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All our anxiety will be about the future. Oh! with what force will that question press upon the mind, “ Am I ready? Am I prepared to meet my God?” How different will our feelings then be, according as we have given up ourselves to God in our early youth, or put off the work of our souls to a dying hour! and what an unfit season will that be to begin that work! Go one step farther : follow the soul into the eternal world : view it standing at the judgment-seat of Christ : What will be its feelings at that day? I need not say: your own consciences will tell you. At this moment, even though you
choose not to live the life of the righteous, you are saying inwardly in your hearts, “ Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Then, as these times must come, let us work while it is day, knowing assuredly, that the night is coming when no man can work, and when we shall bitterly lament, that ever we lost this day of our visitation, and neglected the things belonging to our everlasting peace.] ADDRESS1. The younger part of our audience
[You are now going to take upon you the vows that were made in your behalf in baptism'. “ Now” therefore more particularly “ remember God." Remember, that he sees the way in which you perform this duty: he sees whether you endeavour truly to approve yourselves to him, or whether you only mock him by a thoughtless compliance with an established form. Go to him, and surrender up yourselves wholly to him, as "the first-fruits of his creatures, and you will have reason to bless God to all eternity that ever you were called to perform this solemn service. But, if you go without any sincere desire to devote yourselves to him, you will only harden your own hearts, and increase the guilt you have already contracted. “Let me however hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Yes, dearly Beloved, we will hope, respecting some of you at least, that we have not bestowed upon you labour in vain."] 2. To those who have grown to man's estate
[Every argument used with the young, presses with additional weight on you, and says, with greatly augmented force, “Remember now thy Creator.” If in your earlier days you were led to comply with this advice, I will venture to ask, Do you repent of having done so? Is not the chief matter of your regret, that you did not give yourselves up to him at a yet earlier period, and that you have not adhered more steadfastly to the engagements you entered into? If you have, on the contrary, advanced in the Divine life, and grown from babes to young men, or from young men to fathers, does not that afford
you matter of very exalted joy? Go on then, “ forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to that which is before” and know that, “when the days arrive in which you shall say, you have no pleasure in them,” you shall experience
a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not;" which this world can neither give nor take away; and which shall be to you a pledge and earnest of everlasting felicity in the bosom of your
THE SUM OF ALL TRUE RELIGION. Eccl. xii. 13, 14. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter;
Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
IN this book are many things difficult to be understood, and capable of being perverted by any one who desires to justify himself in an undue attachment to the world. But a reference to the condition of the author will enable us to explain the whole in a satisfactory and consistent manner.
Solomon was possessed of all that this world could afford; and he rendered every object, and every employment, subservient to his own comfort. In all this he sinned not. It was not in the use of God's creatures that he sinned, but in the abuse of them. And we also may both possess and enjoy all that God in his providence has allotted to us, if only we enjoy God in the creature, and have earth subordinated to heaven. What the real drift of all his observations was, is told us in the words which we have just read, and which give us a clew to all that he has before spoken. In them we see, I. The sum of all moral and religious instructions—
Many things we have to say both on the subject of morals and of religion ; but they are all comprehended in this one saying, “ Fear God, and keep his commandments."
In this is contained the whole substance of religion
[By the fear of God we understand, not a slavish dread of him, but a holy filial regard, arising from a sense of his relation to us as a reconciled God and Father. And in “ keeping
his commandments” we include a due attention to that great commandment of the Gospel, the believing in our Lord Jesus Christ for salvationa. We must distinguish carefully between a legal and an evangelical interpretation of these terms, lest we confound the Gospel with the Law: we must guard especially against a reliance on our obedience, as if it could in any way, or in any degree, purchase salvation for us. But, if we be duly jealous on these points, we need never be afraid of asserting, that all true religion is comprehended in the duties inculcated in our text. Every thing else is subservient to these things: the most important principles are of little use, except as they conduce to this end. It was for this that the Lord Jesus Christ undertook and executed the whole work of redemption: “ To this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living b,” and “purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." All the promises of the Gospel are given to us for this end, to “make us partakers of the Divine nature a,” that we may, under their gracious influence, “ cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God." In a word, it is this which is the scope and end of all our ministrations; we are sent “ to turn men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God?"]
