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among the children of men: but he is pleased often to condescend in his word, to talk with us after the manner of men, in order to awaken us to diligence, to watchfulness, and to an inprovement of our blessings to some answerable purposes in religion. So he argues the case concerning the unfruitful nation of Israel, whom he called and chose to be his own people; Isa. v. 8, 4. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done it? Wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? The ever-blessed God complains here of his people like a vine-dresser disappointed of his hopes.
Again, Angels expect it of you, for they are ministers of many a favour of God to you: they are witnesses of your privileges and your obligations; they rejoice at your conversion to God, and at your growth in holiness, and at every victory you obtain; but perhaps you give then occasion to carry many a melancholy message concerning you to their Lord in heaven; melancholy messages indeed of abused privileges and broken obligations. There are seasons when the sons of God who are sent through the earth come to present themselves before the Lord, and give an account of their commission and your conduct; Job i. 6. O may you furnish those heavenly ministers with constant matter of joyful tidings to the throne! And let me add farther, men expect it of you, both the good and the bad every one that observes what advantages you enjoy for godliness, and what special obligations you lie under, expects to see some fruits of holiness answerable to your profession, and to the cultivation which heaven has bestowed upon you. Your fellow-christians would rejoice to see your religion in a flourishing state, and the ungodly world watch for your halting, and stand ready to cover your names with reproach if you fail in your duty. But this leads
to a second motive.
II. If you neglect to improve your obligations and advantages, you will give a scandalous and mournful occasion to the wicked to speak evil of the ways of God and godliness: they will be ready to cry out, This religion and virtue has nothing in it, for the strictest professors of it shamefully fail in their duty. And as every party of christians suppose themselves to have some peculiar advantages, you will give occasion to every different sect and party, to throw disgrace upon your particular profession, if you pretend to more than others, and practise less. What are these people who would have us believe, that their advantages for improvement of holiness are superior to that of their neighbours? Are these the persons that possess privileges aboce the rest of the world, and yet make no higher advances in virtue or purity of life, and have as little of sobriety, or honesty, or of religion in them as their neighbours?
III. Unless you improve the blessings you enjoy for the purposes of godliness, you will forfeit all these blessings, these peculiar advantages for religion, and provoke a righteous God to remove them. This was the case with Jerusalem, the city that was beloved and favoured of God with his own presence, above all the cities of the earth, and whither he sent his own Son from heaven with a special commission of grace and peace to the numerous inhabitants of it: but they had abused all their mercies, they had misimproved all their privileges, and forfeited all the favours of a condescending God; and therefore the Son of God himself pronounced their destruction, though at the same time he wept over the rebellious city, and shed tears of pity at the thoughts of their ruin: Mat. xxiii. 37, 38. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou who killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not? Behold your house is left unto you desolate. Lake xix. 42. If thou hadst known in this thy day, (i. e. in this last message which God has sent thee by me his Son) if thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes, &c. The same sort of threatening is pronounced against the chief priests and elders of the people, Mat. xxi. 43. The gospel of the Son of God was preached to them, and rejected by them, Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. Some of the primitive christian churches who enjoyed glorious advantages had such a sentence of forfeiture threatened and executed upon them; Rev. ii. 5. Remember from whence thou art fallen, O church of Ephesus, and repent and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, i. e. will dissolve thy church, and deprive thee of all holy ordinances, which was done effectually in the course of punishing providence.
And in our day, we christians in Great-Britain, by negleeting to improve our advantages, may provoke God to take away his gospel from amongst us, by permitting a spirit of apostacy and infidelity to over-run the whole nation. We protestants may endanger the loss of our reformation by such impious negligence, and expose ourselves in the providence of God to some dreadful and bloody desolation, whereby we may be given up to idolatry, superstition and tyranny. We dissenters by the misimprovement of our present privileges and peace, may forfeit these mercies into the hands of a righteous God and though no authority of man can justly deprive us of our liberty to worship God according to the dictates of our own consciences, so long as we pay proper duties to the state, yet in the course of
providence, a just God may suffer some unrighteous and cruel faction to arise in the land, which may prevail to the ruin of our liberties, to the destruction of our peace, and to the shame and scandal of a protestant kingdom.
I might upon this head address myself particularly to those of every party who enjoy any special advantages above their fellows, and neglect to improve them. What if God should bereave us of the advice of religious parents, the assistance of pious friends, the affecting and happy ministry of useful preachers, the conveniences of retirement and a closet, leisure and seasons for religious worship, or any other privileges whatsoever, whereby our souls might have made advancement in their way to heaven? What if in the course of his dispensations in the world, he should bring us into circumstances of powerful temptation? What if he should cast our lot in wicked families, or take away all opportunities of public worship? What if he should confine us to beds of sickness, and visit us with a variety of distresses of every kind? Such sufferings may give us a painful remembrance and bitter resentment of our criminal abuse of former mercies.
