- 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.
perseverance in the religious principles taught in youth, and particularly in faith and hope, recommended.
Col. i. 23.—Continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard.
It is an old observation, that fewer deviate from the path of rectitude through defect of knowledge than of resolution. Most men might say, with the poet of antiquity, We see and approve better things, while we are pursuing what we know to be worse. Though men wander in the labyrinth of life and lose their way, it is not because there are not lamps on the side of the road, and fingers pointing at every turning, but because they listen, as they pass, to some siren song in the thicket, and step aside to pluck some golden fruit, whose smiling hue raises the ardour of vehement desire.
The earliest instruction is usually religious. And though we despise the lesson of the mother or matron who presides over our infantine age, her words are often the words of the truest wisdom. She teaches us the plain doctrines of elementary Christianity, which, though it has nothing of ostentation to recommend it, is replete with the most valuable instruction. It has pleased a gracious God to render the knowledge of our duty plain and easy. It is perplexed only by the sophistry of human reason.
Even when we have relinquished this infantine period, we are seldom left destitute of religious instruction. In all reputable places of education, it is required, that the pupils attend the public worship. In the discipline of schools there is also, for the most part, some time devoted to a business so important. The persons in England who chiefly preside over education are ecclesiastics. Their conscience, their character, their profession, require of them that they should take every opportunity of sowing the seeds of religion. And they are well convinced that no period of life is so proper for this purpose as the beginning of it, which bears so near a resemblance to the vernal season.
Parents, who themselves have been so unfortunate as to lose the religious impressions of their youth, are unwilling to train up their children in impiety. Even infidels sometimes wish their families and dependents to adopt the faith and persuasion of their country. A most honourable testimony in favour of religion∗ Vanity and wickedness induce men to renounce the received opinions in their writings or conversations; but a real persuasion of their importance compels them to desire that those who are dearest to them should not, in this instance, follow their examples, but be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The churches are every where open; charity-schools, of various descriptions, abound; introductory books are numerous, in a small and convenient form, at a low price, given away by charitable persons, and by societies, established, and liberally supported, for their universal distribution.
It appears then, as it was my purpose to evince, that scarcely a single individual arrives at maturity in this country, without having opportunities of imbibing ideas of religion. It shall be the business of the present discourse to recommend the utmost attention to the preservation of those ideas when they are once received; and to urge us, after we have been trained up as children in the way that we should go, to take care when we are older that we depart not from it.
The young mind is, indeed, usually in the happiest state for the cultivation of devout, as well as other virtuous habits. The temptations of avarice and ambition have, in infancy, but little force. The heart is soft and sensible. It is prone to love excellence wherever it can find it. And the universal Father, whose attributes are all calculated to excite love, becomes, at once, an object of sincere affection, and of profound veneration.
But the scene soon changes. The pupil steps from the side of his parent or instructor, and involves himself in a course of action, or with associates who, too often, obliterate the pious ideas received in the happy period of unspotted infancy.
It is among the amiable dispositions of the juvenile age, that it is usually desirous of becoming agreeable to all with whom it has any connection. If a young man, therefore, fall into the society of vicious and profligate persons, which, considering the general depravity of human nature, is extremely probable, he will endeavour to conciliate their affections by assuming their manners. At first, he may mean only an external conformity, for the sake of complaisance; but he will soon find that what began in fiction, will end in reality.
There is naturally a fear attending the first departure from innocence. Vice, at first, appears, as it really is, formidable and odious. But familiarity softens the feature which at first disgusted. That which is no longer hated, will soon, by familiarity, become an object of love. Vice offers many temptations which, it must be confessed, are not easily resisted, when the passions are in a state of mature vigour, and when the caution which experience effectually teaches, is unavoidably deficient.
But religion will not linger, when her companion, Virtue, is dismissed with contumely. He who begins reluctantly to divest himself of moral delicacy, soon finds himself insensibly stript of every scruple, but those which interest and worldly policy require. And now the laboured instructions of the anxious parent and the diligent preceptor appear in the light of mere contrivances, to keep in awe the inexperienced boy. The rules which they gave, and the ideas which they inspired, are dismissed, as the trifling prejudices of the vulgar, fit only to awe the childish and the ignorant.
The unhappy youth now descends from the luminous heights of virtue, like a falling body, with increasing velocity. It is impossible to observe the extent of profligacy to which he may at last arrive. There is no wickedness which, in time, he may not be led to commit. But granting that a regard to his temporal welfare restrains him, in temporal affairs, from such crimes as immediately destroy his reputation, or subject him to the cognizance of the law; yet he becomes a mere worldling, a slave to the objects of sense, no less incapable of feeling the comforts of religion, than unwilling to acknowledge the sanction of its authority.
When this unhappy change has taken place, farewell all rational enjoyment. There may be riches, honours, and all that constitutes a temporal prosperity. A fabric may be raised, beautiful to the eye, but it will want a firm foundation; storms will shake it, and every blast will find its way to the poor shivering inhabitant. It is not substantial; it is like the glittering edifices, built, for ornament, of ice, or frost-work, which, as soon as the sun shines upon them, dissolve, melt away, and leave not a vestige of their transient beauty.
It is indeed to be feared, that the temptations of the world, and the natural depravity of man, will, in general, militate effectually against the admonitions of the preacher; but if a few only, if one only is rescued from the path that leadeth to destruction, he will not have laboured in vain.
I shall endeavour, therefore, to enumerate a few of those methods which appear most conducive to the preservation of those pious principles which we have usually imbibed in our youth, from instructors at school, from books, and from the oral discourses of the pastoral minister.
