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in his composed mind: but afterwards such have resumed new courage, and have, by enduring the sharpest sufferings, confirmed the truth, and ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. : Lastly. The prosperity of sinners is the great temptation to delay repentance till their state is desperate. Nothing fills hell with so many lost souls, as the putting off repentance till hereafter. How many diseases would be cured in time, if they threatened present death? But their malignity being of a slow operation, they are despised as not worth the trouble of a cure, till they are desperate. It is in spiritual diseases, as it is in those of the body: for sin that is a sickness unto death, might be prevented by speedy repentance; but many, not apprehending present danger, neglect the precious remedy till they are desperately ruined. “ To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Heb. 3. 7. The command respects the season as well as the duty. As our obedience must be entire without reserves, so it must be present without delay, even in our early age, and continued in the whole tenour of our life. The worm of conscience sometimes nips security, and there is a strange union of contrarieties in the breast of a sinner, that makes him inexcusable and incurable. He complains of the bondage to his lusts, yet takes pleasure in it: he is convinced it will be destructive, yet voluntarily continues in that sweet captivity. If conscience be troublesome, he pacifies it with an intention to reform hereafter, and thinks that a future repentance will be sufficient to prepare for a future judgment. And none are so easily and willingly deceived to their everlasting ruin by this pretence, as those who enjoy the present world. Prosperity makes them forgetful of the grave, and human vicissitudes, and hardens them in deep security. It was the divine prayer of Moses, “ so teach us to number our days, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom ;” implying, that the great cause of men's destructive folly, is from not reflecting upon the shortness and uncertainty of their time here. Death is certain to the old, and life uncertain to the young. There are many back doors to the grave, and men are led surprisingly thither. The time of their residence here is fixed by the divine determination, and concealed from their eyes. How many in their youth ayd prosperity have presumed upon a long life, yet unexpectedly have “ returned to their earth;" as a wall covered with ivy, that falls on a sudden with its green ornaments, by its weight and weakness. The hour of death, is the hour of men's destiny for ever. There is no space of repentance in the interval between death and judgment; but the soul immediately after its departure, receives a decisive irrevocable doom, that is in part executed, and shall be publicly and entirely executed at the last day. Yet men boldly venture to continue in their pleasant sins, upon the forlorn hope of a season to repent hereafter. Astonishing enormous folly! as if they were assured of time, and the divine grace. And thus it is fully proved how fatal and destructive prosperity is to the wicked.
II. The second thing to be considered, is the folly of prospesous sinners. Folly is the cause of their abusing prosperity, and the effect of their prosperity abused. The most proper notion of folly is, that the understanding mistakes in judging and comparing things; from whence the will slides into error, and makes an unworthy choice : and according to the weight and consequence of things, the more remarkable is the degree of folly in not discerning their differences. Now when men value and are delighted in temporal prosperity as their happiness, and heaven with its glory and joys is neglected and vilified in the comparison, it is folly above all wonder; folly of so rare and singular a nature, that if the judicative faculty were not corrupted, it were impossible they should be guilty of it. This will appear by considering the essential and inseparable properties of man's felicity; it is perfective and satisfying of man in his supreme faculties.
1. The perfection of man does principally consist in the excellencies of his spiritual and immortal part : * as in the various kinds of creatures, there is something that is their proper excellency, for which they were made, and accordingly are valued : as strength or beauty, swiftness or courage : so, the first and chief and proper excellency of man, is the rational mind, that distinguishes him from the brutes, and gives him a natural and regular dominion over them. It is the highest and divinest faculty of the soul; and from hence the deduction is clear, that
* In care sagacitas prima est, si investigare debet feras, cursus si consequi; audacia si mordere & invadere. Id in quoq; optimum ei, cu nasci. hur, quo censetur. 10 homine optimum quid est : ratio. Hæc animalia an. tecedit, deos sequitur Senec. Epist. 76.
our felieity consists in the perfections of the mind. If the excellencies of all other creatures were united in man, they could derive no true worth to him, because they cannot adorn and perfect what is his proper excellence. Now, according to the quality of the objects, about which the mind is conversant, it is either tainted and depreciated, or purified and exalted. To apply it to sensual worldly things, how to “ increase riches, and make provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts,” is more truly vilitying, than if a prince should employ his counsellors of state, and the judges of his courts, in the offices of his kitchen, or to dig in the coal-pits. The mind is corrupted and debased by application to inferior perishing things, as gold and silver are allayed, and lose of their purity and value, by a mixture with copper and tin. God alone is the sovereign object of the mind, with respect to its dignity and capacity, its superior and noblest operations : and by contemplating his glorious attributes and excellencies, who is best in himself, and best to us; the mind is enlightened and enlarged, renewed and raised, made holy and heavenly, full of beauty, order, and tranquillity, and transformed into the likeness of the divine perfections.
