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no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." | governing a state, regulating a large and exMay you receive it, my brethren, that you tensive commerce, and of arranging a variety may know it! May the grief of a lively and of systems, should entertain notions seemingly bitter repentance wound your hearts, that incompatible with the very least degree of inmercy may heal and comfort them, and fill telligence. On the other hand, we know not them with pleasure and joy! God grant us how to comprehend, that a course of action, this grace! To him be honour and glory for which is the natural effect of such notions, can Amen. subsist without them.
THE VANITY OF ATTEMPTING TO
PROVERBS xxi. 30.
There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.
Follow us a moment, my brethren, into these labyrinths of the human heart, or rather let us endeavour to know ourselves, and to reconcile ourselves to ourselves, and let each of us put a few questions to himself.
I, who have some idea of the perfections of God, and who cannot doubt whether he knows the most secret thoughts of my heart, can I promise myself to impose on him in his temple by a painted outside, by a grave deportment, and by a mournful countenance, while my understanding and my affections take no part in religious exercises, while my ideas are confused, and while my passions promise me an immediate indemnity for the violence I have offered them during the few moments of this seeming devotion? But, if I have not this thought, how is it then that I think to obtain the favour of God by exercises of this kind?
I, who was educated in the Christian church, can I imagine that God has less dominion over me when the air is calm, the heavens serene, and the earth firm under my feet, than when the clouds are thick and black, the thunder rolls in the air, the lightning flashes, and the
How mean and despicable soever the human heart since the fall may be, there are always found in it some principles of grandeur and elevation. Like such superb edifices as time has demolished, it discovers even in its ruins some vestiges of its primitive splendour. Whatever presents itself to man under the idea of great and noble, strikes and dazzles him: whatever presents itself to him under the idea of low and servile, shocks and disgusts him. Accordingly one of the most formidable methods of attacking religion is to exhibit it as a contrivance fit for narrow geniuses and mean souls. One of the most proper means to esta-earth seems to open under my feet? But, if I blish irreligion is to represent it as suited to great and generous minds. To rise above vulgar ideas, to shake off the yoke of conscience, to derive felicity and glory from self, to make fortune, victory, Providence, and deity itself yield to human will, these are pretensions, which have, I know not what in them, to flatter that foolish pride, which an erroneous mind confounds with true magnanimity. We propose to-day, my brethren, to combat these dangerous prejudices, to dissipate all such appearances of grandeur and elevation, and to make you feel the extravagance of all those, who have the audacity to attempt to oppose Almighty God. The Wise Man calls us to this meditation in the words of the text. "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord."
have not adopted this opinion, how comes it to pass that I commit the greatest crimes without remorse in the first period, and in the second reproach myself for the most pardonable of all my frailties?
I, who am surrounded with the dying and the dead; I, who feel myself dying every day: I, who carry death in my face, who feel it in my veins, who, when I lay on a sick bed a few months ago, and thought myself come to the last moment of life, felt the most violent remorse; I, who would have then given the whole world, had the whole world been at my disposal, to have been delivered from sin, can I persuade myself that I shall live here always Can I even persuade myself that I shall live much longer? Or if I could, that when death shall present itself to me, I shall be exempt Perhaps you will accuse us (and we will en- from remorse, and that the crimes, which now ter on the subject by examining this objection,) make the pleasure of my life, will not be the perhaps you will accuse us of creating phan- poison of my dying bed? But, if I be incapatoms to combat. Perhaps you will defy us to ble of adopting opinions so opposite to what I find among the different classes of idiots, know by feeling and experience, what am I dowhom society cherishes in its bosom, any one ing? How is it possible for me to live as if I who has carried his extravagance so far as to thought myself immortal, as if I had made a presume to oppose God, or to pretend to con- covenant with death and were at agreement with strain him by superior knowledge or power. the grave, as if I had stifled for ever the feelMy brethren, one of the most difficult sub-ings of my conscience, as if I were sure of diejects in the study of the human heart is, when a man leads a certain course of life, to determine whether he has adopted the extravagant principles on which his conduct is founded, and without which his conduct is the most palpable folly. Take which side we will, whether that he acts on principles, or without them, the case will appear extremely difficult. On the one hand, we can hardly persuade ourselves that an intelligent creature, who is capable of
tating myself the decree of divine justice concerning my own eternal state?
