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to some such thoughts as these, What may be done for God, for Christ, for my own soul, and for the most important interests of mankind! How many hundreds of thoughts have we for ourselves, to one for God, his cause, and his people in the world! How then can we pretend that we love him, or prove that a carnal, a criminal self-love has not the dominion over us? I again come to a soul of heavenly extract, and smite it, as the angel smote the sleeping prisoner, and cry, “Awake! shake off thy chains. Lie no longer fettered in a base confinement! Assert the liberty of thinking on the noblest question in the world, “What good may I do in the world?” There was a time when it was lamented by no less a man than Gregory the Great, the Bishop of Rome, “I am sunk into the world!” This may be the complaint of a soul that minds every thing else, and rarely recollects that noble question. Ah! “star fallen from heaven,” and choked in dust, rise and soar up to something answerable to thy origin. Begin a course of thoughts, which will be like a resurrection from the dead; and pursue the grand inquiry, “How may I become a blessing to the world?” and, “What may I do, that righteousness may dwell on the earth?”
It may justly be feared that we too rarely inquire after
Opportunities to Do Good Our opportunities to do good are our talents. An awful account must be rendered to the great God concerning the use of the talents with which he has intrusted us in these precious opportunities. Frequently we do not use our opportunities, because we do not consider them: they lie by unnoticed and unimproved. We read of a thing which we deride as often as we behold it. “There is that maketh himself poor, and yet hath great riches." This is too frequently exemplified in our opportunities to do good, which are some of our most valuable riches. Many a man seems to reckon himself destitute of these talents, as if there were nothing for him to do; he pretends that he is not in a condition to do any good. Alas! poor man, what can he do? My friend, think again; think frequently: inquire what your opportunities are; you will certainly find them to be more than you were aware of. “Plain men dwelling in tents,” persons of a very ordinary rank in life, may, by their eminent piety prove persons of extraordinary usefulness. A poor John Urich may make a Grotius 5 the better for him. I have read of a pious weaver, of whom
5. "John Urich” was Mather's equivalent for "John Doe"-everyman. Hugo
Grotius (1583-1645), a scholarly Dutch jurist and statesman.
some eminent persons would say, “Christ walked, as it were, alive on the earth in that man.” A mean mechanic-Who can tell what an engine of good he may become, if humbly and wisely applied to it?
This, then, is the next PROPOSAL. Without abridging yourselves of your occasional thoughts on the question, “What good may I do to-day?” fix a time, now and then, for more deliberate thoughts upon it. Cannot you find time (say, once a-week, and how suitably on the Lord's day) to take this question into consideration:
What is there that I may do for the service of the glorious Lord, and for the welfare of those for whom I ought to be concerned?
Having implored the direction of God, “the Father of lights,” consider the matter, in the various aspects of it. Consider it, till you have resolved on something. Write down your resolutions. Examine what precept and what promise you can find in the word of God to countenance your resolutions. Review these memorials at proper seasons, and see how far you have proceeded in the execution of them. The advantages of these preserved and revised memorials, no rhetoric will be sufficient to commend, no arithmetic to calculate. There are some animals of which we say, “They know not their own strength;” Christians, why should you be like them?
Let us now descend to PARTICULARS; but let it not be supposed that I pretend to an enumeration of all the good devices that may be conceived. Not a thousandth part of them can now be enumerated. The essay I am making is only to dig open the several springs of usefulness, which, having once begun to flow, will spread into streams, that no human foresight can comprehend. “Spring up, O well!” will every true Israelite sing, upon every proposal here exhibited; and “the nobles of Israel” can do nothing more agreeable to their own character, than to fall to work upon it. Perhaps every proposal that may be made will be like a stone falling into a pool—One circle and service will produce another, till they extend—who can tell how far? Those who devote themselves to good devices, and who duly observe their opportunities to do good, usually find a wonderful increase of opportunities. The gracious providence of God affords this recompense to his diligent servants, that he will multiply their opportunities of being serviceable: and when ingenious men have used themselves to a little contrivance, in pursuing the best intentions, their ingenuity will sensibly improve, and there will be more expansion in their diffusive applications. Among all the dispensations of a special providence in the government of the world, none is less interrupted than the accomplishment of that word, “Unto him that hath shall be given.” I will say this, “O useful man! take for thy motto, Habenti dabitur”-“To him that hath shall be given;" and, in a lively use of thy opportunities to do good, see how remarkably it will be accomplished; see what accomplishment of that word will at last surprise thee, “Though thy beginning be small, yet thy latter end shall greatly increase.”
On Internal Piety and Self-Examination Why should not the charity of which we are treating, “begin at home?” It observes not a due decorum if it doth not; and it will be liable to great exceptions in its pretensions and proceedings, “Call not that man wise whose wisdom begins not at home.” This then, is to be made an early PROPOSAL.