2. All the prosperity in the world cannot bring true satisfaction to him that enjoys it: for it is disproportionate to the spiritual and immortal nature of the soul. This is so clear by reason, that it may seem as needless and impertinent to insist on it, as to use arguments to prove that gold and diamonds are not proper food for the body: but the self-deceiving folly of the carnal heart, so enamoured of the vanity of this world, (that like the pleasure of a charm, is counterfeit and deadly) makes it necessary to inculcate known truths, that men may timely prevent the sad consequences of such folly, and not be accessaries to their tormenting conviction by experience. It is true, carnal and material things, pleasantly affect the outward man; yet such a vanity is in them, that they are neither a pure nor a prevalent good, with respect to the natural and civil state of man here. Riches, and honours, and sensual pleasures, are not without a mixture of bitterness, that corrupt the content that men expect in them; they are not efficacious to remove or allay the evil to which all are exposed in this open state. A sharp disease makes all the joys of the world insipid and despicable. But suppose them in their elevation, they cannot supply the wants and exigencies, nor satisfy the desires of the soul. They cannot restore men to the favour of God, and blessed communion with him ; nor renew the image of his holiness in them. They are but a vain name, a naked shadow of felicity, and entirely depend upon the simplicity and fancies of men for their valuation. The apostle therefore tells us, that they “ that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish lusts.” Those who resolve and labour to get riches, thinking to find felicity in them, are misled by as gross folly, as those who presume by their costly preparations to turn brass or lead into gold. For if it be folly to desire and attempt what is impossible, it is equally so in those who seek for joyful satisfaction in wealth, and in any other secular things, as in the Alchymists, that waste their real estates for imaginary treasures.
Besides; the happiest condition here, as it is like the moon, that at the brightest is spotted and imperfect ; so eclipses are not less strange to it than to that planet. The world is at the best of a transient use, and the pleasant error of the carnal mind, will be of short continuance. Within a little while, that which was declared with such solemnity by the angel in the Revelation ; “ He lifted up his hand to heaven, and swore by him that lives for ever, that time shall be no more ;" will be true of every mora tal person. The rich man that was surveying his estate with carnal complacency, and extending his hopes of voluptuous living to many years, was surprised with the fatal sentence; “ Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided ? Luke 12. 20. Now, can that be our happinness that is of such an uncertain te
every hour may be snatched from us, or we from it ? If one should with great expences build a mansion-house, and plant gardens in a place subject to frequent earthquakes, that would overturn all into confusion ; would not his folly be conspicuous ? Yet how many practise themselves what they would deride in others? They set their heart upon the things of the world, that are liable to a thousand changes, and must shortly be parted with for ever, The slaves of honour, that are so swelled with airy titles of greatness, and the flattering respects of others, must shortly be divested of all; and when laid in their tombs, the trophies of vanity, will be insensible of the renown
plauses of the world. * Alexander the Great is long since dead to the pleasure of his immortal name. And death will make a final separation between the rich and their treasures, and put an end to all the delights of men. Now what folly is it to prefer a felicity, that is deceitful in the enjoyment, and leaves the soul empty when it most fills it, that is so vain and transitory, before an eternal heaven; a blessedness that surpasses our hopes, that secures our fears, that satisfies our immense desires ; a blessedness that the human understanding in all the capacity of its thoughts is not able to comprehend; a blessedness becoming the majesty and magnificence of God that bestows it. What madness, to despise heaven, as if the eternity of the next world were but a moment, and to love this world, as if this momentary life were an eternity. The full aggravation of this, dies the love of the world with the deepest tincture of folly: as will appear by considering,
(1.) It is a voluntary chosen folly. Thus the divine wisdom with passion reproaches wretched sinners, “How long ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity ?” Prov. I. 22. This heightens their charaeter to love so obstinately, what is so unlovely and unbecoming the reasonable nature. The light of reason and revelation discovers the vanity of the world : it is not for want of evidenee, but for want of using the light, that men do not discem their wretched mistake. God complains in the prophet, “ My people doth not consider.” Isa. I. The means of restoring men to a sound mind, is by due consideration. The soul retires from the world, and makes a solemn inquiry; for what end am I created ? For what do I consume my time? If my endeavours are all for the earth, what remains for heaven? . What do I prepare, what shall attend me, what shall I meet in the next state ? How long will it be before I must leave this visible world, and after the irrevocable step into the next, immediately appear before the enlightened tribunal of God, whose judgment is so strict, that the “Righteous are scarcely saved,” and so heavy, that the strongest sinners cannot endure? Can the world prevent my doom to hell, or release me from it? Will the remembrance of the enjoyments here, afford any refreshment in everlasting burn
* Morto all piacer dell'immortal suo nome.