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HUMAN ACTIVITY A MEANS, OF OBTAINING BLESSINGS
Mark iii. 5.
Stretch forth thine hand. ALL the ways of God are perfect and right, whether man be reconciled to them or not. He is the Lord and Sovereign of the universe, and all his intelligent creatures are bound to render implicit obedience to all his commands; for no one of them is unreasonable. All the general laws and positive precepts of the supreme Ruler are such as are worthy a Being supremely wise and good. Notwithstanding there is a controversy between the supreme, moral Governour, and his rebellious subjects on the earth, his foot-stool. Their language is, His ways are hard and grievous; not suited to the state and condition of weak and erring mortals. But says the Lord, Come now and let us reason together. ways equal ? and are not your ways unequal ? In infinite compassion he condescends to reason with men, even the rebellious, who find fault with his
ways, and call him a hard master. The words of the text with those in connexion, are an interesting narrative, and serve to show the depravity of the human heart, and the benevolence of God towards man. Jesus entered into the synagogue; and there was a man there, which had a withered hạnd. And the Phari. sees watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man, which had the witbered hand, stand forth. And he said unto them, is it lawful to
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do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save lite, or to kill ? But they held their peace. And when he looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand, And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. By this miraculous restoration at the exertion of the man we are taught, that human activity is a means of obtaining blessings from God. The subject will be illustrated with considerable variety.
ist. The conduct of mankind in natural life, may serve to illustrate and evince the necessity of human activity, in order to obtain what are denominated natural blessings. The comforts and conveniences of life are not obtained by idleness and sloth ; but by industry and activity. The earth would not yield her increase in such rich profusion, were it not cultivated by the hand of inan. There must be ploughing and sowing, harvesting and ingathering, that the wants of her numerous inhabitants may be supplied. Not only activity, but times and seasons are to be observed, for committing seeds to the earth, and for gathering her precious fruits. Hence the husbandman at a suitable time casts forth seed, and then patiently waits for the early and latter rain, and in due season reaps a rich harvest, as a reward of his lahours. The earth is a vast and inexhaustible store-house, from which, by proper means and exertions, the whole human family may derive the necessities and com
. forts of life. But without human activity only a small portion of the globe could subsist. Even in paradise Adam was to till the ground; and since the fall, human labour is necessarily increased. After the flood the promise was made, while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not
But this does by no means imply, that should mankind fold their hands together as the sluggard and call for a little more sleep, that the earth would
spontaneously abound with all her productions, and lavish on man her choicest goods. It is designed as an encouragement for human exertion. And, in similar circumstances, where a people are the most industrious and economical, there the good things of this life are enjoyed in the greatest profusion. All nature teems with life and activity; and to the slothful, her voice of admonition is, Go to the ant, thou sluggard ; consider her ways, and be wise. As it is true, that without the blessing of God, in giving fruitful showers and the genial influence of the sun, the labours of man would be vain, so is it equally true, that in the constitution of natural things, we may be led to see the necessity of human activity, in order to obtain what are denominated natural blessings.
2d. Individual prosperity in earthly good things, is connected with human activity. It is true that wealth or riches are distributed by the hand of Providence, whether mankind are born to affluence, or whether they acquire wealth by the means of their labours: It is also a matter of fact, that the industrious do not always become wealthy, nor that riches are always to men of understanding. But, still we often see this truth verified, That idleness will clothe a man with rags; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. Property is generally acquired by the use of means; either by bodily or mental exertions, and frequently by both. Some by persevering labour and an enterprising spirit, not only obtain a competence, but accumulate great riches. The person in want is convinced, that human activity is the proper means to relieve his necessities. Such may trust in Providence; but this is only by looking to God for a blessing on their labours or honest exertions. And we may frequently see from the conduct of such, that necessity is the mother of invention. The worthy poor man does not give himself up to idleness; but he gives diligence, by some honest calling, to obtain food and
raiment, and the varied comforts of life. Whether any one be more or less successful in the lawful pursuits of secular concerns, he must depend on the blessing of God to crown his endeavours with success. Still this dependance is not a discouragement to exertion; but a ground or reason to excite to action. Not only the word of God, but also the conduct of mankind serves to show, that human activity is a means for individuals to obtain earthly good things.
3d. In time of sickness or of some natural calamity, human activity and means, are necessary in order to obtain a blessing from God. Although it is true, that it is appointed unto man once to die, and that his days are nuinbered with the Almighty as the days of an hireling, that he cannot pass; yet it is equally true, that where life is prolonged, means are included. In times of sickness of an alarming nature, how quickly is the physician called, and how carefully his prescriptions observed. In some cases without his assistance, life would not be endangered; but, in ten thousand instances, without his speedy aid, death would inevitably ensue; whereas, through his instrumentallity, the years of many are multiplied. Still it is the blessing of God, which alone can give efficacy to medical aid, to raise from the borders of the grave, and restore to health. How are the most skilful exertions baffled, unless he give efficacy. But, notwithstanding the keys of life and of death, are in the hands of God; yet how readily do mankind make use of human exertions and means, in order to preserve life and promote health.
And whether the Lord grant blessings by a natural or miraculous cause, he has instituted means to be used, and demands human activity. Sometimes, however, men despise the directions from heaven, and would prescribe the means to be used for their own selves, as if they were wiser than their Maker. The story of Naaman, captain of the Assyrian host, and who was a leper,
may be happily brought to view in this place. By a little Hebrew maid, he hears of a prophet in Israel. With a letter from the king of Assyria, he departs; taking ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment, as a price or present for his healing. So Naaman came with his horses and his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times ; and thy flesh shall come again unto thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away; and said, Behold, I thought he will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?
I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned, and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith unto thee, Wash and be clean. Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. We may notice, that Naaman despised simple means, and desired to have pompous ones substituted. And that the advice of his servants was the means, which induced him to follow the directions of the prophet, without which his leprosy must have remained upon him. The Saviour's anointing the eyes of the blind man with clay, and his restoring sight, are worthy of consideration. Why was clay used, and not proper eye-salve? Because the power and blessing of God might not appear so conspicuous. Hence he would use means which would not appear to have any inherent virtue or efficacy, that the efficiency might appear manifest from God alone. Now let us attend