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mind, with all its energies, and the body, with all its appetites, and the heart, with all its affections, are engaged, or rather merged, in the concerns of time-since one alternative is unavoidable, either the testimony of scripture is null and void, or that which appears wisdom in the present moment to man, who judges by the outward appearance, will be transformed into foolishness by the touch of death, when he who lays up treasure to himself finds, to his utter consternation and despair, that he is not rich towards God.
Nor is this to be asserted only in reference to the pursuit of wealth ; it applies to every variety of pursuit in which men engage, to the forgetfulness of God, and the detriment of their own souls. It applies to every age and to either sex—to the trilling of the child, and the toiling of the man-to the petty feeling which lives in the applause of the vulgar, and to the lofty ambition that aspires to rule a nation and to shake the world. The bubbles that men blow with the breath of life vary in the dimensions and the colours which they exhibit, but they are alike in this, that sooner or later they must all burst. Man may attain to that for which he laboured, or he may not; but taking the brighter side-putting out of sight the thousands who are disappointed, and the tens of thousands who are discontented-supposing the desired object not only attained, but meeting, fully meeting, while it lasts, the most sanguine anticipations of the possessor, who shall warrant its continuance? Who shall make a covenant with death, and so enter into a covenant with the grave that when he has laid up much goods for many years, and is saying to his soul, “ Eat, drink, and be merry," he shall be secured against the sudden and startling summons, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee?” Who shall ensure that when the body is resplendent with the garniture of luxury, the gold will not become dim, and the fine gold changed; that joyfulness of spirit will not be turned into heaviness ; and the summer friends of prosperity be scattered in a moment, and the daughters of music be brought low by the alarm of sudden death? At last the end must come when the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return unto God that gave it. On every sepulchral stone, on every monumental tablet, are inscribed the words of the preacher, Vanity of vanities ! all is vanity.” We feel as we gaze that the wisdom of their own generation is extinct ; and where is the wisdom for eternity ? Where is that wisdom that was taught by Him who said, “ Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”
Thus, then, we see the object, and with it the principle and the conduct of the children of this world. Their object is at once
uncertain as to its attainment, and precarious as to its duration. Their principles of right are modified, and too often distorted by the relation of the means to the end, conscience being too often unnaturally driven out that it may run parallel with interest or with convenience. Their conduct, if not glaringly defective in a moral sense, is at least marked by the prolific cause of all practical forgetfulness of God. We see, however, that putting aside the unworthiness of their present object, there is often much to admire and to approve in the means by which they follow it: there is much of wise policy, of prudent forethought, of persevering diligence, of patient endurance. They are content to rise up early, and late take rest, and to eat the bread of carefulness. Inclination and indulgence are not allowed to traverse the purpose that has been deliberately formed. Whatever interferes with the accomplishment of their main object will be prescribed as hurtful, or disregarded as superfluous. The ascent up which they are toiling is steep and rugged, but they will never rest until they have attained the summit of their hopes. Such, then, are the children of the world.
Look now on the children of light; on those who are the professed disciples and followers of Him who came as a Light into the world; who believe that with Him are laid up riches that are incorruptible, and honours that cannot be removed, and crowns that cannot fade; while we recognize their two characters-strangers and pilgrims on earth ; and who avow that they are seeking a better country, that is, an heavenly; that they are looking for a city, and hastening to a city, which hath foundations, whose maker and builder is God. These are wise, not according to their own, but to all generations. They are wise, at least if Scripture be admitted as the judge between them and their opponents : they have chosen the only end that is consistent with the dignity of the rational, and commensurate with the destiny of the immortal : because they have recognized the pre-eminence of the soul, which is the breath of God, over the body, which is the dust of the earth ; because, having held the balance with even hand, and placed in one scale all that Scripture promises, and in the other all that the world can give, they have preferred “ the good part” which is not to be taken from them. With regard to the professed purpose of their conduct, they are truly wise ; for it is, that they will seek first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness ; it is that which is neither uncertain as to its attainment, for “every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth”-nor yet precarious as to its duration, for “ we know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.'
But too often, when we compare the means employed with the end avowed, we see that the children of light are but partially wise: and placing on the one side those who toil for a corruptible crown, and on the other those who aspire to an incorruptible, we are constrained to confess, with sorrow and with shame, that the words of our Lord are verified in this generation also, and that the children of the world are wiser than the children of light.
