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than contenting one's self with the outward formalities and shows of religion, without fixing a true, feeling sense of it in our hearts. This will in time bring us to have numbed and stupid consciences, which hardly any thing will affect but the hour of death or the day of judgment, and then it will be too late. And it is so provoking a piece of mockery, with great appearance of devotion and sincerity to profess to believe in God, and make as if we worshipped him, and promise faithful service to him, and the like; when, after all, we do what we can to dishonour him, and live in direct opposition to our faith, and all our solemn vows and protestations; that we cannot but think it will be highly resented by him, and if he should quite cast us off for it, and give us over to a reprobate sense, an unfeeling insensibility to every thing that is good, we must lay our hands upon our mouths, and confess that it is no more than we deserve. Thus much for the occasion, and true sense and meaning of this parable.
Since therefore our Lord has assured us expressly, that, except our righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven', and what sort of righteousness that is, we have seen but now; since there is very much of that kind of formal, unsincere religion in the world now as well as then, and it is of such dreadful consequence; and since it will go a great way towards the cure of this fatal disease to be thoroughly persuaded that we are deeply infected with it, I shall, in discoursing upon this parable, endeavour to shew, First, how too much like the man's son we are, who promised his father fair, when he ordered him to go work in his vineyard, but yet never went, and thought no more of the matter; and,
Secondly, how miserably we shall deceive ourselves, if we think fine shows and fair promises in religion will do us any service, and be accepted of God, where the heart is not so deeply impressed with a sense of it, as to influence our lives, and make us entirely obedient to his will.
And first, that we are very much like the man's son in the parable, who promised his father fair, but did nothing, I am afraid will appear but too evident upon an impartial examination into the profession we make of our faith, and the pretended performance of our duty, and the acts of our religious worship and devotion. In all which instances I doubt we shall find more of formality and pretence, than of sincerity and truth.
To begin with the profession of our faith ; which we very
often make with seeming seriousness and attention, and the main end of which is to influence our practice; and yet how very disagreeable to it are our lives! as if we did not really believe what we profess, only for fashion's sake we say as others do, and concern ourselves no further. Thus, to descend to some particulars.
We daily profess that we believe there is a God, that is, if we know and consider what we say, a Being of infinite perfection, the eternal Fountain of all other beings, and who is of unbounded power, and knowledge, and wisdom, and goodness; the author of all our comforts, essentially pure and holy, just and true, and the like. Now what influence has this upon our hearts and lives? Have we such a religious awe upon our spirits of this most holy and adorable Being, as not to dare, even in our most secret retirements, to commit a vile and wicked action, being conscious that we are always in his divine presence? Do we lay a restraint upon our very thoughts, being persuaded that he knows them ? Do we truly love him above all things, as believing him above all things to deserve our love; and does this love (as all true love does) make us sincerely careful to do whatever will be pleasing to him, and avoid whatever will offend him? Thus we must confess it should be ; but is it so? Is it not rather directly to the contrary? Do not we shew by almost all our actions, that we love the world, and the gratification of our own lusts, much better than we do our God ? Nay, do not we too too often, by our daring wickedness, fly in the face of his divine Majesty, and join with his grand enemy in rebellion against him? And so little regard have we to his constant presence with us, and inspection over us, as to make no scruple of doing such base things before him, as the presence of a child, or the meanest servant we have, would cause us to forbear. Now such behaviour as this is so wholly inconsistent with a sincere belief of a God, that it demonstrates the profession of such belief, how fair and specious soever, to be very little better than a bare pretence.
But further, we profess to believe in Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour, who underwent most bitter sufferings, and died a most painful, ignominious death, to atone for our sins, and save us from the endless punishment of them; and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven to prepare mansions of glory for his faithful disciples ; and will at last come with power and great glory to inquire into every man's whole course of life, and render to every one according to it; and receive the righteous into life and happiness eternal, but banish the wicked into everlasting misery. Now one would think a firm belief of such great and concerning things as these should give a mighty turn to our lives, and make us all over love and obedience to our great deliverer, and who hereafter will be our impartial judge, and upon the sentence of whose mouth will depend our happiness or ruin to eternal ages.
Methinks we should make it above all things our great care to conform to the most wise and good methods of reconciliation to God which he hath set us, and exactly to perform the conditions that he our great Mediator hath made necessary in order to our being partakers of the merit of his blood. And nothing should we abhor and shun so much, as the commission of those sins which were the cause of all his agonies; and which for any Christian to be fond of, will crucify him afresh, and again put him to an open shame, and pierce his heart deeper than the spear of the barbarous centurion. We should rather make it our resolute endeavour to suffer sin no longer to domineer it in us, who are now our Redeemer's purchased possession, and therefore in all reason ought to glorify him in our bodies and our spirits, which are his. Thus should we die unto sin, and with him arise unto a new and holy life; and ascend to heaven with him upon the wings of love and devotion, despising the present world, with the vanities and follies of it, and have our conversation above, as becomes followers of so divine a Master, and that have so inestimable a treasure laid up for us in heaven.
And since we look for a resurrection of our dead bodies to an eternal duration in a state of most exquisite bliss or woe, according as our behaviour has been in this first life, methinks we should walk here with the greatest circumspection imaginable, as those that must give a strict account of every step they take, and have every thought and word, as well as work, brought into judgment, that so we may be prepared to give up our accounts with joy. Such, one would think, should be the effect of a real belief of a future state, and a day of strict scrutiny and just recompense at the close of all things.
But, alas! with the most of us, how much is it otherwise ! how little sign of a hearty persuasion that these things are so! for instead of walking circumspectly, we live at random; instead of having an awful sense of the great day of account, and making due provision for it, we put the thoughts of that evil day far from us, and go on in our impieties, as if it would never come.
All our contrivance and all our endeavours are employed upon this life, as if here only we had hope, and this were our home, the only place of our abode; and as improvident are we for the life to come, and as loth to part with this, as if here were our all, and when we went from hence we should be no more.
How does this suit with a belief of a resurrection of the body, and everlasting life in another spiritual world ? Thus we see, as to these great articles of our belief, our profession of faith is but little more than an empty sound; and it might too easily be made appear so as to all the rest.
BRAGGE, VOL. III.