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The importance of securing our eternal salvation is evident upon the first thought about such a matter. But we are surrounded by temptations. The things of this world make strange and sudden impressions upon us, and carry us away, sometimes, before we are aware. But he who frequently employs himself in considering the duties of his station, and the reasonableness of them, in observing the real excellence of holiness, and every branch of it, and impressing on his mind the motives and arguments there are to the practice of it, is likely to be prepared for a time of temptation, and to stand and overcome in it.
Yea a few hours, at some one time, seriously employed in considering the duties of the present condition, and the vast moment of our behaviour in this world, with respect to another state of endless duration, may be of great service for securing our choice and determination in favour of virtue. And having once found the benefit of serious consideration, it is very probable we shall be disposed to renew at some seasons the like exercise and employment of the mind.
3. Another thing, in which we ought to employ ourselves, is the business of our calling. We are not to neglect that out of sloth and idleness, nor from a pretence of minding the things of the spiritual life, nor for the sake of attending to the concerns of other men. For the business of our calling is a main part of our duty, and a fundamental obligation, upon which every thing else depends. God has so formed us, that we have many wants, which are continually renewed upon us, and which, in dependance on Divine Providence, must be supplied by our own industry and care. What good reason have we to rely upon the charity of others, if we have strength to provide for ourselves? Or what right has he to the privileges of any community, who contributes nothing to its prosperity? Yea, what man, who has any spirit, would choose to depend upon others, who can subsist by his own skill? And what wise and good man would willingly receive that, for which he has given no valuable consideration of care and labour?
I might insist, that sloth and idleness expose men to temptations of every sort. But I choose rather to observe and say, that a man's weight and influence in this world must, for the most part, depend upon skill in some calling, and diligence in it; and that the very pleasure of life is advanced thereby. How insipid are amusements to those, who know not what labour either of body or mind is! Moreover, it is in itself very desirable to have wherewithal
to give to those that need. Poor and indigent persons there Some are left orwill always be in this world of ours. phans in their childhood, before they can help themselves. Some labour under the decays of age. Other some experiSome ence the waste and expense of continued sickness. are reduced by strange and unexpected accidents. Some are unjustly plundered by violence.
He who by care and diligence, and a prudent improvement of his time, and the several advantages that have been put into his hand by the kind providence of God, has gained wherewithal to relieve and help any such necessitous persons, has good reason to rejoice. Which leads me to another particular.
4. Some time ought to be employed in serving others. Man is naturally a sociable creature. The christian religion teaches us to consider ourselves as members of one and the same body. It is a particular and express direction of St. Paul: "Look not every man on his own things; but every man also on the things of others," Phil. ii. 4.
Some have perplexed and difficult affairs before them; and they want the assistance and the united counsels of others. If men of understanding carefully improve their time, and despatch their own affairs with diligence, they may have leisure to advise, help, and solicit for others, in those intricacies in which they happen to be involved.
Some are weak through want of knowledge, or experience and credit in the world; and they are overpowered by men of superior might, who are artful, and skilful in carrying on oppressive measures, and then securing and defending themselves by specious pretences against the resentment due to their unjust proceedings. Will it not be an act of great virtue, to afford some help to the weak cause, when upon good grounds we know it to be right? Among those things which Job urges in his own vindication, he does not omit this part of his character: "I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and the cause, which I knew not, I searched out. brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth," Job xxix. 15-17.
That is a grand performance; but it is reserved for those who have well improved their time in cultivating their own minds; and who know how to discharge the encumbrances of their own affairs with expedition.
II. I now proceed to show how time may be best improved in these good works, and for carrying on these good designs and purposes.
1. We are to do these things with all our might. What we do, or engage in, we are to be intent upon, in proportion at least to its importance. If we are about our own work, in the business of our calling, we are to mind it, and not be slothful therein; but to do it with diligence, that it may be despatched, and we may not be hindered from the service of God, or our neighbour.
If we are engaged in the service of God, we are to mind that, and not to suffer other things then to occupy our thoughts. Cold and indifferent services will neither be acceptable to God, nor profitable for ourselves. Do we think to obtain those blessings which we ask but faintly? Will those instructions do us any good, which we scarce regard when given? Or, have those instructors discharged their duty, who have proposed indeed reasonable admonitions, and weighty arguments, but without inward affection, or visible zeal and concern; as if the things discoursed of were indifferent, of little or no moment. It is no wonder, if the time allotted even to the worship of God ruus waste, if we are unattentive and negligent.
