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this will preserve that gravity of mind which becomes a Christian, and keep us in a prepared temper to fulfil present duty, and to wait the final event of all things.
Direct. II. If we would maintain that venerable decency in our frame of spirit, and in our deportment, which becomes the gospel, let us set ourselves about some useful employment for the service of God, or our fellow-creatures, or for our own best improvement. If Satan find the mind empty of thought, and the hands void of all business, he will be ready to fill them with temptations to iniquity and mischief: And the triflers of this world will be ready to seize upon such a person as a fit partner for their impertinences, and allure him into follies beneath the dignity of human nature, and the character of a Christian. : I have often pitied some of the descendents of honourable and wealthy families of both sexes, the unhappiness of whose education has given them nothing to do, nor taught them to employ their hands or their minds: Therefore they spend their hoạrs in sauntering ; not knowing whither to go, and are at a loss what to do with themselves to wear their life away. Upon this account they give themselves up sometimes to the mean and scandalous pleasures of the lowest of the people, and spend their hours in chattering and vulgar merriment. They make the business of their dress the study and labour of half the day, and spend another part of it in trifling discourse and laughter, and in scattering jests and scantheir neighbours or acquaintances.
All these pieces of folly and immorality would be rectified if they would but find out for themselves some daily and proper business to be employed in. King Solomon, at his leisure hours, studied natural and moral philosophy; he discoursed of the nature of vegetables, from the cedar to the hyssop, and of beasts, birds and fishes; besides his Proverbs, and rules of pru
dence for the government of human life, 1 Kings iv. 32, 8c. St. Paul, when he was not employed in his sacred work, yet he would not be idle; and having no need to study for his serions, which he had by inspiration, therefore he wrought with his hands at tent-making, and maintained himself by it: Not, says he, because we have not power to eat your bread while we teach you the gospel; but to make ourselves an example to you. See Acts xviii. 3. and 2 Thess. iii. 8, I. And good Dorcas, when she had no business of her own, made coats and garments for the poor, Acts ix. 36, 39. Such honourable examples as these deserve our imitation.
Direct. III. Let us keep a strict watch over ourselves when we indulge miřth, and set a double guard upon the seasons of recreation and divertisement.
The rules of religion do not so restrain us from the common entertainments of life, as to render us melancholy creatures, and unfit for company. There is no need to become mere mopes or hermits, in order to be Christians. The gospel does not deprive us of such joys as belong to our natures, but it refines and heightens our delights. It draws our souls farther away from mean and brutal pleasures, and raises them to manly satisfactions, to entertainments worthy of a rational nature, worthy of a creature that is made in the image of God. The innocent entertainments of life are not utterly forbidden to Christians, but are regulated by the gospel.
When we have considered and found them to be lawful, then they are to be regulated these two ways.
1. All our recreations and divertisements must have some valuable end proposed.
2. We must distinguish the proper time and season of them, and confine our diversions to that sea
1. They must always have some valuable end proposed. The chief and most useful design of them, is to make us more chearful and fitter for some hours
or days of service afterwards. Recreation must not be our trade or business, but merely used as a means to prepare us for the valuable businesses of life.
The scripture indeed tells us, that of every idle word that men shall speak, there shall be an account given in the day of judgment, Matt. xii. 36. And much more of idle hours and actions. But this doth not utterly exclude all manner of recreations, or all words of pleasantry, which may be innocently and properly used upon some occasions ; but whatsoever words, whatsoever conversation, whatsoever sort of pleasurable entertainments, we indulge ourselves in, which have no valuable end, no useful design in them : These will bear but an ill aspect before the judgment-seat of Christ. We shall not be able to give a tolerable account of such idle words or hours at that day, and it is the judge himself who tells us so, and adds his Amen to it.
It is proper more especially for persons that are of a melancholy temper, or that have perhaps been overwhelmed with some bodily diseases, or overloaded with some sorrows, or cares, or businesses of life, to give themselves a little loose and diversion now and then in delightful conversation, or other recreations and exercises. These may be as useful as a glass of wine to refresh nature, to make the heart glad, and the spirits lightsome; for they tend to fit this animal body of ours for better service to the soul in future duties that God calls us to : And so long as we confine our recreations to this design, and keep this end in view, our words of pleasantry in private conversation, and even our recreations and diver- . sions that are more public, may be agreeable to the mind and will of God; for it is his will, that our whole nature, flesh and spirit, should be kept in the fittest frame for duty. And some natures are so constituted, that they will hardly be kept in a temper fit for duty, without some divertisements and recreations. Where this therefore is the end, these
practices cannot be called idle, that is, impertinent, and to no purpose. But where no reasonable design is proposed, sports and merriments are hardly to be defended, for all rational creatures ought to act with a view to some valuable end.
2. Another regulation which ought to be given to all our diversions, is this: We should narrowly watch, lest the time of our recreations intrude upon the hours and seasons of business, or of religion. There is a time to laugh, the wise man tells us, as well as a time to labour, or to pray; but laughter must be confined to its proper place, and proper time, and not intrench upon the season, where affairs of bigger importance, and matters of grave and serious consequence should be transacted.
Conscience has something to do in matters of recreation, as well as in our religious or civil affairs : And as it can never be lawful to rob God or our families of any of the time that should be devoted to their service, on purpose to lay it out in diversior, so neither is it by any means proper to let the seasons of diversion come too near the seasons of worship. When a loose is given to all the natural powers in mirth and pleasure, they are not so easily recollected all at once for the sacred service of religion. Nor should we run hastily away from the duties of worship, and plunge ourselves into the midst even of innocent merriment ; for this would look as though we were weary of devotion, and longed to be at play. A wise Christian will divide his time aright, and make all the parts of his conduct to succeed one another in a decent order.
Besides, the hours of recreations should not be multiplied by those persons who have least need of them; such are persons of a chearful and healthy constitution: And they will be used more sparingly by Christians of maturer age, and longer standing in religion,
As a child grows up toward man, he leaves off the impertinences of infancy, and the sports and trifles VOL. II.
of childhood ; and as a man grows up more and more toward a perfect Christian, his methods of pleasure will be changed from light and gay, to that which is
grave and solid.
To conclude this subject, I would mention only one powerful motive to preserve Christian gravity, and that is, that hereby the temper of your spirit will be better prepared for every religious duty, whether it be prayer or praise, and better fitted to meet every providence, whether it be prosperous or afflictive : Whereas those who perpetually indulge a merry temper of mind, when a prosperous providence attends them, they are tempted to excessive vanity and carnal joy; their hearts are not filled with thankfulness to that God from whom their mercies come, being too thoughtless and regardless of the original donor. On the other hand, when affliction smites them, they are in danger of despising the stroke of the rod, nor does the correction of their heavenly Father, make so deep and useful an impression upon their spirit as it ought
When in the course of our lives we maintain such a grave and composed frame as becomes a Christian, we find our hearts more ready for all the duties of worship. We are prepared to receive evil tidings as well as good, and to attend on the will of God in all his outgoings of providence : We are ready to receive messages of sorrow, or the summons of death, for we are still conversing with God: We keep the invisible world in the eye of our faith And our spirits are ready prepared to depart from the flesh, and to meet our God and our Saviour in the unknown regions of light and immortality.