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2. God requires men to do all they do, with their might, because he has a great deal for them to do on the stage of life. He has much for them to do for himself. He carries on most of his designs in this world by the instrumentality of mankind. He feeds and clothes them, preserves their lives and health, and gives them most of the necessaries and conveniences of life, by means of their wisdom, prudence, foresight and labors. He governs all the nations and kingdoms of the world, by subordinate human agents. He sends war and makes peace by the instrumentality of the powers that be. And so far as he has revealed his designs in his word, or in his providence, all men ought to coöperate with him in carrying them into execution, especially in promoting the purposes of his grace towards this guilty and miserable world. God has a great deal for men to do for their fellow men. They are all mutually dependent upon one another. The weak are dependent on the strong, and the strong on the weak; the poor are dependent on the rich, and the rich on the poor; the sick are dependent on the healthy, and the healthy on the sick; the unlearned are dependent on the learned, and the learned on the unlearned; the low are dependent on the high, and the high on the low; the young are dependent on the aged, and the aged on the young. By the laws of nature, all men are connected together; and from this connection arise innumerable obligations and duties which they are bound to discharge towards each other. And whoever will endeavor to find out his duty to his fellow men, will find that he has a great deal to do for their benefit. This is a poor, needy world. All men are full of their wants, which require their mutual exertions to supply. Those who properly attend to the temporal and spiritual wants of mankind, will find frequent occasions for the vigorous exertion of all the powers and faculties which God has bestowed upon them.
Besides, God has a great deal for every one to do for himself. He has suspended both his temporal and eternal interests upon his own exertions. It commonly depends upon every man, whether he shall be rich or poor, healthy or sickly, useful or useless, good or bad, happy or miserable, both in this life and the life to come. Men have every thing to gain or to lose in this and another world. They have occasion for the exercise of all their active powers every day and every where, for their own personal peace, comfort and benefit. There are man things they must do for themselves, which none can do for them. This world is the great theatre of the universe, where all intelligent beings are acting their various and important parts. Here God is acting, here Christ is acting, here the Holy Ghost is acting, here good and bad angels are acting, and here
all good and bad men are acting. And as these intelligent beings are pursuing very diverse and opposite designs, so they are all soliciting every person to join with them. This lays a foundation for the most vigilant care and caution, and the most vigorous exertions of all men to do their duty in the face of all sinful and malignant creatures. They need to be always awake and alive, and to put forth all their might, to do all they have to do for God, for themselves, and for their fellow men. All the circumstances, relations and connections in which they are placed call upon them to do their duty with all their might. God perfectly knows what they ought to do, and he has given them powers and faculties to do that, and to do no more.
I must add,
3. God requires men to exert themselves to the utmost in doing the numerous and important duties which they find to do, because they have but a short and uncertain time in which to do them. This is the solemn reason urged in the text. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." This cannot mean that death throws men into a state of total insensibility. For the scripture gives us good evidence to believe that departed spirits survive their bodies, and retain all their rational and moral powers and faculties beyond the grave. We know that Moses and Elias appeared with Christ on the mount of transfiguration, and we read of a multitude of just men made perfect, who are now in heaven, and inherit the promises. Of Judas, also, it is said that he is gone to his own place. But if any good or bad men retain their rational and moral powers after death, we may justly conclude that the souls of all men exist in a state of sensibility and activity after death. The true meaning of the text must be, that death carries the souls of men into another world, and puts a period to all the labors of this life, and to all the knowledge and concerns of this world. Hence the prophet says to God in the name of his people, "Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not." And Job says a man after death knoweth not whether his sons come to honor or dishonor. The dead know nothing about the world and the things of the world after they have closed their eyes upon it at death. It is probably as much out of the power of departed spirits to look back into this world which they have left, as it was out of their power to look into the world where they are. There is a partition wall of some kind or other, which not only prevents us from looking into the other world, but equally prevents those who have gone into the other world from look
ing into this. So that it is as impossible for the dead to see the living, as for the living to see the dead. It is, therefore, a solemn and interesting truth, that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, respecting this world. The dead can do nothing for themselves, or for those whom they leave behind in the world when they leave it. All their powers and abilities, and opportunities for doing or getting good in this world, are come to a final and everlasting period. They cannot retrieve any time they lost, nor perform any duties they neglected, nor rectify any mistakes they either designedly or undesignedly made, while they lived, though they have a clear and sensible recollection of all these things. And if this be true, men have but a short space of time for doing all they find to do in this world before they leave it. They have much to do for God, whose interests are so important and so generally neglected, and even opposed. They have much to do for themselves, to prepare for living and for dying. And they have much to do for their fellow men. Parents have much to do for their children, and children have much to do for their parents. Though the living know that the bounds of life are fixed, over which they cannot pass; and though they know not what even a day may bring forth; yet it is their duty to form purposes and designs, under submission to Providence, with respect to futurity. Though they may not take any anxious, yet they ought to take proper thoughts for to-morrow, or for days and years to come. But as they must soon, at longest, leave the world, it becomes them to be diligent, laborious, and persevering in the discharge of every duty; and yet, after all, whether they die young or old, they generally leave many things undone, which they desired, intended, and ought to have done. This the dying have often acknowledged and regretted, and those who are now living are in danger of the same neglect and mistakes. It therefore deeply concerns them to do with their might what their hands find to do. They have no time to lose, nor talents to bury. Let them work while it is day, for the night of death is at hand.
