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THE END OF LIFE.
REV. J. A. JAMES,
SURREY CHAPEL, MAY 3, 1835.
Seek ve first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.”—MATTHEW, vi. 33.
Religion—including its incumbent duties and its inestimable privileges is the great end of life. I repeat the expression, and then make a momentary pause, that you may take in, and revolve, the entire subject of the evening's discourse : Religion is the great end of life.
To illustrate and sustain this proposition is my aim on the present occasion. It is infinitely momentous, and it pertains to us all. There is, there can be but one supreme end of existence. If we miss or mistake this, we shall have lived in vain; and as life is continually drawing to a close, and may close at any future moment, it discovers brutish ignorance, or brutish apathy, or both, never to stop, as we are hurrying through existence, to ask the questions, “What am I? Whence did I come? Whither am I going? What is the design of God in sending me into the world? What is to be my destiny when I go home ?" And yet how many are there that never ask these questions ! Some are sauntering : ay existence; others are entirely mistaking the design of it; for Religion is the great end of life.
I will explain the terms of this proposition. I say the great end of life ; for there are many subordinate and inferior ones. It is the design of God in sending us here that we should keep up society and improvement; that we should provide for our own comfort during our sojourn in the present world, and for the comfort of our families. These are ends, and legitimate ends of life; are not the supreme purpose of God in creating us. This is announced in the text: “ Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness"—the blessings of the Christian dispensation bestowed by God in a way of righteousness. Seek these first as the objects of greatest importance—as those which are to be supreme in your desires, pursuits, and engagements.
Religion, I say, is the great end of life. By religion I do not mean the adoption of a creed, however orthodox ; nor the perforınance of a round of ceremonies, however scriptural, decent, and proper. By religion I mean a supreme, habitual, practical regard to the Word of God as the foundation of our hope as sinners, the rule of our conduct as creatures and as Christians; an habitual living in the fear of God, the love of Christ, and the hope of heaven; a life of “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ"- a life of holiness, and prayer, and watchfulness, and benevolence. Such a religion is the great end of life.
I shall sustain this proposition by the four following proofs : the testimony of Scripture; the revealed design of God in all his dispensations towards inen ; the nature of religion; and the brevity of human life, in connexion with the life that is to come.
In the first place, I prove this proposition by reference to THB TESTIMONY OP SCRIPTURE.
It is scarcely needed to quote particular passages ; the whole Bible supports the sentiment. The Word of God stands at the very centre of human society and human affairs, to correct the mistakes, to reprove the follies, and to guide the conduct of mankind in reference to the life that is to come. All its doctrines, all its precepts, all its promises, all its prospects, may be summed up in substance in the sentence which I have already frequently repeated : Religion is the end of life. The Bible is a heaven-kindled beacon, to guide the voyagers over the stormy ocean of human life to the haven of eternal rest. It is placed on the high road to another world, to direct its travellers, and bears this inscription as its finger points to eternity—“ TO IMMORTALITY.” It is ever saying to the children of men, “ Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money; come ye, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread ? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." The man who for a moment doubts whether the supreme end of existence be vital godliness, places himself in direct opposition to the testimony of Scripture, and does not so much mistake it, as contradict it.
But perhaps many will be struck more with particular passages than with the substance of the whole. Take, then, the text : what can be more explicit ? This is the language of Christ : “ Seek ye first," as that which is of most importance, as that which should be most desired, as that which you should be most anxious to possess, as that without possessing which you should feel that you are poor, or in the possession of which you should account yourselves rich, though you had nothing else: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righte
The context is equally explicit. In the nineteenth verse we read thus : “ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” This language is not intended to stop the current of human affairs, to paralyze the arm of industry, to abstract man altogether from his connexion with society, to enclose him within the walls of a convent or a monastery; but it is intended to teach him that every thing earthly is to be subordinate to that which is heavenly; that all things temporal are inferior to those which are eternal ; that Religion is the one great end of life.
