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Let us therefore,
II. Improve this example for the reproof and conviction of those, who are governed by the same spirit, and who, instead of improving the means which they have, only complain for want of better.
1. Some perhaps imagine, that they should have been under much better advantages with respect to their salvation, if they had lived in our Saviour's day.
Admitting that you would: yet you did not live in that; you live in the present day; and you must use the means which you have.
But what would have been your superior advantages then? Christ dwelt in Judea. It was but a small part of the human race that could have personal access to him. And your lot might have cast you at a distance.. But what if you had then lived in Judea ? Some, we find, were unbelievers there : How do you know but you might have been of that class? You think, that if you had seen his miracles
should have believed. And so you would, if your heart were not perverse. And if it is not perverse, you will believe now. You have credible testimony of the miracles which he wrought; and if you believe that they were wrought, then, to you, they are as good evidence of the truth of his religion, as if you had seen them. You have now some evidences of this, which you could not then have had ; such as the fulfilment of several important prophecies—the wonderful propagation of his gospel, and its glorious success in the world. You think, that if you could see Christ in the flesh, you should be highly benefitted by his instructions. But you have these instructions now.
Why are they not as important as they were when he uttered them? If you had lived in that day, you could only have heard his doctrines transiently, and must have trusted to your memory to retain them. Now you have them by you, and may review them as often as you please. Never man spake like him : but his speaking was ineffectual to some-perhaps it would have been so to you. The perverse rejected the doctrines of his mouth; the humble will receive the doctrines of his word.
Some things in the gospel, you will say, are hard to be understood; and if the Saviour were present, you could have them explained. But there were those who complained of hard sayings, when they heard Jesus himself speak : and the reason was, they were slow of heart to understand. Ask yourselves, whether you love and practise all that you do understand. If you do not, it is probable, that knowing more would not make you better; and if you do, a few obscure passages will never hurt you. If Christ were with you, you
could pray to him in such a manner as to be heard. And why may you not pray as fervently and successfully now ? He is in heaven : but he hears on earth.” If
you will not repair to him now, neither would you, though he still was manifest in the flesh.
2. Some will say, if the word of God were dispensed in a more engaging manner-if it were preached oftener, and with more affection and address, it would have a better effect upon us.
But what is it that is to have effect ? Is it mere sound ? Or is it truth ? If you hear the truth, and regard what you hear, it probably will have some effect now. The preacher, indeed, ought to choose out acceptable words, as well as upright words, even words of truth. His manner of speaking should be suited to command the attention, awaken the conscience and move the heart. But then you must not imagine, that all the success depends on the speaker. Christ spake as never man spake; yet few believed his report. The apostles spake with demonstration of the Spirit and with power, yet many contradicted and blasphemed.
Enquire, then, whether you make a good use of such means as you have. The word of God is in your hands. Do you daily converse with it ; seek a clearer knowledge of it; and govern yourselves by it? It is preached near to you. Do you embrace every opportunity to hear it ? Do you hear it with attention, humility and teachableness, and with an honest application of what belongs to you? And are you doers as well as hearers of the word? If you hear it in this manner, and with this temper, it will be profitable to you; for the word does good to the upright in heart, however plainly it may be spoken. But if you have no reverence for, or love to the word of truth, it is not very probable
it would essentially benefit you, even though it were delivered with the tongue of angels, and uttered in a flame of zeal and eloquence. You might hear the preacher ; but you would hear as the people heard Ezekiel ; charmed, indeed, with the eloquence of the speaker, but unaffected with the importance of truth.
They came to him as God's people, and heard his word, but did it not. They with their mouths shewed much love, but their hearts went after their covetousness. He was unto them as a very lovely song of one that had a pleasant voice, and could play well on an instrument; for they heard his words but would not do them.'
3. Some complain, that their circumstances are too strait, and their occupations too pressing to allow them much leisure for religion. If their condition in life were more free and easy, they could do much better.
