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THE FIRST VOLUME OF SERMONS.
To the Church of Christ assembling in Berry-street, London.
Christian Friends, dearly beloved in our Lord; It is in
is in the service of your souls that I have spent the best period of my life ininistering the gospel among you. Two and twenty years are now expired since you first called me to this delightful work; from that time my cares and labours, my studies and prayers, have been employed in your behalf. I trust they bave been accepted with God, and, through his almighty blessing, have obtained some success. As to their acceptance with you, I have too many and plaiu evidences to admit, a doubt of it ; which I have often thankfully acknowledged to God and you. Your forward kindness hath always forbid my request, nor do I remember that you ever gave me leave to ask any thing for myself at your hands, by your constant anticipation of all that I could reasonably desire.
While I was thus walking among you in the fellowship of the gospel with mutual delight, God was pleased to weaken my strength in the way, and thereby has given you a fairer opportunity to shew the vigour of your affection under my long weakness and confinement. Your diligence and zeal in maintaining public worship in the church, under the pastoral care of my dear brother and colleague*, in your special days and hours of prayer for my recovery, your constant and fervent addresses to the throne of grace on my account in your weekly solemn assemblies, and your chearful supply of my necessities under so tedious an affliction, have made me your debtor in a high degree, and have strengthened the bands of my duty, by adding to them the bands of your love.
As soon as I was capable of the smallest attempt of service, you received me with all joy in the Lord : And though we were rivals in this pleasure, yet you will allow that my joy was, at least equal to yours; for I think I can pronounce it with great sincerity, that “ there is no place, nor company, nor employment, on this side heaven, that can give me such a relish of delight, as when I stand ministering holy things in the midst of you."
As fast as my health increases, you may assure yourselves it is devoted to your edification. It often grieves me to think how poor, feeble, and short, are my present labours among you; and yet what days of faintness I generally feel after every such attempt: So that I am continually prevented in my design of successive visits to you, by the want of active spirits while I tarry in the city ; and if I attempt to stay but a week or ten days there, I find a sensi. ble return of weakness ; so that I am constrained to retire to the country-air, in order to recruit and maintain this little capacity of service.
* Mr. Samuel Price.
I bless God heartily, and you are my witnesses, that in my better seasons of health beretofore, and in the intervals of my studies, I was not a stranger of your private families, nor thoughtless of your soul's improvement.
What shall I do now to make up these defects ? What can I do more pleasing and profitable to you, than to seize the advantages of my retirement, to review some of those discourses which have assisted your faith and joy in my former ministry, and to put them into your hands? Thus something of me shall abide with you in your several houses, while I am so incapable of much public labour, and of personal visits.
This, my friends, is the true design of sending this volume to the press : And though many of my brethren may compose far better sermons than I, whose persons I love and honour, and their labours I read with reverence and improvement, yet I am persuaded, that share which I have in your affections, will render these discourses at least as agreeable to your taste, as those of superior excellency from other hands. If any other christians shall think fit to peruse them, and find any spiritual benefit, they must make their acknow ledgments to God and you.
I cannot invite the loose and fashionable part of mankind, the vain censors of the age, and the deriders of the ministry, to become my readers: Too many of them grow weary of christianity, and look back upon heathenism with a wishful eye, as the Jews did of old upon the leeks and onions of Egypt, when they grew angry with Moses, and began to loathe the bread of heaven. These persons will find but little here that suits their taste; for I have not entertained you with lectures of philosophy, instead of the gospel of Christ; nor have I affected that easy indolence of style which is the dry delight of some modish writers, the cold and insipid pleasure of men who pretend to politeness. You know it has always been the business of my ministry to convince and persuade your souls into practical godliness, by the clearest and strongest reasons derived from the gospel, and by all the most moving methods of speech, of which I was capable ; but still in a humble subserviency to the promised influences of the Holy Spirit, I ever thought it my duty to press the conviction with force on the conscience, when light was first let into the mind. A statue hung round with moral sentences, or a marble pillar with divine truths inscribed upon it, may preach coldly to the understanding, while devotion freezes at the heart: But the prophets and apostles were burning and shining lights; they were all taught by inspiration to make the words of truth glitter like sun-beams, and to operate like a hammer, and a fire, and a two-edged sword*. The movements of sacred passion may be the ridicule of an age which pretends to nothing but calm reasoning. Life and zeal in the minis. try of the word, may be despised by men of luke-warm and dying religion: Fervency of spirit is the service of the Lordt, may become the scoff and jest of the critic and the profane : But this very life and zeal, this sacred fervency, shall still remain one bright character of a christian preacher, till the names
* 2 Cor. iv. 4, 6. Joba v. 35. Jer, xxiji. 29. Heb. iv. 12,
+ Acts xviij. 25. Rom. xii. 11.
of Paul and Apollos perish from the church; and that is till this bible and these heavens are no more.
In some of these discourses indeed I have not had the opportunity of so warm and affectionate an address to the hearers. A true and just explication of scripture and a convincing proof of the doctrine proposed, have been the chief things necessary; yet I have endeavoured, even there, to give a practical and pathetic turn, as far as the design of the text would bear it: But in the other sermons I blame myself more for the want of zeal and devout passion, than for the excess of it.
