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Having seen, therefore, how beneficially religion acts upon personal characters and personal happiness, it only remains to point out how, through the medium of personal character, it influences public welfare.
Disputes may and have been carried on, both with good and with evil intentions, about forms and constitutions of government; but one thing in the controversy appears clear-that no constitution can suit bad men, men without virtue and without religion ; because, let such men live under what government they will, the case with them must ever be this,- if they be born to, or happen to meet with greatness and riches, they fall into dissipation, dissoluteness, and debauchery; and then, if either the experience of vice, or any accident of fortune, deprives them of the means of continuing their courses, they become desperately miserable, and being so, are ready to promote any mischief or any confusion. On the contrary, let power and authority be granted to honest and religious men, they exercise that power without hurting any one, without breaking in upon any reasonable enjoyment, or any reasonable freedom ; without either plundering the rich, or grinding the poor ; by affording a protection to one as well as the other equally strong and equally prompt, and, so far as human means can do it, or as civil institutions can do it, by rendering both happy in their stations.
ON THE NEW YEAR,
Rom. XIII. 11.
And that knowing the time, that now it is high time
to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
I HAVE made choice of this text, both because I always thought it à solemn and affecting piece of Scripture, and because it appears well calculated to raise in us a train of reflections suitable to the beginning of a new year. The Apostle, we observe, is speaking to converts—that is, to those who were converted from heathenism to Christianity, after they were come to years of discretion. Some of these, it is probable, did not at once change their course of life with their religion, but continued in that state of sin and sensuality,--of insensibility to the calls of conscience and duty, which Saint Paul frequently terms a state of sleep, of night, and of darkness.
The Apostle, in the text, tells them if they did not when they first believed—when they first took up
the profession of Christianity—awaken out of their former sleep, out of their negligence and security about their conduct, it is now, at least, high time that they should " for now is our salvation nearer than when we behieved.” A length of time has elapsed; we are draw
ing considerably nearer to the term and period which is to fix our everlasting destiny than when we first embraced the faith of Christ. It has been supposed, and with probability, that Saint Paul expected the coming of Christ to be not far off, and this expression, is our salvation nearer,” alluded to that coming; which being, as they thought, to happen soon, now drew sensibly nearer every day. These two particularities, the computing the date from the time that they became converts, and their expecting the coming of Christ to take place soon, though they clear up the meaning of the words, do not make them so strictly and precisely applicable to us; but the general doctrine, the great and solemn admonition contained in them, is still as much for us to lay to heart, as suitable to our circumstances and religious condition, as it was to theirs to whom the letter was written. The time of any man's death is to him the time of his salvation ; that is, the time when his destiny in another life is fixed : and we are taught by the text to reflect that we are hastening very fast to that period ; that every year draws us sensibly and considerably nearer to it. Then for this reason it is high time, if we have not already done it, to awake out of sleep; to shake off that dulness and insensibility to religious matters which cleaves to our souls; to rouse ourselves to virtue and to action ; to have done with these wild and distempered dreams of worldly pleasures and pursuits, which have hitherto inAuenced us, and to open our eyes as one just awake from a sleep to views of heaven and of hell; to a sight of our real business in this world, to making sure of a favourable sentence at the day of judgement. This meditation I think extremely suitable to the beginning of a new year. One year more, my brethren, has
brought us nearer to our salvation-nearer to the term that is to fix us for ever. We now enter upon another year, and it surely is a proper opportunity to pauseto consider for a while whence we came, where we are, whither we are going, what we are about, what we have to look for. And first, they who suffer year
year to pass over their heads without any serious thoughts, or any serious endeavours after their immortal interests, know or consider little what a year is. A year
is a very material portion of the whole time we have for our work. We talk of seventy or eighty years, but how few ever reach that number! The youngest, the strongest, the healthiest man living cannot be allowed to reckon upon more than thirteen or fourteen years : I mean, in worldly transactions. The very best life, and one in the very bloom and vigour of age, is not expected to be much more than that: for the generality of us, that is, for five out of six of all who are not the youngest, not half that. Let it then sink into our thoughts that a year is probably the sixth or the seventh part of all the term we have before us; that a year neglected is one step lost or gone backward in the business of salvation, and that such steps are but few. And it may show us the value and the consequence of a single year to look back upon the last, to recollect what changes it has made, what alterations it has produced in our neighbourhood, or amongst our acquaintance: that of those with whom we have met together, sat, and conversed, several are gone down into the grave: that the time of trial is over with them the opportunity of salvation closed and finished for ever: that death is abroad and amongst us; that our turn is near, that it eannot be distant; that when we
see what one year has produced around us, we cannot but reflect in many ways what another may bring to ourselves. Is this a time to sleep? is this a proper situation to be dreaming about gains and pleasures, and advantages, which will all cease and perish with us; whilst death and judgement, and the sentence of God Almighty at the last day, are unthought of and neg. lected ? It is a practice with many, in the arrangement of their worldly concerns, to settle at every year's end their accounts, to inquire how their affairs stand, to see what improvement they have made, as well as what faults and mistakes they have committed; to know whether they go backwards or forwards—wherein they chiefly fail, what they are to set to rights, and how they may proceed with more safety and advantage the next year.
This is a general thing, and a good thing; insomuch as they who do not use something of this sort seldom, I think, thrive or succeed well. Now I would earnestly recommend a similar proceeding in our religious con
I am sure there is infinitely greater reason for it; because our being saved or perishing everlastingly is of infinitely greater consequence to every one of us than any other thing we can possibly gain or lose here.
Now this being the case, I cannot employ the remainder of this discourse better than by suggesting such topics for this annual self-examination as may appear most necessary and most important to be inquired into. And first, I would speak to those who are sunk in habits of sottishness and sensuality-who have given themselves up to a life of drunkenness, debauchery, riot, and disorder ; which, if the Bible can be depended upon, must, without a sincere repentance and reforma