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Time, health, and parts, are three precious talents, generally bestowed upon men, but seldom improved for God. To go no further than myself, how much time and health have I enjoyed by God's grace? and how little of it have I laid out for his honour ? On the
contrary, how oft have I offended, affronted, and provoked him even when he has been courting me with his favours, and daily pouring forth his benefits upon me? This, alas! is a sad truth, which, whensoever I seriously reflect upon,
I cannot but acknowledge the continuance of my life as the greatest instance of God's mercy and goodness, as well as the greatest motive to my gratitude and obedience. In a due sense, therefore, of the vanities and follies of my younger years, I desire to take shame to myself for what is past, and do this morning humbly prostrate myself before the throne of grace, to implore God's pardon, and to make solemn promises and resolutions, for the future, to “cast off the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light;" and not only so, but to redeem the precious minutes I have squandered away, by husbanding those that remain, to the best advantage. I will not trifle and sin away my time in the pleasures of sense, or the impertinencies of business, but shall always employ it in things that are necessary, useful, and proportion it to the weight and importance of the work or business I engage myself in; allotting such a part of it for this business, and such a part for that, so as to leave no interval for unlawful or unnecessary actions, to thrust themselves in, and pollute my life and conversation.
For, since it has pleased God to favour me with the blessing of health, and I am not certain how soon I may be deprived of it, and thrown upon a bed of sickness, which may deprive me of the use of my reason, or make me incapable of any thing else, but grappling with my distemper; it highly concerns me to make a due use of this blessing while I have it: to improve these parts and gifts that God has endowed me with, to the manifestation of his glory, the salvation of my soul, and the public good of the community whereof I am a member.
To these ends, it will be requisite for me frequently to consider with myself, which way my weak parts may be the most usefully employed, and to bend them to those studies and actions which they are naturally the most inclined to and delighted in, with the utmost vigour and application ; more particularly in spiritual matters, to make use of all opportunities for the convincing others of God's love to them, and their sins against God; of their misery by nature, and happiness by Christ; and when the truth of God happens to be in any way traduced or opposed, to be as valiant in defence of it as its enemies are violent in their assaults against it. And as I thus resolve to employ my inward gifts and faculties for the glory and service of God; so,
This, without doubt, is a necessary resolution, but it is likewise very difficult to put in practice, without a careful observance of the following rules.
First, never to lavish out my substance, like the prodigal, in the revels of sin and vanity, but after a due provision for the necessities and conveniencies of life, to lay up the overplus for acts of love and charity towards my indigent brethren. I must consider the uses and ends for which God has entrusted me with such and such possessions ; that they were not given me for the pampering my body, the feeding my lusts, or puffing me up with pride and ambition; but for advancing his glory and my own, and the public good. But why do I say given ? when, as I before observed, I have no property in the riches I possess; they are only lent me for a few years to be dispensed and distributed as my great Lord and Master sees fit to appoint, viz. for the benefit of the poor and necessitous, which he has made his deputies to call for and receive his money at my hands. And this, indeed, is the best use I can put it to, for my own advantage as well as theirs; for the money I bestow upon the poor, I give to God to lay up for me, and I have his infallible word and promise for it, that it shall be paid me again with unlimited interest out of his heavenly treasury, which is infinite, eternal, and inexhaustible. Hence it is that whensoever I see any fit object of charity, methinks I hear the Most High say unto me,
" Give this
poor brother so much of my store, which thou hast in thy hand, and I will place it to thy account, as given to myself;" and “look what thou layest out it shall be paid thee again."
The second rule is, never to spend a penny where it can be better spared; nor to spare it where it can be better spent. And this will oblige me, whensoever any occasion offers of laying out money, considerately to weigh the circumstances of it, and, according as the matter, upon mature deliberation, requires, I must not grudge to spend it: or, if at any time I find more reason to spare, I must not dare to spend it; still remembering, that as I am strictly to account for the money God has given me, so I ought neither to be covetous in saving, or hoarding it up, nor profuse in throwing it away, without a just occasion. The main thing to be regarded is the end I propose to myself in my expenses, whether it be really the glory of God, or my own carnal humour and appetite.
For instance, if I lay out my money in clothing my body, the question must be, whether I do this only for warmth and decency, or to gratify my pride and vanity? If the former, my money is better spent; if the latter, it is better spared than spent. Again, do I lay it out in eating and drinking, if this be only to satisfy the necessities of nature, and make my life more easy and comfortable, it is without doubt very well spent; but if it be to feed my luxury and intemperance, it is much better spared; better for my soul, in keeping it from sin, and better for my body, in preserving it from sickness; and this rule is the more strictly to be observed, because it is as great a fault in a servant not to lay out his master's money when he should, as to lay it out when he should not.