In the latter part of the chapter our Lord tells us to “ take no thought " no anxious thought, no supreme solicitude, about what we are to eat, or drink, or wear. Not that these things are to be utterly and entirely banished from the human mind, but they are all to be brought into subjection to higher and nobler pursuits. We find in the Gospel of John this language: “ Labour not for the meat which perisheth;" that is, Labour not so much for the mcat which perisheth; “ but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." The Apostle Paul teaches us the same lesson when he says, “ To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek”—as the end of life" for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” Our Lord's words on another occasion are equally important: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul ? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?" We are in another place admonished, " Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoerer ye do, do it all to the glory of God:" “ Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth :" “ Look not at the things which are seen and temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternal.” Certainly as God knows the end for which he sent us into the world, and as he has thus 80 explicitly made known that end, we are guilty of a contempt of divine authority if there be one single object, however important in other respects it may be, that we set above religion, and those blessings which are included in it, and insuperably connected with it.
Secondly, I support this proposition by reference to the REVBALBD DESIGN of God in all his dispensations toward the human race.
For what purpose has God created this world ? Not to be our abiding place, not to be our inheritance, not to be our perpetual possession. It is only a place of transit, where we have no continuing city, and are not permitted long to abide-through which we are passing to some other world beyond it. What is the design of all the dispensations of Divine Providence? If he give us prosperity, it is not to rivct our affections to the world; it is only to remind us of the goodness of Jehovah, and how much better blessings there are that he is waiting to bestow if we ask him in the right way. If he should place us in adversity, it is not to sport with our distress, it is not to take pleasure in our affliction; but it is to wean us from the present state, to lead us to seek that sorrowless world which he has promised to them that love him.
But I especially refer you to his great work, the work of redemption—to the incarnation, sufferings, and death of his Son. Upon the summit of the cross may we read this inscription in legible and bright characters, “ Religion is the great end of man:” for “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Son of God became not incarnate-gave not his tears, his blood, his life, his death, for objects so mean, so comparatively insignificant as wealth, as fame, as literature, as science, as pleasure. No; the agonies, the tears, the blood of the Son of God, were given for the salvation of the soul, that man should be a partaker of true religion; that we should be brought to repentance towards God, and faith in Him who is able to save to the uttermost. The cross is the exponent of God's designs towards us : and that man alone can be in harmony with God in the end of his existence, who is making the salvation of nis soul through faith in Jesus, the great purpose of life. · This is the only way in which he can be brought into fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. The man who opposes, by the habit of his life, the career or his conduct, the design of the Son of God in coming into our world, that man is ci-teating the end of his existence ; he cannot be agreed with God; he i aot of one mind with Jehovah: he is living for some other purpose than that for which God gave his Son to die upon the cross.
Thirdly, I prove that religion is the great end of life, by a reference to the NATURE OF RELIGION itself. Whatever he the end of life, it must, I think, be admitted by all to have the following properties.
In the first place, it must be transcendently excellent. The great, and wise, and good God, would never propose to us as the purpose of our coming into this world, and living in it, that which was mean and inconsiderable. Examine the nature of religion ; what is it? The knowledge, the love, and the enjoyment of the Infinite God himself in all his attributes : the union of the soul with the Lord Jesus Christ, and the participation of that fulness which was treasured up in him, for the redemption of the world : the recepcion, and the impress of eternal and invariable truth : the enjoyment of the chief good, the practice of the highest virtue: the foretaste of heaven, the pledge of immortality: the image of Jehovah stamped upon the mind: the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwelling in the breast; and all the holy dispositions of the angelic host forming the character. This is religion. What is wealth, what is fame, what is literature, compared with this? What, but dim and smoking tapers, held up amidst the blaze of the noon-day sun: empty hubbles, compared with a fountain of clear and crystal water. How less than nothing and vanity do all these things appear, put in competition with religion !
