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in the late reign neither knew the heart of himself or of other men, whose favourite saying was, "Do not tell me of your virtue, or religion: I tell you, every man has his price;" yes, sir R-, every man like you; every one that sells himself to the devil.
7. Did that right honourable wretch, compared to whom sir R was a saint, know the heart of man? He that so earnestly advised his own son, never to speak the truth? To lie or dissemble as often as he speaks? To wear a mask continually?" That earnestly counselled him, "not to debauch single women, (because some inconveniences might follow,) but always married women." Would one imagine this groveling animal ever had a wife or a married daughter of his own? Oh rare Lord C! Did ever man so well deserve, though he was a peer of the realm, to die by the side of Newgate? Or did ever book so well deserve to be burned by the common hangman, as his letters? Did Mr. David Hume, lower, if possible, than either of the former, know the heart of man? No more than a worm or a beetle does. After "playing so idly with the darts of death," do you now find it a laughing matter? What think you now of Charon? Has he ferried you over Styx? At length he has taught you to know a little of your own heart! At length you know it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
8. One of the ablest champions of infidelity, (perhaps the most elegant and the most decent writer, that ever produced a system of religion, without being in the least obliged to the Bible for it,) breaks out in the fulness of his heart; "Who would not wish that there was full proof of the Christian Revelation; since it is undoubtedly the most benevolent system that ever appeared in the world!" Might he not add a reason of another kind; because without this, man must be altogether a mystery to himself. Even with the help of Revelation, he knows exceedingly little: but without it, he would know abundantly less; and nothing with any certainty. Without the light which is given us by the oracles of God, how could we reconcile his greatness with his meanness? While we acknowledged with sir John Davis,——
"I know my soul has power to know all things;
I know I'm one of nature's little kings;
Yet to the least and vilest things in thrall."
9. Who then knoweth the hearts of all men? Surely none but he that made them. Who knoweth his own heart? Who can tell the depth of its enmity against God? Who knoweth how deeply it is sunk into the nature of Satan?
III. 1. From the preceding considerations, may we not learn, first, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool?" For who that is wise would trust one whom he knows to be "desperately wicked?" Especially, whom he hath known, by a thousand experiments, to be" deceitful above all things?" What can we expect, if we still trust a known liar and deceiver, but to be deceived and cheated to the end?
2. We may, hence, in the second place, infer the truth of that other reflection of Solomon: "Seest thou a man that is wise in his own eyes; there is more hope of a fool than of him." For at what distance from wisdom must that man be, who never suspected his want of it? And will not his thinking so well of himself, prevent his receiving
instruction from others? Will he not be apt to be displeased at admonition, and to construe reproof into reproach? Will he not therefore be less ready to receive instruction, than even one that has little natural understanding? Surely no fool is so incapable of amendment, as one that imagines himself to be wise. He that supposes himself not to need a physician, will hardly profit by his advice.
3. May we not learn hence, thirdly, the wisdom of that caution: "Let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall:" Or, (to render the text more properly,) "Let him that assuredly standeth, take heed lest he fall." How firmly soever he may stand, he has still a deceitful heart. In how many instances has he been deceived already! And so he may again. Suppose he be not deceived now, does it follow that he never will? Does he not stand upon slippery ground? And is he not surrounded with snares into which he may fall and rise no more?
4. Is it not wisdom for him that is now standing, continually to cry to God, "Search me, oh Lord, and prove me; try out my reins and my heart? Look well, if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Thou alone, oh God, “knowest the hearts of all the children of men :" Oh show thou me what spirit I am of, and let me not deceive my own soul! Let me not "think of myself more highly than I ought to think." But let me always "think soberly, according as thou hast given me the measure of faith!"
Halifax, April 21, 1790.
SERMON CXXVIII.—The heavenly treasure in earthen vessels.
"We have this treasure in earthen vessels," 2 Cor. iv, 7.
1. How long was man a mere riddle to himself! For how many ages were the wisest of men utterly unable to reveal the mystery, to reconcile the strange inconsistencies in him; the wonderful mixture of good and evil, of greatness and littleness, of nobleness and baseness! The more deeply they considered these things, the more they were entangled. The more pains they took, in order to clear up the subject, the more they were bewildered in vain, uncertain conjectures.
