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world, what ease and satisfaction doth he find in unburdening his soul, and having recourse to his God! But to the man immersed in worldly cares or pleasures, prayer is opus alienum, "a strange work," a disagreeable and unpleasant exercise; he is hardly drawn to it, he is frigid and dull in it, he is glad when he is rid of it. The like I might shew you in other instances.
Again, Christ's yoke is easy, if taken together with the reward attending it. If we consider the infinite, endless bliss and happiness wherewith our short and slender service of our blessed Lord in this life shall be recompensed hereafter, all that he requires of us will appear to be a very easy condition, and indeed a very light yoke and burden. In this sense all the afflictions of this life, the bearing whereof is the hardest part of the Christian duty, are said to be light, 2 Cor. iv. 17. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And the same apostle again tells us, Rom. viii. 18. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Nay, I may go yet farther, and affirm, that the law of Christ is an easy yoke, compared with the yoke of sin and Satan. The drudgery of the sinner in the service of sin is greater than the labour of the good man in the service of Christ, as I could easily demonstrate, if it were not too great a digression. It is a certain truth, that wicked men generally undergo more pain and difficulty in going to hell, than good men do in getting to heaven.
these senses we grant that Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden light.
But they who think that Christianity is an easy thing in this sense, that it complies with their carnal ease, sloth, and negligence, are under a very gross and dangerous mistake. Indeed, as these men have represented the Christian religion to themselves, it is easy enough. If to talk of religion, and to make a show of it, were religion; if it were sufficient to perform some external acts of religion, as going to church when we have nothing else to do, or at those times when we are allowed to do any thing else; if praying now and then when we are in a good humour; if abstinence from some grosser and more infamous vices might serve the turn, these men were not much mistaken. But this is a very false notion of Christianity. The Christian's duty is a work and labour, and that of great difficulty, a labour of the heart, as being employed chiefly in setting the heart aright, in renewing the inward man, in changing our very natures and dispositions, and, in a word, in new moulding our souls to an holy and divine frame and temper, such as the Gospel of Christ sets before us.
So much of the first consideration, that our religion is a great and difficult work, a work of time and labour.
2. We are to consider that this great work must be done within the compass of this short, uncertain life, or we are undone for ever. We should do well often to call to mind the weighty words of our Saviour, John ix. 4. The night cometh (i. e. the night of death) when no man can work. This is the
night, as St. Austin speaks", "wherein no man can "work, but every man shall receive according to "what he hath wrought." To believe in Christ, to repent, to do the works of righteousness, to exercise acts of piety and mercy in order to our acceptance with God, are works proper to the season of this life; when this life is past, the season is gone, and there is no more place for them for ever. Our blessed Saviour plainly teacheth us this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, Luke xvi. where he gives us an account but of two sorts of men, the good and the wicked man, and assures us, that presently after death there is a vast gulf fixed between the places or states wherein they are, so that the one cannot pass unto the other; that is, the good man after death can never become miserable, nor the wicked man happy, ver. 26. Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they that would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. In the same state wherein we die, we must continue to all eternity. There is no after-game to be played in this case.
The doctrine of purgatory, taught in the church of Rome, is a vile cheat, that hath no foundation at all, either in Scripture, or in the belief of the primitive church; yea is plainly contrary to both. Wherefore, as we love our souls, let us not in the least depend upon it. Let us fix this as a most infallible conclusion, that if death seize upon us before we have repented with a true repentance proceeding from the love of God above all things, there
c In qua nemo potest operari, sed recipere quod operatus est.
is no hope, no redemption for us.
our own prayers, nor the tears of others, will do us any good. All dirges and masses for our souls will then be insignificant. All the powers in heaven and earth cannot then help us. Nay our blessed Saviour himself cannot save us, because he hath positively declared he will not. Behold! now (whilst we live under the means of grace) is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation, 2 Cor. vi. 2.
O that this consideration might enter deeply into our hearts! And that it may so do, let us often direct our thoughts to those wretched miserable souls, that are now in chains of darkness, irrevocably lost and undone for ever. How do they curse their own folly, in neglecting those opportunities of salvation, which we enjoy and they once had, but are now for ever denied! how many worlds, were they in their power, would they give to be where we are, in the house of God, to hear the promises of salvation offered to them, and to call upon God for mercy! how carefully would they frequent the prayers of the church! how fervent would they be in those prayers! how often would they be upon their bended knees in private prayer! how greedily would they embrace all opportunities of salvation, when offered to them; every sacrament they could receive, every sermon they could hear! But, alas! their time is past, and they are excluded from the means of grace and salvation to all eternity. Now be assured, that if thou dost not seasonably repent and turn to God, thy case will very shortly (God knows how soon) be the same with theirs, and thou shalt repent in hell for not repenting here.
I have done with my first observation, which was this: It is a matter of great use and concernment, mightily conducing to the purposes of religion, for a man to know his end, and the number of his days, what it is, i. e. seriously to consider the shortness and uncertainty of his life here on earth.
I have shewn you, that to know the measure of our days, or to number our days aright, is to consider seriously the shortness of our life, 1. absolutely and in itself; 2. comparatively; and that 1. as compared with God's eternity; 2. as compared with our own eternity; 3. as compared with the main work and business of our life, the business of religion.
I pass now to the other observation, which I shall but briefly touch upon, and so conclude. It is this:
II. A due consideration of the shortness and uncertainty of man's life in this world is a gift of God, and the effect of his grace, which therefore we ought by prayer humbly and earnestly to ask of him.
So David doth in my text; Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, &c. One would think this were a needless prayer; for who knows not that he must die, and that the time of his death is uncertain, and yet certainly not far off? And who so brutish as not to consider this? But he must shut his eyes, and never look abroad into the world, that sees not the necessity of this prayer. A spirit of slumber and sottishness is fallen upon the generality of men, so that they seldom or never seriously think of that which so much concerns them. They see many of all ages fall into their graves round about them, and yet they live as if they themselves should never die.