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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 XXI. Consideration of Temporal and Spiritual Duties.

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Romans xii. 11.

These words are an admirable summary of the duty of a Christian; they are an appropriate and forcible exhibition of his external conduct as it regards the world, of the temper of mind which he should cultivate towards God, and of the great end at which he should aim in all his actions, and the principle by which he should regulate all his dispositions and affections. As it respects the world, he is enjoined "not to be slothful in business;" as it respects his piety to God, he is to be "fervent in spirit;" and the great end at which he should aim in all his actions, and the principle by which he should regulate all his dispositions and affections, is "serving the Lord." He is not permitted to extenuate or excuse his indolence or negligence in the concerns of the world, by the plea of being engrossed by the fervour of his religious feelings. He is not to excuse his lukewarm ness in the exercises and duties of religion, by the care and diligence which his worldly affairs demand. Nor is he to defend either that excessive devotedness and diligence in the concerns of the world, which lead him to neglect the duties of a fervent piety, or that immoderate fervour of religious feeling which [247/248] prompts him to neglect or contemn his worldly business, by the pretext that God is to be served solely by worldly industry on the one hand, or religious fervour on the other. No; according to the injunction of the apostle, these duties are all of indispensable obligation, and all strictly compatible; and they have an important influence upon each other--"Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord."

Let these then be the divisions of our discourse:

1. These duties are all binding upon us.

2. They are strictly compatible with each other.

3. And they have a mutual and important influence.

1. These duties are all binding upon us.

"Not slothful in business."

The universe is full of motion; countless worlds incessantly rolling through immeasurable space, proclaim that activity is the first law of nature. The great Creator himself is unceasingly occupied in superintending that universe which his power called into existence, and in diffusing through its almost infinitely distant parts, life, and glory, and felicity: his eternal perfections lead to incessant and ineffably exalted activity.

That blessed personage who, the brightness of the Father's glory, went through a series of the most active and painful labours for the salvation of the human race, is still incessantly engaged, at the right hand of the Father, in pouring forth intercessions for those for whom he shed his blood, in dispensing his truth and his grace to guide and defend his redeemed people.

Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, [248/249] the most perfect and the most blessed of the numerous ranks of created beings, find their felicity in unceasing activity--in doing the pleasure of Him whose throne they surround, whose glorious praises they cease not day nor night to celebrate.

Even those lower ranks of beings who are destitute of the active principle of intelligence, are urged by that instinct with which Almighty Power hath endued them, to industry and labour--industry and labour often even more than necessary to their preservation and comfort.

Shall then the universe, through its boundless range--shall the Creator of the universe, the eternal Fountain of being and felicity--shall the Redeemer of the world, God over all, blessed for evermore--shall the hoat of heaven, foremost among intelligent creatures--shall they who, guided only by instinct, rank lowest in the scale of animate creation--shall all these be active and industrious, and in that activity find their perfection and bliss; and shall man be sluggish and indolent, man who, made but a little lower than the angels, ought most to resemble them in vigour and activity I No; the powers of the human mind, so vigorous and inquisitive, prove that man was designed for action, for labour, for industry. By exercise only can his intellectual powers be preserved from decay, and be advanced in strength and purity. By useful employment only can that vacuity of mind be prevented which is the bane of real enjoyment, and in which, as a hot-bed, shoot up the rankest vices. By industrious application of his body and mind only can he provide for the comfort and welfare of those whom nature hath made dependent on him, and discharge his duty to society, which, extending to [249/250] him protection and support, demands from him: that exertion which is necessary to preserve and advance the strength and the purity of its institutions.

Thus then do the most powerful considerations enforce the obligation of the duty "not to be slothful in business."

To the injunction, "not slothful in business," the apostle joins "fervent in spirit."

By this is meant spiritual fervour, temporal zeal being already sufficiently enjoined in the prior command, "not to be "slothful in business."

There is not a consideration which has been: urged to establish the obligation of diligence in our temporal, which does not apply, with increased force, to prove the duty of zeal and fervour in our spiritual concerns. Eternity, in its duration, its occupations, and its enjoyments, infinitely transcends the duration, occupations, and enjoyments of time. A spiritual and immortal life infinitely exceeds in value a life corporeal and mortal. The eternal Fountain of being, perfection, and happiness, is infinitely exalted above any object which can here occupy our labours or claim our exertions. If then temporal zeal be incumbent on us, how great must be the obligations of fervour with respect to those spiritual objects which are of infinitely transcendent importance!

