And if we be "they," who I am afraid we are, we are now in a good time to do it. Lent is a considering time--a true set us by holy Church to consider what we have done all the year before, what we are to do all our years that are behind, and what we shall do; what will become of us if we do not, when all our years are at an end. It begins with a day of ashes, and it goes out with a week we hear of nothing in but the preparations to a grave and the resurrection, so as it were to mind us of our latter end, make us more serious about it at this time than ordinary, front the first day of it to the last. So the text is not unseasonable, nor the wish in it unfit any way for the time.
And whether this wish be Moses's or God's, this "they" his own people or their enemies, it is no matter. A good wish it is from whomsoever to friend or enemy; only it intimates, they are none of the wisest for whom it is.
For his own people (1) it might well be; them he had led out of the "waste howling wilderness;" them he had kept there as the "apple of his eye," as in the same verse; and when he brought them thence, fed them with the "fat of lambs," and the "kidneys of wheat;" and upon this they grew "fat, and kicked." It is a good wish for them, "that they were wiser."
[15/16] For their adversaries (2) it might be as well. They had as little sense, it seems; very ready to grow high at any time upon prosperities and successes, as if they, and not God, had done the business. It is a good wish for them, that they would understand a little better.
There is another people that we know, but I know not how to call then, (his or I know not whose,) they carry them-selves so strangely--I pray God it be not we at last, whom the wish may suit as well as any--a people who, some of them, not long since were, as it were, in wastes and deserts like God's own people, in a condition sad enough, God knows; borne thence no great while ago upon his wings; since that set high, and fed high with corn, and wine, and many good things else, who, for all that, have not well requited God that did it. Others of them, who, because they came in no misfortune like other folk, nor were plagued like those other men, stand much, like Israel's enemies, upon their terms; their righteousness, or power, or policy, or somewhat did the work. Both are become too much unmindful of the "Rock of their salvation," as we have it, ver. 15, and have quite forgot to consider the "latter end" of things, what may be yet; that, however things stand now, "the foundations of the mountains may be set on fire" again, as the phrase is, ver. 22, if they be no wiser, either of them, than by continuance in sin to blow up the sparks; and then who can assure his house, or barns, or shop, or office, at the next turn? It is a good wish for these too, both of them, that they "would con-sider" a little better on it together, in novissimo, now at last.
For all these it may be; and, to be short and home, for all these it is. As in Moses's time for Israel and their enemies, so in ours, for us, late enemies, now friends together, that we would all he wiser once, "that we men," at least at last, "would understand the loving-kindness of the Lord, and con-sider the wonders that he hath clone for the children of men." But, above all, that men would think of this same "latter end" think that all things end not here, there is somewhat to he looked to after these clays are done, which wise men would look to and provide for. O si--O that they would! God wishes it, and Moses wishes it, and you and I, all of us, I hope, may wish what they do without offence. But do it [16/17] we must besides, else God will complain of us, as he does of them here in the text: for a kind of complaint it is, as well as a wish; O si--that they were,--a plain complaint that they were not.
But be it a wish, or be it a complaint, (and both it is,) a wish for some, "that they were wise," or a complaint of them, that they are not; for three particulars it is.
I. As a wish; it is that the men here spoken of (1) "were wise." That (2) they would understand this, somewhat or other that we shall see anon worth understanding. "That (3) they would" especially "consider their latter end."
II. As a complaint; it is for three things too: that they were none of these; that they were neither "wise," nor "un-derstood," nor considered what they should; for O si is but a kind of a sigh that it is no other; a very trouble to God that men are no better.
Of both, this is the sum: that they who, in the midst of mercies, after the sharp sense of former judgments, and not yet out of the fear of new ones, forget God, and either by new sins, or retrieving old ones, slight so both his judgments and his mercies, they are neither wise, nor understanding, nor considering men, whatever they go for; but a sort that God will complain of, whoever they be, for somewhat else, and wishes to be wiser, to understand a little better, and consider how at last, lest the latter end be worse with them than the beginning.
That it may not, but that the wish may take effect, and God have no more reason to complain, let us now consider the particulars, where I must first show you for whom, before I show you for what it is. And yet I know not how you will take it.
(1.) Indeed that Israel's enemies, the heathen, should be "a nation void of counsel," that have not "any understanding in them;" that I believe may be taken well enough.
