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tulate you on the happiness of a well-informed judgment, but must caution you against mistaking it for a sanctified heart. The mystery of faith, as the apostle himself assures us, is, to be held with a good conscience*: and in vain do you profess to retain the one, while you make shipwreck of the other. As precious a treasure as the knowledge of the truth is, if you go on no farther than mere speculation, it will be to you "but as a talent of gold to a man sinking in the sea, which only serves to plunge him so much the deeper in ruin†.”
There are others who err on the contrary extreme. Orthodox notions are their banter, rather than their confidence. They pride themselves in having broke the shackles in which others are confined, and in seeing through the mist in which multitudes have been perplexed. They are sensible, that many things which divide the world are merely controversies about words; and are not much concerned about others in which there is a real difference, because they are well aware, that the fundamentals of religion lie in a very little room. They are confident of the innocency of error, and the safety of an honest mind under those mistakes which have been branded by the severest names. A wicked life is, in their esteem, the only dangerous heresy, and morality the only thing that is worth contending about. Charmed with their own wisdom and happiness in this freedom of thought, they look down with pity on persons under the influence of a contracted education and narrow sentiments, and possibly mingle their pity with a great deal of scorn, not to say indignation. But they are indeed themselves the objects of much juster pity, if, whilst they glory in their freedom, they are the Servants of corruption. It is certain, that the most generous speculations will no more save men of unregenerate hearts, and unholy lives, than the most rigid and severe set of notions. For notions and speculations are in their nature so far short of real goodness, that if there be nothing more than these, it matters but little what they are. Yet one cannot forbear observing a peculiar and most absurd inconsistency in the conduct of those, who think so highly of themselves, because they are possessed of this one speculation, that speculation in general is a trifle, and morality is all; as if the whole of morality consisted in bearing this testimony in its favour. I wish such a character were not almost as common, as it is for men to be bigots in defence of catholicism, and uncharitable in pleading the cause of charity. If this be the
case with any of you, Out of your own mouth must you be condemned; and we may justly apply to you, in the midst of your self-applauses, those awful words of our Lord; If ye were in this respect, blind, ye would comparatively have no sin; whereas now ye have no cloak, or excuse, for your sin↑.
3. Trust not in the external form of devotion, as the foundation of your great hopes for eternity.
You are, it may be, joined to a society, which not only wears the christian name, but separates itself from many other professors, under the apprehension, at least, of a more pure and scriptural worship, you perhaps so much approve and esteem this worship, as to be diligent and constant in attending on the public exercises of it, not only in its stated returns, but on occasional opportunities. You fill your places here from time to time, not merely in obedience to the commands of your parents and governors, but by your own voluntary choice. And, it may be, to these you add the forms of family-devotion morning and evening, and possibly, a few moments of daily retirement for reading and prayer. What can such religious persons have to fear? Nay, rather, my brethren, what can you have to hope, if, while you Draw near to God with your mouths and your lips, you remove your hearts far from him? If while you Come before him, as his people come, and present yourselves in the posture of humble worshippers, your heart be going after your covetousness? God hath for ever confounded such vain presumption, by declaring, that The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to him; and that his shall certainly be so, that turns away his ear from hearing the law¶, i. e. that refuses obedience to it. The servant that knew his Lord's will, and did it not, became justly liable to be beaten with many stripes**; and it is not to be wondered, if, in this sense, Judgment begin at the house of God++, and seize first on those who affront and profane his ordinance, by making them to supersede the very things which they were originally appointed on purpose to promote.
4. Trust not to the warmth of your passions in matters of religion, as the foundation of your most important hopes.
Some of you, to whom I now speak, have perhaps experienced very bitter agonies of conscience. You have been rouzed from the sleep of carnal security, as by an earthquake, which has shook the very centre of your soul; the flames of hell have
Luke xix. 22. Prov, xv. 8.
† John ix. 41. xv. 22.
Isa. xxix. 13. ** Luke x1i. 47.
§. Ezek. xxxiii. 31. ††1 Pet. iv. 17.
seemed, as it were, to flash in your faces; and all these mingled horrors have compelled you to cry out, "Woe is me, for I am undone ! Oh, what shall I do to be saved? And yet, to allude to the story of Elijah, the Lord hath not been in the earthquake, or in the firet. Consider to what purpose the enquiry after salvation hath been made, and with what resolution it hath been pursued; otherwise you may be fatally deceived. The murderers of Stephen were Cut to the heart by his preaching; and we are sure that, if the most deep and terrifying convictions could have secured a man's salvation, the traitor Judas would have been safe, who undoubtedly felt the most violent convulsions of soul, before he proceeded to that dreadful extremity, which sealed him up under everlasting despair.
