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Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon III. The Folly of Trusting to the Future.

Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. James iv. 14.

Figure to yourselves a frail, dependent, and erring being, surrounded by a thousand contingences over which he has no control, assailed by casualties that arrest his hopes, thwart his best concerted plans, and often blast his most flourishing enjoyments; who, in his most prosperous state, with every pleasure to gratify his desires, with every mean which wealth and power can furnish to ward off the assaults of calamity, must yet obey the summons that calls him for ever from the scene of his beloved delights. Would you suppose that a being thus situated could be engrossed with the objects around him, that he could be heedless of the event that may every moment hurry him into an eternal state of existence! And yet, my brethren, you here behold a picture of the condition, and you may here recognise the criminal and unaccountable infatuation of man. Though he hold his enjoyments by a tenure so uncertain, that he "knows not what shall be on the morrow;" though disappointment continually mocks his most vigorous and well directed exertions; though he must soon fall, (yes, on the morrow, or to-day,) under the stroke of that foe who often gives his victims no [24/25] warning of his approach; though the experience of every day brings home to his heart the uncertainty of life and all its joys, we yet behold him eager and unwearied in the pursuit of them, devoting to them his supreme attention and exertion. He goes on his career self-confident, ambitious, daring, as if he were the master of his own destiny, and held in his hand those numerous casualties that arrest his career and darken his prospect; of as if he could repel the messenger death--"Go thy way, at a more convenient season I will heed thee." [Acts xxiv. 25.]

Widely different is the conduct to which a just estimate of the changeable and uncertain nature of all worldly objects would direct us--"we know not what will be on the morrow." Humility in prosperity, moderation in the pursuit and enjoyment of the things of the world, and above all, the abstraction of our thoughts from the present scene, so as habitually to prepare for the event, that, at an uncertain period may separate us from it, are the virtues which should arise from a just estimate of human life. Frequent reflection on its vanity and uncertainty would tend, more than any other consideration, to moderate all our feelings and views in regard to it, and to excite us earnestly and anxiously to seek the enduring realities of a future world.

"Ye know not what shall be on the morrow."

How vain, then, all the triumphs of prosperity!

How absurd a proud confidence in ourselves!

Above all, how unwise that attachment to the world which prevents us from preparing for the inevitable event of our departure from it!

[26] "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow."

How vain, then, all the triumphs of prosperity!

To behold the elation and proud independency which prosperity often inspires in the mind of man, the confident ardour with which he cherishes new schemes of wealth and power, and the bold presumption with which he defies the assaults of adversity, you would suppose that he was defended with an ethereal armour, and that the fabric of his felicity was founded on a rock enduring and stable. But the consideration of the uncertain tenure by which he holds his present enjoyments, exhibits in glaring colours the folly and the impiety of this self-confident presumption, this proud and vainglorious boasting'. "Thou knowest not what shall be on the morrow." The events of the morrow are beyond thy control. Hidden in the secret counsels of Providence, they mock thy most inquisitive scrutiny, elude thy most ingenious arts, and baffle thy most vigorous power. Some violent casualty, some change of affairs, which no foresight could discover, against which no prudence could provide, may, in the moment of fancied security, thwart thy best concerted plans, and demolish the towering structure of thy prosperity. Thy frail bark is tossed on an ocean which capricious tempests agitate; and he who one moment mounts on the swelling surge, is plunged the next into the abyss which threatens to overwhelm him. Every day's experience proves that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong;" [Eccles. ix. 11.] that the most prudent vigilance, the most strenuous exertions, will not always ensure success, nor the boldest arm of human power ward off the stroke of misfortune. How vain then thy [26/27] elation and thy presumptuous confidence in that prosperity Which a thousand accidents may subvert! The unseen arm of an almighty power irresistibly directs all events, and controls all thy actions. He will mock the puny efforts of thy presumptuous strength; he can defeat the best arranged schemes of thy inordinate ambition; whenever the suggestions of his infinite wisdom and sovereign power dictate, he will turn from thee the current of prosperity, and the blessings and advantages of which thou dost now proudly boast, will be the portion of another.