But (2) that Israel, God's own people, should be of the number, they a "foolish people and unwise" as it is;--
And that not the meanest of them neither, but they that eat the fat, and drink the sweet; the best, as we would say, of the parish, who are always wise because they are rich,--that they should not understand.
[17/18] Those (3) who "ride upon the high places of the earth," the chiefest persons, that men in honour should have no understanding. It is well Moses says it; I know not whether it be safe to say it after him.
But (I) that wise men too, not the ignorant only, but they whose wits God seems to be afraid of, and dares do nothing for them, for fear they should misapply it; who, let God do what He can, say what He will, will say and prove any thing good against him; who are always giving reason upon reason for every thing, but why they reason him out of all, that they should come into the tale; that we, or any body, or God himself, should wish them wise,--as if they were not as wise as we could wish them,--what an affront does this simple Moses put upon them! Why, Lord, who does understand, if they do not? Or who will believe us if we say it?
And yet all these are "they" the wish is for. God's enemies are fools, and God's people not so wise, says our blessed Saviour. The gallantest, the richest, the wisest of them not so wise always as they should be; not so wise, I hope, at any time, but God may have leave to wish them wiser.
Yea, every one of them, every mother's child, if they have learnt no more than they here in the chapter; learnt nothing by their afflictions but to forget them; nothing by their deliverances but to abuse them; nothing by what is past but to be discontent with the present, and yet daily pour out themselves into excesses, and never think of what may come:--if this be all the wise parts they play, as they were theirs in the text, be they who they will, they are "they" God means, God make them wiser. The wish now is like, I fear, to fit the persons as well as it does the time. And three points there are in it, I told you, to be learned:--sapere, intelligere, et novissima providere; to call to mind the things that are past; to understand the things that are; and to provide for things to come. To remember where we were, to understand where we are, and to consider and provide for where we may be, the three main points of wisdom; so S. Augustine distin-guishes the three words as the three main parts of wisdom, [18/19] and so shall I. But (1) consider them as our duty; and then (2) as God's desire.
Supere, or to be wise, that is (1) the first; and Sapientia est per quam repetit animus fuerunt: so that learned Father [Prudentius] "To be wise is to call to mind the things that are already past;" and the great Roman orator, [Cicero] I may tell you, takes the words so too.
And truly Moses himself seems so to mean it; for no sooner had he called this people "foolish" and "unwise," but in the next words immediately he bids them "remember the days of old, and consider the years of many generations," as if that were the way to make them wise. Indeed, if we "be but of yesterday," or look no further back, Job will quickly tell us "we know nothing." State super vias antiquas; that is the rule God gives us. On the old ways there is the stand-ing,--no foundation to build on else. New opinions and devices are but a kind of standing upon our own heads; we cannot stand so long; a building upon a tottering and boggy ground, which vents itself ordinarily into vapours, that make a noise and blustering, darken and infect the air and nothing else. Every wind, too, carries them which way it will,--this way, or that way, or any way; and, observe it when you will, once out of the old way, and they never know where to fix.
Yet (2) to be "wise," has here a notion more practical, and sends us sadly and soberly to meditate now and then upon the late condition we were in. And surely where God mind us, and how he found us; how he led us about, and how he instructed us; how he kept us all the while as "the apple of his eye;" how he "fluttered over us with his wings;" how he "spread them abroad and "bore us on them,"--I keep the expressions of the chapter, for Israel's case was much our own,--or to speak out, the desolations, and poverties, and distresses, and reproaches we were in; the prisons, the dangers, the necessities we escaped; the supplies, the reliefs, the protections we found,--we know not how,--are not things [19/20] would be forgotten; they are such as, one would think, would make one wise. They would be written upon our walls, and beams, and posts, and doors; written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond, graven upon the tables of our hearts and upon the horns of our altars, or, as Job speaks, "upon the rock for ever." Our churches, our halls, our chambers, all our rooms hung round with the sad stories we have seen, to make them live in our memories, and in our children's after us, to make them wise by their fathers' sufferings.
