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Ecclesiastes, vii. 2. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting. othing seems more contradictory to the general sentiments of mankind, than this declaration of the wise man. I shall, therefore, 1. State the sense of the words. 2. Illustrate the fact. I. With respect to the sense, it seems sufficiently obvious. " It is better," as one expresses it, " to go to a funeral than to a festival." A man may lawfully do both : he may glorify God, as Christ did, in going to both : Christ went to the marriage festival at Cana ; and he went to the grave in Bethany, and groaned and wept there. The house of mourning is to be considered, however, as a very distinct thing from any sort of monkish austerity. Men are not taught of God to be ingenious in tormenting themselves ; nor to be volunteers in humility, as the Apostle expresses it. The 10*
114 SERMO XI. wiseman here speaks of any dispensation of affliction, which God has set before ns in his providence : "There is a time to weep," and to meet an afflictive dispensation ; and, instead of wishing to avoid such dispensation by sinful methods, the wise man tells us in the text, that " It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting/' Those persons, therefore, of whom Isaiah speaks,
in his fifty-sixth chapter, who say, " Come ye, 1 will fetch wine; and we will fill ourselves with strong drink ; and to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant" — these men have wholly mistaken the matter : it would be better, far better, to go to a scene of trial and affliction, than to let themselves loose, like brute beasts, to the gratification of their passions. II. Let us endeavour to illustrate the text. I shall do this, by showing you that the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting in these four respects : as 1. It gives better lessons: 2. Supplies better company : 3. Yields better comforts : and 4. Promises a better end. I. There are bbtteb lessons afforded in the house of mourning, than in the house of feasting. The wise man says, at the 12th verse of this chapter, that •• Wisdom is a defence " — " It is better to go to the Imusc of mourning, than to the house of feastin g: for that is the i ad of all men. and the living will lay it to his heart." There is not abetter lesson. It points to the end of man. [f any thing will set him on thinking, it is, that this is what all must expect: every man must arrive at it. This house seals, there-
THE HOUSE OF MOUR I G. 115 fore, on man's heart a most important fact, if he possesses any feeling. There is not a person present, perhaps, who has not, in his youth, adopted the contrary sentiment. We all know, who have ourselves been desirous of going to the house of feasting, that the very tendency and design of it is to make us forget every thing that
we ought to remember and inculcate upon the mind. The house of mourning is wholly the reverse in its tendency : if the man is sober at all, he is sober there : he must be far gone indeed, if he does not think then! Thoughtless man builds a house, and consecrates it expressly to madness, folly, trifling, intemperance, and profaneness. But God mercifully provides another house, to bring him back to recollection, by showing him the end of man : and thus, as the wise man says in the 3d verse, "Sorrow is better than laughter : for, by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better." It is a great thing, brethren, to induce men to think at all. Men talk of thinking ; bat very few think seriously : you rarely meet a man that has a recollected mind, who thinks to any purpose, and asks, " What shall I do in the end thereof?" You can have made no observation on life, if you have not remarked this. It is the grand plan, of what I may call the ordinances of our great enemy, — the house of festivity, — to destroy all recollection: but the house of mourning seems, among other objects, to be designed of God to bring men to thoughtfulness. There are, therefore, better lessons to be learned in the house of mourning, than in the house of mirth. 2. It is better company
116 SERMO XI. " The heart of the wise man is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. " ow as far as a wise man is preferable to a fool, so far is it better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting. I know not a worse abuse of a term, than that of the "best company." Such a one ' : keeps the best company :" that is, the most fashionable people; persons best acquainted with the sciences, and talk, and maxims of the day — who value themselves highly on
such trifling, silly, empty accomplishments — and, because they are loquacious and know the small talk of the day, they are called by others the "best company !*' A thinking man, who endeavours to weigh things as they are, will generally call them almost the worst company he can meet; for were he to spend years in their society, would he be the wiser? — would he be the better? — would he be improving in virtue, much less in religion — in the care of the soul — in the knowledge of God — in faith in Christ? I protest, therefore, against this abuse of the term. I said that the house of mourning has better company. In this house men are taught to think, and to lay things to heart, that even foolish and trifling men seem at least to have a wisdom there which does not belong to them. Hut here are the redeemed of the Lord, — men prepared for any dispensation which God is pleased to afford — learning and studying his will, and asking what he would have them to do. And it is not a small part of the happiness of these men. that they are delivered from that which is the plague of the wise — I mean, Custom.
