by Archibald Bonar
To alleviate the anxieties of the laborious poor, and to increase the happiness of the common people, is the sincere aim of the writer of this Treatise. As the most effectual method of accomplishing this desirable object, he wishes to recommend to them, and to their families—the knowledge and the love of real religion; fully persuaded, that this alone can sufficiently support their minds under the various evils to which they are daily exposed.
Many are the snares of poverty, and severe the hardships experienced by such as are placed in the inferior stations of life. When suffering under agonizing solicitude, or cruel neglect, or all the humiliating circumstances of galling dependence; when the barrel of meal is consumed, and children weep for the supplies which their needy parents are unable to impart: when sickness unites with poverty to render their habitations dismal; when he on whose industry their hopes were centered, is pierced by the arrows of death—how pitiable then is the state of such families! But far more pitiable still, if, under these calamities, they remain strangers to the satisfying joys, and animating hopes of Christianity; if they have lived in the mournful habits of impiety, or are growing up in all the miseries of ignorance; if, amidst their complicated trials, felt and bewailed, they are destitute of the soothing consolations which enable believers to triumph in the midst of adversity.
Such ignorance of true religion can scarcely fail to be productive of profligacy and wretchedness. Those who have never been taught to seek happiness in the ways of God, yet are eager for comfort, and are naturally led to place all their expectation of enjoying it in the intoxications of vice; their poverty, united with their ignorance, involves them in many snares, hurries them on to all the awful excesses of iniquity, and drowns them at last in guilt and eternal perdition! Whereas, had they been trained up in the paths of piety and righteousness, they might have maintained an honorable character amidst all the snares of poverty, and enjoyed inward serenity amidst all the adversities of life.
To attempt, therefore, the release of many from this misery, and to aim at conducting them forward in the paths of wisdom and peace, cannot be an object unfitted to a benevolent mind. With this design, and from an ardent desire of promoting so important an object—a friend presents to the common people in our land, a plain directory and monitor, written for their instruction, and sent into the world with earnest supplications to the Father of all, for its success in promoting the best interests of mankind.
The PRINCIPLES of True Religion
TRUE RELIGION consists of three parts: proper principles, proper dispositions, and proper conduct. The union of these three, forms the character of a pious person; and if anyone of them be lacking, the other two must be greatly deficient; for the principles you imbibe will give a direction to the affections of your heart; and both of these, when uniting their influence, will determine the general tenor of your conduct.
It will therefore be necessary to lay before you a plain account of those sacred principles, or doctrines, which real Christians regard as essential to their hopes and happiness; which are clearly revealed in the Word of God; and which therefore, it greatly concerns you rightly to understand, firmly to believe, and constantly to remember.
The essential doctrines of Scripture relate chiefly to the following particulars:
1. The character and providence of God.
2. The original and present circumstances of mankind.
3. The love of Christ, as exhibited in his incarnation, sufferings, death, and resurrection; and still displayed in his unremitting care of his church and people.
4. The application of this love through the influences of the Holy Spirit.
5. The eternal state.
Let us attend a little to what the sacred Scriptures have revealed concerning each of these articles.
1. The foundation of all religious knowledge is laid in just conceptions of the DIVINE BEING.
That there is a God, all nature loudly proclaims, and almost all nations have readily admitted. Assuming, therefore, the Being of God as an allowed principle, the interesting inquiry naturally follows, What is God? What are his attributes? What notice does he take of his rational creatures here below? What is the extent of his dominion and providence. If they who arrogantly boast that unenlightened reason can guide men to happiness, are unable to solve these inquiries with satisfaction to themselves or others; if they can only conjecture; and if their conjectures are liable to be controverted; then let them not think more highly than they ought of the light of nature, but let them listen to the dictates of Scriptural revelation, and learn from thence what human reason never could have discovered.
From the Scriptures we learn, that the God with whom we have to do, is over all, and before all—infinitely, and independently, blessed in himself; from everlasting to everlasting, without any variableness, or even shadow of change. As none can resist his power, so all things are possible with him, for he is the Lord God omnipotent, who was, and is, and is to come. He is glorious in holiness; and cannot look upon iniquity without abhorrence. Before him all things are open and manifest; for the darkness cannot hide us from him, but is as the light. More, he searches the thoughts and hearts of men, and knows all their secret doings.
Great and marvelous are his works. He made the heavens, and all their hosts, the world and all its inhabitants. He upholds them by the word of his power, and does all his pleasure among the children of men. His kingdom rules over all, and his eyes behold the nations. He wounds and he heals. He pulls down, and raises up—and none can deliver out of his hands. What he has purposed—he will accomplish; for the counsel of the Lord shall stand forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Therefore it shall be well with the righteous; for truly there is a God who rules in the earth—and he will punish the wicked with everlasting destruction!
The language of the sacred volume, when describing the character of God, is inimitably sublime; and to direct your attention to some of these descriptions, is surely the most proper method of imparting just views of his greatness and glory. "I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name forever and ever." Psalm 145
To the same purpose you read in Psalm 104, "Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord."
No less plain, and no less sublime, is the description of the most high God in the prophecies of Isaiah, the fortieth chapter: "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. To whom, then, will you compare God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Everything relating to the divine nature, character, and dominion, revealed in Scripture, far exceeds what natural reason ever did discover. Reason tells us, that God is the Maker of all things; but it never discovered, that he created all things from nothing, and arranged and established them merely by his sovereign word. Reason can tell us that God is wise and powerful; but it knew not, until taught by revelation, that he has these, and every property of Deity, independent of every being, in an infinite degree, through everlasting ages. Reason supposes, that there is a general providence governing the nations; but it never suggested, that this providence of our God extends to the concerns of every man, to his most secret purposes, and seemingly most accidental mercies.
But the insufficient information which unassisted reason imparts concerning God, is peculiarly manifested by the discoveries given us in Scripture of the adorable Trinity. There we learn, that the Lord our God is one Lord; that in this unity of Godhead there are three persons; that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, possess the same nature, and attributes, and essence; that therefore, in perfect consistency with reason, as well as Scripture, we can affirm, that the glorious object of our worship, is the one living and true JEHOVAH. These are truths, which, while they baffle human wisdom to fathom, are essentially connected with every part of the great scheme of our redemption; and are well calculated to silence all human arrogance, to exalt our ideas of the divine nature, and to make us say, with adoring hosts above, "Who can find out the Almighty to perfection!"
2. The nature of MAN.As the Scriptures have favored us with satisfying information on the most sublime and important of all subjects, the nature and character of God; they, in like manner, equally satisfy our inquiries concerning a subject intimately connected with the former, and highly interesting to all—What is man? for what purpose did he receive existence? and what prospects as to futurity, is he permitted to entertain?
That man, in many respects, resembles the beasts which perish, is undeniable. Like them—he eats, and sleeps, and sickens, and dies! Man is of few days, and these uncertain and full of trouble. But that man is also more excellent than the animal creation, is abundantly evident, from the far nobler capacities which he possesses; a capacity of adoring and worshiping the supreme Being, of contemplating unseen and spiritual things, of holding rational conversation with fellow-creatures, and of acting such a part in life, as his understanding and reflection unite to dictate.
These various powers, which mark man's superior dignity above the beasts of the field, are derived from the Father of our spirits; and are entirely dependent for their preservation, on his sovereign pleasure. It remained therefore with him to reveal, whether or not he has made man immortal. No philosophic reasonings could have fully determined this question; but the sacred page has put this matter beyond all doubt, and clearly testifies, that as man possesses a living spirit, wholly distinct from his material body—so God has been pleased to stamp immortality on the rational soul, and has said concerning man, that he shall exist forever.
Nay, Scripture further informs us, that God created man in his own image; adorned him with all the beauties of perfect knowledge, righteousness and holiness; invested him with the dignity of being Lord of this lower creation, and rendered him completely blessed, by the knowledge and enjoyment, the contemplation and imitation of his God.
But alas! this original state of innocence, dignity, and happiness, was of short duration! Mankind soon violated their almighty Maker's most righteous laws, and departed from the living God. Most justly, therefore, were they punished as rebels against his government; banished from paradise, and doomed to pain, to death, and everlasting wretchedness!
Such is the present state of man; a state of apostasy from holiness, and from God; a state of ignorance and trouble, of degeneracy and guilt, of uncertainty and fears. Such we feel it to be—and such the Scriptures describe it. They also reveal the melancholy result: that in Adam all have fallen; that by this man's disobedience, all mankind were made sinners; and that condemnation has passed upon all men, because all have come short of the glory of God.
No longer does the heart of man remain upright or uncorrupted; nor is supreme regard to the will of God now natural to men: for their carnal mind is enmity against him, and refuses subjection to his law; their heart is deceitful and wicked; they have forsaken the fountain of living waters, and followed vain imaginations, and turned everyone to his own ways.
