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attend the first entrance on a religious course, it will here be our first care to animate the young convert against them (chap. 16); and that it may be done more effectually, I shall urge a solemn dedication of himself to God (chap. 17); to be confirmed by entering into the full communion of the church by an approach to the sacred table (chap. 18). That these engagements may be more happily fulfilled, we shall endeavour to draw a more particular plan of that devont, regular, and accurate course, which ought daily to be attended to (chap. 19): and because the idea will probably rise so much higher than what is the general practice, even of good men, we shall endeavour to persuade the reader to make the attempt, hard as it may seem (chap. 20); and shall caution him against various temptations, which might otherwise draw him aside to negligence and sin (chap. 21).
§. 10. Happy will it be for the reader, if these exhortations and cautions be attended to with becoming regard! but as it is, alas, too probable, that notwithstanding all, the infirmities of nature will sometimes prevail, we shall consider the case of deadness and languor in religion, which often steals upon us by insensible degrees (chap. 22); from whence there is too easy a passage to that terrible one of a return into known and deliberate sin (chap. 23). And as the one or the other of these tends, in a proportionable degree, to provoke the blessed God to hide his face, and his injured spirit to withdraw, that melancholy condition will be taken into a particular survey (chap. 24). I shall then take notice also of the case of great and heavy afflictions in life (chap. 25); a discipline which the best of men have reason to expect, especially when they backslide from God, and yield to their spiritual enemies.
§. 11. Instances of this kind will, I fear, be too frequent ; yet, I trust, there will be many others, whose path, like the dawning light, will "shine more and more until the perfect day*." And therefore we shall endeavour in the best manner we can, to assist the christian in passing a true judgment on the growth of grace in his heart (chap. 26); as we had done before in judging of its sincerity. And as nothing conduces more to the advance of grace, than the lively exercise of love to God, and a holy joy in him, we shall here remind the real christian of those mercies which tend to excite that love and joy (chap. 27); and in the views of them, to animate him to those vigorous efforts of usefulness in life, which so well become his character, and will have so happy an efficacy on brightening his crown (chap.
*Prov. iv. 18,
28). Supposing him to act accordingly, we shall then labour to illustrate and assist the delight with which he may look forward to the awful solemnities of death and judgment (chap. 29): and shall close the scene by accompanying him, as it were, to the nearest confines of that dark valley, through which he is to pass to glory; giving him such directions, as may seem most subservient to his honouring God, and adorning religion, by his dying behaviour (chap. 30.) Nor am I without a pleasing hope, that, through the divine blessing and grace, I may be in some instances so successful, as to leave those triumphing in the views of judgment and eternity, and glorifying God by a truly christian life and death, whom I found trembling in the apprehensions of future misery; or perhaps, in a much more dangerous and miserable circumstance than that; I mean, entirely forgetting the prospect, and sunk into the most stupid insensibility of those things, for an attendance to which the human mind was formed, and in comparison of which, all the pursuits of this transitory life are emptier than wind, and lighter than a feather. 6. 12. Such a variety of heads must, to be sure, be handled but briefly, as we intend to bring them within the bulk of a' moderate volume. I shall not, therefore, discuss them as a preacher might properly do in sermons, in which the truths of religion are professedly to be explained and taught, defended and improved, in a wide variety, and long detail of propositions, arguments, objections, replies, and inferences, marshalled and numbered under their distinct generals. I shall here speak in a looser and freer manner, as a friend to a friend, just as I would do, if I were to be in person admitted to a private audience, by one whom I tenderly loved, and whose circumstances and character I knew to be like that, which the title of one chapter or another of this treatise describes. And when I have discoursed with him a little while, which will seldom be so long as half an hour; I shall, as it were, step aside, and leave him to meditate on what he has heard, or endeavour to assist him in such fervent addresses to God, as it may be proper to mingle with those meditations. In the mean time, I will here take the liberty to pray over my reader and my work; and to commend it solemnly to the divine blessing, in token of my deep conviction of an entire dependence upon it. And I am well persuaded, that sentiments like these are common, in the general, to every faithful minister, to every real christian.
A Prayer for the Success of this Work in promoting the Rise and Progress of Religion.
"OH thou great eternal original, and author of all created being and happiness! I adore thee who hast made man a creature capable of religion, and hast bestowed this dignity and felicity upon our nature, that it may be taught to say, Where is God our maker?* I lament that degeneracy spread over the whole human race, which has turned our glory into shame,+ and has rendered the forgetfulness of God (unnatural as it is) so common, and so universal a disease. Holy Father, we know it is thy presence and thy teaching alone, that can reclaim thy wandering children; can impress a sense of divine things on the heart, and render that sense lasting and effectual. From thee proceed all good purposes and desires; and this desire above all, of diffusing wisdom, piety and happiness in this world, which, (though sunk in such deep apostacy) thine infinite mercy has not utterly forsaken.