And yet (3) to be wise is more still: to make these things live in our lives as well as memories, to grow good upon it. "To be wise, and to do good," the Psalmist joins. Indeed, they cannot be asunder. He is not wise who is not good. To keep my laws and do them, "this is your wisdom and your understanding;" the way to shake the nations say, "This is a wise and understanding people." So God determines it. Indeed, I come not hither to preach other wisdom; I should make my preaching foolishness then, indeed, in a truer sense than the Apostle meant it. The wisdom of God, if we can keep to it, that is our business. And "he (i.) that hearkens" to it, "he is wise," says the wisest Solomon. He who, exalted from that low condition we were speaking of; to a high one, is lowly still, "he is wise," says he again. He (iii.) who upon the same account keeps himself under still, keeps under discipline and government, as if he felt the former lashes still, "he is wise." Apprehendite disciplinam, is a point of holy David's, Nunc ergo sapite, of the wisdom he commends.
But if you will be "wise," indeed,--and pardon me that I extend wisdom a little further than I first propounded it,- "there are four things" that are "exceeding wise," you may learn it of:--'the ants," that "prepare their meat in the summer ;" "the conies" that "make their houses in the rock;" "time locusts,"' that "go forth all of them by bands;" and "the spider," that "takes hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces." Were we but as wise as they: as ants, and conies, and locusts, and spiders,--and it is a shame we should not,--we would, by the experience of our former evils prepare (i.) in good days, with the ant, for bad ones; we [20/21]would (ii.) with the conies, build our dwellings in the "Rock" S. Paul says was Christ; having felt sufficiently already there is no sure building else. We would (iii.) go forth, as the locusts do, to gather all by bands, unite in the bond of peace and charity, not straggle into factions, and divide in parties, remembering what that lately came to, and may quickly come to again, if we look not to it. We would (iv.) with the spider, catch hold with our bands, keep ourselves employed in our own business, trades, or studies, and not meddle with things we either understand not, or belong not to us. We would learn of then besides to be in the palaces of the great King, the houses of God, a little more constantly than we are This would be to be "exceeding wise."
And if to these we add the "wisdom of the serpent," as our blessed Saviour commends it to us; make it our care above all, as they say the serpent does, to save our heads caput Christum and caput regem, Christ our head and the king our head-make it our business to keep our business and obedience safe. Be who will else thought never so wise, I am sure there is none wiser, as God counts wisdom, than they that do so.
Yet, lastly, if you had rather take the rule of your Wis-dom from above, take it from S. James. That wisdom, says he, is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy." So to be wise is to wash our hands of what is past, to live peaceably and orderly, friendly and kindly to-gether for the time to come, heartily promoting; one another's good, without grudging or dissembling. For "in returning and quietness," it seems, is the Apostle's wisdom, as well as the Prophet's "strength;" wisdom, it scents, and strength both. I would some would understand it, that or this, nay, "that" and "this" we are to consider next. The condition we are in, that it is we are now to understand. For Intelligenia perspicit quæ sunt, so S. Augustine defines it; and this hoc is most naturally the present. So, to understand this (which is the second particular in the wish) is to be truly sensible how things now go with us. Where, first, what it is we are to understand, and then what it is to understand it.
[21/22] What "this" is we take in two particulars: God's dealing with us, and our dealing with him again. These two, the "this" the business, we are wished to understand.
(1.) And how God deals with us, "the high places of the earth we "ride on," the places and offices we enjoy; "the increase of the fields" we "eat" of, the plenty we abound with; the "honey" we "suck out of the rock," and the "oil" that issued to us "out of the flinty rock," the same verse; those blessings which we could no more expect than those sweet dews out of stones and flints, the "butter" and "milk," the smoothness and evenness of our conditions now; the "fat of lambs, and rams, and goats," in the next words; the full tables we well nigh groan at, and "the pure blood of the grape," the mirth and jollity we live in,--tell us as plain, I say, how he deals with us as they did Israel how he dealt with them. "One day tells another," how the Almighty commands it to dart blessings on us, and "one night certifies another," how he enjoins it to shadow us with protections; both speak loud enough to have "their voices heard among us."
