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1. And, first, how beautiful are the feet of those who are sent by the wise and gracious Providence of God, to execute justice on earth, to defend the injured, and punish the wrong-doer! Are they not the ministers of God to us for good, the grand supporters of the public tranquillity, the patrons of innocence and virtue, the great security of all our temporal blessings? And does not every one of these represent, not only an earthly prince, but the Judge of the earth? Him, whose "Name is written upon his thigh, King of kings, and Lord of lords ?" O that all these sons of the right-hand of the Most High, may be holy as he is holy! Wise with the wisdom that sitteth by his throne, like him who is the eternal wisdom of the Father! No respecters of persons, as he is none but rendering to every man according to his works: like him inflexibly, inexorably just, though pitiful and of tender mercy! So shall they be terrible indeed to them that do evil, as not bearing the sword in vain. So shall the laws of our land have their full use and due honour, and the throne of our King be still established in right
2. Ye truly honourable men, whom God and the King have commissioned, in a lower degree, to administer justice: may not ye be compared to those ministering spirits who will attend the Judge coming in the clouds? May you, like them, burn with love to God and man! May you love righteousness and hate iniquity! May ye all minister in your several spheres (such honour hath God given you also!) to them that shall be heirs of salvation, and to the glory of your great Sovereign! May ye remain the establishers of Peace, the blessing and ornaments of your country, the protectors of a guilty land, the guardian angels of all that are round about you!
3. You, whose office it is to execute what is given you in charge by Him, before whom you stand; how nearly are you concerned to resemble those that stand before the face of the Son of Man? Those servants of his that do his pleasure, and hearken to the voice of his words? Does it not highly import you, to be as uncorrupt as they? To approve yourselves the servants of God? To do justly, and love merey; to do to all as ye would they should do to you? So shall that great Judge, under whose eye you continually stand, say to you also, "Well done, good and faithful servants: enter ye into the joy of your Lord!"
4. Suffer me to add a few words to all of you who are this day present before the Lord. Should not you bear it in your minds all the day long, that a more awful day is coming? A large assembly this! But what is it to that which every eye will then behold, the general assembly of all the children of men that ever lived on the face of the whole earth! A few will stand at the judgment-seat this day, to be judged, touching what shall be laid to their charge. And they are now reserved in prison, perhaps in chains, till they are brought forth to be tried and sentenced. But we shall all, I that speak, and you that hear, “Stand at the judgment-seat of Christ!" And we are now reserved on this earth, which is not our home, in
this prison of flesh and blood, perhaps many of us in chains of darkness too, till we are ordered to be brought forth. Here a man is questioned concerning one or two facts, which he is supposed to have committed. There we are to give an account of all our works, from the cradle to the grave; of all our words, of all our desires and tempers; all the thoughts and intents of our hearts; of all the use we have made of our various talents, whether of mind, body, or fortune, till God said, "Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward." In this court, it is possible some, who are guilty, may escape for want of evidence. But there is no want of evidence in that court. All men, with whom you had the most secret intercourse, who were privy to all your designs and actions, are ready before your face. So are all the spirits of darkness, who inspired evil designs, and assisted in the execution of them. So are all the angels of God, those eyes of the Lord, that run to and fro over all the earth, who watched over your souls, and laboured for your good, so far as you would permit. So is your own conscience, a thousand witnesses in one, now no more capable of being either blinded or silenced, but constrained to know and to speak the naked truth, touching all your thoughts, and words, and actions. And is conscience as a thousand witnesses? yea, but God is as a thousand consciences! Oh, who can stand before the face of the great God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ!
See! see! He cometh! He maketh the clouds his chariots! He rideth upon the wings of the wind! A devouring fire goeth before him, and after him, a flame burneth! See! he sitteth upon his throne, clothed with light as with a garment, arrayed with majesty and honour! Behold his eyes are as a flame of fire, his voice as the sound of many waters!
How will ye escape? Will ye call to the mountains to fall on you, the rocks to cover you? Alas, the mountains themselves, the rocks, the earth, the heavens, are just ready to flee away! Can ye prevent the sentence? Wherewith? With all the substance of thy house, with thousands of gold and silver? Blind wretch ! Thou camest naked from thy mother's womb, and more naked into eternity. Hear the Lord, the Judge! "Come, ye blessed of my Father! inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Joyful sound! How widely different from that voice, which echoes through the expanse of heaven, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" And, who is he that can prevent or retard the full execution of either sentence? Vain hope! Lo, hell is moved from beneath to receive those who are ripe for destruction! And the everlasting doors lift up their heads, that the heirs of glory may come in.
5. "What manner of persons then ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness!" We know it cannot be long before the Lord will descend with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God; when every one of us shall appear before him, and give an account of his own works. "Wherefore, beloved, seeing ye
look for these things; [seeing ye know, He will come and will not tarry] be diligent that ye may be found of him, in peace, without spot, and blameless." Why should ye not? Why should one of you be found on the left hand, at his appearing? He willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; by repentance to faith, in a bleeding Lord; by faith, to spotless love, to the full image of God, renewed in the heart, and producing all holiness of conversation. Can you doubt of this, when you remember the Judge of all, is likewise the Saviour of all? Hath he not bought you with his own blood, that ye might not perish, but have everlasting life? O make proof of his mercy rather than his justice! Of his love rather than the thunder of his power! He is not far from every one of us: and he is now come, not to condemn, but to save the world. He standeth in the midst! Sinner, doth he not now, even now, knock at the door of thy heart? O that thou mayest know, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace! O that ye may now give yourselves to him who gave himself for you, in humble faith, in holy, active, patient love: so shall ye rejoice with exceeding joy in his day, when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
THE MEANS OF GRACE.
