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(Addressed particularly to Youth.)
Proverbs Hi. 17.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
IT is a maxim admitted by all the world, that "Every one is drawn by pleasure." But it is the misery of our fallen nature, that we are not drawn so much by the best pleasures, as by the worst; that the pleasures we generally prefer end in pain; and that the pleasures we commonly neglect, are such as would make us happy for ever. These are the pleasures of religion, called in our text, the ways of wisdom; by which we may understand the ways prescribed to .us by Christ, who is Wisdom itself, and the pursuit of which is the true wisdom of man; for " the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding."
All men seek happiness; but few know where to find it. They may be compared to a number of seamen, sailing from different ports, in quest of a very rich and beautiful country, which they have heard much of, but never saw: and the greater part of whom set out without a map or compass: is it any wonder if few of them ever reach the desired spot? Just so it is with young persons, who are eagerly desirous of pleasure; they are willing to take any pains, or run any risk for it; but they never
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seriously inquire what is true happiness; and how they may certainly acquire it? Now, if we will take Jesus Christ for our Counsellor, (and "none teacheth like him,") he will assure us that "his ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace." Satan indeed says that the ways of sin are pleasantness; so he told Eve: she believed him: and you know the consequence. Satan also says that the ways of religion are painful and irksome. But whom will you believe, the God of truth, or, "the father of lies;" he that "cannot lie," or "he that deceiveth the whole world?" God's testimony is true; and it is confirmed by ten thousand witnesses. All the good men that ever lived will bear witness to the pleasures of religion: yea, the death-beds of wicked men are constrained to confess the same.
But let us now consider, What the pleasures of religion are; and we may rank them under the following heads:
I. The possession of Christian graces.
II. The enjoyment of Christian privileges; and,
III. The performance of Christian duties.
I. The possession of Christian graces is a source of pleasure.
The great thing which distinguishes a real Christian from another man is, his having the Spirit. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;" and whoever has the Spirit has the seal of God, and the earnest of heaven. "The water that I shall give him," said Christ, when speaking of the Spirit, "shall be in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life." Now, the Spirit of" God is the author of a new and divine life in the soul of a believer. He is born of God. He is a new creature. Every grace is implanted in the soul; the exercise of which is as natural and pleasant to the new nature, as the due exercise of our senses is to the natural man.
Knowledge: the knowledge of God in Christ, is pleasant. It is to the soul what the light of the sun is to the body. "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." St. Paul, who was blessed with this knowledge, "counted all things but loss for the excellency of it;" and was so delighted with it, that "he determined to know nothing else."
Faith is a pleasant grace. It gives subsistence to things unseen. It realizes the world to come. It beholds Jesus, though invisible to the carnal eye. It sees him on the cross, and on the throne; and seeing him, it "rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory." This is the grace that receives the promises; the "exceeding great and precious promises," and derives infinite sweetness and satisfaction from them.
Repentance has its pleasures too—our Lord himself being judge. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." If there be any thing in religion that seems unpleasant, it is this; and yet there is more satisfaction in the tears that are shed for our sins, than there was pleasure in the commission of them. Besides, "he that sows in tears shall reap in joy;" and it is far better to smart for sin on earth, than to burn for it in hell.
Hope is certainly a pleasant grace. Hope is the cordial of life. The believer's hope is well founded. It is "a good hope, through grace;" not the hope of the hypocrite, which is a flash of light, followed by the blackness of eternal darkness. It is "a lively hope," that shall never make ashamed, for it is founded on Jesus, the rock of ages.
Love is undoubtedly pleasant—the Love of God. God, reconciled in Christ, is the proper object of the creature's love. All the misery that mortals ever knew, is in consequence of forsaking God, and transferring their love to sin; nor can true happiness ever be known, till the soul returns to God. The love of our neighbour too, affords unspeakable pleasure. There is no luxury upon earth equal to that of doing good. It resembles the happiness of God himself.
II. The enjoyment of Christian privileges is another spring of religious pleasure.
It is the Christian's privilege to have peace with God, through faith in the blood of Christ. Whoever, under a sense of his sin and misery, flies to the refuge of the Saviour's arms, is gladly received, and freely pardoned. In the fountain of his blood, he is washed from all sin. In the righteousness of Jesus, he is justified from all accusations. He is no longer in a state of condemnation; he has "passed from death unto life." And what condition can equal this? If a number of prisoners were in jail under sentence of death, and one was brought out by the king's pardon, who would be thought happy? the pardoned man, though clothed with rags; or the criminals within, though clothed with purple, and faring sumptuously every day? The pardoned man, however poor, would be reckoned far happier than the condemned malefactors, however rich. And so in this case—" Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." A sense of this in the conscience, is the greatest happiness upon earth; it is "the peace that passeth all understanding." And it is sad to think that the greater part of mankind live without this; and are deluding themselves with & false peace—for " there is no peace to the wicked," or, none but the devil's peace. Oh, how can wicked men enjoy themselves at all! If their eyes were open they would be like Belshazzar at his impious feast; the hand-writing upon the wall spoils all his mirth: so would it be with the ungodly man at the play-house, the card-table, the alehouse, or the dancing-room; he would see Sin, Wrath, Death, Judgment, and Hell, written, as it were, in flaming letters on the wall; he would tremble with fear, and take no rest, till he obtained the blessed privilege, "peace with God " by the blood of Christ
This holy calm sometimes swells into sacred Joy; yea, "Joy unspeakable and full of glory;" for the kingdom of God is not only righteousness and peace, but "joy in the Holy Ghost." What joy results to a believer from the consideration of the hell he has escaped, the pardon he has obtained, the grace he has received, and the glory which awaits him! Every thing that can contribute to human joy, and ten thousand times more, unite to make him a happy man. The contemplation of Christ alone is enough. What wonders of grace and glory meet in him! All that is great, noble, amiable, heavenly, is seen in Jesus. All power, wisdom, patience, grace, mercy, love, and faithfulness are combined in him. "He is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely." And when the believer can add, "This is My beloved, and this is My friend!" his joy is full. And well may that object create bliss in the heart, which is the heaven of heaven above; for we have no higher idea of celestial felicity, than that it consists in "being with Christ, and beholding his glory."
What a privilege is Adoption into the family of God !" To as many as have received Christ, he hath given power to become the sons of God." And oh, "what manner of love is this!" "Pardoned rebels taken into the house of God, into the arms of God, yea, into the heart of God!" "I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." And this not a formal title, or an empty name, like many of those nominal