Now in what, it may be demanded, consists the superiority of the children of this world ? In the judgment, we answer, with which they select their means—in the diligence and perseverance with which they employ them. The unjust steward, unable to labour, and ashamed to beg, thought only of providing himself a refuge when ejected from his master's service: and this refuge his policy secured at the expense of his integrity ; effectually preventing others from revealing his delinquency by making them partners in the fraud. The wisdom of such conduct in reference to the sole end in view, the provision of a temporary shelter, cannot be disputed ; though this seeming wisdom would be folly, stark folly, when we reckoned on encountering, face to face, a heart-exploring Judge—one with whom there could be no secret, and one from whom there could be no appeal. Now to such a judgment the children of light look forward, and by the anticipation of it they profess to shape their course : but how rarely do we see them acting in apparent remembrance of this now; walking as beneath the eye of God; fighting the good fight of faith, as though guarded and preserved by his almighty power; continuing instant in
prayer; preventing the night watches, or the morning dawn, that they may meditate on the Word of God! How rarely do we see them adequately intent on that one object which they profess to desire beyond every other; giving all diligence to make their calling and election sure; forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, and pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus! They are cold and languid when compared with the busy hive who are swarming all around them, and who pursue the sweets and the flowers of this world-flowers that fade, and sweets that pall and cloy. They are listless in collecting, and neglectful in guarding, the store that is laid up for eternity. They do not, as they should, anxiously expect and eagerly embrace all opportunities of occupying their talent to its most and only profitable purpose, and glorify their Father who is in heaven. They are content, if not with a negative, with a negligent service ; concerned to avoid condemnation, but not to attain to holiness ; to escape the penalty of the slothful seryant, but not to aspire to the honour that cometh only from God. They are loitering by the way, when they ought to be running in the race: they are putting on their armour, when they ought to be warring a good warfare: they are reclining luxuriously beneath the shade, when they ought to be bearing the burden and heat of the day. They pray, but devotion languishes on their lips: they unclose the sacred volume, the eye glances over its page: and too often the living word makes no impression on the memory, and effects no lodgment in the heart. The duty performed, they are as though they had not been engaged in it: and did not the breath of the Spirit keep alive the slumbering embers of vital religion in the heart, their light would be extinguished in utter darkness. We look on them, and acknowledge how truly it was said of the apostle (and alas ! we acknowledge it most feelingly when we look most searchingly into ourselves), “ The righteous are scarcely saved.” We acknowledge that it is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not, though too often our obedience fails.
And yet, with all that is thus to be acknowledged and lamented, as to the comparative supineness of the children of the light, it is at least an unspeakable blessing to have made a right choice as to the end; to have put the hand to the plough, and, though making but slow advances, not to be looking back; to feel, amidst all our deficiencies and imperfections, that we are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness ; that though we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, still we do run, , not as uncertainly; for the prize of immortality is reserved to us beyond the goal of death : this still can be a solace in those afflictions which are inseparable from the condition of human existence —those troubles to which all are born as sparks fly upward ; and by which, sooner or later, all will be encompassed as the sparks fly around. This consciousness can alone impart support to the soul amidst all vicissitudes, and build the hope for eternity fast and firm on a foundation that cannot be moved : this alone, when the shadows are lengthening the eve of our days, and the clouds are condensing fast around the setting sun of life, can hold forth the hope and promise of a brighter dawn, which shall know no eclipse or overshadowing while eternity shall endure. To the godly there arises light in the darkness; and it is then they vindicate their
proper appellation of " children of the light” when all besides is wrapped in gloom. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all; and they look for an eternal habitation with him in the light which no man can approach unto, that no man hath seen nor can see ; but which they shall behold with unaverted eye when raised above the frailties, and released from the encumbrances of the flesh: they shall in the end be made like their Master, and shall see him as he is : for here is the warrant for the perseverance of those whose hearts are indeed sincere with God: the desire of a soul who has respect unto the end is from Him; the infirmity which attends on the employment fof the means is all its own; and the hour is coming when all the infirmity shall be forgiven, and all the desire shall be fulfilled.
How, then, in the last place, are we to determine what is our state and condition in regard to the all-important choice of the end in life; whether we are at this moment living to the only purpose which is worthy of rational and immortal men ; whether we are so walking in the light that our end, come when it may, shall not be darkness, but that we shall abide for ever in glory, honour, and immortality, with the God whom we have honoured, and the Saviour whom we have loved, and the souls which, as feeble and unworthy instruments, we have helped to save ? Many tests might be proposed ; but that to which we are led more immediately, on the present occasion, not only by the object of our assemblage, but by the words of the Lord himself on the employment of what we mistakenly call our substance, but which Jesus more properly designates as “ the mammon of unrighteousness.” For it is here that men too frequently fall into a signal and serious error; they reckon that they have a property, when in truth they have only a stewardship: they reckon that they are vested with absolute power, when in fact they are only put in trust: they reckon they have a right of expenditure, when they will be called to render an account. They forget that their substance is their Lord's, not their's; and that to misapply is virtually to defraud.
But this error will be scattered at once when we dwell for an instant on the conclusion drawn by the Lord—with which also we will conclude. He asks, with a power against which no unseared conscience can be proof, ye
have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches ? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own ?" Accordingly, two motives will weigh, and ought to weigh with every true believer, in the right disposal of that which God has given him to dispense : first, that he is to honour the Lord with all his substance; next, that of his stewardship he must give an account. These motives apply equally to every grade and condition of life, to every variety of circumstances and of ability : for “ he that is faithful in that which is least will be faithful also in much.” God may be as eminently and as signally honoured by the mite of the widow or the orphan, as by the costly offering of the noble and the princely.