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SECT. II.-The Application of the Words of the Text to our own Age and Circumstances.
Thus having shewn how reasonable was this demand of Christ upon his own disciples, we come in the next place to apply all this to our own case, to our own age and circumstances. And here in order to enforce this enquiry upon our consciences, what do we more than others? We shall consider our character and our privileges; (1.) That we are christians, and not Jews nor heathens. (2.) That we are protestants and not papists. (3.) That we are protestant dissenters, who worship God in separate assemblies, and follow the teachings of men who have no commission from the established and national church; and under each of these characters we shall enquire how much our circumstances of advantage and obligation are superior to those of the rest of the world from whom we are distinguished, and whether our behaviour has been answerable to these special engagements.
I. We are christians, and not Jews nor heathens. Let me speak to each of these apart :
1st, We are not born in a land of heathenism, in gross darkness and in the shadow of death, and therefore our piety and virtue should far exceed all the practices of the heathen world. We are not left to the teachings of the book of nature, and to the silent lectures which the sun, moon and stars can read us: nor are we abandoned merely to the instructions of religion that we may derive from "the beasts of the earth and the fowls of the heaven," or any of the works of God the Creator.
We are not given up in the things of religion merely to the wandering and uncertain conduct of our reason, feeble as it is in itself, corrupted by the fall of Adam our first father, beset with many sins and prejudices, and turned aside from the truth by a thousand false lights of sense and appetite, fancy and passion, by the vain customs of the country, and the corruptions of our sinful hearts. We are not bewildered among the poor remains of divine tradition delivered down from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to his posterity in the several nations of the earth; we are not left to spell out our duty from those sorry broken fragments of revelation, which are so lost and defaced amongst most of the nations, and so mingled with monstrous folly and delusion, that it is hard to find any reliques of truth or goodness in them. We are not given up to foul idolatry and wild superstition, nor to the slavish and tyrannical dictates of priests and kings, who contrive what ceremonies they please, and impose them on the people, which is the case of a great part of the heathen world.
Poor and deluded creatures! feeling about in the dark for the way to happiness, in the midst of rocks and precipices and endless dangers, and led astray into many mischiefs and miseries by those whom they take for guides and rulers. And what an infamous and shameful thing would it be for us, who have the divine light of the gospel shining among us to direct our paths, if we should read among the records of the heathen nations, that any of them have behaved better than we have done, either in duties to God or man, and exceeded us either in personal or in social virtues? Nay, what a scandal would it be to our profession, if we should not abundantly exceed all the shining virtues of the heathen nations, since the divine light that shines upon us, and the divine lessons that are published amongst us, are so infinitely superior to all that the heathen world has enjoyed ?
And yet, to our shame and reproach, there are several single examples found in ancient history of some of their moral and social virtues, beyond what most of us have arrived at. What patience under injuries and cutting reproaches is ascribed to Socrates? What a contentment of soul under great poverty, what calmness under oppression and pain, and what a noble disinterestedness in the comforts or calamities of this life was found in Epictetus the Stoic philosopher? What a friendly and forgiving spirit in Antonius the emperor? What a moderation in the enjoyments of life, what a brave contempt of present death, and what a generous love of their country and self-denial for the public good do we read of in some of the ancient Romans, before the ages of splendor and luxury had corrupted them? It is granted indeed these instances are but few and rare, and we have good reason to hope and believe that the virtues which are practised in the christian world are abundantly more common and numerous, and therefore they pass without such public notice and renown but is it not a shame there should be any one instance of heathen virtue transcending the practice of christians?
And if we consult the histories of their religious affairs, we shall find several examples of their zeal for sorry superstitions and ridiculous idolatries, rising higher than ours has done in the practice of our divine religion: how far have their self-denial and sufferings, their fatigues and fervency in the worship of their idols, transcended our devotion to the living and true God? What costly honours have they done to some of their mediator gods and goddesses, beyond what we have a heart to do for our Jesus, the only true Mediator between God and man? With what curiosity and exactness and unwearied diligence have the votaries of those false deities, in some of the eastern and western nations, in ancient and later times, fulfilled their washings,
and scourgings, and painful abstinences, and practised all the austere rites of their religions, while we are cold and indifferent, sluggish and indolent in paying the sacred worship we owe to the great and blessed God and to his Sou Jesus? Lord, will not this heathen zeal condemn our shameful sloth and negligence? Again 2dly, We are christians and not Jews: how much should our practices of piety exceed 'theirs? Our gospel is not hidden under types and figures, nor veiled under the smoke of incense and sacrifice, as it was in the religion of Moses: how cheerfully should we receive and study and rejoice in this gospel of salvation, which shines amongst us in its fullest 4ight? And while we remember that we are freed from the bondage of numerous ceremonies, how diligently should we attend to the two sacred institutions of baptism and the Lord'ssupper, which Christ has given us, and take care that all the spiritual designs of them be attained in us and upon us? We are not waiting for a Messiah yet to come, which was the case of many prophets and kings and righteous men under the Jewish dispensation: blessed are our eyes and our ears, for they have read and heard those glorious transactions and doctrines relating to the Messiah the great prophet, the king of Israel, and the Saviour of the world, for which the fathers waited from age to age. With what zeal and joy, with what holy exercises and raptures of faith and love should we receive Jesus the Son of God, the great Messiah, who has all the characters of this divine prophet and this promised saviour found in him? With what a firm and steady soul should we receive the doctrines, and maintain the articles of the religion of Jesus, in opposition to all the snares of infidelity, and the artifices of every deceiver.
