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That something is neither more nor less, than the knowledge and love of God; without which no spirit can be happy either in heaven or earth.
2. Permit me to recite my own experience, in confirmation of this: I distinctly remember, that, even in my childhood, even when I was at school, I have often said, "They say, the life of a school boy is the happiest in the world: but I am sure, I am not happy: for I am not content; and so cannot be happy." When I had lived a few years longer, being in the vigour of youth, a stranger to pain and sickness, and particularly to lowness of spirits; (which I do not remember to have felt one quarter of an hour ever since I was born;) having plenty of all things, in the midst of sensible and amiable friends, who loved me, and I loved them, and being in the way of life, which, of all others, suited my inclinations; still I was not happy. I wondered why I was not, and could not imagine what the reason was. The reason certainly was, I did not know God, the source of present as well as eternal happiness. What is a clear proof that I was not then happy, is, that upon the coolest reflection, I knew not one week which I would have thought it worth while to have lived over again; taking it with every inward and outward sensation, without any variation at all.
3. But a pious man affirms, "When I was young I was happy; though I was utterly without God in the world." I do not believe you: though I doubt not but you believe yourself. But you are deceived, as I have been over and over. Such is the condition of human life :-
"Flowrets and myrtles fragrant seem to rise:
With thorns, and desert heath, and barren sands."
Look forward on any distant prospect: how beautiful does it appear! Come up to it; and the beauty vanishes away; and it is rough and disagreeable. Just so is life. But when the scene is past, it resumes its former appearance; and we seriously believe, that we were then very happy, though, in reality, we were far otherwise. For as none is now, so none ever was happy, without the loving knowledge of the true God.
4. We may learn hence, secondly, that this happy knowledge of the true God is only another name for religion; I mean Christian religion; which indeed is the only one that deserves the name. Religion, as to the nature or essence of it, does not lie in this or that set of notions, vulgarly called faith; nor in a round of duties, however carefully reformed from error and superstition. It does not consist in any number of outward actions. No: it properly and directly consists in the knowledge and love of God, as manifested in the Son of his love, through the eternal Spirit. And this naturally leads to every heavenly temper, and to every good word and work.
5. We learn hence, thirdly, that none but a Christian is happy; none but a real inward Christian. A glutton, a drunkard, a gamester, may be merry; but he cannot be happy. The beau, the belle, may eat and drink, and rise up to play; but still they feel they are not happy. Men or women may adorn their own dear persons with all the colours of the rainbow. They may dance, and sing, and hurry to and fro, and flutter hither and thither. They may roll up and down in their splendid carriages, and talk insipidly to each other. They may hasten from one diversion to another: but happiness is not there. They are still "walk
ing in a vain shadow, and disquieting themselves in vain." One of their own poets has truly pronounced, concerning the whole life of these sons of pleasure:
""Tis a dull farce, an empty show:
I cannot but observe of that fine writer, that he came near the mark; and yet fell short of it. In his Solomon, (one of the noblest poems in the English tongue,) he clearly shows where happiness is not; that it is not to be found in natural knowledge, in power, or in the pleasures of sense or imagination. But he does not show where it is to be found. He could not; for he did not know it himself. Yet he came near it,
when he said,
"Restore, great Father, thy instructed son;
6. We learn hence, fourthly, that every Christian is happy; and that he who is not happy is not a Christian. If, as was observed above, religion is happiness, every one that has it must be happy. This appears from the very nature of the thing: for if religion and happiness are in fact the same, it is impossible that any man can possess the former, without possessing the latter also. He cannot have religion without having happiness; seeing they are utterly inseparable.
And it is equally certain on the other hand, that he who is not happy, is not a Christian: seeing if he was a real Christian, he could not but be happy. But I allow an exception here in favour of those who are under violent temptation; yea, and of those who are under deep nervous disorders, which are indeed a species of insanity. The clouds and darkness which then overwhelm the soul, suspend its happiness; especially if Satan is permitted to second those disorders, by pouring in his fiery darts. But, excepting these cases, the observation will hold, and i. should be well attended to,-Whoever is not happy, yea, happy in God, is not a Christian.
