- 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 seeking a remedy for sorrow, in vice and dissipation.
Ecclesiastes, vii. 14.—In the day of adversity consider.
It was the wisdom of the ancients to seek comfort under the pressure of affliction, by applying to reason, philosophy, and religion. Prayer and patience were deemed the best balsam for the wounds of the heart. The resigned sufferer bowed under the rod that smote him, and in the solitude of his retirements, endeavoured, with penitential tears, to avert the anger of an offended God.
But, in the present times, the best method of removing sorrow, is supposed to consist in flying from it into the haunts of riot and dissipation. Keep up your spirits, is the advice of surrounding friends; and the advice would be good, if it were not followed by prescribing a mode of practising it which is always injurious, and often ineffectual. Avoid solitude, says the adviser; have recourse to public amusement, gay company, the song, the dance, the juice of the grape; in a word, eat, drink, and be merry.
If this mode were found experimentally successful, much might be said in its favour; but it is observed, that Of those who fall into the last sad stage of despair, the greater number consists of those who sought refuge from temporary sorrow, in the whirlpools of vicious and extravagant pleasure. The truth is, that this remedy, like strong drink to a nervous body, enlivens for a while by an unnatural exhilaration, warms by a false fire, which burns without fuel, and, by consuming the stamina, increases the debility it was intended to remove. I will not deny, that in some instances it causes a stupor of the faculties, which destroys the sense of woe by destroying the feeling: but this effect of it proves it to be a remedy which degrades human nature to the rank of a stock or a stone, and below a brute; a remedy worse than the disease, and such as no man who sincerely values his endowments of reason, and cherishes the hopes of religion, can Wish to adopt.
But there is just cause to believe, that adversity is intended by a merciful God for the good of the sufferer. To fly from it to vicious dissipation, is to frustrate this purpose, to despise the wisdom, and to defy the power, of the Almighty.
To love adversity, is a contradiction to human nature. To seek it, would be madness and folly; but to improve it to an advantage when it comes, as come it will, notwithstanding all our efforts to prevent it, this is at once a dutiful and wise conduct. To turn evil into good, is a most valuable kind of moral alchemy. Thus the physician converts hemlock into a most powerful medicine; thus the heaven-taught insect sucks honey from wormwood, from the briar, and from the deadly nightshade.
Adversity indeed, without our own efforts, if suffered to operate according to its natural tendency, produces effects on the sick mind highly salutary. It has saved many a spiritual life, when the symptoms of disease prognosticated a fatal termination.
One of its first effects is, to cause an obedience to the precept of the text, and to make the sufferer CONSIDER. Consideration of itself will often produce a perfect cure of the mental disorder. A great part of the vices of men arise from thoughtlessness, unaccompanied in the earliest stages with intentional malignity.
Young men usually enter into life, pursuing pleasure with the heedless precipitation of an infant chasing a butterfly. Like the infant, they soon stumble and fall. Disease, the consequence of vice, is the first instance of adversity which they experience. And what is the result? They are led to consider seriously the bitter fruits, which often grow from the blossoms of pleasure. If they do not dissipate their serious thoughts, but go on to consider, they are usually saved from misery, and their first misfortune becomes a blessing. But their propensity to consider, is often over-ruled by the example and persuasion of their companions. They are urged to plunge deeper into vice, in order to divest themselves of that delicacy of feeling, which has rendered their degradation painful. Under their tuition the young man unlearns the virtuous precepts of his youth, and blunts the fine sensibilities of unpolluted nature. He divests himself of fear and shame, and though he may not feel uneasiness, yet his insensibility is no better than the numbness of an approaching mortification, the enervated weakness of a palsy.
Having escaped the sense of one misfortune by riot and intemperance, he pursues the same method in destroying the effect of every subsequent visitation, intended by Providence to recall him from error, till at last he proceeds, without feeling, in the path that leads to destruction. But his danger is not lessened because he does not see it, nor is his future misery diminished, because he will not feel its approach.
A similar process of gradual degeneracy takes place in all other instances, where the correcting hand of adversity is turned aside by the shield of debauchery, intemperance, vice, and dissipation.
But if adversity were suffered to have its perfect work, it would produce self-knowledge, a due estimate of the world, humility, charity, and devotion, with all their happy consequences.
