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confess that they care more for the shadows, of enjoyment on earth than for the substance of it in Heaven!
This may be the better understood, if you consider that no man in good earnest cares for Heaven,-has any taste or desire for it, except so far as he has a taste for devotion, and can delight in the thought, that he is with GOD, and GoD with him. Now this is what no one can do, whose heart is set either upon such pleasure or such profit as are to be had on this side the grave. But these are just the things to which most of us, body and soul, have given up ourselves; for is it not plain that our pleasures, generally speaking, are a giddy, tumultuous kind of things, which leave no room at all to think seriously of God, while they last; and when they are gone, leave us very ill-disposed for such meditations? And as to our profitable pursuits, though the world calls them more prudent, yet it is plain they engage us too deeply by far. They fill our hearts with gnawing, vexatious cares, as if we had to provide altogether for ourselves, as if we had no GoD to care for us.
Thus between riotous pleasure and ensnaring profit, it is easy to see how it comes to pass, that although we in earnest love life, and of course love eternal life as such, we should yet find it so difficult, as we do, to set our hearts upon heaven. It is not the mere dread of death; for many persons have got over that, and are willing enough to venture their lives, whose whole life gives but too sorrowful proof that they are quite slaves to sinful pleaAnd hence, by the way, we see how vain is the comfort and the credit which sick persons appear sometimes to take to themselves, merely from the circumstance of their not being afraid to die. This is no more than may be seen in the worst and most hardened of men, and is oftener, as one may fear, a sign of presumption than of any thing else.
That to be without the fear of death is by no means a sure sign of a happy end, we have the strongest reason to think from the case of our Blessed SAVIOUR Himself. HE shared in the natural love of life, as we do; and was afraid of death, as we are. As His hour drew near, His soul was troubled, sorrowful, and very heavy, exceeding sorrowful even unto death. He was in an agony, and prayed earnestly, over and over again, that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from HIM. Yet no man ever was
so resigned to His FATHER'S will, or so truly heavenly minded, as JESUS CHRIST; "who, for the joy that was set before HIM, endured the Cross, despising the shame." He had none of that false love of profit and pleasure, which makes us so unreasonably fond of long life, while we are careless of eternal life. He therefore willingly suffered all this for the joy that was set before HIM; and we see as plainly as possible, that the way to be like HIM, in sickness and in health, is not desperately to throw away the fear of death, but to wean ourselves in good time from the pursuits and vanities of life; “that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where
true joys are to be found." And as our caring little about death is no sure sign of our minds being in a right temper, so God's shortening our lives is no sign at all that He is angry with us, or refuses to hear our prayers, when we ask life of HIM.
This we learn from the same portion of His history, which I just now spoke of; namely, the account of His agony. His prayer then was, “FATHER, if it be possible, let this Cup pass from ME; yet not My Will, but THINE be done." be done." Now to our understandings, at first sight, this prayer would not seem to have been granted; for immediately after it HE was taken and led out to the bitterest sufferings, ending in an accursed death. Yet we know God could not refuse to hear His prayer, since He was His own beloved SON; for whose only sake it is that He ever hears any prayer at all from sinful man. And besides, St. Paul has told us, that at that very time, when CHRIST's friends might begin to fancy HIM forsaken, and given up to death, God was listening to His prayer for life, and granting it in the fullest manner. When He offered up supplications and prayers with strong crying and tears to Him that was able to save HIM from death, HE was heard in that He feared."
This, indeed, was the very accomplishment of what is said of CHRIST in the text, "He asked life of THEE, and THOU gavest HIM a long life, even for ever and ever."
In order, then, to make sure of obtaining our wish of God, in order to obtain our own life, or the life or health of a friend, in answer to our prayers, we must first have such a mind, when we
offer up those prayers, as our LORD CHRIST had in His agony.
He really meant what He said when He uttered those words, Thy will be done." Consider this; and you will perceive that
GOD, in giving up CHRIST to death, did with HIм exactly what He asked first, He did His own will with HIм, and afterwards HE accomplished His natural desire of life in a more perfect way than we can now, or perhaps ever shall, understand. HE gave HIM a long life, even for ever and ever; but He did not give it HIM till after death, not till He had been made perfect by the things which He suffered.