And, not to multiply examples, of which the extravagance of the human mind would furnish a great number, I, whose views are so short, whose knowledge is so confined, whose faculties are so frail, and whose power is so limited, can I promise myself success in opposing the designs of that God, who says in his word, "My counsel shall stand, and I will
do all my pleasure?" Isa. xlvi. 10. Can I promise myself to subdue a God "great in counsel, and mighty in work," Jer. xxxii. 19, and to constrain him by superior power? But, if I have not adopted such extravagant thoughts, what mean the obstacles which I oppose against his will? What signify my plans of felicity, which are diametrically opposite to those which he has traced for me in his word? Why do I not direct all my intentions and actions to incorporate in my interest him, whose will is productive and efficient? Why do I not found my system of living on this principle of the Wise Man, "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord."
My brethren, explain to us these enigmas, discover yourselves to yourselves, and reconcile yourselves with yourselves. O miserable man! What kind of madness animates thee? Is it that of having conceived these extravagant thoughts, which are alone capable of varnishing over thy conduct? Or is it that of acting without thought, which is a sort of raving madness, for even erroneous opinions might seem to thee to apologize for thine actions? O "heart of man, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know thee!" Jer.
However, the knowledge of this heart so difficult to be known, is not entirely unattainable, it is even essential to our happiness. How should we correct ourselves without knowing ourselves? How should we acquire real wisdom without knowing precisely what our folly is, and by what means to get rid of it? It should seem we ought to search for a solution of these difficulties in the artifices of our own passions. The passions not only disguise exterior objects, but they disguise even our own thoughts, they persuade us that we do not think what we do think, and in this manner they confirm us in the most extravagant notions, the absurdity of which we could not help seeing were we dispassionate and cool. The work therefore to which we ought most seriously to apply ourselves, is to take off such coverings as our passions throw over our opinions, and which prevent our seeing that we think as we do; to this important work I shall address myself in the remaining part of this discourse.
A modern philosopher has founded on this principle the whole of his system on the difference between right and wrong. He says, justice consists in affirming that a thing is what it is, and injustice in denying it. He explains this thought by another, that is, that we affirm and deny not only by words, but also by actions, and that the second manner of affirming or denying is more express and decisive than the first. I will not examine whether this philosopher has not carried his principles too far: but I am going to prove by the actions of men that they pretend to oppose God, and that they set four obstacles against his will, their grandeur, their policy, their pleasures, and their stoical obstinacy. I am going to prove at the same time to worldly politicians and grandees, to voluptuous and stoical people, that to undertake to resist God is the height of extravagance. "There is no wisdom nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord."
I. We will consider our text in regard to worldly grandeur. We sometimes see those, who are called grandees in the world, resist God, pretend to compel him by superior force, or by greater knowledge. And whom do we intend to characterize? Is it a Pharaoh, who boldly demands, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" Is it a Sennacherib, who uttered this insolent language, "Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, the Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Who are they amongst all the gods of those lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?" Is it a Nebuchadnezzar, to whom the prophet puts this mortifying question, "How art thou fallen from heaven, thou day star, thou son of the morning? Thou who didst weaken the nations, hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north, I will be like the Most High," Isa. xxxvi. is. 20. and chap. xiv. 12—14.
Is it a Nero, who could hear without trembling those blasphemous eulogies, "If the fates had no other methods of placing Nero on the throne than those civil wars, which deluged Rome with blood, ye gods, we are content; the most atrocious crimes, the most sanguinary executions are agreeable at this price. Lift up your eyes, Cesar, and choose your place among the immortal gods, take the thunder of Jupiter, and succeed the father of gods and men. Mount the chariot of the sun, and give the world light, all the gods will count it felicity and glory to submit to thy laws, and to give up their place and their power to thee."
