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SERMON XX X.
THE WHOLE DUTY OF MAN.
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his
commandments : for this is the whole duty of man."-Eccl. xii. 13.
I HARDLY need to observe, that the fear of God denotes internal piety, and the keeping of the commandments of God denotes the expression of it by external obedience. This religion of heart and life is said to be the whole duty of man; or rather, as it is in the margin, the whole of man. This is a very high encomium upon religion!
I. Let us consider, in the first place, who gave such a noble recommendation of vital piety. The recommendation of religion comes with less grace, less force, and less conviction from some men than from others. Those who are preachers by office, and derive their reputation, their influence, and their support from preaching, may be supposed to recommend religion from sinister motives. Their recommendation may be deemed mere priestcraft, and unworthy much attention or regard. Ministers are thought and said to be, by some, very superstitious and ignorant men, who are unacquainted with the ways of the world, and the great and grand things which afford the highest satisfaction to men of cultivated minds and elevated stations in life. Though clergymen may be sincere and well
. meaning men, yet they have low and contracted views of the world and the things of the world, which leads them to imagine that piety and devotion are the highest sources of human happiness. Their recommendation of religion, therefore, must weigh very light in the minds of those who know more of the world, possess more of the world, and derive more happiness from it. Let us inquire, then, who recommends religion so highly in the text. If we now turn to the first chapter of this book, he will tell us who he was. “I the preacher was king over Israel in
Jerusalem." Upon this preacher we may make a few remarks.
He was not a preacher by office. He did not belong to the tribe of Levi. He was never consecrated to the priest's office, nor clothed in pontifical or sacerdotal robes. He was no minister of the sanctuary, and received no compensation for any sacerdotal services. He was not a clergyman, but a mere layman, and had no personal interest to serve by promoting or rec. ommending religion. His recommendation of it, therefore, ought to be considered as sincere, impartial, and entirely disinterested.
There is no reason to think, that he was ever given to religious enthusiasm, superstition, or bigotry. He was a king's son, received a princely education, was early initiated in all the customs and manners of a palace, and associated with the richest and greatest men in the kingdom. It is difficult to conceive how such a man in such a situation could be enthusi. astic, or superstitious, or bigoted in religion. He was no visionary or superstitious preacher, and therefore recommended religion from a full conviction of its truths and importance.
He was a man of superior learning, wisdom, and sagacity. The inspired writer of his life tells us, that "God gave Solo
" mon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. His wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men.”
He had more wisdom, knowledge, and learning, than all the priests, philosophers, and moralists among the surrounding nations, who had lost the knowledge of the true religion, and fallen into the grossest errors and delusions. He was able to distinguish the true doctrines of divine Revelation from all their false and absurd sentiments respecting God, virtue, and piety. There is no ground to suspect that he founded his religious opinions on the ignorance, tradition, or delusions of the heathen. He knew the origin not only of the true religion, but every false religion then prevalent. He declared from his own knowledge, that to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole duty of man. Besides, he made this declaration after he had become immensely rich, and attained to the highest degree of worldly splendor and magnificence. The weight of gold that came to him in one year, was six hundred three score and six talents, which amounted to above four millions and a half sterling. At the same time, he reigned not only over Judah and Israel who were numerous as the sand by the sea; but over all the kingdoms, from the river, unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt. If we now turn to
the second chapter of Ecclesiastes, he will tell us how he employed all his power, wealth, and honor to his own self-gratification. “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards ; I made me gardens and orchards; and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy.” Now none can suppose, that Solomon, in all his glory, recommended religion as the highest source of human happiness, because he was ignorant of the world, and all the happiness the world can afford to those who possess the largest share of it. He was fully capable of weighing the worth of the world, and the worth of religion in the balance of the sanctuary, and determining the comparative weight and worth of each. The conclusion which this royal preacher formed in favor of the supreme worth and importance of religion, is worthy of universal attention and belief. Let us next inquire,
II. How it came to pass, that the king of Israel formed such a favorable opinion of a devout and religious life, which was so different from the general opinion of mankind. He tells us, that after he had seriously, critically, and extensively examined the nature and tendency of the most brilliant and flattering objects of the world, he found they were totally insufficient to satisfy the large desires of a rational and immortal mind. After he had made the experiment himself, he drew up a conclusion of the whole matter, and wished to publish it for the instruction and benefit of all future generations, that to fear God and keep his commandments was the whole duty of man. If the world could have made any man completely satisfied, without religion, it seems as if it might have made Solomon so. But he solemnly declares, that he actually found it to be, not a source of happiness, but of unhappiness.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. I have seen all the works that are done
I under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem. In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver ; nor he that loveth abundance with increase. This is also vanity.” Thus Solomon found by his own unhappy experience, that the world could not afford him pure and permanent happiness,
which led him to conclude, that nothing short of vital piety can make a rational and immortal soul supremely and forever happy. Let us consider,
III. The truth of Solomon's conclusion of the whole matter : “ Fear God, and keep his commandments : for this is the whole duty of man.”
