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Of the work affigned to every man, and the feafon for doing it.
JOHN ix. 4.
I must work the works of him that fent me, while it is day: The night cometh, when no man can work.
HESE words our bleffed Saviour spake of himself, whilst he was upon earth; in which he tells us, that he was fent by God into the world, and had a certain work and employment appointed him during his abode in it. A great work indeed to inftru&t, to reform, and fave mankind. A work of great labour, and pains, and patience, not to be done in a fhort time; and yet the time for doing it was not long after he came into the world, it was a good while before he began it; and af ter he began it, the time of working was not long before the night came, and put an end to it: I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: The night cometh, when no man can work.
But that which our Saviour here fpeaks of himself, and which properly belongs to him and no other, may yet be accommodated to every man, with some allowance for the difference and difproportion. For though every man be not fent by God into the world after fo peculiar a manner, and upon fo particular and vaft a defign; yet upon a general account, every man is fent by God into this world, and hath a work given him to do in it, which he is concerned vigoroufly to mind and to profecute with all his might. And though every man be not fent to fave the whole world, as the Son of God was, yet every man is fent by God into the world, to work out his own falvation, and to take care of that in
the first place, and then to promote the falvation of others, as much as in him lies. So that every one of us may, in a very good fenfe, accommodate these words of our Saviour to himself, I must work the works of him that fent me, while it is day: The night cometh, when no man can work.
I fhall therefore at this time take the liberty to handle thefe words according to this moral accommodation of them, and apply what our Saviour here fays of himself, to every man that cometh into the world: And this I fhall do, by fhewing thefe three things:
First, That every man hath a work affigned him to do in this world, by him that fent him into it; and may in fome fenfe fay, as our bleffed Saviour did of himself, I must work the works of him that fent me.
Secondly, That there is a certain and limited time for every man to do this work in. While it is day.
Thirdly, That after this season is expired, there will be no further opportunity of working. The night cometh, when no man can work.
Firft, Every man hath a work affigned him to do in this world, by him, that fent him into it, and may in fome fenfe fay, as our bleffed Saviour did of himself, I must work the works of him that fent me. God who made man a reasonable creature, and hath endued him with faculties whereby he is capable of knowing and ferving him, hath appointed him a work and fervice fuitable to these faculties: And having infused an immortal foul into this earthy body, hath certainly defigned him for a state beyond this life, in which he shall be for ever happy or miferable, according as he ufeth and demeans himself in this world.
So that the work which every one of us hath to do in this world, is to prepare and fit ourselves for that eternal duration which remains for us after death. For the life which we live now in this world, is a time of exercise, a fhort ftate of probation and trial, in order to a durable and endless state, in which we shall be immutably fixed in another world. S 2 This
This world, into which we are now fent for a little while, is as it were God's fchool, in which immortal fpirits cloathed with flesh, are trained and bred up for eternity: And therefore the best, the only fure way to be happy for ever, is, fo to improve the fhort and uncertain time of this life, that we may approve ourselves to God in this world, and enjoy him in the next: Or (as St. Paul expreffeth it) that having our fruit unto holiness, our end may be everlafting life.
And this work confifts in these three things:
II. In doing what we can to promote the falvation of others.
III. And in order to both thefe, in the careful improvement and good husbandry of our time.
I. In the care of our own falvation. And this confifts in two things,
1. In the worthip of Almighty God.
2. In the careful and confcientious practice and obedience of his holy laws.
1. The care of our own falvation confifts in the pious and devout worship of Almighty God; that we honour him, and pay him that honour and refpect, which is due from creatures to him that made them, and is the great Sovereign and Judge of the world; that we have an inward reverence and efteem of him, and that we exprefs this by all folemn external acknowledgments of him; as by praying to him for the fupply of our wants; by praifing him for all the bleflings and benefits which we have received at his hands; and that we set apart conftant and folemn times for the performance of these duties; and then when we are employed in them, we be ferious and hearty, and attentive to what we are about, and perform every part of divine worship with thofe circumftances of reverence and refpect, which may testify our awful fenfe of the divine majefty, and our inward and profound veneration of him with whom we have to do: And this is that which is directly and properly religion.
2. This care of our own falvation does confift likewife in the confcientious and conftant obedience and practice of God's holy laws, in the conformity of our lives and actions to the laws which he hath given us, whether they be natural, or written upon our hearts, or made known to us by the revelation of his word; that we govern our paffions by reason, and moderate ourselves in the use of sensual delights, fo as not to tranfgrefs the rules of temperance and chastity; that we demean ourselves towards others, and converfe with them with justice and fidelity, with kindness and charity.
Thefe are the fum of the divine laws, and the heads of our duty towards ourselves and others; all which are more powerfully enforced upon us by the revelation of the gospel, and the plain promifes and threatnings of it; the faith of Chrift being the most firm and effectual principle both of piety towards God, and of univerfal obedience to all his particular commands.
And this is the great work which God hath fent us to do in the world. So the wife man fums up our duty, Ecclef. xii. 13. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. The fear and reverence of the divine majefty is the great foundation and principle of religion; but obedience to God's laws is the life and practice of it. God does not expect that we fhould spend the greatest part of our time in the immediate acts of religion, and in the folemn duties of his worship and fervice; but only that we fhould allot a fitting portion of our time to thefe, according to the circumftances of our condition in this world, and the example of holy and good men that are in the like circumftances with ourfelves. For fuch is the goodnefs of God, that he does not only allow us to provide for the neceffaries and conveniencies of this life; but hath made it our duty fo to do It is one of the precepts of the gofpel, which the Apostle chargeth the Bifhops and Teachers of the gofpel to inculcate frequently upon Chriftians, that they which have believed in God, fhould be careful to maintain good works; that is, to
employ themselves in the works of an honeft calling, for neceflary ufes; that is, for the fupport of their familes, and the relief of those who are in want and neceffity. And the Apostle lays great weight and ftrefs upon this, as a very great duty, Tit. i. 8. This is a faithful faying, and thefe things I will that thou affirm conftantly, that they which have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works. Thefe things are good and profitable unto men; that is, of general benefit and advantage to mankind.
So that no man's calling is a hindrance to religion, but a part of it; and by performing the duties of piety in their proper feafons, and spending the reft of our time in any honeft and ufeful employment, we may make our whole life a perpetual ferving of God ; we may glorify God in our eating and drinking, and in all other lawful and useful actions of life.. In ferving the occafions and neceffities of life, with fobriety and temperance, and in managing our worldly commerce with juftice and integrity, we may ferve God, and perform confiderable duties of religion.
So that provided we do nothing that is finful, and manage the actions and concernments of this life, with a due regard and fubferviency to the great interefts of eternity, we may do the work of God all the while we are providing for ourfelves, and employed in the works of an honeft calling: For God, who hath defigned this life, in order to the other, confiders the neceffities of our present state, and allows us to make provifion for it.
There are fome perfons indeed, whofe birth and condition fets them above the common employments of life, and the works of an ordinary calling; but thefe alfo have a work given them to do; for God hath fent no man into the world to no purpofe, and only to take his paftime therein; neque enim ita generati fumus à natura, ut ad ludum & jocum facti effe videamur ; fed ad feveritatem potiùs, & quadam ftudia graviora atque majora: "For we are not (fays
Tully de off. lib. 1.) fo framed by nature, as if we were made for fport and jeft, but for more se"rious employments, and for greater and weightier