Page images

It can scarcely be expected that they, who avowedly disregard all religion, will trouble themselves to attend to these instructions : otherwise we might very forcibly insist on the folly and madness of their conduct. We would say to such men, Do you act upon principle : or do you not? If you answer in the affirmative, you profess yourselves to be atheists, or at least to hold sentiments which are practically equivalent to atheism. But does any one of those frantic enthusiasts, whom you despise, imagine so wild an absurdity, as they do, who ascribe this fair creation, in which wise contrivance and boundless goodness emulate each other, to blind chance or necessity; or imagine a Creator who totally disregards the work of his own hands ? But, were this absurd principle, which contradicts demonstrable truths, as near to certainty as it is possible, what would you gain by it? Should you at last find yourselves mistaken, your loss would be infinite; should you be right in your notion, you have not the smallest advantage:unl es s you choose to own, that as you spend your lives it will be an advantage to die like the brutes, and that the atheism of

your understandings springs from the depraved affections of

your hearts.

But, if you allow that there is a God, who created and governs the world, on whom all are dependent, and to whom all are accountable, how infatuated must you be, to live as if there were none ! never to inquire what your Creator commands or forbids ! to be indifferent whether he be pleased or displeased! wantonly to do those things, against which your consciences protest, as contrary to the will of God! bestowing no pains to avert his wrath, when you know you have offended

him! but wasting your lives in palling sensualities, .. insipid dissipations, wearisome pursuits, and a

constant succession of vain expectations, bitter disappointments, and multiplied crimes, till a hopeless death drops the curtain, and closes the mournful scene!

And are you then entitled, as persons of superior discernment and sagacity, to treat pious Christians with supercilious contempt, as men of weak intellects and disordered minds: when all the instances of credulity and indiscretion, which the whole company of religious people through all generations have exhibited, bear no manner of proportion to the madness and folly of an irreli

gious life.

Supposing, however, that you do pay some attention to this most important concern, is it not also evident, from the subject we have been considering, that you ought to bestow great pains to discover the true religion, and to discriminate it from all others ? Numbers are of opinion, that people should adhere to the religion in which they were educated: but does not this imply that they deem all religion a vain and trifling matter? A nation may retain some inconvenient usages, without much censure: but to support unjust and ruinous laws, because their fathers did so, would imply a most unreasonable and detestable obstinacy. Thus some circumstances in religion may perhaps be retained, because they are deemed venerable for their antiquity ; but its grand essentials are “our life,” and we are ruined if we

prefer human tradition to divine revelation. Such an opinion vindicates the Jews in rejecting the gospel, and exculpates those who cried out, “ Great is Diana of the Ephesians." It espouses the cause of pagans, Mohammedans, and papists ; while it condemns prophets, apostles, martyrs, and zealous reformers: and, in short, it considers it as criminal to oppose any established error or imposition. But the monstrous deformity of this tenet must be visible, whenever it is brought forth to the light; and we need only exhort every one to consider the subject with application to himself, and to act accordingly. It will then be deemed most rational to examine with diligent and impartial care the evidences of divine revelation; and, if the mind be satisfied in this respect, daily to search the scriptures, with earnest prayer for divine instruction, according to the apostle's exhortation,

any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, “ who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth “ not." —But let it be also remembered, that multitudes study religion as a science, and thus adopt a scriptural creed, yea, are useful in propagating the truth, who yet are not themselves truly religious. Nay, many have prophesied and wrought miracles, who have been at the same time “workers “ of iniquity.” Notions may float in the understanding, when they do not durably affect the heart, or influence the conduct : but unless the truth be an engrafted and sanctifying principle in the soul, it must be “held in unrighteousness ;" and such a religion is indeed “a vain thing,” though vital Christianity is unspeakably valuable and important.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Our Lord requires his disciples to “seek first “the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We should set out in early youth with this most important business : but, if we have wasted a great part of our lives already, we should immediately attend to it with proportionable earnestness and industry. We should begin every year, month, week, and day, with this “one thing needful ;" to which the prime of our affections, and the best of our hours should be dedicated, and all other pursuits, if possible, rendered subservient. “Labour “not" then, my friends, “ for the meat that perish

eth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give

you." If this be neglected, all is lost, whatever else may seem to succeed : if this be secured, all things will surely turn out to your advantage.

While we therefore call upon you, in the name of Christ, “to strive to enter in at the strait gate ;" to deny yourselves and bear your cross for his sake; and to beware that no earthly object rival him in your affections : while we warn you, that it is impossible" to serve God and Mammon,” and remind you that the friendship of the world is enmity with God: or while we endeavour to prevail with you, “ to count all things but loss, that you may win

Christ, and be found in him :" what do we but inculcate the maxims of heavenly wisdom? Does any prudent man hesitate to renounce an inferior interest, when it comes in competition with a greater, or to neglect some trivial concern, when business of the last importance demands his attention? And who, almost, refuses to part with a right hand, in order to preserve his life? But,

alas! “ the children of this world are wiser in their “ generation than the children of light.”

The worldly man, having selected his object, gives it his most decided preference; he adopts and persists in the most suitable means of success; he exercises self-denial in various ways, devises new expedients, never loses sight of his main point, and endeavours to render every thing, even religion itself, subservient to his grand design. But how different is the conduct of numbers who profess the gospel!

spel! How negligent are they of the means of grace! or how soon weary of attending on them! How trivial a matter serves as an excuse for omission, and how unwilling are they to venture or endure any thing in this momentous concern! Men in general are far more punctual to their commercial engagements, or even to their social appointments, than in the ordinances of God: and, did lawyers or physicians study their several subjects no more than nominal Christians do the Bible; or were the courtier as slack in waiting on his prince as they are in coming to the throne of grace; how would men exclaim against their folly and inconsistency! Alas! even the true believer may reflect on the conduct of the prudent tradesman, the valiant soldier, and the candidate for royal or popular favour, till he is covered with shame and confusion.

But let us, my brethren, not yield to this supineness : let us examine the grounds on which we expect eternal life, as a prudent man would look into the title-deeds of a valuable estate. Let us endeavour to convince our children and relatives, by word and deed, that we seek these bless

« PreviousContinue »