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THE IMPORTANT QUESTION.
MATTHEW XVI. 26.
"What is a Man profited, if he shall gain the whole World, and lose his own Soul ?"
1. THERE is a celebrated remark to this effect, (I think in the Works of Mr. Pascal,) That if a man of low estate would speak of high things, as of what relates to kings or kingdoms, it is not easy for him to find suitable expressions, as he is so little acquainted with things of this nature. But if one of royal parentage speak of royal things, of what concerns his own or his father's kingdom, his language will be free and easy, as these things are familiar to his thoughts. In like manner, if a mere inhabitant of this lower world speak concerning the great things of the kingdom of God, hardly is he able to find expressions suitable to the greatness of the subject. But when the Son of God speaks of the highest things, which concern his heavenly kingdom, all his language is easy and unlaboured, his words natural and unaffected: inasmuch as known unto him are all these things from all eternity.
2. How strongly is this remark exemplified in the passage now before us! The Son of God, the great King of heaven and earth, here uses the plainest and easiest words: but how high and deep are the things which he expresses
therein? None of the children of men can fully conceive them, till emerging out of the darkness of the present world, he commences an inhabitant of eternity.
3. But we may conceive a little of these deep things, if we consider, First, What is implied in that expression, a man's gaining the whole world: Secondly, What is implied in losing his own soul: We shall then, Thirdly, see in the strongest light, What he is profited, who gains the whole world, and loses his own soul.
I. 1. We are, first, to consider, What is implied in a man's gaining the whole world. Perhaps, at the first hearing, this may seem to some equivalent with conquering the whole world. But it has no relation thereto at all: and indeed that expression involves a plain absurdity. For it is impossible, any that is born of a woman should ever conquer the whole world; were it only because the short life of man could not suffice for so wild an undertaking. Accordingly, no man ever did conquer the half, no, nor the tenth part of the world. But whatever others might do, there was no danger that any of our Lord's hearers should have any thought of this. Among all the sins of the Jewish nation, the desire of universal empire was not found. Even in their most flourishing times, they never sought to extend their conquests beyond the river Euphrates. And in our Lord's time, all their ambition was at an end: "the sceptre was departed from Judah :" and Judea was governed by a Roman Procurator, as a branch of the Roman Empire.
2. Leaving this, we may find a far more easy and natural sense of the expression. To gain the whole world, may properly enough imply, to gain all the pleasures which the world can give. The man we speak of, may, therefore, be supposed to have gained all that will gratify his senses. In particular, all that can increase his pleasure of tasting, all the elegancies of meat and drink. Likewise, whatever can gratify his smell, or touch: all that he can enjoy in common with his fellow-brutes. He may have all the plenty and all the variety of these objects which the world can afford.
3. We may farther suppose him to have gained all that gratifies "the desire of the eyes;" whatever (by means of the eye chiefly) conveys any pleasure to the imagination. The pleasures of the imagination arise from three sources, grandeur, beauty, and novelty. Accordingly, we find by experience, our own imagination is gratified by surveying either grand, or beautiful, or uncommon objects. Let him be encompassed then with the most grand, the most beautiful, and the newest things that can any where be found. For all this is manifestly implied in a man's gaining the whole world.
4. But there is also another thing implied herein, which men of the most elevated spirits have preferred before all the pleasures of sense and of imagination put together; that is, honour, glory, and renown:
Virum volitare per ora.
It seems, that hardly any principle of the human mind is of greater force than this. It triumphs over the strongest propensities of nature, over all our appetites and affections. If Brutus sheds the blood of his own children; if we see another Brutus in spite of every possible obligation, in defiance of all justice and gratitude,
"Cringing while he stabs his friend;"
if a far greater man than either of these, Paschal Paoli, gave up ease, pleasure, every thing, for a life of constant toil, pain, and alarms: what principle could support them? They might talk of amor patriæ, the love of their country; but this would never have carried them through, had there not been also the
Laudum immensa cupido;
the immense thirst of praise. Now the man we speak of, has gained abundance of this; he is praised, if not admired, by all that are round about him. Nay, his name is gone forth into distant lands, as it were, to the ends of the earth.
5. Add to this, that he has gained abundance of wealth; that there is no end of his treasures; that he has laid up silver as the dust, and gold as the sand of the sea. Now when
a man has obtained all these pleasures, all that will gratify either the senses or the imagination; when he has gained an honourable name, and also laid up much treasure for many years: then he may be said, in an easy, natural sense of the word, to have gained the whole world.
II. 1. The next point we have to consider is, What is implied in a man's "losing his own soul?" But here we draw a deeper scene, and have need of a more steady attention. For it is easy to sum up all in a man's "gaining the whole world." But it is not easy to understand all that is implied in his " losing his own soul." Indeed, none can fully conceive this, until he has passed through time into eternity.
2. The first thing which it undeniably implies, is the losing all the present pleasures of religion; all those which it affords to truly religious men, even in the present life. "If there be any consolation in Christ; if any comfort of love," in the love of God, and of all mankind; if any "joy in the Holy Ghost;" if there be a peace of God, a peace that passeth all understanding; if there be any rejoicing in the testimony of a good conscience toward God; it is manifest, all this is totally lost, by the man that loses his own soul.
3. But the present life will soon be at an end: we know it passes away like a shadow. The hour is at hand, when the spirit will be summoned to return to God that gave it. In that awful moment,
"Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
And whether he looks backward or forward, how pleasing is the prospect to him that saves his soul! If he look back, he has "The calm remembrance of a life well spent." If he look forward, there is an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, and he sees the convoy of angels ready to carry him into Abraham's bosom. But how is it in that solemn hour, with the man that loses his
soul? Does he look back? What comfort is there in this ? He sees nothing but scenes of horror, matter of shame, remorse, and self-condemnation, a foretaste of "the worm that never dieth." If he look forward, what does he see? No joy, no peace! No gleam of hope from any point of heaven! Some years since, one who turned back as a dog to his vomit, was struck in his mad career of sin. A friend visiting him, prayed, "Lord, have mercy upon those who are just stepping out of the body, and know not which shall meet them at their entrance into the other world, an angel or a fiend." The sick man shrieked out with a piercing cry, "A fiend! a fiend!" and died. Just such an end, unless he die like an ox, may any man expect, who loses his own soul.
4. But in what situation is the spirit of a good man, at his entrance into eternity? See,
-The convoy attends,
The ministering host of invisible friends:"
They receive the new-born spirit, and conduct him safe into Abraham's Bosom, into the delights of Paradise, the garden of God, where the light of his countenance perpetually shines. It is but one of a thousand commendations of this anti-chamber of heaven, That "there the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest.” For there they have numberless sources of happiness, which they could not have upon earth. There they meet with "the glorious dead of ancient days." They converse with Adam, first of men; with Noah, first of the new world; with Abraham, the friend of God; with Moses and the Prophets; with the Apostles of the Lamb; with the saints of all ages; and above all, they are with Christ.
5. How different, alas! is the case with him who loses his own soul! The moment he steps into eternity, he meets with the devil and his angels. Sad convoy into the world of spirits! Sad earnest of what is to come! And either he is bound with chains of darkness, and reserved unto the judgment of the great day; or, at best, he wan