« PreviousContinue »
eternity is longer than this life, you will thank me for not speaking so as to please, but to rouse you.
For what purpose, think you, did God scatter so many threatenings, so many dreadful expressions of terror, throughout his gospel? Was it, that they should never be seen or heard by his people ? If infinite wisdom did right in publishing them there, his ministers cannot do wrong in repeating them to his people from the pulpit. On the contrary, they must be guilty of the basest infidelity, if, through a mistaken tenderness, either for themselves, or others, they spare to give loud and frequent warning of them. What spirit of pride and delusion hath seized the church of Christ, that the awful sanctions of God's law must either not be mentioned in his own house, and to his own people, or so minced and qualified, as to do any thing rather than alarm the stupid and the wicked, the very thing for which God hath declared them to the world? Are we all to be judged before the throne of God, and, if found guilty, punished with infinite severity? And must we not be told it? Hear ye,' says Jeremiah, and give ear; for the Lord hath spoken.' Shall we not listen when he speaks? “Behold,' he says, “I will execute judgment. Vengeance is mine, and I will repay. Depart from me, ye accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Tophet is ordained of old; it is deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.' How shall such words as these be heard without fear and trembling, even by the best of men? But with how much greater terror should you hear them, whose guilty conscience tells you, “You are the man,' to whom these words, more terrible than all Sinai's thunders, are uttered? And yet
And yet you are the man' who ought to listen to them with a more greedy attention than to the music of angels; who ought, if you could, so deeply to stamp them on your unregenerate heart, as that all your thoughts might be engrossed, and all your passions awed, by these terrible, but only means of reformation in a soul stupified by a long course of sin.
Have you any doubts about the reality and severity of these punishments, as set forth to you in so many passages of Scripture? If you have, consider to what a careless and
dangerous course of life such doubts may tempt you, and how shocking a thing it is, to be under any uncertainties about a matter of such infinite concern. Even your doubts ought to make you extremely cautious and wary about your actions ; for surely none but a madman would run any hazards in a thing of this nature, so very frightful and alarming. A wise man will not stake all his fortune, if it will afford him a tolerable subsistence, against a hundred times the sum; for if he loses, he is undone. Much less ought you to play heaven and hell, if you think it possible there may be such places, against all the pleasures of sin, were they ten thousand times greater than they are.
But if you have no doubts in this matter, if you firmly believe in the extreme severity and eternity of those torments wherewith sin is said to be punished in the next life, you must be infinitely worse than mad if you are wicked ; for, •What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give, or what shall sin give him, 'in exchange for his soul?' Sin, indeed, may give you some sudden and violent transports of pleasure; but can you give a loose to them without considering in what they end? How dare you, as bishop Hall says, dance for a moment on the mouth of hell, with the peril of an everlasting burning ? If it shocks you to see a man burning alive at a stake, how would it wring your heart to see him in this horrible torture for an entire day,--for a month,-for a year,—for an age,-for a whole eternity ? Are you so deeply affected with the torment of another? Consider then, how you could endure the same yourself. When you are tempted with the sweets of sin, turn your thoughts to a deep reflection on the bitterness of its end ; eternal banishment from God; imprisonment under chains of darkness, under guilt, under shame, under the wrath of God; in the midst of fire, of devils, of horror, of anguish, of despair, of blasphemy; without intermission, without hope of mercy,
without ease or end. Are you shocked ? Be shocked at sin, not at my words; for they are the words of soberness and truth ;' nay, the words of tenderness and charity for you; words, which, I bless God for it, the holy Scriptures, and my conscience, ring aloud in mine own ears, as often as the tempting plea
sures of sin would smile, and sooth me to destruction. I deal by you, as I do by myself, as God hath dealt by us all ; and surely this is faithful dealing.
But remember, dearly beloved in the Lord, I have blown the trumpet ;' I have endeavoured to rouse you from sleep: I have given you warning of your enemy, and your danger ; and, in so doing, have laboured to acquit myself, as well as to save you from sin here, and damnation hereafter. It is now your business to give all your thoughts, and all your fears, to what I have said, that the labour of this day may not be vain in the Lord.'