Secondly, that which is the great end of life must not only be transcendently excellent, but it must be also absorutely certain in its attainment, if sought in the right way. Will this apply to any thing short of true godliness? Can skill the most consummate, and industry the most unwearied, always command wealth? Can the competitor for fame always ensure the envied palm? Can the votary of pleasure calculate with certainty on the means and opportunities of gratification? Can the humble aspirant after domestic enjoyment always bar the door against poverty, disease, and death? Does not uncertainty characterize every thing earthly? Where one succeeds do not many fail? Is not the precarious nature of every thing earthly and every thing human proverbial? Are we then to be mocked with shadows-condemned to the pursuit of phantoms? Can that be the end of existence which sought with ever so much industry we cannot be certain of obtaining? No.
But now, my hearers, think of religion. Whoever sought this, and sought it in God's way of bestowing the blessing, and sought it in vain? O, it is delightful, that here, where it is of most importance, all uncertainty should be excluded—that here is certainty. When the trembling jailor at Philippi crouched at the feet of his prisoners, and in the anguish of his mind uttered that important question, “ What shall I do to be saved ?" what was the answer given by these heaven-commissioned, heaven-inspired men ? « Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and"-possibly “thou mayest be saved ?" Probably • thou mayest be saved ?" No; 5Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." There is a glory in that little insignificant monosyllable “shalt," which is not to be found throughout the whole range of human pursuits and earthly objects, as attaching to them. It is the glory of the Gospel that there is certainty. As true as God is in heaven, as certainly as the Saviour died upon the cross, as certainly shall that man be saved, who with penitence and faith, looketh to the Lord Jesus Christ for the pardon of his sins, and the eternal happiness of his soul. Well, then, here is another proof that religion must be the end of life-its absolute certainty.
But then I advance to the third position, and that is, whatever is the end of life must be satisfying in its nature, as well as excellent and certain of attainment. And now we test all the various objects which multitudes are preferring to religion; and we put the question, Do they satisfy? We first apply the test to riches. Do these content the mind, and ieave it nothing higher, nothing further to wish? Is the rich mar the happiest of his species ? On the contrary, is it not proverbial, that “ a man's life,"—that is the happiness of his existence—" consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he hath?" O think of the labour of getting money; the anxiety that is mixed with all the pursuits by which it is got; the fear of losing it; the care of investing it. What deductions these from the pleasures of wealth !
Does fame satisfy? What a fever does ambition keep the soul perpetually in ! How restless is the man to attain his object : how jealous of those just behind him; how envious of those just before him : how tormenting until he can grasp the prize ; and then how soon does the verdure of the crown fade, and it becomes useless ! How many have responded to the plaudits of admiring multitudes with the sigh of a bursting heart, and the groans of a wounded spirit! How generally has it been the case, that those who have risen to the very pinnacle of notoriety, have been followed there by some cloud of sorrow or reproach, that has obscured their glory and thrown a dark shadow upon the dazzling scene around them!
Does pleasure satisfy ? Is the sensualist happy—the man of appetite, and illicit enjoyment, and forbidden gratification? Poor wretch! I am only tormenting thee in putting the question: thou, like other slaves, dost groan beneath thy shackles-a diseased body, a wounded conscience, a troubled spirit, a blighted reputation, a beclouded prospect. Ah, the cost at which thou hast bought thy pleasures !
Is the gay votary of fashion happy? Why then does she flutter round the circle, ever changing her enjoyments? O the weariness of the interval between pleasure and pleasure to her!
Does learning, does science satisfy ? “ Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
Does domestic comfort satisfy ?—and this is the purest earthly pleasure that we can have—but does it satisfy? O how many interruptions there are in the happiest home: how many things which remind the man that he needs something higher, and something better!
Well, then, now we will put the question to religion: Does religion satisfy ? O how many, did the decorum of public worship allow—how many could I call up in this place who would unite in their testimony, and say, “ We were never happy till we were brought to the cross: we never found satisfaction till we obtained grace to believe in Jesus, and sought the salvation of our souls." I do not, my hearers, mean to say, that religion in the present life makes us absolutely perfect in happiness. It is a begun happiness ; not a perfect one: but it is a real happiness; not the mere mockery of enjoyment: it is happiness, not