7. Are not you a living proof of this? Do not you still wander to and fro, seeking rest, but finding none ?-Pursuing happiness, but never overtaking it? And who can blame you for pursuing it? It is the very end of your being. The great Creator made nothing to be miserable, but every creature to be happy in its kind. And upon a general review of the works of his hands, he pronounced them all very good; which they would not have been, had not every intelligent creature, yea, every one capable of pleasure and pain, been happy in answering the end of its creation. If you are now unhappy, it is because you are in an unnatural state and shall you not sigh for deliverance from it? "The whole creation" being now "subject to vanity,' groaneth and travaileth in pain together." I blame you only, or pity you rather, for taking a wrong way to a right end: for seeking happiness where it never was, and never can be found. You seek happiness in your fellow creatures, instead of your Creator. But these can no more make you happy, than they can make you immortal. If you have ears to hear, every creature cries aloud, "Happiness is not in me.' "All these are, in truth, "broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Oh turn unto your rest! Turn to him, in whom are hid all the treasures of happiness! Turn unto him, "who giveth liberally unto all men ;" and he will give you to drink of the water of life freely."
8. You cannot find your long sought happiness in all the pleasures of the world. Are they not "deceitful upon the weights?" Are they not lighter than vanity itself? How long will ye "feed upon that which is not bread?" Which may amuse, but cannot satisfy. You cannot find it in the religion of the world: either in opinions, or a mere round of outward duties. Vain labour! Is not God a Spirit? and therefore to be " worshipped in spirit and in truth?" In this alone can you find the happiness you seek; in the union of your spirit with the Father of spirits; in the knowledge and love of him who is the fountain of happiness, sufficient for all the souls he has made.
9. But where is he to be found? Shall we go up into heaven, or down into hell to seek him? "Shall we take the wings of the morning," and search for him "in the uttermost parts of the sea?" Nay, Quod petis, hic est! What a strange word to fall from the pen of a heathen! "What you seek, is here!" He is "about your bed.” is "about your path." He "besets you behind and before." "lays his hand upon you." Lo! God is here! not afar off. Now, believe and feel him near! May he now reveal himself in your heart! Know him! Love him! and you are happy.
10. Are you already happy in him? then see that you "hold fast whereunto ye have attained!" "Watch and pray," that you may never be "moved from your steadfastness." "Look unto yourselves, that ye lose not what ye have gained, but that ye receive a full reward.” In so doing, expect a continual growth in grace, in the loving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Expect that the power of the Highest shall suddenly overshadow you, that all sin may be destroyed, and nothing may remain in your heart, but holiness unto the Lord. And this moment, and every moment, "present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God," and "glorify him with your body and with your spirit, which are God's!"
SERMON LXXXIII.-On Spiritual Idolatry.
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols," 1 John v, 21.
1. THERE are two words that occur several times in this epistle; παιδια and τεχνια; both of which our translators render by the same expression, little children. But their meaning is very different. The former is very properly rendered little children; for it means, babes in Christ: those that have lately tasted of his love, and are, as yet, weak and unestablished therein. The latter might, with more propriety be rendered, beloved children; as it does not denote any more than the affection of the speaker to those whom he had begotten in the Lord.
2. An ancient historian relates, that when the apostle was so enfeebled by age, as not to be able to preach, he was frequently brought into the congregation in his chair, and just uttered, " Beloved children, love one another." He could not have given a more important advice.And equally important is this which lies before us; equally necessary for every part of the church of Christ. "Beloved children, keep your
selves from idols."
3. Indeed there is a close connection between them: one cannot subsist without the other. As there is no firm foundation for the love
of our brethren, except the love of God, so there is no possibility of loving God, except we keep ourselves from idols.
But what are the idols of which the apostle speaks? This is the first thing to be considered. We may then, in the second place, inquire, how shall we keep ourselves from them?
I. 1. We are first to consider, What are the idols of which the apostle speaks? I do not conceive him to mean, at least not principally, the idols that were worshipped by the heathens. They to whom he was writing, whether they had been Jews or heathens, were not in much danger from these. There is no probability that the Jews now converted, had ever been guilty of worshipping them: as deeply given to this gross idolatry as the Israelites had been for many ages, they were hardly ever entangled therein after their return from the Babylonish captivity. From that period, the whole body of Jews had shown a constant, deep abhorrence of it; and the heathens, after they had once turned to the living God, had their former idols in the utmost detestation. They abhorred to touch the unclean thing; yea, they chose to lay down their lives, rather than turn to the worship of those gods, whom they now knew to be devils.