Let us now earnestly beseech the good God to fill our souls with a timely fear of his final judgment, and with such an apprehension of those dreadful torments, to which the wicked at that great event shall be condemned, as may rouse us from the dangerous sleep of sin, to a new and holy life, through Christ Jesus our blessed Redeemer; to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
OF LOVE TOWARDS GOD.
LUKE X. 27.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,
and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.
WHOSOEVER is not convinced there is a God, must be an idiot, or a madman. Whosoever believes there is a God, and yet loves him not, must be as destitute of gratitude and goodness, as the Atheist is of understanding. If the proofs of his being are too many, and too strong, to leave the mind of one who can think in any uncertainty about it; the demonstrations of his goodness are too great, and too affecting, to suffer any coolness towards him in his heart, who believes any otherwise than as the devils are said to do. The faith of devils, because they are without hope, fills them with fear and trembling, and, in all probability, with envy and malice against God. But the faith of a man, whose virtue or reformation gives countenance to his hopes, if it is at all attended with reflection, must inspire him with gratitude and love.
So great is the natural inducement to this love, that it may seem to a good mind almost unnecessary to remind us of it by a command. But whereas there are numbers, who, by want of reflection, or generosity of nature, might become careless of improving in themselves so necessary, and so noble, a turn of mind; and whereas, of those who can and do think, there are not a few who might imagine the love of God not necessary in themselves, because not needed by a being infinitely perfect and happy; to leave it not in the power of ingratitude to hide itself either in want of thought, or in the base pretence of a compliment to the Divine perfection, we are, by an express commandment of God himself, ordered to love him with all the warmth and affection of
our hearts,' with all the faculties and powers of our souls, with all the sense and vigour of our minds.' And “this is the first and greatest commandment,' on which depends the second, which is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;' on both, but primarily and chiefly on the first, ‘hang all the law and the prophets,' all our duty and happiness. On faith, the foundation of our religion, is erected the beautiful structure of hope; but it is charity, or the love of God, that raises this building to heaven, that puts the finishing hand, and gives perfection, to the religion of a Christian; and therefore it is said by St. Paul to be ' greater than faith and hope.'
Now this commandinent, in bidding us · love God with all our hearts,' &c. does by no means absolutely prohibit the love of every thing else; because, if it did this, it would almost wholly defeat itself; as we shall presently perceive, when we come to shew how God woos our love towards him by the enjoyment of the good things he hath bestowed on
which nevertheless could be no enjoyment, did we not in some degree love and desire them. Besides, he who hath commanded us to love him with all our hearts,' hath also commanded us by Scripture, and moved us by nature, to love many other things, as our children, our parents, our wives, our benefactors. But these we are to love in a degree limited by the end for which we are to love them, and the useful purposes intended by the relation they are made to stand in to us. This, however, by no means hinders us from loving God in a much higher degree, even with all the ardour and affection that can possibly warm our hearts.
But how, will some libertines say, can we suppose God should command us to love him? Are not his benefits sufficient to win us to this, without his commands? Is God like one of those selfish benefactors among men, who claim returns ? No; but if any benefactor hath a right to the gratitude of such as he confers his favours on, it must be God, who gives of his own; whereas all other benefactors only borrow the power to oblige from him. God, having an unquestionable right to our love, may surely be allowed to claim it, if he pleases, were it for no other reason, but because the service we owe him would be wholly unworthy of his acceptance, did it not proceed from love. Besides, it ought to be observed, that this command is a reproach to the tardiness of our gratitude. God need never, I own, have told us what returns he expects from us for his infinite goodness, had we not been too stupid and insensible to render him those returns undemanded.
The truth, however, is, that he requires our love of him, not for his own sake, but for our good, our greatest good; for, of all things, the love of God conduces the most directly to raise and dignify the nature of man; and, of consequence, conduces also most powerfully to make him happy. It ought therefore to be the first endeavour, the most earnest aim, of every man, to excite in himself, by all the ways and means pointed out by reason, and authorized by religion, a high and ardent love of God.
That the love of God is the most powerful instrument to refine and dignify our nature, and make us happy, will, I hope, be easily proved to a congregation of Christians.
Our minds naturally receive a strong turn and tincture from that which hath, for a long time, agreeably entertained them. Habit often renders things extremely pleasing, which at first were very harsh and distasteful. But, when any ob