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in the words of the devout Psalmist, with which I shall conclude: “ Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee, let me not be ashamed. Shew me thy ways; Lord, teach me tby paths. Lead me in thy truth, and guide me; for thou art the God of my salvation, on thee do I wait all the day.” Amen.
Romans xii, 11.
Fervent in spirit, serving the LORD.
It usually happens, saith one, that in times of peace and outward prosperity, the church, like a river whose channel is enlarged, loseth as much in depth as it gains in breadth: I wish I could not add, that the present state of the church in our own land, serves not only to illus. trate the propriety of this similitude, but likewise to confirm the truth of the observation. As we have long enjoyed, in a very distinguished manner, the protection and countenance of civil authority, the number of professors is indeed greatly increased; but though the forms of godliness are practised by many, there is too just cause to complain, that the genuine power of it is felt by few. Where are the persons who make religion their business, and apply themselves to it as the “one thing needful?" How few are to be found, who exemplify those scriptural representations of the Christian's work and duty; " fighting the good fight of faith;" " running
with patience the race set before them;" “pressing toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?" Alas! my brethren, the far greater number, if they be going forward at all, it is with such a slow and staggering pace, as can neither edify their brethren, nor yield any real comfort to themselves : “their light," instead of “ shining before men,” like the dim twinkling of a candle, sunk and expiring in the socket, is scarcely discernible.
For exciting such decayed and languishing Christians to “ strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die,” I shall at present take occasion, from the words I have read to you, first, to explain; and, secondly, to recommend that fervour of spirit, with which the Apostle exhorteth us to serve the Lord.
FERVOUR, in general, is opposed to lukewarmness or indifference; and denotes that edge or keenness, that activity and diligence, which we commonly exert in the pursuit of any object we highly value and wish to possess. Now the fervour whereof my text speaks, hath religion, or the service of God, for its object: Love to God is the principle, the law of God is the rule, and his glory the end, of all its operations. The fervent Christian is habitually on the stretch to answer the great purposes for which he was made and redeemed; his understanding is employed in searching out the mind of God, so far as it regards the conduct of his creatures; his will is firmly and resolutely determined to perform whatever shall appear to be his duty; his affections are inspired with holy life and vigour; in consequence of which, his executive powers are all ready to perform their several parts; the tongue to speak, the hands to give, or to do what is required, and the feet to run in the way of God's commandnients. In short, the whole man is engaged in
the service of God; so that religion becomes his constant and most delightful occupation; he “ strives” with all his might “ to enter in at the strait gate;" and counts nothing too much to be done, or too hard to be endured, for the enjoyment of that God whom he most ardently loves, and to whom he is entirely devoted. This, my brethren, is to be fervent in spirit.
But as there are several counterfeits of this gracious temper, I shall endeavour to select those peculiar properties of true Christian fervour that chiefly distinguish it from those delusive appearances by which too many impose both upon themselves and others. Let it be observed then, in the
1st place, That as the service of God is the proper object of true Christian fervour, this renders it necessary that we be thoroughly acquainted with the laws of God, that we may know what particular services he requires of us, and will accept at our hands. A mistake here is of the most dangerous consequence; for if once we step aside from the path of duty, the faster we run, the farther we depart from the right way, and our return to it becomes the more uncertain and difficult. Saul was very fervent in spirit, when he “breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," and " verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth :" And yet this fervour of his, had not sovereign grace stopped him in bis mad career, would only have hurried him downward to that hot and dark place from whence it most certainly sprung. We have heard of some who, according to our Saviour's prediction, “ thought they did God service when they killed his people;" and the church of Rome continues at this day to afford an awful instance of this kind, whose burning zeal, as indeed it may literally be called, hath already consumed all that was mortal of some millions of saints; and yet, instead of being quenched by such a deluge of blood, doth still blaze out as fiercely as ever, where it is not controlled by superior force. I have quoted these strong examples for illustrat. ing the difference betwixt true Christian fervour and that eagerness of spirit which frequently usurps its name; and to make you sensible how necessary it is that we study the “good and perfect will of God,” for directing our zeal, and confining it to that sphere in which it may and ought to move.
2dly. As our ferrour should be employed in the service of God, or in those duties that God bath plainly commanded, so it ought likewise to aim at his glory; otherwise it is an unhallowed passion, which corrupteth and debaseth every thing that proceeds from it. The want of a right aim appears to have been the principal error of the Scribes and Pharisees; for most of our Sa. viour's reproofs evidently turn upon this very thing. They prayed, they fasted, they gave alms, and “compassed sea and land” to gain proselytes to the Jewish religion; all which were very commendable in their own nature: But herein lay their fault, They did all “to be seen of men:" popular applause, and the advancement of their own interest, were the ends they aimed at; not the approbation of God, nor the advancement of his honour and interest in the world. Thus it often happens, when religion is in credit, that many use it as a political engine for helping them up into a higher place, and appear very warm in professing their regard to it; but no sooner is that carnal fuel withdrawn, than the flame expires, or perhaps is carried over to the opposite side, and burns as fiercely against religion as ever it seemed to do for it. Whereas true Christian fervour carries the person beyond himself to that God whom he adores; and instead of being cooled by the profane mockery, or hatred, or persecution, of wicked men, it rather becomes more vigorous and active, and exerts itself in proportion to the opposition it meets with. If God is glorified by his sufferings, the fervent Christian hath gained his end: like David, he is willing to be still “ more vile,” still more afflicted; and with the apostle Paul, he hath no higher ambition, than that “Christ may be magoified in his body, whether it be by life or by death.” Which leads me to observe, in the
3d place, That this gracious temper extends its regards to all God's commandments. It declines no daty that bears the stamp of his authority; for as the glory of God is the great scope of all its actings, whatever tends to promote that, immediately becomes the object of its choice, and the matter of its most delightful and vigorous exercise. Now, here the hypocrite is always found halting; he picks out the easiest parts of duty, such as have least self-denial in them, and most of that outward splendour which attracts the observation of others. If he is rich, he may abound in alms-deeds, especially in those instances of charity which are most likely to make a noise in the world, that his fame may spread abroad, and bring him the tribute of praise from afar. He may attend upon the public ordinances of religion, and sit like one of the people of God, with a becoming air of warm devotion ; but could your eye follow him into his own house, you should there behold a wonderful alteration, perhaps a total neglect both of family and secret prayer, or at best such a cold and lifeless worship, as scarcely deserved the name of “ bodily ex. ercise" itself. Whereas the upright Christian “is in the fear of the Lord all the day long." He considers his VOL. I.