2. But what all the wisdom of man was unable to do, was in due time done by the wisdom of God. When it pleased God to give an account of the origin of things, and of man in particular, all the darkness vanished away, and the clear light shone. “God said, Let us make man in our own image." It was done. In the image of God man was made. Hence we are enabled to give a clear, satisfactory account of the greatness, the excellency, the dignity of man. But "man, being in honour," did not continue therein; but rebelled against his sovereign Lord. Hereby he totally lost not only the favour, but likewise the image of God. And " in Adam all died :" for fallen" Adam begat a son in his own likeness." And hence we are taught to give a clear, intelligible account of the littleness and baseness of man. He is sunk even below the beasts that perish. Human nature now is not only sensual, but devilish. There is in every man born into the world, (what is not in any part of the brute creation; no beast is fallen so low,) a " carnal mind, which is enmity," direct enmity," against God."
3. By considering therefore these things in one view, the creation and the fall of man, all the inconsistencies of his nature are easily and fully understood. The greatness and littleness, the dignity and baseness, the happiness and misery, of his present state, are no longer a mystery, but clear consequences of his original state, and his rebellion against God. This is the key that opens the whole mystery; that removes all the difficulty, by showing what God made man at first, and what man has made himself. It is true, he may regain a considerable measure of "the image of God wherein he was created:" but still, whatever we regain, we shall "have this treasure in earthen vessels.'
In order to have a clear conception of this, we may inquire, first, What is "the treasure" which we now have: and, in the second place, consider, how " we have this treasure in earthen vessels."
I. 1. And first, let us inquire, What is this treasure which Christian believers have. I say, believers, for it is of these directly, that the apostle is here speaking. Part of this they have in common with other men, in the remains of the image of God. May we not include herein, first, an immaterial principle, a spiritual nature, endued with understanding, and affections, and a degree of liberty; of a self moving, yea, and self governing power? Otherwise we were mere machines; stocks, and stones: and, secondly, all that is vulgarly called natural conscience? Implying some discernment of the difference between moral good and evil, with an approbation of the one, and disapprobation of the other, by an inward monitor, excusing cr accusing? Certainly, whether this is natural, or superadded by the grace of God, it is found, at least in some small degree, in every child of man. Something of this is found in every human heart; passing sentence concerning good and evil; not only in all Christians, but in all Mohammedans, all Pagans, yea, the vilest of savages.
2. May we not believe, that all Christians, though but nominally such, have sometimes at least some desire to please God? As well as some light concerning what does really please him, and some convictions, when they are sensible of displeasing him? Such treasure have all the children of men, more or less, even when they do not yet know God.
3. But it is not these of whom the apostle is here speaking; neither is this the treasure which is the subject of his discourse. The persons concerning whom he is here speaking, are those that are born of God; those that, "being justified by faith," have now redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins; those who enjoy that peace of God which passeth all understanding; whose soul doth magnify the Lord, and rejoice in him with joy unspeakable; and who feel the "love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto them." This then is the treasure which they have received; a faith of the operation of God; a peace which sets them above the fear of death, and enables them in every thing to be content; a hope full of immortality, whereby they already "taste the powers of the world to come;" the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, with love to every child of man, and a renewal in the whole image of God, in all righteousness and true holiness. This is properly and directly the treasure, concerning which the apostle is here speaking.
