- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
on the folly and danger of thoughtlessness.
Isaiah xlvii. 8.—Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, thou that dwellest carelessly.
Those who are addressed in the text, as given to pleasures, and dwelling carelessly, constitute, it is to be feared, the majority of the human race. Among many who enjoy hereditary affluence, the pursuit of dissipating pleasures appears to be the first object of endeavour, and the principal business of existence. Seriousness is often considered, in the circles of gaiety, as synonymous with dulness. Dulness is disagreeable; and therefore he who wishes to recommend himself to the notice and applause of fashion, is induced to assume an habitual levity, and to divest himself of all taste for moral and religious meditation.
The business of self-degradation is easy. Our natural proneness to fall, facilitates our descent down the declivity. The enemy of mankind certainly cooperates in promoting our wicked purposes, and hence we find that the disciples of the world make a rapid progress in acquiring those accomplishments on which the-vain and wicked have agreed to place the highest value. No character is more common than that of the professed man of pleasure, who not only avoids every thing that is serious himself, but treats the seriousness of others with derision.
There are many who fall into a similar carelessness, but whose error is to be attributed to different causes. Without any vicious principles, or corruption of heart, they have gradually contracted habits of indolence. Thinking is, of necessity, attended with exertion. But they are habitually idle, and fond of the softest indulgences of a supine ease. The slightest exertion is to them, therefore, a real pain. Thus it happens, that they had rather vegetate, or be carried whithersoever the caprice of fortune may lead them, than to have the trouble of thought, or be compelled to adjust the measures of their own conduct.
In consequence of their disinclination and inability to choose rational employments, or manly diversions, for themselves, they passively wait to admit every trifle, and every vice, which accidentally obtrudes itself on their attention. If they preserve their innocence, which is not very probable, it is by chance. The greater chance is, that, though they began with no other fault but indolence, they will end with many dreadful sins. For life cannot proceed fortuitously, without incurring such dangers as render an escape from destruction a real miracle. It is an exact and beautiful similitude, which compares life to a voyage; and however excellent the vessel, if it is left the sport of winds and waves, it must receive injury, and will soon be dashed on rocks, or sunk on quicksands.
I purpose, in the following discourse, to dissuade men from forming a habit of Thoughtlessness. I shall first endeavour to evince, that the truest and most substantial pleasures are those which are attended with thought; in the second place, that profit, as well as pleasure, or our temporal welfare and success, are the consequences of it; and lastly, that, without it, no man can become a good member of society, or a true Christian.
I. First then, the truest and most solid pleasures are such as are attended with thought. It has been said that pleasure is a serious thing; totally inconsistent with extreme levity. This will probably appear paradoxical to many; but its truth has been confirmed by the testimony of all who have best understood the science of human nature.
The man of pleasure, it is true, whenever he appears in company, is singularly gay and lively. He is ambitious of appearing happy. He affects, therefore, a never-ceasing flow of spirits. He is loud, overbearing, and boastful. The careless, or ignorant observer is led, by his appearance, to envy or admire him. But the man of pleasure is often a stranger to pleasure. He is often an unfeeling man, who has become callous by repeated excess. He is often a superficial, trifling, unideal man, on whom nothing can make a deep impression; to whom nothing can give a lively satisfaction. He is commonly a vicious man, whose enjoyments, supposing him to have any, must be alloyed by occasional compunction, by fears, doubts, and suspicions. His flow of spirits is artificial; supported by excess in wine, by the noise and riot of profligate companions. As it is ill-founded and unnatural, it is also of short duration. It is, as the scripture-language well describes it, like the crackling of thorns. It is a transient ebullition raised by false fire. It is like the luminous vapour, which owes its origin to putrefaction. Who have been so ready to complain of vanity and vexation in all human pleasures as the professed men of pleasure? a convincing evidence that the name of men of pleasure ill accords with their real condition.
There is indeed nothing so fatally misunderstood by the inexperienced, as the nature of pleasure. That alone is true pleasure which is consistent with reason; which will bear a review, which leaves not a sting behind it, and produces not a lasting injury for a momentary delight. But is this the case with sensual or vicious pleasures? Ask the experience of all mankind, whose uniform decisions on the vanity and misery of a life of vicious pleasure, after they have spent it, are so strong, and so abundant, as to render it impossible to dwell on the topic without tedious repetition. I shall not trouble you with those common-place ideas which may be found in every good book of morality, but shall proceed to remind you of the substantial pleasures which belong to the sedate, the serious, the thoughtful.