But nature produces few such monsters. Our age has too much knowledge, and our manners are too refined to suffer such plain and open declarations. Yet how often is grandeur even now in our times a patent for insolence against God! What, for example, is that perpetual parade of the great, and that vain ostentation, with which they dazzle the eyes of their dependants, and of which they avail themselves to rob God of the hearts of men? What is that haughty confidence, which they place in their forces, after they have guarded their cities, built forts, and filled their treasuries, they live in security, even though they have provoked God by acts of the most crying injustice, by the most barbarous executions, and by the most execrable blasphemies! Whence that immoderate avidity of praise, which makes them nourish themselves with the incense of a vile flatterer, and live on the titles of immortals, invincibles, arbiters of peace and war? Whence that contempt of religion, and that spirit of impiety and profaneness, which usually reigns in the hearts of princes? Whence that dominion which some of them exercise over conscience, and those laws, which they dare to give mankind to serve God against their own convictions, to form ideas of him, which they think injurious to his majesty, to perform a worship, which they
think contrary to his express commands, and | for them to that very Being whom thou preto profess a religion directly opposite to what tendest to resist. It is his breath that animates they themselves believe to be the true religion thee, his arm upholds thee, his earth supports of Jesus Christ? Whence are all these disposi- thee, his food nourishes thee, and it his air tions, and what are all these actions? My bre- which thou borrowest to breathe. thren, open the folds of the human heart, take off the coverings under which the turpitude is concealed, penetrate into the principles of men's actions, and you will find that to oppose God, to pretend to control him by a superior power is not a disposition of mind so rare as you might at first sight have imagined. You | see the great worldling makes his opulence, his titles, his grandeur, his navy, his army, a force to set against Almighty God. But what is such a man? An idiot. What are his titles and grandeurs, his navies and armies, and all his opulence? What is all this? A little chaff, a little dust, a nothing in the presence of the omnipotent God.
I recollect here a piece of instruction which a king one day gave his courtiers. They were calling him Lord of earth and sea. The monarch put on his robes, and caused himself to be carried to the sea-shore. There he sat on the beach, and said to the waves, "The land on which I sit is mine, and you, sea, you are under my dominion, I command you to respect your king, and to come no farther." The waves, deaf to his voice, came rolling forward, the first wetted his feet, the second seemed to threaten to carry him away. There," said the king to his courtiers, "see what a lord I am of earth and sea." Great lesson to all worldly potentates! Insignificant man, put on thy crown, dazzle thyself first with the glitter of it, and then try to beguile the eyes of others, deck thyself in thy royal robes, try thy strength, show us the extent of thy power, say to winds and waves, to fortune, and sickness, and death, I command you to stop, and to respect your king.
O think of the glorious attributes, the sublime ideas, the deep counsels, and the abundant power of that God whom thou opposest. "He stretched out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at his reproof. He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through the proud. He meteth out heaven with a span, and comprehendeth the dust of the earth in a measure. He weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance. He sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers. Behold all nations are as the drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. All things before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. He bringeth princes to nothing, he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity," Job xxvi. 7, 8. 11, 12; and Isa. xl. 12. 22.
15. 17. 23.
Think of thy soul, thou wilt find nothing there but infirmity and ignorance. Thou art confined as a man, and more confined still as a great man, for grandeur usually contracts the limits of knowledge and improvement.