II. 1. But this, invaluable as it is, "we have in earthen vessels." The word is exquisitely proper, denoting both the brittleness of the
vessels, and the meanness of the matter they are made of. It directly means, what we term earthenware; china, porcelain, and the like. How weak, how easily broken in pieces! Just such is the case with a holy Christian. We have the heavenly treasure in earthly, mortal, cor ruptible bodies. "Dust thou art," saith the righteous Judge to his rebellious creature, till then incorruptible and immortal, "and to dust thou shalt return." How finely (but with what a mixture of light and darkness) does the heathen poet touch upon this change! Post ignem etherea domo subduxerat. "After man had stolen fire from heaven." (What an emblem of forbidden knowledge!) Magna et nova febrium, &c, that unknown army of consumptions, fevers, sickness, pain of every kind, fixed their camp upon earth, which till then they could no more have entered, than they could have scaled heaven; and all tended to introduce and pave the way for the last enemy death. From the moment that awful sentence was pronounced, the body received the sentence of death in itself; if not from the moment our first parents completed their rebellion, by eating of the forbidden fruit. May we not probably conjecture that there was some quality naturally in this, which sowed the seeds of death in the human body, till then incorruptible and immortal? Be this as it may, it is certain that, from this time. "the incorruptible body has pressed down the soul." And no marvel, seeing the soul, during its vital union with the body, cannot exert any of its operations, any otherwise than in union with the body, with its bodily organs. But all of these are more debased and depraved by the fall of man, than we can possibly conceive; and the brain, on which the soul more directly depends, not less than the rest of the body. Consequently, if these instruments, by which the soul works, are disordered, the soul itself must be hindered in its operation. Let a musician be ever so skilful, he will make but poor music if his instrument be out of tune. From a disordered brain, (such as is, more or less, that of every child of man,) there will necessarily arise confusedness of apprehension, showing itself in a thousand instances; false judgment, the natural result thereof; and wrong inferences: and from these, innumerable mistakes will follow, in spite of all the caution we can use. But mistakes in the judgment will frequently give occasion to mistakes in practice: they will naturally cause our speaking wrong in some instances, and acting wrong in others: nay, they may occasion not only wrong words or actions, but wrong tempers also. If I judge a man to be better than he really is; in consequence, I really love him more than he deserves. If I judge another to be worse than he really is; I shall, in consequence, love him less than he deserves. Now both these are wrong tempers. Yet possibly it may not be in my power to avoid either the one or the other.
2. Such are the unavoidable consequences of having these "treasures in earthen vessels." Not only death, and its forerunners, sickness, weakness, and pain, and a thousand infirmities, but likewise error, in ten thousand shapes, will be always ready to attack us. Such is the present condition of humanity! Such is the state of the wisest men! Lord, "what is man that thou art still mindful of him; or the son of man, that thou regardest him?”
3. Something of this great truth, that the "corruptible body presses down the soul," is strongly expressed in those celebrated lines of the ancient poet speaking of the souls of men, he says,
Igneus est ollis vigor et celestis origo
With strength innate, would to their source aspire;
4. But suppose it pleased the all-wise Creator, for the sin of man, to suffer the souls of men in general, to be weighed down in this miserable manner by their corruptible body; why does he permit the excellent treasure which he has entrusted to his own children, to be still lodged in these poor earthen vessels? Would not this question naturally occur to any reflecting mind? Perhaps it would; and therefore the apostle immediately furnishes us with a full answer: God has done this, that "the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of us" that it might be undeniably plain, to whom that excellent power belonged that no flesh might glory in his sight; but that all who have received this treasure, might continually cry; "Not unto us, but unto thee, oh Lord, be the praise, for thy name, and for thy truth's sake.”
5. Undoubtedly this was the main design of God, in this wonderful dispensation; to humble man, to make and keep him little, and poor, and base, and vile, in his own eyes. And whatever we suffer hereby, we are well repaid, if it be a means of "hiding pride from man;" of laying us low in the dust, even then, when we are most in danger of being lifted up by the excellent gifts of God.
6. Nay, if we suffer hereby, from the mean habitation of the immortal spirit; if pain, sickness, and numberless other afflictions besides, to which we should not otherwise have been liable, assault us on every side, and at length bear us down into the dust of death; what are we losers by this? Losers! No; "In all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us." Come on then, disease, weakness, pain; afflictions, in the language of men. Shall we not be infinite gainers by them? Gainers for ever and ever! Seeing "these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!"
7. And are we not, by the consciousness of our present weakness, effectually taught wherein our strength lies? How loud does it proclaim, "Trust in the Lord JEHOVAH; for in him is everlasting strength!" Trust in him who suffered a thousand times more than ever you can suffer! Hath he not all power in heaven and in earth? Then, what though
"The heavenly treasure now we have
Yet He shall to the utmost save,
Potta, June 17, 1790.