The mind alone is the seat of solid pleasure. How then is he to enjoy solid pleasure who exercises his mind so little, who is so light, airy, vain, and thoughtless, as scarcely to possess a mind? He wants faculties to comprehend, with accuracy, the abject of his pursuit. He has no foundation on which to erect the fair fabric which he contemplates and admires. He builds, like the fool, on the sand; and as the building is baseless, it quickly vanishes, like the fabric of a vision.
Nothing valuable is to be expected, without adequate causes operating in its production. True pleasure is certainly valuable, and is not to be obtained without thought and selection.
The voluptuary himself is ready to allow that some pleasures are deceitful. The external appearance of many common things is beautiful, and the inside deformed. The fruit with the most glossy rind and beautiful hue, frequently possesses a bitter flavour. How is any one to select who exercises not his judgment; and how can any one judge, who is not willing to think? He who will not be circumspect, will often take the counterfeit for the genuine coin, the shadow for the substance. The consequences of his errors will be always painful, often injurious, and sometimes fatal.
He who runs on thoughtlessly in the mad career of pleasure, can scarcely fail of losing his health. Look at the emaciated figure of the professed voluptuary, even in his youth. Where are the roses which lately adorned his cheek? They withered and decayed when he lost his innocence, and contracted disease. A lurid paleness succeeds, and speaks more eloquently than a thousand tongues, the dreadful consequences of a thoughtless, and consequently vicious, course. In the prime of life he has the appearance and infirmities of old age. His hand is already palsied, and he can scarcely lift to his lips that sparkling cup in which he takes his supreme delight. But is there any truth more universally confessed, than that without health there can be no pleasure? Health is the very soul of pleasure. It is itself a constant feast, and he who joins to a healthy body a healthy mind, that is, an innocent, religious, humble, prudent mind, possesses all the wisdom, happiness, and pleasure of which human nature in this sublunary state is found to be susceptible.
The thoughtless man, in consequence of his thoughtlessness, loses another invaluable possession, an unsullied reputation. The thoughtless man acts at random, and he who acts thus, though he may do right by chance, will oftener do wrong. But one wrong action, attended with important and conspicuous bad consequences, is sufficient to sully a character. Scarcely any subsequent good conduct can wipe off an aspersion justly cast upon him on his first entrance into life. A sad instance of the injuries inflicted on himself, by the thoughtless votary of nominal pleasure∗ Though he is free from malignity of intention or depravity of heart, yet, in a careless moment, he shall do a deed, the effects of which shall injure his success, and imbitter his enjoyments, during every period of his mortal existence. The world in general, and even they who are dissipated and vicious, are sufficiently cautious whom they trust in their various negociations. A thoughtless, careless, dissipated young man, though he may be loved by those who resemble him, as a companion, will not be trusted by them, nor by any one else, in those things on which the success of his worldly employment or profession entirely depends. Many will join with him in drunkenness, riot, and debauchery, admire his eccentricities, and keep up the scene of jollity till he is ruined; but none will employ him in his profession or occupation as a merchant, a physician, or a lawyer, if they can find any men of thought and prudence, to whom they may trust their health, their property, or whatever they most value.
Thus the thoughtless man is sure to suffer in his fortune. The loss of fortune, indeed, is the natural consequence of lost reputation. But he will dissipate his inheritance, if he had one, in trifles and extravagances. He will lessen it, by neglecting to inspect his affairs, and to. preserve a regularity of accounts. He will neither be able to acquire, nor to preserve. Worldly wealth is seldom attained but by constant assiduity and long application. But will the thoughtless young man, who prides himself in gaiety alone, submit to the humble, the plain, the unostentatious virtues of industry, frugality, punctuality? No; they are the objects of his ridicule. He considers them as marks of a want of spirit, parts, and fire. He cannot practise the thrifty or the parsimonious virtues, because he despises them, and because they require thought and care, which to him are insupportable. He will therefore not only not acquire, or preserve, a competency, but will be in danger of falling into extreme indigence, for idleness shall clothe a man in rags. We have all, indeed, a natural tendency to descend, and shall usually fall, when we desist from endeavouring to rise.