But the pious fervour which is thus of indispensable obligation, is not that extravagant fervour which, consisting in inflamed passions, prostrates the reason and the judgment; which, following the impulses of a heated imagination, violates, in its religious exercises^ what in all cases ought to be observed, the dictates of common sense, and [250/251] the rules of propriety and order; and which approaches the great and glorious Being, before whom cherubim and seraphim fall prostrate, with presumptuous and irreverent boldness and familiarity. The fervour in spirit here enjoined, is that lively and sincere love to God, as the greatest and the best of beings, and that earnest, persevering zeal in his service, in the discharge of every religious, moral,, and social duty, which is chastened and regulated by sober judgment and prudence, by a regard to order and decency, by profound reverence and awe of God's holy name: and our reason immediately acknowledges that a Being infinitely great, glorious, and good, our Creator, Benefactor, and Redeemer, infinitely merciful and gracious--who, in his Son Jesus Christ, has provided for us pardon, and grace, and everlasting life--demands the liveliest and most fervent homage and devotion of our hearts.

Who would not think it dishonourable to contemplate human excellence with indifference--to receive the favours of an earthly benefactor with cold ingratitude--to be unmoved when exalted human virtue displays its exciting and attractive lustre? How fervent and animated, then, should be the feelings with which we contemplate the perfections, celebrate the praises, and recount the loving-kindness of that infinitely exalted and beneficent Being, before whose perfections human excellence fades away, and whose goodness and mercy provide for us all the enjoyments of time, and all the blissful hopes of eternity! Be ye then "fervent in spirit."

"Serving the Lord."

His service indeed should be the end and aim of [251/252] all our actions, and should regulate all the affections of our souls; and ought not an intelligent creature to serve the all-glorious God who made him, and who, at his pleasure, can recall the being which he gave? Ought not a sinful and guilty creature to serve that Sovereign Judge whom he hath offended, and at whose tribunal his eternal doom must be pronounced? Ought not the penitent to serve that merciful God who hath forgiven him all his sins, and blotted out all his iniquities? And ought not the Christian to serve that merciful Lord who hath redeemed him by the blood of his Son, sanctified him by the grace of his Holy Spirit, and prepared for him an eternal weight of glory? The relations which we sustain to God our Creator, Benefactor, Redeemer, all demand from us, that, as creatures made, preserved, blessed by him--as sinners pardoned and comforted by his mercy and grace in Jesus Christ--as Christians, who are here the subjects of his infinite love, and who are destined for the full and endless joys of his presence hereafter--we should make his service the supreme end and aim of all our thoughts, words, and actions. To present ourselves to him a holy sacrifice; to glorify him with our bodies and spirits, that are his; to walk in all his commandments and ordinances blameless; whatsoever we do, to do all to his glory, from a regard to his authority, from a sense of our accountableness to him, and from a desire to please him, and to promote his honour and glory among men--this is rendering to him that service which his own exalted nature and the relations which he sustains to us demand.

[253] "Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord."

2. These duties are strictly compatible, and no way interfering with each other in the due discharge of them.

Diligence in our lawful concerns need not prevent the exercise of our pious affections, and the regular discharge of those duties of prayer and praise which we owe to the infinitely great and glorious Being who made, sustains, and has redeemed us. The affections of the soul may be fixed upon God, and his perfections and mercies may excite our pious love and gratitude, even when we are engaged in the ordinary occupations of life. Our hearts may glow with the fervours of piety--may send up the secret ejaculations of prayer and praise to the God of all goodness and mercy, our strength and our Redeemer--even when we are moving in the circles of business, or enjoying the innocent recreations of life.

This tendency of the soul towards God, this keeping him steadily in our thoughts, this constant study to approve ourselves to him, this earnest desire to obtain his favour, this uniform temper of gratitude and love to him, constitute that fervour of spirit which the apostle enjoins. Whenever the incessant calls of business prevent us from attending to the supreme concern of our relative discharge of the stated duties of public and private devotion, whenever worldly pursuits engross our thoughts and affections so as to weaken the fervour of our pious desires, we may be assured that we are more devoted to the world than is compatible with our religious duties--more devoted to the [253/254] world than is due to the perishing, uncertain, and unsatisfying objects of our pursuit--and more devoted to the world than is necessary to our solid advantage or comfort, to the discharge of our duty to those who are dependent on us, or to the gratification of our reasonable wishes. We cannot serve God and mammon. While the pursuits of the world thus occupy our thoughts and affections, while the forming and executing of plans of worldly prosperity constitute the unceasing study and labour of life, we may be lovers of pleasure, we may be votaries of mammon, but we cannot be the servants of God. But when diligence in our worldly concerns is united with pious fervour of spirit, and with a supreme regard to the service of God, then,

