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much better, another way: for they know before hand every thing that is told them here. Now, not to inquire particularly, in what better things, that they could not find leisure for else, those persons actually spend the time of divine service, who tell us so frankly they can: possibly they may, some of them, a little over-rate their knowledge: at least, they frequently seem to have great need of being reminded, if not taught: and had they none, another and higher duty, for which we meet, is prayer. But to this, and all other acts of devotion, they object, that true devotion is in the heart; and outward shew is nothing material. Why, so is true loyalty, true friendship, every true virtue. But are we therefore bound to give no external demonstration of them? At that rate, what would they be worth, and how long would they last? God indeed doth not want such demonstrations : but we want them, to keep alive our sense of duty to him: the world around us wants them, to spread a like sense amongst others : and, were the benefits of his institutions much less evident than they are; still they are his, and we may be sure he hath reason for them. A good subject will go beyond, rather than come short of, what the laws require, in paying honour to his prince. A penitent criminal will not fail to sue out and plead his pardon in due form, let forms, in themselves, be things ever so insignificant: if he did, purposely or negligently, he would well deserve to forfeit it. Every man of common prudence, on whom, or his family, any thing valuable is bestowed on certain conditions, will think it of consequence to qualify himself, or them, according to those conditions, whether he sees the particular use of them or not. If then we think such behaviour necessary in all
temporal concerns, why not in spiritual? God is our King, and hath prescribed to us the manner of doing him homage. He is our Judge, and hath directed us to the method of escaping punishment. He is our gracious benefactor, and hath notified to us the means of obtaining his favours. Why shall any one thing, thus ordered by him, and therefore undoubtedly ordered in wisdom, be either omitted, or observed with contempt ? Surely this is by no means the spirit with which sinners ought to receive a tender of forgiveness; and mortals, of eternal life. The epistle to the Hebrews directs the first Christians, even in the midst of persecution, not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, which comprehends every public office of religion ; and laments that the manner of some was to do otherwise *. How guilty then must they be, who are now of this number; or put on the appearance of despising the ordinances of Christ, at the same time that they use them; and, though really, to some degree, serious in them, are afraid of being thought so! But this leads me,
3. To a farther obligation we are under, which is to profess our regard, both for the doctrines and the institutions of the Gospel, openly and boldly, on all fit occasions. It is a reproach, I believe, peculiar to the Christians of this age and nation, that many of them seem ashamed of their Christianity: would not perhaps be said to have thrown it aside, yet would by no means be imagined much in earnest about it: and therefore study, if possible, to conceal their way of thinking: or, when they are attacked upon it, excuse their piety, as others do their vices, with a sort of laughing half defence; and shift off the subject, as well and as soon as they can. A most astonishing
Heb. x. 25.
treatment of what our eternal happiness depends on: especially when our Saviour expressly requires us to confess him before men, as ever we expect, that he should confess us before his Father which is in Heaven *. It is not meant, that we should be affectedly forward in talking of our religion; but, whenever we are called to do so, unaffectedly own it, and stand by it. In such a case, dissimulation, or even reserve, is a mean spirited desertion of the worthiest cause in the world : and the words of the holy Jesus on another occasion are justly applicable to this, that he who is not for him, is against him t. Whoever is unwilling to be taken for a pious and good man, runs a great risk of soon becoming a profane and bad one. Open profession would have restrained him from doing wrong, and others from tempting him: whereas a timorous concealment exposes him both ways. At least it gives the irreligious a pretence for saying and imagining, either that every one thinks as they do, or that no one can defend thinking otherwise: and deprives those, who are better disposed, of a very animating and needful support. For no inticement to neglect our duty is so dangerous, as the appearance of a general neglect: nor any persecution so effectual, as that of public scorn. Therefore we should combine to shelter one another from it: declare frankly and with spirit, in our private conversation, as well as by our attendance here, what side we are of: not be afraid of a little, perhaps only seeming, contempt from those, who are the justest objects of pity themselves ; but be willing to suffer the affliction of shame,amongst others, if it must be so, with the people of God I: the number of whom is not yet become so small, or so destitute of able advocates, but that, would they unite * Matth. x. 32. + Matth. xi. 30. Luke xi. 23. 1 Heb. xi. 25.
for that end, they might abundantly keep each other in countenance, and their adversaries in awe. We have every possible reason to be zealous in our cause. Unbelievers have no single good one to be so in theirs. Yet they are active, and we are remiss : and what will this end in, unless we change our conduct? But then if we do, there is a
4th, Most important obligation incumbent on us, that of tempering our zeal with mildness and charity. We ought indeed to contend earnestly for the faith*, whenever it is opposed: but in a manner worthy of it. Cruel actions, opprobrious words, inward ill will, unjust bad opinion, are absolutely forbidden us, even towards the enemies of the gospel: and upon the whole, we do treat them with a moderation, which they are far from imitating. But still more gentle should we be to such, as believe Christianity, but only misunderstand it: especially considering, that we are just as liable to mistake, as they. And it is a melancholy consideration, that whilst one part of those, who profess our religion, are so cool about its general and essential interests; most of the other are so immoderately warm about their own particular systems and persuasions. Not only the maintainers of established opinions are apt to judge hardly of the rigid opposers of them, and they to return it : but many, of greater latitude, cry out for liberty to themselves, though they enjoy it to the full, with a spirit of persecution: and whilst they claim an unbounded allowance for every new notion, will give none to those who retain the old; but throw imputations or contempt upon them, without equity or mercy. What can be the consequence of this, but what we experience: that the bitter things which we say of one another, unbe
# Jude 3.
lievers, with seemingly good reason, will say after us : and when we have taught them to condemn the several sorts of Christians, and especially their teachers, as the worst of men, will, by a very plausible inference, condemn Christianity, as the worst of religions? How zealously soever therefore contending parties may hold fast what they profess : yet, violating the most indisputable duties by their vehemence for disputable doctrines, they provoke great numbers to sit loose to all profession; and do incredible harm to the religion which they would serve. For, let us try what methods we will, nothing can ever so effectually promote true faith, as joining to practise true charity. But however unanimous Christians may be in other respects, they will neither do honour to the Gospel, nor receive benefit from it, unless they are also careful,
5. To be seriously and uniformly pious and virtuous. Yet, most unhappily, whatever else we differ in, we agree but too well in neglecting this. Multitudes call themselves Christians, who seem never to have thought of any care of their conduct; but make a solemn profession of the purest and holiest religion, that ever was; and at the same time, throughout their lives, do every thing that they are inclined to, and nothing else. Others that will observe some restraints, would find, upon a fair examination, that they follow their passions, perhaps in as many or more cases, than their principles; or, which comes to the same thing, accommodate their principles to suit their passions. And even they, who have little of any bad inclination to lead them wrong, are very frequently led almost as wrong by indolent compliance with bad custom. For from whence is it, that the generality of men form their rule of behaviour ? Not from Scripture, or from reason: but from fashion and common practice: what