Again, we are not left, as the Jews were, to the obscure language of prophecy, to inform us of the grace and blessings of the Messiah's kingdom; nor are we put to spell out our faith by such weak and idle commentaries of men as the Jewish rabbins have left us, whereby to understand the law of Moses: we have the New Testament given us to explain the Old; Christ and his apostles are sent to us as interpreters of the ancient prophets : the veil is taken away while the books of Moses are read among us, and many of the dark figures and the typical scenes of providence that belonged to the Jewish dispensation, are now unfolded and explained in a divine light. How should our hearts burn within us under an evangelical ministry, in imitation of the two disciples; Luke xxiv. 32. while Christ was unfolding to them the spiritual glories and graces of his kingdom, which were delivered by Moses and the prophets in more obscure language? How delightfully should we converse with the two books of God, the Old Testament and New, when we understand the scrip ture so far beyond what the best of the Jews could do, who had
only the first of these divine writings given them, without a cond to explain it how much therefore should our faith and our hope, our love and our holiness transcend the virtues and graces of a Jew.
And yet, alas! how greatly does our piety, our zeal, our self-government, our single and social virtues, and our universal holiness fall short of those degrees to which some of those Jew isla saints attained? Which of us can compare with the first of their leaders, Moses, the servant of God, in an unwearied attendance upon the commands of his Lord, in opposition to all the threatenings of the King of Egypt and the murmurings of his own peɔple Israel? Which of us would have shewn such meekness in bearing so many indignities aud affronts from an ungrateful race of men, whom he had rescued from the brick-kilus and task masters and cruel bondage? Which of us follow God so fully as Caleb and Joshua did, and could bear such an undaunted testimony to the truth of his word, and the excellency of the promised blessings, in opposition to the clamours of a whole nation, and the danger of being stoned upon the spot? How few are there in the present age of christians who are so well acquainted with the efficacy and success of prayer as Hannah the mother of Samuel, who poured out her petitions before God, and left her cares and her burthens there, und went away and was no more sad? When shall any of us arise to the blessed experiences of David? When shall we live so much by faith as he did, and triumph over all our fears, even in the midst of enemies, dangers and distresses? When shall we arrive at such a humble, holy intimacy with God, as to walk with him all the day long, and communicate with him all our concerns, our comforts, our dangers and our difficulties, and be able to rejoice in hope as he did? How far are the ways of his faith and love above ours, like the way of an eagle in the air, too high and too hard for us? When shall our zeal for the house of God carry us to such a pious solicitude about it as his did? And when shall we feel such longing desires and insatiable thirstings after the presence of God in holy ordinances as he found? Which of us can say with the humble spirit of Micah, vii, 9. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he arise and plead my cause? Or where is the christian that can assume the words of Habakkuk, iii. 17. with the same spirit of faith? Though there be no fruit in the field, nor herds in the stall, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation. But it is time to proceed to some other characters that belong to us, and wherein we enjoy advantages for holiness superior to others; for it is a most evident and heavy reproach upon us, that either Jews or heathens should exceed us in any instances of the religious or civil life.
II. We are protestants and not papists; and what progress
have we made in devout religion, and in real piety, beyond what some of the poor deluded people have done under the power of popish darkness, superstition and tyranuy, notwithstanding our transcendent advantages? We are not withheld from the pure and perfect instructions of the word of God in our own language, nor imposed upon by the traditions of men as the papists are, who are generally forbid to keep bibles in their own custody in most of the popish nations, nor are they suffered to acquaint themselves with the scriptures in their mother tongue. We can see the doctrines with our own eyes which we are required to believe; we can read the duties which we are commanded to practise; we can learn the whole counsel of God for our salvation, and be instructed in all the articles of faith and manners from the word of God itself. We are not deprived of this keg of knowledge that leads us into the treasures of heaven and eternity: We have the bible in our hands, we read it in our families, it is open before us in our retirements: how diligently should we search and enquire into every truth and duty that is proposed to us, as the noble Bereans did; Acts xvii. 11. With what zeal. and fervency should we practise 'every divine appointment, when the obligations come upon our consciences more immediately from the word of God? And how careful should we be to worship God more exactly according to his own appointments, since we have his own word to instruct us?
How great and unspeakable are our advantages beyond those who dwell under popish governments? Alas for those poor benighted and imprisoned creatures, held in the chains of darkness! How wretchedly are their consciences governed by blind leaders, and they are not suffered to believe any thing but what the church teaches them, i. e. the priests, who are made the directors of their faith and practice? Their belief is founded on the word of poor fallible men, and sometimes of wicked and deceitful men too, instead of the dictates of heaven and the words of the true and living God. They must believe nothing contrary to what the church believes, though it be never so plainly written in scripture; for if the church has determined against the plainest doctrines of the bible, they must be construed to another sense, according as the church from time to time shall please to interpret the word of God. What a wonder is it if any of these miserable mortals under such wretched disadvantages should attain to the practice of true religion and the faith and holiness of the gospel? But how much more shameful would it be to us, if any of them under these disadvantages should be found to exceed and out-shine our character and our practice?
We are not taught to repeat our prayers like parrots in an unknown tongue. Oh, what a mockery of heaven is this! What