When we strive to pray as CHRIST did, no doubt we shall be heard for His sake. When we are ready to trust all that we have in God's hand, then, and not till then, shall we have laid it up safe, happen what may. When we pray indeed affectionately for the life and health of our relations and friends, yet had rather GOD's will should be done with them than ours; then we are sure to do ourselves, and may hope to do them, good by our prayer.
And, lastly, when even in the fear of death we try first to put away all our sins from us, and afterwards to comfort ourselves with remembering, that God is the LORD of death as well as life; that we are in His hand as much in one as in the other: then we are seeking true comfort, and may hope, by His mercy to obtain it. But to ask life of God, without a sincere purpose to repent of all our sins, is only adding sin to sin. And to be discontented at His refusing us either life or health, or any such outward blessing, is only shewing that we do not in deed care for the blessing of eternal life. And if we do not care for it, you may be sure we shall never enjoy it.
One word more. JESUS CHRIST has taught us, whenever we pray, to use the same words which He used in His agony; that is, "Thy will be done." And what we pray for every day, we must practise every hour. We shall, of course, if we sincerely desire it. Every hour, therefore, and every moment of our lives, we should be practising the same temper which JESUS CHRIST had the evening before His death; we should be always seeking not our own will but GOD's. And if Christians, knowing all this, will go on carelessly pleasing themselves, they will find too late that they have been passing sentence against their own souls, every time they have said their prayers. For there is no safety, no wisdom, but in following CHRIST's example; nor any following CHRIST'S example, except in preferring God's will to our own.
DANGER OF UNSTEADINESS.
GEN. xlix. 4.
"Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel."
THE HOLY SPIRIT is here describing the character of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob. It is the first verse in a long and wonderful course of prophecy; the aged Father of God's people declaring on his death-bed what was or should be the mind and conduct, the chastisement or blessing, of each of his twelve sons, and of the tribes which should spring from them. He begins with Reuben as the eldest; but how different is the warning given him from the expectation we should naturally form of what would be said of the eldest son of Jacob! He is acknowledged, indeed, as first-born, "the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power;" but at the same time he is clearly given to understand that he had forfeited his right; he was now to have no preeminence or authority among his brethren; he was to excel no longer. Accordingly, every reader of the Jewish History knows that the tribe of Reuben was passed over by the ALMIGHTY, and not made the commanding tribe. Judah and the family of David, Joseph and the tribe of Ephraim, Levi and the family of Aaron, were the three among Jacob's sons who enjoyed the highest privileges as for Reuben, neither he, the father of his tribe, nor his descendants after him, ever seem to have enjoyed any considera
tion above the rest; except, indeed, that they led one division of the host of the Jews through the wilderness. Thus GoD accomplished the prophecy, "Thou shalt not excel;" and the reason is given in the words which come before, "unstable as water." He forfeited the blessing, not because no good thing was found in him, but because there was no depending on his goodness. He was like water poured out, which has no steadiness, no coherence in it, but flows this way and that according as it may happen. We see goodness of heart in his conduct about Joseph, when the conspiracy against him was going on. Reuben said to the rest,
Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit in the wilderness," that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again; and when he returned and found him not, he rent his clothes, and said, "The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?" We see here his good feelings; but another part of his history shows how sadly he failed in doing what was right. Unlike his brother Joseph, he had indulged his bad passions, and fallen into most grievous sin; which his after-repentance could not so blot out, but that his father reproved him for it in these his dying words, and confirmed the sentence by which God had deprived him, for that transgression, of the eldest son's portion : Thou shalt not excel, because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch." He had given tokens of true repentance for this sad undutifulness and impurity; yet he had still to endure the punishment of it in this world, and to lose the high place which he would otherwise have had among God's people. It seems as if, though the wound were healed, the mark and scar remained upon him, and some part of the feebleness also. And we are distinctly told that his instability was the cause of the mischief. He had been taught good principles, he had good feelings, but he did not steadily act upon them.
It is surely very remarkable, that the head of the first of the tribes of Israel should have thus fallen away,-that the blessing of their father Jacob on them all should begin with such a severe sentence upon the eldest. It may well lead us to some serious reflections on the great and peculiar danger of unsteadiness, and the impossibility of keeping our Christian birthright, so much more precious than Reuben's, if we are not greatly on our guard