Adversity would teach that valuable lesson, Know thyself; if, in obedience to the text, it were suffered to teach us to consider.
There is scarcely any thing which a man is not apt to believe, of his merits and his powers, who glides along the stream of life, with a gale of uninterrupted prosperity. Pride, presumption, and irreligion, are the natural consequences. He is confident of strength, when he is. evidently weak, and glories in abundance, where he ought to be ashamed of defect. He must therefore, in the nature of things, sometimes fail, and sometimes be in disgrace. If he feels neither the pungency of vexation at failure, nor of shame in dishonour, he will be likely to terminate his thoughtless course amid contempt and misfortune. The latter end of such a man will degenerate from his fortunate beginnings; the more deplorable in his final overthrow, as he will be unable to soften his fall by preparing for it.
He who knows not the infirmities of his nature, or considers not how much he stands in need of heavenly protection, will soon fall into practical atheism, Such a state cannot but offend God, and cause him to withdraw his divine assistance; and then no tongue can describe, the misery and weakness into which the abandoned son of Adam may be involved.
A little salutary adversity would have prevented all this evil, if it nad been suffered to operate in its due course, the production of serious consideration. This would have taught, with the knowledge, of himself, a diffidence of himself ; and the result would have been, that Christian humility which is the foundation of all Christian excellence.
He who, when overtaken by adversity, considers the case duly, considers his former conduct with attention, will find many faults, many errors, many defects ; which he will resolve to correct and supply. He will thus assume a teachable temper, and willingness to submit to proper guidance. He will thus improve in his conduct; and acting rationally, circumspectly and cautiously in future, avoid much of that misery and embarrassment, with which the state of unsubdued pride imbittered all his enjoyments. He will be wiser, better, happier. But if, instead of considering, when adversity came upon him, he had studiously avoided thinking, and taken the usual method of avoiding care by rushing into vicious or empty pleasure, the lesson of wisdom would have been lost to him, he would have gone on in his erroneous career, unhappy in himself, odious to man, and displeasing to God. But he was called by the stern voice of misfortune, and he listened to her lesson. He is therefore humble, duly diffident, grateful for benefits received from God or man, amiable in his manners, contented in his disposition.
Adversity will teach charity as well as humility, if her scholars will but lend a purged ear to her solid instruction. Sorrow naturally softens the heart; and when the heart is suffered to feel as nature dictates, sympathy for others will seldom be deficient.
Adversity convinces the mind of the necessity of mutual assistance. The sufferer has himself felt the want of it, and can judge how painful it would have been, to have suffered unpitied and unassisted. The experience of evil is the best teacher of active charity. But if, when adversity oppresses, dissipation is sought to alleviate the burden, the salutary effect is entirely counteracted; instead of softening, it hardens the heart. It leads at once to impiety and misanthropy. Men are hated and envied, as being possessed of that happiness to which the sufferer thinks he has a claim, and God is accused, in the bitterness of his heart, as neglectful or unjust.
Adversity, when permitted to operate in causing consideration, has a powerful tendency to inspire the mind with sincere piety and warm devotion.
The sufferer, who has experienced the instability of human affairs, feels a spontaneous inclination to seek for succour of the Almighty. He looks back on his past conduct, and he finds in it many errors, which were lost to his view in the glare of prosperity. This retrospect suggests to him, that his punishment is not the arbitrary infliction of tyrannical power, but the kind correction of paternal love. In consequence of such a persuasion, he bears his portion of evil with patience, mixed with hope, that the same merciful hand, which, for his good, afflicted him, will, when the just effect of his chastisement is produced, hold out the cup of consolation. He reforms his manners, cleanses his heart, reanimates his devotion, that the time of tribulation may be shortened, by immediately bringing forth those fruits of repentance which his sufferings were designed to cultivate and mature.
But if he who is tried by adversity, instead of having recourse to God, flies to the world for comfort, as is too commonly the case, there is every reason to believe that he will soon forget God entirely; as he seems by his conduct to be bound to him neither by love, fear, faith, nor hope. He will proceed in the same wickedness which occasioned the visitation with increased obduracy; and thus provoke the Almighty to try him with severer chastisements, without producing reformation. The total disregard of Providence while men are under affliction, and their full reliance on the vanities of the world for their support under it, if it does not originate in atheism, leads to it directly.
