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PREFERENCE OF THE SOUL TO THE BODY,
AND DILIGENCE FOR ITS WELFARE.
John VI. 27. [First Clause. ]
Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that
meat which endureth unto everlasting life.
T PAUL, summing up the duty which we are taught by
the grace of God in the gospel, expresses that to ourselves, Tit. ii. 12. by living soberly, or with a sound mind, as the word oopgows signifies. We consist of body and mind, but by this we are especially directed to see that our mind be in a sound state. The powers of the mind are vastly superior to those of the body, and they were designed by our great Creator, to sit at helm over the whole man. Now, to live “ with a sound mind,” is to conduct ourselves as those who have an intelligent spirit to preside in body, to direct and govern the whole.
The apostacy hath inverted this order, set the inferior powers in the throne, and enslaved the mind to the body; so that the appetites and passions we have, by occasion of the body, have the most commanding influence, the interests of the meaner part are apt to be most regarded ; and reason and the higher powers, instead of giving law, receive law from appetite, and are pressed into its service to minister to it.
Christianity is designed to bring us “to ourselves,” or to our right mind, to reinstate the reasonable spirit in its just empire over the whole man.
And in this view we may easily
discern the several branches of the temper becoming us with reference to ourselves.
We owe it to ourselves, in the first place to prefer the interests of our immortal souls, before those of our perishing bodies ; which is only to form a right judgment, upon comparing the different value of soul and body.
Hereupon we should exercise care and diligence to secure our best interests, answerable to their superior value and excellence, in opposition to negligence and sloth.
And as we should judge fairly between our own higher and lower interests, so we should make a just estimate of ourselves, compared with other beings, not thinking of ourselves above what we ought to think ; and that will lead us to humility.
We should regulate our bodily appetites and passions, conformable to the dictates of reason, and the higher interests of our souls. This will be done by the graces of purity, and temperance, and meekness. And, lastly,
We ought to moderate our desires after any present good, and our resentment of present evils to the body, according to the necessity of our lot, and the reasons which religion gives to
And this is done by what we call contentment and patience.
For the two first of these duties to ourselves, preferring the interests of the soul to those of the body, and suitable pains and diligence to secure these our principal interests, our Saviour, in the text, calls us to act in that manner.
The occasion of the words was this : Christ had miraculously fed five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes. The people, struck with admiration, concluded that Jesus was “ that prophet that should come into the world,” that is, the promised Messiah, verse 14. But having their minds full of the notion, which generally prevailed among the Jews at that time, that the Messiah was to set up a temporal kingdom, they immediately attempted to take him by force, and make him . king. But Christ withdrew himself from them, ver. 15. His disciples went by ship to the opposite shore, and Christ, miraculously walking on the sea, followed his disciples, un· known to the people. The people, however, eagerly pursue him where they thought it most likely to meet with him, and finding him, say, “ Rabbi, when camest thou hither ?" ver.
25. Christ, who knew their insincerity, and the base reason which induced them to follow him, plainly tells them of it, ver. 26. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye seek me, not beeause ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.” “You do not follow me in pursuit of the true end for which I'work my miracles, that you may be made willing to learn of me the way that leads to everlasting life, but merely in hope of receiving some temporal benefit from me, as you have lately done, when you found your bodies fully refreshed by the loaves and fishes.'
Thereupon he gives them the exhortation in the text : Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. • Be not so much concerned, nor take so much pains as you do, to obtain those things which may support a frail and dying body, or for any outward and secular advantage, which will be serviceable to you but a little time; but rather labour for the food of souls, which will make you happy for ever, and which I, the Son of man am ready to give you.
You have followed me for the sake of the loaves ; you should much rather follow me to receive the instructions which I am able and ready to grant, whereby you will be made wise unto salvation.'