The filial fear of God and cordial obedience to his commands, comprise the whole of true religion, and true religion constitutes the whole duty, worth, and importance of man, or as it is in the original, “ the whole of man."
This Solomon pronounces to be true from his own experience, after all that he had seen, and known, and possessed of the world. Let us now inquire whether he formed a wise and just conclusion upon this interesting subject. And we must all be convinced, that his conclusion is well founded, if we consider,
1. That righteousness or true holiness forms the supreme glory and moral excellence of man. Holiness constitutes the highest glory and moral excellence of every intelligent being in the universe. God is love. His glory and moral excellence consist in pure, holy love, which spreads a moral beauty and glory over all his natural attributes of power, knowledge, wisdom, and sovereignty. Were not these natural perfections under the influence of his pure and perfect goodness, he would not be the most amiable and glorious, but the most formidable and most odious being in the universe. It is holiness alone, which adorns the character of Gabriel, and renders him superior in worth and moral excellence to Lucifer, the meanest and most contemptible of all the creatures of God. It was holiness, which stamped the moral image of God upon Adam, and made him but a little lower than the angels in his moral worth, dig. nity, and importance. Though God endued him with rational and immortal powers, and made him capable of perpetual advances in the knowledge of the divine character, perfections, and
purposes; yet as soon as he lost his holiness, he lost all his moral glory and excellence, and became the vilest creature on earth. Though his posterity are endued with noble intellectual powers, which they are capable of perpetually cultivating and improving ; yet they are vile and worthless creatures so long as they remain totally depraved and entirely destitute of every holy and virtuous affection. But righteousness, or true holiness adorns all their intellectual powers, restores the moral image of God, and raises them to the primitive glory and excellence
But as soon as they become holy as God is holy, they become perfect as God is perfect. True religion is the highest glory and ornament of the human character, and renders man
worthy of the love and approbation of God, and of all his rational creatures. Solomon never appeared more glorious, nor commanded higher veneration and respect, than when he poured out his heart in fervent prayer at the dedication of the temple. Job was more beloved, venerated, and admired for his piety, than for all his power and wealth. All men are of the same opinion, in respect to what they believe to be true religion or vital piety. They all inwardly acknowledge, that it constitutes the highest dignity, worth, and importance of man. The godly esteem the godly the excellent of the earth, and even the ungodly inwardly bow before the godly. Any man, whether he be rich or poor, high or low, who appears to fear God and keep his commandments, rises higher in the real estimation of the world, than any ungodly, unprincipled man can rise. Solomon's opinion of piety approves itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
2. Religion renders men the most useful, as well as the most amiable and excellent. God made mankind for his own glory, and designed to employ them as instruments of promoting it. For his pleasure they are and were created. Accordingly, he has given them a rational and immortal existence, and endued them with all those corporeal and intellectual powers and abilities, by which they are capable of answering the end of their creation. All these noble powers and faculties are so many talents, which they can employ either for, or against their Creator and Benefactor. So long as they continue in the state of nature under the influence of their depraved hearts, they either bury their talents like the slothful servant, or employ them in their own service, instead of the service of God. Absalom was a man of great beauty and brilliancy. He was endued with talents of the highest order, which he might have employed in the service of his father, of his Maker, and of his country, but his ambitious spirit prompted him to employ all his superior powers against his father, his God, and his country, and to ruin himself for time and eternity. This is the disposition of all men, who are destitute of the fear and love of God. They go out of the way, become unprofitable to God, and useless and worse than useless to themselves, and to the world. But true religion or vital piety disposes men to employ all their noble powers and faculties to answer the great and important purposes for which they are given. Supreme love to God never fails to lead men to consecrate themselves and all that they have to the glory of God. “Love is the fulfilling of the law," and produces universal obedience to the divine commands. Though Paul had basely abused his noble talents, and become a worth