The man of pleasure then, who is not a man of thought and prudence, will, in the careless moments of inattention, lose health, reputation, and fortune; costly sacrifices∗ And for what will he exchange them? Has he his share of pleasure in return? By no means. His pleasure is a phantom, a bubble, or whatever else can emphatically describe emptiness, vanity, and delusion. True pleasure consists in tranquillity, serenity, solid and uninterrupted joy; such indeed as proceeds from a prudent conduct, from an adherence to nature rightly understood, from an obedience to the suggestions of reason and religion.
I conclude this topic, therefore, with asserting, that the man of reason and prudence, he who thinks and acts according to the dictates of mature deliberation, is the only one who can live a life of solid and substantial pleasure. Thought and care are so far from destroying, that they are absolutely necessary to the preservation and perfection of pleasure, as well as of virtue.
II. That our temporal interest must suffer by Thoughtlessness is too evident to require farther demonstration. I should, indeed, have omitted this topic, had I not reflected that many, who will not be influenced by moral and religious considerations, may be convinced and converted from the error of their ways, by being reminded that their thoughtlessness is likely to prevent them from obtaining even worldly honours and emoluments.
The advantages of the world, like all other advantages not bestowed by birth or nature, are not to be procured without diligence in the pursuit of them. The industrious will always supplant the idle; the thoughtful will always be superior, in the ultimate issue of things, to him who is given to pleasures, and dwelleth carelessly.
Let us look, for a moment, into the walks of real life. Who is it that, for the most part, fails in the employment of merchandise? Who is it that expends his patrimony, deceives the hopes of his friends, and dies in indigence and obscurity, after having enjoyed every opportunity of raising himself to fortune and reputation? Is it not he who, delighting in the pleasures of fashion, devoting himself to wine and wanton company, aspiring at the character of a libertine, has refused to exercise those faculties of thinking and judging, which the Almighty Parent undoubtedly bestowed upon him, that they might become the guides of his conduct?
No skill in any liberal art or science, no excellency in the exercise of any profession, can be obtained by the thoughtless man; for these require great application of mind, voluntary efforts of thought, eagerness of pursuit, anxiety, and emulation. He qualifies himself for no office and no occupation. He enjoys the protection of society, without reciprocally contributing to its happiness or support. He is, indeed, the drone of the community, and it is not wonderful that he is despised and rejected by the industrious bee.
Thus unfit for any employment, and neither seeking, nor deserving, to be trusted with any, what is to become of him under a reverse of fortune, in a state of adversity, or in the evil day of old age? While he has youth, health, vigour, and property, he may, indeed, drag a miserable existence in the haunts of dissipation. But all these are soon gone, in the course which he pursues. He has been idly chirping, like the grasshopper, in the warm and fertile season of summer; how often will he wish, in the winter, that he had imitated the ant in the fable∗ This little, frugal animal may and ought to afford him a striking lesson. Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. The sluggard will not plow, therefore shall he beg in the harvest, and have nothing. But O love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thy eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
III. But it is time to proceed to that part of the present subject, which is infinitely more important than any thing which has yet been advanced. I say then, in the third place, that the thoughtless man will not only not enjoy the pleasures and advantages of the world, but that he cannot possibly be a good moral man, much less a Christian.
The social and relative duties, on which the good of the community, and our mutual happiness, principally depend, can never be performed as they ought to be, by the careless votary of pleasure. To become a good magistrate, a good subject, a good neighbour, requires a close attention to a variety of circumstances and occasions. A judgment must be formed of the several connections and dependencies of life; of what is due to others in all their relations, and what we may reasonably require or expect of them. How can he determine a cause, who will not give it due consideration, or, indeed, who has not treasured up a variety of maxims and observations, by reading, experience, and reflection? How can he assist his country in an emergency, or know with whom to take part in political sentiments, who is too volatile to exert himself, too giddy to discriminate? How can he be a valuable neighbour, who has acquired no wisdom to give advice, no steadiness which may be relied on, no valuable sentiment, and no pleasant or entertaining ideas to enrich conversation. The thoughtless man is thus led to neglect all that adorns and improves social intercourse, and without any settled, intentional malignity, he becomes a bad and an immoral man. With the best meaning, he produces the effects of guilt; with no meaning, he causes the evils of confusion.