The temper, pursuits, and conduct of every man, from the days of Adam to the present hour; the experience of every nation, whether barbarous or civilized; daily evidences of willful depravity, in opposition to all the influences of education, threatenings and rewards. The universal prevalence of ingratitude, distrust, and disobedience towards God, unite their evidence with the testimony of Scripture, that all are by nature children of wrath, and that it is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed.
3. God's REMEDY for man's sin.As the word of God makes manifest the origin, the nature, and evidences of human depravity, so it graciously reveals the remedy which God himself has provided: it is, therefore, proper, in the next place, to remind you, that another distinguishing doctrine of revelation, is the Redemption of men through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture informs us, that from the beginning, the omniscient Jehovah foresaw the apostasy of mankind; and, with tenderest pity, beheld them involved in circumstances of misery, from which no human power could redeem: that, in richest mercy, he laid their help on one able to deliver; and gave up his only begotten Son to sufferings and death. The Son of God readily engaged to save men from ruin, by dying as their surety; and that what he freely undertook, he fully accomplished; for when the fullness of time arrived, he was manifested in the flesh, was numbered with transgressors, and died for the unjust; to redeem the lost, to atone for guilt, and bring many sons and daughters to glory.
To aid our conceptions of this Redeemer's love, Scripture assures us, that the guilt of sin could not be expiated, nor men redeemed, without a sacrifice of infinite value; and that he who humbled himself to the death of the cross for us, was none other than the Lord of glory, Immanuel, God with us, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead! This is he who bowed his head on Calvary, and said it was finished! The Messiah died, though not for himself; but to make an end of sin-offerings, to make reconciliation for transgressors, and to bring in everlasting righteousness. Need we then wonder that the inspired writers speak in the language of rapture on this glorious theme; and that they seem to labor for expressions when attempting to extol the love of the eternal Father, in giving his only begotten Son to the death for sinners; and the love of the adored Redeemer, in shedding his precious blood for the remission of the sins of many!
They further inform us, that the same unparalleled love, which led the Son of God to suffer and to die, remains to this day as ardent as ever, and shall remain unaltered and undiminished through everlasting ages. Having, by his own blood, atoned for the sins of his people, he arose in triumph from the grave for their justification, ascended to the mansions on high as their representative, and sat down at the right hand of the Father; there he sustains the endearing character of his people's compassionate High-Priest, and righteous Advocate! He intercedes with success in their behalf; renders their services acceptable through the merit of his own mediation; gives them grace to help in every time of need! He chooses out the lot of their inheritance; makes goodness and mercy to follow them through life; and brings them at last to his heavenly kingdom, to be forever with the Lord. These are parts of the exceeding great love with which he loves his redeemed. But the height and depth, and breadth and length of redeeming love far exceed all the powers of description, and all the conceptions of men or angels!
Under this article, the love of Christ, are included all the amazing discoveries made to us in Scripture, of what the Redeemer has done, and is now transacting, and will yet do for his people's felicity. His compassionate undertaking for their redemption; his constant condescending care of his church in Old Testament periods, the number, and unutterable variety of his sufferings, when he deigned to dwell with man on earth; the inestimable value of the blessings which his meritorious death procured; the manifestations of his grace to all his chosen, in their conversion, establishment and comfort. His communicating to his people all spiritual blessings, as their glorious Lord and head; and his preparing for all his redeemed—a state of unutterable, uninterrupted, and endless glory! But no language or conception is adequate to this noblest of themes—the love of Christ to fallen men.
4. The HOLY SPIRIT.Another distinguishing doctrine of our holy religion is the agency of the Divine Spirit, in preparing men for the kingdom of heaven. The glorious subject of this branch of divine revelation, is styled in Scripture the Spirit of God, the Eternal Spirit, the Third in the sacred Trinity who bear record in heaven, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of glory. In his name we are baptized; and to him, with the Father and the Son, supreme worship is paid in heaven and on earth.
The operations of the Holy Spirit, on the mind of those men who are chosen to salvation, are these: He convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He quickens those who are dead in sins, and makes them alive unto God. He cleanses them from all their idols, and purifies their hearts through faith in Christ. He sheds abroad the love of Christ, working to will and do what is well pleasing in the sight of God. He teaches them what to pray for, and makes intercession for them. He seals to the day of redemption, and keeps them through his own power. He witnesses with their spirits that they are the children of God, and abides with them as a Comforter. He fills them with hope and patience, strengthens them with all might, and leads them to eternal glory.
So necessary are the influences of the Spirit to constitute us real Christians, that Scripture frequently assures us, that if any have not the Spirit of Christ, they are none of his; and that they only who are led by the Spirit are the children of God. The evidence of being so led, is progress in grace; for the fruits of the Spirit, are faith, peace, love, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and temperance.
I have expressed these sentiments concerning the Spirit's influence on the minds of believers, in the precise words of Scripture, that it may be seen what an important place this doctrine holds in the Christian scheme. By considering these united testimonies of Scripture as they relate to the agency of the Spirit, you will be able to trace the gradual progress of the divine life, from the first saving convictions of the Holy Spirit, through his future enlightening, renewing, sanctifying and comforting operations. But this subject you will find more largely illustrated in the following chapter, under the head of Experience in Religion.
5. The eternal state.The last distinguishing doctrine of our holy religion which I proposed to mention, is the State of Retribution beyond the Grave. This may justly be termed, a doctrine peculiar to the gospel: for though wise men, in different ages and nations, have longed for future joys; and have conjectured, that surely a future state of bliss or of woe is prepared for men, according to their character and conduct on earth; yet it is only by the revelation which God has made in his Word, that immortality has been brought clearly to light.
As the Old and the New Testaments are parts of one gradual revelation made to mankind; as they both testify of one God, and one Savior, and one gospel; so they unite in revealing the future and the eternal state of things, though with very different degrees of clearness. They show us what shall be hereafter; and solemn and sublime are the scenes which they represent: the opening of the clouds of heaven; the descending of the great God, our Savior, to judge the living and dead; the grandeur of his manifestation, in his own and his Father's glory, with ten thousands of his angels; the resurrection of the dead, at the sounding of the trumpet of God; the appearing of assembled worlds before the judgment-seat of Christ; the separation of the wicked from the righteous; the irreversible sentence on the ungodly, denouncing everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord; the changing of the bodies of the saints in a moment, and rendering them spiritual and immortal; the raptures of the redeemed, when acknowledged, acquitted, and honored, before the whole intelligent creation; the general conflagration, at the command of the sovereign Judge, and the dissolution of these stupendous works which he now upholds; the opening of the everlasting gates of glory, to admit the ransomed of the Lord; their bowing before the throne; their being presented to the Father with exceeding great joy; their celestial songs to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb that was slain; their seeing God as he is; their remembering all the way by which he led them; their being with Jesus, to behold his glory; their being made kings and priests unto our God forever and ever! These are the future realities which Scriptural revelation has unfolded; these are your glorious hopes, O believer in Jesus! and these glorious hopes we owe to your atoning sacrifice, O blessed, blessed Immanuel!
The EXPERIENCE of True Religion
Having spoken of religious knowledge as it respects the doctrines of Scripture; I come now to consider it as it respects the Scripture account of the experience of Christians; the actings of their minds towards divine objects; and the influence of what they believe on their tempers and affections.
All real piety is seated in the heart; and thence, as good seed sown in good ground, it produces those fruits of righteousness which are to the glory of God. No outward forms of devotion; no external profession of piety, however fervent, regular, and conspicuous; no exertions for the good of mankind, however successful and applauded; no sudden emotions of sorrow or joy, under the preaching of the Word; nay, no sufferings for the sake of Christ, or zeal for his cause—can entitle us to the character of real Christians, while we are destitute of that repentance, that faith, and that conversion unto God, which have their seat in the heart, which are the breathings of the spiritual life, and which the Scriptures describe as essential parts of real godliness.
That GOD with whom we have to do, searches the heart, and requires truth in the inward parts. That LAW by which we shall be judged, demands the subjection of the whole inward man, and enjoins the love of God with all our heart and mind. That JESUS, on whom depends all our hopes of happiness, distinguishes his real disciples by their being born again, renewed in their minds, and setting their affections on things above. That GOSPEL which publishes the glad tidings of peace to man, testifies the indispensable necessity of being converted and born again.
A new creature in Christ; old things done away; the kingdom of God within you; Christ formed in you; strengthened with all might in the inward man; believing with the heart unto salvation —these are expressions familiar to the inspired writers; and they remind us, that men are no farther pious in the eye of God, than as their religion is seated in the heart, and is influenced by those divine principles of sincere faith in Christ, and supreme love to him, which Christianity enjoins, and which the Spirit of God inspires.
These remarks are intended to evince this important sentiment, That in order to our deserving the character of real Christians, we must experience the energy of vital religion on our own souls. In what manner that influence exerts itself, comes next to be considered. Here, however, we must tread with cautious steps, lest we substitute the delusions of enthusiasm, for the communications of divine grace; or lest, in our zeal against enthusiasm, we condemn the noblest operations of the sacred Spirit.