1. If men may always find out what they have to do in this world, then they have no right to plead ignorance for the neglect of a duty. This is the most universal excuse mankind make for their sins of omission and commission. If they neglect this or that duty, they are very apt to plead ignorance as an excuse for their neglect. They plead that they did not know that such or such a thing was their duty at such and such a
time, or under such and such circumstances. Or if they act contrary to duty, they make the same plea of ignorance. They say, that they did not know that it was wrong for them to say and do what they did say and do. Though involuntary ignorance always excuses, yet there can be no such thing as involuntary ignorance in respect to duty; because every person may know what his present duty is. Though many cases occur in the course of life, in which men are at a loss or in doubt whether they ought to act or not to act, or ought to do this or something else, yet it is still their duty to do one or the other of the alternatives; and no case can be mentioned or conceived, in which they cannot know their present duty, with the present knowledge they have. This may be easily and clearly illustrated. A man may be in doubt whether he ought to attend public worship. Doubt calls for consideration. Accordingly, his first duty is to consider impartially whether, in the view of all circumstances, he ought to attend; and if he sees reasons in favor of his attending, greater than the reasons for neglecting, his duty is to attend; or if he sees stronger reasons for staying at home, than for going to the house of God, his duty is to stay at home. And in his present situation, he must necessarily and knowingly either do or neglect his duty. Though men may, through involuntary ignorance, misjudge of what is wisest and best for them to do, in a great many cases, yet if they do what they verily think is wisest and best for them to do, they do their duty; but if they act against the dictates of their reason and conscience, they either neglect their duty, or act contrary to it, and cannot plead ignorance in excuse of their conduct. David, through involuntary ignorance, determined to build the temple, and he did what was right and acceptable to God, in making that determination. He did not know what was best, all things considered; but he did what he verily thought was best, all things considered, and therefore did right. But Jehoshaphat did wrong in going to Ramoth-Gilead. Though at first he might have been really in doubt about his duty, yet he could not have been in doubt after God had forbidden him to go. No ruler can plead ignorance for neglecting, or acting contrary to his duty. No parent can plead ignorance for neglecting, or acting contrary to his duty. No child can plead ignorance for neglecting, or acting contrary to his duty. And no man, in any supposable case, can plead ignorance for neglecting, or acting contrary to his duty. All men may always know their duty, by reading or hearing the word of God, or by regarding the voice of his providence, or asking counsel of him. They have no right, therefore, to plead ignorance in excuse of any of their sins of omission or commission.
2. If men ought to employ all their powers and faculties in doing what they find to be duty, then they have no right to do any thing but what they know to be duty. Whatsoever is not of duty, is of sin. Whatever is their duty is honorable to God, and beneficial to themselves and to the world; but whatever is not their duty is dishonorable to God, and detrimental to themselves and to the world. They have no talents to bury or abuse; they have no time to waste; they have no opportunities or advantages of doing or getting good to neglect or misimprove. If idleness be not a duty, it is a sin; if laboring to be rich be not a duty, it is a sin; if supreme love to the world be not a duty, it is a sin; or if vain amusements and recreations be not a duty, they are sin. Every human work or device which is not a duty, is sin; and all knowledge and wisdom which is not employed in doing or getting good, is sinful and displeasing to God. No intentions, desires or designs of moral agents are indifferent; but they are all either good or evil, holy or sinful. Men never act like the horse or the mule, without understanding, and without praise or blame. They are always under the law of nature, or under the law of God and of nature. Every thing they do is either obedience to or transgression of a law which either approves or condemns their conduct. Every person in the world is bound to do his duty, and nothing but his duty. God has not placed any of mankind upon the earth to trifle, but to employ all their time and talents in doing as much duty as they can do. Men have no right to do any thing but duty, in any stage or circumstance of life, whether childhood, youth, manhood, or old age. God has given them but one path to pursue, and that is the path of duty; and one has no more a right to deviate from that path than another, or at one time than another. Neither the young, nor the rich, nor the great, have the least license to pursue any other path, than the path of duty. They all ought always to know what God has for them to do, and to do it.
3. If God requires men always to know and do their duty, then they can never retrieve any of their lost time, opportunities, or advantages of doing good. The young are extremely apt to imagine, that they can retrieve the time they lose in the follies and vanities of childhood and youth. They intend to regain the time they lose, by improving future time and opportunities with redoubled diligence and activity. But they ought to consider, that they can never improve any times, seasons or opportunities better than their present duty requires. By their present negligence, they will suffer a loss, which they never can retrieve, and contract a guilt, which they never can atone for; though they should live and enjoy ever so many opportunities