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My brethren, I am persuaded that this subject can hard. ly be, at any time, unfeasonable to a Christian assembly, as our misplaced, excessive, and unreasonable desires are the greateit enemies to our progress in holiness, as well as to our comfort and peace. Perhaps, however, there are fome circumstances that render it peculiarly proper for this auditory. Young persons are very apt to cherish vast and boundless defires as to outward things; and having not yet experienced the deceitfulness of the world, are apt to entertain exceflive and extravagant hopes. The truth is, rich and poor, young and old, may here receive a lefson of the utmost moment.
Let me therefore intreat your attention, while I endea. vor to open and improve this passage of the holy scriptures; beginning, at this time, with the first requeft“Renove far from me vanity and lies.”
In discoursing on which, I will endeavor,
I. 'To explain the import of it, or shew at what it chiefly points, and to what it may be supposed to extend.
II. Apply the fubject for your instruction and directi.
I. I am to explain the import of the prophet's prayer, or shew at what it chiefly points, and to what it may be fuppofed to extend, in the petition, “ Remove far from sme vanity and lies.” The word vanity, especially when it is joined, as it is frequently in fcripture, with lying, or lies, is of a very large and comprehensive fignification. The word in the original, translated vanity, properly fig. nifies lightness or emptiness ; and lies signify falschood, in opposition to truth.
I imagine we shall have a clear conception, both of the meaning and force of this phrase, if we make the following remark : God himself is the great fountain of life and existence; the great I AM, as he emphatically styles him. self to Mofes; the original and the only reality, if I may fo fpeak. All other beings have only a dependent and precarious existence ; so that the creation itself, though his own work, compared to him, is vanity. Vanity of vanities, faith the preacher, vanity of vanities, all is va. " nity.” Therefore, in a particular manner, the word is often used to denote the folly of all idolatrous worship; or the giving the respect and honor to any thing else, which is due to God alone. They have moved me to jealousy “ with that which is not God, they have provoked me to “ anger with their vanities. Are there any among the “ vanities of the Gentiles, that can cause rain; or can “ the heavens give showers, art thou not he, O Lord our “ God.”
Sometimes it is used to denote the folly or unprofitableness of any vice, and particularly of an ill-founded conceit of ourselves, as well as of all fraud and diffimulation, in word or action. So that this prayer for our souls, short as it appears to be, when considered in its full extent, will be found to contain a great variety of important matter.This I shall endeavor to give you a brief account of, under the following particulars.
1. We are hereby taught to pray, that we may be pre. ferved by divine grace, from all false and erroneous prin. ciples in religion; so as we may neither be deceived by them ourselves, nor any way instrumental in deceiving others. This, by what has been said of the use of the words in fcripture, appears to be implied in the request, and it is of more moment than some are willing to allow, The understanding being the leading faculty, an error there, spreads its unhappy influence through the whole temper and life. Whereas, on the contrary, light in the mind produces fidelity and security in the conscience, and tenderness in the conversation. You nay observe, that through the whole history of the Old Testament, idolatry, or a departure from the knowledge and worship of the true God, is the leading sin, and the fruitful source of every other vicious practice. We sometimes, indeed, seem to ftand astonished at the exceflive proneness of the ancient Jews to this sin. But we need only a little reflection to discover, that an evil heart of unbelief continues the same at bottom, and daily produces the like dangerous. effects. How prone have men been in all ages, to depart from the fimplicity of the truth
In how many different shapes
have they perverted it! One age, or one country, has been polluted by one error, and another by an opposite, impelled by the unstable and irregular fancies of men of corrupt minds. In the last age, the great theme of the carnal reasoner was, to attempt to expose the scripture doctrine of God's certain knowledge, and precise ordination of all events; and in this, fate and necessity have become the strong hold of infidelity, and are embraced, or seem to be embraced, by every enemy of true religion without exception. Error, shifting its ground, indeed, is but natural ; for lying vanities are innumerable; but the true God is the same “ yesterday, to day, and forever."