Concerning the nature of the powers and operations of the mind, learned men have always differed, and probably will continue to differ as long as the world lasts. They are not agreed in what manner the understanding operates on the will, the will on the affections, and one affection on another; far less can they comprehend or explain the operations of divine grace on the understanding, the will, and the affections, as united and co-operating. But though philosophical researches can afford us little aid in tracing the progress of the divine life in the soul, yet we enjoy a more sure word of prophecy, and a more obvious method of illustration, to which we will now attend.
That the mind of man is capable of receiving impressions from God is a principle allowed by heathen sages, as well as by Christian divines. That no man can purify his own mind from all iniquity, is the doctrine of universal experience. But Scripture further inculcates, that, without the Spirit of Christ, we can do nothing truly good; and that it is God alone who works in man to will and to do what is right. Every just view, therefore, of spiritual objects; every pious sentiment imprinted on the mind; all divine emotions of soul arising from these sentiments; all heavenly desires; all holy dispositions; all godlike tempers, and all progressive attainments in inward purity—are the fruits of the Spirit, and the evidences of his divine operations.
Connected with this principle, follows another, equally necessary to be mentioned on this subject—that the Spirit's operations on the mind are generally through the medium of Scripture, and always in perfect consistency with it. The Scripture revelation is complete, and contains all the information necessary to guide our feet in the ways of peace. The Spirit, therefore, in his agency on the minds of believers makes no new revelation from heaven, nor discovers objects unnoticed in the Word of truth. His gracious office is to make us perceive the meaning, the importance, and the glory of what Scripture testifies; and to bring home, by a particular application, these sacred truths to our understanding and heart. Here then we are naturally led to examine, how the sublime and all-important truths of Scripture, formerly enumerated, affect the mind, when savingly applied by the Spirit.
The first evidence of such an application, is self-abasement, and solicitude about peace with God. When the Spirit is come, said the Savior, he will convince the world of sin. With these convictions his saving operations generally commence. He rouses men from their former insensibility to divine things. He calls their attention to those future, solemn, eternal scenes revealed in Scripture. He sets before them the majesty, the justice, the sovereign authority, and infinite holiness of the Lord God Omnipotent. He unfolds the perfection of the divine law, its demands of constant obedience, its spirit, its wide extent, and its solemn sanctions. He convinces them that God will be honored and obeyed, or will punish the disobedient with destruction; that in demanding unlimited subjection, he is just to himself, and good to his rational offspring; and that they in withholding it, stand chargeable with ingratitude and rebellion, in all their aggravating circumstances. These sacred truths are imprinted on the heart in lasting characters, through the power of the Spirit; they are contemplated, believed, and acknowledged. That their tendency to humble, and awe, and alarm—may easily be conjectured. Is this the God who has every moment sustained us; but whom we have neither feared, nor loved, nor honored!
Are these the invariable demands of the almighty Lawgiver? Does his immutable law take an impartial cognizance of our thoughts, our tempers, our motives, our words, and our ways? And does it threaten indignation and woe against all unrighteousness of men? What then shall we do to be saved? How can we escape the wrath to come? Our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all our secret sins. How then shall we stand before him? or how can we answer for one of our many, many transgressions? Lord, be merciful to us sinners! Lord, we abhor ourselves in your sight; to us belongs sorrow, for we have sinned, and come short of your glory.
There is a wide difference between these self-abasing convictions of the Spirit, which are connected with salvation, and the remonstrances of a natural conscience in unrenewed men. The latter are chiefly excited by the commission of gross, or of outward sins, which subject the transgressor to present inconvenience, disgrace, or distress. The former are promoted by a discovery of the opposition which the heart feels to the authority of God, its insensibility to his infinite amiableness, and its ingratitude for his unmerited goodness: they lead to review our past life with grief and contrition; they excite sincere solicitude for reconciliation with an offended God; and, while they constrain us to confess, that we deserve to perish, they make us willing to be saved in whatever manner a holy and gracious God shall be pleased to appoint.
The blessed Spirit of illumination and grace, having humbled these awakened men under the mighty hand of God, next leads them to a believing, joyful acceptance of the mercy offered in the Gospel. He gives them to know that God is in Christ, reconciling a guilty world to himself; that he has set forth Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of sins; that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ; and that whoever will, may take of the waters of life freely. Now God appears not only glorious in holiness—but rich in mercy, a just God and Savior, a God in Christ, justifying the ungodly who believe, and saying in their behalf, "Deliver from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom."
Now the cheering dawnings of hope arise in the mind of the awakened sinner. Illuminated by the Spirit, I see a fountain opened for my many iniquities; and I am assured that Jesus died, the just for the unjust, to bring sinners unto God; his blood cleanses from all guilt; his power saves to the uttermost; his invitations are free and unlimited; and his promise tells me, that he will never cast out any who truly believe. Now the solemn and memorable hour arrives—of infinite importance to these awakened men, when, through the great Mediator, they approach the throne of the God of peace, when they deliver up the weapons of their rebellion, when they sincerely surrender themselves to the grace and the government of the Almighty King of Zion, and entrust the everlasting interests of their immortal souls' to this all-sufficient Savior. And now it is, they are made the happy partakers of that faith which is by the operation of the Spirit—they receive the record which God has given of his own Son; they rely on the great atonement for the pardon of their guilt; they depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ for their justification, in the sight of an offended and infinitely holy God; they plead the experience of his quickening, sanctifying grace; and they lay hold on the covenant of promise, as their security for the enjoyment of all spiritual blessings.
So soon as men are thus led to rely on the Savior for righteousness and redemption, that they become new creatures in Christ: old things are done away, and the time past seems far more than sufficient to have wrought the will of the flesh; the high imaginations are laid low, and the affections captivated to the love of Christ; his love constrains them; the influence of sin is opposed; God is supremely delighted in; and the things of time, however joyous—are counted as the small dust of the balance, when compared with the pleasures which are at God's right hand.
This astonishing change, which, in the hour of reconciliation, passes upon their minds, is styled—the renewing of the Holy Spirit. The blessed effects of this new birth, are growing comfort and holiness; and both of these in all their gradual progress to perfection; are invariably attributed to the residence of the Spirit in the souls of the regenerated. He fills them with peace and with joy, by bearing witness that God has accepted them through his beloved Son; that his anger is turned away; that he has adopted them into his family, and given them not only the honorable title, but all the inestimable privileges of children. That the hope of glory may accompany the joy of believing, the Spirit farther testifies, that if children, then we are heirs, heirs of an incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, which God, who cannot lie, has promised, and which is reserved in heaven for all who love the Savior. Thus, through views of God as a reconciled Father, through the prospect of immortal joys, and through a noble elevation above this miserable world—they go on their way rejoicing.
But these comfortable influences of the Spirit, are diminished or withdrawn, when the people of God indulge in sinful conformity to the world, when they act an undutiful part to their heavenly Father, or fail to adorn the doctrine of God their Savior. Hence it is evident, that the sanctifying influences of grace are as necessary to our peace and comfort, as the most satisfying assurances of our interest in the divine favor.
Sanctification means the continuance and progress of that spiritual life which was begun in believers, when renewed in the spirit of their mind. An infant has all the parts and faculties which he shall enjoy when he arrives at manhood; but these, while in infancy, are imperfect and feeble: they grow with his growth, and strengthen with his years. Thus is it with the man of God: sanctification confers no new principles, capacities, and pursuits; but it invigorates those which the new creature already possesses, and nourishes them gradually, until he arrives at the fullness of the stature of a mature man in Christ. Being renewed in his mind, he sets his affections on things above; he presses forward for the prize of his high calling; he lives under the power of the world to come; he loves the Savior with all the ardor of supreme delight, and consecrates his talents to the honor of God. In filial submission, he resigns his interests to the divine disposal, saying, "Father, not my will, but may your be done." He studies through grace, to walk humbly with God; and it is his daily endeavor to enjoy nearer and more constant fellowship with the Father, and the Son, through the Spirit. This delightful fellowship, while it elevates his views to heaven, neither leads to presumption, nor fills with arrogance. On the contrary, it promotes the sincerest humility, under lively impressions of his own unworthiness; and excites to watchful circumspection, lest he provoke the holy One of Israel to withdraw his gracious communications.
Such is the gradual progress of the work of grace on the hearts of believers, and such are the feelings of the soul when led by the Spirit. They unite the ardor of triumphant joy in God, with deepest humiliation for past offences; the confidence of children, with the reverence of godly fear; the comfort of pleasing God, with the conflicts of self-denial; the hope of glory to be revealed, with the fear of seeming to stop short in the heavenly journey. O happy, though hidden life! May I live the life of the righteous! may I daily experience their abhorrence of sin; their gratitude for redeeming love; their joy in the Savior; their fearfulness of offending; their jealousy over themselves; their mortification of earthly affections; their eagerness to glorify God; their esteem of the saints; their elevation above the world, and their ardent longings for heaven! Your hearts reply, Amen! let us also delight in God.
