Devotions:
Worldly Business No Plea for the Neglect of Religion PDF Print E-mail

George Whitefield

    Matthew 8:22 -- "Let the dead bury their dead."

   St. Paul preaching at Athens, tells them, that as he passed by and
   beheld their devotions, he perceived they were in all things too
   superstitious. But was this apostle to rise, can come publishing the
   glad tidings of salvation in any of our populous cities, he would see
   no reason why he should charge the inhabitants with this; but rather as
   he passed by and observed the tenor of their life, say, I perceive in
   all things ye are two worldly-minded; ye are too eagerly bent on
   pursuing your lawful business; so eagerly, as either wholly to neglect,
   or at least too heedlessly to attend on the one thing needful. 
   There cannot then be a greater charity shown to the Christian world,
   than to sound an alarm in their ears, and to warn them of the
   inexpressible danger, of continually grasping after the things of this
   life, without being equally, nay a thousand times more concerned for
   their well-being in a future state.

   And there is still the more occasion for such an alarm, because
   worldly-mindedness so easily and craftily besets the hearts of men. For
   out of a specious pretense of serving God in laboring for the meat
   which perisheth, they are insensibly lulled into such a spiritual
   slumber, as scarce to perceive their neglect to secure that which
   endureth to everlasting life.

   The words of the text, if not at first view, yet when examined and
   explained, will be found applicable to this case, as containing an
   admirable caution not to pursue the affairs of this world, at the
   expense of our happiness in the next.

   They are the words of Jesus Christ himself: the occasion of their being
   spoken was this; As he was conversing with those that were gathered
   round about him, he gave one of them an immediate summons to follow
   him: but he, either afraid to go after such a persecuted master, or
   rather loving this present world, says, "Suffer me first to go home and
   bury my father," or, as most explain it, let me first go and dispatch
   some important business I have now in hand. But Jesus said unto him,
   "Let the dead bury their dead;" leave worldly business to worldly men,
   let thy secular business be left undone, rather than thou shouldst
   neglect to follow me.

   Whether this person did as he was commanded, I know not; but this I
   know, that what Christ said here is person, he has often whispered with
   the small still voice of his holy Spirit, and said to many here
   present, that rise up early and late take rest, and eat the bread of
   carefulness, Come draw off your affections from the things of this
   life; take up your cross and follow me. But they, willing to justify
   themselves, make answer, Lord, suffer us first to bury our fathers, or
   dispatch our secular affairs. I say unto all such, "Let the dead bury
   their dead," let your worldly business be left undone, rather than you
   should neglect to follow him.

   From the words thus explained, naturally arises this proposition, that
   no business, though ever so important, can justify a neglect of true
   religion.
 
   The truth of which I shall first show, and then make an application of it.
 
   I. First then, I am to prove, that no temporal business, though ever so
   important, can justify a neglect of true religion.
 
   By the word religion, I do not mean any set of moral virtues, any
   partial amendment of ourselves, or formal attendance on any outward
   duties whatsoever: but an application of Christ's whole and personal
   righteousness, made by faith to our hearts; a thorough real change of
   nature wrought in us by the invisible, yet powerful operation of the
   Holy Ghost, preserved and nourished in our souls by a constant use of
   all the means of grace, evidenced by a good life, and bringing forth
   the fruits of the Spirit.
 
