- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
the rising generation exhorted to adopt the religion of their christian forefathers.
1 Chronicles, xxviii. 9.—And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.
Such is the public and solemn charge of king David to his son Solomon; whom he had selected to succeed him. It contains in few words, the substance of all that could be said by a parent, who sincerely-intended to promote the happiness and glory of the child whom he tenderly loved, and whom he preferred, from the dictates of his judgment no less than from affection, as the successor to his throne. But as all the advice in the holy scriptures was written for our sakes, as well as for the benefit of those to whom it is immediately addressed, I shall endeavour to derive from the consideration of it, such reflections as may conduce to the regulation of our conduct, especially at the juvenile period, and to the establishment of our happiness, both in the present and in a future state.
And thou, my son, says David, know than the God of thy father. The knowledge of God is a part of science which every father is bound to teach his children with peculiar care; and yet it must be confessed, that few accomplishments are less required in the general course of a polite education, than those which lead to the formation of religious habits and a devotional taste.
The knowledge of the world is esteemed a most valuable accomplishment, and pursued with unabating ardour. But in what does it usually consist? In a knowledge of vanity and vice, dressed in the false splendour of meretricious beauty. Is the man distinguished by this boasted knowledge in its most improved state, more sincerely virtuous, generous, public-spirited, or in any respect more truly estimable, than he who, though he has no pretensions to it, is yet possessed of probity without refinement, and sincerity without the polish of artificial manners? A man may be admired by the multitude, for his knowledge of the world, as a model of elegance, and as all-accomplished, who is by no means delicate and scrupulous, either in morals or in principles, in theory or in practice.
A certain gay laxity and fashionable libertinism are often considered as proofs of this celebrated knowledge. A decent exterior is indeed recommended by the teachers of it, as a convenient mask for the accomplishment of interested purposes; but any remarkable rigour of virtue would be intolerably ungraceful, as well as wretchedly incommodious. The substance of this celebrated knowledge is a skill in procuring personal advancement or pecuniary advantage, by all possible means consistent with safety or concealment; and by deluding those who are simple enough, as they are called, to be governed by antiquated prejudices in favour of a scrupulous virtue.
The knowledge of the sciences, of languages, and of those pleasing arts which have a tendency to render conversation agreeable, is pursued with a perseverance which secures a great proficiency. But it often happens that the attention which these require, so occupies the mind, as to leave it, amidst all the illumination of science, ignorant of God, and of his revealed will; of that knowledge, compared to which the science of a Newton, and the accomplishments of a Stanhope, appear to be little better than ignorance and deformity.
I am not so averse from the more elegant studies of humanity, and so little acquainted with the sweets and importance of scientific attainments, as to discourage ingenuous youth from aspiring at high excellence in philosophical and polite literature; but I am so well persuaded of their comparative insignificancy without religion, that I can only recommend them in subordination to that greatest of all objects, the knowledge which leadeth to salvation. Let all men, the scholar and philosopher, no less than the rude and illiterate plebeian, pay their first and closest attention to the knowledge of God, and to the duties which that knowledge involves. This conduct will secure their virtue;-it will secure their tranquillity. They may then expatiate with delight and safety in the fields of human science, and cull every flower whose fragrance and whose colour shall invite selection.
An early attention to religion is not only a duty, but highly conducive to success in every virtuous pursuit not immediately connected with religion. For there is the strongest reason to believe, that the holy spirit of God co-operates with a good mind in every rational study and laudable enterprise. In the pursuit of knowledge, to begin with the knowledge of God, is to choose the most probable method of acquiring every valuable attainment in art and science. It will at least sanctify and enrich every subsequent acquisition. It is the solid ore of the gold, and the adamantine substance of the jewel.
Know thou the God of thy father, says the royal parent to Solomon; and I cannot but think that this sentence contains most momentous advice to the youth of the present age. They are too apt either to neglect religion entirely, or to adopt some persuasion, which recommends itself to their choice, either by its novelty, or by the eloquence of a sanguine or enthusiastic teacher. They are blown about by every wind of doctrine, ready to forsake the path in which their pious ancestors walked with safety and in peace, for the delusive road pointed out to them by the vain, the visionary, or the fanatic. The pious practices of those who have gone before them, are considered as the effects of devotional ignorance, and the vulgar prejudices of a narrow education.
But this deviation from the path of safety and certainty not only leads them to unnecessary schism, which in this age is considered by many as a trifling evil, but, in time, to general libertinism and actual infidelity. Deism, or something very nearly approaching to atheism, is often the consequence of relinquishing the religion of a Christian parent, and the modes of worship sanctioned by immemorial prescription.
