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Let us examine, what is the influence of our hope. A false hope makes men secure and careless ; bold and presumptuous. A true hope will make them watchful and humble, attentive to them. selves, and charitable to others. Every one who has this hope, purifies himself.
Let us examine, whether we make improvements in religion. The vain hypocrite glories in his present attainments. The humble christian aspires after perfection.
It is probable there may be some, who will not even pretend to an evidence of their present title to salvation. They hope however, that they shall obtain it by a future compliance with its terms.
But can you live contented and easy in such a state as this? Do you not think, that many have perished in their sins, who had as strong resolutions, as you have, of future repentance? Do you imagine, that every one, who intended to seek salvation, has actually so sought as to obtain ? If not, then perhaps your intentions will fail you.
Do you expect peculiar favour, because you have taken more pains in religion than some others; or have not sinned so grossly as they? Doubtless you will have full credit for all the good you have done; and you will not be punished for sins, which you never committed in act, or indulged in heart.
But whether you are greater sinners or smaller, is not the present question. If you are under the power of sin, you are under condemnation. And, whatever pains you have taken in some particular matters, if you have not fully consented to the terms. of salvation, it is none of yours.
When you see some gross sinners proceeding, with apparent unconcern in their guilty course, you wonder, that they are not alarmed at the danger, which so evidently threatens them.-But, why have not you as much cause to be alarmed as they?
Are not you also exposed to condemnation? Can you be saved without repentance ? Must not repentance, in its general nature, be the same thing in you as in them? How then can you feel secure, while you think them in danger?
Is it not probable, that there may be, in the place of punishment, some, whose guilt was not so aggravated as yours?-some, who never sinned against equal light, warnings and restraints ? Some, who never abused so much grace, nor wearied so long patience ?-Yea, is it not supposable, that, in the world of misery, there may be those, who have taken as great pains, employed as many thoughts, and spent as much time, in the concerns of their souls, as ever you have done ?-Many of the unhappy persons, who will be shut out of Christ's Kingdom, are such as have sought to enter in ; but have sought negligently, or unseasonably. They are such as have heard him teach, eaten in his presence, and done many things in his name ; but still they have been workers of iniquity.
Can you say more in your favour, than did the young ruler mentioned in the gospel ? --Or have you been more solicitous than he, to learn the way to heaven? But he parted with his Saviour : He wished to obtain eternal life ; but would not, for its sake, forego the interests of the world.
Have you been more diligent in seeking after Christ, than some, of whom we read, that they went from place to place, and crossed the sea to find him. And yet these were chiefly influenced by a desire to eat of his loaves.
Whatever pains you have taken in religion, and whatever attention you have paid to the report of the gospel ; if you have not actually submitted to its precepts, and yielded to the influence of its doctrines, if you have not consented that Christ shall be yours in all his characters, and that you will be
his with all your powers, you have no share in his salvation.
If you can suppose, that many have been lost, who have come as near to the kingdom of heaven as you; then fear lest you come short of it, and give all diligence to make your calling sure.
3, We learn from our subject, that the unsuccessfulness of the gospel is not always to be imputed to the want of fidelity, or ability, in the preachers of it. It must often be ascribed to some other cause.
The prophets of old ; the apostles of Jesus ; yea, the Saviour himself complained, “Who hath believed our report ?”
Zeal and diligence in ministers are doubtless im. portant. As they are more wise and faithful, there is more reason to hope for success.
But there is something also for hearers to do. If they will not receive the report, it is published to them in vain.
Every one sees, that a minister should attend, with great concern, to the duties of his calling, because it is a solemn and weighty calling. But
what makes it so solemn and weighty ?-Because it re. lates to men's salvation. Your salvation then is a weighty matter. And ought not you to attend to it ? Preaching is but a mean of salvation; and means unapplied will never save your souls.
You think your minister should be laborious in his work. But have you nothing to do? He must watch for your souls. Must not you watch for your own?
If a minister should neglect the stated duties of his profession, out of indolence, or love of the world ; if he should seldom appear in the sanctuary to deliver the divine report, because he was too much devoted to his ease, or too much entangled in the affairs of this life, to have leisure or spirit for the sacred service ; you would not be in doubt what to
think of him, nor very scrupulous what you said of him. But he is no more bound to preach, than you are to hear. If then worldly affections and cares have introduced into your souls such an indifference, or disrelish to divine worship, that you attend it but seldom, and never with any spirit and zeal, pray, tell me, Why are not you as criminal as such a minister?
If a minister, instead of preaching on the great subjects, which concern men's salvation, should only give lectures on history or astronomy, husbandry or politicks ; though you might think him a man of learning, you would condemn him as unworthy the name of minister. But if you attend more to the interests, honours or pleasures of the world, than to the salvation of your souls, What are you better than he ? As long as you refuse to hear the truth, and to work out your salvation, it is a matter of little consequence to you, whether your minister preaches on piety and religion, or on husbandry and politicks ; or indeed whether he preaches at all.
If you supposed, that a minister had no concern for men's salvation ; and appeared in his desk from week to week, only to exhibit his talents, or to secure a maintenance ; you would think he shamefully prostituted his profession. But if his aim in preaching should be to save your souls, your aim in hearing should be to save your own.
If then you come to the house of God only out of custom, or to pass away a dull hour ; or if, while you are there, you are thoughtless and inattentive, or hear only to make unkind animadversions ; you are no better than the minister, whọ preaches for lucre or applause.
It is common to remark on the coldness of ministers; but, How will you excuse your own indiffer. ence in a matter which infinitely concerns you?
You think that if ministers were more zealous, you should be so too. Perhaps also, if you were more attentive to the word preached, and more diligent in the work of your salvation, you would thus give some courage and animation to them. Let us then strive together, and be fellow workers to the kingdom of God.
Some are ready to say, “ If we could hear the word preached in such a manner, if such doctrines were oftener taught; if the terrors of God's word were more strongly displayed, and more closely applied; more good would be done, and we should hope for some sensible benefit." With this expectation, they change the place of their attendance. But imagine not, that all the success depends on the
peculiar manner, or engaging address of the speaker. What are preachers, but ministers by whom men believe even as the Lord gives to every man ? Glory not in men. Remember that much depends on the blessing of God. And that you may receive this repair to his house, hear his word with a humble, quiet and teachable temper, and lift up your hearts to him for his grace to accompany it. Paul and A. pollos can only plant and water. It is God who gives the increase. Look to him, that he would multiply the seed.sown, and cause it to bring forth fruit unto life eternal.