   This is true and undefiled religion, and for the perfecting this good
   work in our hearts, the eternal Son of God came down and shed his
   precious blood; for this end were we made, and sent into the world, and
   by this alone can we become the sons of God. Were we indeed to judge by
   the common practice of the world, we might think we were sent into it
   for no other purpose, than to care and toil for the uncertain riches of
   this life: but if we consult the lively oracles, they will inform us,
   that we were born for nobler ends, even to be born again from above, to
   be restored to the divine likeness by Jesus Christ, our second Adam,
   and thereby be made meet to inherit the kingdom of heaven; and
   consequently, there is an obligation laid upon all, even the most busy
   people, to secure this end; it being an undeniable truth, that all
   creatures ought to answer the end for which they were created. 
   Some indeed are for confining religion to the clergy, and think it only
   belongs to those who serve at the altar; but what a fatal mistake is
   this, seeing all persons are indifferently called by God to the same
   state of inward holiness. As we are all corrupt in our nature, so must
   we all be renewed and sanctified. And though it must be granted, that
   the clergy lie under double obligations to be examples to believers, in
   faith, zeal, charity, and whatever else s commendable and of good
   report, as being more immediately dedicated to the service of God; yet
   as we have been all baptized with one baptism into the death of Christ,
   we are all under the necessity of performing our baptismal covenant,
   and perfecting holiness in the fear of God: for the holy scriptures
   point out to us but one way of admission into the kingdom of Christ,
   through the narrow gate of a sound conversion: And he that does not
   enter into the sheepfold, whether clergy or lay-men, by this door, will
   find, to his everlasting confusion, there is no climbing up another
   way.
 
   Besides, what a gross ignorance of the nature of true religion, as well
   as of our own happiness, does such a distinction discover? For what
   does our Savior, by willing us to be religious, require of us? But to
   subdue our corrupt passions, to root out ill habits, to engraft the
   heavenly graces of God's most holy Spirit in their room; and, in one
   word, to fill us with all the fullness of God.

   And will men be so much their own enemies, as to affirm this belongs
   only to those who minister in holy things? Does it not equally concern
   the most active man living? Is it the end of religion to make men
   happy, and is it not every one's privilege to be as happy as he can? Do
   persons in business find the corruptions of their nature, and disorder
   of their passions, so pleasing, that they care not whether they ever
   regulate or root them out? Or will they consent that ministers shall be
   alone partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light? If not, as
   they desire the same end, why will they not make use of the same means?
   Do they think that God will create a new thing upon the earth, and,
 contrary to the purity of his nature, and immutability of his counsel,
   admit them into heaven in their natural state, because they have been
   encumbered about many worldly things? Search the scriptures, and see if
   they give any room for such a groundless hope.
 
   But farther, one would imagine there was something of the highest
   concern and utmost importance in our temporal affairs, that they should
   divert so many from purifying their hearts by faith which is in Christ
   Jesus.
 
   A covetous miser, who neglects religion by being continually intent on
   seeking great things for himself and those of his own household,
   flatters himself he herein acts most wisely; and at the same time will
   censure and condemn a young prodigal, who has no time to be devout,
   because he is so perpetually engaged in wasting his substance by
   riotous living and following of harlots. But yet a little while, and
   men will be convinced, that they are as much without excuse who lost
   their souls by hunting after riches, as those who lose them by hunting
   after sensual pleasures. For though business may assume an air of
   importance, when compared with other trifling amusements, yet when put
   in the balance with the loss of our precious and immortal souls, it is
   equally frivolous, according to that of our Savior, "What shall it
   profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lost his own soul;
   or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

