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These passages of Scripture need no commentary. All of them point out the necessity of a positive and an active obedience.
But this is not all. Our blessed Lord, who well knew what was in man, seems to have directly calculated some of his discourses, to prevent the possibility of a mistake on this subject. The parables of the rich man and Lazarus, of the talents, and of the barren fig-tree, plainly appear to have been delivered with this view.
We are not told, that the rich man was in any respect injurious or oppressive to Lazarus : his guilt lay in his not extending his kindness to supply his wants. The unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness, not for losing or squandering away his talent, but for hiding it in a napkin, and neglecting to improve it. And the fig-tree was cut down, and cast into the fire, not for producing bad fruit, but because it produced no fruit at all. But lest the allegorical dress of these instructions should leave men at too great liberty to explain away the force of them, this wise and provident Teacher, in a serious and awful discourse on the process of the last judgment, resumes the same argument. (Matth. xxv. 31.-). There he tells us expressly, that men shall not only be punished for doing evil, but also for neglecting to perform active service; and, in particular, for neglecting to perform the offices of humanity to their brethren.
For the charge runs in these words: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink ; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not ; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”—“ For in as much as ye did it not to the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me.” And then follows the doom to be pronounced on those against whom this charge is brought : “ These shall go away into everlasting punishment."
From these passages of Scripture, we learn with assurance, that unless life is filled up with good works, death,
which introduceth us to judgment, must approach to us with a dark and gloomy aspect.
When conscience, awakened with the dawning of an everlasting day, shall prompt us to enquire, What we have done? How we have improved our time, our talents, and the means of grace with which we have been favoured? If in this review of ourselves we shall be able to discover nothing but the traces of vanity and impertinence, how must we shrink back, and tremble to venture on the awful state before us? If God will judge every man according to his works, alas! what must become of the unhappy sluggard, who hath no works to slew; who hath slept, and trifled, and squandered away all his time? “O that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end !"_" How long, O) ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity ?” How long, 0 sinner, shall that precious time on which eternity depends, be wasted in the pursuit of lying vanities: 0 think, how swiftly it passeth away, and how passionately thou wilt one day wish to recal it. Who can assure thee that the decree is not already gone forth against thee, “Cut him off, why cumbereth he the ground ?"_" Thou fool, tliis night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
Pardon me; then, if I speak to you as short-lived, or as dying creatures, some of whom I may never see again, till we meet before the judgment seat of God. Under this impression, let me deal freely with you, and call on you to review your past conduct, as if the Lord himself were demanding an account of it.
Say then, hath it been suitable to the rank you hold im life? Hath it even been rational ? such as became those high intellectual powers by which you are raised above the beasts that perish? Would you consent to have it published before this congregation ? Or rather, are there not some parts of it, which you would wish to hide from your most intimate friends, lest, partial as they are to you, the knowledge of them should quench their affection, and render you contemptible in their eyes? Are you then ready to appear in judgment, and to have all your thoughts, and words, and actions laid open and canvassed before an assembled world ?
I shall not suppose you guilty of gross acts of wickedness. Perhaps the influence of education, the power of natural conscience, and the restraints of Providence, have hitherto kept you back from these. I at present charge you with nothing worse than the omission of duty, and the neglect of opportunities for cultivating and improving the talents which God hath given you. You have been thoughtless and inconsiderate, unmindful of the God who made you, and of the Redeemer who bought you with his blood. You have forgotten the end for which you was sent into the world. You have suffered the cares and pleasures of the present life, the business or amusements of this fieeting scene of vanity, to divide your hearts and engross your time, as if the soul had been destined to serve the body, or as if this earth had been designed for your only residence and portion.
Can you then review such a life without blushing and shame? When you think of it, doth it not appear mean and despicable even in your own eyes ?
And can it then be pleasing; or rather, must it not be highly offensive to that almighty Being, who gave you a nature fitted for the performance of nobler services, and for the relish of higher enjoyments, than any with which you have been hitherto acquainted ?
For the Lord's sake open your eyes, and take a serious and impartial view of your condition. Blessed be God it is not yet too late. The door of mercy is still open, and though, like the prodigal son, you have hitherto been feeding upon husks; yet when, like him, ye shall return to your Father's house, and to the faithful and affectionate duty of children, your past wandering and unprofitable life shall be forgiven, and ye may yet enjoy the honours and privileges of
Having thus confirmed and illustrated the first proposition contained in the text, namely, that men sin, not only when they positively transgress the law of God; but also, when they do not fulfil the duties which the law requires to the utmost of their power ;-I now proceed to shew you, as was proposed,
Secondly, That our guilt is more highly aggravated, when we neglect the duties which are known to us ; or when we decline opportunities of doing good, though we are convinced that it is our duty to embrace them.
He who doth not seek for opportunities of doing good, is a sinner; that is, he counteracts the obvious intention of his Maker, in sending him into the world: and therefore, shall be dealt with as an unfaithful servant, who hath not applied his talents to the purposes for which they were given him. And, if this be the case, then surely the person who hath a known opportunity of doing good, and yet wilfully neglects it, must contract greater guilt, and be liable to a severer punishment. If that man be culpable, who is careless of doing all the good, which by an exertion of his talents he is able to do, is not that man much more culpable, who presumptuously omits to do the good to which he has opportunities to solicit him? But why should I spend time in establishing so plain a truth, especially when it is already confirmed by the highest authority ? Our blessed Lord himself expressly tells us, (Luke xii. 47.), that “ the servant who knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes."
The only question that remains then is, Whether this be a supposition that can be made ? Is it to be thought, that any man is capable of deliberately resisting his own conviction, and of declining obedience to a law which he both knows, and believes to be binding on him ?
I confess, indeed, that a superior Being, if we could imagine him to be altogether unacquainted with human affairs, might reject this supposition as improbable. But surely we have no cause to object against the representation as forced, or beyond the life. Our own observation, unless we have been extremely inattentive, cannot fail to furnish us with numberless proofs of this determined neglect of duty. We need not go from home, to bring our examples from persons in high and public trust, who have been known to sacrifice the acknowledged interest and honour of a whole nation to their own private resentment, or personal advantage. They are farther seen, for no other reason but because they are placed higher. The importance of their station renders their faults the more conspicuous, while a groaning community points out, as with the finger, the authors of its distress. But let each of us look into his own breast, and if conscience is not asleep, it will say to us, as Nathan said to David, “ Thou art the man.” Thou thyself hast neglected the fairest opportunities of doing good, when thou hadst the strongest conviction that it was thy reasonable duty.
I mean not to pry into the secrets of your hearts, any more than to divulge the secrets of my own.
But I speak from a thorough conviction, that all of us pass too slightly over our omissions, even in the most serious review which we take of our conduct. We are, alas ! too fruitful in excuses, and too ready to gloss over our most culpable neglects, with the specious colour of ignorance or incapacity. But God, to whom the night shineth as the day, knows the conviction of mind against which we sin ; and our most dextrous arts of concealment cannot screen us from his penetrating eye. A just impression of this would prevent many fatal mistakes in our conduct,
I have now, for example, an opportunity of doing good: and my conscience tells me, that I ought to improve it. On the other hand, I have many strong temptations to neglect it. It would put me to too much cost or trouble; it would involve me in a train of action against which my