3. These duties have an important influence on each other.

Pious fervour of spirit and habitual regard to the authority of God can alone prevent the diligent and assiduous pursuit of the lawful objects of the world from corrupting our souls, and perhaps leading us to the commission of acts which reason and conscience would condemn. He who rises early and sits up late, and eats the bread of carefulness only that his worldly plans may be crowned with success, forgetting God his Maker, the concerns of his salvation, and the service which, as a rational and immortal creature, he owes to the Lord his God, will not be able to resist those powerful temptations, against which there is no safeguard but the fear of God. In him who is not controlled by this holy fear, what security is there, that when the preservation or the acquisition of that wealth to which he is supremely devoted, tempts him to an [254/255] act of injustice or dishonesty, his soul will rise superior to the temptation? In him whose bosom never glows with pious love and gratitude to God his Maker, Benefactor, and Redeemer, is there not danger that nobleness of sentiment, that the feelings of generosity and benevolence will become extinct; and that despicable meanness, low cunning, and griping avarice will usurp dominion? The pursuit of gain, independently of the principles and motives that should excite and regulate the pursuit, and of the pious and virtuous objects to which it should be devoted, tends to contract and to corrupt the soul. The passion for it is then only praiseworthy and honourable, when religion controls it, when pious fervour expands its narrow and selfish spirit, when an habitual regard to the service which we owe to God secures us from its-numerous and powerful temptations.

On the other hand, diligence in the lawful pursuits of the world is useful, and indeed necessary, to prevent pious fervour of spirit from running into the most dangerous excesses. He who, neglecting his worldly concerns, devotes himself to religious contemplations and exercises, not only violates the divine precept which enjoins him not to be slothful in business, but is in danger of losing the character of an enlightened, sober, consistent Christian, and of becoming an enthusiastic zealot. The objects of religious contemplation are so sublime--God and his perfections, the Saviour and his glories, heaven and its felicities, are objects so ineffably exalted and inspiring, that when the lively affections of the soul are constantly occupied on them, judgment becomes obscured, and reason dethroned. Our unbridled imagination hurries us into all the [255/256] lamentable excesses of enthusiasm, or we sink from a height too dazzling for our weak powers, into the vale of dejection, melancholy, and despair. We were formed for the world, its duties, its pursuits, and its innocent joys. To serve the Lord, who made, and who will finally judge us, is indeed the end of our being; and while we fulfil our obligations to him, and keep his service constantly and supremely in view, we shall prevent our diligence in business from quenching our pious fervour, and our pious fervour from leading us to neglect the necessary duties and occupations of life.

Admirable and appropriate, therefore, is the injunction of the apostle--"Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord."

Alas! how many separate duties which ought ever to be united! View that votary of the world, that slave of business, ever alert, ever pressing forward, ever occupied. See you him in the temple of his God? The world is the only temple in which he worships, mammon is the idol which receives all his homage--he has none for the Being who made, and sustains, and who is to judge him. See you him retiring to his closet, to ofter his prayers and praises to the Author of his being, the Benefactor of his life? His closet witnesses only his vows of devotion to the world--it is the scene only of worldly cares and concerns. Look into his heart. Glows it with pious fervour, with divine and holy emotions? The love of gain is the supreme passion which has drawn within its corrupting vortex all his powers and affections. What must the end be of such a man? Surely he is not fitted for the presence of his God. What must his end be, but everlasting destruction with that world which he [256/257 has made his portion--the bitter pains of eternal death.

Turn your view to an opposite character, more rare indeed, but almost equally hostile to the true Christian spirit. See that misguided zealot. Puffed up with spiritual pride, or deluded by a heated imagination, he looks down upon and denounces the pursuits, and duties, and enjoyments of life. He estimates the power of religion solely by the fervent emotions which it excites in his soul, and not by the effect which it produces on his tempers, his life, and his conversation; and thus devotes his time almost entirely to religious exercises and contemplations, undervaluing, if not neglecting, the social and relative duties of life.

Brethren, be it our care to avoid these dangerous extremes. Let us consider diligence in some lawful pursuit as the law of our nature, the dictate of reason, the command of God. But let us also remember, that pious fervour of spirit, holy love and devotion to the Lord, can alone preserve us from the corrupting power of the world, and qualify us for the enjoyment of our heavenly home. Let us check our immoderate ardour for the things of the world, by the solemn question, which we cannot too often address to ourselves, "What will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" To serve the Lord, who made, preserves, and redeems us, and thus to secure our eternal salvation, when the world and all that it contains shall have passed away--let this be our supreme concern. In the busy scenes of life, let our hearts ascend in prayer to God for the comforts of his mercy, and the guidance of his grace. In the midst of the enjoyments of the world, let [257/258] us check our immoderate indulgence in them, by ascending in heart and mind to that heavenly country, where is reserved for the servants of God, a happiness which eye hath not seen, which ear hath not heard, and of which the heart of man cannot conceive. Let us constantly remember, that (to use the expressive language of our liturgy) "we are set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that, by reason of the frailty of our nature, we cannot always stand upright." Let our dependence, therefore, be placed upon that grace, without which we can do nothing. In the language of the liturgy, let us beseech God to grant us such a measure of his grace, that we, running the way of his commandments, may obtain his promises, and be made partakers of his heavenly treasures. "Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit," let us pass the time of our probation on earth in "serving the Lord." Then, though, when we have done all, we shall be unprofitable servants, yet we have the unchanging promise of our gracious God, that, through the merits of our all-prevailing Mediator, an entrance shall be administered unto us, into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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