First, Let every man devise what good may be done for the correction of what is yet amiss, IN HIS OWN HEART AND LIFE. It is a good remark of the witty Fuller; 6 "He need not complain of too little work, who hath a little world in himself to mend.” It was of old complained, “No man repented him, saying, What have I done?” Every man upon earth may
find in himself something that wants correcting; and the work of repentance is to inquire, not only, “what we have done,” but also, “what we have to do.” Frequent self-examination is the duty of all who would know themselves, or would not lose themselves. The great intention of self-examination is to find out the points wherein we are to “amend our ways.” A christian that would thrive in christianity must be no stranger to a course of meditation. This is one of the masters which are requisite to make a “man of God.” One article and exercise in our meditation should be to find out the things wherein a greater conformity to the truths upon which we have been meditating, may be attempted. If we would be good men, we must often devise how we may grow in knowledge and in all goodness. Such an inquiry as this should often be made: “What shall I do, that what is yet lacking in the image of God upon me, may be perfected? What shall I do, that I may live more perfectly, more watchfully, more fruitfully before my glorious Lord?"
And why should not our meditation, when we retire to that profitable engagement, conclude with some resolution? Devise now, and resolve something to strengthen your walk with God.
With some devout hearers of the word, it is a practice, where they have heard a sermon, to think, “What good thing have I now to ask of God with a peculiar importunity?" they are also accustoined to call upon their children, and make them answer this question: “Child, what blessing will you now ask of the glorious God?” After which, they charge them to go and do accordingly.
6. Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), prominent British clergy man and author.
In pursuance of this piety, why may not this be one of the exercises which shall conspire to form a good evening for the best of days? Let it be a part of our work on the Lord's-day evening, seriously to ask ourselves the following question: “If I should die this weck, what have I left undone, which I should then wish I had been more diligent in performing?” My friend, place thyself in dying circumstances; apprehend and realize thy approaching dissolution. Suppose thy last, solemn hour arrived: thy breath failing, thy throat rattling, thy hands with a cold
, sweat upon them—only the turn of the tide expected for thy expiration. In this condition, “What wouldst thou wish to have done more than thou hast already done, for thy own soul, for thy family, or for the people of God?” Think upon this question, and do not forget the result of thy thoughts; do not delay to perform what thou hast resolved upon. How much more agreeable and profitable would such an exercise be on the Lord's-day evening than those vanities to which that evening is too commonly prostituted, and by which all the good of the past day is defeated! And if such an exercise were often performed, O! how much would it regulate our lives; how watchfully, how fruitfully would it cause us to live; what an incredible number of good works would it produce in the world!
Will you remember, Sirs, that every christian is a “temple of God!” It would be of great service to christianity, if this notion of its true nature were more frequently and clearly cultivated. But certainly there yet remains very much for every one of us to do, that the temple may be carried on to perfection; that it may be repaired, finished, purified, and the topstone of it laid, with shoutings of “grace, grace!” unto it.
As a branch of this piety, I will recommend a serious and fruitful improvement of the various dispensations of Divine Providence which we have occasion to notice. More particularly: Have you received any special blessing and mercies from the hand of God? You do not suitably express your thankfulness; you do not render again according to the benefit that is done unto you, unless you set yourself to consider, “What shall I render unto the Lord?” You should contrive some signal thing to be done on this occassion; some service to the kingdom of God, either within yourself, or among others, which may be a just confession and memorial of what a gracious God has done for you. This is an action, to which the “goodness of God leadeth you.” And I would ask, How can
97 a good voyage, or a good bargain be made without some special returns of gratitude to God? I would have a portion of your property made a thank-offering, by being set apart for pious uses.
Whole days of thanksgiving are to be kept, when the favours of God rise to a more observable height. Christians of the finer mould keep their private ones, as well as bear part in the public services. One exercise for such a day is, to take a list of the more remarkable succours and bounties with which our God has comforted us; and then, to contrive some suitable acknowledgments of him, in endeavours to serve him; and this by way of gratitude for these undeserved comforts.
On the other hand; you meet with heavy and grievous aftlictions. Truly, it is a pity to be at the trouble of suffering afflictions, and not get good by them. We get good by them, when they awaken us “to do good;” and I may say, never till then! When God is distributing sorrows to you, the sorrows still come upon some errands; therefore, the best way for vou to find that they do not come in his anger, is to consider what the errands may be. The advice is, that when any affliction comes upon vou, you immediately reflect, “to what special act of repentance does this affliction call me? What miscarriage does this affliction find in me, to be repented of?” And then, while the sense of the affliction is yet upon you, seriously inquire, “to what improvement in holiness and usefulness does this affliction call me?” Be more solicitous to gain this point than to escape from
vour affliction. O! the peace that will compose, possess, and ravish your minds, when your afflictions shall be found yielding these "fruits of righteousness!”
Luther ? did well to call afflictions, “theologian christianorum” —“the theology of christians.” This may be a proper place to introduce one direction more. We are travelling through a malicious, a calumnious, and abusive world. Why should not malice be a "good informer?” We may be unjustly defamed; it will be strange if we are not frequently so. A defamation is commonly resented as a provocation. My friend, make it only a provocation to do good works! The thing to be now directed is this: Upon any reproach being offered, instead of being transported into a rage at Shimci,8 retire and patiently inquire, ‘Has not God bidden such a reproach to awaken me to some duty? To what special service of piety should I be awakened, by the reproach which is cast upon me?” One thus expresses it: “The backbiter's tongue, like a mill-clack, will be still in motion, that he may grind thy 7. Martin Luther (1483-1546), famed 8. A kinsman of Saul, who when David German religious reformer whose thought was forced to retire from Jerusalem contributed to the growth of New Eng- cursed him and threw stones at him. II land Calvinism.
Samuel xvi: 5 ff.