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1. Would you derive the greatest improvement from public religious instruction, divest yourselves of unfavourable prejudices against those, who impart it. Who, then, is he that addresses you, that you should come prepared to defeat his purpose ? Is it a self-complacent herald of his own fame ; a vain propagator of his own opinions ; a conceited exhibiter of his own talents ; a man, who lives only on your breath, and who, if you withdraw your favour, must be content to shrink into insignificance and silence ? No ; it is, or it ought to be, a messenger of Jesus Christ, who maintains nothing on his own authority ; who comes not to bind you to his interpretation as infallible, but to invite your feet into the way of peace, and to repeat to you only wbat God has already uttered. If he bad no other authority, than that which his talents gave him, and then asked you to rest on his decisions alone, you might, indeed, come prepared to refute him, or turn away with contempt. But, if he does not wander beyond his instructions, but refers to the same common standard of the scriptures, he does not deserve your prejudices. But, say you, he perverts and corrupts the word of God, and preaches not Christ, but his own imaginations. My friends, I cannot believe, that any man can stand up before you in the name of Jesus Christ, and, without any other inducements than those, which are commonly offered by this profession, deliberately prevaricate in this solemn employment, or disguise what he seriously believes to be the truth of the gospel. He can have no purpose, which is to be answered by the destruction of evangelical truth. All his interests on earth are centered in the success of christianity, and connected with the growth of true piety and virtue in the world. But, you say, he is miserably deficient in bis statement of truth; and his hearers are perishing from his incapacity, or defects. What then!. Does he not refer to the authority of Christ and his
scriptures as supreme? Does he not inculcate a tem
? per and a practice, which, if it were followed, you will acknowledge, would make this world the abode of peace, and people heaven with blessed spirits? Yes; but he neglects to produce the only adequate motives; he does not give that representation of the doctrines of christianity, by which alone it can be rendered effectual. But let us not imagine, that God enlightens, and effects his great purpose of restoring mankind to himself, only by the partial views, which happen to be familiar to ourselves. If you find, that the preacher aims at the same object with yourself, and coincides with you in the great moral purpose of Christ's appearance, do not compel him to arrive at bis conclusions and etfect his object in the path, in which you have travelled; but rather thank God, that there are men of real sincerity and virtue, who can receive christianity in a form better suited to their ideas of God, and better adapted to their religious improvement, than your own.
Again, would you derive the greatest improvement from the poblic institutions of worship and instruction, endeavour always to enter these walls under a thorough impression of the nature of the duty, in which you are now engaging. For, my friends, in whose presence are we assembled ? of a few friends only, who have chosen this mode of passing an easy hour? of a preacher, a poor mortal like yourselves, who is placed here to furnish something for your curiosity ? Are these the only beings, that belong to this place ? O no ; bere we stand before the Majesty of heaven and earth, whose presence fills immensity; we come to pay our homage to him, who liveth for ever and ever, the support of all nature. We stand before a God of purity inexpressible, and of mercy everlasting. We come to learn the will of him, on whom our poor life every moment depends ; we come to throw ourselves on his compassion, to confess our sins, to
devote ourselves to his service through Jesus Christ, and to learn what he has revealed to us of Himself, of ourselves, and of our destination. This is the threshold of a more glorious temple in the heavens; this is an entrance to the world, in which 'God discovers himself to the eye of man. In a few
years, these privileges will have passed away; your prayers will ascend here no more ; no more will ihe word of God reach your ears from this place ; the follies of your attendance cannot be retrieved ; lost opportunities cannot be recalled, and all that ingratitude and neglect, to which these walls have been a witness, will rise up before you, and reproach you with unutterable sorrow.
Lastly, would you derive a substantial advantage from the instructions of preachers, bring your own studies and reading in aid of them. Do you find yourselves unfurnished with religious ideas ? Consider, I beseech you, is there any knowledge so interesting to you, as a moral and an immortal creature ? What! is it of no consequence to you, that God, the supreme disposer of your fate through an eternity to come, has made you a revelation of his will ? Can any thing be imagined more serious than such information, on which depends the salvation of your souls ? Let me entreat you, then, to make yourselves and your children familiar with these scriptures, not by a blind and inconsiderate perusal of an occasional passage, but by a diligent study of them, as the records of God's will, and of human duty. Repose not implicit reliance on our representations, on the one band ; nor accuse us, on the other, of depart, ing from the word of God, when we give you an illustration of a passage, which may not coincide with your previous opinions, or even with the first impressions, which the words suggest. For it is not always true in the scriptures, any more than of many other works written in a foreign language, and in a mode of thinking so different from our own, that the first and most natural meaning, which the words convey, is certainly the true meaning ; but the history of God's will, as it stands in the scriptures, requires to be diligently and impartially explored, that our faith may not stand on ihe assumptions of men, but on the word of God.
But, especially, let me beseech you not to consider your task as accomplished, when you bave finished your attendance here. The most important duty remains, to apply what you have heard to your own character and circumstances, and convert the general language of the preacher into personal admonitions and directions.
The great work of religious perfection is not to be accomplished by thronging to the sanctuary, and assisting at all the exercises and discourses of others ; but by a studious attention to the state of affections, by a practical application of religion to the business of life, and last, tbough not least, by fervent and frequent prayers to Almighty God to bless his word, to remove your ignorance, to quicken your understanding, and engage your affections at all times in the great work of your sanctification; that so, not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the word, you may be blessed in your deed.
PHILIP. 1. 9.
AND THIS I PRAY, THAT YOUR LOVE MAY ABOUND YET MORE AND MORE.
The natural tendency of public sentiment to pass the limits of moderation extends also to religion ; a subject, in wbich, as all men are interested, almost all men have rushed into some extreme of doctrine or practice. The history of the church, it must be acknowledged, abounds with extravagances, which perplex the candid, and are the jest of the profane. Sometimes religion has been made to consist in violent afitions ; sometimes, in exterior performances; now it istonsidered an affair of the understanding; and now, of the animal mechanism. In one age it is busied about what is mysterious ; in another, about what is ecstatic; while by many it is always confined to what is barely rational, cold, unaffecting and simple. The character of individual christians is marked with a diversity of expression, corresponding, in some degree, to this variety of character in periods and in sects. The hearts of some men are tender, and their passions fervent ; the tempe of others is calm and equable, and wrought with difficulty into ecstacy and rap