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and resolution to persevere in his service, when few will serve with us, and many oppose and reproach us-our patience, under all our discouragements from the malignity of his enemies and the coldness of his friends, will entitle us, not only to honor on earth, but to distinguished glory in heaven.
Be not weary in well doing; for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not. Be faithful to the death and ye shall receive a crown of life.
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy gettings get understanding.
We all know, that in the sacred scrip
tures, and particularly in the writings of David and Solomon, wisdom or understanding usually signifies virtue and piety. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Of this wisdom St. James has given us a complete description. "Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." "The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."
Religion is called wisdom, because it is a prosecution of the best and greatest end by the application of suitable means.
As we are rational and immortal beings, designed in this world only for a temporary, but in the other for an eternal existence, the most important object that we can contemplate and propose, is the happiness of the world to come. That happiness can be obtained only by a heart conformed to the character, a will subjected to the authority, and a life devoted to the service of our Creator. This is religion, and this is wisdom.
Religion is a reasonable service. Our belief of it must be founded in an evidence of its truth and reality; our choice of it must result from a conviction of its goodness and importance; and our practice of it must be directed by just views of God, of ourselves, of the relations we sustain, and of the obligations resulting from those relations.
As we are guilty and impotent creatures, our religion must begin in repentance of sins that are past, and a purpose of future obedience, in an application to God's mercy for pardon, and a reliance on his grace for help. The fruits of this repentance are watchfulness against sin and temptation, and a carefulness to please God in all holy conversation.
The means of religion are the word, worship and ordinances of God. In an attendance on these we are to seek the aids of divine grace, make improvements in knowledge, and bring into operation the great motives to duty.
We are not to imagine, that the religion, which God approves, and with which salvation is connected, consists merely in devotional exercises, or merely in social virtues, or merely in sober and temperate manners. It comprehends them all It comprehends every thing that is excellent and good. It includes rectitude of temper, love to God, faith in the Redeemer, benevolence to mankind, the government of the heart, heavenly affections, and holiness VOL. IV.
of life. In subservience to these it requires an attendance on devotional duties.
Some, who, under religious impressions, engage with warmth in the work of their salvation, entertain too partial ideas of this work. They imagine, that what principally concerns them, at present, is to discontinue their former pleasures and amusements, and to attend on devotional exercises with unusual frequency and diligence; and they expect, that, in this way, they shall soon receive the comforts of hope and the joys of salvation. But the truth is, they ought directly to apply themselves to every thing which belongs to religion. They ought im mediately to renounce not only the gross forms of vice, but every known sin-to shun every foreseen temptation-to abstain from every fleshly lust-to cultivate every virtuous disposition, and maintain every good work. They must not suppose, that only a certain set of duties is now incumbent on them, and that others are to come in by and by: They must have respect to all God's commands.— The care of their souls is their true wisdom; but this care is discharged only when they make choice of religion as it is, and take all its parts in connexion. As long as they live in the voluntary neglect of any known duty, or the allowed practice of any known sin, they are not working out their salvation; for salvation is promised to those only who devote themselves to God without reserve, and cleave to him with purpose of heart. This is the wisdom which our text recommends, and which it calls the principal thing.
In what respects it may so be called is what we are now to consider.
1. Religion is the principal thing, as it is the care of our principal part-our rational and immortal nature.
We consist of flesh and spirit. Our flesh is formed from the earth, and will go back to earth again; our spirit is given by inspiration of God, and when it quits the flesh, it will return to God, and be disposed of by him in a manner suitable to the character, in which it returns. This intellectual, immortal spirit is the superior part of our composition. It is this which constitutes us men. It is in this that our superiority to the brutes, and our capacity for real happiness lies. And if any attention is due to ourselves, it is principally due to this part of ourselves.
There is a care which we owe to our bodies; we are to consult their health and safety, and provide them with food and raiment. But the chief care is due to our souls, that they may be assimilated to the character of God, and qualified for happiness in his presence. The body, after all we can do for it, will die and return to dust: The soul, however we may neglect it, will live and exist forever. It is but lit tle, that the body can enjoy, or can suffer in this world: The happiness of a godly, and the misery of a guilty soul in the future world, will be great beyond all conception. The body separated from the soul loses all sensation: The soul dislodged from the body acquires new sensibilities. The body laid in the grave will be received again: The soul lost in hell will never be redeemed.
"What then will a man be profited, if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? What will he give in exchange for his soul?"
2. Wisdom is the principal thing, for this secures. our principal interest.
We have an interest on earth, which deserves some attention. There is an interest proposed to us above, which demands our supreme regard.While we dwell below, we are subject to various