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regard us particularly as Christians. Let us remember how unworthy we are in the sight of God; and how much the blessings which each of us enjoy, are beyond what we deserve. Let us nourish reverence and submission to that Divine Government, which has appointed to every one such a condition in the world as is fittest for him to possess. Let us recollect how opposite the Christian spirit is to envy; and what sacred obligations it lays upon us, to walk in love and charity towards one another. Indeed, when we reflect on the many miseries which abound in human life; on the scanty proportion of happiness which any man is here allowed to enjoy; on the small difference which the diversity of fortune makes on that scanty proportion; it is surprising that envy should ever have been a prevalent passion among men, much more that it should have prevailed among Christians. Where so much is suffered in common, little room is left for envy. There is more occasion for pity and sympathy, and inclination to assist each other. To our own good endeavours for rectifying our dispositions, let us not forget to add serious prayers to the Author of our being, that he who made the heart of man, and knows all its infirmities, would thoroughly purify our hearts from a passion so base and so crimiminal, as envy. Create in me, O God, a clean heart; and renew a right spirit within me. Search me, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.*
*Psalm li. 10.— cxxxix. 23, 24.
MATTHEW, XX. 6.
Why stand ye here all the day idle?
T is an observation which naturally occurs, and has been often made, that all the representations of the Christian life in Scripture are taken from active scenes; from carrying on a warfare, running a race, striving to enter in at a straight gate; and, as in this context, labouring in a vineyard. Hence the conclusion plainly follows, that various active duties are required of the Christian; and that sloth and indolence are inconsistent with his hope of heaven.
But it has been sometimes supposed, that industry, as far as it is matter of duty, regards our spiritual concerns and employments only; and that one might be very busy as a Christian, who was very idle as a man. Hence, among some denominations of Christians, an opinion has prevailed, that the perfection of religion was to be found in those monastic retreats where every active function of civil life was totally excluded, and the whole time of life filled up with exercises of devotion. They who hold such opinions proceed on the supposition, that religion has little or no concern with the ordinary affairs of the world; that its duties stand apart by themselves, and mingle
not in the intercourse which men have with one another. The perfect Christian was imagined to live a sort of angelic life, sequestered from the business or pleasures of this contemptible state. The Gospel, on the contrary, represents the religion of Christ, as intended for the benefit of human society. It assumes men as engaged in the business of active life; and directs its exhortations accordingly, to all ranks and stations; to the magistrate and the subject, to the master and the servant, to the rich and the poor, to them that buy and them that sell, them that use and them that abuse the world. Some duties, indeed, require privacy and retreat. But the most important must be performed in the midst of the world, where we are commanded to shine as lights, and by our good works to glorify our Father which is in heaven. This world, as the context represents it, is God's vineyard, where each of us has a task assigned him to perform. In every station, and at every period of life, labour is required. At the third, the sixth, or the eleventh hour, we are commanded to work, if we would not incur, from the great Lord of the vineyard, this reproof, Why stand ye here all the day idle? We may, I confess, be busy about many things, and yet be found negligent of the One thing needful. We may be very active, and withal, very ill employed. But though a person may be industrious without being religious, I must at the same time admonish you that no man can be idle without being sinful. This I shall endeavour to show in the sequel of the discourse; wherein I purpose to reprove a vice which is too common among all ranks of men. Superiours admonish their inferiours, and parents tell their children, that idleness is the mother of every sin, while,
in their own practice, they often set the example of what they reprobate severely in others. I shall study so show, that the idle man is, in every view, both foolish and criminal; that he neither lives to God; nor lives to the world; nor lives to himself.
1. He lives not to God. The great and wise Creator certainly does nothing in vain. A small measure of reflection might convince every one that for some useful purpose he was sent into the world. The nature of man bears no mark of insignificancy, or neglect. He is placed at the head of all things here below. He is furnished with a great preparation of faculties and powers. He is enlightened by reason with many important discoveries; even taught by revelation to consider himself as ransomed, by the death of Christ, from misery; and intended to rise, by gradual advances, to a still higher rank in the universe of God. In such a situation, thus distinguished, thus favoured and assisted by his Creator, can he hope to be forgiven, if he aim at no improvement, if he pursue no useful design, live for no other purpose but to indulge in sloth, consume the fruits of the earth, and to spend his days in a dream of vanity? Existence is a sacred trust; and he who thus misemploys and squanders it away, is treacherous to its Author. Look around you, and you will behold the whole universe full of active powers. Action is, to speak so, the genius of nature. By motion and exertion, the system of being is preserved in vigour. By its different parts always acting in subordination one to another, the perfection of the whole is carried on. The heavenly bodies perpetualy revolve. Day and night incessantly repeat their
appointed course. Continual operations are going on in the earth, and in the waters. Nothing stands still. All is alive and stirring throughout the universe. In the midst of this animated and busy scene, is man alone to remain idle in his place? Belongs it to him to be the sole inactive and slothful being in the creation, when he has so much allotted him to do; when in so many various ways he might improve his own nature; might advance the glory of the God who made him; and contribute his part to the general good?
Hardly is there any feeling of the human heart more natural, or more universal, than that of our being accountable to God. It is what the most profligate can never totally erase. Almost all nations have agreed in the belief, that there is to come some period when the Almighty will act as the Judge of his creatures. Presentiments of this work in every breast. Conscience has already erected a tribunal, on which it anticipates the sentence which at that period shall be passed. Before this tribunal let us sometimes place ourselves in serious thought, and consider what account we are prepared to give of our conduct to Him who made us. "I placed you," the great Judge may then be supposed to say, "in a station "where you had many occasions for action, and "many opportunities of improvement. You were "taught, and you knew your duty. Throughout a course of years I continued your life. I sur"rounded you with friends to whom you might be "useful. I gave you health, ease, leisure, and various "advantages of situation. Where are the fruits "of those talents which you possessed? What good "have you done with them to yourselves? What