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in the most imperfect and casual view of them, can fail, with supreme solicitude, to take heed how he hears?
8. As all things, contained in the Scriptures, are wise, and right, and good; so we are to remember, that they are worthy of all acceptation.
My audience may remember, that I originally proposed to consider the manner, in which Sinners may hear the Gospel, with rational hopes of being benefited by it. The hearing of the Gospel I exhibited as one of the means of grace ; and mentioned, that I should discuss it as such, and not as a theme of general investigation. To this view of the subject I have therefore confined myself; and have purposely omitted many observations, which might be usefully made, concerning this subject
, to persons who are already Christians. Almost all the observations, which I have made, are indeed, in their full force, applicable to them also. To Sinners they are all applicable; and are all, in every sense, in their power, while they continue Sinners. The last is as truly of this nature, as those which preceded it.
Every Sinner may, antecedently to his regeneration, entertain a full conviction, that the Scriptures are worthy of all acceptation. With this conviction, solemnly impressed on the mind, every sinner may hear the Gospel. Every sinner may, also, feel this truth in a strong and affecting manner. Awakened to a sense of his guilt and danger, he does thus actually feel, antecedently to any essential change in his moral character. But what some sinners do feel, all others may feel. But under this conviction, and this sense, all those are sanctified, who are sanctified at all. With these very views of divine truth upon their minds, the Spirit of God communicates to them, I do not mean to every one who is in this situation ; for this I am not warranted to say, nor to believe; but to most of them, perhaps to all who do not voluntarily relinquish their convictions ; that change of heart, which is commonly styled Regeneration : a change, infinitely important to every child of Adam.
Faith, says St. Paul, cometh by hearing. I have endeavoured to describe the manner of hearing, in which it comes. It is to be still carefully remembered, that, unless Faith is actually obtained, and exercised; no mode of hearing whatever will ultimately be of any value. The mode, which I have pointed out, is, in my apprehension, inestimably valuable, as means, eminently useful to this
What is true of hearing the Gospel is substantially true of Reading it ; and of Reading, also, other Religious books. The Scriptures particularly, and other religious books generally, are to be read with care ; and with all the views, which I have expressed;
; that we may be able to judge whether those, who preach to us, preach the Truth of God. They are to be read also, that we may keep alive, and in full force, the impressions communicated by
Preaching. Finally, they are to be read, that we may gain the full advantages of all our opportunities between the returns of the Sabbath; and furnish ourselves with daily instruction, with reproofs for our daily sins, with encouragement to our daily duties, and with powerful motives to a daily progress in the divine life.
1. From these Observations it is evident, that those, who do not hear in the manner which has been described, are, even according to their own principles, wholly inexcusable.
All persons, present at the preaching of the Gospel, can, if they please, solemnly remember, that it is the Word of God; that they are sinners, who infinitely need salvation; that in the Gospel only, the terms, and means, of salvation are published to mankind; that these, in order to be of any use to them, must be understood by themselves; that their opportunities of hearing it are few; and that the present is the best, and may be the last, which they will ever enjoy : that the Scriptures contain
all the rules of life, by which they will be judged; that God is an eye-witness of the manner, in which they hear; and that the Gospel is worthy of all acceptation, and ought, therefore, to be received with the heart, as well as with the understanding. To hear in this manner, demands no especial communication from God: and he, who does not thus hear, is stripped of the pretence even of self-justification. It is, indeed, equally the duty of every man to hear with Evangelical Faith. But as this Faith is the gift of God, unrenewed men are ever prone to feel themselves, in some degree, excusable in neglecting to hear with this exercise of the heart. This apprehension is, I acknowledge, entirely without foundation. Still it exists. But in the present case, on their own ground, no plea can be offered, which will even satisfy themselves. Let them therefore, when guilty of this negligence, lay their hands upon their mouths, and their mouths in the dust, and confess their guilt before God. Of this miserable class of sinners not a small number
Sabbath by Sabbath, seen in this house. Almost all who assemble here, are in the morning of life; when, if ever, the heart is tender, and easily susceptible of divine impressions from the word of God. Almost all enjoy, also, the peculiar blessings of a liberal and religious education, and the best opportunities of knowing their duty, and their danger. Still
, in defiance of the solemn commands of Religion, and the authority of God, as well as of common decency, there are those, who quietly lay their heads down to sleep, when the
prayer is ended, or the psalm read. These persons are indeed present in the house of God. But they are present, only to insult him ; to cast contempt upon the Cross of Christ;
and to grieve in 2 the most shameful manner the Spirit of Grace. They can hardly
be said to hear at all. They come into the presence of God, merely, to declare to Him, and to all who are present, that they will not hear, nor obey, his voice; and to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the Judgment. Let them remember, that the God who made them, and in whose hands their breath is, is here ; and that his All-Searching eye is fixed with an intense
; and dreadful survey upon their conduct and upon their hearts. Let them remember, that He hath said, Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and ye have not regarded : but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamily, and mock when your fear cometh ; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction
; as a whirlwind. Then shall ye call, but I will not answer. Ye shall seek me early, and shall not find me : because ye hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.