But how (2) we deal with him again. I would there were no voice abroad,--I would nobody heard,--I would Gath did not speak it, nor the streets of Askelon ring of it; that the play might be clouded with darkness to cover it, and that the night were as the shadow of death, to bury it for ever; that thou, O God, however, wouldst not reckon the days of our ingratitude in the number of our months. We are sur-rounded with plenty, and we abuse it to excess; we are en-compassed with peace, and we disturb it with petty quarrels; we are loaded with wealth and riches, and we lash them out in lusts and vanities; we are clothed with honours, and we dishonour them with meannesses. Our friends are given into our bosons, and we envy some of them and slight the rest; our laws are restored us, and we live as if we had none; our religion is returned, and we laugh it out of countenance. Good discipline reviving, and we are doing what we can to break the bonds in sunder. Our churches now stand open to us, and we pass by them with neglect; our king God has set upon "his holy hill," and the people still "imagine vain things" against him. In a word, we are "filled with all good [22/23] things," and we do all the evil we can with them; we fill up our "days with iniquities," and our "nights with transgressions;" we neither consider God's dealings, nor mind our own; we understand neither "that" nor "this."
For to understand "this," which is the second branch of this particular, is to understand both whence and whither these mercies are, whence they come, and whither they tend. For the first we are too ready to say with the heathen, "Our hand is high, and God hath not done" it. God hath not done it! Why, tell me then, I pray, what were the coun-sels that brought things about? where were the armies that forced our passage? whence the money--that smoothed the way? who confounded the devices? who fettered the forces? who divided the strengths that were against us? who turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers? who softened our enemies? who strengthened our friends? who suppled strangers at last to pity us? who calmed the seas ? who held the winds? who guided our happiness into our harbours, and even threw it into our bosoms? This cloud, that arose like Elijah's, out of the sea, out of the vast sea of God's endless mercy, and covered heaven and earth with blessings (till we are grown black, I fear, sadly black and sinful, with them); it was not, as his servant took it, "like a man's hand" at all; it was like God's all the way; it was merely God's: Non vobis, there-fore, Domine, non vobis, must be our Psalm; "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name only be the glory." And "this" the first way to understand his mercies; to confess from him they come, and so give him thanks.
The second is, to learn also whither they tend. They are, in S. Paul's understanding, to "lead us to repentance:" and the time is proper for it. In the Psalmist's, to understand well is to do thereafter. So, to understand God's blessings right well, is to use them right well. And when under blessings we live accordingly, take them thankfully, use them soberly, employ them charitably,--then, and not till then, we understand them.
Yet, lastly, I must add, that till we think we have no understanding, till we confess we are--what God says we are in the words just before--a nation that has none,--a nation [23/24] that when time was, undid itself with its own wisdom;--whilst we would needs teach God to govern his Church and rule the world, and in a manner force him either to make the world anew again out of nothing, or make the Church into it; till we grow sensible how wisely we reformed all, till we had reformed God out of all, and all into Atheism and confusion; and that we are no wiser still than to tread in the same steps that will do it again, there will be little hope we understand God's dealings or our own. Yet this understanding our not understanding God here particularly points them to; for having immediately before said, this people, they were a nation that had not any understanding, he presently adds, "O that they were wise" and "understood" it; even "this" very thing in particular that they do not understand, as wise as they seem, or think themselves. The next point may make them wiser, if however, now at last, they will "consider their latter end;" what may be the end of their follies and their wisdoms here, and what is like to be the end of them hereafter; what in this world, and what in the other; for novissima reaches both, the issues of this life and the issues of the next. Et novissima providerent.
(3.) Several latter ends there are, of both sorts, to be con-sidered; but how things may, notwithstanding the fair face they carry, end yet here ere long, that consider first; and that I shall tell you without stirring out of the chapter, for God tells us it there himself:--(i.) He will "set on fire the foundations of the mountains," if we he no wiser than we have been yet. The highest mountains of our honours, the greatest mountains of our strengths; nay, the firmest foundations we can build on, shall fall all into ashes, and scatter into smoke and air.
Or (ii.) "burning heat," and "bitter destruction" shall devour us; even our zeal and bitterness against one another shall raise such flames as shall consume us all together,---"high and low, rich and poor, one with another."
Or (iii.) he will "send the teeth of beasts upon" us, "with the poison of the serpents of the dust," again ; set the beasts of the people again to tear and worry us; nay, even the most contemptible persons, the vermin of the dust, they shall devour us. They shall creep like serpents info our families, [24/25] poison them with errors, poison them sin, poison them with lusts, multiply too there like dust, and destroy us ere we dream on it.
Or, if we escape that, "the sword (iv.) without," and the "terror within, shall destroy the young man and the virgin, the suckling," and "the man of grey hairs;" nor young nor old escape the second bout.
