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This then is the perfection which you are to exert your utmost efforts to attain; and if you succeed in your attempt, your reward shall be great indeed; you shall, as our Lord assures you, be the children of the Most High.*
Having now brought these Lectures to a conclusion for the present year, I cannot take my leave of you without expressing the great comfort and satisfaction I have derived from the appearance of such numerous and attentive congregations as I have seen in this place, That satisfaction, if I can at all judge of my own sentiments and feelings, does not originate from any selfish gratification, but from the real interest I take in the welfare, the eternal welfare of every one here present; from the hope I entertain that some useful impressions may have been made upon your minds; and from the evidence which this general earnestness to hear the word of God explained and recommended affords, that a deeper sense of duty, a more serious attention to the great concerns of eternity, has, by the blessing of God been awakened in your souls. If this be so, allow me most earnestly to entreat you not to let this ardour cool; not to let these pious sentiments die away; not to let these good seeds be choaked by the returning cares and pleasures of the world. But go, retire into your clo. sets, fall down upon your knees before your Maker, and fervently implore him to pour down upon you the overruling influences of his Holy Spirit; to enlighten your understandings, to sanctify your hearts, to subdue your passions, to confirm your good resolutions, and enable you to resist every enemy of your salvation.
The world will soon again display all its attractions before you, and endeavor to extinguish every good principle you have imbibed. But if the divine truths you have heard explained and enforced in these Lectures have taken any firm root in your minds; if you are seriously convinced that Christ and his religion came from heaven, and that he is able to make good whatever he has promised and whatever he has threat
Matth. v. 45.
ened, there is nothing surely in this world that can induce you to risque the loss of eternal happiness, or the infliction of never-ceasing punishment.
Least of all, will you think that this is the precise mo ment for setting your affections on this world and its enjoyments; that these are the times for engaging in eager pursuits after the advantages, the honours, the pleasures of the present life; for plunging into vice, for dissolving in gaiety and pleasures, for suffering every trivial, every insignificant object, to banish the remembrance of your Maker and Redeemer from your hearts, where they ought to reign unrivalled and supreme. Surely amidst the dark clouds that now hang over us,* these are not the things that will brighten up our prospects, that will lessen our danger, that will calm our apprehensions, and speak peace and comfort to our souls. No, it must be something of a very different nature; a deep sense of our own unworthiness, a sincere contrition for our past offences, a prostration of ourselves in all humility before the throne of grace, an earnest application for pardon and acceptance through the merits of him who died for us (whose death and sufferings for our sakes the approaching week will bring fresh before our view,) an ardent desire to manifest our love and gratitude, our devotion and attachment to our Maker and our Redeemer, by giving them a decided priority and predominance in our affections and our hearts; by ma king their will the ruling principle of our conduct; the attainment of their favour, the advancement of their glory, the chief object of our wishes and desires. These are the sentiments we ought to cultivate and cherish if we wish for any solid comfort under calamity or affliction, any confidence in the favour and protection of Heaven; these alone can support and sustain our souls in the midst of danger and distress, at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
And how then, are these holy sentiments, these heavenly affections to be excited in our hearts? Most certainly not by giving up all our time and all our
* In March 1798...
thoughts to the endless occupations, the never-ceasing gaities and amusements of this dissipated metropolis; but by withdrawing ourselves frequently from this tumultuous scene, by retiring into our chamber, by communing with our own hearts, by fervent prayer, by holding high converse with our Maker, and cultivating some acquaintance with that unseen world to which we are all hastening, and which, in one way or other, must be our portion forever.
Many of those whom I now see before me have, from their high rank and situation in life, full leisure and ample opportunities for all these important purposes; and let them be assured, that a strict account will one day be demanded of them in what manner and with what effect they have employed the talents, the time, and the many other advantages with which their gracious Maker has indulged them.
And even those who are most engaged in the busy and laborious scenes of life, have at least one day in the week which they may, and which they ought to dedicate to the great concerns of religion. Let then that day be kept sacred to its original destination by all ranks of men, from the highest to the lowest. Let it not be profaned by needless journeys, by splendid entertainments, by crowded assemblies, by any thing in short which precludes either ourselves, our families, or our domestics, from the exercise of religious duties, or the improvement of those pious sentiments and affections which it was meant to inspire. Let me not, however, be misunderstood. I mean not that it should be either to the rich or the poor, or to any human being whatever, a day of gloom and melancholy, a day of superstitious rigor, and of absolute exclusion from all society and all innocent recreation. I know of nothing in Scripture that requires this; I know of no good effect that could result from it. On the contrary, it is a festival, a joyful festival; a day to which we ought always to look forward with delight, and enjoy with a thankful and a grateful heart. But let it be remembered at the same time, that it is a day which God claims
as his own; that he has stamped upon it a peculiar mark of sanctity; and that it ought to be distinguished from every other day, in the first place, by resting from our usual occupations, and giving rest to our servants and our cattle; in the next, by attendance on the public worship of God; and in the remaining intervals, by relaxations and enjoyments peculiarly its own; not by quotidian tumult, noise, and dissipation; but by the calm and silent pleasures of retirement, of recollection, of devout meditation, of secret prayer, yet mingled discreetly with select society, with friendly converse, with sober recreation, and with decent cheerfulness throughout the whole.
It was to draw off our attention from the common follies and vanities of the week, and to give the soul a little pause, a little respite, a little breathing from the incessant importunities of business and of pleasure, that this holy festival was instituted. And if we cannot give up these things for a single day, if we cannot make this small sacrifice to Him from whom we derive our very existence, it is high time for us to look to our hearts, and to consider very seriously whether such a disposition and temper of mind as this will ever qualify us for the kingdom of heaven.
"Could ye not watch with me one hour?" Said our divine Master to his slumbering companions*. Can ye not give me one day out of seven? May he now say to his thoughtless disciples. Let none of us then ever subject ourselves to this bitter reproach. Let us resolve from this moment to make the Christian sabbath a day of holy joy and consolation; a day of heavenly rest and refreshment; and above all, a day for the attentive perusal of those sacred pages which have been the subject of these Lectures, and of your most serious attention. It is to be hoped, indeed, that we shall not confine our religion and our devotion to that day only; but even that day properly employed, will in some degree sanctify all the rest. It will disengage us (as it was meant to do) gradually and gently from that
Mark xiv. 37.
world, which we must soon (perhaps sooner than we imagine) quit for ever; it will raise our thoughts above the low and trivial pursuits of the present scene, and fix them on nobler and worthier objects; it will refine and purify, exalt and spiritualize our affections; will bring us nearer and nearer to God, and to the world of spirits; and thus lead us on to that CELESTIAL SABBATH, that EVERLASTING REST, for which the Christian sabbath was meant to prepare and harmonize our souls,
MATTH. CHAP. vi. AND Vii.
IN these two chapters our Lord continues and concludes his admirable discourse from the Mount. The first thing to be noticed here is a strong and repeated caution to avoid all show and ostentation in the performance of our religious duties.
The three instances specified are the acts of giving alms, of praying, and of fasting.
The direction with regard to the first is, heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thy alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men; verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."*
In the same manner with regard to prayer; the rule is, "When thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hy
* Matth. vi. 1-4