Let those also, who with more decency, and more momentary wisdom, really hear, and yet with the slightest temptations forget what they hear; vessels, into which the water of life is poured, only to be poured out again ; remember, that they hear to no valuable end. The true end of this privilege is Repentance towards God, and Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. This end they prevent in themselves by an absolute destitution of serious and deep concern for their salvation. In their final ruin they will find little comfort in remembering this frail, feeble attention to the Word of God. It will be a melancholy support in that terrible day, to say to their Judge, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence; and thou hast taught in our streets ; when they hear him reply, Depart from me, for I know you not, ye workers of iniquity.
2. How infinitely desirable is it, that we should hear with good and hönest hearts !
This, and this only, is obeying, in the proper sense, the command of our Saviour. As the Gospel is plainly worthy of all acceptation ; to accept it in this manner is the indispensable duty of every man, to whom it is preached. To this end, we should remember, that our all is depending ; our virtue, usefulness, and peace in the present life; our hope and support in death; our acquittal in the judgment, our escape from final perdition; and our introduction to eternal glory in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. What dreadful emotions must every careless, stupid sinner, experience on a death-bed, when he calls to mind, that he squandered, with infinite prodigality, all his opportunities of gaining Salvation; and cast away the blessings of comfort and hope for ever! Amid the solemn scenes of such a bed, when life is trembling, and fluttering, over the abyss of destruction ; the pulse forgetting to beat; the soul struggling, and clinging to its tenement of clay, with awful anticipations of the Judgment; how overwhelming must it be to remember, that every prayer and sermon,
that the Gospel itself and all the blessings which it contains, although so frequently offered by God with infinite kindness, were only despised, neglected, and forgotten ! But the lamp is now gone out; the oil expended ; and the door shut. Nothing, therefore, remains to the infatuated votary of sense and sin, but the blackness of darkness for eder!
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.—THE NATURE, SEASONS, AND
OBLIGATIONS OF PRAYER.
1 THESSALONIANs v. 17.---Pray without ceasing.
THE preceding discourse was occupied by considerations on the two first of those Means of Grace, which were formerly mentioned; viz. The Preaching and Hearing of the Gospel, and the Reading of the Scriptures and other Religious Books. I shall now proceed to the examination of the third of those Means; viz. Prayer.
In this examination I shall depart from the scheme, which was pursued in the preceding discourse; and sball consider the subject generally; under the following heads :
I. The Nature, and
V. The Usefulness of Prayer ;
Prayer, according to the language of the Westminster Catechism, is the Offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his Will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and a thankful acknowledgment of his mercies. This definition is undoubtedly just. Yet it is in a degree defective. Prayer is an act of worship, consisting of four great parts ; Adoration, Confession, Petition, and Thanksgiving.
The first of these, Adoration, consists in solemnly reciting the character of God; and in reverentially ascribing to him the glory, due to his name for the infinite perfections, which he possesses, and for all the manifestations, which he has made of himself in his Word, and in his works.
The second, Confession, demands no comment.
The third, Petition, is both by reason and Revelation confined to things, which are agreeable to the Will of God. His Will involves whatever is right, and good : and nothing, which is not agreeable to it, is in reality desirable.
Thanksgiving, the last of these subjects, is so generally, and so well, understood, as to need no explanation at the present time.