Learn then, my brethren, from the uncertainty of all human enjoyments, to indulge with moderation in the blessings of prosperity. Let not those adventitious gifts elate you, of which the capricious events of the future may deprive you. Cultivate, even in the exhilaration of prosperity, that humble and dependent spirit, that deep sense of the uncertainty of all human enjoyments, which will lead you to employ aright the blessings which distinguish you, and prepare you to bear, at least with composure, the unforeseen stroke that may tear them from you. Consider all the advantages which you enjoy, as talents intrusted to you for wise purposes, by the Almighty Giver of all good; and, above all, remember he will call you to a strict and solemn account of the use you make of them while in your possession.

"You know not what shall be on the morrow." How absurd, then, a proud confidence in ourselves!

If all the events which affect our prosperity were placed perfectly within our control, and if we could [27/28] always foresee the dangerous assaults to which our virtue would be exposed, we might then have some ground for confidence in the dictates of our own prudence and the efforts of our own strength. But since events which have the most important effect on our interest and our happiness often defy the keenest foresight and baffle the provisions of the most consummate sagacity, since our virtue is exposed to the sudden and violent assaults of the most alluring temptations, a proud confidence in our own wisdom and power is not more presumptuous than dangerous. Self-confidence lulls that vigilance and caution which, fortified and guided by divine grace, are the only effectual guards of our piety and virtue. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." [1 Cor. x. 12.] How often does that self-confident strength which to-day boasts its efficacy and reposes in security, to-morrow fall a victim to an unexpected temptation dressed in some novel and alluring garb? The lesson which we should learn from the uncertainty of every thing human, is to distrust ourselves, to acknowledge our own weakness, and to seek that almighty strength which will give success to our efforts, which will enable us to sustain and to repel the most powerful assaults of our spiritual enemies. "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow." Temptations may assail you, which in a moment may hurl you from the heights of virtue into transgression, and shame, and remorse. Look forward, then, to thy future course, not with confident presumption, but with solicitude and apprehension. Reflect often on the number and power of the temptations which surround you, and on the weak[28/29]ness of your own resolutions and your own efforts, and turn with deep distrust from yourselves to that almighty Being who is ready to succour you. Supplicate with earnest, with humble, with persevering fervour, that all-powerful grace which alone, by quickening and strengthening your own powers and exertions, can keep you from falling, can defend you through the vicissitudes of life, and through the seducing temptations to which, in this your Mate of probation, you are constantly exposed.

"Ye know not what shall be on the morrow." How unwise then that inordinate attachment to the world, which prevents us from preparing for the inevitable, but, as to the time of its occurrence, uncertain event which is to separate us from it.