Think of the author of those advantages which swell thee with pride. Thou art indebted
Think what mortal blows of just vengeance God has given to some insolent creatures, who presumptuously oppose his majesty. So perished Antiochus, who, in the language of the book of Maccabees, a "little afore thought he might command the waves of the sea, and weigh the high mountains in a balance, was now cast on the ground, so that the worms rose up out of his body, his flesh fell away, and the filthiness of his smell was noisome to all his army," 2 Mac. ix. 8-10. So perished Herod: "His bowels were consumed with an inward fire. His entrails were full of ulcers. The stench of his breath infected his room, and drove away all his family." So perished Maximinus, of whom Lactantius gives this frightful account: "The wound gained his vitals, there vermin engendered, the palace and the city were infected, his body putrefied, the more his sores were cleansed, the more innumerable were the swarms of vermin that proceeded from them, of which his entrails were an inexhaustible source."*
Think of thine end. Look through the deceitful splendour that covers thee. See the weakness of thine organs, behold thy hands already shaking, thy knees already trembling, thy head, all crowned and glittering as it is, bending towards that earth from which it was taken, and to which it will presently return. Imagine thyself dying, cold, pale, groaning, and vainly calling to thine assistance thy courtiers, thy sceptre, and thy crown. Is this the immortal man? This the arm that ruled the fate of whole nations? Is this the potentate, whose looks made the world tremble? Oh! how eloquent is humility, my brethren, to him who is willing to hear it! Oh! how sufficient in motives is the school of humility to him who is willing to be taught there! How, how can a creature so mean, so vile, so limited, so frail, so momentary as man, how can he possibly oppose Almighty God? How can he resist his power? "Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I am God? But thou shalt be a man and no god in the hand of him that slayeth thee," Ezek. xxvii. 9.
II. Worldly policy is a second obstacle, which some men set against the laws of heaven, and by which they discover a disposition to resist God, and to compel him by superior force. Had the man, of whom I speak, other ideas, he would lay down as first principles and grounds of action-that the wisest maxims of state are those of religion-that the best we can do for society is to render God propitious-and that the happiest people are they "whose God is the Lord." When councils were held to deliberate on peace or war, such a man would do from religious principle what was anciently done at Rome from the mere dictates of natural justice. It would be examined not only whether it would be advantageous to make war in the present conjuncture, but whether it were just; whether it proceeded from an insa
Lactant. libro de mortib. persecutor. C. xxxiii..
tiable desire of dominion and wealth, or from the right, which all mankind have to guard and defend themselves. When the question was, Whether any one should be invested with magisterial authority, such a man would examine with as much care the religious principles as the political virtues of the candidate for power; he would not consider whether he were able to practise crimes of state, which have been long successful, but whether he inviolably respected the laws of religion, the exercise of which sooner or later must necessarily crown its adherents with prosperity and victory. Never would he assist in placing at the head of a political body a blasphemer or an atheist.
But when we see men pursue a conduct directly opposite to this, when we see men always forget that they are Christians, when they deliberate on the public good, and lay aside, if I may be allowed to speak so, faith, conscience, and the gospel, at the door of the council room; when we see a certain disdainful air, a look of affected pity put on at the proposals of such as wish to direct the public good by the principles of religion; when we see people of this character pretend by their prudence to avert public calamities; have we not a right to say of such men, that they resist God, and pretend to compel him with superior power?
But what are such men? Idiots. With your pernicious maxims you banish religion and piety, and by so doing deprive yourselves of all the advantages which you might have derived from the inclinations of a people well disposed to be religious and good. Should the people live by the rules of religion, they would pay taxes with fidelity, obey their governors with respect, generously prefer the public good before private interest, and so establish such a correspondence between subject and sovereign as can alone render states prosperous and happy: but while they see that their masters wander out of this right road, they act towards you as you do towards God, they employ their power to resist your authority, and their knowledge and address to elude your laws.
With these pernicious maxims you render social interest a chimera. You consider a public body as a being, permanent, and in a manner eternal, which ought to employ itself about what concerns it as a public body: but you never recollect that this public body is composed of only individuals, one of whom has only a few years, and another only a few months to live in this world, so that the real interest of such as compose this body has no relation to the duration of the body, a duration which individuals cannot expect, and which regards them only to the end of their own days. You labour to promote a general interest, in which individuals have only a very small share, and you act against the true interest of each, which consists not in consolidating a world that he is just quitting, but in learning to pass through it with dignity, and to leave it with ease.