The PRACTICAL Influence of True Religion
United with right principles, and experience, religion consists in the conformity of our temper and life to the will of God.
Hitherto we have viewed the saints as seated at their Savior's feet, listening to his gracious words, and feeling the life-giving energy of his promises: there they would always remain, in blissful fellowship with their Lord. "It is good for us to be here!" is their language. "Here would we stay, and pass our peaceful days in the admiring contemplation, and satisfying experience, of what you have taught us!"
But that adored Redeemer, to whose direction and disposal they willingly submit, sends them back to their friends and families, to tell what great things he has done for them; and honors them with this important commission, "Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father in heaven." With this sentiment and aim, they go forth into the world, to act their part in life, and to exhibit that character and lifestyle which befits the gospel of Christ.
To honor God before men, is the leading object which they propose to aim at, in all their pursuits and actions. They know that their obligations are infinite; and gratitude constrains them to live to him, who has redeemed them from everlasting destruction! Animated with this heavenly desire of glorifying God, their first inquiry is after some permanent standard of obedience, and a perfect rule of conduct, to which they can have recourse, amidst all the variety of situations in which they may be placed. The language of their hearts is, "Lord, what will you have us to do? What shall we render to you—for all your benefits to us? Speak, Lord, for your servants is listening. Not our will, but yours be done. Show us your way—and we will walk therein."
In answer to these sincere requests, the moral law, explained and exemplified by Christ Jesus, is put into their hands, as the law of his spiritual kingdom, binding on all his subjects, perpetual in its obligations, just in all its demands, perfective of the human character, productive of the highest happiness, and addressed to believers with this endearing inscription, "If you love me, keep my commandments."
Piety towards God, and benevolence to man—are the leading features in the character formed upon this pure and perfect law; for therein we are reminded, that the Lord God omnipotent is our God, that we are his children, and that mankind are our brethren. When, therefore, our conduct is regulated by these unerring and unalterable principles, every duty enjoined upon Christians is welcomed by us, as wisely calculated for our personal welfare, and founded on the endearing relations in which we stand to God and mankind. We then most readily subscribe both to the justice and goodness of each precept in this holy law—and it well befits us to do so; for all these precepts arise naturally from that love to God and man, which is the foundation and fulfilling of the law. If we love him supremely as our God, we will worship him alone, and will reverence his name.
If we regard all mankind as our neighbors, near to us by partaking of one common nature—if this law is written on our heart, and if we act invariably under its influence, we will not injure their character by false witness, nor their circumstances by fraud, nor their domestic comfort by envying what they possess. We will not covet, nor hate, nor steal.
But though the real Christian desires to be guided and governed by this perfect rule of righteousness, he still experiences the painful and powerful influence of that carnal mind which led him captive in his unregenerate state, and which is enmity against the law of God. It may, therefore, tend to explain both the parts and the progress of practical religion, if, in connection with the several duties enjoined, we notice the DIFFICULTIES which Christians encounter, when endeavoring, through grace, to do the will of their heavenly Father.
The first proof of obedience they are called to give, is the opposing their own corrupt dispositions, in order to attain that self-government, without which no obedience can be willing, or uniform. Evil passions and appetites are deeply rooted in all men by nature; and repeated indulgence strengthens their hold in many; but they must be resolutely resisted by the Christian, because their gratification is inconsistent with his progress in grace, and injurious to the interests of piety. The command therefore is, if your right eye offends you, or causes you to offend—pluck it out; if your right hand offends you—cut it off; rather suffer loss, and endure pain—than sin against your God. "Put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved—put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."
The laying aside of formerly besetting sins, is but a poor attainment, unless we are also clothed upon with the beauties of holiness, and the ornaments of a Christian temper. The principal branches of this temper are humility, temperance, patience, meekness, and self-denial. To have these in them and abounding, is the prayer, and aim, and, in some measure, the attainment of believers.
Conscious of their unworthiness, and weakness, and daily imperfections, they esteem others more highly than themselves. They admire that forbearance of God, which spares such cumberers of the ground as they are. They adore that grace which extends salvation to such unworthy creatures. They confess themselves less than the least of all saints; and under the impression of sincere humility, they ascribe unto God the unrivaled glory of all their happiness and hopes.
Pressing forward to the land of promise, remembering that this earth is not their rest, and declaring themselves only pilgrims in this wilderness world, they endeavor, through grace, to be temperate in all things, to be contented and resigned in every situation, to live without covetousness, and to use this world as not abusing it, knowing that this world and all it contains will pass away.
Encompassed with many cares and tribulations, they stay themselves on God, and seek in patience to possess their spirits; to guard against all murmuring and distrust; to bear the indignation of the Lord, until he pleads their cause; and to humble themselves under his mighty hand, until he exalts them in his due season.
Meekness under affronts is of the highest importance in such a world as this, in which turbulent and unreasonable men everywhere abound; whose daily injuries and reproaches are so ready to ruffle the temper, and provoke revenge. But learn of your Redeemer, O Christian! to be meek as well as lowly. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously. Therefore, dearly beloved, give not way to anger, and avenge not yourselves; nay, love those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you.
The self-denial so strongly urged in Scripture on all the disciples of Christ, implies a guarding with habitual care, against those high imaginations which arrogantly oppose the humiliating scheme of the gospel; and mortifying that vain ambition for human applause, which leads many to mind their own things rather than the things of Christ. But it chiefly means, the opposing those intemperate and impure desires, which lead the men of the world captive, which are destructive of all inward serenity, and are justly styled the "ways of bitterness and death." To guard the regenerate against these fatal paths, the injunctions to self-denial are many, and plain, and strong. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. Take heed, lest you be overcome with careless ease, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life. Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. Walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise. Love not the world, nor the things of the world; for all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world. The world passes away, and the lust thereof; but he who does the will of God abides forever."
Thus, in describing the conversation which becomes the gospel, we have been necessarily led to consider the temper of the Christian's mind, and the operation of his inward dispositions: for though these inward tempers are only manifest to God, yet their fruits are visible to all around; so that the careful cultivation of the heavenly tempers, now mentioned, forms an essential branch of practical religion. To promote the growth of these holy tempers, and their progress towards perfection, is perhaps one of the most difficult labors of the Christian in this uncongenial worldly soil. Numerous and powerful are the evil propensities of his deceitful heart. Those natural corruptions which he thought had been wholly cast out by the power of regenerating grace, have still their root of bitterness remaining; often regain unexpected vigor, spread their noxious influence, and threaten the destruction of all the graces of the Spirit.
Hence arises another important Christian duty, that, namely, of invigorating and nourishing these heavenly plants by means of religious ordinances. Thus believers are described in Scripture, as trees of righteousness, planted by the rivers of water, which bring forth fruit in their season; and are flourishing even in old age, when others fade. The Word of God; the sanctuary and its impressive solemnities; the secret devotions of the closet and family—these are the peaceful streams which water the vineyard of the Lord! These are the sacred channels through which the almighty Spirit conveys to believers renewed supplies of life, and strength, and fruitfulness.
The Word of God is their Counselor in straits, and companion in the pilgrimage of life. Many in every age, can say with the Psalmist, "when our sorrows abounded, we would have perished, unless we had found comfort in your most perfect Word." By the prayer of faith, they are strengthened with all might in the inner man; and kept in peace, being staid on God. In his tabernacles, they behold his power and glory, and are brought near to God as their exceeding joy. At his table, they delight in his love, and the fruits of their Redeemer's death are sweet unto their taste. With gratitude they welcome every return of that day which God himself has consecrated; and which brings them the renewed evidence, that their Lord is risen, and has triumphed over death and the grave. With Simeon, they go up to the temple to worship; with Lydia, they attend to the things which are spoken of the Lord; with Asaph they meditate on the works of God, and remember the years of the right hand of the Most High; with devout Cornelius, they worship God in their house; with the disciples going to Emmaus, they take sweet counsel together, and talk of him who redeems Israel; and with the first Christians, they continue steadfast in the Apostles' doctrine, and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The willful neglect of these institutions of religion, is not only injurious to the progress of grace in the soul, but indicates impiety towards God; and proves of pernicious consequence to individuals, and families, and societies, by setting before them an example of disregard to divine institutions. Whereas a regular and reverential attention to religious worship, in the closet, and family, and sanctuary—is one of the various methods by which the faithful in Christ adorn his doctrine, and make their light shine before men.
Having stated the more personal branches of practical religion, let us now direct your attention to the duties which we owe to others, and which are therefore styled relative duties. They are comprehended under these two leading commands, of loving our neighbor as ourselves; and doing unto others as we would wish them, in similar situations, to do unto us.
These general propositions are explained by particular precepts of Scripture. "He has showed you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Let none of you imagine evil against his neighbor: speak every man the truth, and execute the judgment of truth. Comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth: hereby we shall assure our hearts before him. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his compassion, how dwells the love of God in him?