Or what if our rebellion against the dictates of conscience, and our frequent resistance of the good motions of God's holy Spirit, should provoke him to withdraw all those kind and heavenly influences, and to give us up to the hardness of our own hearts? What if conscience should grow stupid and senseless and reprove no more? What if the word and Spirit of God should call and invite us no more? What if we should be left to our own folly and madness, abandoned to the power and tyranny of our own iniquities, and run on without restraint or remorse to the dreadful precipice of eternity, till we fall into the pit of fire and darkness whence there is no redemption?
IV. If you neglect to live answerable to the privileges which you enjoy, and the bonds which lie upon you, your guilt will be aggravated, and your final condemnation enhanced in proportion to these neglected obligations, and to these abused advantages. Thus it was with the towns of Chorazin and Capernaum, wherein our Saviour had preached his divine doctrine, and wrought many mighty works, Mat. xi. 20—24. It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, two heathen cities, and even for Sodom and Gomorrah, those places of abominable wickedness, in the day of judgment, than for the inhabitants of Galilee, who had abused such heavenly privileges. Think of this, O christian; there is a day coming when every advantage thou hast enjoyed, shall appear to have been a talent that thou must account for; every obligation that thou liest under to virtue and godliness shall be brought into the account: and how terrible will that scene be, if all these privileges, trusts and
engagements shall appear before the eyes of God, angels, and men, to have been wretchedly misimproved by thy negligence? That awful hour is hastening upon us, when the Lord Jesus Christ in flaming fire, and upon a throne of judgment, shall repeat the same question to us christians, to us protestants, to us inhabitants of Great-Britain, and to us professed dissenters, What have you done more than others? And the voice from the tribunal shall carry in it another sort of accent and majesty than that in which it was pronounced heretofore in his sermon on the mount. Let each of us think with ourselves what answer we shall be able to make to such a voice of solemn and dreadful enquiry, if we cannot now give a tolerable answer when our ministers or our own consciences put the same question to us. What tremblings will seize our souls, what horror overwhelm our guilty consciences, if all these advantages and these obligations in the fearful review shall serve only to aggravate the condemning sentence, and shall lay us under tenfold punishment from heaven? How dreadful will be the anguish of conscience in that day, when we shall find ourselves condemned without remedy!
y. The last motive I shall mention is of a more gentle and alluring kind. Talents and advantages well improved are the way to obtain still greater advantages on earth, and will increase your crown of righteousness and your everlasting reward in heaven. Mat. xiii. 12, Whosoever hath, and has improved what he enjoys, to him shall something further be given, and he shall have more abundant advantage; and Luke xix. 16, 17, &c. He that received ten talents, and improved them wisely, was made ruler over ten cities: he that had two talents was made governor of two, while the unprofitable servant who bound up his talent in a napkin, and made no use of it, was dispossessed of what he enjoyed, and was driven into everlasting darkness, and misery, where there is weeping and waiting and gnashing of teeth; Mat. xxv. 30.
You who profess to traffic for the riches of heaven, have you no ambition in you to be possessed of some of the superior treasures, to be raised to the sublimer glories there, and shine among the brighter and larger stars? One star will differ from another in glory; 1 Cor. xv. 41. And they who not only arrive at heaven themselves, but lead others thither too, shall be arrayed in superior splendors; Dan. xii. 3. You who are racers in this holy state of christianity, have you no desire to gain some of the first and brightest prizes? There are crowns laid up for the righteous of different weight and lustre, in the hands of Jesus the final judge, and he will reward every one according to his works: those who have many talents intrusted with them here on earth, have an opportunity put into their hands of ob
taining some of the nobler prizes in heaven, and of wearing some of the brighter crowns. Let each of us then say to ourselves, "Open thine eyes, O my soul, and take a just and wise survey what are thy talents, what are thy advantages: has thy improvement in divine knowledge, thy advances in grace, thy superior practices of virtue and piety been proportionable to the blessings and privileges that God has conferred upon thee? Awake at this voice of warning! Awake, and bethink thyself, and mourn for thy former sloth, for thy shameful negligence, for thy dulness in the christian race, and all thine abuse of the favours of heaven awaken all thy active powers, and press forward with new zeal and activity: strive to answer all the demands of thy high and holy and heavenly calling, and of the peculiar advantages which thou hast enjoyed, that when Jesus thy judge, sball at last repeat this solemn question, What hast thou done more than others? thy tongue and thy conscience may give a happy account of thy past behaviour: then shalt thou receive this blessed sentence from the lips of thy Lord, "Well done good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful to the many obligations under which I laid thee, thou hast improved the numerous talents and advantages with which I entrusted thee in the days of thy flesh; here, take thou from my hands one of these fairer crowns, and ascend thou into some of the higher regions of immortality and blessedness. Amen."