Thou knowest, O Lord, the hearts of the children of men ‡ * and an upright soul, in the midst of all the censures and suspicions it may meet with, rejoices in thine intimate knowledge of its most secret sentiments and principles of action. Thou knowest the sincerity and fervency, with which thine unworthy servant desires to spread the knowledge of thy name, and the savour of thy gospel, among all to whom this work may reach. Thou knowest, that hadst thou given him an abundance of this world, it would have been, in his esteem, the noblest pleasure that abundance could have afforded, to have been thine almoner, in distributing thy bounties to the indigent and necessitous, and so causing the sorrowful heart to rejoice in thy goodness, dispensed through his hands. Thou knowest, that hadst thou given him, either by ordinary or extraordinary methods, the gifts of healing, it would have been his daily delight, to relieve the pains, the maladies, and infirmities of men's bodies; to have seen the languishing countenance, brightened by returning health and cheerfulness; and much more to have beheld the roving distracted mind, reduced to calmness and serenity, in the exercise of its rational faculties. Yet happier, far happier will he think himself, in those humble circumstances, in which thy providence hath placed him, if thou vouchsafe to honour these his feeble endeavours, as the means of relieving and enriching men's minds; of recovering them from the madness of a sinful state,
+ Hos. iv. 7.
*Job xxxv. 10.
2 Chron. vi. 30.
and bringing back thy reasonable creatures to the knowledge, the service, and the enjoyment of their God; or of improving those, who are already reduced.
O may it have that blessed influence on the person whosoever he be, that is now reading these lines, and on all who may read or hear them! Let not my Lord be angry, if I presume to ask, that however weak and contemptible this work may seem in the eyes of the children of this world, and however imperfect it really be, as well as the author of it unworthy, it may nevertheless live before thee; and through a divine power, be mighty to produce the rise and progress of religion in the minds of multitudes in distant places, and in generations yet to come! Impute it not, O God, as a culpable ambition, if I desire, that whatever becomes of my name, about which I would not lose one thought before thee, this work, to which I am now applying myself in thy strength, may be completed and propagated far abroad; that it may reach to those that are yet unborn, and teach them thy name and thy praise, when the author has long dwelt in the dust: that so when he shall appear before thee in the great day of final account, his joy may be increased, and his crown brightened, by numbers before unknown to each other, and to him! But if this petition be too great to be granted to one, who pretends no claim, but thy sovereign grace, to hope for being favoured with the least, give him to be in thine almighty hand the blessed instrument of converting and saving one soul: and if it be but one, and that the weakest and meanest of those who are capable of receiving this address, it shall be most thankfully accepted as a rich recompence for all the thought and labour it may cost; and though it should be amidst a thouand disappointments with respect to others, yet it shall be the subject of immortal songs of praise to thee, O blessed God, for and by every soul, whom, through the blood of Jesus, and the grace of thy spirit, thou hast saved, and everlasting honours shall be ascribed to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, by the innumerable company of angels, and by the general assembly and church of the first-born in heaven. Amen."
The Careless Sinner Awakened.
It is too supposable a case, that this Treatise may come into such Hands: §. 1, 2. Since many, not grossly vicious, fall under that Character. §. 3, 4. A more particular Illustration of this Case, with an Appeal to the Reader whether it be not his own. §. 5, 6. Expostulation with such; §. 7-9. More particularly, (1.) From acknowledged Principles, relating to the Nature of God, his universal Presence, Agency, and Perfections. §. 10-12. (2.) From a View of Personal Obligations to him. §. 13. (3.) From the Danger of this Neglect, when considered in its Aspect on a future State. §. 14. An Appeal to the Conscience, as already convinced. §. 15. Transition to the Subject of the next Chapter. §. 16. The Meditation of a Sinner, who having been long thoughtless begins to be awakened.
§. 1. HAMEFULLY and fatally as religion is neglected in the world, yet blessed be God it has some sincere disciples; children of wisdom, by whom, even in this foolish and degenerate age, it is justified; who having, by divine grace, been brought to the knowledge of God in Christ, have faithfully devoted their hearts to him, and by a natural consequence are devoting their lives to his service. Could I be sure this treatise would fall into no hands but theirs, my work would be shorter, easier, and pleasanter.
§. 2. But among the thousands that neglect religion, it is more than possible, that some of my readers may be included: and I am so deeply affected with their unhappy case, that the temper of my heart, as well as the proper method of my subject, leads me in the first place to address myself to such; to apply to every one of them and therefore to you, O reader, whoever you are, who may come under the denomination of a careless
§. 3. Be not, I beseech you, angry at the name. The physicians of souls must speak plainly, or they may murder those whom they should cure. I would make no harsh and unreasonable supposition. I would charge you with nothing more, than is absolutely necessary to convince you, that you are the person to whom I speak. I will not, therefore, imagine you to be a profane and abandoned profligate. I will not suppose, that you allow yourself to blaspheme God, to dishonour his name by customary swearing, or grossly to violate his sabbath, or commonly to neglect the solemnities of his public worship: I will not imagine that you have injured your neighbours, in
Matt. xi. 19,