In these exhortations to relative duties—sincerity, justice, and kindness, are particularly recommended, as important articles in the conversation befitting the gospel.
Truth and sincerity of speech is of so much importance in society, that without it, mankind could have no comfort in each other, and no confidence in social fellowship; therefore religion requires, that a Christian's words shall indicate the sincere sentiments of his heart, and shall be followed out by the conformity of his actions to what he has spoken or promised. A contrary conduct is treating with disregard the omniscience of God, and substituting deception, for the godly sincerity which befits Christians.
Justice and integrity of conduct should ever accompany sincerity in speech; and will lead the Christian to render to all ranks and relations what they are entitled to expect; tribute to whom tribute is due, honor to superiors, gratitude to benefactors, obedience to rulers, subjection to parents, affectionate attention to neighbors, and constancy of friendship to kindred and companions. It is not therefore sufficient to abstain from contention, debate, oppression, cruelty, or fraud; Christians are also required to be the salt of the earth, and the lights of the world; to do good as they have opportunity; to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to support the distressed, and to honor the Lord with their substance. For those who he has prospered in the world, are stewards of the bounties of providence; and are as really bound by Scripture to supply the needy—as not to rob; to give—as not to injure; to comfort—as not to smite.
But this extensive law of justice has a particular respect to the relative situation of mankind, regulating the extent of authority in superiors, and the measure of subjection in inferiors. Such, therefore, is its language, as testified in Scripture. He who rules over men—must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord. Let every soul be subject to the higher powers—for the powers that be, are ordained of God, for the punishment of evil-doers, and the praise of those who do well.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it: so ought men to love their own wives as their own bodies; for he who loves his wife loves himself.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as unto the Lord. Be sober, be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, obedient to your own husbands. Your adornment be the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God.
Fathers must not provoke their children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Lay up these my words in your heart, and teach them to your children, speaking of them when sitting in the house, when walking by the way, when lying down, and rising up.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is good and acceptable to God. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise.
Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honor, and please them well in all things: not answering again, not stealing; but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.
You masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal, forbearing threatening; knowing that you have a Master in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
To these most reasonable rules of righteousness, which flow from the relative situations of Christians, their Redeemer has added the new commandment of Love to the brethren. As their head of influence and privilege, he unites them into one spiritual family; and requires them to love each other with a purity, constancy, and endearment befitting fellow-debtors to sovereign grace, and fellow-travelers to the heavenly glory. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you love one another. This love is pure and peaceable, long-suffering and kind; it forgives unto seventy times seven; it rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; it warns the unruly, and restores the fallen, in the spirit of meekness; it comforts the feeble-minded, and confirms the weak. We are brethren, is its language, let us not argue along the way. We have one faith, one Lord, one hope of our calling, one Father, and one heaven; let us then build up one another in our most holy faith, and edify one another, and rejoice in the hope of the glory to be revealed.
On the other hand, if, among the Christian's kindred or companions, any seem strangers or enemies to that grace which brings salvation, his duty is, not to irritate them by railing accusation, by haughty neglect, or indignant scorn; but in meekness to instruct; in the gentleness of advice to recommend piety; in the circumspection of exemplary conduct, to show its powerful influence; and, in all the importunity of prayer, to plead with the God of all grace, that by his unmerited, almighty, and sovereign grace, he would pluck them as brands from the burning, and call them from darkness to his marvelous light, and make them joyful with his inheritance.
Such is the nature of practical religion, as delineated in the sacred Scriptures: walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless; living unspotted from the world; leading quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty; doing good to all as we have opportunity, especially to such as are of the household of faith; growing in grace; following after those things which are pure and lovely, and of good report; adding to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.
The motives to this Christian conduct are numerous, powerful, and endearing. Thus, we glorify our Father in heaven, and adorn the doctrine of God our Savior; and walk before him unto all well pleasing. Thus we live unto the Lord, and, as he has given commandment, and according to the example he has left us. Thus the life of Christ is made manifest in us, and our light shines before the world, and the way of truth is not evil spoken of on our account. Thus our peace flows as a river, and we grow in fitness for inheriting with the saints in light.
Let us then examine our own character, and inquire, What influence has our religion had upon our hearts and tempers, our words and conduct?
Let us nobly aspire after the highest possible attainments, in that life of exemplary and uniform holiness recommended by the gospel. And for this purpose, while we daily rely on the righteousness of the Redeemer for acceptance, and daily dedicate ourselves to his service, let us also be strong in his might, and in the exercise of prayer, wait on the promised influences of the Holy Spirit, to hold up our goings, that our footsteps may never slide; to keep us in the hour of temptation; to lead us in the everlasting way; to sanctify us wholly; to preserve soul, body, and spirit blameless unto the coming of the Lord; and to make our path shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day!
The Importance of True Religion to the Usefulness and Happiness of the Common People.
Let it be understood, that this expression, the common people, far from implying the smallest degree of disrespect, is all along used merely to distinguish the persons here addressed, from those who, by their superior station, fortune, or influence, are, in common language, styled the great of this world. But though neither the middle ranks of life, nor the lowest orders of society, are excluded by this general term of common people, yet the writer of this treatise has chiefly in view that numerous and valuable class of people who are employed as tradesmen, laborers, servants, or apprentices. For their benefit he has attempted some description of the nature and influence of real religion; and now he wishes to rouse their attention to this deeply interesting subject, and to recommend this religion to their choice, by such arguments as may be suitable to their situations, and may come home to their hearts.
Know yourself, O man! and respect yourself—are maxims applauded by the wise, and worthy the continual recollection of all. They are particularly applicable to you who are placed in dependent circumstances; and whose inferiority may often expose you to disesteem, and may sometimes endanger your undervaluing your own character. To promote this knowledge and respect, be entreated to think seriously on the exalted powers you possess, and to look around with attention upon the station which you hold. In other words, view yourselves both in your personal and in your relative capacity. To these two points the reasoning on this branch of the subject shall be confined.
1. Then, think of yourselves in your personal capacity, as rational and immortal beings. However obscure your lot in life, you possess the same spiritual powers, are formed for the same noble purposes, and are called to the same exalted prospects—with the most honorable or wealthy in the land.
The lowest circumstances of service, or dependence, or poverty, with all their humiliating and mournful attendants, can in no degree diminish the poor man's intrinsic excellence. He is the child of providence, the expectant of immortality. These honors his gracious Creator confers upon him, in common with the wealthiest potentate on earth. A wretched Lazarus, fed with crumbs from the rich man's table; a blind Bartimeus, who sat by the way-side begging, were as really the objects of divine attention, as Solomon, when arrayed in all his glory. You unknown, unenvied men, you sons and daughters of poverty; you are equally with others the creatures of God; formed by his power, sustained by his merciful visitation, and placed in those very circumstances which his unerring wisdom has judged most expedient. Therefore, as his rational and dependent creatures, you owe to him the daily tribute of supreme love, of grateful worship, of unreserved submission, and dutiful obedience. Do you ask, then, where is God our Maker, who gives us songs in the night? And what has the Lord required of us? Learn his character and his will; follow on to know him; and walk before him, unto all well-pleasing.
As man is born to trouble, so those who move in inferior stations, are peculiarly exposed to numberless distresses; under each of these they require support and solace to their minds—but that consolation, they cannot expect from the world. Small is the relief, and few the joys, it can impart to any. The little that it has, is reserved for those in affluence and power; but it cruelly leaves the afflicted poor to weep unpitied and despised. Not thus unrelenting and cruel—is that amiable religion which descends from above. She visits the house of neglected cottagers. She revives the soul of the sorrowful, and imparts a gladness of heart which can only be understood by those who feel her animating presence.
Nevertheless, she disdains to dwell with those who, however needy, remain unprincipled and impenitent; she does not enter the habitation of those who are ignorant of God, who disobey the Gospel and love the darkness; she passes their dreary abode with just indignation; and leaves them a spectacle to men and angels, of the complicated horrors of poverty and pain, when united with ignorance and impiety. Lay up, therefore, a good foundation for the days of darkness, by union and fellowship with that Redeemer, who gives grace to help in every time of need. To you, equally with others, his infinite merits can extend; for your acceptance the blessings of his great salvation are held out; and for your consolation he proclaims, "Ho, everyone who thirsts—come, and take of the waters of life freely!" If united to this compassionate Redeemer, and abiding in him, all the ways of providence towards you will be mercy and peace, and the severest trials in life will work together for your good. Blessed Gospel of peace, which turns darkness into light, and makes the Valley of Achor, or trouble, to be a door of hope! Happy the believer in Christ, cheered with the presence of a friend, who is born for adversity, and who sticks closer than a brother.