   And now what need we any further proof? We have heard the decision out
   of Christ's own mouth. But because it is so difficult to convince such
   of this important truth, whose hearts are blinded by the deceitfulness
   of riches, that we had need cry out to them in the language of the
   prophet, "O earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord," I shall lay
   before you one passage of scripture more, which I could wish were
   written on the tables of all our hearts. In the 14th of St. Luke, the
   18th and following verses, our blessed Lord puts forth this parable, "A
   certain man made a great supper, and bade many, and sent his servant at
   supper-time, to call them that were bidden: but they all, with one
   consent, began to make excuse. The one said, I have bought a piece of
   ground, and I must needs go and see it, I pray thee have me excused.
   And another said, I have bought a yoke of oxen, and I must needs go and
   prove them, I pray thee therefore have me excused. So the servant
   returned, and showed his master all these things." And what follows?
   Did the master accept of their excuses? No, the text tells us the good
   man was angry, and said, "that none of those which were bidden, should
   taste of his supper." And what does this parable teach, but that the
   most lawful callings cannot justify our neglect; nay, that they are no
   longer lawful when they in any wise interfere with the great concerns
   of religion? For the marriage supper here spoken of, means the gospel;
   the master of the house is Christ; the servants sent out, are his
   ministers, whose duty it is, from time to time, to call the people to
   this marriage-feast, or, in other words, to be religious. Now we find
   those that were bidden, were very well and honestly employed. There was
   no harm in buying or seeing a piece of ground, or in going to prove a
   yoke of oxen; but here lay their faults, they were doing those things,
   when they were invited to come to the marriage feast. 
   Without doubt, persons may very honestly and commendably be employed in
   following their respective callings; but yet, if they are engaged so
   deeply in these, as to hinder their working our their salvation with
   fear and trembling, they must expect the same sentence with their
   predecessors in the parable, that none of them shall taste of Christ's
   supper: for our particular calling, as of this or that profession, must
   never interfere with our general and precious calling, as Christians.
   Not that Christianity calls us entirely out of the world, the holy
   scriptures warrant no such doctrine.
 
   It is very remarkable, that in the book of life, we find some almost of
   all kinds of occupations, who notwithstanding served God in their
   respective generations, and shone as so many lights in the world. Thus
we hear of a good centurion in the evangelists, and a devout Cornelius
   in the Acts; a pious lawyer; and some that walked with God, even of
   Nero's household, in the epistles; and our divine master himself, in
   his check to Martha, does not condemn her for minding, but for being
   cumbered or perplexed about many things.
 
   No, you may, nay, you must labor, our of obedience to God, even for the
   meat which perisheth.
 
   But I come, in the Second place, to apply what has been said. 
   I beseech you, by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, let not your
   concern for the meat which perisheth be at the expense of that which
   endureth to everlasting life; for, to repeat our blessed Savior's
   words, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world,
   and lose his own soul; or, what shall a man give in exchange for his
   soul?
 
   Were we always to live in the world, then worldly wisdom would be our
   highest wisdom: but forasmuch as we have here no continuing city, and
   were only sent into this world to have our natures changed, and to fit
   ourselves for that which is to come; then to neglect this important
   work for a little worldly gain, what is it but, with profane Esau, to
   sell our birth-right for a mess of pottage.
 
   Alas! how unlike are Christians to Christianity! They are commanded to
   "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," and all other
   real necessaries shall be added unto them; but they are fearful (O men
   of little faith!) that if they should do so, all other necessaries
   would be taken from them: they are strictly forbidden to be careful for
   the morrow, and yet they rest not night or day, but are continually
   heaping up riches for many years, though they know not who shall gather
   them. Is this acting like persons that are strangers and pilgrims upon
   earth? Is this keeping their baptismal vow? Or rather, is it not
   directly apostatizing from it, and deserting the service of Jesus
   Christ, to list themselves under the banner of mammon?
 
   But what will be the hope of such worldlings, when God shall take away
   their souls? What if the almighty should say to each of them, as he did
   to the rich fool in the gospel, "this night shall thy soul be required
   of thee;" O then, what would all those things profit them, which they
   are now so busy in providing?
 
   Was eternal life, that free gift of God in Christ Jesus, to be
   purchased with money; or could men carry their flocks beyond the grave,
   to buy oil for their lamps, i.e. grace for their hearts, when they
   should be called to meet the bridegroom, there might be some reason why
   God might well bear with them: but since their money is to perish with
   them; since it is certain, as they brought nothing into the world, so
   they can carry nothing out; or supposing they could, since there is no
   oil to be bought, no grace to be purchased when once the lamp of their
   natural life is gone out; would it not be much more prudent to spend
   the short time they have here allotted them, in buying oil while it may
   be had, and not for fear of having a little less of that which will
   quickly be another man's, eternally lose the true riches?