Or (v.) he will "scatter us into corners;" but they shall not hide and shelter us as before; our very "remembrance" he shall make "to cease;" we shall come no more out. Not so much as an "ear," or "leg," as the prophet speaks, "taken out of the lion's mouth," to remember us by. But a populus non populus,--people that we count as nothing,--shall possess only room; anything, everything, that will but serve to root us out.
Some of these, nay, all these, lastly, and more shall come upon us: "heaps of mischief," and all the "arrows" of the Almighty, till they be spent (as in the same verse), if we be no wiser than we have been; if we understand no better how to use either our bad days or our total ones. And if, after not only so many fair warnings, but so, many fair enjoyments, we carelessly throw away ourselves into our former miseries, we shall also die like fools; and who can be such to pity us?
That all these have not befallen its before this time, that God has not torn up our foundations, nor given us over to our own wraths, nor to the people's; that he has not scattered us, nor brought some ill end or other upon us long ere this- it is not for our righteousness, I am sure: but ne hostes dicerent, lest some should justify their own dealings; or ne populus dicerent, lest some others condemn God's, as if he had delivered them only to destroy them. But whatever they say, Ego retribruam eis in tempore, "Their foot shall slide in due time," says God; et juxta est dies perditionis, "the day of their calamity is at hand."
But if we escape all these, there are four other latter ends that must be thought on--death and judgment, hell and heaven: the quatuor novissima, that everybody can tell, but few consider; yet the two first of them we cannot avoid, and one of the other we must come to.
And (i.) suppose our prosperity and splendour should go [25/26] with us to the grave (and we can carry them no further), yet after we have lived like gods, to come to die like men, to be shaken with agues, or burnt with fevers, or torn with cholics, or swollen with gouts, or groan away in pain, or go out in stench--every body glad when we are gone--and at our going to be stripped of all our gallantry with a Stulte, cujus hæc? Thou fool, whose are all these things thou must leave behind?--to be sent away with so scornful a farewell, into rottenness and putrefaction, and so be blown into dust, and vanish into oblivion, like the meanest men, or perhaps, which is far more terrible, to be plucked away in the heat and violence of a sin, and none to deliver, is but a sad end of all our jollities and glories.
Yet hence (ii.) to be drawn to the last tribunal--that is the next stage we come to;--there to have our follies fully laid open to the eyes of all the world--not a night-folly hid; where we must give an account of every hour and minute spent, every word and thought as well as work; after all our blus-tering here, to be dragged thither to a reckoning for every farthing, even to the last mite, and receive accordingly, how bad soever it be. This will set us to "consider," sure, what we shall answer at that day, how to give up our accounts with joy, and come off with glory.
For we end not yet; there is still a "latter end" beyond both these; two for fail: and it is yet within your choice, which you will come to--novissima coeli, or novissima inferni, the highest heaven, or the lowest hell. This last we have and that we will take first. It is better ending with the other.
For this, it is a place whence joy is ever banished, and where no good is; where nothing but sorrow, and sadness, and horror dwells; where the wicked be wrapped in flames and sulphur, covered with worms, and stench, and darkness. All the racks and tortures that the wit of cruelty ever found out here are beds of down and roses to those horrid lodgings. Here, in the bitterest pains, there is some part or other well, or somewhat or other always to be found to give us ease. The light will cheer us, or the night refresh us, or sleep give us rest; company will divert the anguish, or custom lighten it, or hope lessen it, or time wear it out. But in that "place [26/27] of torment"--so Dives called and felt it--nor soul, nor body, nor faculty, nor member free. The conscience of former sins, "that terrifies then; the memories of former happiness, that distracts them; the understanding now what they have for-feited and might have had, that, above all, infinitely torments them. The tongue burns, and the teeth gnash, and the heart trembles, and the eyes weep, and the hands wail, and the ears are filled with continual screeches and everlasting howlings, and every member is intolerably tortured with the punishment of its own sins: and yet not so much there as a drop of water to refresh them,--not a gleam of light to comfort them,- no rest day nor night. The company of devils and damned spirits--the only company there--and amongst them, perhaps, their dearest friends, or wives, or children, infinitely increase their hell; and all is augmented by continuance: for no such thing as hope to be heard of there. It is the kingdom of despairs and terrors; "the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;" all the miseries are everlasting. This the "latter end" of all the people "that forget God," says holy David; that forget him in their prosperities: "into hell" they "shall be turned."