It is appointed for all to die, and after death comes the judgment; and after judgment follows the eternal state of existence. Whatever, then, may be the outward condition, or the inward perplexities of any of the common people, they are daily hastening to immortal glory—or endless woe! That poor wretched profligate, who is clothed with rags, yet staggering with drunkenness; who has brutified his senses by intemperance; who so daringly blasphemes his Maker, and so loudly implores damnation on himself; even he possesses an immortal soul, and soon shall he stand before the impartial tribunal of a sovereign Judge! O that he would consider his latter end; and would lay to heart, in the days of his merciful visitation, the things which belong to his everlasting peace! Yes, the servant, the laborer, the tradesman; nay, that needy, naked, hungry pensioner of the benevolent; each has a treasure of unspeakable value to secure, or to lose! His soul is immortal, and all his temporal difficulties shall soon be forgotten in the uninterrupted pleasures of heavenly glory—or the unutterable agonies of future wrath. This life is the only period allotted to him, to prepare for eternity. His season of grace is uncertain; his day declines, and his departure is at hand! What scene on earth is more affecting than the death of an ignorant, ungodly, poor man, who has toiled hard through life to gain a scanty subsistence, but never thought of an hereafter, who enjoyed but little comfort in this world, and is dying without any well-grounded hope of happiness in the next!
You children of industry and indigence, direct your attention to the representation now given! Consider yourselves in your personal capacity, the subjects of God's moral government; journeying through a world of sin and misery; possessing immortal natures, and daily ripening for an unalterable and endless state! If then there is a reality, a power, and a comfort in true religion; if it is productive of present peace, and can be advantageous to any of mankind, it must be of peculiar avail to you. You need its divine influence to regulate your affections, to elevate your desires, to dispel your fears, to purify your hearts, and to render you happy in God, independent of all earthly troubles or joys. You are capable of enjoying these influences, and of feeling their glorious power to keep from fainting in the day of adversity; and you are encouraged from Scripture to ask, and to expect more abundant consolations in Christ, than those who do not experience the tribulations of life. Let piety then be the guide of your steps, and the solace of your minds. Choose this better part which cannot be taken away; prefer it as the one thing needful; delight yourselves in the Lord; abide in his words, and walk as he has given commandment: then shall you know, that Wisdom's ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
"My son, listen to me and treasure my instructions. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and understanding. Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God!" Proverbs 2:1-5
2. Let us next consider, that numerous class of men whom providence has placed in inferior stations, as forming an important branch of the community, and connected with society by various relations.
Here a succession of interesting circumstances present themselves to view; and the value of true religion appears with peculiar luster as happily calculated to render men: upright in service, constant in marital life, dutiful children, affectionate parents, and useful citizens.
To laborers of every description, Christianity addresses its exhortations with energy, and affection. It cautions against murmuring at the allotments of an unerring Father; it requires them to abide in their calling with the Lord; it gives them directions for the regulation of their temper, words, and conduct; and it assures them, that by acting a proper part in their several departments, they shall shine as lights before men, and shall adorn the doctrine of God their Savior.
Many are their dangers, and great their need of intimate acquaintance both with the principles and the power of Christianity. Separated from the eye and care of their parents, they are entered upon an ensnaring world, are scattered through many families, and have many duties to discharge, many difficulties to encounter, and many temptations to resist! Nothing less than cleaving to the Lord with full purpose of heart, can prevent their wandering into those paths in which destroyers walk.
However unfashionable the opinion, yet it accords with Scripture and observation, that sincere piety is an essential requisite in the character of a faithful servant. Masters can have little dependence on the truth and honesty, the temperance and sobriety, of any under them, who have not the fear of God before their eyes; who disregard his ordinances, or profane his holy name. Such will feel but little restraint from the terrors of an earthly master, when tempted to falsehood, or fraud, or self-indulgence. Nothing less than the grace which brings salvation, can effectually teach them to deny all ungodliness, and worldly lusts; and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world. Nothing but the love of Christ shed abroad in the heart, can constrain them to the performance of commanded duty; especially of those necessary and self-denying duties which oppose depraved dispositions, and natural propensities to evil.
Most wise in its nature, and most beneficial for society, is the language of Scripture to those under authority: "Obey those who have the rule over you; be clothed with humility; lay aside all wrath and malice; put on the ornaments of meek and quiet spirits; be faithful in that which is least, and, in due time, God will make you ruler over many things; be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." True religion requires them to resist the solicitations of the wicked; to curb the sallies of passion; to beware lest they be overtaken by intemperance or impurity; and to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. It forbids their doing evil—that good may come; and it charges them to speak the truth in love, and not lie one to another; to be sober minded, and not deal in matters too high for them; to do their own work quietly, and not stir up strife; to follow peace with all men, and that holiness without which none can see the Lord.
Such are the amiable counsels of our holy religion, such the character of upright servants, and such the men worthy of being encouraged and employed. But where are such laborers, apprentices, and servants to be found? Alas! the conduct of the far greater part is in direct opposition to all these heavenly precepts! Unfaithful to their trust, deceitful in their words, dishonest in their transactions, violent in their tempers, and sensual in their gratifications; they too often prove the ruin of companions, the disgrace of society, the dishonor of their friends, and disturbers of the families where they reside. Instead of rising into notice and esteem, or treasuring up for future support, they render themselves objects of public indignation, and involve themselves and their families in infamy and poverty.
Never will any effectual reformation, in sentiments or manners, be witnessed among any class of servants, until, through grace, they submit to the laws of God, and become Christians, not in name, but in heart and life. Other expedients for reforming them have been tried, but always have failed. The experience of ages has proved, that it is religion alone, when exerting its practical influence—it is Christianity, when experienced in its power—it is the Gospel of Christ, when known, loved, and obeyed—which inclines and enables laboring men, who earn their bread with the sweat of their brow; to labor without murmuring, and to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all honesty and godliness.
These remarks may be extended to another station of life, even more important than that of service. When persons have entered into the nearest and tenderest of all human connections, what can so firmly secure their marital fidelity, as the immutable bond of piety? or what can so effectually perpetuate their marital happiness, as that sincere affection which the Gospel of peace enjoins and inspires? On the other hand, whence arises that domestic wretchedness, so often heard of in the habitations of the common people? Whence is it, that the closest of human ties, which heaven appointed as the perfection of human felicity, so often proves the fatal source of constant and increasing torment? The reason is, the married pair entered into that sacred relation untutored, unprincipled, and impious: and therefore continue strangers to that regard, constancy and happiness, which result from the united influence of piety and love. Adverse to piety, and uninfluenced by true love; oppressed with poverty, and soured by fatigue; the unhappy pair seek not to sooth each other's sorrows, nor to promote each other's comfort; but serve up every meal with unavailing complaints, and embitter every solitary hour by mutual reproaches.
Behold—we show you a more excellent way! Say with Joshua, Whatever others do—as for us, and our house, we will serve the Lord. Learn of Jesus to be meek and lowly; delight yourselves in the Lord, and acknowledge him in all your ways; this will lighten the pressure of your poverty, will sweeten your converse, after the fatigues of the day, and will teach you to enjoy the bounty of your God, in the homely fare which your honest industry has gained.
Many are the advantages of consistent godliness in the marriage-relation. It restrains wrath and bitterness; it suppresses strife and contention; and its happy tendency is to deliver from evil and self-tormenting passions. Nor is this its only aim: it is also productive of another effect, singularly beneficial to society; securing a faithful adherence to the matrimonial vow, and guarding, by the most solemn sanctions, against all criminal conduct. The violation of the marriage-bed is one of the most heinous and most cruel of all transgressions; against none are the warnings of Scripture more frequent, or its threatenings more alarming. Nor does it only forbid impure actions, but all lascivious language, all unchaste desires, and all pollution of the mind. In the spirit of true benevolence, the sacred volume invites Christians to the calm tranquillities, and soothing joys, of domestic life; and, with equal ardor for their happiness, it deters from all those approaches to vice, and all those criminal appetites and indulgences, which end in bitterness and death. Let husband and wife receive these sayings, and though poor—be virtuous; though perplexed—comfort each other; and though toiling through life—live in love; and thus lessen, by bearing each other's burdens.
Religion next addresses you as parents; and commands you to bring up your children in the admonition of the Lord. If you neglect this duty, you are murderers of their souls! Nor will any inferiority of station, any multiplicity of cares, or any diligence in business, excuse that criminal neglect. Solemn are your responsibilities to your children—to instruct them in the truths of Scripture; to restrain them from evil; to pray for them, and with them; to educate them according to their station; and to employ your influence, affection, and authority as parents, in promoting their temporal and spiritual welfare. Do not devolve not all the spiritual charge of your families upon pastors or teachers; nor think that their labors can warrant your omission of instruction, example, and prayer.