He is useless in public life; but let us view him in private. Is he a father? His unfortunate children soon experience the wretched consequences of his thoughtless behaviour. He neglects their education. He sets them a bad example. He suffers them to run into idle, low, and bad company. He checks them not when they err. He scarcely takes so much care of them as the brute of its offspring, by the instigation of instinct. He crowns his ill usage of them by expending in folly, that fortune which ought to provide them food, raiment, and independence. He often sees them, in consequence of his neglect, following bad courses; but he is not solicitous to stop their career. He is occupied in his pleasures, in drinking, gaming, pursuing every vulgar amusement, to drown thought, and murder time. As a son, a brother, a husband, he is equally regardless of duties which each of his relations requires. Happy were it, if his thoughtlessness were culpable only, as doing no good to those of his own household; but, for the most part, it involves them in much misery. It often drags down a number of innocent persons in. the rain which destroys himself. Few, indeed, can be foolish and-wicked, without deriving bad consequences on others who deserve them not. Excluding all ideas of pecuniary loss or personal injury, they who see a father, husband, brother, or child, running'the mad career of thoughtlessness and vicious folly, must always experience the pangs of a wounded, and sometimes a broken, heart.
Thus this thoughtless conduct, which the world often admires as agreeable gaiety, becomes the cause of severe wrongs to those whom we ought to benefit, and whom we are taught by nature, and bound by duty, to love. It produces effects similar to those of confirmed wickedness, to which it does indeed immediately lead, though it originated in nothing else but mere indolence or vanity. The thoughtless man, whatever the world, in the exuberance of its good nature, may allow, cannot be a good man in the sight of Heaven; for we have seen, that he usually neglects the performance of all those virtues which constitute a good man, in the moral sense of thai description.
But he is equally, and indeed more deficient, in a religious sense. The character of a good Christian, as it is the noblest and most desirable that man can possess, is also, in some respects, difficult of attainment. I mean that it requires great thought, and even solicitude.
It is necessary that a man should think, in order to have a right idea of the faith which is in him. The knowledge of the Christian system, like other knowledge, is to be acquired by investigation. Grace, indeed, is liberally bestowed on him who uses his own exertions; but still exertions are necessary, both in the commencement and continuance of the Christian warfare.
There is an enemy of mankind, a wicked being, who, though in an accursed state, still retains a considerable share of influence. He is represented in scripture, as walking about, seeking whom he may devour. The thoughtless man becomes an easy prey. The adversary seizes on him without a contest. Be sober, he vigilant, says the Apostle, who describes the assiduity of our adversary the devil. If we are but a moment entirely off our guard, the malicious spirit begins his assault. The existence and power of this evil being ought, of itself, to rouse the careless from his fatal slumber. He is, we are told, the prince of death.
All true Christians (whom I mention, to distinguish them from those thoughtless persons who call themselves Christians, merely because others do) are fully convinced that there is a being to whom the human race is particularly odious, and who employs himself in seducing them from the obedience due to the Most High. They therefore will readily acknowledge the absolute necessity of unwearied vigilance. But this unwearied vigilance is really difficult to be preserved; so difficult, that the most anxious among Christians have much to lament on the subject of incaution. What chance then has the man whose only study is to banish thought? He has put on no armour against the fiery darts of the wicked one. Like a fenceless city, whose walls are broken down, and whose governors have deserted it, he surrenders at discretion on the approach of the enemy. The state of the Christian is always represented as a state of warfare. It is, indeed, a warfare against a combination of foes, the world, the flesh, and the devil. How can he be a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ who slumbers on his post, when his loins ought to be girdedabout, and his lights burning, like unto them that wait for their Lord, that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately? Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching; and if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. Be ye therefore ready, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
The holy spirit of God is constantly at hand, endeavouring to inspire into our hearts his vital influence. But he requires that we should prepare our hearts for its reception. He requires that we should watch for the happy moments when we are alive to devotional feelings, and endeavour to prolong and improve them. When he finds us carelessly banishing from our thoughts every serious idea, and eagerly running the career of foolish and vicious pleasure, he is grieved and departs. He returns indeed; for mercy is patient and not easily provoked, but he returns less frequently, and after having been repeatedly rejected, he reluctantly leaves the wretched sinner to his folly and his fate.
