Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

SERMON I.

1 THESSALONIANS ii. 4.

But

as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as plcusing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.

Wuer we compare ourselves with the primitive Christians, we are obliged to confess, that, in every respect, we fall greatly short of their attainments. We seem to be creatures of a lower rank, incapable of reaching the same degree of perfection with them. And indeed it is to be suspected, that, through a false and vicious modes. ty, we look upon these ancient worthies as examples, which, though we ought to imitate, we can never hope to equal. Hence we rest satisfied with any distant resemblance we can attain, thinking that, if we are not altogether unlike to them, it is all that a modern Christian can expect.

This is a gross and most pernicious mistake. The gate of heaven is no wider now than was seventeen hundred years ago. The law of God extends as far as it did when the apostles lived ; and I know of no indulgence granted to us, which did not exist in the earliest times of Christianity. The church of Rome indeed hath taught, that some eminent Christians have done more than was strictly necessary for their own salvation. But no such doctrine is to be found in Scripture. Nay, on the contrary, Vol. II.

B

we are told, that, when we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants, and have done no more than what was our duty to do. To this day, therefore, we are bound to the same strictness and purity, to the same mortification and self-denial, to the same zeal and stedfastness, which distinguished the primitive Christians; and it is impossible to devise any excuse for our degeneracy from their bright example. They were all men of like passions with ourselves: they had the same corrupt nature to strive against, the same temptations to resist, the same enemies to overcome. Their advantages for performing their duty were not greater than ours. On the contrary, besides all that they possessed, we have the benefit of their example and experience. God's hand is not shortened, the blood of Christ hath lost none of its virtue, his ina tercession is no less prevalent, nor is the power of his Spirit in the least impaired by length of time or constant exercise. “ He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;" so that we are entirely without excuse, if we do not both aim at and actually attain the same degrees of holiness and purity with any of those that have gone before us.

Let us then consider all those persons celebrated in Scripture history, as examples which we not only ought to copy after, but may through God's grace hope to equal; and, instead of being dazzled with the lustre of their virtries, let us search into the principles which influenced their conduct, that, by cherishing these, we may be animated to go and do as they did.

The Apostle mentions in the text one of distinguished cflicacy, which I propose to make the subject of this discourse-A supreme desire to please God, who trieth the heart, without regard either to the praise or censure of men. It was this which supported him under the ignominious treatment he met with at Philippi, which he mentions in the second verse of this chapter, and encouraged him to persist in preaching that gospel which he had received in trust from God. It was this which rendered the first Christians superior to adversity in all its frightful forms; and it is the same divine principle, which, if once it got the entire possession of our hearts, would be a constant spring of holy obedience, and enable us, by the blessing of God, to follow the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, through the most rugged paths of virtue, untainted with that meanness and inconstancy of behaviour, which are the reproach of so many professing Christians in our days.

I propose therefore, through divine assistance, 1st, To open the nature and extent of the divine principle mentioned in my text; 2dly, To represent the bappy effects which would flow from our being animated with this steady and prevailing desire. After which, I shall conclade with a practical improvement of the subject.

I BEGIN with opening the nature and extent of the divine principle mentioned in the text. And to prevent any mistakes on this head, it may be needful to observe, that our making the approbation of God our principal aim, does not exclude all regard to the opinion or judgment of our fellow-creatures. We are certainly bound by that great law of our religion, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” to make the pleasing of our brethren, by every lawful means, an object of attention, and a subordinate end of our conduct. And as our neighbour is commanded to love us as himself, both reason and relia gion teach us to render ourselves as amiable to him as we ean, that so we may facilitate his performance of that important duty.

Neither, on the other hand, are we wholly to disre. gard the censures of men, or be altogether unconcerned, when our reputation is blackened by injurious calumnies. “ A good name is better than precious ointment.” It is a special blessing, which we are to receive with thankfulness from the hand of God; and it is our duty to preserve it as carefully as we can.

Without a good name, no man can be useful in the world. To neglect it therefore, where it does not proceed from a consciousness of guilt, is certainly, in most cases, a very culpable indifference. Thus far then, the judgment of men is to be regarded; but then we must please our brethren, only so far as it is pleasing to God. In every case, we must state the matter thus : Whether is it wiser to obey God or man ? to fear those who, after they have killed the body, have no more that they can do; or to fear him who, after he hath killed, can destroy both soul and body in hell ? We must not only contemn the favour of men, when compared with the approbation of God, but learn to value it among those transitory things, which are only desirable as means for attaining a higher end.

In like manner, the displeasure of men, if unjust, must be reckoned among our light afflictions, which are but for a moment. In such circumstances, it must appear a small matter to us to be judged of man's judgment: “We have one that judgeth us, even God.” That prophecy of our Saviour must be constantly remembered, that the world will hate us; and his example must be ever before our eyes, who condescended to be scorned, and buffeted, and slandered as an impostor and blasphemer; who made himself of no reputation, but endured the cross, and despised the shame, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps. In a word, God must be pleased by all means; liis approbation is the one thing needful. He is now our Witness, and will, ere long, be our Judge; and in these two characters we ought constantly to set him before us.

This is the temper which the Apostle expresseth in the text. I proceed now, in the

Second place, To represent the happy effects which would flow from our being animated with this steady and prevailing desire of pleasing God,

Aitd, in the 1st place, this would make us ready to eve ry good work, by removing all those grounds of hesitation and suspence, whereby double-minded people are perplexed and retarded in their way. A man must be very slow in his motions, when every step is burdened with such questions as these: What will men think or say of me, if I act in this manner? Will it endanger my reputation, or hurt my interest, or prevent my rising in the world? You will easily see that a considerable time must elapse, before all these difficult points can be settled. Whereas the man, whose single aim is to please God, is at once freed from all these incumbrances. He no sooner discovers the will of God, than he proceeds immediately to action ; and whilst the other is bewildered with numberless conjectures, he goes cheerfully forward, leaving all his temporal concerns in the hands of that God by whose law he is governed, and to whose disposal he is entirely resigned. And is not this an unspeakable advantage, towards abounding in the fruits of righteousness? How free is the mind of such a man? how firm are his steps ? He walks straight forward, without deviating into by-paths; and whilst his conscience tells him that he is accepted of God, he enjoys a pure and unmixed tranquillity, which the world can neither give nor

take away.

A 2d happy effect that would flow from our being ani. mated with a steady and prevailing desire of pleasing God, would be, that our conduct would thereby becoine consistent and uniform. God alone is invariable. What pleased him yesterday, pleaseth him to-day as well; and though his commandments are exceeding broad, yet they perfectly agree among themselves, and make one beauti. ful and harmonious system. Whereas, men not only disfer from one another, but, at times, from themselves also, and require opposite and contradictory things; which makes it absolutely impossible to please any number of them at one time, or even to continue long in the favour

« IndietroContinua »