With these pernicious maxims you keep memorable catastrophes out of sight, those terrible subversions of wicked societies; as the history of the old world, that of Sodom and Gomorrah, that of the kingdom of Judah, that of the ten tribes, that of Babylon, that of the
seven eastern churches, and that of many others, whose sad but edifying ruins should always be before our eyes.
With these pernicious maxims, for the sake of a few trifling directions which you give society for maxims of state, you deprive us of the powerful protection of a God, who would himself sit at the helm; you raise his justicé against us, you put into his hands thunder and lightning to destroy us, and, instead of being our parents and guides, you are disturbers of the state, and the most implacable enemies of sound civil polity.
O" wisdom that is
O"pillar of a cloud!" from above!" Animate, for ever animate, the conductors of this people, preside in their councils, march at the head of their armies, sanctify their reflections, and engrave for ever on their souls this maxim of my text, that "there is no wisdom nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord," James iii. 17.
III. Our third article concerns the voluptu ous. One of the most inviolable laws of God is, that felicity should be the reward of virtue, and misery the punishment of vice. What does a voluptuous man oppose against the execution of this law? Noise, company, diversions, refinements of lasciviousness. In these he intrenches himself, and defies us to force him thence. While the catechumen is studiously employing himself to clear away the difficulties, and to determine the important questions, on which all his future hopes depend; while the believer is striving against the stream, and endeavouring to subdue his own passions; while the penitent feels and bows under the weighty remembrance of his sins; while the martyr falls a victim to the rage of his persecutors; the voluptuary feels a joy, which he thinks unalterable, and creates a kind of fool's paradise, in which he pretends to brave God, and to be happy in spite of him, whose sovereign command condemns him to misery. Absurd tranquillity! Senseless security! I appeal to reason, I appeal to old age, I appeal to death, I appeal to judgment.
What a system is that of the voluptuary, when it is examined at the bar of reason! There he is taught, that he owes his existence to a Supreme Being, and that he is under infinite obligations to him; there he is made to feel that he had no assurance of living four days, that within fifteen, twenty, or thirty years, he will be taken out of this world, and that at the end of this term there will be before him nothing but death, eternity, and hell. He knows nothing against this, he agrees to all this, he inwardly feels demonstrations of all this: but instead of trying to avoid the evil day, he tries to forget it: and, as if the existence of beings depended on the attention we paid to them, he imagines he has annihilated these dreadful objects, because he has found the art of obliterating them from his memory.
What a system is that of the voluptuary, when it is examined at the tribunal of conscience! For, in fact, whatever efforts may be employed to drown the voice of conscience, it sometimes roars, and will be heard. Even a depraved conscience has a kind of periodical power, it cannot be always intoxicated with worldly pleasure. Belshazzar, on a certain fes
tival day, was sitting at table with his court. | Hear one of the most admired of the ancient In order to insult the God of Israel, he ordered philosophers, but the least worthy of admirathe sacred vessels, which his father had brought tion. Hear what an idea he gives of his wise away from the temple of Jerusalem, to be man: "There are neither walls nor towers, brought into company, that he and his " prin- which battering rams cannot subvert; but ces, his wives and his concubines, might drink there are no machines that can shake the therein, and praise the gods of gold and of sil- soul of a wise man. Do not compare him to ver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone." the walls of Babylon, which Alexander knew All on a sudden "his countenance changes, how to destroy; nor to those of Carthage and and his thoughts trouble him; so that the Numantia, which human power subverted. Do joints of his loins are loosed, and his knees not compare him either to the citadel or the smite one against another," Dan. v. 2. 4. 6; capital, where the marks of enemies attemptthus proving the truth of what the Wise Man ing to render themselves masters of them are observes, that "the wicked flee when no man yet to be seen. Arrows shot at the sun never pursueth," Prov. xxviii. 