The first sense of duty which arises in the amiable and unpolluted mind of infancy, is that of obedience and respect for a father and a mother. The religion which they profess will naturally claim the greatest veneration in that docile age of childhood, when the mind is unable, both through want of internal strength and external assistance, to judge for itself in affairs of great moment. He who wantonly neglects to adopt the religion of the parent at that age, or rashly condemns and rejects it at a later, exhibits symptoms of great levity or singular depravity. It is the duty of every child to follow in early life the directions of its parent; and the parent must be presumed to be the safest guide whom the child can imitate. Let it therefore be late, and not till after the maturest deliberation, that he ventures to leave the religion of his parent for a system of his own selection.
It is peculiarly necessary in the present age to caution youth against rashly relinquishing the Christian religion in which their progenitors have lived and died, and in which themselves were educated; against changing it for universal scepticism, or that philosophical freedom which is too much countenanced by the prevalence of profligacy, and the instruction of fashionable writers, in the school of taste.
He must know little of the present age, who has not observed the propensity of young men to follow the opinions of those deistical writers, who possessing wit without wisdom, and audacity without goodness, have written against Christianity, with an elegance of language and a brilliancy of imagery, which seduces the young and thoughtless from the safe paths of their forefathers. Several writers of a neighbouring nation and of our own country have recommended infidelity with all the charms of an elegant and polished phrase, and with a pleasing though deceitful ingenuity. Young men are tempted to take up the books of those writers, because they hear them celebrated by the voice of fame. They are pleased with the novelty of the thoughts and the liveliness of the expression. In these they think themselves possessed of a treasure of wisdom, which renders them far more enlightened than their pious forefathers. Christianity, after the perusal of these authors, is rejected as an obsolete religion, fit only for the superannuated and superstitious devotee. And what is to supply its place? A haughty dependence on their own reason, libertinism of principle and licentiousness of practice.
Thus pass a few years of health and levity, without reflection, and perhaps without much uneasiness, in a state of mental insensibility; but the triumph of the wicked is of short duration. The evil day soon arrives. Age and infirmities are not to be repelled by any effort of audacity and presumption. Conscience will awake, though she has been lulled asleep by every artifice. Many circumstances will arise to super-induce a dejection of spirits, which without some source of solid consolation may terminate in despondency. But where is the consolation? Is there a confidence in God? Impossible∗ for it has been the uniform intention of the unhappy infidel, to ridicule all religion; and to bring his mind to believe, that all things are made and governed by chance, or by a Being too indolent to superintend the work of its own creation. But supposing him not quite so far advanced in the school of sophistry as to be an atheist, yet he is professedly not a Christian; and therefore cannot share those comforts which Christianity most liberally affords. Hope, that sweet source of joy in the midst of the deepest sorrow, springs not in the mind of a gloomy unbeliever. No flower vegetates on the dreary waste, except the hemlock and the nightshade. The utmost he can venture to expect, and dreadful is the expectation, in comparison with the bright views of Christian faith, is utter annihilation∗ But though his consciousness of having offended God, may teach him faintly to hope it, yet he cannot be certain of it; and the state of his mind, vibrating between doubt and despair, will be to itself a continual torment. Sink under it he must, unless he should bury his senses in the brutal stupidity of intemperance, or repent himself of his sins, and take refuge in that Redeemer whom his best abilities were employed, in the season of health and youth, to revile. How much happier had he been, had he wisely followed the advice contained in the text, know thou the god of thy father∗
David subjoins to the duty of knowing the God of his father, that of serving him with integrity and alacrity; and serve him, says he, with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind.
Too many Christians, even of those whose conduct and characters are respectable and decent, are disposed to be languid and formal in the performance of their religions duties. They go through their devotion, both in the church and in the closet, without affection, without the holy fervour of a cordial piety, without the glowing sensibility of divine love. But such service can never be acceptable to him, who, as the text expresses it, searcheth all hearts, and understandeth the imaginations of the thoughts.
It is undoubtedly true of most men, that they cannot long confine and fix their thoughts on subjects of mere contemplation. The active fancy of man will break from every common restraint. Such is the infirmity of our boasted reason, that we cannot always direct the thoughts to the object which she points out for consideration. And it is reasonable to hope and believe, that God will pardon such deviations as are the effects of human infirmity.
