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con has to down our The natur
which must bring with it the greatest evil or the greatest good we are capable of, our change at
death. Though we cannot exactly offer any arburge then cuments to shew that it is either certainly or pro
garding it in our minds as though it were at a disfor it" i tance; and this even in cases
in which it cannot possibly be so. Do we prepare for it? no; why? because we practically regard it in our imagina
tions as at a distance: we cannot prove that it is takes ballat a distance: nay, the contrary may be proved
against us : but still we regard it so in our imao for religio ginations, and regard it so practically; for ima. 3* gination is with most men the practical principle.
But however strong and general this delusion be, has it
any foundation in reason? Can that be be religo thought at a distance which may come to-morrow,
which must come in a few years? In a very few erves of Fears to most of us, in a few years to all it will be
fixed and decided, whether we are to be in heav
en or hell; yet we go on without thinking of it, - natural without preparing for it, and it is exceedingly obt, being of drvable, that it is only in religion we thus put ar St. Paul away the thought from us. In the settlement of The God our worldly affairs after our deaths, which exactin belieti depend upon the same event,
commence at the same time, are equally distant, if either were disSalatians,
bant, equally liable to uncertainty; as to when the a Christmas Gisposition will take place, in these, I say, men hope mi se pare not usually
, negligent, or think that by reason of its distance it can be neglected, or by reason of he though the uncertainty when it may happen, left
We hare fided for. This is a flagrant inconsistency, and at a distant proves decisively that religion possesses a small at is presen, portion of our concern, in proportion with what
"ought to do. For instead of giving to it that his weaknar periority which is due to immortal concerns,
dhove those which are transitory, perishable and Jisturbed
Item: nor with those, which, in respect to time, ach of the scumstances with itself.
gh the port
us the same
Thirdly; The spiritual character of religion is another great impediment to its entering our thoughts. All religion, which is effectual, is and must be spiritual. Offices and ordinances are the handmaids and instruments of the spiritual religion, calculated to generate, to promote, to maintain, to uphold it in the heart, but the thing itself is purely spiritual. Now the flesh weigheth down the spirit, as with a load and burden. It is diffi. cult to rouse the human constitution to a sense and perception of what is purely spiritual. They who are addicted, not only to vice, but to gratifi. cations and pleasures; they who know no other rule than to go with the crowd in their career of dissipation and amusement : they whose attentions are all fixed and engrossed by business, whose minds from morning to night are counting and computing; the weak and foolish and stupid; lastly, which comprehends a class of mankind deplorably numerous, the indolent and slothful: none of these can bring themselves to meditate upon religion. The last class slumber over its interests and concerns; perhaps they cannot be said to forget it absolutely, but they slumber over the Pet subject, in which state nothing as to their salvation gets done, no decision, no practice. There are, therefore, we see, various obstacles and infirmi. ties in our constitutions, which obstruct the reception of religious ideas in our mind, still more such, citary entertainment of them, as may bring
It ought therefore to be our constant
ligion gains that hold and that pos-
ur salvation, things change within
we think of it for a longer continuance, and our thoughts of it have much more of vivacity and impressiveness. First, We begin to think of religion more frequently than we did. Heretofore we never thought of it at all, except when some melancholy incident had sunk our spirits, or had terrified our apprehensions; it was either from low. ness or from fright that we thought of religion at all. Whilst things went smoothly and prosper. ously and gaily with us, whilst all was well and safe in our health and circumstances, religion was the last thing we wished to turn our minds to : we did not want to have our pleasure disturbed by it. But it is not so with us now: there is a change in our minds in this respect. It enters our thoughts very often, both by day and by night; “ Have I not remembered thee in my bed, and thought upon thee when I was waking ?” This change is one of the prognostications of the religious principle forming within us. Secondly, These thoughts settle themselves upon our minds. They were formerly fleeting and transitory, as the cloud which passes along the sky; and they were so for two reasons: first, they found no congenial temper and disposition to rest upon, no seriousness, no posture of mind proper for their reception : and secondly, because we of our own accord, by a positive exertion and endeavour of our will, put them away from us; we disliked their presence, we rejected and cast them out. But it is not so now: we entertain and retain religious meditations, as being in fact those which concern us most deeply. I do not speak of the solid comfort which is to be found in them, because that belongs to a more advanced state of Christian life than I am now considering : that will come afterward; and, when it does come, will form the support and consolation and happiness of our lives. But whilst the religious principle is forming, at least during the first
steps of that formation, we are induced to think about religion chiefly from a sense of its vast consequences, and this reason is enough to make
wise men think about it both long and closely, Lastly, our religious thoughts come to have a vi. vacity and impressiveness in them which they had not hitherto : that is to say, they interest us much more than they did. There is a wonderful difference in the light in which we see the same thing, in the force and strength with which it rises up before our view, in the degree with which we are affected by it. This difference is experienced in no one thing more than in religion, not only be. tween different persons, but by the same person at different mes, the same person in different stages of the Christian progress, the same person under different measures of divine grace.
Finally; Would we know whether we have made, or are making, any advances in Christiani. ty or not? l'hese are the marks which will tell us. Do we think more frequently about religion than we used to do? Do we cherish and entertain these thoughts for a longer continuance than we did? Do they interest us more than formerly ! Do they impress us more, do they strike us more forcibly, do they sink deeper? If we perceive this, then we perceive a change, upon which we may ground our hopes and expectations : if we perceive it not, we have cause for very afflicting apprehensions, that the power of religion hath not yet visited us; cause for deep and fervent intercession with God for the much wanted succour of his Holy Spirit.
SERMON IV. OF THE STATE AFTER DEATH. Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know
hen he shall appear, we shall be like him ; all see him as he is.- 1 John iii. 2.
the most natural solicitudes of the hu.
is to know what will become of us af. 1, what is already become of those friends gone. I do not so much mean the great question, whether we and they shall be happy or miserable; as I mean the question, what is the nature and condition of that state, which we are 50 soon to try. This solicitude, which is both natural and strong, is sometimes however carried too far : and this is the case, when it renders us uneasy, or dissatisfied, or impatient under the obscurity, in which the subject is placed ; and placed, not only in regard to us, or in regard to common men, but in regard even to the apostles themselves of our Lord, who were taught from his mouth, as well as immediately instructed by his Spirit. St. John, the author of the text which I have read to you, was one of these ; not only an apostle, but of all the apostles, perhaps, the most closely connected with his Master, and admitted to the most intimate familiarity with him. What it was allowed therefore for man to know, St. John knew. Yet this very St. John acknowledges “that it doth not yet appear what we shall be ;', the exact nature and condition and circumstances of our future state are yet hidden from us.
I think it credible, that this may in a very great degree arise from the nature of the human understanding itself. Our Saviour said to Nicodemus, “ If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things ?” It is evident from the strain of this extraordinary conversation, that the disbelief, on the part of Nicodemus, to which our Saviour refers, was that which arose from the difficulty of comprehending the subject. Therefore our Sa. viour's words to him may be constructed thus. If what I have just now said concerning the new birth, concerning being born again, concerning being born of the Spirit, concerning the agency of the Spirit, which are all “ earthly things," that is, are all things that pass in the hearts of Christians in this their present life, and upon this earth : if this information prove so diffcult, that you cannot bring yourself to believe it, by reason of the diso culty of apprehending it, “how shall ye believe