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and show the guilt that is involved in it. I shall next consider the duties which persons of that character are supposed to have neglected; to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operation of his hands.
I. WHEN we take into view the character pointed at in the text, it is evident that what the prophet means to reprove is the spirit of inconsiderate dissipation, of intemperate indulgence, and irreligious luxury. It is not the feast and the wine, the harp and the viol, which he means to condemn. Music and wine are, in themselves, things of innocent nature : Nay, when temperately enjoyed, they may be employed for useful purposes ; for affording relaxation from the oppressive cares of life, and for promoting friendly intercourse among men.
The opulent are not prohibited from enjoying the good things of this world, which Providence has bestowed upon them. Religion neither abolishes the distinction of rank, (as the vain philosophy of some would teach us to do,) nor interferes with a modest and decent indulgence of pleasure. It is the criminal abuse of pleasure which is here censured; that thoughtless and intemperate enjoyment of it which wholly absorbs the time and attention of men ; which obliterates every serious thought of the proper business of life; and effaces the sense of religion and of God.
It may be proper to remark, that it is not open and direct impiety, which is laid to the charge of the persons here characterized. It is not said, that in their feast they scoffed at religion, or blasphemed the name of God. To this summit of wickedness these persons have not yet arrived; perhaps the age in which they lived gave not its countenance to this wantonness of impiety. It is merely a negative crime of which they are accused, that they regarded not the work of the Lord, neither considered the operation of his hands. But this absence of all religious impressions is here pointed out, as sufficient to stigmatise their characters with guilt. As soon as the sense of a Supreme Being is lost, the great check is taken off, which keeps under restraint the passions of men. Mean desires and low pleasures take place of the greater and nobler sentiments which reason and religion inspire. Amidst the tumult of the wine and the feast, all proper views of human life are forgotten. The duties which, as men, they have to perform, the part they have to act in the world, and the distresses to which they are exposing themselves, are banished from their thoughts. To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundanily, is the only voice. Inflamed by society, and circulated from one loose companion to another, the spirit of riot grows and swells, till it ends in brutal excess.
Were such disorders rare and occasional merely they might perhaps be forgotten and forgiven. But nourished by repetition and habit they grow up among too many, to become the business and occupation of life. By these unfortunate votaries of pleasure, they are accounted essential to happiness. Life appears to stagnate without them. Having no resource within themselves, their spirits sink, and their very being seems annihilated, till the return of their favourite pleasures awakens within them some transient sparkles of joy. Idleness, ease, and prosperity, have too natural a tendency to generate the follies and vices now described. Because they have no changes, said the Psalmist, therefore they fear not
God.* They are the dark, and solitary hours of life, which recall men to recollection and wisdom. They show to the unthinking what this world really is, and what may be expected from it. But the day that is always bright and unclouded, is not made for men. It flatters them with the dangerous illusion, that it is in their power to render life one scene of pleasure; and that they have no other business on earth, but to spread the feast, and call the harp and the viol to sound. But the examples are so frequent, of the dangers and the crimes which arise from an intemperate abuse of pleasure, that on this part of the subject it seems needless to insist any longer. I proceed, therefore,
II. To consider the duties which men are accused of having neglected; and which it is here supposed, if duly attended to, would have acted as the correctives of dissolute and irreligious luxury; these are, to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operation of his hands. — By recommending such duties, I do not mean to represent it as requisite that the feast should be turned into an act of worship; that the countenances of men should be always grave; or that, in the hours of amusement and of social festivity, no subject may employ their thoughts and their discourse, except God and a future state. All'extremes in religion are dangerous; and by carrying austerity too far, we are in hazard of only promoting hypocrisy. But though some, in the last age, might be prone to this extreme; yet, at the present day, there is not much occasion for warning men against it. — What I now insist upon is, that all our pleasures ought to be tempered with a serious sense of God; that scenes of gaiety and enjoyment should never make us forget that we are subjects of his government, and have a part allotted us to act in this world ; that on no occasion they should be prolonged so much, repeated so often, or suffered to transport us so far, as to lead us to break any of the Divine laws, or to act inconsistently with the character of men and Christians. A prevailing sense of God on the mind is to be ever held the surest guard of innocence and virtue, amidst the allurements of pleasure. It is the salutary mixture which must be infused into the cup of joy, in 'order to render it safe and innoxious.
* Psalm lv. 19.
This sense of God should lead us, in the language of the prophet, to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operation of his hands; which expressions may be understood as requiring us to have God upon our thoughts under two views; to regard his work, as the Author of nature; and to consider the operation of his hands, as the Governor of the world. Let us attend more particularly to each of these views of the Supreme Being.
In the first place, we are to view God as the Author of nature, or to regard the work of the Lord. With his works we are in every place surrounded. We can cast our eyes no where, without discerning the Hand of Him who formed them, if the grossness of our minds will only allow us to behold Him. Let giddy and thoughtless men turn aside a little from the haunts of riot. Let them stand still, and contemplate the wondrous works of God; and make trial of the effect which such contemplation would produce. It were good for them that even independently of the Author, they were more acquainted with his works ; good for them, that from the societies of loose and dissolute men, they would retreat to the scenes of nature; would oftener dwell among them, and enjoy their beauties. This would form them to the relish of uncorrupted innocent pleasures; and make them feel the value of calm enjoyments, as superiour to the noise and turbulence of licentious gaiety. From the harmony of nature and of nature's works, they would learn to hear sweeter sounds than what arise from the viol, the tabret, and the pipe.
But to higher and more serious thoughts these works of nature give occasion, when considered in conjunction with the Creator who made them. Let me call on you, my friends, to catch some interval of reflection, some serious moment, for looking with thoughtful eye on the world around you. Lift your view to that immense arch of heaven which encompasses you above. Behold the sun in all his splendour rolling over your head by day ;
and the moon by night, in mild and serene majesty, surrounded with that host of stars which present to your imagination an innumerable multitude of worlds. Listen to the awful voice of thunder. Listen to the roar of the tempest and the ocean. Survey the wonders that fill the earth which you inhabit. Contemplate a steady and powerful Hand bringing round spring and summer, autumn and winter, in regular course; decorating this earth with innumerable beauties, diversifying it with innumerable inhabitants, pouring forth comforts on all that live; and, at the same time, overawing the nations with the violence of the elements, when it