Ye have gone away from mine Ordinances, and have not kept them." MALACHI iii. 7.
I. 1. BUT are there any Ordinances now, since life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel? Are there under the Christian dispensation, any means ordained of God, as the usual channels of his grace? This question could never have been proposed, in the Apostolical Church, unless by one who openly avowed himself to be an heathen; the whole body of Christians being agreed, that Christ had ordained certain outward means, for conveying his grace into the souls of men. Their constant practice set this beyond all dispute; for so long as "all that believed were together, and had all things common," Acts ii. 44: "they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," ver. 42.
2. But in process of time, when "the love of many waxed cold," some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion, rather in doing those outward works, than in a heart renewed after
the image of God. They forgot, that "the end of every commandment is love, out of a pure heart, with faith unfeigned:" the loving the Lord their God with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves; and the being purified from pride, anger, and evil desire, by a "faith of the operation of God." Others seemed to imagine, that though religion did not principally consist in these outward means, yet there was something in them wherewith God was well pleased, something that would still make them acceptable in his sight, though they were not exact in the weightier matters of the law, in justice, mercy, and the love of God.
3. It is evident, in those who abused them thus, they did not conduce to the end for which they were ordained. Rather, the things which should have been for their health, were to them an occasion of falling. They were so far from receiving any blessing therein, that they only drew down a curse upon their head: so far from growing more heavenly in heart and life, that they were two-fold more the children of hell than before. Others clearly perceiving, that these means did not convey the grace of God to those children of the devil, began from this particular case to draw a general conclusion, “That they were not means of conveying the grace of God."
4. Yet the number of those who abused the ordinances of God was far greater than of those who despised them, till certain men arose, not only of great understanding, (sometimes joined with considerable learning,) but who likewise appeared to be men of love, experimentally acquainted with true, inward religion. Some of these were burning and shining lights, persons famous in their generations, and such as had well deserved of the church of Christ, for standing in the gap against the overflowings of ungodliness.
It cannot be supposed, that these holy and venerable men, intended any more at first, than to show that outward religion is nothing worth, without the religion of the heart: that God is a Spirit, and they who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." That therefore external worship is lost labour, without a heart devoted to God: that the outward ordinances of God then profit much, when they advance inward holiness, but when they advance it not, are unprofitable and void, are lighter than vanity: yea, that when they are used, as it were, in the place of this, they are an utter abomination to the Lord.
5. Yet it is not strange, if some of these, being strongly convinced, of that horrid profanation of the ordinances of God, which had spread itself over the whole church, and well nigh driven true religion out of the world, in their fervent zeal for the glory of God, and the recovery of souls from that fatal delusion, spake, as if outward religion were absolutely nothing, as if it had no place in the religion of Christ. It is not surprising at all, if they should not always have expressed themselves with sufficient caution. So that unwary hearers might believe they condemned all outward means, as altogether unprofitable; and as not designed of God to be the ordinary channels of conveying his grace into the souls of men.
Nay, it is not impossible, some of these holy men did, at length.
themselves fall into this opinion: in particular, those who, not by choice, but by the Providence of God, were cut off from all these ordinances: perhaps wandering up and down, having no certain abiding-place, or dwelling in dens and caves of the earth. These experiencing the grace of God in themselves, though they were deprived of all outward means, might infer, that the same grace would be given to them, who of set purpose abstained from them.
6. And experience shows, how easily this notion spreads, and insinuates itself into the minds of men: especially of those who are thoroughly awakened out of the sleep of death, and begin to feel the weight of their sins, a burthen too heavy to be borne. These are usually impatient of their present state, and trying every way to escape from it. They are always ready to catch at any new proposal of ease or happiness. They have probably tried most outward means, and found no ease in them: it may be, more and more of remorse, and fear, and sorrow, and condemnation. It is easy therefore to persuade these, that it is better for them to abstain from all those means. They are already weary of striving (as it seems) in vain, of labouring in the fire; and are therefore glad of any pretence to cast aside that wherein their soul has no pleasure; to give over the painful strife, and sink down into an indolent inactivity.
II. 1. In the following discourse, I propose to examine at large, whether there are any means of grace?
By means of grace I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.
I use this expression, "means of grace," because I know none better, and because it has been generally used in the Christian church for many ages: in particular, by our own church, which directs us to bless God, both for the "means of grace," and hopes of glory; and teaches us that a sacrament is, an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."
The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures, (which implies reading. hearing, and meditating thereon,) and receiving the Lord's-Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: and these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men.
2. But we allow, That the whole value of the means depends on their actual subservience to the end of religion; that consequently all these means, when separate from the end, are less than nothing and vanity; that if they do not actually conduce to the knowledge and love of God, they are not acceptable in his sight: yea, rather, they are an abomination before him; a stink in his nostrils; he is weary to bear them. Above all, if they are used as a kind of commutation for the religion they were designed to subserve; it is not easy to find words for the enormous folly and wickedness, of thus turning God's arm against himself; of keeping Christianity out of the heart by those very means which were ordained for the bringing it in.