Is this possible, my brethren? Surrounded by objects attractive to every sense and gratifying to every feeling, can we so far abstract ourselves from them as, in the literal meaning of the expression, not to look at them, not to regard them] No, constituted as we are, the things which are seen being not only the sources of high enjoyment, but essential to our comfort, and even to our present existence, must unavoidably engage our attention, our solicitude, and our exertions.
And yet this precept has a meaning not to be evaded. It is indeed only one of a numerous class of precepts which inculcate the same sentiment. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth," "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," were the declarations of the divine Author of our religion. And his inspired apostles enjoin us--"Love not the world, nor the things of the world." "The friendship of the world is enmity with God." "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth." "Seek those things which are above." "Look not at the things which are seen."
 In what sense, then, we are to understand these injunctions, is a practical inquiry of the first importance, the determination of which will enable us to test our own claim to the character of real Christians, and of course our title to the favour of God and the happiness of heaven.
Let us regard, then, the Christian as looking not at the things which are seen, in reference to
I. The principles by which the Christian is animated are not derived from the world, and render him independent of it.
The supreme principle which animates him, is a concern for his salvation. He very justly reasons--"What will it profit me, if I should gain the whole world and lose my own soul? The period of my existence here is short--but a few years, and those worldly prospects that now dazzle and allure will vanish in the darkness of the grave. What folly then, and what guilt and danger, to pursue the objects of the world, which I must leave--leave at a moment, perhaps, when I most confidently calculate on a long enjoyment of them--and neglect a provision for my soul, whose existence is prolonged beyond this transitory life, in a state of happiness or misery that never terminates!"
Influenced by these, considerations, the Christian friakes the salvation of his soul his supreme concern; no worldly objects are permitted to come in competition with it; they are all rendered subservient to the momentous work of avoiding that [414/415] eternity of misery, and of securing that eternity of happiness which succeeds the present transitory existence.
How different, in this respect, is the Christian from the man of the world! The former regards the numerous objects and pursuits that in the world solicit and engage him, as in no respect worthy of desire or pursuit, except as they are subordinate to the higher concerns of that immortal existence for which he is destined, and as they aid him in attaining that eternal felicity which is there proffered him. No object which the world can present--its wealth, however abundant; its honours, however splendid; its pleasures, however fascinating--appears to him worthy of consideration, when put into the balance against the interests of eternity. But wealth, and honour, and pleasure are the objects that engross him who lives only for the world, His thoughts, his feelings, his time, his exertions are all devoted to his aggrandizement, his elevation, his enjoyment here. The things of eternity are forgotten--or, if they obtrude upon his thoughts, he banishes these unwelcome visitants in the renewed and vigorous pursuit of some of the objects of that world for which alone he lives, and which alone constitutes the source of his enjoyment. He lives for the world; and when ho is summoned to leave it, he enters on eternity unprepared; he appears before the tribunal of his Maker loaded with his transgressions; his soul is the scat of passions that render him unfit for heaven; and the sentence that dooms him to misery, in banishment from the presence of his God, is unavoidable as well as just.
The Christian, on the contrary, having lived [415/416] above the world, by making all its concerns and enjoyments subservient to the salvation of his soul, finds the period of his departure from it the commencement of a state of felicity as pure in its nature as it is endless in its duration.
Another principle, under the influence of which the Christian lives above the world, is a supreme regard to the authority of God.
He constantly recognises the right of his Maker, Preserver, and Benefactor to his supreme homage and service. By the laws which his Almighty Sovereign imposes, and not by the maxims and the rules of an erring and corrupt world, does he regulate his conduct. What does the law of that Being prescribe, on whom, as my Creator and Sovereign, I am dependent, and to whom, as my Judge, I must render an account? What will he approve? what will he condemn? These are the inquiries which occupy him, and by which he tests the propriety of every measure, and ascertains the course to be pursued in every emergency. When the laws which the world imposes, the maxims which it prescribes, the course of conduct which it sanctions, are at variance with the supreme devotion and service which are due to the Maker and Sovereign of the universe, the Christian with decision and with promptness disregards and rejects them. His is a higher principle of action than any which the world can furnish; not, like worldly principles, liable to error and to change, and often corrupt in their tendency and consequences; but a regard to the authority of the supreme Lord of all, pure, correct, and unchangeable as his own infinite and eternal nature.
But the principle which especially animates the [416/417] Christian, and under the influence of which he lives above the world, is the principle of faith.
