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
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
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
Search the scriptures, and see if they give any room for such a groundless
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 dies 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
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
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
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 to the things of another life, while they were, it may be,
applauded for their great wisdom and profound sagacity in the affairs of
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
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.