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FOR JANUARY, 1821.
From the London Methodist Magazine.
A SERMON FOR NEW YEAR'S DAY;
Translated from the French of the Rev. Charles Bertheau, Pastor of the French Church in
London. Published in 1712.
2 Cor. iv. 18." While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen ; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Nothing can be more absurd and contradictory to itself, than man, in his conduct with regard to a future state. At one time he yields to fear, as if he were only mortal; at another, his boundless ambition and aspiring hope, lead him to act as if he were wholly immortal. Is he threatened by temporal calamities? His thoughts are absorbed in the present life; he despairs of futurity: the smallest circumstance which presages the dissolution of his body, disconcerts and alarms him; he has recourse to the meanest expedients to ward off the stroke, and seems as if he considered himself only like the beast, which, when it yields up its breath, is annihilated. But the same person, who under the influence of fear thinks him. self only mortal, when actuated by his aspiring hopes and boundless ambition, seems to think himself only immortal. He extends his plans as if they were for eternity; he builds as though he and his houses were to endure from age to age; he makes provision for an illimitable duration, and wishes to establish an unfading name, as if he himself should always taste its pleasures. Behold, my brethren, a mystery in the human heart, which appears incomprehensible, which the ancient philosophers could never explain, and on which they have run into the same contradictions that are found in the heart of man itself. Some have asserted that man is merely like the beast ; that he ought to confine his views within the circle of visible creatures; and that to go beyond these is rid. iculous presumption. Others have maintained that he ought to trample upon and despise all earthly things, and consider himself as a God eternal and immutable. Whilst others, uniting these two considerations, and unable to conceive the same nature capable of sentiments and feelings so opposite, attributed unto man two souls, the one mortal, the other immortal. This mystery would still be impenetrable, and render us a paradox to ourselves, if this contradiction of our passions and desires, of our fear and ambition, did not lead us into the truth; in shewing us that, as both are founded in our nature, man is both mortal and immortal ; that he is like the beast which perishes, by sin which subjects him to the same passions, and makes him liable to the same end; but like unto God who endures for ever, being created in his image, and designed for the enjoyment of him. Fear proves man's mortality and wretchedness, presumption his immortality; and the fear which teaches him that he himself and every thing around him must perish, warns him not to set his affections on things of earth ; whilst the presumption which inspires him with immoderate desires and boundless ambition, places him above this lower world, and teaches him that God alone can satisfy him. Thus I reconcile man with himself, and from hence I take the two heads of my discourse on the words of the Apostle, where, assigning the reason why the good and evil of the present life makes so slight an impression on the Christian, he teaches us his true character: on the one hand he feels a holy indifference towards that which is mortal and perishing, and on the other is strongly attached to the things which are eternal and unchangeable, and ardently pursues them :“ Looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen ; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” This text divides itself into two parts : what we are not to look at, and what we are; we are not to look at the things which are se'n, because they are temporal: we must look at the things which are not seen, because they are elernal.
Part 1. By the things which are seen, the Apostle means those objects of sense or appetite, which give rise io ti at threefold desire which reigns in the world, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life: not merely thit which strikes the sight, but whatever pleases the imagination, or appears desirable throughout the vast range oi terrestial creaiures. We need not long insist on the proposition which the Apostle lays own: viz. that these things ari temporal. It is suiliceul 10 observe, thit in every respect they are but of short duration. li we consider them in their own nature, their leading feature is instability. Divine Providence has appointed that they should be perpetuated by a continual revolution of rise and fall, production and decay; so that they are ever varying. If we consider them with regard to the change produced in them by the sin of the first man, we shall see, that in consequence of the rebellion of the head of nature against the Sovereign of the universe, the whole creation is doomed to ruin and destruction. In heinous offences vengeance is sometimes inflicted on the families and possessions of the offender; as in the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who for their rebellion against Moses were swallowed up, together with their servants and possessions. So the revolt of the first man has not only entailed death on his own posterity, but has also sown the seeds of corruption and death amongst all those inferior creatures which depend on him. Hence originate wars which desolate the earth, the perpetual opposition of elements, and conflict of jarring principles, which tend to dissolve the far ric of nature, and which will finally prove its total overthrow. And hence arise that vanity and changeableness, which the Apostle regards as the natural result of our first parents' sin : “ The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.
If you consider the things that are seen with regard to particular sins, which pervert them from their proper use, you find them temporal, rendered so by a peculiar curse which withers them and hastens their end. Fruit, naturally corruptible, is sometimes prematurely destroyed by a secret worm : the human frame, which, according to the common course of nature, might endure a season longer, is sometimes, by an unex. pected malady, cut off at a stroke. Just so with the things which are seen; though perishable in themselves, yet they disappear much more quickly, because the vices of men infect them with a destructive leprosy. Thus worldly splendour vanishes almost as soon as it is seen : “ The glory of Ephr:im shall ny away like a bird from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.” Riches corrupt whilst the coveteous man accumulaies them: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you ; your riches are corrupted, your garments are moth-eaten, your gold and silver is cankered.” Houses built of the substance of the orphan and widow, shall he overthrown : “ And I will smite the winter-house, and the summer-house, and the house of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord."
If you consider the things which are seen with regard to man's attachment unto them, were these things even durable in themseves, yet they would be but temporary to us. The human
heart cannot long be confined to the same enjoyment, we must hawe variety; one pleasure no sooner appears than it gives place to another; we weary ourselves in pursuit of vanity, and even when we feel ourselves inclined to rest in any object, a superior power separates us from it ; in a little time it dies to us, or we die to it. Therefore the Sacred Writings, in describing the short duration of earthly enjoyments, represent them by objects the most fleeting and momentary. They are, say they, fading flowers, withering grass, ebbing torrents, passing shadows, and dreams that vanish; they tell us they are fleeter than the wind, swifter than a post, and more light and unsubstantial than vanity itself: were they weighed in the balance together they would be lighter than vanity, Psa. 62. But, as I have already said, this instability is felt and seen, mankind acknowledge it in general terms ; but here lies the evil, whilst they acknowledge their instability in general terms, they act as if they thought them eternal: this practical illusion we must combat by the conclusion of St. Paul,“ Looking not at the things which are seen."
To look at the things which are seen is, 1. To consider them with too much attention and assiduity, 2. To value them more highly than they deserve. 3. To admit them to an improper place in our affections. And, 4. To bound our views and wishes by them, resting in them as our end. And from these four particulars I take four arguments in support of the Apostle's proposition.
1. Looking not at the things which are seen so as to consider them with too much attention and assiduity, because they are temporal, and we want leisure for this purpose. The fugitive and uncertain state of the things which are seen does not admit of that careful and assiduous investigation which is required to understand them thoroughly. Properly to comprehend their nature it would be necessary to contemplate them in a fixed state, and to have leisure and opportunity to examine them on every side; yet, as they are but for a lime, they elude our observation, and leave us only their shadow and external image. An ancient philosopher observed, that it is impossible to bring natural science to perfection, because the objects of the sciences should be permanent; but nature is in perpetual fluctuation, like the waters of a flowing stream, which glide away while we gaze upon them. And for this reason he thought it folly to attempt to penetrate the secrets of nature. With a little allowance we may say the same, we cannot contemplate the things of this world in a fixed point of view, because we never find them twice in the same situation, and the perpetual flux which carries them away perplexes and bewilders our ideas. In vain does the curious attempt to find out