If daily experience did not verify the lamentable fact, could we be persuaded to believe that man, who is doomed to sink under the stroke of death, who labours under fearful uncertainty in regard to the time when that stroke shall separate him for ever from the world, would yet remain in a state of indifference and insensibility as to those eternal interests that succeed the evanescent concerns of time; as profoundly occupied with sublunary objects, as if the tie that binds him to them were never to be sundered, or as if he could place this dread event at an immense distance? Though every day conducts to the tomb some of his fellow-mortals, arrested in that vigorous bloom of health which now freshens his countenance and enlivens his heart, in the full flush of that worldly desire and enjoyment in which he revels; though the unerring aim of death sometimes arrests, without warning, his careless victims, and instantly palsies [29/30] the stoutest frame, man shuts his heart to this voice of warning which speaks from the chambers of the dead--"Be ye also ready." [Matt. xxiv. 44.] He celebrates his impure pleasures over the ashes of his friends and kindred that are scarcely cold. What infatuation! what criminal folly! Boastest thou that thou holdest life by a tenure that cannot be shaken; that, mocking the assaults of death, thou canst securely prosecute thy ambitious projects, and indulge thy sensual desires? Yes--whatever may be thy deliberate opinion, this is the language of thy conduct. To judge from the eagerness, the solicitude, the ardour, the supreme devotion with which thou dost pursue the objects of thy passions, we would suppose that here thou wast to terminate thy existence; that the world contained the only objects worthy of thy pursuit, and that could gratify thy desires. Ah! "thou knowest not what shall be on the morrow." Thy separation from the world is inevitable. An eternal destiny awaits thee. The awful period of thy entrance on it is hidden in the gloom of futurity. It cannot be far distant. It may be near at hand. Perhaps now the sentence is passed from the lips of thy almighty Judge--"Thy days are numbered"--and the angel of death is marking thee for his next victim. And wilt thou then indulge thy worldly passions, when the arms of death may be encircling thee? When eternity opens upon thee an irreversible destiny, shall the fleeting pleasures of time engross thy thoughts'? When the tribunal of thy Judge is pronouncing thy eternal doom, wilt thou remain careless and secure 1 Alas! that the sinful indulgences, or even the lawful pursuits and enjoyments of to-day should entirely occupy us, when [30/31] we know not what may be on the morrow--when, on the morrow, the bright scenes of prosperity in which we now delight, may have vanished in darkness and in sorrow; when the health which to-day gives vigour to our exertions and zest to our enjoyments* may to-morrow be exchanged for the languor and the pains of sickness; when that life which to-day is ours, may to-morrow be extinguished in death; when to-day is the appointed time, the day of salvation, and to-morrow may behold us in that eternity where is to be the award of happiness or misery eternal.

Brethren, let the reflection daily occur to us, and be seriously pondered by us--"we know not what shall be on the morrow." Let it be pondered by us, in order that we may make him our refuge under whose control is that morrow, and who can mark it to us either with the light of prosperity or with the darkness of wo; who can continue it to us as the gracious period of our probation, or, closing with it our mortal course, summon us to the unchanging scenes of an eternal existence. In the consideration of the uncertainty which hangs over the morrow, let not this day pass without the resolution, if that resolution has not been already made and executed, to make our peace with that almighty Being who thus regulates the destinies of time and eternity, and whom we have offended by our sins. Let his pardon be implored and obtained in deep penitence, in entire dependence on his mercy and grace through his eternal Son, who, as at this time, he sent into the world, to take upon him our nature, and to become obedient to the law, that he might free us from its penalties. Reconciled unto God through penitence and faith in the merits and [31/32] mediation of his Son Jesus Christ, renewed to holiness in the powers and affections of our souls, and evermore studying to do the will of our Father in heaven, we may confide in his protection and his favour. Whatever may be the changes of tomorrow, whatever may be the number of the days of our probation, whatever may be its vicissitudes, we shall enjoy the assurance of that high and holy One who sits on the throne of the universe, that they shall "all work together for our good," all contribute to our spiritual improvement here, and to the perfection of our natures and the consummation1 of our bliss hereafter. Then the blessings of prosperity will be heightened to us in the grateful recognition of the goodness and love of the almighty Benefactor who bestows them; the sufferings of this vale of tears will be eased in the humble but lively conviction, that even these our heavenly Father and God designs for our good, our eternal good. And then, even the close of life, the entrance on a future and eternal state of being, which to sinful and unsupported nature is so full of apprehension, if not of terror, will be viewed by us with resigned composure, if not with triumphant hope; for to us it will be the commencement of that day which will never be changed by the vicissitudes, nor clouded by the sorrows, of time, but which will shine forth in the splendour of divine glory, in the lustre of a felicity glowing more and more through the revolutions of eternal ages.

That such may be to each one of us, brethren, the termination of the present life, God of his infinite mercy grant, for Christ's sake; to whom, &c.

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