Nor is this the melancholy man's dream, or the contrivance of the politician, or the priest's cheat to keep men in awe. If a cheat it be, it is God has cheated you, and Christ has cheated you, and the prophets have cheated you, and the apostles have cheated you; for they all say the same thing. And would the rantingest of those brave fellows that scoff at it, sit down a little and consider,--which I am sure they never do; or should the tremblings of death begin to seize them, where their understandings are about them,--which are not always,--and open the windows into another world; then these would be the words of truth and soberness, then, "glen and brethren, what shall we do?" when, commonly, it is too late. How shall we do with these everlast-ing burnings? We will do anything, stiffer anything, to avoid them.
Then heaven, too, the end we reserved for our last, that will begin to be thought on too, and how to get in there. There, where is joy without any sad look to shadow it; pleasure without any tang to stain it; peace without disturbance; [27/28] plenty without satiety; continual health without infirmity, nor grief, nor fear, nor hazard to impair our happiness, or sully it. Glorious, all glorious things, are spoken of thee, thou city of God. Gold, and pearls, and diamonds, and all precious stones; kingdoms, and thrones, and crowns, and sceptres ; torrents of joy-, rivers of pleasure, well-springs of life, dwellings of glory, seats of blessedness, and blessed company, the throne of God,--all are said of thee, thou glorious place. And yet when all is said, we must conclude with the Apostle, that "neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things prepared there;" or if they had, it seems it is not lawful for a man to utter them. So I must needs leave then to you to consider them.
And truly it is time now to tell you what considering is. It is to sit down and lay your ends together, and think upon them. Consider, them seriously, (1) whether you would have your foundations once more unsettled, your houses plundered, your estates sequestered, (they are scurvy words, pray pardon them,) your glories once again trod to dirt; whether it is good making ventures, trying God's severities the second time. For let them "smite you but once" more, and as Abishai said to David, so say I to you, "they will not smite you the second time."
Consider, again, (2) whether, seeing however you must leave all these enjoyments, within so short a span of time as death is off us, (and we may be fetched off the stage ere we are aware, ill provided for it,) it be wisdom to lay up all our treasure and provisions here; either so hoard up here as if it were for ever, or so lavish here as if it were to account for never.
And seeing to that account we must come at last, con-sider (3) whether such imprimises and items as the long impertinent bills of sins and pleasures will bring in, will pass current at the last audit; whether so much in purple and fine linen, so much in living sumptuously every day, so little time in the assemblies of devotion, and so much in those of vanity; whether, "Soul, take thy ease, eat, drink, and be merry,"--the living in all liberty and licentiousness,- the being hateful, and the hating one another, will pass for [28/29] a rewarding the Almighty for his mercies, when, "Come, ye blessed--go, ye cursed," come in to conclude the day.
And if they will not pass so, (as no doubt they will not, consider (4) what will be next the end you come to, and remember but half that I have told you of those eternal fires, (and I have told you nothing in comparison,) and then tell me again, whether the strictest attendances of piety, the largest expenses of charity, the trouble now and then of doing well, the beggarliness of honesty, the restraints of temperances, the niceness of chastity, the very hardships of repentance, watching, fasting, weeping, even the greatest penances of religion, as high as the rigour and austerities of hermits and anchorets, be not far easier to be endured; and whether we can be thought wise any way, if we omit any way to prevent those flames.
Or if you had rather be led with hopes and glory, (as all ingenuous and noble natures had,) consider (5) whether all the glories ye have lived in, all the satisfaction ye have met with, all the delights ye have ever here enjoyed, or ever can, be worth one minute of those eternal fulnesses in God's presence in the heavens; when even they that counted the religious man's life but "madness," and laugh piety and honesty out of doors, were so amazed at the glory and "strangeness of the righteous man's salvation, so far beyond all that they looked for," that they even "groaned for anguish of spirit," and cried out openly, "We fools;" we fools indeed; how have we cheated ourselves of heaven, the glorious kingdom, whilst the poor Lazaruses--these poor contemptible things--crept in; and we, with all our pride, and riches, and vaunting, quite shut out.