Three general heads will comprehend all that is necessary to be said
I. All care and pains for the interest of our bodies is not forbidden. But,
II. The interest of our souls, and all which subserves that, ought greatly to be preferred before the other.
III. Much labour and diligence are necessary in order to the securing of our everlasting interest.
I. All care and pains for the welfare of our bodies, and for promoting our present interests, is not forbidden.
It may possibly seem to be so by the absolute way of speaking: Labour not for the meat which perisheth. But the sense of this is familiar to such as observe the manner of the Hebrew style ; which often appears to forbid one thing, and to command another absolutely, when it is plain that no more is intended, than that one should be done more than the other. Neither all “looking at the things which are seen," nor all
s affection to things on earth,” nor “ laying up treasure on earth,” are unlawful, though, in the way of speaking, they may seem to be absolutely excluded, 2 Cor. iv. 18. Col. iii. 2. Matt. vi. 19. But we must consider them as set over against what is mentioned on the other hand along with them, and understand the whole taken together in a comparative
We should look, not so much at the things which are seen, as at the things which are not seen; and not set our affections on things on earth, so much as on things above, nor be so solicitous for earthly treasure, as to lay, up treasure in heaven. And so we must understand the text.
For we ought to labour for the meat which perisheth.
Our bodies, while we sojourn in them, claim a part of our care : “No man," acting worthy of a man, “hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it." The law of nature, and the word of God, oblige us to honest industry, in our lawful callings and stations, for the support of ourselves and our families. God has so ordered it in the course of his providence, for the generality of mankind, that “in the sweat of their face they must eat bread, till they return to the ground,” Gen. iii. 19. And if any, on pretence of attending to the care of their souls, should neglect their secular business, either expecting God's providential care of them, or that other people should relieve them, in truth they tempt God, and injure their neighbour. The apostle gives them the character of " disorderly walkers, who work not at all ;” and “ mands, and exhorts them, by the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread,” 2 Thess. iii. 11, 12.
To be diligent in our outward affairs in the proper time of attendance upon them, is as truly serving God, and obeying his command, as attending his immediate worship in the proper season for that. It is as much the command of God, “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work," that ordinarily the greatest part of common days should be taken up in our proper callings, as that we should lay aside secular business for one day in seven.
This will no way interfere with a daily acknowledgment of God, morning and evening, in secret, and family worship; for which a little prudent forecast will redeem sufficient time from business. Nor need it prevent some attendance on occasional means of public instruc
tion on week-days; which may easily be managed, if you have really a mind to it, so that your outward affairs shall not suffer by it.
To have a lawful employment, and to be diligent in it, will preserve from many hurtful temptations. This is
peculiarly desirable to employ the activity of youth, who are led into a thousand snares by want of business, or want of application to it. And for that reason, such as have the direction of young people, should take care that they be engaged betimes in some way of employing themselves suitable to their genius and circumstances. And in such a way it will be the wisdom and interest of young people to walk with God.
Nor is it unworthy of a Christian to make his temporal interest, and even the advancement of his worldly circumstances above what they are at his setting out in the world, subordinate end of his labour and diligence. If it had been unlawful to propose such an end, industry would not have been encouraged by such declarations as these ; that “the hand of the diligent maketh rich," Prov. x. 4. and “shall bear rule," chap. xii. 24. that “the thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness," chap. xxi. 5. that such a one “ shall stand before kings, and not before mean men,” chap. xxii
. 29. Religion does not absolutely forbid us to aim at those ends by our diligence, which it gives us some encouragement to expect as the consequence of it. Certainly a man may lawfully, and commendably, labour to obtain any worldly good, which he may come fairly by, without breaking any known law of God, or injuring his neighbour, or neglecting his soul.
But our Saviour designs to teach us, that,
II. The interest of our souls, and all which promotes that, deserves to be far preferred before any interests of the body. Christ here sets both before us in a comparative view ; and the expressions he uses not only serve to distinguish these different concerns, but sufficiently intimate the reason of preferring the one to the other, when he describes the one as the meat which perisheth, and the other as that which endureth unto everlasting life. The gospel often gives us this comparative view of both, 2 Cor. iv. 18. “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen, are eternal.”