   What think you? Is it to be supposed, it grieved that covetous
   worldling before mentioned, when his sprung into the world of spirits,
   that he could not stay here till he had pulled down his barns and built
   greater? Or think you not that all things here below seemed equally
   little to him then, and he only repented that he had not employed more
   time in pulling down every high thought that exalted itself against the
   Almighty, and building up his soul in the knowledge and fear of God? 
   And thus it will be with all unhappy men, who like him are disquieting
   themselves in a vain pursuit after worldly riches, and at the same time
   are not rich towards God.
 
   They may, for a season, seem excellently well employed in being
   solicitously careful about the important concerns of this life; but
   when once their eyes are opened by death, and their souls launched into
   eternity, they will then see the littleness of all sublunary cares, and
   wonder they should be so besotted [intoxicated, loaded] to the things
   of another life, while they were, it may be, applauded for their great
   wisdom and profound sagacity in the affairs of this world. 
   Alas! how will they bemoan themselves for acting like the unjust
   steward, so very wisely in their temporal concerns, in calling their
   respective debtors so carefully, and asking how much every one owes to
   them, and yet never remembering to call themselves to an account, or
   inquire how much they owed to their own great Lord and master? 
   And now what shall I say more? The God of this world, and the
   inordinate desire of other things, must have wholly stifled the
   conscience of that man, who does not see the force of these plain
   reasonings.
 
   Permit me only to add a word or two to the rich, and to persons that
   are freed from the business of this life.
 
   But here I must pause a while, for I am sensible that it is but an
   ungrateful, and as some may imagine, an assuming thing, for such a
   novice in religion to take upon him to instruct men in high stations,
   and who perhaps would disdain to set me with the dogs of their flock. 
   But however, since St. Paul, who knew what best became a young
   preacher, commanded Timothy, young as he was, to exhort and charge the
   rich with all authority; I hope none here that are so, will be
   offended, if with humility I beg leave to remind them, though they once
   knew this, that if persons in the most busy employs are indispensably
   obliged to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling," much
   more ought they to do so, who are free from the toils and encumbrance
   of a lower way of life, and consequently have greater opportunities to
   leisure to prepare themselves for a future state.
 
   But is this really the case? Or do we not find, by fatal experience,
   that too many of those whom God has exalted above their brethren, who
   are "clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day,"
   by a sad abuse of God's great bounty towards them, think that their
   stations set them above religion, and so let the poor, who live by the
   sweat of their brows, attend more constantly on the means of grace than
   do they?
 
   But woe unto such rich men! For they have received their consolation.
   Happy had it been if they had never been born: for if the careless
   irreligious tradesman cannot be saved, where will luxurious and wicked
   gentlemen appear?
 
   Let me therefore, by way of conclusion, exhort all persons, high and
   low, rich and poor, one with another, to make the renewal of their
   fallen nature, the one business of their lives; and to let no worldly
   profit, no worldly pleasure, divert them from the thoughts of it. Let
   this cry, "Behold the bridegroom cometh," be ever sounding in our ears;
   and let us live as creatures that are every moment liable to be hurried
   away by death to judgment: let us remember, that this life is a state
   of infinite importance, a point between two eternities, and that after
   these few days are ended, there will remain no more sacrifice for sin;
   let us be often asking ourselves, how we shall wish we had lived when
   we leave the world? And then we shall always live in such a state, as
   we shall never fear to die in. Whether we live, we shall live unto the
   Lord; or whether we die, we shall die unto the Lord; so that living or
   dying we may be the Lord's.
 
   To which end, let us beseech God, the protector of all them that put
   their trust in him, without whom nothing is string, nothing is holy, to
   increase and multiply upon us his mercy, that he being our ruler and
   guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not
   the things eternal; though Jesus Christ our Lord.

 
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