But the coldness and the wandering, which are forbidden, and therefore sinful, arise from intentional neglect and voluntary inattention. As for instance, when we employ our thoughts without reluctance in the church and at any other place, during the hours of devotion, in meditating on our worldly concerns, or in concerting schemes of pleasure or profit, we are justly to be censured as guilty of hypocrisy in the sight of man, and of a most provoking insult to that God whom we pretend to worship; and who, however formal and sanctified our appearance may be among our fellow-creatures, can distinguish at a glance the mere ostentation of goodness from the reality, the glossy outside of superficial pretence from the internal substance of solid virtue.
It is not sufficient, to constitute a good man and a good citizen, to pay a respect to Christianity merely because it is the national religion; and to conform to the offices of the church in which we are educated, for the sake of peace, good order, and decency. This respect and conformity may answer the narrow purposes of worldly politicians, and satisfy the laws of the country; but they must appear to him, before whom all hearts are open, mean subterfuges, perhaps equally or more reprehensible than undissembled impiety. It is easy for a man, possessed of little arts and despicable cunning, to deceive his short-sighted fellow-creatures; but he cannot hope to be concealed from him whose eye pervades the closest recess, that searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all imaginations.
We might indeed conclude from our own reason, what we may collect from the text, that no religion can be acceptable to God, but that which proceeds from a perfect heart and a willing mind; and that a mere political conformity, for the sake of order, is an impious mockery.
In order to avoid a divided attention between God and Mammon, when we enter the church or the closet, let us impress upon our minds a lively sense of the universal presence of God, and of the particular awe in which it becomes his poor creatures to stand, when they enter places more immediately consecrated to his service, or engage in employments which seem to call upon him for his more particular inspection. Think what it is to appear before him who is able to punish us with every evil which our imaginations can fear, or to bless us with felicities which no heart can adequately conceive∗ Which of us, if he were to appear before an earthly king, a poor frail mortal like himself, would not be attentive and respectful? And shall he dare to approach the King of kings with such ease and want of veneration, as would justly give offence in the palace of a mortal invested with a perishable crown? God indeed is merciful, or else how many of us would have been cast out from his courts, where one day is better than a thousand, to outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Most insulting to God is the hypocritical obedience to his divine revelation, which means only to answer private and interested ends in the world, by exhibiting the forms of godliness while the power is utterly denied. Sudden wanderings of thought may certainly proceed from accidents scarcely in our power, and may be venial; but a settled, a cool, deliberate impiety, in thought and principle, dressed out in the garb of gravity and sanctity, must be offensive in the highest degree to the God of truth, as it would be despised and hated by every man of integrity.
I particularly reprobate this religious duplicity, because I believe there are in this age many unbelievers, who make a merit of outwardly displaying the appearance of Christianity, and denominate it a philosophical and voluntary submission, as far as external acts extend, to the prejudices of the country in which fortune fixed their birth. Let such deceivers be persuaded, that they deceive themselves most miserably; and may they soon learn to follow the advice of David, to serve God with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind, for the reason or motive which David assigns, because God searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts, Their error indeed arises from infidelity, and therefore it will be proper to advise them in the previous words of David, to know the God of their fathers, from whom their own pride and corruption of heart, or the example and writings of deists, have unfortunately seduced them.
David closes this part of his advice with adding, if thou seekest him, the God of thy father, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.
The first part of this declaration conveys great comfort, as it secures success iu our search after God. Seek, and you shall find; an easy condition of obtaining that which is more precious than the gold of Ophir. The things which the world reaches out as objects of pursuit, are not only deceitful and disappointing in their nature when obtained, but, as most men have experienced, difficult of acquisition.
Man goeth forth to his labour, to lay up a store for himself or his family, which shall place him above dependence, and enable him to enjoy the advantages of plenty without the toil of application; but innumerable accidents intervene to frustrate his best endeavours. He often seeks, and finds not; and thus vexation and disappointment add to the real evils of his poverty. But this can never happen in the pursuit of religious perfection. The scriptures assure us, in the strongest terms, that he shall not fail to find, who faithfully enters on the research of spiritual treasure.
Make then the experiment, ye who have hitherto neglected God for the fugitive and uncertain advantages of this world: make the experiment of seeking happiness in an acquaintance with him who never yet deserted a sincere and diligent votary. In the treasures of the scriptures search for mines of wealth, such as neither time nor accident can diminish or depreciate. Learn to place a due value on the riches of God's grace. You will in course seek them in preference to all others; and the happy consequence will be, that you shall be rich indeed. Place your hopes of happiness in the knowledge and practice of your Christian duty, and you shall never be disappointed. Every other dependence will be found fallacious. Lean on this world for your full and final happiness, and you lean on a reed which shall pierce your hand, and break under your pressure.