At this very time, how abounding and prevalent is infidelity, calling in question the most important and fun. damental principles, both of natural and revealed religion! And how properly is this described, bythe expreslion in the text, vanity and lies; for it always takes its rise from the pride and vanity of the human heart! Sometimes a pride of understanding, which aspires to pass judgment on things far above its reach, and condemn things long before they are examined and understood : Sometimes, also, from a pride of heart, or self-fufficiency, that is unable to endure the humbling and niortifying view, given us in fcripture, of our character and state. Oh how readily do men turn aside from the truth! With what greedinels do they drink in the flattering but destructive poison! Need I point out to you the fatal effects of such principles taking place? It loosens the obligations to obedience, takes off the edge of the reprooss of conscience, and thus removing restraints, leaves men, in the emphatical language of the holy fcripture, “to walk in the ways of their own hearts, " and in the fight of their own eyes."
But in this request,“ remove far from me vanity and * lies,” I would not have you confine your views to the molt gross infidelity and avowed opposition to God. Pray also, that you may be preserved from error, or mistake of any kind; but especially such as have the greatest influ. ence on the substance of religion.
A clear apprehension of the holy nature, and righteous government of God--the infinite evil of lin-the founda
tion of our peace in the blood of the atonement--and the renewing of our natures by the Holy Ghost, seem to me absolutely necessary to true and undefiled religion. And they are the truths, which particularly ferve to exalt the Creator, and lay the creature in the dust. When, therefore, we consider how grateful to corrupt nature every thing is, that tends to foster pride—to create security, and fet the mind at ease, in the indulgence of fin; we must be sensible of how great importance it is, to pray for divine direction, and divine preservation. Nothing is more dangerous to men than confidence and presumption-nothing more useful in faith and practice, than humility and selfdenial.
2. This prayer implies, a desire that we may be preserved from setting our affections on such objects, as are but vain and unsatisfying, and will, in the end, disappoint our expectation. I take this to be not only a part, but a very important part of the prophet's meaning. The world is the great source of temptation; the powerful and unhappy influence of which we may daily fee; or rather, all of us daily and sensibly feel. What is it possesses the fancy, misleads the judgnient, inflames the affections, confumes the time, and ruins the foul, but these present enjoyments, of which the wisest of men, after a full trial of them, hath left us their character vanity of vanities.
I am sensible that I have now entered upon a subject, which is far from being difficult to enlarge upon, and yet perhaps, very difficult to treat with propriety, or in such a manner, as to have the intended effect. There is no. thing more easy than, in a bold declamatory way, to draw pictures of the vanity of human life. It hath been done by thoufands, when, after all their broken schemes, and disappointed views, they have just suffered fhipwreck upon the coast of the enchanted land of hope. But from such men we may expect to hear the language of despair, ras ther than of experience; and as it is too late for the inftruction of the fufferers, so it very rarely has any effect in warning others to avoid the danger. What I would, therefore, willingly attempt, is, to consider this matter in a sober scriptural light; if so be that it may please God
to carry conviction to our hearts, and make it truly use: ful, both to speaker and hearers.
Let me, therefore, my brethren, point out to you, precisely, where in the vanity of the world lieth. The world, in itself, is the workmanship of God, and every thing that is done in it, is by the orclination, or permission of God.. As fich, it is good, and may be used in fubferviency, to his honor, and our own peace. But through the corrup. tien of our nature, the creature becomes the rival and competitor of the Creator for our hearts. ----When we place our fupreme happiness upon it, instead of making it a mean of leading us to God, then its inherent vanity inmediately appears.--When men allow themfelves in the indulgence of vicious' pleasures, how justly may they be called vanity and lies? They are smiling and inviting to appearance, but how dreadful and dettructive in their effects? “Whoredom and wine, and new wine take away " the heart.” Those who refuse to be confined by the laws of piety and fobriety, vainly think they are walking at liberty, when they are bringing themselves into fub. jection to the feverest aud most inflexible of all masters. Read the juft and striking description, by Solomon, of the effects of whoredoin; and reflect on the innumerable calamities brought, in every age, on persons and families by unbridled luft. See also the effects of intemperance and excess-_"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, " and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wife." And again: “the drunkard and glutton shall come to poverty. “ Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth “ its colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright; at “ last, it biteth like a serpent, and singeth like an adder.”
Think on the unhappy confequences, of dishonelly and fraud. 61 Bread of deceit is sweet to a man, but after. “wards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.”—You may also fee, in innumerable pafruges of scripture, that opprelfion of others, as it is a sin of the deepest dye, so it is often Temarkably overtaken, and punished in the course of Providence, even in the present life. "Envy thou not the
oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the froward Vol. II.