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I. IN RESPECT TO THE CASES, OR INSTANCES, IN WHICH IT IS DISA small degree of observation on mankind, and of reflection upon the workings of our own hearts, will furnish us with many of these; and convince us of its great influence on every description of men, in almost all their religious concerns.
1. It is by this plea that a great part of mankind a e constantly deceiving themselves in respect to a serious attention to the concerns of their souls. These are, doubtless, of the last importance; and there are times in which most men not only acknowledge this truth, but, in some sort, feel the force of it. This is the case, espe cially, with those who have had a religious education, and have been used to attend upon the preaching of the gospel. They hear from the pulpit, that men must be born again, must be converted, and become as little children, or never enter into the kingdom of God. Or the same things are impressed upon them by some threatening affliction or alarming providence. They feel themselves, at those times, very unhappy; and it is not unusual for them to resolve upon a sacrifice of their former sins, and a serious and close attention, in future, to the affairs of their souls. They think, while under these impressions, they will consider their ways, they will enter their closets, and shut to the door, and pray to the Lord that he would have mercy upon them; but, alas, no sooner do they retire from the house of God, or recover from their affliction, than the impression begins to subside, and then matters of this sort become less welcome to the mind. They must not be utterly rejected; but are let alone for the present. As conscience becomes less alarmed, and danger is viewed at a greater distance, the sinner, by degrees, recovers himself from his fright, and dismisses his religious concern, in some such manner as Felix did his reprover, Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.
It is thus with the ardent youth: in the hour of serious reflec tion, he feels that religion is of importance; but his heart, still averse from what his conscience recommends, rises against the thought of sacrificing the prime of life to the gloomy duties of prayer and self-denial. He does not resolve never to attend to these things; but the time does not seem to be come. He hopes
that the Almighty will excuse him a few years, at least, and impute his excesses to youthful folly and imbecility. It is thus with the man of business: there are times in which he is obliged to retire from the hurry of life; and, at those times, thoughts of another life may arrest his attention. Conscience, at those intervals, may smite him for his living without prayer, without reflection, without God in all his thoughts; and what is his remedy? Does he lament his sin, and implore mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ? No, nor so much as promise to forsake it immediately: but this he promises; that, when this busy time is over, and that favourite point is gained, and those intricate affairs are terminated, then it shall be otherwise. It is thus with persons in single life: they will be better when they get settled in the world. It is thus with the encumbered parent: she looks forward to the time when her family shall get off her hands. It is thus with the drunkard and the debauchee: wearied in their own way, they intend to lead a new life, as soon as they can but shake off their old connexions.
In short, it is thus with great numbers in all our towns and vil. lages and congregations: they put off the great concern to another time, and think they may venture, at least, a little longer; till all is over with them, and a dying hour just awakens them, like the virgins in the parable, to bitter reflection on their own fatal folly.
2. This plea not only affects the unconverted, but prevents us all from undertaking any great or good work for the cause of. Christ, or the good of mankind. We see many things that should be done; but there are difficulties in the way, and we wait for the removal of these difficulties. We are very apt to indulge a kind of prudent caution, (as we call it,) which foresees and magnifies difficulties beyond what they really are. It is granted, there may be such things in the way of an undertaking, as may render it impracticable; and, in that case, it is our duty, for the present, to stand still but it becomes us to beware, lest we account that impracticable which only requires such a degree of exertion as we are not inclined to give it. Perhaps the work requires expense; and Covetousness says, Wait a little longer, till 1 have gained so and so in trade, till I have rendered my circumstances respectable, and settled my children comforta
bly in the world. But is not this like ceiling our own houses, while the house of God lies waste? Perhaps it requires concurrence; and we wait for every body to be of a mind, which is never to be expected. He who, through a dread of opposition and reproach, desists from known duty, is in danger of being found among the fearful, the unbelieving, and the abominable.
Had Luther and his cotemporaries acted upon this principle, they had never gone about the glorious work of the Reformation. When he saw the abominations of Popery, he might have said, < These things ought not to be; but what can I do? If the chief priests and rulers, in different nations, would but unite, something might be effected; but what can I do, an individual, and a poor man? I may render myself an object of persecution, or which is worse, of universal contempt; and what good end will be answered by it?' Had Luther reasoned thus; had he fancied, that, because princes and prelates were not the first to engage in the good work, therefore the time was not come to build the house of the Lord; the house of the Lord, for any thing he had done, might have lain waste to this day.