But you may have been impressed with the sweeter and the nobler passions; you have not only trembled at the thunder of the law, but rejoiced in the message of gospel-grace: The news of a Redeemer has been welcome to your souls, and The feet of those messengers beautiful, that have come to publish peace in his names. You have perhaps, been melted into tears of pleasure and tenderness, when you have heard the representation of his dying love; and when the precious promises, established by it, have been unfolded, and the prospects of eternal glory displayed, your minds have been elevated and transported; so that you have hung, almost with a trembling eagerness, on the lips of the speaker, I readily acknowledge, that such as these are frequently the workings of the blessed Spirit of God, upon the souls of his chosen people; and when found in a due connection with the great effects they are designed to produce, are highly to be esteemed and rejoiced in. But remember, I entreat you, that every tear of tenderness, and every sally of joy, doth not arise from so divine a spring. You might weep at a mournful scene in a well-wrought tragedy, as you have done at the story of a Redeemer's sufferings; you might find yourselves transported with a fine poetical description of a Pagan elysium, or a Mahometan paradise, just as you have been with the views of a heavenly Canaan, which gospel ordinances have presented. Mere self-love might be the foundation of such a joy in the tidings of pardon and happiness, without the least degree of renewing and sanctifying grace; as it probably was in those hearers, represented by the Stony ground, who immediately received the word with joy, but had no root, and so endured but for a while.
Isa. vi. 5. Acts xvi. 30. § Isai. lii, 7.
+1 Kings xix. 11,12. + Acts vii. 54.
Mat. xiii. 20, 21.
But, perhaps, you will say, you are confident it is not merely self-love in you, for you have often found your mind impressed with a grateful sense of the divine goodness; so that, when you own it before God in prayer, or converse with his saints on the copious and delightful subject, your souls flow forth in love to your great benefactor, and you look up to him in the most thankful acknowledgments of his favours.—If it be a gratitude, that captivates the soul into a willing obedience, and engages you to yield yourselves as living sacrifices to God, then is Christ formed in your souls, and you are not the persons to whom I would give the alarm: On the contrary, I would rather confirm your hopes, and rejoice with you in them.-But if your gratitude does not rise to this; if it rest only in some tender emotion of mind, or some transient external expression of that emotion, I must faithfully tell you, that I fear it is only a nobler degree of that natural instinct, which causeth The or to know his owner, and the ass his master's crib* ! To find your spirit in this manner impressed, does indeed plainly prove that the day of your visitation is not entirely past; it proves you have not sinned yourselves into utter insensibility of soul; nay, it may possibly at length, through the communications of sanctifying grace, lead you on to real religion, and to eminent attainments in it: But at present it falls far short. I have often told you, and one can hardly repeat it too often, or insist too earnestly upon it, that there is a very wide difference between a good state, and a good frame; and that religion is not seated either in the understanding, or in the passions, but principally in the will; which in this disjoined state of human nature, is far from being always in a due harmony with either. So that, on the whole, those illuminations, or those affections, on which you are apt to lay so great a stress, are, perhaps, at best, but the preparatory workings of the Spirit upon your minds, which if they are improved aright, may leave you more hard, and more miserable, than they found you.
5. Trust not to the morality of your behaviour, as the foundation of your eternal hopes.
Morality is certainly a very excellent thing, and it were scandalous indeed for any professing christian to pour contempt upon it. Wherever this is wanting, pretences to faith and christian experience are not only vain, but insolent and detest
able. He that committeth sin, is of the devil; and only he that doth righteousness, is righteous*: Nor hath the grace of God ever savingly appeared to that man, through whatever uncommon scenes of thought he may have passed, who is not effectually Taught by it to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly+. But it will by no means follow from thence, that wherever there is a sober and virtuous conduct, such a soul is passed from death to life. If the whole of the gospel be wrapt up in the rules of morality, then is Christ dead in vain; or, at least, it is in vain that the notices of his death are published to us. Beware, I intreat you, of so pernicious an error. I think myself obliged more earnestly to caution you against it, because, while the devil is attempting, on the one hand, to engage some, under the specious pretences of an evangelical spirit, to Turn the grace of God into wantonness‡; he seems to be insnaring others, by extolling the virtue which he hates, in order to lead them into a neglect of Christ, and his righteousness, and all the peculiarities of the gospel scheme of salvation; so that it is difficult on the whole to say, which of these devices is most destructive to the souls of
From my heart I rejoice to think, there are so many amongst you, my young friends, whose character in life is fair and unblemished. You escape the grosser pollutions of the world; you abhor brutal intemperance; you scorn the mean artifices of deceit, and renounce the hidden things of dishonesty§; you honour your parents and subordinate governors; you treat the ministers of Christ with respect and esteem; you are affable and courteous in your behaviour to all: And, on this account, we behold you and love you; we hope, and conclude, you are Not far from the kingdom of heaven||. But, alas, if things rest here, you will never enter into it. All these things had the young man in the gospel observed from his youth; and many of you have seen, in a very large and beautiful representation, how lovely a youth was then perishing in sin**. He lacked one thing; and the lack of that was the ruin of his soul, as it will be of yours, if you are destitute of it.
I know, that they are especially in danger of being deceived here, who converse frequently with persons of an abandoned character; or who have themselves reformed some gross
Jude, ver. 4. §2 Cor. iv. 2. ** Dr. Watts's Works, New Edit. Vol. I.