I will readily confess, there are here and there some periods where the language appears a little too elevated, though not too warm ; I know it is not the proper style of the pulpit: but there is some difference between speaking, and writing. In one the ear must take in the sense at once; in the other, the eye may review what the first glance did not fully receive. Besides, my friendly readers will now and then indulge a metaphor, to one who from his youngest years, has dealt a little in sacred poesy.
You are my witnesses, that in the common course of my ministry, I often press the duties of sobriety and temperance, justice and charity, as well as the inward and spiritual parts of godliness. But since treatises on the latter subjects are seldom published now-a-days, I have permitted the matters of secret converse between God and the holy soul, to take up a larger share in these discourses; and it has been my aim to rescue these arguments from the charge of enthusiasm, and to put them in such a light, as might shew their perfect consistence with common sense and reason. Hereby I have done my part to defend them against the daily cavils of those low pretenders to christianity, who banish most of these things from their religion, and yet arrogate and confine all reason to themselves.
It is necessary that a christian preacher should teach the laws of sobriety, the rules of charity and justice, our duty to our neighbour, and our practice of public religion ; but it is my opinion that discourses of experimental piety, and the work of the closet, should also sometimes entertain the church and the world. Our fathers talked much of pious experience, and have left their writings of the same strain behind them: They were surrounded with converts, and helped to fill heaven apace; for God was with them. But I mourn to think that some are grown so degenerate in our days, as to join their names and their works together in a common jest, and to ridicule the sacred matter of their sermons, because the manner had now and then something in it too mystical and obscure, and there is something in their style unfashionable and unpolished.
It must be acknowledged indeed, to the honour of the present age, that we have some pretences above our predecessors to freedom and justness of thought, to strength of reasoning, to clear ideas, to the generous principles of christian charity; and I wish we had the practice of it too. But as to the savour of piety and inward religion, as to spiritual-mindedness, and zeal for God, and the good of souls; as to the spirit and power of evangelical ministrations, we may all complain, the glory is much departed from our Israel. Happy the men who are so far assisted and favoured of God, as to unite all these excellencies, and to join the honours of the past and present age together! How far it has been attempted amongst you, I bave a witness in your
consciences: and though I keep a sincere and painful sense within me of my great defects on either side, yet I must still pursue the same attempt; and with reverence and zeal I beg leave to trace the footsteps of my brethren, who come nearest to this shining character.
In all these things I rejoice, and cannot conceal my joy, that my kind and faithful companion in the service of your souls, practises his ministry with the same views and designs; and he hath been sensibly owned and assisted of God, to support and to build up the church, during my long confinement. His labours of love both for you and for me, shall ever endear him both to me and you. May the divine blessing gloriously attend his double services in the seasons of my absence and painful restraint! May your united prayers prevail for my restoration to the full exercise of my ministry among you! And may you all receive such lasting benefit by our associated labours, that you may stand up, and appear as our crown and our joy in the great day of the Lord! This is the continual and hearty prayer of,
My dear Friends,
I AM borind to give thanks to God always, for the acceptance that my ser
mons have found among the more pious and religious part of mankind. As it hath been the chief design of my ministry to explain the common and most important things of our religion, to the understanding of every christian, and to impress the most necessary duties of it on the spirit and conscience, so when I am solicited to make my labours yet more publie, I would repeat the same work ; I would fain give my readers the clearest conceptions of some of the great articles of christianity, and draw out the plain principles of truth which are in the head, to a powerful and holy influence over the heart and life.
These discourses have but little hope to gratify those curious minds, who turn over the leaves superficially to search if there be any new discoveries in them, and being disappointed, lay down the book with disdain : My chief intent was to entertain and assist those humble christians, who converse in secret with God and their own souls:
And since it is the custom of many persons to read a sermon in the evening of the Lord's-day, as part of their family-worship, I was desirous also to suit the sermons which I publish to such a pious service. Now when the discourses, which are rehearsed in families have much of criticism and speculation in them, or long and difficult trains of reasoning, every one may observe, what à negligent air sits upon the faces of the hearers, what a drowsy attention is given to this téligious exercise, and the greatest part of the household find very little improvement.
I grant, it is sometimes necessary to preach, and print such discourses which are more critical and laborioùs in exposition of difficult texts, and which by artificial traius of argument, may penetrate deep into the bidden things of God, and bring forth things new as well as old. But I am content to wave the honour of such performances in tlve more general course of my labours, whe-> ther of the pulpit or the press, and chiefly to pursue those methods which more directly tend to the edification of the bulk of mankind, in the knowlėdge of Christ and in practical godliness.
We are too often ready to judge that to be the best sermon, which has many strange thoughts in it, many fine hints, and some grand and polite sen. timents. But a christian in his best temper of mind will say, “ That is a good sermon which brings my heart nearer to God, which makes the grace of Christ sweet to my soul, and the commands of Christ easy and delightful : That is an excellent discourse indeed which enables me to mortify some unruly sio, to vanquish a strong temptation, and weans me from all the the enticements of this lower world; that which bears me up above all the disquietudes
* In the fifth edition the three volumes in 12mo were reduced into two in octavo, and the prefaces abridged and united by the author.