So likewise, when you undertake any service for another, you are to do it with all your might, as if it were your own. You are to study the most proper and effectual means of succeeding that can be thought of. Whatever good cause you espouse, you are to do it heartily; for otherwise you betray, instead of promoting it.
2. Another way of improving time is to lay aside as much as possible such things as are trifling, unnecessary, and of small moment; and to contract the number and length of our recreations. Hereby we gain more time for those things which are material and important.
It is true, the mind ought to be diverted, and cannot be always intent upon great matters; but we should take care that diversions are not so indulged as to unfit us for business afterwards. This is the proper use and design of relaxation, to fit us better for things of weight. But some by giving way to amusements and diversions, by exceeding therein as to length of time, contract so light a habit, as to be disgusted at every thing grave and serious.
The body too needs to be refreshed by rest; but, certainly, we were not born to sleep only. And it has been often observed, that when that is indulged beyond the proportion which nature requires, all the powers of the bodily frame, instead of being invigorated and strengthened, are slackened and enervated.
3. Another thing that will be of service for improving,
or redeeming time, is to lay hold of, and take the advantage of opportunities.
Every one knows that this is of great importance in commerce, and in all the affairs of life. There are likewise opportunities, or special seasons for gaining religious knowledge, and advancing the good dispositions of the mind. Such is the friendship and conversation of a serious understanding and communicative christian. The Lord's day is an opportunity for our souls, as it is a day of rest and leisure from the cares and business of this present life. It may be. reasonably supposed, that then, when we are disengaged from other things, we may give a closer attention to those instructions which are proposed to us in the public worship of God; and we may then likewise, especially in private, without inconvenience, carry on our meditations to a greater, length than we can ordinarily do on other days.
There may likewise also be opportunities arising from the temper of our minds. Possibly we do at some seasons, and in some circumstances, perceive in ourselves a more ready, or a more pliable disposition than at others. These are special opportunities. We should not let them slip, but by all means take the advantage of them for adjusting maturely the great principles of reason and religion, upon which we are to act, and for settling in our minds a full persuasion of the vanity of this world and all its glories; and for confirming the resolutions of virtuous and holy obedience, which are just and reasonable.
As there are such seasons as these, favourable to our own best interests, so opportunities may offer for serving others; either for giving them advice and counsel, or reproof, or for interposing with other persons in their behalf, and to their advantage.
4. It will be of great use for redeeming, or the right improving of time, to dispose our several affairs and concerns in good order. This contrivance and disposal of things may, itself, take up some thought and time, and seem to retard our progress for the present; but it will be amply recompensed afterwards. It will afford pleasure not to be conceived beforehand. All the perplexity of confusion and disorder will be avoided; and many things will be done and effected with ease, which otherwise would have been left undone to our own great vexation, and the loss and detriment of others.
5. Time may be upon some occasions wisely redeemed by avoiding contention about trifling things of little value.
This I apprehend to be one reason why our blessed Lord, in such emphatical expressions, recommends to men to acquiesce and sit down contented under lesser injuries and abuses, rather than withstand them, or seek satisfaction for them," I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him. two," Matt. v. 39–41.
It is a point of prudence, as well as virtue, to pass by lesser offences. Better it is to lose a small sum, than run the hazard of wasting a great deal in a long and tedious prosecution, which may never succeed at last. Or, it is better to let it go at once, without farther concern, than to spend time in the recovery, which may be employed to more advantage another way.
The like may be said with regard to many other things, which are causes of strife and difference among men. Begin not a strife about trifles, lest you should thereby be drawn into a long and ruinous contention. The observing this rule may be of great and singular use on the point before us, of redeeming time.
6. Lastly, Time is to be redeemed by a prudent, circumspect, and inoffensive behaviour to all men. This is supposed to be what is particularly intended by the apostle; if so, it is of near affinity with other directions elsewhere. "If it be possible, as much as in you lies, live peaceably with all men," Rom. xii. 18. And, " Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God," 1 Cor. x. 32. Solomon's observation may be reckoned applicable here, as well as upon other occasions: "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger," Prov. xv. 1.
In this way redeem time to yourselves, for all the good purposes of life. In this way seek the prolongation of your peace and tranquillity, by avoiding all needless offence and provocation, by mildness and affability of discourse, prudence of behaviour, meekness of answer to all those who inquire after your belief, and the grounds and reasons of it. By a readiness to good offices, watching your temper, guarding against such discourses and actions, as are offensive and disagreeable to many about you, and which your peculiar principles do by no means oblige you to; hereby, say, do you redeem and gain time for the worship of God,