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for 1 say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham*: As if he should have said, “ The promises made to those who are the children of Abraham, respect not merely them, who are lineally descended from him, but those who are the heirs of his piety and his faith ; for if God were to turn these stones into men, and to form them by bis grace to a holy character and temper, such, though descended from no human parents at all, would, in the sense of the promise, be children of Abraham.” And it were more reasonable to expect such a transmutation, than that God should acknowledge a generation of vipers as his people, because they were derived from holy ancestors. On the contrary, God directly assures us, that if the son of the most religious Father forsake the way of virtue and holiness, and prove as the Degenerate plant of a strange vinet, in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he diet. And surely herein the ways of the Lord are apparently equal; for it is most evident, that a long descent from God's people is a reproach and condemnation, rather than an honour, to those who abandon that good old way in which their ancestors have trod, and as it were, cut off that intail of piety, which has been the care and the glory of preceding generations. 2. Trust not to the regularity of your sentiments, in matters of
religion, as the foundation of your eternal hopes.
So various are the workings of men's hearts, and the devices of Satan, that, if I mistake not, there are some that place their confidence in the strictness, and others in the latitude of their religious opinions ; but the one, and the other, will appear equally vain, when considered in the view now before us.
Some may possibly persuade themselves, that their condition is secure, because their sentiments are orthodox. They live perhaps in the midst of the unbelieving and profane, and see daily contempt and derision thrown upon the blessed gospel, or its most glorious peculiarities; but through the influence of a good education, or from some other principle, short of true piety, they may nevertheless not only hold fast The faith once delivered to the saints, but even contend earnestly for ils: Nay, they are, perhaps, learned in the controversies of the time ; and can indeed pronounce concerning them in a very rational and accurate manner.
If this, my friends, be the case with any of you, I congra
Matt. ii. 9.
+ Jer, ii, 21.
# Ezek. xvii, 10-19, 24.
§ Jude, ver. 3.
tulate you on the happiness of a well-informed judgment, but must caution you against mistaking it for a sanctified heart. The mystery of faith, as the apostle himself assures us, is, to be held with a good conscience* : and in vain do you profess to retain the one, while you make shipwreck of the other. As precious a treasure as the knowledge of the truth is, if you go on no farther than mere speculation, it will be to you“ but as a talent of gold to a man sinking in the sea, which only serves to plunge him so much the deeper in ruint.”
There are others who err on the contrary extreme. Orthodox notions are their banter, rather than their confidence. They pride themselves in having broke the shackles in which others are confined, and in seeing through the mist in which multitudes have been perplexed. They are sensible, that many things which divide the world are merely controversies about words; and are not much concerned about others in which there is a real difference, because they are well aware, that the fundamentals of religion lie in a very little room. They are confident of the innocency of error, and the safety of an honest mind under those mistakes which have been branded by the severest names. A wicked life is, in their esteem, the only dangerous heresy, and morality the only thing that is worth con. tending about. Charmed with their own wisdom and happiness in this freedom of thought, they look down with pity on persons under the influence of a contracted education and narrow senti. ments, and possibly mingle their pity with a great deal of scorn, not to say indignation. But they are indeed themselves the objects of much juster pity, if, whilst they glory in their freedom, they are the Servants of corruption I. It is certain, that the most generous speculations will no more save men of unregenerate hearts, and unholy lives, than the most rigid and severe set of notions. For notions and speculations are in their nature so far short of real goodness, that if there be nothing more than these, it matters but little what they are. Yet one cannot forbear observing a peculiar and most absurd inconsistency in the conduct of those, who think so highly of themselves, because they are possessed of this one speculation, that speculation in general is a trifle, and morality is all; as if the whole of morality consisted in bearing this testimony in its favour. I wish such a character were not almost as common, as it is for men to be bigots in defence of catholicism, and uncharitable in pleading the cause of charity. If this be the
* 1 Tim. i. 19.
+ Dr. Bates's Works, page 938.
* 2 Pet, ii, 19.
case with any of you, Out of your own mouth must you demned* ; and we may justly apply to you, in the midst of your self-applauses, those awful words of our Lord ; If ye were in this respect, blind, ye would comparatively have no sin; whereas now ye have no cloak, or excuse, for your sint. 3. Trust not in the external form of devotion, as the foundation
of your great hopes for eternity.
You are, it may be, joined to a society, which not only wears the christian name, but separates itself from many other professors, under the apprehension, at least, of a more pure and scriptural worship, you perhaps so much approve and esteem this worship, as to be diligent and constant in attending on the public exercises of it, not only in its stated returns, but on occasional opportunities. You fill your places here from time to time, not merely in obedience to the commands of your parents and governors, but by your own voluntary choice. And, it may be, to these you add the forms of family-devotion morning and evening, and possibly, a few moments of daily retirement for reading and prayer. What can such religious persons have to fear? Nay, rather, my brethren, what can you have to hope, if, while you Draw near to God with your mouths and your lips, you remove your hearts far from himi? If while you Come before him, as his people come, and present yourselves in the posture of humble worshippers, your heart be going after your covetousnessg ? God hath for ever confounded such vain presumption, by declaring, that The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to himl; and that his shall certainly be so, that turns away his ear from hearing the law, i.e. that refuses obedience to it. The servant that knew his Lord's will, and did it not, became justly liable to be beaten with many stripes**; and it is not to be wondered, if, in this sense, Judg. ment begin at the house of Godtt, and seize first on those who affront and profane his ordinance, by making them to supersede the
very things which they were originally appointed on purpose to promote, 4. Trust not to the warmth of your passions in matters of re
ligion, as the foundation of your most important hopes.