THE HOUSE OF MOUR I G. 117 Here are found, also, " the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, and the noble army of Martyrs." There Christ himself was found — the man of sorrows ! This is the way to his table, and to his friends above. My dear hearers, if you have found a friend, a real friend, thank God that he has raised up such an one to take care for your soul, to take pains with you, to set before you the falsehoods of life, the cheats and impositions continually put on men. Thank God, if he has raised up such an one, that will take you by the hand, and say, " Let us go and serve the Lord :
and if he call to the house of sorrow, let it be the house of wisdom." 3. The house of mourning has better comforts. This would be an inexplicable paradox to many — " Comforts in the house of mourning ! there may be Lessons of Instruction; but what do you mean by Comforts?" Brethren ! there is bread to eat in that house, which the world knows not of. "Thanks be unto God," says the Apostle, " who always causeth us to triumph in Christ;" not only in the day of prosperity, but in the day of adversity. His friends have " songs in the house of their pilgrimage." The drunkard, in his intoxication, may raise a midnight song; but who will compare his joys with the exultation of that song which was raised by Paul and Silas at midnight in a dungeon? You have the true description of those joys which are found in the house of mirth, at the sixth verse of this chapter : " For, as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool." The joy of the house of feasting is like " the crackling of
118 SERMO XL thorns" — ablaze! a momentary blaze ! leaving the man in darkness — vexed and chagrined — and frequently'driven to commit suicide, in order to escape present disappointment and perplexity ! What is Comfort I — not the intoxicating song of the drunkard! — not the foolish talk of the trifler ! — not the nonsense of the man who for amusement displays his wit, or rather his folly ! What is Comfort? It is a serious satisfaction — something sedative — something well-grounded — something that will administer consolation on a death-bed; that will bear up a man, and enable him to cry, "O Death ! where is thy sting? O Grave ! where is thy victory?" Can you tell me of any thing of this sort in the house of feasting! If there is nothing else in the house of mourning to comfort us, there is the voice
of our Master — the voice of faithfulness, power, and love, to accomplish what he has said : " Blessed are they that mourn : for they shall be comforted." Here is the Comforter himself — a comforter that the world cannot give, nor take away. 4. A better end awaits us in the house of mourning. It was the advice of the wise man, "Whatsoever thou puttest thy hand unto, look to the end, and thou wilt not do amiss." Here you may look to the end : you may ask your heart seriously, " What is the end of all this? For what purpose does God bring me this way I Why ? — It is the way by which he leads his children : and he is leading them to a kingdom, and this is the path to that kingdom. 1 have not, indeed, what he had who ' was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day;' yet, blessed be God, I have not the distresses of
THE HOUSE OF MOUR I G. 119 Lazams, nor am I fed with his crumbs : but. if I must set my foot in one of these two paths, when I look to the end thereof, it does not require a moment's hesitation to decide between them. Let me be Lazarus : let me see Abraham's bosom, by faith ; and wait God's time in God's way." I have seen enough of life, and felt enough to know how painful it is to speak plainly to the young and gay ; but shall we say to them that the end of these things is not death 1 — that the house of feasting may probably end as well as the house of affliction — of repentance — of faith, and hope, and love? Dare we say this? Shall we not rather declare, plainly and expressly, " Thus saith the Lord, Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth : and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth:" — go to the house of feasting : 'call your father a fool : say that religion is the language of the nursery : adopt the maxims of a set of mad companions : laugh at every thing serious : go on — but, God says, in answer to all this, "Know thou that for all these things, God will bring thee in-
to judgment." Know, young woman, that, with all the admiration thou wilt attain, God has said, that "She that liveth in pleasure, is dead while she liveth." In passing through such paths, therefore, as God has set before us, either in the dispensations of his Providence or in his Word, and in waiting on a faithful God for the fulfilment of his promises, we shall have a better conclusion in going to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth. I speak more particularly to young persons on this point, because, of all people, they seem least acquainted with it. I would say to such, Fear not this doc-