But when you complain of the want of leisure for religion, what do you intend by religion ? Do you mean that you have not time to be just and honest to your neighbours-charitable to the needytemperate in your enjoyments—frugal in your expenses—that you have not time to love and fear your Maker—to restrain your passions—to shun temptations—to govern your tongue and banish criminal thoughts ? These things, you know, belong to religion. No : But you will
say, you have not leisure for devotional exer. cises—for prayer, self examination, pious reading, and other instrumental duties of religion.
Well then ; ask yourselves how you improved this advantage when you did enjoy it. Once you were young and tolerably free from the cares and perplexities of the world. Did you employ your youth in furnishing your minds with knowledge, and in laying a foundation for a religious life? If you trifled away the time of youth, how do you know but you should trifle as you did then, though you were now as free from worldly cares as you were then ?
Again : How do you improve the leisure which you have now? How do you spend your sabbaths, your evenings, your hours of recess ? For you are not, all your time, at work. Do you apply the little leisure which you have to the purposes of religion ? If your sabbaths are lost in indolence, and your evenings and vacant
hours consumed in company and amusement, in vain do you plead, that you have not time for religious exercises ; for if you had more time to spare, you would not apply it to these exercises. It is not the want of time, but the want of heart, that makes you so unfrequent in the duties, and so deficient in the knowledge of religion. If the little recess which you find from the cares of the world is wholly applied to vanity and pleasure, it is a mercy that you
find no more; for if you had more, it would be spent worse. Farther : Do you never run into needless expense, sume your property, as well as time, in vanity and folly? You can then very poorly plead the urgency of secular business in excuse for the neglect of religious exercises; for your mis-spent substance, wisely applied, would have furnished you with the leisure, of the want of which you complain.
Once more enquire. Do you employ your minds in the best manner you can, when your hands are necessarily occupied in the business of your calling? Are your thoughts as much exercised about the things of religion and another world, as a prudent attention to this world will allow ?
When you have answered these enquiries, then see if not more leisure than you improve, and whether it is not the want of will, more than the want of time, that hinders your attention to the one thing needful.
4. Some may imagine, that if God, in some special and extraordinary way, should give them sensible evidence of the reality and importance of future and eternal things, they should be more deeply affected, and more powerfully influenced by them.
But if you believe not the gospel, attended with all the evidence which God has given in its favour, neither would you believe to any saving purpose, though one came to you from the dead, or though the word was spoken to you by angels, or though the veil was withdrawn from the invisible world.
Have you not sufficient evidence, that there is a God-a holy, just, powerful, wise and good Being ? Are not the invisible things of God clearly seen in the things which are made ?--Have you not conclusive proof, that the gospel is a revelation from this Being? Are not the doctrines and precepts of it agreeable to his
character, and such as you should expect to find in a revelation from him? Has not this gospel been confirmed by miracles clearly divine? Have you not as much reason to believe the testimony given of those miracles, as you have to believe any testimony whatever? If you reject the gospel which is confirmed by the concurrent testimony of human records from its beginning, must you not reject all ancient records, and believe only what you see with your eyes ?-If you can disbelieve a future state of retribution, which is declared by the voice of reason and revelation, you might as well disbelieve it, whatever other evidence was given. Were the invisible world opened to your view, as well might you impute the discovery to the workings of imagination, as suppose the evidence which you now have to be a mere delusion. The things contained in the gospel are infinitely important; and if you are not influenced by them in this manner of communication, you would be no more influenced, though they were communicated in any other supposeable way. Such is their importance, that every man of a prudent head and an honest heart would be governed by them, though he had only probable evidence of their truth. The reason why so many disregard them, is not the want of evidence to believe, but the want of a heart to love them. It is the evil heart of unbelief which binders the influence of the gospel
If God should open to you the invisible world, the view might overpower and confound
but it would have no more tendency to make you really religious, than the more calm and familiar instructions of the gospel. Religion must be matter of sober and rational choice. A method of discovery which should disturb the exercise of reason, would not be the best adapted to promote real religion.
It is sometimes asked; if God would have men believe another world, and act with reference to it, why does he not convince and persuade them by voices and signs from heaven? Why does he not reward virtue and punish vice immediately and without delay, so that all discouragement from the one, and temptation to the other may be removed? The truth is, God treats men as reasonable and moral agents. He leaves religion to be, what it must be,