If thou seek him, he will be found of thee, says David; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.
To be cast off for ever, by the author of our being, and the giver of all the blessings of it? To be cast off∗—and for ever∗ Consider this, ye who either neglect your religious duties entirely, or leave the God and the religious persuasion of your fathers, for the strange novelties of every pretended philosopher, or mistaken bigot. Consider into what a pit of misery ye rashly plunge yourselves. To be forsaken of your Maker, to be forsaken for ever∗ Whither can ye fly for support and consolation? Nothing can save you, thus deserted, from a degree of misery beyond all that language can express, or imagination conceive. An eclipse takes place in the soul. The world intervenes between the soul and its God, its fountain of light and life.
Let me exhort all those who have been brought up in the knowledge of God, to beware how they forsake him as they advance in life, lest they should be cast off for ever; lest they should incur that dreadful fate, which would render it happy for them if they had never been born, and tempt the compassionate observer to exclaim with Job, Why died they not from their mother's womb?
Beware then, ye who are young and inexperienced; beware, at your setting out in life, of associating with company where the name of God is blasphemed, and the Christian religion treated with ridicule. Such company abounds in the present age, among the half learned, the self-conceited, and the profligate, and it is difficult for a young man to withstand the temptations to evil which it offers. The wisest method is not to enter it. He who is once enticed by sinners to associate with them, will soon listen to their conversation without pain, however immoral or blasphemous. The transition is but too easy, from patiently bearing impiety in the conversation of others, to exhibiting it ourselves; and it is scarcely possible, but that he who converses impiously, should soon lose all remaining principles of religion, and become a professed infidel, and, in his heart, an abandoned profligate. Heforsakes the guide of his youth, and falls into destruction.
Let me exhort the juvenile part of my audience to attend to that excellent law of the decalogue, too often repeated without attention, which teaches you to honour your parents, and consequently to follow their instructions. There is, unfortunately, no topic more frequent in bad company, than that of deriding the aged parent employed in the offices of devotion; the consequence of which is, that he who frequents bad company, soon learns to despise the solid words of wisdom which a father or a mother has inculcated in early infancy. Let no wit nor merriment tempt you to join in derision of those, to whom you are bound by every obligation of gratitude, reason, and religion. The punishment of despising a parent will fall heavily upon you, not only as it is a violation of an express commandment, and must therefore excite the displeasure of God; but also as it will tempt you to despise those precepts which your father gave you in your childhood for your future direction; and which, if properly attended to, would have conducted you safely, pleasantly, honourably, through life, and afforded you hope in the day of disease, and at the hour of death, of a joyful. resurrection.
It is also of great consequence to you, that you avoid those books which, however elegant and entertaining, are no less seducing, than vicious and unbelieving companions; I mean the fashionable philosophers of a neighbouring nation, and their imitators in our own. Either read them not at all, or not till reflection and experience shall have confirmed your belief and principles on foundations so sure, as not to be shaken by the witticisms of lively but superficial writers, or by vain and petulant disputants in conversation; by those whose ingenuity of understanding is misled by the corruption, the pride, and the malignity of their depraved dispositions.
Consider, thou that darest to despise the religion of thy father, the shortness of thy life, thy weakness, and thy misery; consider, and rejoice that religion opens a gleam of hope, a prospect of sunshine in the midst of the surrounding gloom. Let all thy best endeavours be directed to that most important of all objects, the securing of God Almighty's, favour and protection; that haven in the storm, when the waters shall go over our soul. Whatever doubts and cavils little witlings and minute philosophers may raise, no man can deny our absolute dependence on some Superior Power; and no man can prove, that an attempt to render ourselves acceptable in the sight of this Superior Power, is unreasonable, or attended with any kind of injury to ourselves, or to the rest of the human race. Let us then fall down before him, with the deepest sense of our own unworthiness, and of love and veneration for his power and wisdom in the creation, and for his mercy in the redemption, of us by our Lord Jesus Christ.
God grant that what I have advanced may lead you to walk in the ways of piety and peace, in which your fathers walked who now sleep; and that as you follow, with all humility, their footsteps to the grave, you may also follow them, when they shall emerge in glory, and when the happiness of heaven itself shall be increased by a joyful meeting of parents and children, who loved each other in life, and who, in the resurrection, shall not be divided.