1. Unhappy king! reach him. Sacrileges committed in the temWhat is the occasion of all this terror and fear? ples of the Deity, by breaking in pieces the Dost thou see a sword hanging over thee by a symbols, and by subverting the edifices, never single thread, and ready to fall on thee, and cut affect him. What am I saying? the gods themthee asunder? Have thine enemies, who are selves may be buried in the ruins of their own besieging the capital, found a way into it? Does temples; but the wise man never can; or, the earth reel under thy feet? Is hell opening could he be overwhelmed, he could suffer no to thine eyes? Do the infernal furies surround damage. Jupiter hath nothing more than the thee, and cause the serpents on their heads to wise man, except his immortality. But the hiss in thine ears? No: but a "hand is writing wise man, in his turn, hath this superiority, over against the candlestick upon the plaster that he is perfectly happy during the short of the wall," ver. 5. And what have you to space of this life. In this he is as much greatfear from that hand? You are not acquainted er than Jupiter, as it is more glorious to comwith the characters. Perhaps the writing is press all happiness into a narrow space than an encomium on thee. Perhaps it is an oracle, to diffuse it through one more considerable, foretelling thee some new acquisition of splen- and to possess as much felicity in one single dour and glory. Why, of two senses, of instant, as the greatest of the gods enjoys in which the writing is capable, dost thou ima- eternity." gine the worst? My brethren, behold the solution of this difficulty. These fingers of a man's hand are not alone; the finger of God accompanies them. The subject is not only written on the wall of the royal palace; but it is also inscribed on the heart of the king. His eyes could not read the characters, but his conscience knew how to explain them. Ah! miserable hypocrite! cease calling for astrologers; leave off consulting magicians and Chaldeans. Listen to your own heart. The expositor is within thee, and thy conscience will tell thee more than all the wise men in thy kingdom.
What a system is that of a voluptuary considered in the decline of life! A voluptuous man, when his organs are become feeble, and his faculties worn out, finds he has outlived his felicity, yet he looks after the gods, of which time has despoiled him, and in vain expects that voluptuousness can rid him of the painful reflections which torment and excruciate him.
Who would believe, my brethren, that men, who were formerly the admiration of the world, had been able to oppose such crude and fanciful ideas against all the evidences of their depravity and dependence? Who could conceive, that they seriously set these against sickness, poverty, pain, conscience, death, the grave, the punishment of hell, and the majesty of God?
Are there any of this extraordinary sect yet subsisting? Hath Zeno any disciples now? Are there any who yet follow and revere the doctrine of the portico? Yes, my brethren, there are yet people, who, under another name, maintain the same sentiments. I know not whence the evil comes, whether from the air we breathe in these provinces, or from our diet, or from any other cause. I cannot tell whether dulness of fancy produce in us what excessive vivacity produces in other countries, but it should seem, we have as many of this sort among us as there are in other places. What a system is that of a voluptuary consi- We have people who affect an unshaken firmdered in regard to death and future punish-ness, who glory in preserving their tranquillity ment! These certainly, ought to alarm all that expect them: but they ought above all to terrify a voluptuous man. What will be the sensibility of such a man? What will be his despair, when he shall pass from a bed of down to all-pervading pain, from pleasure to eternal fire, from excessive lasciviousness to chains of darkness, from the company of those who ministered to his voluptousness, to that of the executioners of divine vengeance.
IV. In fine, a stoical obstinacy is the fourth obstacle, which some place against the purposes of God. Would you see this hardiness represented in the most insolent language? Would you see how far men have been able to carry their extravagance on this article?
under all extremes of fortune; people who behold the king of terrors with intrepidity, and who laugh at the horrors of death, alike immoveable in the hearing of the most alarming truths, the most terrible descriptions of futurity, censures the most sharp, and threatenings the most dreadful. And whence do they derive this calm intrepidity? From vows addressed to heaven? No. Is it from the progress they have made in religion? Not at all. Is it from the clearness of a close, connected, and evident system? Nothing of all this. Whence then do they derive these sentiments? From I know not what secret pride, from I know not what absurd gravity, from I know not what infernal inflexibility, from a sort of stoical, or shall I