« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
It is the common practice of mankind to seek advice from those whose skill and experience qualify them to impart it. As this suggestion of prudence is confirmed by daily observation, we propose to apply the principle to a subject of unquestionable importance. Our object is to test the value of worldly good by the recorded experience of one who was,
every respect, qualified to form a correct estimate of the object of universal pursuit.
While, however, we would cheerfully acknowledge the relative value of providential favours, it is our chief design to
expose the folly of exclusive devotion to the attainment of temporal good. It is quite unnecessary to pause here to show the prevalence of that mistake which assigns the highest value to inferior blessings ; since the most cursory glance at the conversation, habits, and exertion of multitudes conveys the affecting truth, that as it regards the end of their creation, they are, at present, under a pitiable delusion.
Now as a Divine revelation was intended to correct our folly, it employs, for this purpose, a wise and suitable variety of ineans. These are positive precepts, solemn warnings, cheering encouragements, and impressive examples: from the last of these we propose to select one with a view to illustrate and enforce our remarks.
The example, then, which we intend to adduce, will most admirably serve our purpose.—It is one which, in every respect, will be found weighty and instructive ; and as a brief sketch of his life will assist our judgment, we shall exhibit those views of his condition which are furnished by inspired authority. He was the son of a king illustrious for his piety, valour, and success. He was carefully brought up in the wisdom and learning of the period, and before the death of his father was publicly crowned as his successor. His reign was one of increasing splendour. The judgments which he pronounced showed a deep knowledge of human nature, and conduced largely to his reputation. He contracted an alliance with the powerful kingdom of Egypt, and extended the empire to its widest limits. He was honoured with the erection of a temple, which, for the costliness of its materials, the beauty of its appearance, and the sublime grandeur of its consecration, stands unrivalled. The royal city was adorned with sumptuous palaces, and his court was thronged with visitors from all the countries around, who gazed with astonishment at the profusion of his wealth, or listened in silent admiration to the utterance of his almost super-human wisdom. Some of the sovereigns of the east almost envied the guards that surrounded his majestic throne.
The resources of bis enjoyment were as large as wisdom, power, and wealth could create. The productions of foreign climes, and the fruits of his own fertile land, equally ministered to his pleasure. His palaces were surrounded by gardens of enchanting beauty ; bis ears were delighted with the melody of song; and his voluptuous enjoyments were such as royalty alone could command.
Such was the exalted condition of a man, who for forty years, received the homage which power, wisdom, and success inevitably bring; who, after having passed from one scene of enjoyment to another, and having tried every
cistern of earthly bliss, left the world with the melancholy confession, “ ALL IS VANITY AND VEXATION OF SPIRIT. Eccles. i. 14.
Here then we have an affecting proof of the inadequacy of temporal good to meet the wants of man. The case before us, is, when properly considered, more forcible than a cursory glance would lead us to believe ; but since some might object to our making a single example decisive of the question, we undertake to show that it contains sufficient to convince every unprejudiced mind. Every one has a right to demand three things in the instance before us.
1. Ample opportunity to enjoy a variety of worldly good, because there might be some kinds of good with which he was not acquainted, and respecting which he could form no estimate. The favoured monarch, whose circumstances we are considering, enjoyed such a variety of pleasures as perhaps never fell to the lot of any other mortal.
His riches were so great that the bucklers of his guards were overlaid with gold. His power was unlimited. His will was law. His wisdoni was proverbial. He possessed all these, and employed them for the purposes of his gratification. Wealth can procure much : wealth and power can procure more. Some are rich, but destitute of authority. Some are wise, but impoverished. Some enjoy the luxury of
power, but are deprived of wisdom. But whatever may be the condition of others, all these centered in the example
II. Sufficient time to consider the nature of temporal good, because the transient enjoyment of a large variety of good would not be considered sufficient to justify a change
of opinion. The period during which this trial lasted, is, we believe, adequate for the most thorough and satisfactory inquiry. It extended over the space of forty years.
The wants of the body, and the cravings of the mind, had been experienced, and there was time to modify the accustomed sources of enjoyment; to try them under new circumstances; or, if satiated with the usual routine of pleasure, to explore some newly-discovered region of delight.
III. An ability to judge. Of this we have a safe guarantee in the wisdom for which he was so eminent. He was not an ignorant sensualist, or a vulgar profligate; but one whose reflections on men and things evince close observation, great sagacity, and profound study. Thus all the essentials requisite for the formation of a correct and impartial judgment are found in the subject of our remarks.
This confession of the utter vanity of temporal good for the better part of man's nature, has been confirmed by dying ķings, and by the bitter sensations of suffering which have rendered the last hours of life, in many instances, painfully illustrative of its truth. It is to save you, reader, from such scenes of disappointment, and to lead you to seek a better portion, that we append the following reflections.
I. Exclusive pursuit of temporal good inverts the established order of things. That order may speedily be discerned by opening the
pages of Holy Writ. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment,” Matt. xxii. 37. Thus God is to be loved supremely, and all other objects in proportion to their subserviency to this great and noble end. The present system of things teaches us the principle of subordination to some great plan. God has made the earth minister to the nutriment and growth of the plant; the plant to serve and supply living creatures ; but all for the use and comfort of man. He evidently intended that man should be the living priest in this lower temple, and since he was endowed with faculties to perceive and appreciate this beneficent arrangement, that he should, from a survey of such surprising goodness, feel complacency in His character from whom it had proceeded. For it is He “who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven," Job xxxv. 11.
But if the objects of common anxiety engross all our care, to the exclusion of delight in the Divine excellences, and a supreme regard to the Lord Jesus Christ, we disturb the arrangements of Divine wisdom, and make the creatures which were appointed to serve us, the objects of idolatrous devotion; so that instead of using them as the steps to conduct us into the presence of our God, who must be worshipped “in spirit and in truth,” we gaze fondly upon their attractions until they steal away the heart, beguile the affections, and intercept the adoration due to Jehovah alone.
Such conduct will remind the reader of
“ Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell
PARADISE Lost, b. i. 678—683. It will thus appear, that to constitute temporal blessings the exclusive object of pursuit, is to raise the subordinate to the rank of the Supreme, and to assign His honour a secondary place in our regard, who hath said, “My glory will I not give to another,” Isaiah xlii. 8. We remark again, that
II. Temporal good is inadequate to the wants of man. When we speak of the wants of man, we include the whole of his nature. Food and raiment are necessary, but something more is indispensable. There are urgent wants which neither wealth nor power can satisfy. There is, then, an incompatibility between many temporal blessings and the cravings of the mind. Gold will not satisfy them. There are desires of the spirit so peculiar in their character as to defy the whole realm of external nature to meet them. The affecting example which has been adduced, abundantly corroborates the statement. The author of the confession said, “ The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing;” and “A wounded spirit who can bear ?"
There is also a limitation in worldly good. Man is a rising and growing creature. The supplies of childhood are insufficient for youth ; those of youth for manhood; those of manhood for old age. Now the capacity of earthly enjoyments is limited, and fixed by the unalterable law of our Ruler and Judge. They can no more overpass the boundaries which he has allotted ihem, than the waves of the sea can burst their enclosure. We must, therefore, admit, that by the conditions of our existence we outgrow the capacity of things around us to administer pure and substantial enjoy. ment. The toys of infancy are neglected by the expand