2. Neither can we reasonably suppose, that he speaks of those idols that are now worshipped in the church of Rome: whether angels, or the souls of departed saints, or images of gold, silver, wood or stone. None of these idols were known in the Christian church, till some centuries after the time of the apostles. Once, indeed, St. John himself "fell down to worship before the face of an angel" that spake unto him; probably mistaking him, fiom his glorious appearance, for the Great Angel of the Covenant; but the strong reproof of the angel, which immediately followed, secured the Christians from imitating that bad example: "See thou do it not:" as glorious as I appear, I am not thy Master. "I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets worship God," Rev. xxii, 9.
3. Setting, then, pagan and Romish idols aside, what are those of which we are here warned by the apostle? The preceding words show us the meaning of these. "This is the true God;" the end of all the souls he has made; the centre of all created spirits ;— and eternal life;" the only foundation of present as well as eternal happiness. To him, therefore, alone, our heart is due. And he cannot, he will not quit his claim, or consent to its being given to any other. He is continually saying to every child of man, "My son, give me thy heart!" And to give our heart to any other is plai. idolatry. Accordingly, whatever takes our heart from him, or shares it with him, is an idol; or, in other words, whatever we seek happiness in, independent of God.
4. Take an instance that occurs almost every day: A person who has been long involved in the world, surrounded and fatigued with abundance of business, having at length acquired an easy fortune, disengages himself from all business, and retires into the country,-to be happy. Happy in what? Why in taking his ease. For he intends now,
Somno et inertibus horis
To sleep, and pass away,
Happy in eating and drinking whatever his heart desires: perhaps more elegant fare than that of the old Roman, who feasted his imagination before the treat was served up; who, before he left the town, consoled himself with the thought of "fat bacon, and cabbage too!" Uncta satis pingui ponentur oluscula lardo!
Happy, in altering, enlarging, rebuilding, or at least decorating, the old mansion house he has purchased; and likewise in improving every thing about it; the stables, out houses, grounds. But, mean time, where does God come in? No where at all. He did not think about him. He no more thought of the King of heaven, than of the king of France. God is not in his plan. The knowledge and love of God are entirely out of the question. Therefore, this whole scheme of happiness in retirement is idolatry, from beginning to end.
5. If we descend to particulars, the first species of this idolatry is what St. John terms, the desire of the flesh. We are apt to take this in too narrow a meaning, as if it related to one of the senses only. Not so: this expression equally refers to all the outward senses. It means the seeking happiness in the gratification of any, or all of the external senses; although more particularly of the three lower senses; tasting, smelling, and feeling. It means, the seeking happiness herein, if not in a gross, indelicate manner, by open intemperance, by gluttony or drunkenness, or shameless debauchery; yet, in a regular kind of epicurism; in a genteel sensuality; in such an elegant course of self indulgence, as does not disorder either the head or the stomach; as does not at all impair our health, or blemish our reputation.
6. But we must not imagine this species of idolatry is confined to the rich and great. In this also, "the toe of the peasant," (as our poet speaks,)" treads upon the heel of the courtier." Thousands in low, as well as in high life, sacrifice to this idol: seeking their happiness, (though in a more humble manner,) in gratifying their outward senses. It is true, their meat, their drink, and the objects that gratify their other senses, are of a coarser kind. But still they make up all the happiness they either have or seek, and usurp the hearts which are due to God.
7. The second species of idolatry mentioned by the apostle, is, the desire of the eye: that is, the seeking of happiness in gratifying the imagination; (chiefly by means of the eyes;) that internal sense, which is as natural to men as either sight or hearing. This is gratified by such objects as are either grand, or beautiful, or uncommon. But as to grand objects, it seems they do not please any longer than they are new. Were we to survey the pyramids of Egypt daily for a year, what pleasure would they then give? Nay, what pleasure does a far grander object than these, "The ocean rolling on the shelly shore,"
give to one who has been long accustomed to it? Yea, what pleasure do we generally receive from the grandest object in the universe,
"Yon ample, azure sky, Terribly large, and wonderfully bright,
With stars unnumber'd, and unmeasured light?"
8. Beautiful objects are the next general source of the pleasures of the imagination: the works of nature in particular. So persons in all ages have been delighted