The very nature of religion, its great rewards and dreadful punishments, the sentiments it inspires, and the morality it inculcates, all demand a serious, though not a melancholy mind. Do not the scriptures themselves represent the duties of a Christian as laborious? We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is a work that requires our daily thoughts, our most anxious solicitude. “But how can I bestow so much attention upon it?”. says a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God. “I go to church on Sundays, like my neighbours, but I can find no other time for religion. I have important business, and a thousand engagements, both of interest and amusement.” If thus thou thinkest to satisfy thy duty as a Christian, thou art greatly mistaken. Thou hoverest round the luminous meteors of pleasure, like the poor insect, which, dazzled by the taper's light, rashly flies near it, scorches its wings, and drops to rise no more.
Ye men of business, men of pleasure, men of wit, men of the world, if you never seriously think, you cannot be Christians. Persuade not yourselves that it will be sufficient, even if it were possible in your careless course, to consume the days of your probation in innocent trifles. Your mind, your spirit, has much to perform, to render you acceptable, and to draw down the blessing of Heaven. You have much work to do, even though you are exempted by the bounty of fortune, or rather of Providence, from manual labour. No rank, no opulence can deliver you from the necessity of spiritual labour, if ye admit the truth, and depend on the promises of the Gospel. Work then, while it is day, for the night approaches, when no man can work.
Meditation, as it is a duty and delight, is also a principal means of improvement in grace and wisdom to the true Christian. It is, indeed, absolutely necessary to preserve his spiritual life.
O, that the voice of the preacher could speak to the hearts of those thousands, and tens of thousands, who are busying themselves from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, in every species of vanity and folly∗ They seem to have lost all religious sensibility, and are content to live without God in the world. Dreadful idea∗ Poor orphans, bereaved of their heavenly Father∗ Forlorn and deplorable is their condition. Whither shall they fly for succour? More wretched still, they know not that they stand in need of it. They smile and congratulate each other on every new invented scene of amusement. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands, How shall their joy be turned into mourning, when, as the same prophet proceeds, hell shall enlarge herself, and open her month without measure, and THEIR GLORY, and their MULTITUDE, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it? Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go tip as dust, because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Listen then, ye who have erred and strayed like lost sheep, listen to the friendly voice of the shepherd of your souls. Turn ye, turn ye from the paths of vanity, Enter the sanctuary of the Lord. Open your ears and your hearts. Light and life shall reward your attention. Strange that ye should be so reluctant to exert yourselves, when the salvation of your souls depends upon your efforts. Were a trifling profit, or a fashionable amusement proposed, with what ardour would you engage in the pursuit of it? But when you are addressed on the subject of religion, and the state of your soul, you say in your hearts, Go away this time, at a, more convenient season I will speak to thee. You cannot bear to be grave, for gravity is ungraceful.
Who that entertains in his bosom the sentiments of natural philanthropy, or rather of Christian charity, but must mourn over the lost souls of creatures capable of immortality and divine happiness? When the feeling Christian views men flourishing in fancied prosperity, rioting in nominal pleasure, and reposing in deceitful ease, he views them with pious pity. He would not imbitter their enjoyments, but he would sweeten and substantiate them, by giving them a better foundation.
He would say to each individual, as to his friend, (and who, indeed, is not the friend of the true Christian?) Let me conjure you to remember the purposes of your creation, and to support, with your utmost efforts, the comparative dignity of your nature. Exert the noble faculties which God has given you, in a daily attention to that which is truly and substantially your temporal and eternal interest. Is it a hard thing that is required of you? You are only entreated to be kind to yourself. Remember, that now is your day. Short at best; perhaps it is already far spent. Think how much you would value, when your sun is set in this world, a few of those hours which are now carelessly squandered, as if they were incapable of improvement. For a single day, you would resign every pleasure, honour, and emolument. Let this remembrance have due weight with you now. Let it lead you, at every convenient interval, to retire from the busy crowd of common life, to commune with yourself in your chamber, to dwell with God and your own soul in the sweet exercises of pious meditation. This practice will tend to sanctify all your secular employments; to purify and exalt every pleasure and amusement; to secure a peaceful life, a happy death, and a joyful resurrection.