Some of you, to whom I now speak, have perhaps experienced very bitter agonies of conscience. You have been rouzed from the sleep of carnal security, as by an earthquake, which has shook the very centre of your soul; the flames of hell have seemed, as it were, to flash in your faces; and all these mingled horrors have compelled you to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone ! Oh, what shall I do to be saved* ? And yet, to allude to the story of Elijah, the Lord hath not been in the earthquake, or in the firet. Consider to what purpose the enquiry after salvation hath been made, and with what resolution it hath been pursued; otherwise you may be fatally deceived. The murderers of Stephen were Cut to the heart by his preachingf ; and we are sure that, if the most deep and terrifying convictions could have secured a man's salvation, the traitor Judas would have been safe, who undoubtedly felt the most violent convul. sions of soul, before he proceeded to that dreadful extremity, which sealed him up under everlasting despair.
Luke xix. 22. + John ix. 41. xv. 22. Isa. xxix. 13. 9. Ezek. xxxiii. 31. Prov, xv. 8. 9 Prov. xxviii. 9.
tt 1 Pet. iv, 17.
** Luke xii, 47.
But you may have been impressed with the sweeter and the nobler passions; you have not only trembled at the thunder of the law, but rejoiced in the message of gospel-grace: The news of a Redeemer has been welcome to your souls, and The feet of those messengers beautiful, that have come to publish peace in his names. You have perhaps, been melted into tears of pleasure and tenderness, when you have heard the representation of his dying love; and when the precious promises, established by it, have been unfolded, and the prospects of eternal glory displayed, your minds bave been elevated and transported; so that you have hung, almost with a trembling eagerness, on the lips of the speaker, I readily acknowledge, that such as these are frequently the workings of the blessed Spirit of God, upon the souls of his chosen people ; and when found in a due connection with the great effects they are designed to produce, are highly to be esteemed and rejoiced in. But remember, I entreat you, that every tear of tenderness, and every sally of joy, doth not arise from so divine a spring. You might weep at a mournful scene in a well-wrought tragedy, as you have done at the story of a Redeemer's sufferings; you might find yourselves transported with a fine poetical description of a Pagan elysiun, or a Mahometan paradise, just as you have been with the views of a heavenly Canaan, which gospel ordinances have presented. Mere self-love might be the foundation of such a joy in the tidings of pardon and happiness, without the least degree of renewing and sanctifying grace; as it probably was in those hearers, represented by the Stony ground, who immediately received the word with joy, but had no root, and so endured but for a whilel.
+1 Kings xix. 11,1. Acts vii. 54. Isai.lii. 7.
ll Mat. xiii. 20,21.
* Isa, vi. 5. Acts svi, 30,
But, perhaps, you will say, you are confident it is not merely self-love in you, for you have often found your mind impressed with a grateful sense of the divine goodness ; so that, when you own it before God in prayer, or converse with his saints on the copious and delightful subject, your souls flow forth in love to your great benefactor, and you look up to him in the most thankful acknowledgments of his favours.-If it be a gratitude, that captivates the soul into a willing obedience, and engages you to yield yourselves as living sacrifices to God, then is Christ formed in your souls, and you are not the persons to whom I would give the alarm: On the contrary, I would rather confirm your hopes, and rejoice with you in them.-But if your gratitude does not rise to this; if it rest only in some tender emotion of mind, or some transient external expression of that emotion, I must faithfully tell you, that I fear it is only a nobler degree of that natural instinct, which causeth The or to know his owner, and the ass his master's crib* ! To find your spirit in this manner impressed, does indeed plainly prove that the day of your visitation is not entirely past; it proves you have not sinned yourselves into utter insensibility of soul; nay, it may possibly at length, through the communications of sanctifying grace, lead you on to real religion, and to eminent attainments in it: But at present it falls far short. I have often told you, and one can hardly repeat it too often, or insist too earnestly upon it, that there is a very wide difference between a good state, and a good frame; and that religion is not seated either in the understanding, or in the passions, but principally in the will; which in this disjoined state of human nature, is far from being always in a due harmony with either. So that, on the whole, those illuminations, or those affections, on which you are apt to lay so great a stress, are, perhaps, at best, but the preparatory workings of the Spirit upon your minds, which if they are improved aright, may leave you more hard, and more miserable, than they found you. 5. Trust not to the morality of your behaviour, as the founda
tion if your eternal hopes.
Morality is certainly a very excellent thing, and it were scandalous indeed for any professing christian to pour contempt upon it. Wherever this is wanting, pretences to faith and christian experience are not only vain, but insolent and detest