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will inclose you in the arms of his Omnipotence, and work in you effectually “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Having thus explained the exhortation in the text, and endeavoured to enforce it by some motives and arguments, I proceed now, as was proposed, in the
Third place, To offer some directions, which, through the blessing of God, may be useful to those who are de. sirous of complying with this exhortation. And, in the
1st place, Labour to have your minds as richly fur. nished as possible with true Christian knowledge. Study the nature and the reasons of the religion which you profess, that you may be able to confute gainsayers, or at least to withstand their attempts to seduce and pervert you. Knowledge must lie at the root of our steadfastness; otherwise, let the cause in which we are engaged be ever so good, our adherence to it is nothing else than obstinacy of temper; which can neither please God, nor bring any real advantage to ourselves. In such a case, if a man is in the right, it is merely by accident: he might as readily have been in the wrong; and it is very possible, nay extremely likely, that some new 6 wind of doc. trine" may seduce bim, and that he may become as violent in his enmity to the gospel as he was once warm in supporting it. It is true, indeed, there may be a great deal of sound knowledge in the head, where there is no real grace in the heart. A foreigner may learn to speak the language of Zion so well, that it will be difficult to distinguish him from one who is "an Isrealite indeed." But, on the other hand, it is absolutely certain, that grace cannot consist with gross ignorance: For the first operation of the Spirit of God is to open men's eyes, and to turn them from darkness onto light: Consequently, where there is no light, it must be concluded that there is no gráce. Some exceptions there may be; and there have been examples of persons, in whose temper and practice the lineaments of the New Creature could plainly be discerned, who, by reason of their natural dulness, were incapable of acquiring any distinct knowledge of the principles of religion, or at least of expressing what they knew to the satisfaction of others. This rule of judging must not therefore be extended to those whose understandings are visibly weak, and unapt to receive or to retain instruction; for out of the mouths of such babes and sucklings, God may, and often doth, perfect his praise. But when men are quick enough to learn other things, and yet remain ignorant of the great trutbs of Christianity; when they discover no anxiety, nor use any proper endeavours, to acquire the knowledge of them; this voluntary ignorance, whatever they may pretend, is a plain proof of an unconverted state. Let none who acknowledge and lament their ignorance, and who use the means to have it removed, be discouraged at what I have now said; for they are not the persons concerning whom I speak. But if I could meditate a reproof of more than ordinary sharpness, I would address it to those who, amidst Bibles and Sermons, and other excellent helps for their spiritual improvement, remain stupidly ignorant of the most essential points of Chris. tianity, without any shame and concern. And, alas! what numbers of this description are to be found among us? How many claim the peculiar privileges of Christians, who know little more of Christianity than the name? Nay, is it not to be feared, that many who partake of the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper are so grossly ignorant of the nature of that ordinance, that, with respect to them, the communion-table itself may bear the same inscription which Paul found upon the altar at
Athens, “To the unknown God." This, my brethren, yields us a very melancholy prospect: for surely they are not likely to prove steadfast Christians, who know so little of Christianity, that it is hard to find out upon what grounds they are Christians at all. I would therefore recommend it to you, with the greatest earnestness, to study the principles of that religion which you profess. Spare no pains that may be necessary to get a tborough acquaintance with them, and then you will be in less danger of forsaking them when an bour of trial comes. “ They that know their God," said the angel to Daniel, “shall be strong and do exploits.” “For understanding shall keep thee,” saith Solomon, “ to deli. ver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things, who leave the paths of upright. ness, to walk in ways of darkness.” But,
2dly. Besides the speculative knowledge of divine truths, you must also labour to acquire an inward expe. rience and relish of them. Did we truly feel their influence upon our own hearts, it would serve in place of a thousand arguments to prove their divine original. He would be a cunning sopbister, indeed, who could persuade a man that honey was bitter, whilst he tasted the sweetness of it in his mouth. It is an experimental con viction of the truth of the gospel, which fortifies the true Christian against all the arts of seducers. He hath a wit. ness withip bimself, and can bring a proof from his own heart, both of the truth and excellence of the religion which he professeth. It was a stubborn question which Athanasius put to the heathens of his time, who denied the resurrection of Christ. “If Christ be not alive," said he, “ how doth he yet destroy your idols, and cast out devils, and convert and subdue the world to himself? Are these the works of a dead man ?" In like manner can the sanctified soul say, “ Have I felt Christ opening my blind eyes, binding the strong man, and casting bim out? Have I felt him stamping his image upon my soul, and bringing me with boldness into the presence of that God whom I had offended? And after this, sball I doubt whether there be a Christ, or whether this Christ be able to save me?” Thus can the true believer, who hath felt the power of Christianity, bring unanswerable arguments for its truth from his own experience: Arguments wbich neither the temptations of Satan, nor the cavils of wicked men, will be able to overthrow.
3dly. If you would cleave with steadfastness unto the Lord attend constantly to the inward frame and temper of your hearts. Make conscience of watching over your most secret thoughts. Suffer them not to wander without controul, or to spend their strength upon things wbich cannot profit you; otherwise you will open a wide door to the enemy, and even furnish him with weapons which he will not fail to improve against you. I am afraid the importance of this direction is too little considered by the generality of Christians. We commonly think ourselves secure when out of the way of external temptations, and suffer our minds to roam at large wberever fancy presents an amusing object. Whereas we ought to consider, that whatever inflames our passions, or gives them an improper direction, is equally hurtful to the soul, whether the cause be real or imaginary. Nay, I am persuaded, that the temper doth often make greater havock in our hearts, by mingling his poison with the suggestions of our own minds, than by all the other methods of temptation. If we would keep our hearts indeed, we must watch their motions as carefully when we are alone, as when we are abroad, and in the midst of dan. ger. The presence of God should constantly overawe
our most secret thoughts, and have equal influence on us in our retirement, as when we act in the open view of the world.-A
4th direction I shall give you in the words of the apostle Paul, (Romans xi. 20.) “ Be not high minded, but fear.” Remember what our blessed Lord said to his disciples, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Nothing is more offensive to God than pride. When our hearts begin to swell with an high opinion of our own strength, he is provoked to withhold his grace from us; because all that is poured into the proud soul runs over in self-applause, and so is like water spilt on a rock, with respect to any good that it doth to a man bimself, or any glory wbich it brings to God. The proud heart, like the tow. ering cliff, is never fruitful. If we would in due time be exalted, we must first humble ourselves under the mighty band of God. This is the way to obtain fresh supplies of his supporting grace. “ Happy is the man," saith Solomon, “who feareth always." A holy diffidence of ourselves is the true temper of a Christian, and will both serve to keep us out of the way of temptation, and teach us to act with the caution of men who
perceive their danger, and are careful to shun it.
5thly. Avoid, as much as possible, the fellowship of wicked men. This is an advice which I am inclined to repeat as often as I can find occasion for it; and indeed it is scarcely possible to insist upon it as much as its importance deserves. A man who is careless of his company, disregards his own soul. If therefore you would cleave unto the Lord, imitate the holy Psalmist, and give charge to evil-doers to depart from you. Let the saints, the excellent ones of the earth, be the men of your counsel. We stand much in need of all the assista ance which we can derive from our fellow Christians: