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And then we number our days aright, when we consider our life here, not as the state for which we are finally designed, but only as a short passage to another state, and that eternal. When we think ourselves to be in this world, non tanquam in domo, sed tanquam in hospitio, "not as at home, but as it "were in an inn," where we are to lodge but for a while, as in our journey and travel to that which is our home indeed, our long, last, and eternal home. What a mighty influence would this consideration have upon our lives, if we would suffer it often and deeply to enter into our hearts! We should then clearly see what an unaccountable, what an extreme folly and madness it is for a man to be so very solicitous, so mightily concerned about the things of this life, as most men are; who tire and spend themselves in the pursuit of an happiness in this present world, which they can never attain, and if they could attain it, cannot long enjoy it; in the mean while very little, or not at all, thinking of that future state, wherein they must be indeed happy or miserable for ever.
It is impossible for him to be a worldly or wicked man, yea it is impossible but that he should be a very spiritual and holy man, who often and seriously thinks of the shortness of this life, and the eternity of that which is to follow it. O eternity! (may I say again,) how surprising, how awakening are the thoughts of thee! Who so stupid, so senseless, as not to feel a trembling in his loins, when this thought comes into his mind, WHAT IF I SHOULD BE LOST, AND MISCARRY FOR EVER! And yet this great point depends upon our good or ill behaviour in that short space of time which is allotted
us in this present world: which brings me to the consideration of the shortness of our life, compared with the great work and business of it.
3. To number our days aright, is to consider the shortness of our life here compared with the main work and business of our life, the business of religion; for which chiefly God sent us into this world, and by which alone we can be fitted and prepared for eternal happiness in the other. It was the complaint of the physician of old, vita brevis, ars longa, that "the physician's life is short, but his art long "and difficult," requiring much time and labour to understand it. The saying, with due explication, may not unfitly be applied to the Christian's life. Our life here is short, but the art of living well is long, difficult, and hard to be learned. It is true, the just and righteous, the good and merciful God, requires no more of us in order to our eternal happiness hereafter, than what he gives us time and power, opportunity and ability, to perform here. But, as we through our own folly generally order the matter, our time proves too short for our work. Deduct the time we spend in sleeping, eating, and drinking, which commonly amounts to at least one half of our time; the time required to the necessary works of our calling, the time we spend in recreation, in unnecessary visits and compliments, in idle company, vel nihil agendo, vel male agendo, "in doing either
nothing, or that which is worse that nothing ;" and the remainder will appear to be a very slender portion of time; too little, I fear, for the work and business of religion, the main end for which God made us, and sent us into this world.
To improve this argument, we may consider these
two things. 1. That religion is a work, and that a hard and laborious one. 2. That this great work must be done within the compass of this short uncertain life, or we are undone for ever.
1. Religion is a work, and that an hard and laborious one. The whole current of Scripture repre
sents it under this notion to us. So much St. Paul signifies when he exhorts us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, Phil. ii. 12. So our Saviour, John vi. 27. Labour not for that meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth to everlasting life. But the exhortation of our Saviour is most pressing and emphatical, Luke xiii. 24. Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, &c. The Greek word is ȧywvieobe, which signifies to strive, as wrestlers in the Olympic games. The work of religion therefore is an hard work, which cannot be performed by us without great striving and struggling. Hence the life of a Christian is compared by St. Paul to a wrestling, 1 Cor. ix. 25. Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. In the same chapter he compares the Christian's life to a race, ver. 24. and to a fight, ver. 26. And so he doth 2 Tim. iv. 7. where he hath both the similitudes of a combat and a race together: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course.
It were an easy matter clearly to demonstrate this truth, by unfolding the particulars of the Christian religion. But my allowance of time being but short, I shall briefly touch only on one, which is indeed the sum of all the rest, and that is the work of
mortification. That this is a necessary act of Christian religion appears, because it is expressly required of every Christian, Col. iii. 5. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, &c. Yea that it is required of us sub periculo animæ, " as we hope for salvation," and to escape the wrath to come, we are plainly told, Rom. viii. 13. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Now that this act of religion is a great and laborious work, will soon appear to him that considers what it is. It is to die unto sin, and to live unto righteousness; to put off those affections which are natural to us, or are rivetted in us by long custom, which is altera natura, "a second nature;" to change the whole frame of our dispositions and actions, and to become quite other men than formerly we were. This certainly must be opus laboriosum et assiduum," a long and laborious work."
It is true, Christ saith, that his yoke is easy, and his burden light. But to whom? To minds duly disposed to receive it. It is agreeable to our right reason and understanding, and therefore easy to him who is under the government of reason, when raised above his sensual appetites and affections by the grace of God. It is an easy yoke, if it were put on betimes, before evil dispositions and habits be contracted. It will at length be easy to every man that takes it upon him by use and exercise, and the grace of God. But to men corrupted and vitiated by evil habits and customs, which is the case of most men before they undertake the yoke of Christ, it is no such easy thing; it is some time before it
comes to sit evenly and smoothly upon their necks. Nay, to men that have gone on in a very long course and custom of sinning, the yoke of Christ is next to impossible to be borne. So God himself tells us by the prophet Jeremiah, chap. xiii. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil. I shall make this plain by some instances.
Temperance is an easy, yea most delightful virtue; it is agreeable to the reason of man, it preserves the faculties of his soul in their vigour, it conduces to that health of body which is the greatest outward blessing. Yet the habitual glutton or drunkard can sooner die than be temperate in his meat or drink. What more easy, than for a man that is able, to give alms to the indigent and necessitous? what more godlike or delightful virtue, than for a man to see the poor and miserable living upon and rejoicing in his bounty? But from the man who hath given himself to covetousness and the love of money, every alms comes as hardly, as if it were a drop of blood from his heart. What more pleasant, when good men meet together, than freely to discourse of divine matters? But such discourse grates the ears of the carnal man. What more noble pleasure to a generous soul, than the meditation and contemplation of heavenly things But set a sensual man to this work, and how unpleasant and tedious will it seem to him! What greater pleasure, what greater privilege to a soul duly disposed, than frequent converse with God in prayer? When he is oppressed with the cares and troubles of this life, when he is tired with the vanities of the