Destitute of this principle, the things of the world, which are ever presenting such numerous attractions, would engross his attention. It is faith only which diverts his view from the objects that solicit and gratify his senses, to those spiritual realities that afford substantial enjoyment to the soul. On the authority of the word of God, supported as it is by evidence conclusive to the understanding and sanctioned by the principles of nature, the Christian receives all those sublime truths that proclaim the perfections and the laws of the Maker and Ruler of the universe--the plan of redemption for sinful creatures, through the merits and grace of a divine Redeemer, and the glories of immortality for those whose destiny was the dust from whence they were taken. The Christian receives all the glorious truths which God has revealed, not merely with the cold assent of the understanding, but with the cordial affiance of the heart; so that these truths do not remain only the subjects of speculation, but are brought to control and to regulate every power of the mind, every feeling of the soul, and every action of the life. Emphatically, as the apostle describes him, he "lives by faith;" and thus perceiving, in the perfections of the adorable Author of his nature--in the wise and beneficent laws which the Benefactor of the universe has prescribed--in the gracious overtures of that plan of salvation by which, through the merits and grace of a divine Redeemer and a divine Sanctifier, pardon and holiness are assured to the corrupt and the guilty--in the favour and protection of him who is wise in counsel and mighty in power, as he [417/418] is good in all that he doth--and in the fulness of glory which, at the resurrection of the just, consummates the felicity of the righteous, both in body and soul--perceiving, in these divine and spiritual realities which by faith he contemplates, objects infinitely more worthy of his solicitude and pursuit than any of those which gratify only the senses, while too frequently they corrupt the heart, the Christian loves not the things of the world, which are seen; his enlightened vision, penetrating beyond the objects of time and sense, lays open to his enraptured contemplation the glories of the spiritual and eternal world; elevated above this abode of doubt, of error, of sin, and of sorrow, his spirit pursues its flight to the regions of light and glory, where it enjoys, in God's presence, a felicity which it sought in vain in the world. It is by the powerful and elevating principle of faith that the Christian looks not at the things which are seen: a citizen of heaven, heaven is his country, his home--though for a while he is an exile on the earth.
Thus, then, the Christian lives above the world, as it respects his principles.
2. Let us regard him as it respects his duties.
These are all discharged (even those which arise from his connexion with the world, and which will cease when that connexion is dissolved,) with fidelity, with a fidelity more uniform and pure than that with which the mere man of the world performs the same duties, because necessary to his comfort and advancement in the present life. They are often faithfully discharged by those who acknowledge and feel the influence of no higher [418/419] principles than such as arise from the dictates of nature, from worldly interest, from considerations of personal comfort and reputation, of domestic enjoyment, and of social order and prosperity. But the Christian advances further. In the discharge of every relative and social duty he disclaims not the influence of motives of a temporal nature; but he controls and regulates them all by the higher motives of a regard to the will of his Almighty Maker and Sovereign, and to the salvation of his soul. Under the paramount sway of these principles, his fidelity in the discharge of his worldly duties is secured, even when temporal motives cease to operate, or when indeed they have raised an opposing current. Acting at all times from those elevated motives which, arising from divine and spiritual things, are not subject to the changes and impurities from which no sublunary object is exempt, the Christian is uniform, prompt, vigorous, and decisive in the discharge of his duties, directing his view beyond every earthly interest, and every temporal consideration, to the tribunal of his Maker, where he is to be judged, and to the glories of eternity, that are to be his rewards.
3. But, in regard to the trials to which he may be called, the Christian most emphatically lives above the world.
He makes no pretensions indeed to that apathy which professes to be unmoved at calamities affecting those worldly interests and joys which are entwined around our hearts, and from which they cannot be sundered without pain. Still less does he boast of that indifference which beholds, in the loss of worldly comforts, the deprivation merely of [419/420] objects not essential to our real dignity or enjoyment, or to that philosophical composure which submits to the stroke solely from the consideration that it is inevitable and irremediable. No; the Christian feels as a man. Though far from regarding the good things of the present world as necessarily connected with his virtue or his peace, he values them as important means both of usefulness and enjoyment, and therefore, when lost, to be regretted; and as to the higher joys of relative and social affection, pure in their origin, benignant in their influence, could they be wrested from him without a pang, it would prove him to be not above, but below the finest feelings of nature. He knows also that it would be felly to fret at calamities not to be averted, but, on the contrary, aggravated by murmuring and repining. The Christian is composed and submissive; but his composure and submission do not subdue, but control that sensibility which gives animation to virtue and sprightliness to joy, and which; when chastened by Christian faith, turns even mourning into rejoicing. The Christian is composed and submissive, because his trust is firmly stayed on that Almighty Being who rules over all, in the whirlwind and the storm, as well as in the sunshine and the calm; and who, refreshing him here by his favour, is preparing for him hereafter the fulness of bliss.
Is he disappointed in some favourite expectation, from which he anticipated wealth or enjoyment? He acknowledges the superintending agency of that all-wise and all-merciful Being, who often disappoints our expectations, because the gratification of them would be injurious to our virtue, [420/421] and not promotive of our real happiness; and who hath promised, in that degree and at that period which infinite wisdom and goodness deem most fit, to those who seek his kingdom and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their temporal comfort.
