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of honour and regard. He will not consider them as mere servants “ who have done no more than was their duty,” but will advance them to the rank of friends; he will entertain them in the most liberal and gracious man. ner at his own table; yea, so condescending is he, that, in some respects, he will lay aside his superiority, as if he should gird himself like a servant, and come forth and wait upon them.
I shall at present confine myself to the first of these subjects; namely, the duty we owe to our absent Lord. It is this wbich more nearly concerns us in the mean time: the glorious reward mentioned in the latter part of my text belongs chiefly to our encouragement; and in that view I shall have occasion to speak of it before I conclude.
Now, by this figurative description of the duty we owe to our absent Lord, we are plainly taught, in the
1st place, That we should lay aside every thing that may incumber us in the service of our Master; let your loins be girded about. To the same purpose the apostle Peter exhorts us, (1 Pet. i. 13.) “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The New Testament abounds with many exhortations of the same kind; which will appear to have a peculiar propriety, if we consider those figurative representations of our work to which they are applied. It is called a race, a strife, a warfare; we must run, and wrestle, and fight; and therefore have need of all our strength and activity. Long garments are for ornament, but not for use; these must be gathered up or laid aside when a man addresses himself to any laborious business. Now such is the nature of our Christian work; “ The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and
the violent take it by force." We must do more than seek admittance; we must “ strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." Think of this, my brethren; ponder the difficulties in your warfare; view the greatness of your work; consider the number and strength of your enemies; look through that large system of duties you have to perform; and then you must be convinced, that the most vigorous exertion of every active power is no more than needful in such circumstances as ours. We must therefore, I say, labour to get rid of every incumbrance, and to be always in a posture for active service. I need not tell you what these incumbrances are. In general, wbatever unfits us for our duty, that must be laid aside. More particularly, an earthly mind, pride of heart, and the love of sensual pleasures, are three great enemies to holy diligence in the work of the Lord. Whilst our affections lie thus low, it is impossible we can do any thing to purpose; nay, if this be their prevailing bent, we shall act in direct opposition to the laws of our Master. In short, our first care should be, to correct that dis. order which is within us; to get our hearts purified by the Spirit of God, and raised above the profits and pleasures, and honours of this vain world; for “out of the heart are the issues of life;" and such as our affections are, such will the course of our actions be. But it is not enough to have our loins thus girded about, we must also, in the
2d place, Have our lights burning. This may import the care we should bestow to have our minds furnished with the knowledge of our duty; for as servants cannot work to any purpose in the dark, so neither can we be good and fruitful Christians, without a competent know. ledge of that divine law which is the only infallible rule
of our conduct. If we shall take this to be the meaning of the words, they do doubt teach us a most important and necessary lesson; namely, That we should carefully search the sacred Scriptures, and, with a sincere and humble temper of mind, labour to know what is the “ good, and acceptable, and perfect will of our God."
But I rather incline to understand this expression as importing the lively and constant exercise of all our Christian graces. This is indeed the best preparation for our Lord's return. To have our repentance mourning over our past sins, and keeping the heart humble under a sense of guilt;-our faith applying the blood of Christ for pardon, and deriving, at the same time, strength from above for vanquishing our lusts, that “ sin may no more have dominion over us;" —our love embracing an unseen Saviour, and extending to all bis members; our hope casting anchor within the vail, and keeping the soul fixed and steady, amidst all the revolations of this changing world ;-our patience triumpbing over sufferings;-our meekoess passing by injuries, blessing and doing good to our most inveterate enemies; -and, by the happy influence of all these, the light of our external conduct adorning our profession, and engaging others to glorify our heavenly Father: This is to have our lights burning indeed; this will make us ready to meet our Lord. We shall not be backward to open at his call, when all is thus cleansed and in good order within. And this is the preparation we ought chiefly to study. Our readiness to work will not avail us by itself; we must be doing, our work must be advancing; for in vain do we trim the lamp, if it do not shine and give light; in vain are our loins girded about, if we bave nothing to do, or neglect our business. Further, in the
3d place, We are here directed to be constantly on
our guard, and to keep a strict and careful watch till our Master return.
Watchfulness is frequently in Scripture opposed to sleep: and that even the best Christians have need of this caution, we may learn from our Saviour's parable of the ten virgins; where it is said, (Matth. xxv. 5.) that 6 while the bridegroom tarried, they all,” that is, the wise as well as the foolish,“ slumbered and slept.” Carnal and unregenerated sinners are represented in Scripture as being in a state of death ; quite stupid and unfeeling: but even those who have got a principle of new life may suffer very sad decays; and though they do not totally expire, yet they may fall into that sleep which is the image of death. Though the precious oil which feeds the light will not suffer it to go out; yet, for want of trimming, it may grow so dim and obscure, that it shall scarcely be discernible. Now this, my brethren, is a very melancholy situation; and it highly concerneth us to guard against it with our utmost care. We read of some who lost their first love; nay, Paul complains of the Hebrews, that they had lost even their former knowledge, and had need “ to be taught again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.” “ The hand of the diligent maketh rich; and he that is slothful is bro. ther to him that is a great waster.” Indeed, if holiness were natural to us, then it might abide with us, and grow up of its own accord without any care on our part; but as it is of a foreign extraction, and as our hearts are choaked up with noxious weeds, this precious seed must be watched over, and carefully tended, otherwise it will starve and decay. The sleeping Christian cannot thrive; and if he be surprised in that condition when his Master calls, how great shall his disorder be! We should therefore beware of slothfulness; we have still work to
do, and God hath not allowed us one moment more than is needful. Let us then awake to our business; let us never think we have finished our task so long as there is any part of the day to run ; but let us imitate the great apostle of the Gentiles, who, notwithstanding his high attainments in religion, yet "did not think he had already obtained, either was already perfect; but, forgetting the things which were behind, and reaching forth unto those things which were before, he pressed towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
But we'may consider watchfulness in another light, namely, as a duty arising from our present circumstances of danger. And in this view the necessity of it will appear unspeakably great; for though we could acquire such a stock of graces that we needed not make any forther addition to them; nay, thongh we might even lie down and sleep, without any apprehension of their decay; yet, if we be in danger from without, if thieves may break through and steal our treasure, then of necessity we must be constavtly on our guard; nor is it wise in us to drop our watch for one moment. And who can doubt that this is our situation ? 6 Watch and pray," said our Saviour, “ that ye enter not into temptation." So great is our danger, that our own vigilance is not sufficient to secure us; we must call in foreign assistance, we must implore the divine aid; for “ unless an Almighty Guardian keep the city, the watehman waketh in vain.” Yea, when Satan desired to have Peter, that he might “ sift him as wheat,” our Saviour bimself, who had encountered this enemy, and knew bis strength, prayed for his zealous disciple, that his faith might not fail. And if both watchfulness and prayer be nccessary for our defence, alas ! what shall become of