In order, therefore, to avoid both these extremes, there is a third rule to be observed under this resolution; and that is to keep a particular account of all my receipts and disbursements, to set down in a book every penny I receive at the hands of the Almighty, and every penny I lay out for his honour and service. By this means I shall be, in a manner, both forced to get my money lawfully, and to lay it out carefully : but how can I put that amongst the money I have received from God, which I have got by unlawful means ? certainly, such money I
may rather account as received from the devil for his use, than from God for his. And so must I either lay every penny out for God, or otherwise I shall not know where to set it down, for I must set down nothing but what I lay out for his use; and if it be not his use, with what face can I say it was? And by this means also, when God shall be pleased to call me to an account for what I received from him, I may with comfort appear before him; and having improved the talents he had committed to my charge, I may be received into his heavenly kingdom with well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into thy master's joy."
That all power and authority hath its original from God, and that one creature is not over another, but by the providence and will of Him, who is over all; and so, by consequence, that all the authority we have over men is to be improved for God, is clear, not only from that question, “ Who made thee to differ from another; and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive ?” but likewise, and that more clearly, from that positive assertion, “ the powers that be are ordained of God.” That, therefore, I may follow my commission, I must stick close to my present resolution, even in all the power God gives me to behave myself as one invested with that power from above, to restrain vice and encourage virtue, as oft as I have an opportunity so to do, always looking upon myself as one commissioned by him, and acting under him. For this reason, I must still endeavour to exercise my authority as if the most high God was in my place in person as well as power. I must not follow the dictates of my own carnal reason, much less the humours of my own biassed passion, but still keep to the acts which God himself hath made, either in the general statute-book for all the world, the holy Scriptures, or in the particular laws and statutes of the nation wherein I live.
And questionless, if I discharge this duty as I ought, whatever sphere of authority I move in, I am capable of doing a great deal of good, not only by my power but by my influence and example. For common experience teaches us, that even the inclinations and desires of those that are eminent for their quality or station, are more powerful than the very commands of God himself; especially among persons of an inferior rank, and more servile disposition, who are apt to be more wrought upon by the fear of present punishment, or the loss of some temporal advantage, than any thing that is future or spiritual. Hence it is, that all those whom God entrusteth with this precious talent, have a great advantage and opportunity in their hand, for the suppressing sin, and the exalting holiness in the world: a word from their mouths against whoredom, drunkenness, and the profanation of the sabbath, or the like; yea, their very example and silent gestures being able to do more than the threatenings of almighty God, either pronounced by himself in his word, or by his ministers in his holy ordinances.
This, therefore, is my resolution, that whatsoever authority the most high God shall be pleased to put upon me, I will look upon it as my duty, and always make it my endeavour, to demolish the kingdom of sin and Satan, and establish that of Christ and holiness in the hearts of all those to whom my commission extends; looking more at the duty God expects from me, than at the dignity he confers upon me. In a word, I will so exercise the power and authority God puts into my hands here, that when the particular circuit of my life is ended, and I shall be brought to the general assize to give an account of this among my other talents, I may give it up with joy; and so exchange my temporal authority upon earth, for an eternal crown of glory in heaven.
RESOLUTION IV. If the authority I have over others, then questionless the affection others have to me, is to be improved for God; and that because the affection they bear to me, in a natural sense, hath a kind of authority in me over them in a spiritual one. And this I gather from my own experience; for I find none to have a greater command over me, than they that manifest the greatest affections for me. Indeed, it is a truth generally agreed on, that a real and sincere esteem for any person
is always attended with a fear of displeasing that person ; and where there is fear in the subject, there will, doubtless, be authority in the object; because fear is the ground of authority, as love is, or ought to be, the ground of that fear. The greatest potentate, if not feared, will not be obeyed; if his subjects stand in no awe of him, he can never strike any awe upon them. Nor will that awe have its proper effects in curbing and restraining them from sin and disobedience, unless it proceeds from, and is joined with, love.
I know the Scripture tells me, “ There is no fear in love, but that perfect love casteth out fear.” But that is to be understood of our love to God, not to men, and that a perfect love, too, such as can only be exercised in heaven. There I know our love will be consummate, without mixture, as well as without defect; there will be a perfect expression of love on both sides, and so no fear of displeasure on either. But this is a happiness which is not to be expected here on earth; so long as we are clothed with flesh and blood, we shall, in one degree or other, be still under the influence of our passions and affections. And, therefore, as there is no person we can love upon earth,