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III. From all these reflections what consequences shall we draw? That all conditions are absolutely equal ? That as they, who actually enjoy the most desirable advantages of life, ought to consider them with sovereign contempt, so people, who are deprived of them, ought not to take any pains to acquire them, and to better their condition ? No, my brethren, God forbid we should preach a mo. rality so austere, and so likely to disgrace religion.
On the one hand, they, to whom God hath granted the good things of this life, ought to know the value of them, and to observe with gratitude the difference, which providence hath made between them and others. Worldly prosperity, I grant, is not the most substantial good, however it is not an imaginary advantage: it is not indeed that permanent good, which will continue ours after death, but it is, however, capable of rendering the present state more agreeable.
Do you enjoy liberty ? Liberty is a great good : feel the pleasure of liberty. Behold the man, who is inclosed in lofty and impenetrable walls, who breathes only an infectious and unwholesome air, who lies on straw in a dungeon, and who with the utmost attention and pains can hardly perceive a ray of light, and bless God that you are not in the condition of that man.
Are you rich? Wealth is a great good : enjoy the pleasure of being rich. Behold the man loaded with debts, destitute of friends, pursued by inexorable creditors, having indeed just enough to keep himself alive to-day, but not knowing how he shall support life to-morrow, and bless God you are not in the condition of that man.
Do you enjoy your health ? Health is a great good: relish the pleasure of being well. Observe the man lying on a sick bed, unable to bcar up a
body loaded with infirmities, not able to move himself, without excruciating sensations of pain, crawling toward the grave by the horrible road of the gout. or the stone.
Nothing but a fund of stupidity or ingratitude can render us insensible to temporal blessings, when it pleases God to bestow them on us. What ! Did you as soon as you opened your eyes see yourself crowned with a thousand advantages ; did God seem to take pleasure in making your condition a composition of honor, wealth and pleasure; did you find yourself without contributing to it the least labor or attention, abundantly supplied with every thing that can render life easy and delicious; and, because, carry human felicity to what pitch you will, there is nothing perfect in it, do you give up yourself to grief and melancholy, does a dark and gloomy temper within you triumph over all the motives, that ought to inspire you with gratitude and joy !
As they, to whom providence bath granted the comforts of life, ought to know the value of them, and to enjoy them with gratitude, so it is allowable, yea it is the duty of such as are deprived of them to endeavor to acquire them, to meliorate their condition, and to procure in future a condition more happy than that, to which they have hitherto been condemned, and which hath caused them so many difficulties and tears. Self-love is the most natural and lawful of all our passions. We ought not to neglect to acquire any good, except the possession of it would be incompatible with that of a greater good, and we ought not consent to suffer any ills, except enduring them would prevent greater ills. But, other things being equal, every one ought to endeavor to procure himself an agreeable condition of life in this world.
Beside, the love of our neighbor, the duty so much enforced by our great lawgiver, the love which our master requires us to extend as far to our neighbor as ourselves, this duty engageth us to avail ourselves of all the innocent means, which are offered to us to acquire the good things of this life. The more riches you have the more able will you be to assist the indigent. The higher you are elevated in society, the more will you have it in your power to succor the oppressed. The more learning and knowledge, and accuracy you have, the more will it be in your power to press home the duties of religion, to defend the truth, and to display the beauty and advantage of virtue.
Our design, in restraining your projects, is to engage you patiently to bear the inconveniences of your present condition, when you cannot remedy them : because whatever difference there may seem to be between the most happy and the most miserable mortal in this world, there is much less, all things considered, than our misguided passions imagine.
Our design, in checking the immoderate inclination we have to contrive fanciful schemes of happiness, is to make you enjoy with tranquillity such blessings as you have. Most men render themselves insensible to their present advantages by an extravagant passion for future acquisitions. The avidity, with which they wish to acquire more riches, prevents their enjoying what they actually possess ; the avidity, with which they desire to obtain a station more elevated in society, prevents their tasting the pleasure of that, in which providence hath placed them. In a word, our design is to engage you to proportion the pains you take to obtain worldly advantages to the true value of them.
Above all, the design, the chief design we have in denouncing a vain
and unsatisfactory being in this world, is to engage you to seek after a happy futurity in the presence of God; to engage you to expect from the blessings of a future state what you cannot promise yourself in this. And what, my soul, canst thou expect during the short period of this life, if the remainder will resemble the past, if in future years thy condition will resemble that of the former days, if thou must pass through the same vicissitudes, suffer the same maladies, be witness to the same injustice, see the same infidelity and the same perfidy?
But if all mankind ought to preserve themselves from the disorder of fanciful schemes of future pleasure, they above all are bound to do so, who are arrived at old age, when years accumulated bring us near the infirmities of declining life, or a dying bed. Such a man ought to say to himself, what can I henceforth expect in this world ? Should an unheard of revolution happen in my favor, should the face of the universe be changed, should all the advantages of the world unite, and present themselves to me, what benefit could I derive from them?
What advantage could I derive from a well furnished table, I whose palate hath lost the faculty of tasting and relishing food? What advantage could I derive from a numerous levee, I, to whom company is become a burden, and who am in a manner a burden to myself? What advantage could I derive from elegant apartments, and extensive landscapes, I whose eyes are incapable of discerning objects, whose body almost motionless is confined to an easy chair, or sick bed ? In one word, what benefit can I reap from a concurrence of all the advantages of life, I, who am within a few
steps of the gates of death ? Happy! When my life comes to an end, to be able to incorporate my existence with that of the immortal God! Happy! When I feel this earthly tabernacle sink, to be able to exercise that faith, which is an evidence of things not seen! Happy to ascend to that city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God! Heb. xi. 1. 10.
May we all, my dear brethren, live, grow old, and die in these sentiments! God grant us the grace. To him be honor and glory for ever. Amen.