Such are the injunctions of religion upon parents; and hence its importance to society is manifest. Were the children of the commonalty trained up in the fear of the Lord, they would not, through life, remain cumberers of the community, troublers of God's Israel, ignorant as the untutored Indian, and obstinate as the fierce barbarian. But can it be expected, that parents will bring up their children for God, if they themselves are enemies to him in their minds; if, in this land of light, they are perishing for lack of knowledge; if, amidst the most plentiful means of instruction, they willingly sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death? Foolish parents! pity the offspring which God has given you; they grow up around your table as olive-plants; they cling to you with fond affection; they listen to your talk with admiring silence; they receive from your hands the crumb, and the cup, with eager gratitude; and their wishful looks, and unfolding powers, entreat your attention to their mind, and to their future usefulness. If no other argument could be produced for your walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, this one might rouse you—the fate of your children; the danger of their perishing in hell through your neglect; and the obligations you are under, to teach them the knowledge, and fear, and love, of their Creator and Redeemer.
While true religion, as a heavenly visitant, administers these wholesome counsels to the heads of families, she looks around upon their offspring with mildest countenance; and affectionately enjoins them to dwell together in unity, to obey their parents in the Lord, and to honor their father and mother—that their days may be long in the land of the living.
Another relative character which the common people hold in society, arises from their connection with the community; and the most effectual method of rendering themselves good citizens, and virtuous subjects—is by their becoming sincere Christians. The gospel teaches them, that they are accountable to God for all their actions; that his Word must regulate their measures in society; that, in the station he allots them, they must act with integrity and honor; and that with their conduct in life, is connected the prosperity or the ruin of their country. Let men, however needy or obscure, be habitually impressed with these laws of Scripture—and this will induce them to lead quiet and peaceable lives, to render tribute and honor where due, and to obey their superiors in the Lord. But if ever they set aside these divine laws, or consider their conduct in society as unconnected with their duty to God, separate morality from religion, or substitute the one for the other—then farewell to all public virtue, tranquility, and order! Farewell ro all regard to distinguishing privileges, all reverence for laws, all countenance from heaven. These guardian angels will then hasten their departure from our once happy land, and leave an ungrateful nation to all the calamities of idleness, injustice, and oppression, to all the direful effects of divine indignation.
Know then your own importance, you whom Providence has placed in the inferior ranks of life. You are happily free from the vexatious toil of managing the national concerns, you need not perplex yourselves, or others, with visionary schemes of public government, and you would be but ill-employed in attempting to alter laws, which the experience of ages has proved to be wholesome, but you have far more important and honorable work to pursue—a never-dying soul to be saved, a family to rear, an example to set before many, and a Savior to honor upon earth.
Were the common people sincerely pious—did they act upon the principles, and conformably to the precepts of Scripture; did they encourage, by their example, a spirit of sobriety, industry, and honesty; did they bring up their children in a reverence for the ordinances of God, and send them forth into the world fortified with the sentiments of revelation—who can tell what blessings they might prove to the places where they reside, and to the nation at large? Nay, who can calculate how wide their usefulness might extend, and how long it might be perpetuated? Succeeding generations might reap the blissful fruits of their piety, while their children's children continued to instruct their families in the heavenly truths, and examples, transmitted from their forefathers. But if the generality of the common people degenerate into infidelity, licentiousness, and all immoral conduct, the evil produced will be equally wide, and equally lasting!
The MEANS which seem best calculated for promoting the Knowledge and Spirit of Religion among the Common People.
1. The foundation of all pious knowledge and attainments, must be laid in a proper acquaintance with thesacred Scriptures, and a constant attention to them as the unerring rule of faith and conduct. Without this heavenly guide, we would wander in perpetual uncertainty and danger; but by following this light of truth, which shines in a dark world, we are led into the paths of peace, are filled with consolation, and go forward from strength to strength, until we appear before God in Zion.
To the poor the gospel is published; by this they are made wise to salvation, and taught how to purify their way. The God of wisdom and compassion has pitied their circumstances, and has not withheld from them, a plain and perfect revelation of his will; it shines before them as the bright morning-star, leading their attention to the glorious Sun of Righteousness, and conducting many to glory. Follow, therefore, this true light, which descends from heaven. Search the sacred volume with diligence, humility, and prayer; and hold converse with it daily, as with a beloved companion. Examine its doctrines, rejoice in its promises, observe the path of duty it prescribes, and contemplate with delight—the glorious objects it exhibits. Thus seek for wisdom as for hidden treasures, and thus apply your hearts to understanding.
The Scriptures are intended for the benefit of all ranks, and are adapted to the circumstances of every character; therefore all are required to know the truth, to have the word of Christ dwelling richly in them, and to regard the things which belong to their everlasting peace. But those who hate instruction, who love the darkness, who reject the counsel of God, and obey not his gospel—are threatened with destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
If God commands all to search the Scriptures—must not the neglect of this express command, be both sinful and dangerous? Yet some pretended Christians have extolled ignorance as the mother of devotion. Such a daring sentiment insults the kindness of that God, who deigned to reveal his will to men; and betrays so much malevolence against the truth, as may well excite our indignation and sorrow. The arrogant pride of popery, in substituting human inventions for the ordinances of God, is not more fatal and delusive, than the cruel conduct of her priests, in withholding from the common people the free perusal of the Scriptures. But we have not so learned Christ: we know that with him is no distinction of persons; that his voice is to the children of men; that all kindreds and people are commanded to walk in his light, and to make his statutes their songs in their pilgrimage.
Men and brethren, prize your privileges, and rejoice that the Word of truth is in your habitations, and in your hands. Your fathers sat in darkness, under popish delusion—but this land where your fathers dwelt, has become a valley of vision. You are rescued from the dominion of tyrannic priests! The ministers of the sanctuary are not permitted, by our holy religion, to Lord it over your faith; you are required to try their doctrines by the law and the testimony, before you receive them with all readiness. The word is near you, it is translated into your own language, it is given you almost without price; and no means is left untried, to encourage your daily perusal of the sacred volume.
O how highly favored is this island above many other nations! The Sun of Righteousness has not yet dispelled from other nations—the clouds of ignorance, error, and idolatry—the prophets and apostles are scarcely known among them, except by the brush of the painter—the inspired writings of these holy men are detained in the repositories of priests—the waters of salvation are stopped in their courses, by the mighty bulwarks of superstition; the fountain opened by the Son of God, for purifying many nations, is shut up by the impious Vicar of Christ. The tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the people, is kept from the approaches of the needy by mercenary hirelings; and the glorious light of the gospel is involved in the mysterious darkness of gloomy subtleties.
But the God of Zion will before long arise, and plead his own cause; he will shake the kingdoms of the earth, he will gird his sword on his thigh, and he will go forth in the chariot of his gospel, from conquering to conquer. May his Word run, and have free course, and be glorified! May the tumults of the people—terminate in the triumphs of the Redeemer's kingdom! and may his blessed religion be preserved among us in all its purity, experienced in all its power, and perpetuated to last ages!
Since to you is given the gospel of salvation, prize this privilege, and improve it with care. Count all as loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ. Read his Word with delight and attention, with humility and reverence, with faith and firm assent, with application of what it reveals to your own circumstances, and with fervent supplication for the teaching of the Spirit, that you may understand the Scriptures, may embrace the promises, and may walk in the truth!
2. A spirit of religion will never prevail in any community, where there is not a general and regular attendance on thePREACHING of the Word. This, therefore, is earnestly recommended to families, both as a duty and a privilege.
Thanks unto the God of our fathers, the sublime and sanctifying doctrines of grace are, even in this age of error, taught by many, with sincerity, plainness, and power. Many faithful ministers, of various denominations, harmoniously unite in the declaration and defense of the record which God has given. They testify the great mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh. They preach Christ crucified, as the foundation of hope for guilty creatures, and as the Author of eternal redemption to all who obey him. This comfortable consideration, united with the many important ends of public worship, warrants the exhortation now given—to frequent the house of God, if you desire progress in piety.
Though it is a common complaint, that little space is reserved in churches for the accommodation of the poor, and though the complaint may not be wholly groundless; yet in almost every city and parish, there are churches reared by various sects, where the same gospel is preached, where the poor may find easy access, and where they will be instructed in the truth as it is in Jesus. Since, then, there are places provided in this land of liberty, where you may worship God according to your consciences, and since ministers are willing to instruct all who come to them—why should you perish for lack of knowledge? Why neglect the means of improvement? And why refuse a willing attendance on the public ordinances of divine institution? That attendance may not perhaps be always followed with the desired effects: some may long enjoy the means of the grace, and remain unenlightened and unrenewed; still they are engaged, as becomes creatures, in waiting on God, and worshiping him; they are in the sanctuary, where he manifests his glory, and exerts his saving power; they are in the place where he promises to meet with his people, and to bless them.
Under these impressions, it is earnestly recommended to all in the community, that they conduct their children to some proper place of worship on the Lord's day, and teach them to listen with reverent attention to the truths delivered. Pernicious and alarming are the consequences, when the common people forsake the worshiping of God in the sanctuary: every religious and moral principle soon becomes effaced from their remembrance; all the restraints of character and decency are burst asunder: those sacred hours in which others are engaged with heavenly devotion, in public worship—are spent by these neglecters of God's house, in the haunts of intemperance, in depredations on their neighbor's property, or in forming associations dangerous to families, and destructive to domestic order.