And now I may read the text another way, as an assertion, not a wish: and I find it read so. Thus, Si saperent et intelligerent et providerent. If men were wise, they would both understand and consider all these things without this ado. They would presently turn considerarent into provide-rent too, (and so the word is rendered by the Vulgar,) and provide now for their "latter end." And the provision will not stand us in much, nor shall I stand long upon it. Three ways to do it, and you have all.
The son of Sirach's, (1) "Remember they end, and let [29/30] enmity cease," says he. Let us not spend our wits, our courage, our estates any longer in feuds and enmities, seeing God has now at length so strangely brought us all together.
The (2) way shall be his too, with a little alteration. "Remember thy latter end," and that "thou never" hence-forward" do amiss." I know it is read, "Remember and thou shalt not;" but it is as true if read, Remember and thou wilt not; if you consider it as you should, you will also provide you sin no more.
To make all sure, snake the provision our blessed Saviour would have you, for a third: "Provide the bags that was not old,"--friends that will not fail you, make them to you out of the mammon you have gotten, make the poor your Luke xvi. friends with it, "that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations."
And consider, lastly, for the close of this part of the text, (and I am almost at the close of all,) that all this is God's desire. He wishes it here, he wishes it all the holy text through: "O that there were such an heart in them." "O that my people would hearken to it." "O that men would therefore," (Ps. cvii.) four times in it.
And yet the second general of the text tells you, he does more; wishes it so heartily, that he complains again,- complains they answer not his wishes. And wished he has so often, that he may well complain. "How often have I!" says he; so often, nor they nor we can tell it. Only so often, noluistis,--as often as he would, so often they would not. All the day he had stretched out his hand unto them, sent to them by his messengers, early and late, to desire them, visited them with judgments, courted them with mercies, and yet they would not, disobedient and gainsaying people that they were. And therefore complain he does, that do what he can, he must give them up, though with a Quomodo te tradum?--with great regret and sorrow,--give them up for fools, men of neither understanding nor consideration--men that, like fools, throw away gold for baubles,--men that are so far from understanding or con-sidering, that they live as if they cared not whether they went to heaven or hell.
But I love not to lengthen out complaints; in this case [30/31] I should never have done--and it is time I should. And the text only insinuating, not enlarging God's complaints, gives me an item to do so too. Only give me leave in brief to sum up all.
Every wise man, before at any time he begins a work, sits down and considers what he has to do, and to what end he does it. Oh that we would be so wise in ours; that we would retire ourselves some minutes, now and then, to consider the ill courses at any time we are in, or entering on. And when we are got into our chambers, and be still, thus commune with ourselves.
What is this business I am about? To what purpose is this life I lead, this sin, this waste, this vanity? Am I grown so soon forgetful of my late sad condition, or so in-sensible of my late rebellions, and of the pardon God has given me, as thus impudently to sin again? Is this the reward I make him for all his mercies, thus one after another to abuse them still? Or is it that I am weary of my happiness, and grown so wanton as to tempt destruction? Is it that I may go with more dishonour to my grave, leave a blot upon my name, and stand upon record for a fool, or worse, to all posterity for ever? Is it that I have not already sins enough, but I must thus foolishly still burden my accounts? Is it that I may go the more gloriously to hell, and damn myself the deeper? Is it that I may pur-posely thwart God in all his ways of mercy and judgment, cross his desires, scorn his entreaties, defy his threats, despise his complaints, anger him to the heart, that I may be rid of him, and quit my hands of all my interests in heaven for ever? Why this is the English of my sins, my profaneness, and debaucheries, the courses I am in, or now going upon; and will I still continue them?
This would be considering, indeed; and a few hours thus spent sometimes, would make us truly wise. And let us but do so, we shall quickly see the effect of them: God shall have his wishes, and we shall be wise; and we shall have ours too,--all we can wish or hope, and no complaining in our streets. All our former follies shall be forgotten, and all ill ends be far off from us; and when these days shall have an end, we shall then go to our graves in peace, to our [31/32] accounts with joy, and passing by-some of us, perhaps- even the gates of hell, come happily to the end of all our hopes, the salvation of our souls, have our end, glory, and honour, and immortality, and eternal life ; where we, as Daniel tells the wise do, "shall shine as the brightness of the firma-ment, and as the stars for ever and ever."
Whither He bring us, who is the eternal wisdom of his Father, Jesus Christ; to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three Persons, and one eternal, immortal, invisible, and only wise God, be all power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing for ever and ever.