In this all is contained that deserves the attention of a rational being
[It is of very small consequence whether we have more or less of this world: its pleasures, riches, honours, are but for a moment. What enjoyment has the Rich Man now of all his sumptuous fare? or what sense has Lazarus of all his former wants? All is passed away; and nothing remains of all the good or evil that befell them in this world, but a responsibility for the use they made of it. The period allotted for the enjoyment of earthly things is but a day, an hour, a moment. What does it signify to a man acting a play, whether he performs the part of a king or a beggar? Whatever his real character be, that he assumes, and that he retains, as soon as the last scene has ended. So the only thing that is of importance to us is, What is that character which we shall sustain to all eternity? Have we been rebellious and disobedient? or have we feared God and wrought righteousness? Those are the points that will determine our future destinies; and therefore they are the only points deserving of any serious regard.]
But this leads us more particularly to notice,
a 1 John iii. 23.
b Rom. xiv. 9.
c Tit. ii. 14.
II. The consideration that gives to it all its weight
and importanceThis will be the one point of inquiry at the last day
[God will come to judge the world : and, when examining the state of every individual, he will not ask, What sect we were of; or, What our sentiments and professions were; but, What our practice was, and What the habit of our minds towards him? I may even say, that that which passes under the name of Christian experience, will be of no account, as distinct from the duties inculcated in our text. It is radical and universal holiness alone, that God values: and, if that be right in its principle and end, it is the only thing which will be regarded in God's estimate of our character. In a word, it is “the whole of man;" it is his whole duty, and his whole happiness : his whole duty, as comprehending universal holiness; and his whole happiness, as being really a foretaste of heaven itself.] According to this will our eternal state be fixed
[Some of this will appear in our external conduct, but some will be found only in the internal habit of the mind; because there is very rarely scope for discovering in outward act all that the grace of God will form in the heart. “Every secret thing” therefore, every secret desire, purpose, inclination, appetite, affection, will go to the forming of God's estimate, and the determining the measure of our future recompence. If these have been evil, the best acts will have lost their value: but if these have been good, the smallest acts that can possibly have been performed, the widow's mite, or a cup of cold water given to a disciple, will be ranked amongst the most acceptable services, and be acknowledged as such by God himself. If we have really had “ the fear of God in our hearts," and " walked in his fear all the day long," and, under the influence of that principle, laboured to approve ourselves to him in all things, we shall assuredly hear him say to us in that day, - Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”]
This subject will be of the greatest use,
1. To correct the errors of those who affect superior light
[Many there are who leave out all practical godliness from their system. They can think of nothing but God's eternal decrees, and of the finished work of Christ for us ; forgetting that there still remains a work for him to accomplish in us. They would account all such views as have been presented to you, legal, and unfit to be offered to a Christian auditory, What Solomon accounted “the conclusion of the whole matter, and “the whole of man,” they account as nothing. But so did
not Peter, who says, that“ in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him 8.” Nor was Paul of their opinion; for he has declared (and in the very epistle where he most enlarges on the decrees of God), that it is “by patient continuance in well-doing we must attain to glory and honour and immortality h." And we do not hesitate to say, that if an angel from heaven were to be sent to preach the Gospel, the statements before given would constitute a very principal part of his ministrations. St. John in his visions saw an angel flying through the whole world, to carry the everlasting Gospel to people of all nations and tongues: and the words in which he addressed the whole human race were like those of our text, “ Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come'.” Here is the very exhortation of Solomon, enforced with the identical consideration which he urges; and it is expressly called, “ The everlasting Gospel.” Let those who affect a higher and superior tone be convinced of their mistake. Let them bring forward all the sublimest truths of Christianity in their place; but let “ this be the conclusion of the whole matter;" for, whether they will believe it or not, this is " the one thing needful," and "the whole of man.”]
2. To dispel the fears of those whose knowledge is
[As there are many who delight in nothing but the deepest mysteries of our religion, so there are many who make those mysteries an occasion of continual disquietude. The doctrines of predestination and election are ever present with their minds, as grounds of terror and despondency: they cannot see that they are of the number of God's elect; and therefore they imagine that all exertions on their part are in vain. But the fears of this people are such as ought no longer to be indulged: for there is no man in the universe that is authorized to consider himself
as one of God's elect, any farther than he has “ the spot of God's children” upon him. It is by his fear of God, and his obedience to God's commandments, that he must judge of his state before God: and to judge of his election by any other standard, is only to deceive his
own soul. If then those who distress themselves about the doctrines of election would dismiss those subjects from their minds, and contemplate only what is more within the sphere of their comprehension, they would do well. Let me recommend this plan to all. Look not at God's decrees, which you can never explore, but at the visible effects of his grace upon your souls : and, if you can find “the works of faith, and labours of love,
& Acts x. 35.
h Rom. ii. 7. with 2 Cor. v. 10, 11.