Instead of waiting for the removal of difficulties, we ought, in many cases, to consider them as purposely laid in our way, in order to try the sincerity of our religion. He who had all power in heaven and earth, could not only have sent forth his apostles into all the world, but have so ordered it that all the world should treat them with kindness, and aid them in their mission; but, instead of that, he told them to lay their accounts with persecution, and the loss of all things. This was, no doubt, to try their sincerity; and the difficulties laid in our way are equally designed to try
Let it be considered, whether it is not owing to this principle, that so few and so feeble efforts have been made for the propagation of the gospel in the world. When the Lord Jesus commission. ed his apostles, he commanded them to go and teach all nations, to preach the gospel to every creature; and that, notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions that would lie in the way. The apostles executed their commission with assiduity and fidelity; but, since their days, we seem to sit down half contented that the
greater part of the world should still remain in ignorance and idolatry. Some noble efforts, indeed, have been made; but they are small in number, when compared with the magnitude of the object. And why is it so ? Are the souls of men of less value than heretofore? No. Is Christianity less true or less important than in former ages? This will not be pretended. Are there no oppor tunities for societies or individuals in Christian nations, to convey the gospel to the heathen? This cannot be pleaded, so long as opportunities are found to trade with them, yea, and, (what is a disgrace to the name of Christians,) to buy them, and sell them, and treat them with worse than savage barbarity! We have opportunities in abundance: the improvement of navigation, and the maritime and commercial turn of this country, furnish us with these; and it deserves to be considered, whether this is not a circumstance that renders it a duty peculiarly binding on us.
The truth is, if I am not mistaken, we wait for we know not what; we seem to think the time is not come, the time for the Spirit to be poured down from on high. We pray for the conversion and salvation of the world, and yet neglect the ordinary means by which those ends have been used to be accomplished. It pleased God, heretofore, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believed; and there is reason to think it will still please God to work by that distinguished means. Ought we not, then, at least, to try, by some means, to convey more of the good news of salvation to the world around us, than has hitherto been conveyed? The encouragement to the Heathen is still in force. WHOSOEVER SHALL CALL UPON THE NAME OF the Lord, shall be SAVED; but how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher ? and how shall they preach, except they be sent ?
Let it be farther considered, whether it is not owing to this principle, that so few and so feeble efforts are made for the propagation of the gospel in places within our reach. There are many dark places in our own land, places where priests and people, it is to be feared, are alike destitute of true religion, all looking to their own way, every one for his gain from his quarter.
Were every friend of Jesus Christ to avail himself of that liberty which the laws of his country allow him, and embrace every opportunity for the dissemination of evangelical principles, what effects might we hope to see? Were every true minister of the gospel to make a point of preaching, as often as possible, in the villages within his reach; and did those private Christians who are situated in such villages open their doors for preaching, and recommend the gospel by a holy and affectionate behaviour; might we not hope to see the wilderness become as a fruitful field? Surely, in these matters we are too negligent. And when we do preach to the unconverted, we do not feel as if we were to do any good. We are as if we knew not how to get at the hearts and consciences of people. We cast the net, without so much as expecting a draught. We are as those who cannot find their hands in the day of battle; who go forth, not like men inured to conquest, but rather like those inured to defeat. Whence arises all this? Is it not owing, at least a considerable degree of it, to a notion we have, that the time is not come for any thing considerable to be effected?
3. It is this plea that keeps many from a public profession of religion by a practical acknowledgment of Christ. Christ requires of his followers, that they confess his name before men; that they be baptized; and commemorate his dying love in the ordinance of the Supper. Yet there are many who consider themselves as Christians, and are considered so by others, who still live in the neglect of these ordinances. I speak not now of those who consider themselves as having been baptized in their infancy, but of such as admit the immersion of believers to be the only true baptism, and yet do not practise it, nor hold communion with any particular church of Christ. It is painful to think, there should be a description of professed Christians who live in the neglect of Christ's commands. What can be the motives of such neglect ! Probably they are various there is one, however, that must have fallen under your observation; that is, the want of some powerful impression upon the mind, impelling them, as it were, to a compliance. Many persons wait for something of this sort, and because they go from year to year without it, conclude that the time is not come or that it is not the mind of God that they should comply