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Nothing so much constitutes evil times as evil men, and they are greatly brought to this state by disregarding their conscience, and trampling it under foot. The way to make matters better is to enlighten and purify the conscience. Many deceive themselves, and think their conscience good, because it is quiet, and gives them no disturbance; while it, like the watchman spoken of by Isaiah, is dumb, and cannot speak. With professing Christians, conscience is not silenced all at once, but gradually. In proportion as its authority is disregarded, its injunctions and reproofs are less frequent, and have less power, till at last it becomes seared, and then the soul is without a wall or fence.
We shall only add, that when the stone wall is broken down, every enemy and temptation have easy access at any place, and may waste the vineyard at their pleasure. The soul of the sluggard is the place where Satan dwells and works. So to speak, he travels out and in at pleasure; and scarcely can any temptation be too gross when the soul is brought to this situation. Sin is no sooner suggested than complied with: duties are neglected: and eternity, and the great account which must be made to the Proprietor, are seldom, if ever, thought of. Thus he sleeps on thoughtless about, and unprovided for futurity.
When Solomon considered well the vineyard of the slothful, “ he received instruction.” With him, we now come to inquire what lessons may be learned from this affecting subject; and among others we may observe the following,
1. That sin is most deceitful. We can scarcely conceive a more pitiful object than the sluggard, or a more disagreeable situation than his; and yet he is greatly satisfied, much at ease, and apparently pleased and happy. No remonstrance prevails to make him change his course. Looking around us we see the slothful and careless sinner living in the neglect of almost every duty, and yet enjoying himself, and speaking peace to his own soul. Neither his present sins, nor his future reckoning gave him any disturbance.
. 2. The amazing patience of the great Hu nd man. One cannot but be surprised that he leaves the vineyard so long in the possession of one of such a character. We would be ready to think that as soon as there was no fruit, or the least appearance of briers and thorns, it would be taken from the sluggard, and given to another. But “God is long-suffering, and slow to anger, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” His thoughts are not as ours. Though the Lord does not immediately dispossess him, he takes the most particular notice of the fruit he ought to have had, and the length of time he enjoyed his privileges, as is expressed Luke xii. 7, he said, “ Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none, cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?” Often the Lord is so provoked as to lay the ax to the root of the tree, and yet through the intercession of Christ, « lets” the unfruitful cumberer of the ground " alone another year, to see if he bring forth fruit."
3. The necessity of a standing ministry. Gospel ministers are labourers and vine-dressers, and watch for souls. They point out the way of salvation. They are a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. It is a great part of their office to awaken the slothful, and to use every mean, persuading them by the terrors of the Lord, and inviting them by the grace of the Gospel, saying, as in Ephes. iv. 15, “ Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." They explain the Seriptures. They warn sinners, and set life and death before them, the blessing and the curse. The Lord has promised to be with them, and make them successful, and if many believe not, some will; and the election shall obtain.
4. That under the means of grace the church and individuals will bring forth fruit of one kind or other. There is no such thing as an empty heart. Gospel ordinances will either be the savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. There will be fruit unto sin, or unto holiness. There will either be the pleasing fruits of grace laid up for our beloved, or thorns and nettles. We have a list of each kind mentioned by the apostle, Gal v. 19-26, “ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, séditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the
kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is lore, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
5. The excellency of grace. What a vast difference between the sluggard and the exercised Chris, tian! While the one is concerned about nothing but present ease, crying, “ Yet a little sleep;" the other looks about him. He looks at the things that are unseen and eternal, and has his conduct influenced by them. He looks for Christ and communion with him in duties and ordinances, and listens to his voice. He looks to God in his providential procedure, sees his hand in what passes over him, and endeavours to improve every dispensation. He looks to the Holy Ghost as the great Comforter, and seeks from him all the gracious influences of which he stands in need. He looks to his own heart to see if grace
grace flourishes and grows. He looks around him lest his adversaries come and hurt his vineyard. In one word, he is a child of the light and of the day, while the slothful is a child of the night and of darkness : he does not sleep as the sluggard, but watches and is sober,
6. That poverty is the certain consequence of sloth. In the last verse of this chapter the wise man says, Thy poverty shall come, as one that travelleth ; and thy want as an armed man.” Poverty follows sloth as the shadow the body. It may ad
vance apparently by slow degrees; but it will come. At the hour of death, complete poverty will overtake the sluggard, and he will be no more able to resist it, than a person fast asleep can resist an armed enemy. Then he will be deprived of every mercy, and his misery will be complete. He will be eternally helpless and hopeless. Sinners should take warning before it be too late.
6 O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end !"