« IndietroContinua »
of the slothful killeth him, because his hands refuse to labour.” He is discouraged by the least opposition : “ The way of the slothful man is as a hedge of thorns.” Every difficulty furnisheth him with an excuse for his idleness : “ The sluggard will not plow, by reason of the cold.”Nay, rather than want an excuse, he creates imaginary dangers to himself. He saith, “ There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” At length, “ By much slothfulness the building decays, and through the idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.”—“ His field and his vineyard are grown over with thorns, nettles cover the face thereof, and the stone-wall is broken down." Thus, “ Poverty cometh upon him like one that travail. eth, and his want as an armed man, till drowsiness at last clothes him with rags."
Such is the picture which Solomon draws of the sluggard ; and the features are so strongly marked, that there is no room to doubt that it was drawn from the life.
Whether there are persons in the present state of soci. ety to whom all the parts of this character agrec, is a question which every man will answer to himself, either from his knowledge or experience. The charge is indeed so complex, that it might be difficult perhaps to prove it in its full extent against any one individual.
We know well who they are whose hands refuse to labour, who are clothed with rags, and make poverty not only their complaint, but their argument. But though the idle vagrant is plainly described and condemned by these articles, there are other parts of the charge against which he might offer a plausible defence.
He might answer to the charge of excessive sleep, that he riseth as early, or at least is as soon abroad, as any from whom he can expect an alms; and that he is so far from hiding his hand in his bosom, that he stretcheth it forth from morning to night, to levy contributions from every passenger he sees. Nay, to strengthen his defence, might he not argue, that as the preacher was a king, persons of a higher rank were far more likely to be the objects of his attention, many of whom eat the bread of idleness, and labour as little as the beggar? And as he speaks of fields and vineyards, that this shews him to have had sluggards of a superior order in his eye, who originally possessed some property, and held a station above the lower tribes of the people. By this defence, he will certainly elude some articles of the charge. Enough however will still remain, to evince his right to the character in the text. And what he throws off from himself, doth not fall to the ground, but will bear hard on the idle and voluptuous in the higher ranks of life. At the same time, there are some articles in the charge, to which those of a better station would no doubt object in their turn. They might attempt to evade the charge of sluggishness, by alleging, that though indeed they apply themselves to no active business or employment, yet the fatigues of dress, of ceremony, and of equipage; the anxieties of gaming, and the attendance on fashionable amusements, render the pursuit of pleasure in the present age, as toilsome and laborious as any mechanical employment whatsoever. And that so far from being clothed in rags, which Solomon makes the badge of a sluggard, the fact is, that Solomon himself, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of them.
Were this a controversy of any importance, it would be an easy matter to detect the fallacy of these reasonings, and to show, that the defences on both sides are weak and frivolous. But this would be an idle waste of time ; for, as neither of the parties can deny that some parts of the description apply to them, it is of little consequence to which of them the larger share of it belongs.
But sloth is not confined to the common affairs of life, nor the character of a sluggard to men in any particular station. There is sloth in religion, as well as in common life; and the description in my text applies to all, without exception, who, however active and industrious in their secular employments, neglect the one thing needful, the care of their precious and immortal souls.
The laborious mechanic, the busy merchant, the painful student, and the bustling statesman, are all sluggards in a spiritual sense, unless they are active in the love and service of the God that made them, and unless the advancement of his glory, and the final enjoyment of his favour, are the ends to which all their pursuits are directed.
Here we are only to sojourn for a short time. Our great Creator hath made us for higher occupations, and better joys, than the present world affords us. He hath formed us for the knowledge and enjoyment of himself in an eternal and unchangeable state, and hath instructed us how we may attain this glorious object of our being. And therefore, however busy a man may be for himself, however industrious for his family, however active for the publie; yet if all his views terminate in this present life, he is still a sluggard in the eye of God. For he who labours only for the meat that perisheth, doth as fatally counteract the end of his creation, as he that sleeps on the bed of sloth, or as he that fatigues himself in pursuing the vain and fugitive pleasures of this world.— I will add, that even those who have chosen the better part, and who scek the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the first place, do often incur the imputation of sluggishness, by the omission or careless performance of what God hath required of them. For, alas ! where is the man who doth “whatsoever his hand findeth to do” in the business of religion, “ with all his might ?” Where is the man who “ strives," as in an agony, for so the original word imports, “to enter in at the strait gate ?" or who “gives all diligence to make his calling and election sure?" We see much activity in the pursuits of the world; but a very small portion of it indeed in that pursuit which most requires and deserves it.
I may therefore venture to affirm, that there is not one in this assembly to whom my text is not addressed in one view or another. And therefore, without questioning the propriety of the description, let us go on, as was proposed,
Secondly, To consider the counsel or advice which the wise man hath given us : “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise : which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
He directs us to a creature, indeed, of the most diminutive size and appearance, but whose sagacity and unremitting activity strike the eye of every beholder. The ant instructeth us, not by speech, but by actions; and therefore we are called upon, “ to consider her ways ;" how she is employed, and for what ends she is active : not merely that we may gratify our curiosity, or even extend our knowledge of the natural world, but that we may become wiser and better. The wisdom we learn from the ant, is the wisdom of living well : the wisdom of acting suitably to our superior nature, and our glorious hopes.
There are three very important lessons which we learn from the conduct of the ant. The
1st, Is a foresight and sagacity in making provision for the time to come. The ant gathereth more than she hath present occasion for; and in the summer and harvest, lays up a store for the approaching winter. Thus she arms herself against the rigours of the inclement season ; and whilst the grass-hoppers that song and sported in the summer and harvest, nay, whilst many creatures of larger size and greater strength perish for want of food, she lives on the fruits of her industry, and reaps the reward of her care and providence. O that this wisdom were more common among men ! and that we could be persuaded, while the season of action lasts, to “lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when we shall say we have no pleasure in them." How dreary must the winter of life be, when the previ. oús seasons have been passed in sloth, in idleness, or in folly? when the body languishes under poverty and wretchedness; or when the mind, unfurnished with knowledge, and virtue, and faith, and devotion, sojourns in a crazy tabernacle, lottering to the dust ?--A
2d lesson to be learned from the conduct of the ant is, activity and diligence. The ant never intermits her labours, as long as the season lasts. In summer, when the weather is hottest, at sultry noon, as well as in the cool of the morning and of the evening, this busy creature is continually in motion, either seeking her food abroad, or disposing it in her cells at home. Nay, her labours end not with the day, but, as naturalists have observed, she often takes the benefit of the moon, and plies her work with a surprising alacrity. Happy were it for man, that he as faithfully employed that precious time which is given him, either to render himself useful in this world, or to prepare for eternity. Then would he not be seen encroaching on the day by sloth, nor turning it into night, by intemperance and riot. The
3d lesson which we learn from the conduct of the ant, is sagacity in making use of the proper season for activity. Opportunity is the flower of time: or it is the most precious part of it, which, if once lost, may never returu. This the ant knoweth how to seize with admirable skill. She goeth forth in quest of food, when it can be had with ease and certainty. She employs her labour at the time when she knows that it will be effectual. Unlike to man, whose folly prompts him to neglect the season in which his talents might be usefully employed, till he hath lost it for ever : and who spends on trifles the day of his merciful visitation, till the things which belong to his peace are for ever hid from his eyes.
All this foresight, diligence and sagacity, the ant em