« ZurückWeiter »
exhibited to us in a clear light, in a narrow compass, in a consistent scheme, dictated by the Supreme Legislator himself, and enforced by the most powerful sanctions and motives.
2. The superior excellence of the scriptures, as a rule of life, will be still further evident, if we consider their high authority.
Extremely feeble, in the bulk of mankind, are the dictates of reason as a rule of duty. On most subjects, it is dubious and hesitating in its decisions; on many, it is easily corrupted and biassed by the heart; on all, its conclusions, pursued through a train of deductions, strike with little force upon the mind, wherever they are opposed by vice and passion. Were they clearer than they are, to command assent, reason is too weak to enforce obedience. The wisest of the heathen moralists were sensible of the deficiency of human reason in this respect; and some of them expressed an ardent wish, not unmingled with a feeble hope, that God, in compassion to the weakness of our bewildered race, would commission and qualify some extraordinary teacher to relieve men from their perplexities, and afford them the necessary information on those subjects which they perceived to be indispensably requisite to their conduct and happiness as moral and immortal beings. To those who were so wise and so candid as to think and speak in this manner, may we not presume, that the doctrines of our holy religion, if they had rightly understood them, and if they had known their evidence, would have been most welcome
discoveries. To our modern infidels, indeed, they are not welcome, for they say they have no need of them; being, it seems, fully satisfied, that however ignorant Socrates, the wisest of the heathen moralists, might confess himself to be, they have all the knowledge that man has occasion for. And yet, if it had not been for this manifestation of divine grace and truth, they would probably at this day have been consulting oracles, offering incense to idols, or perhaps, like many of our remote forefathers, polluting the earth with human sacrifices. From such vain dreamers, who, professing themselves to be wise, become fools, and grope in the noonday as in the night, let us turn to the law and the testimony. In that pure light of heaven we shall see light clearly. There we shall behold man as he ought to view himself, if he would know his true character and his highest end, his worst dangers and his best prospects; we shall behold him in intimate and eternal connexion with God as his moral Governor.
When I peruse the sacred volume, I receive the commands of a divine Lawgiver, who has all power in heaven and on earth to save or to destroy: I listen to the dictates of unerring truth: I read the decrees of that holy and omniscient Judge, who will, ere long, pronounce my everlasting destiny. What an awful, what an irresistible authority does the word of God possess! Let it be our meditation all the day: Let its pure and sacred truths be ever before our eyes: Let us walk in its heavenly light:
And let it be our guide to the eternal source of light and perfection.
And while we read and meditate on the word of God, let us earnestly pray for the teaching and direction of his Holy Spirit, that he may lead and guide us into all truth. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, and it shall be given him. The combined influence of prayer and meditation on the word of God will render it quick and powerful, and give it a commanding authority over the heart and conscience. The Father of lights will enlighten our understandings, make us wise unto salvation, and enlarge our hearts to run the way of his commandments.
I shall conclude this head of discourse in the elegant and emphatic language of the psalmist :-The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them is great reward.
Thus have I explained the first part of the duty enjoined in the text; and have considered what method we are to take in order to become truly acquainted with the ways of religion; and have shewn, that, when we are commanded to stand in
the ways and see, and to ask for the old paths, where is the good way-these expressions imply deep and serious self-reflection, and also reflection or meditation on the word of God, looking up to the Father of lights in earnest prayer for his Holy Spirit to enlighten our understandings, that we may perceive the excellence and importance of the truths therein revealed, and to impress them upon our hearts and consciences with commanding authority. I now proceed to the other part of the duty enjoined in the text, and add,
2. That our knowledge must be reduced to practice; or, to continue the metaphor in our text, when we have found the good way, we must walk in it.
As it would signify little for a traveller to have the most accurate knowledge of the course he is to take, if he did not set about the prosecution of his journey; so neither will our knowledge be of any avail to us, if we do not study to reduce it to prac tice. The knowledge of our duty will be so far from excusing our neglect as to the performance of it, that it will be a peculiar aggravation of our guilt; even as that servant who knew his lord's will and did it not, was deservedly beaten with many stripes. If ye, then, know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. If ye know the good way of religion, happy are ye if ye walk in it. More particularly, when we are commanded to walk in this good way, it may intimate,
1. That we should immediately enter upon a religious course, after due information concerning
it. Few or none of us can plead ignorance in this respect, and therefore our refusal to comply with this peremptory command must infer the most criminal neglect.
The practice of religion is that for which we were sent into this world: with this is necessarily connected our present happiness; on this depends our eternal interest, And is there any room, then, to debate in our minds, whether we should immediately apply ourselves to it, or not? Our time, properly speaking, is our all, because our all depends upon the use we make of it. But, though the value of it is thus unspeakably great, it is continually flying from us. It is absolutely out of our power to command a single day or hour. It stays no man's leisure, makes no allowance for his indolence and sloth, nor waits till the season of gratification and pleasure is over. And if, by an habitual criminal neglect of the means of religious improvement, men leave this world unfurnished and unfitted for the enjoyments and happiness of the next; what, in the nature of things, and by the appointment of God, must their condition be? All the happiness they have any idea of is a sensual happiness. But such a happiness is not to be looked for hereafter. All the bodily senses being dissolved by death, the objects and manner of living in a future world must be entirely different from what they are in this. Sources of rational and spiritual enjoyments they are utterly void of. What then is left, but exquisite anguish and remorse, arising from disappointment, shame, dis