Considering it therefore as a duty enjoined by religion, as a matter of policy for the welfare of society, as a matter of prudence for the comfort of families, and as a mark of compassion for the souls of the perishing—let parents, masters, and superiors endeavor, by all the influence they can employ, by rewarding the complying, and reproving the froward, by exhortation and authority, to prevent their domestics or servants, their tenants or children, from neglecting the assemblies of the saints; let them also endeavor to promote among the poorest of the people, a regular attendance upon the public worship of God.
3. A third means of improvement in religion, is a careful application to the several exercises ofcloset devotion. Under this particular may be included, profitable reading, pious meditation, and secret prayer. Though each of these merits a separate consideration, yet their influence upon each other is so natural and intimate, that there seems no impropriety in classing them together.
A daily searching of the Scriptures has already been urged—and therefore the profitable reading now to be recommended, refers to the serious perusal of books of piety. All have not equal opportunities for this profitable employment; yet the most laborious and hard wrought in our land, have their hours of recess from the fatigues of business, and their seasons of rest and leisure. Without proper caution, these may prove dangerous periods, by leading into follies and crimes, which will entail upon them everlasting distress and wretchedness. To prevent such miseries, improve your leisure hours in the perusal of the writings of the pious. Thanks unto God, we are favored with a variety of valuable publications, which are well calculated both to please and to edify; which contain no dangerous tenets; which attempt not to promote devotion without principle, or piety without morality; but which are at once evangelical, practical, and plain. Flavel, Watts, Owen, Hervey, and Doddridge, though dead, yet speak to us in all the eloquence of animated address, of unadulterated doctrine, and of genuine piety. In our own day, Newton, Venn, Walker, and Witherspoon, have given to the world amiable and just representations of evangelical truth. To all these I might add, as worthy of perusal, and happily adapted to the capacities of the meanest, the labors of Boston, Bunyan, and Erskine. All these authors now named were men eminent for their piety, and useful in their day: their spirit breathes in their works; and their praise will be long perpetuated in the church. Modern refiners of a religion which is perfect in itself, and can admit of no improvement by modern discoveries, may affect to despise the writings now mentioned, and may load them with the reproachful names of enthusiasm and vulgarity. Nevertheless, if you peruse them with care, you will find them rich in sentiment, and profitable for your instruction in righteousness; and if you are so fortunate as to bring your own household, and the families around, to read and relish what these books contain, you will be doing all essential service to the interests of religion.
Serious meditation on divine things, is another important branch of closet-devotion. It is not reasonable, that earthly objects should occupy the chief attention of immortal men; that they should mind only earthly things, and be only careful about worldly concerns. It befits them to allot proper intervals for spiritual contemplation; to retire often from the business and the bustle of the world; to call themselves to frequent and strict account; to examine if they are in the faith; to try their tempers and conduct by the law of God; to inquire what progress they are making in their preparations for an everlasting state of existence; and to live under realizing impressions of the future world.
The lack of religious knowledge, and habitual neglect of serious consideration, prove the ruin of thousands. What real and persevering religion can be expected from an uninformed, undisciplined, unthinking mind? and how unavailing must be all the means of grace, if men will not allow themselves leisure to examine their real state before God, to ponder the things which belong to their salvation, and to meditate on the all-important doctrines, promises, and precepts of Scripture? Small attention is necessary to give the objects of sense their full force; these are ever present, and their influence is powerful. But of what is unseen and everlasting, a more fixed meditation is indispensably necessary. This, in some measure, removes the distance between heaven and earth; brings spiritual objects near to the believing reflecting mind; increases that faith which is the substance of things hoped for; and derives from these unseen realities, far nobler joys than can be obtained from the most inviting pleasures of sin.
Retire, therefore, by yourselves, into the fields or the closet, to meditate on heavenly themes! Contemplate what has been, what is, and what shall be hereafter. Mark the ways of Providence; and trace, with admiring acknowledgment, the works of the Lord to yourselves, your families and your kindred. Look forward to future, but certain and approaching scenes: an expiring world, a general judgment, an unalterable state! How must these solemn prospects moderate your eagerness for the passing fashions of the world, and quicken your progress towards Zion. Meditate on heaven, as the land of rest, and the sure inheritance of all the redeemed; contemplate their joys and their employments, and long to be united with the just made perfect, and with the innumerable company of angels.
Above all, let the meditations of God and the Redeemer be sweet unto your thoughts. Contemplate your heavenly Father's mercy and faithfulness, his infinite glory, and his condescending care. Look unto Jesus the author of eternal redemption; admire his transcendent excellence, his sufferings and triumphs, the blessings he has purchased, the mediation he now accomplishes, and the happiness prepared for all his followers. Inquire if you have good hope through grace—if you are among the number of his followers? if you love him more than all? if you abide in him as your Savior and Sanctifier? and if you have been made willing to deny yourselves, to take up your cross and to follow Christ? Thus, by uniting serious self-inquiry with heavenly contemplation, you will experience the accomplishment of the apostle's declaration, that to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.
Some portion of every week ought to be set apart for spiritual meditation. Squander not then these precious hours in unprofitable visits or idle converse; but retiring from every eye, delight yourselves in God, and let your souls follow hard after him. Review the general tenor of your tempers through the past week, and your conduct both towards God and man. Compare your dispositions, pursuits, words and actions, with the law and the gospel; confess the plagues of your heart, and the transgressions of your life; renew your acceptance of the Savior, and dedication to his service; and contemplate, with growing joy—the height, and depth, and breadth, and length of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let the reading and hearing of the word, promote and encourage this heavenly employment.
But heavenly contemplation need not be confined to one day a week; it may be enjoyed amidst the ordinary transactions of daily business: nay, every occurrence in life, every mercy and affliction, every temptation or escape, every danger or deliverance—should aid you in rising from the creature to God, and in setting your affections on the things which are above. Every returning evening it becomes you to inquire— What has been your state and temper of mind, amidst the varying events of the day? what duties have been cheerfully performed, or sinfully omitted? What temptations have been boldly resisted, or shamefully complied with? What trials have been patiently endured, or fretfully spurned at? What graces of the divine life have been exercised, and what virtues have been neglected? What time has been happily gained from indolence, or carnal indulgence? What endeavors have been used for promoting the good of others, or the honor of religion? Such self-examination should be strictly attended to, and considerably enlarged every Lord's day evening, every return of your birthday, every first day of the year, and always before partaking of the sacrament of the supper.
Another happy mean of promoting in the mind the true spirit of religion, is daily, earnestsecret prayer. This may well be esteemed by Christians an important duty, and an inestimable privilege. So necessary is it for the progress of real holiness, that without prayer, all the other means already recommended, would be of little avail! And so advantageous is it to the Christian, that the follies of the world will be lightly esteemed, when fellowship with the God of all grace is enjoyed. No duty can be more reasonable, than that frail creatures should daily acknowledge, with gratitude and reverence, their dependence upon God, and their obligations to the Giver of all good. No service can be more acceptable to heaven than the morning and evening sacrifice of humble adoration and fervent intercession, through the one Mediator. No attainment marks more strongly the Christian's progress in religion, than a praying spirit; by which is meant, a delight in approaching to God as the hearer of prayer; and unfolding, with undisguised freedom, our sins and sorrows; a turning every day's events into arguments and matters for supplication; and a persevering continuance, in humbly pleading for promised blessings.
That praying spirit which all should cultivate, meets with violent opposition from the pride and levity of the human mind; the former inclining to live as if independent of God; the other leading to an indolent superficial performance of a mere external form, vainly dignified with the name of prayer. But every lover of real religion must resist these temptations; must seek, through grace, to continue instant in prayer; and even when unable to order his cause through reason of his ignorance, or through the prevalence of unbelief, he must, with sighs, which cannot be expressed, heave the wishful desire to that righteous Advocate, who makes continual intercession; and hope for the Spirit to help his infirmities.
You who are considered as placed in the obscurer ranks of life, and for whose benefit this publication is chiefly intended, ought particularly to rejoice in the privilege of prayer. It is the provision which your heavenly Father has made for your consolation in this weary wilderness; allowing you, at all times, freedom of access to the throne of his mercy; and assuring you that his ear is ever open to the cry of the humble. Through that compassionate Redeemer, who is your prevalent Advocate, you have access by one Spirit, to the Father. Go, therefore, to him with all your difficulties; unfold to him the secret griefs which you cannot safely entrust with any companion; rely on his wisdom for guidance, and on his almighty power for protection; enlarge your desires after heavenly enjoyments; and plead the accomplishment of his gracious promises. Thus by the prayer of faith, you will be strengthened, established, and comforted; and by making all your needs known, with supplication and thanksgiving, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your heart and mind, through Christ Jesus our Lord!