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Athens, "To the unknown God." This, my brethren, yields us a very melancholy prospect: for surely they are not likely to prove steadfast Christians, who know so little of Christianity, that it is hard to find out upon what grounds they are Christians at all. I would therefore recommend it to you, with the greatest earnestness, to study the principles of that religion which you profess. Spare no pains that may be necessary to get a thorough acquaintance with them, and then you will be in less danger of forsaking them when an hour of trial comes. "They that know their God," said the angel to Daniel, "shall be strong and do exploits." "For understanding shall keep thee," saith Solomon, "to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things, who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in ways of darkness." But,
2dly. Besides the speculative knowledge of divine truths, you must also labour to acquire an inward experience and relish of them. Did we truly feel their influence upon our own hearts, it would serve in place of a thousand arguments to prove their divine original. He would be a cunning sophister, indeed, who could persuade a man that honey was bitter, whilst he tasted the sweetness of it in his mouth. It is an experimental conviction of the truth of the gospel, which fortifies the true Christian against all the arts of seducers. He hath a witness within himself, and can bring a proof from his own heart, both of the truth and excellence of the religion which he professeth. It was a stubborn question which Athanasius put to the heathens of his time, who denied the resurrection of Christ. "If Christ be not alive," said he, "how doth he yet destroy your idols, and cast out devils, and convert and subdue the world to himself? Are these the works of a dead man?" In like manner
can the sanctified soul say, "Have I felt Christ opening my blind eyes, binding the strong man, and casting him out? Have I felt him stamping his image upon my soul, and bringing me with boldness into the presence of that God whom I had offended? And after this, shall I doubt whether there be a Christ, or whether this Christ be able to save me?" Thus can the true believer, who hath felt the power of Christianity, bring unanswerable arguments for its truth from his own experience: Arguments which neither the temptations of Satan, nor the cavils of wicked men, will be able to overthrow.
3dly. If you would cleave with steadfastness unto the Lord attend constantly to the inward frame and temper of your hearts. Make conscience of watching over your most secret thoughts. Suffer them not to wander without controul, or to spend their strength upon things which cannot profit you; otherwise you will open a wide door to the enemy, and even furnish him with weapons which he will not fail to improve against you. I am afraid the importance of this direction is too little considered by the generality of Christians. We commonly think ourselves secure when out of the way of external temptations, and suffer our minds to roam at large wherever fancy presents an amusing object. Whereas we ought to consider, that whatever inflames our passions, or gives them an improper direction, is equally hurtful to the soul, whether the cause be real or imaginary. Nay, I am persuaded, that the temper doth often make greater havock in our hearts, by mingling his poison with the suggestions of our own minds, than by all the other methods of temptation. If we would keep our hearts indeed, we must watch their motions as carefully when we are alone, as when we are abroad, and in the midst of danger. The presence of God should constantly overa we
our most secret thoughts, and have equal influence on us in our retirement, as when we act in the open view of the world.-A
4th direction I shall give you in the words of the apostle Paul, (Romans xi. 20.) “Be not high minded, but fear." Remember what our blessed Lord said to his disciples, "Without me ye can do nothing." Nothing is more offensive to God than pride. When our hearts begin to swell with an high opinion of our own strength, he is provoked to withhold his grace from us; because all that is poured into the proud soul runs over in self-applause, and so is like water spilt on a rock, with respect to any good that it doth to a man himself, or any glory which it brings to God. The proud heart, like the towering cliff, is never fruitful. If we would in due time be exalted, we must first humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. This is the way to obtain fresh supplies of his supporting grace. "Happy is the man," saith Solomon, "who feareth always." A holy diffidence of ourselves is the true temper of a Christian, and will both serve to keep us out of the way of temptation, and teach us to act with the caution of men who perceive their danger, and are careful to shun it.
5thly. Avoid, as much as possible, the fellowship of wicked men. This is an advice which I am inclined to repeat as often as I can find occasion for it; and indeed it is scarcely possible to insist upon it as much as its importance deserves. A man who is careless of his company, disregards his own soul. If therefore you would cleave unto the Lord, imitate the holy Psalmist, and give charge to evil-doers to depart from you. Let the saints, the excellent ones of the earth, be the men of your counsel. We stand much in need of all the assistauce which we can derive from our fellow Christians:
"Wo to him that is alone when he falleth," saith the wise man," for he hath not another to help him up." Whereas, when Christians join together in holy commu. nion, like trees planted in a thicket, they shelter and defend one another. They have boldness to face their adversaries, as well as strength to baffle their attempts to seduce them. "Let us then exhort one another daily, lest any of us be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Like brethren, let us dwell together in love and unity, having all our spiritual goods in common, being "ready to distribute, willing to communicate," according to the measure of gifts and graces which it hath pleased our heavenly Father to bestow on us. In the
6th and last place, If we would obey the exhortation in the text, we must beware of neglecting the instru mental duties of religion. Let us carefully read the Holy Scriptures, which God, in mercy, hath given us to be a "lamp to our feet, and a light unto our path.""The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." To reading you must join the hearing of the word preached; that powerful ordinance which God hath so remarkably countenanced in all ages of the church, and made effectual, by his blessing, both for the conversion of sinners, and for the establishment of his own people. Under this head I would particularly recommend to you a devout attendance upon the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper, which is so peculiarly calculated to strengthen our faith, and to build us up in holiness and, comfort, unto eternal life. This hath been found, in the experience of all the saints, to be a most blessed institution, which hath in every age enabled men to hold on their way with alacrity and joy, and in every situation hath assisted them to renew their strength. To all this
we must add constant and fervent prayer to God. By this we maintain correspondence with the "Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift." Prayer is the messenger which he hath appointed for conveying to us help in every time of need. He hath promised his Spirit to them who ask it. Let us "ask and receive, that our joy may be full."
Thus, my brethren, I have suggested to you a few plain directions, which, through the blessing of God, may be of use to assist you in maintaining that firm adherence to the Lord which my text recommends. All that now remains is, that I intreat you to reduce them to practice. And what motive can I represent to you so powerful as the consideration, that " to them who, by a patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, God will render eternal life.""To him that overcometh," saith Christ," will I grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne." The time draweth near, when you shall be placed beyond the reach of temptation, when your warfare shall be accomplished, and your struggles at an end; and who would not sustain a short, though it were a sharp conflict, that he might obtain a triumphant victory? Some of us perhaps have but a few more efforts to make, and a few more assaults to sustain, before Christ shall call us home to receive the enriching reward-a reward not of debt but of grace; even that exceeding and eternal weight of glory, with which our light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared. Let us all then be persuaded, "with purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord." Let us count all things but loss, that we may win Christ, and be found in him, not having our own righteousness, but that everlasting righteousness