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What is the great overture of the gospel, but the gift of a most blessed Comforter, to abide with us for ever; cheering our hearts with his lightsome presence and ravishing consolations? This topic enlarged on. Wherefore a Christian, as such, ought to be the most jocund and blithe person in the world, always in good humor, with a light heart and calm spirit, &c. for is it not absurd for him who is at peace with Heaven, his own conscience, and all the world; for him who is possessor of the best goods, and heir of immortal happiness; for him who is the friend of the Son of God, to fret or wail? This topic enlarged on.
What is there belonging to a Christian, whence grief can naturally spring? From God our exceeding joy; from divine truth; from God's holy law which rejoiceth the heart; from wisdom, whose ways are pleasantness; from virtue, which cures all mental distempers and vexatious passions; from these things, about which a Christian, as such, is only conversant, no sorrow can be derived. Wherefore there is the same reason, the same obligation, the same possibility, that we should rejoice evermore, as that we should always be Christians: this point enlarged on.
To exercise piety and to rejoice, being, as it were, things, no good deed being performed without satisfaction, the acts of joy which we may exert on various occasions, are so numberless, that a few only are here touched on.
I. We should evermore rejoice in the exercise of our faith; according to that prayer of the Apostle, Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing. Every kind of faith, that which embraces divine truths, that which applies God's mercy, that which ensures God's promises, that which confides in his providence, is each a spring of joy.
1. The faith which embraces God's heavenly truth does not only enlighten our minds, but is apt to affect our hearts; there being no article of our faith or mystery of our religion, which
does not involve some great advantage or favor, im parted to us by our Maker: this topic enlarged on.
2. At least that faith should greatly exhilarate us which applies these verities, wherein God opens his arms widely to embrace us, proposing the most kind overtures, and effectual remedies for all the maladies of our souls: this subject also dilated on.
3. And whence can we feel more hearty satisfaction than from a firm persuasion concerning the real accomplishment of those exceedingly great and precious promises, whereby we become capable of the most excellent privileges and ample benefits?
4. Likewise the faith of confidence in God's providence and paternal care of us, whatever our condition may be, should infuse into us cheerful temper. Instances of this, and exhortations to the same from holy Scripture.
II. We should evermore rejoice in the practice of Christian hope, making good that aphorism of Solomon, The hope of the righteous shall be gladness, and obeying those Apostolical injunctions, that we should rejoice in hope, &c. All hope, in proportion to the worth of its object, and the solidity of its ground, is comfortable, it being the anchor of the soul, &c. : this topic enlarged on.
III. We should evermore rejoice in performing the duty of charity; both that which we owe to God, and that which is due to our neighbor.
Love is the sweetest of all passions; and when, by the conduct of wisdom, it is directed to a worthy and attainable object, it cannot but fill the heart with delight.
And such, in all respects superlatively such, is God; who infinitely above all other things deserves our affection for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which he bestows on us; without whom all things are vain, unprofitable, and hurtful to He is the most proper object of our love; for we chiefly
were framed, and it is the prime law of our nature, to love him. He, of all lovely things, most certainly and easily may be attained; for he is most ready to impart himself, and will not reject any that cometh unto him; but cherishes and encourages our love by the sweetest influences, favors, and returns: this topic enlarged on.
Indeed this celestial flame, kindled in our hearts, cannot be void of warmth: we cannot fix our eyes on infinite beauty, taste infinite sweetness, cleave to infinite felicity, without also rejoicing in the first daughter of Love to God, Charity towards man; the which in complexion and cheerful disposition doth most resemble its mother, ridding us of all those gloomy turbulent imaginations and passions, which cloud our mind and fret our heart; &c.
Who can enumerate or express the pleasures which await on every kind, on each act of charity? How triumphant a joy is there in doing good! What satisfaction is there in forgiving offences, whereby we imitate the pattern of our blessed Redeemer! How unconfinedly vast is that delight which a charitable complacency in the good of our neighbor, a rejoicing with those that rejoice, affords! Concluding observations.
I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. V.-VERSE 16.
REJOICE evermore !' O good Apostle, how acceptable rules dost thou prescribe! O blessed God, how gracious laws dost thou impose! This is a rule, to which one would think all men should be forward to conform; this is a law, which it may seem strange that any man should find in his heart to disobey for what can any soul desire more than to be always on the merry pin, or to lead a life in continual alacrity? Who readily would not embrace a duty, the observance whereof is not only pleasant, but pleasure itself? Who is so wild as to affect a sin, which hath nothing in it but disease and disgust?
That joy should be injoined, that sadness should be prohibited, may it not be a plausible exception against such a precept, that it is superfluous and needless, seeing all the endeavors of men do aim at nothing else but to procure joy and eschew sorrow; seeing all men do conspire in opinion with Solomon, that a man hath nothing better under the sun than -to be merry.' Were it not rather expedient to recommend sober sadness, or to repress the inclinations of men to effuse mirth and jollity?
So it may seem; but yet, alas! if we consult experience, or observe the world, we shall find this precept very ill obeyed: for do we not commonly see people in heavy dumps? do we
not often hear doleful complaints? is not this world apparently a stage of continual trouble and grief? Did not the preacher, on a diligent survey of all the works done under the sun,' truly proclaim, Behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit?' Where, I pray, is any full or firm content? where is solid and durable joy to be found?
It is true that men, after a confused manner, are very eager in the quest, and earnest in the pursuit of joy; they rove through all the forest of creatures, and beat every bush of Nature for it, hoping to catch it either in natural endowments and improvements of soul, or in the gifts of fortune, or in the acquists of industry; in temporal possessions, in sensual enjoyments, in ludicrous divertisements and amusements of fancy; in gratification of their appetites and passions; they all hunt for it, though following a different scent, and running in various tracks; some in way of plodding for rare notions; some in compassing ambitious projects; some in amassing heaps of wealth; some in practice of overreaching subtilties; some in wrecking their malice, their revenge, their envy; some in venting frothy conceits, bitter scoffs, or profane railleries; some in jovial conversation and quaffing the full bowls; some in music and dancing; some in gallantry and courting; some in all kinds of riotous excess and wanton dissoluteness; so each in his way doth incessantly prog for joy; but all much in vain, or without any considerable success; finding at most, instead of it some faint shadows, or transitory flashes of pleasure, the which, depending on causes very contingent and mutable, residing in a frail temper of fluid humors of body, consisting in slight touches on the organs of sense, in frisks of the corporeal spirits, or in fumes and vapors twitching the imagination, do soon flag and expire; their short enjoyment being also tempered with regret, being easily dashed by any cross accident, soon declining into a nauseous satiety, and in the end degenerating into gall and bitter remorse; for, 'even,' as Solomon observed, in laughter, the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness;' and, though,' as it is said in Job, (ch. xx. verse 12. 14. 20.) wickedness is sweet in the mouth -yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him' so that indeed the usual delights which men affect