Do adverse events, in rapid succession, overwhelm the edifice of the Christian's prosperity? Holding fast his confidence in God, the tempest agitates indeed, but does not prostrate his soul. In the midst of the wreck of his worldly goods, he can cast the look of composure and of trust to that Being who never yet afflicted but for the good of his creatures, never but in proportion to their deserts, and never without opening to the dejected spirit those consolations of his favour, those hopes of future bliss, which the world could neither give nor take away. The Christian, confiding in the promise that he will not be forsaken, is animated to those exertions that may be necessary to repair the ruin that has overwhelmed him. There is an unfailing promise--"Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Often the morn of joy succeeds, even here, the night of sorrow; but assuredly, a morn that no sorrow caw cloud, the morn of an eternal day, will dawn, and bring the fulness of felicity to the soul of the Christian. Light is sown for the righteous, and joyful gladness for the upright in heart.
Do bereavements still more severe than the deprivation of worldly goods pierce with anguish the spirit of the Christian? Are his friends and his relatives, one by one, wrested from him; and is he left desolate on the bleak desert of the world t He rises above it, rises in holy faith to that [421/422] celestial region which is his home, the home to which* his Christian relations and friends are translated before him, and where he will again meet them in the presence of God, never to experience the anguish of separation, or to suffer any diminution of the fulness of their bliss.
The Christian, animated by faith in God, lives above the trials of the world.
4. Lastly. Under the influence of the same holy principle, he lives above its enjoyments: not that he childishly disregards them--not that he proudly deems them unworthy of his attention--not that he pharisaically refrains from them, as necessarily incompatible with his virtue. Incompatible with virtue they often are, through excessive indulgence, or through the particular temperament of the individual, or the circumstances in which he may be placed. But to refrain from the good things of the world, when they do not abate the strength and fervour of our pious principles, or relax our virtuous efforts, would be an ungrateful contempt of the bounties of that gracious Being who hath conferred them upon us, that in the submissive, and thankful, and moderate enjoyment of them, we might glorify him, the beneficent Giver.
Still, the Christian, surrounded as he may be by worldly comforts and enjoyments, lives above them. He bears in mind that he is the heir of joys infinitely more exalted in their nature, and endless in their duration; not subject, as are his present joys, to the changes of time, to the imperfections of the world, to the stroke of calamity--but fixed in God's presence, and pure and exalted as the divine glory. In his progress to these joys, [422/423] the Christian thankfully and piously indulges in those which the bounty of a gracious Providence here bestows upon him; but the imperfect pleasures that solace his journey, only serve to increase his ardour for the full delights of his home; there his heart is surely fixed, where true joys are to be found; and anticipating there the consummation of the virtuous pleasures in which he here indulges, the enjoyment of them is not diminished by the fear of their termination. Oh! how truly are the ways of religion ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace! The Christian loves not the world, and yet he only truly enjoys it.
If these things be so, how great is the mistake of those who regard a religious life as incompatible with their enjoyment! With a supreme devotion to the things of the world a religious life is indeed incompatible; for it is the characteristic of the Christian, that he looks not at the things which are seen. Animated by a supreme concern for the salvation of his soul, and regulated by an habitual regard to the authority of God, and by the powerful and elevating principle of faith, he discharges with fidelity all the duties of life; and while he derives consolation under its trials, look beyond its highest pleasures to the incorruptible and unfading joys of his heavenly inheritance. Thus living above the world, he is consoled under its trials, and animated, in the experience of its virtuous pleasures, by the prospect of their consummation in the full glories of heaven.
Oh, then, Christians, look not at the things which are seen. By pious reading and meditation, and above all, by habitual prayer for the quickening and sanctifying inspirations of God's Holy Spirit, [423/424] cherish that faith which is the principle of the spiritual life; daily, hourly, constantly realize that you are the servants of God and the heirs of heaven--the servants of God, bound in all things to please him, who will make all things work together for your good--and the heirs of heaven, not to be seduced, by the imperfect pleasures which surround you, from the incessant and supreme pursuits of those joys that are reserved for you in your heavenly inheritance. For this purpose, frequently participate of that holy supper, in which your spiritual privileges are effectually confirmed. When the world assails you by its trials, make Him your refuge and your friend, who, as a Father, loves and pities his children, loves and pities those who fear him; and be excited, by the experience of the vanity of earthly joys, to secure these which flow, pure and satisfying, from the city of the living God. And when the world surrounds you by its innocent enjoyments, indulge in them, but in moderation, remembering that you have a better and an enduring inheritance. Be constantly on your guard, that even the thankful and moderate enjoyment of the things which are seen, does not withdraw your attention from the heavenly objects which are not seen, but which are eternal--the only satisfying joys of the immortal spirit; in anticipation, its highest delight here--in possession, the fulness of its bliss hereafter.