I have thus endeavoured to represent to you the happy effects of permitting our adversities to take their natural effect on us, to lead us to consider; and the ill consequences of plunging into dissipation, as into the fabulous river of Lethe, in the hope of burying all sense of them in oblivion.
Give me leave to recite to you the letter of a heathen, whose polished mind was adorned with virtues which would not have disgraced Christianity, in which he mentions the advantages to be derived from one species of adversity, bodily indisposition.
“The lingering disorder of a friend of mine,” says he, “gave me occasion lately to reflect, that we are never so virtuous as when oppressed with sickness. Where is the man who, under the pain of any distemper, is either solicited by avarice, or inflamed with lust? At such a season he is neither the slave of love, nor the tool of ambition; he looks with indifference upon the charms of wealth, and is content with the smallest portion of it, as being upon the point of leaving even that little. It is then he recollects that there are gods, and that he himself is but a man: no mortal is then the object of his envy, his admiration, or his contempt; and the reports of slander neither raise his attention, nor feed his curiosity. He resolves, if he recovers, to pass the remainder of his day a in ease and tranquillity; that is, in innocence and happiness. I may therefore lay down to you and to myself a short rule, which the philosophers have endeavoured to inculcate at the expense of many words, and even many volumes, That we should practise in health, those resolutions which we form in sickness.”
Thus far the polite heathen. If his advice were followed under every trial of adversity, we might indeed say with our popular poet, Sweet are the uses of adversity. But sickness differs from other states of suffering, that it disables the sufferer from pursuing dissipating pleasure. It destroys his relish of it, and debilitates his power of seeking it in the lively scenes of gay society. So that the adversity of sickness has a better chance of producing moral improvement, than any other adversity. But even in this state, many do not look up to heaven for assistance, but rely entirely on human means; and when they are recovered, return to their old practices, however injurious both to the mind and the body.
It is right indeed, as it is natural, to seek, under sickness, or any other affliction, all innocent modes of alleviation. I contend against those only which are hurtful, which counteract the effects of mental medicine, and render the sufferer's case, after the remedy has been applied, still more deplorable. I contend against seeking a cure for the wounds of the mind, in the deceitful opiates of vice and extravagance, and for trusting in the sovereign anodynes of the Christian Religion.
Let him therefore, to whom Providence shall send the bitter cup of adversity, endeavour to convert the bitterness into sweetness, by observing the following conduct.
Instead of endeavouring to harden his heart, let him co-operate with the divine grace in softening it. It will thus be rendered, like the loosened soil, fit to receive the seeds of virtue.
But how shall he soften it? By prayer and meditation; by bending under the hand of Heaven with humility and resignation; by considering his past life, and judging impartially, whether his offences have not been such as deserve the punishment inflicted. By confessing his sins, and forming resolutions of amendment. By acts of charity to those who are his companions in adversity; and by acts of justice to those whom he may have injured by thought, word, or deed, in the thoughtless hour of uninterrupted prosperity.
A fountain of comfort will thus be broken up in his heart, a ray of joy will thus burst from the clouds of his imagination, a firm pillar of support will thus be fixed in his soul; and the storms of adversity will, in the end, have no other effect, than to establish more firmly the basis of his felicity.
But let us consider the conduct of men of the world in the day of calamity. The death of those whom we love, is one of the greatest, as it is the most irremediable, misfortunes that can befall human nature. But there is a fashionable practice which entirely destroys the moral good that might be derived from it. The relatives of the departed, immediately on his expiration, fly from the house of mourning, as from a house of pestilence. They will not suffer the melancholy scene to make an impression on their minds. They hasten, with an insensibility which disgraces them as men, to the haunts of folly and vanity, to dissipate the ideas of sorrow and regret. Thus the great teacher, Death, whose lessons might be rendered highly beneficial, and greatly conducive to their happiness as well as virtue, is not suffered to detain their attention for a moment. As if hardness of heart were a desirable acquisition, it is studiously promoted, artificially and ingeniously superinduced; and they labour to bring a callus on their feelings, as the artisan at the anvil hardens the steel.
