surely overtake them. He then recommends to both of them to pay strict attention to the advice given them, and to cultivate the true fear of God, ver. 18, as the best preservative against wickedness on the one hand, and indiscretion on the other.
This being the sense of the whole passage, we proceed to the consideration of the text; in illustrating which we shall,
I. Explain the caution
The misconstruction put upon the text renders it necessary to explain,
1. To what the caution does not extend
[Solomon certainly never intended to caution us against loving God too much; seeing that we are commanded to "love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength":" nor against serving the Lord Jesus Christ too much; since he "died for us, that we might live to himd;" and we should be "willing to be bound or even to die for his sake:" nor against too much purity of heart; for we are required to purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit', yea, to purify ourselves even as he is pures Nor could he mean to caution us against too much deadness to the world; for, provided we conscientiously fulfil the duties of our station, we cannot be too much "crucified to the world";" we should no more be of the world than Christ himself was. Nor, lastly, did he intend to warn us against too much compassion for souls; for, provided our mode of manifesting that compassion be discreet, it would be well if our "head were waters, and our eyes a fountain of tears, to weep for the ungodly day and night." These indeed are things in which the world does not
d 2 Cor. v. 15.
c Mark xii. 30.
e Acts xxi. 13. Luke xiv. 26. h Gal. vi. 14.
k Jer. ix. 1.
wish to see us much occupied; they would rather that we should put our light under a bushel. But no inspired writer would ever caution us against excess in such things as these. St. Paul makes the proper distinction between the regard which we should shew to carnal and to spiritual objects: "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;" because therein is no possibility of excess1.]
2. To what the caution does extend—
[An intemperate zeal appears to be the principal thing against which the text is levelled. Too high a conceit of our own wisdom, a hasty persuasion that we are right, and an indiscreet method of fulfilling what we suppose to be our duty, may be found in persons who really mean well. Two apostles, from zeal for their Master, would have called fire from heaven to consume a village that had refused him admission m; and a third defended his Master with a sword, to the endangering of his own life, and to the dishonour of the cause he had espoused". Thus do many at this day contend for the truth. in private in an unbecoming spirit, and go forth to propagate it in public to the neglect of their proper duty, and the injury of the Christian cause. A blind superstition may also be fitly comprehended in the caution. This obtained in a very great degree among the judaizing Christians; and still prevails over a great part of the Christian world; would to God we could except even Protestants themselves from the charge! How often do we see a most rigorous regard paid to rites that are of human invention, whilst the true spirit and temper of Christianity is sadly neglected! Alas! what fiery and fatal contentions have arisen from this source! There is a needless scrupulosity also which ought to be avoided. What schisms has this occasioned in the Church, when, on account of one or two things, in which they could not agree, men have rent the seamless robe of Christ into a thousand pieces! What injury have men done to their bodies by penances of man's device! What trouble and perplexity have they also brought upon their souls by rash vows, and foolish impositions! Such was the spirit against which St. Paul guarded the Christians at Colosse. And Solomon's caution against the same will be useful in every age and place. A self-justifying dependence on our own works is nearly allied to the foregoing evils, and is thought by some to be the more immediate object of Solomon's censure. But if we allow it not the first place, we may very properly mention it as another mistaken method of displaying our righteousness. Every person is prone to it; and n John xviii. 10.
1 Eph. v. 18. • 1 Cor. vii. 20.
m Luke ix. 54.
the most upright persons need to be cautioned against it, because there is not any thing more destructive in its issue. It deprives us of all the benefit of whatever good we do; yea, it makes even the death of Christ of no effect: we can never therefore be too strongly guarded against it. We may have much zeal of this kind: but it is a zeal without knowledge. Nor is there any salvation for us, unless, like the holy Apostle, we renounce it utterly.]
Having explained at large the import of this caution, we shall,
II. Subjoin some advice
We fear that, however great occasion there may be to caution sincere people against erroneous methods of exercising their religion, there is far more occasion to exhort the world in general to pay some attention to their duty. Our first advice therefore is,
1. Be truly righteous
[They who are most ready to quote the text, are, for the most part, those who are adverse to the exercise of all religion. And when they exclaim, 'Be not righteous over-much,' their meaning is, 'Be not righteous at all.' They would be far better pleased to see all walking in the broad road, than to be put to shame by those who are walking in the narrow path. But let no scoff's keep you from the performance of your duty. If the world set themselves against religion, let not that deter any upright soul. Our Lord has taught us to expect that our "greatest foes would be those of our own household." Let us not be discouraged if we find it so. Let our inquiry be, What is duty? and, having found that, let nothing turn us aside. Let us not be satisfied with the degree of righteousness which the world approves. Let us examine the Scripture to see what God requires. Let us see how the saints of old served God; and let us labour in every thing to "do his will on earth, even as it is done in heaven." This is a conduct which will tend, not to our destruction, but salvation. To act otherwise will issue in our ruin; since "Whosoever doth not righteousness is not of Gods." But to walk after this rule is to ensure present and everlasting peace.]
2. Be wisely righteous
["It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing;" and to "maintain a conscience void of offence towards both God and man." But we are far from recommending a
q Gal. v. 4.
r Phil. iii. 9.
s 1 John iii. 10.