120 SERMO XI. trine : fear not the truth of God. It will always do you good : you will be ruined in opposing or neglecting it. Be not, therefore, afraid of the truth. A poor lunatic, in the midst of his gaiety and vanity, if his physician should offer him a bitter medicine, might hate the man because he brought the medicine, and the medicine because it was bitter and would spoil his sport, while its tendency was to enable him to enjoy life and perfect rationality, — such is the man who hates truth or its teachers ! All that you can possibly wish for or imagine here, how many thousands have attained ! And where are they now? — they have passed, in a long procession, one after another, down to the grave. Follow the bier of any one of them : the corpse would shock you — it is covered up — hid from your eyes — put into the ground — soon forgotten — and, now, where is all that house of mirth in which the man once shone, and was amused, and was admired by others, and most of all by himself While you see this most evidently before your eyes, remember that this is no mystical doctrine, no difficult controversial point, but the history of every day. Let us take heed, then, whatever else we forget, that we do not forget the remedy which God has set before our eyes. You have heard many a sermon from a weak man, like yourselves — a man of like passions with you : but, perhaps, your own family God
lias made a house of mourning : he brings home what you have heard : he sets it before your eyes, and wrings your feelings with it : and are you as vain and trifling now, as il he had not taken pains with you 1 Is all this care thrown away 7 Do you need another stroke? I assure you, that though, as ministers, we cannot avoid feeling sympathy with those
THE HOUSE OF MOUR I G. \0\ who have lost a frieid or relative; yet a preacher cannot but recollect that this is the sound of his Master's feet behind him: and, while he laments your sufferings, he knows that his admonitions would have little effect in many cases, were not truth brought home tli us painfully to your business and bosom. Again, it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; because, however dark the house may be, though it may resemble a prison with its bars, so that a man may be ready to say, "I am shut up: 1 cannot get forth :" yet there is no house of mourning but. what admits a ray of the sun, and that beam is a beam of immortality. Christ says to the inhabitants of the House of Mourning, " Look out ! Is thy consolation small? Is thy prospect to be despised ? Is there nothing to be said in this case, that may rouse thy attention, comfort thy heart, and excite 'a hope full of immortality,' when this vision of the moment is gone '?" — and how soon will it be gone with every one of us ! There is not a house in which any one of you lives which will not soon be a house of mourning on his account. "He is dead !" — " He hath been dead these four days!"— "My father is dead !"— C£ My mother is dead !" — " The desire of my eyes is taken away at a stroke ! — My dear child is gone !" Remember, then, that in that house, whatever is gone, one thing is left — the promise of a faithful God : " I am the resurrection and the life : he that believeth in me shall never die." There is "one thing needful;" a "better part:" a voice of instruction, at that very time saying to you, " Take hold of my hand, as
you descend to the grave : hold fast my hand as your refuge set before you. Pray to God with David, 11
£22 SERMO XII. 'Remember me with the favour which thou bearest to thy people: visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen ; that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation : that I may glory with thine inheritance. Remember the word unto thy servant, on which thou hast caused me to hoj Whatever remedies others may propose on this occasion, there is no effectual remedy but the Gospel. Imagination even cannot suppose comfort in death, but from the voice of God calling to look forward to immortality and security. Let us. therefore, while in the house of mourning, not lose the grand truth which is so strongly set forth in it — •• I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live : and he that'liveth and believeth in me, shall never die. : ' That you and I may take firm hold of that privilege, may God grant, for Jesus Christ's sake !
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