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11. To consider the state of his field and vineyard, all grown over with thorns, and covered with nettles, and the stone wall thereof broken down. Then,
III. With Solomon, To inquire what instructions may be received. We return to the first of these, which is,
1. To delineate the character of the slothful.
1. He enjoys the same seasons and opportunities with others. He had a vineyard, and a proper opportunity for cultivating and dressing it. Without this he could neither deserve the character, nor be subject to the blame. Misimproving the opportunity, losing the proper season, and neglecting his field, constitute the distinguishing features of his character. The spiritual sluggard enjoys a season of merciful visitation, and a day of grace, with an express injunction to work while it is to-day, and a certain assurance that the night cometh in which no man can work. Where Divine revelation is enjoyed, the sinner has precious opportunity for every duty. The sluggard might improve much of the time he spends in idleness and sleep, in searching the Scriptures, and performing other duties. He enjoys the Sabbath in common with others; but that day is the greatest burden to him, as the other six are to the man who is slothful about his temporal concerns. He enjoys a summer and harvest for working out his own salvation. This season is called a seed-time, and he is certified, that as he sows, so shall he reap. How
can the man expect a plentful or seasonable harvest who sits in his house, sleeps in his bed, or whiles away his time, when others are taking the seed from the barn, and filling the ground. The Jews enjoyed a precious opportunity when Christ was among them; but if we now turn our eyes to Shiloh, we will discover the fatal effects both of malice and sloth. Could we look within the vail, and listen to the doleful complaints of those who have perished through sloth, we would hear them cursing that love of ease which brought them to such an horrible situation, and bewailing and gnashing of their teeth over neglected opportunities.
2. He is thoughtless about futurity, and neglects the means without which the end cannot be attained. He is thoughtless about futurity. He does not consider how he shall be, or what he shall do. He prefers present ease to his true interest. In a sense diametrically opposite to what Christ intended, he lets tomorrow provide for itself, if he can get sleep and ease to-day. The man who deserves the name about spiritual things, acts in the same manner. He never thinks of the hour of trial. Death and future judgment, though infinitely important in themselves, seldom come under his consideration; and if they occur, he tries to fall the sooner asleep, that he may dismiss such painful subjects. It is certainly true wisdom in the Gospel-hearer to prepare for eternity, and to take no sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids, till he find a place for the Lord. The Saviour who laid down his life for sinners, and has the greatest concern about them, makes this his first and chief direction,
“ Seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof;" but it is the last thing to which the slothful attends. Summer is the fit season for laying in for winter; and elsewhere Solomon sends the sluggard to the most diminutive of all creatures to learn the duty of providing for futurity, Prov. vi. 6—8, “ Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise : which, having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."
He neglects the means without which the end cannot be attained. This is the effect of the former. If his field is not ploughed, nor his vineyard dressed, he can expect no crop; and if he attempts any of these, it is commonly out of season. How can the man expect to reap who only begins to prepare his ground when others are reaping their fruits ? God has appointed a certain connexion between the means of grace and salvation ; and a total neglect, and careless performance of duties, leave no room to expect salvation, and are full evidence that it is not the great concern. The slothful man often begins only to think about eternity, when death or his harbinger threaten to summon him before the Judge; and then he makes some noise about the blessing. Esau is an example of his conduct, and in all probability of his success. A mess of pottage was compensation enough for the blessing once a day; and on apprehending his mistake, that which he once so easily parted with, cannot be now had, though sought with tears: though the least exertion would secure the blessing, the slothful will not trouble himself to make it, and says,
$ Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep;” and when death approaches, his application is commonly insincere and too late.
Some on hearing this say, “We cannot be sure of success though we use the means; what a mercy if we could be assured that all who use the means would be saved !” In our temporal concerns, we cannot be sure of success even when we use the means; but where is the man, who, on this account, neglects to prepare and sow his field, or plant his vineyard! If we cannot be absolutely sure of a full harvest after ụsing the means; we may be sure enough that we will have none without them. We have greater certainty of success in spiritual than in temporal concerns. He that useth the means, seeks the blessing, and aims at believing, will “ receive the end of his faith, the salvation of his soul.” Others object, “ that many have got grace here, and glory hereafter, who did not improve the means; and, like the thief on the cross, have been rescued from the mouth of hell and wafted to heaven." How would it look, if the greater part would give over their employ, and sit down at ease, because some unexpectedly have got a legacy enough to support them to their dying hour? Many have been imprisoned and condemned for some atrocious crime, who, on the very day appointed for execution, have received a a full pardon : will others on that account commit the crime and run the risk ? God, who is rich in mercy, may perform miracles of grace, and take persons into his vineyard at the eleventh hour; but his usual way is to bestow the blessing in the use of
means. His great direction is, “ Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He calls us expressly to * work out our own salvation with fear and trembling;" and sets before us great encouragement, “ for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
3. The least thing he does is a burden, and he is deaf to every argument and consideration which would tend to reclaim him. The very thought of working, or putting himself to any trouble, is like tearing the flesh from the bone; and is, by many degrees, more tormenting to him than the thing itself to one of another character. In a spiritual sense, if he is under the necessity of attending on ordinances, or being in a company where religion is the leading subject; his heart says, “ what a weariness is it !"
He is deaf to every consideration calculated to reform him. The slothful man's relations, and neighbours, who live around him, are pained at his folly, and use every argument which bids fair to reclaim him; but all in vain, for “ the sluggard is wiser in his own conceit, than seven men that can render a reason." They point out in the plainest manner his hazard, and the risk which he runs. They warn him of the approach of the winter storm, and the straits to which he must then be reduced, when he has neither provided fuel to keep him warm, food to supply his wants, or, the other necessaries of life. He may, perhaps, allow in part the propriety of all they say; but still he persists in his former course.
He would rather feel the fears of luture difficulties than shake