Is the adversity such as arises from the loss of fortune, the disappointment of a favourite scheme, the mortification of pride, or the downfal of ambition? In this case, does the man of the world consider the instability of human affairs; the fugacious nature of external advantages, riches, and honours; the solid value of virtue, reason, piety, contentment? No; he receives the stroke of a visiting Providence with a sullen malignity. He flies to thoughtless and malicious company. He drowns his cares in the intoxicating bowl, or endeavours to repair his loss, or find an oblivion of it, in the alluring occupations of the gaming table. Does he become industrious, frugal, sober; as he would be, if he were wise enough to seek the best methods of alleviating his injuries, and promoting his happiness? No; he loses all relish for industry, frugality, and sobriety. He wallows in indolent luxury, as far as his pecuniary supplies allow, falls into a state of beggarly profligacy, or mean dependence; and, as he lived without honour, and without enjoyment, dies wretched and unlamented.
Let us suppose the adversity to consist in a loss of reputation; instead of endeavouring to recover it by a wiser, a more virtuous, a more circumspect conduct in future, many seek only to divest themselves of all sense of shame, and learn to undervalue the esteem of the world. The consequence of losing all regard to character, is an abasement of mind, which gradually stoops to the vilest behaviour. Nothing is more easy, than the descent from virtue to vice. Conscience may be stifled, by repeated endeavours to suppress it. An audacity in profligate conduct is soon acquired, by our own efforts co-operating with the example and encouragement of audacious and profligate companions; and he who has successfully laboured in destroying his sense of shame and honour among his fellow-creatures, will soon proceed from contempt of man to contempt of God.
If, on the other hand, persons who have suffered in their character would consider, in this heavy adversity, the greatness of the misfortune, they would review their past conduct with censorial rigour, correct bad habits, make restitution for injuries, and in the serious ardour of a true repentance, fly to the protection of God against the envenomed darts of calumny. Such behaviour would be attended with the blessing of God, and would, in time, with the blessing of God, wipe off the stain of the foulest aspersion, which either their own folly, or the malice of others, should have thrown upon their name.
The grand requisite under every kind of adversity, (for to enumerate all the evils of men would transgress the limits of my discourse,) is to feel it as we ought; to bear it indeed as men; but to seek for succour of God and our reason, and not from the vanities and vices of the erring multitude. There is a kind of mental intoxication, to which it is as unwise to have recourse in trouble, as it would be, under a disease of body, to seek a temporary, but fatal, remedy in excess of wine.
But when I urge the necessity of feeling our misfortunes duly, I mean that it is necessary to feel them, in order to be improved by them; but I am far from inculcating the propriety of increasing or exasperating the anguish which they may occasion. What I say, is addressed to the more hardened among mankind, who, defying reason and religion, rely on the world and its follies for support. There are many who, possessed of finer sense, feel with most poignant sorrow all their afflictions, and to these caution is certainly necessary, lest they indulge their grief beyond the bounds of wisdom.
Afflictions in the breasts of such men often cause bodily infirmity and present death. For them the innocent amusements of the world are necessary, in conjunction with religious comfort, as a part of their medicine. Such will do right to turn their attention from the evil that presses upon them, by harmless recreation, by social intercourse, by the moderate enjoyments of convivial gaiety. But as the world is full of snares, these also must take care, when they have recourse to it for relief, lest, in seeking to forget their cares, they drink too copious draughts of oblivion, and proceed in time to forget their God.
The innocent alleviations of worldly amusement may be united in the mental medicine, with the powerful remedies of religion. To aggravate the evil that is already too heavy to be borne, would be unwise and pregnant with fatal consequences. The mind may be overladen with its burden, and unable to look to him from whom cometh help. It may sink into despair, or be lost in deplorable insanity. There is a religious melancholy, which operates with most malignant influence on human nature. Whatever contributes to prevent, or remove so great a misfortune, must, while it is innocent, be deemed not only lawful, but highly expedient: and be it remembered, that the advice contained in this discourse, is not addressed to the habitually pious and those who have tender and well-affected hearts and scrupulous consciences, but to the hardened, the careless, the profligate, and the profane. The world may afford many alleviations to the good man, when used in the day of affliction, without abusing it; but when relied upon entirely, as the main or only support, it will break under him who leans upon it, like the reed, and perhaps pierce him to the very vitals. The world may be applied as a physician applies a sweet vehicle to disguise, or render palatable, a bitter medicine; but it has no sovereign efficacy in itself; the efficacious remedy must be derived from the hand of God, who, when he smites and wounds, points out the cure. He can rain manna down from heaven, which will mitigate the bitterness of the draught immediately, and in time overcome it, by a predominance of sweetness. The world cannot afford any thing to transmute the gall into honey. All that it pretends to, is to cause an insensibility, a paralytic affection of the nerves, which is indeed a disease, a dangerous symptom, a partial death. The physician who is anxious for the recovery of his patient, had rather he should be sensible of extreme pain, than possess an ease that arises from an incipient mortification.
If there is truth in Christianity, this insensibility, or hardness of heart, which men of the world endeavour to acquire, is the greatest misfortune, the heaviest adversity that can fall to the lot of man. It either constitutes, or leads to spiritual death; when the vital influence of the Holy Spirit is no longer bestowed. Can any evil of this short existence be compared to this deplorable state? Narrow must be the understanding, and corrupt the heart, which does not see and feel, that all the grandeur, power, riches, splendour, and pleasures in the world, are dearly purchased by the loss of the favour, or the GRACE, of God.
This hardness of heart will also preclude enjoyment of prosperity, if prosperity should ever be restored; For what enjoyment can there be, when the feelings are become obtuse. Pleasure, of every kind, depends more upon the susceptibility of the percipient, than the nature of the external object. If the tongue have lost its nervous sensibility, the salt will have lost its savour.
You must have observed, on the slightest inspection of the Scriptures, that adversity is considered in them as moral medicine, bitter while it is administered, but in its effects sweet and salutary. Let me remind you of a few passages which express in the plainest terms, that adversity is inflicted on the sons of men, like the discipline of a kind instructor, and the correction of an affectionate parent. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men, but my mercy shall not depart away from him. Then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes:—Nevertheless my loving-kindness I will not utterly take from him.—Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth; therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
By these passages it is evident, however paradoxical it may appear to the common apprehensions of men, that afflictions are providential mercies. Like other benefits bestowed by Heaven, they may fail of producing their natural and intended good effect, by the perverseness of man. But it ought to be our study to co-operate with the divine intention, in deriving good from apparent evil.
Let us beware then of trusting in the world only for relief. The world has treacherously deceived its best friends; and the experience of many has confirmed the assertion of Solomon, that all secular views, exclusively and inordinately secular, terminate in vanity and vexation.
Instead of plunging into dissipation when misfortune overtakes us, let us fly, like dutiful children, to our heavenly Parent, who will not fail to pity and relieve us, as soon as the discipline inflicted shall appear, by infallible signs, to have produced the desired reformation.
Let us open our hearts for the reception of those consolatory influences which stream as from a fountain of health from the Holy Spirit, the divine Paraclete, the God of consolation. Tried by the fire of affliction, our virtues shall come from the furnace purged of impurity. Our vices shall be destroyed, our natures exalted, sublimed, and fitted for heavenly conversation. Leaving-this world, which has ever proved unsatisfactory on the death-bed, we shall thus be prepared for those mansions where adversity cannot come, where the trials of affliction shall be no more necessary, the state of probation being concluded. And God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes of the pious and penitent sufferer, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.
But what hope of this happy change can he reasonably entertain, who in his afflictions has not looked up to God, but sought comfort in this world, and its fashionable folly, levity, and vanity? As he never sought, neither will he find comfort from above. The world, to which he trusted, will shrink from him soon; and then, forlorn and comfortless, he will seek for help, and there will be none to hear his cry. The song, the dance, the proud, the gay companion in sensual gratification, will not be able to afford a ray of comfort in the time of trouble, on the verge of eternity, when the world, and the best things it contains, shall appear of no value; and when its wicked and deceitful fashions shall rise to his view in odious and disgustful shapes and colours.
The sum of all that has been offered is, that in our adversity, we suffer ourselves to be led by it to consider; that is, to think justly of our own helpless state, of the inability of the world to give us solid comfort, of the uses that may be derived from our humiliation, of the power of God to turn our sorrow into joy, by the invisible but powerful operation of his Spirit on our hearts; of the infinitely superior value of his grace and favour to all that the world can give or take away, of the shortness of life, and the rewards of a better; which, if we act consistently with our profession as Christians, we must believe capable of compensating our afflictions, which are comparatively but for a moment, with an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. The God of all grace therefore, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.