The first, most obvious, and most important advice is, that we endeavour to preserve our innocence in the dangerous season of youth. When young men first step into the world, they plunge into excess with little remorse. They consider youth, and violence of passion, as sufficient excuses for irregularity. But they little think how fatal their indulgence will become to their subsequent welfare. Besides its dreadful consequences to fame, fortune, and conscience, it has a very powerful effect in destroying every kind of virtuous sensibility. Frequent excesses obliterate all that delicacy of feeling, which renders the moral sense tender, and susceptible of the slightest impulse. They superinduce a callus on the heart. Virtue, decency, devotion, cease to have charms capable of attracting, in the eyes of him who has habitually been given to excess in wine, and to other intemperate indulgences. Let the young man then, who wishes to retain the principles of piety, learn, at an early age, to avoid the cup of intemperance, and the seduction of deceitful pleasure. He will thus exalt, and preserve a capacity of tasting pleasures of the purest kind. Such are those which always arise from intellectual and moral improvement, and from beneficent exertions. He will avoid a spiritual death, which, like a natural death, is by nothing so much accelerated as by intemperance.
He who lives in a constant state of gluttony, degrades himself to an inferior order of beings. He is, indeed, possessed of a human shape; but, in every other respect, he is only a more sagacious brute. He is incapable of reflection, and no more able to lift up his heart and eyes to God, than the herd of swine, whom he unfortunately resembles. Unhappy souls, which are thus prone to earth, and destitute of all ideas inspired by heavenly contemplation∗ How anxiously is such a state to be avoided, by all who wish to live the life of rational and religious creatures.
Many, before they have arrived at the possession of mature reason, have destroyed it in the blossom. A short continuance of an unfavourable blast will, in the spring of life, nip the most promising buds, which would else have been expanded into flowers, and ripened into fruitage.
Of all the methods of avoiding the contagion of. vice in the juvenile period, none is more effectual than a resolution to avoid bad company, It has been confirmed by unerring experience, that a young man cannot mix with corrupt associates without catching their corruption. Indeed, the very choice of such society is a proof that there already subsists an inherent propensity to assimilate their manners. Where this is the case, degeneracy and ruin are scarcely to be avoided. But let all those who really wish to preserve their innocence, be most anxiously cautious in selecting the persons with whom they intend to continue an intercourse. Let them attend to the general voice, respecting the characters of those into whose society they are likely to be introduced. The characters of most men, so far as their general conduct is concerned, are, for the most part, known to the world with sufficient accuracy.
But the love of money, or avarice, and the love of civil honours, or ambition, will militate against religious perseverance, against faith, hope, and charity, no less than the love of pleasure. The gaieties of youth, which lead to vicious gratification, do indeed sometimes terminate in the very short period while youth remains; but avarice and ambition, when once they have taken possession of the heart, will not bear a rival, nor easily admit of expulsion. These, indeed, form that love of the world, which is every where represented in the Scriptures as most unfavourable to the growth of religious improvement. To avoid these, let us take a due estimate of the little value of temporal possessions and human honours, when compared with the riches of eternity and the glories of the kingdom of heaven. It would be easy to recite a great variety of common-place remarks, selected from the heathen writers, on the insufficiency of riches or honours to secure human felicity; but because these are frequently considered as little more than the topics of a declamation, I shall only add, that if they are incompatible with a religious life, they certainly are not only of no real value, but are to be considered as the greatest curses which can fall to the lot of a human creature. What shall a man profit, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
It will contribute greatly to the preservation of the Christian faith in our hearts, if we accustom ourselves to the perusal of religious books on solemn occasions, and when we commune with ourselves, and in our chamber. It is a truth, which reflects no great honour on the study of philosophy and polite letters, that many who devote a great deal of time to reading on such subjects, will not take up a treatise on religion. They would fear the imputation of superstition, or hypocrisy, if they were to be seen perusing a manual of devotion; and many reputable scholars have acknowledged an unwillingness to read the Scriptures, lest the purity of their style should be contaminated. But let all those who dedicate themselves to the improvement of the mind consider, at the same time, that the improvement of the heart is infinitely more desirable. No censure is thrown on pursuits, so innocent and delightful as those of elegant letters, and philosophy; but they ought not to engross the whole attention. The most industrious student will be able to find intervals for the perusal of religious books; and when he has once given them his attention, they will attach his mind with powerful attraction, and be the most efficacious instruments of his spiritual advancement. There is scarcely any thing which I can recommend so conducive to the retention of pious principles, as this practice of reading religious books; and though they may not be the most elegant in their style, nor the most profound and subtle in their argumentation, yet, if they breathe the spirit of true devotion, they will teach us something which will redound more to our advantage, than all the boasted beauties of ornamental literature.
Indeed, the Scriptures themselves should occupy more of our time and attention, than is usually bestowed upon them even by men of virtuous and pious character. We are but too apt to think that, as we can at any time have recourse to them, the business of studying them may be procrastinated. But it will become us to consider, with a seriousness which the truth deserves, how soon these things may be hid from our eyes; and how prudent it is to use the light of the day, while it is called to-day, lest the shades of the evening should descend before we expect them, and involve us in darkness.
But if, on the one hand, we are to seek and study books written in the pure spirit of our holy religion; so, on the other, we must avoid, as a pestilence, the writings of the unbeliever. Many among the sceptical authors have possessed wit, and a plausible species of eloquence. He who takes them up with no other design than to gratify his curiosity, may be entangled in their sophistry, or allured by their artifices; so as not easily to return to that pleasant land of innocence and confidence from which he began his wild excursion.
But nothing will preserve us in a state of uncorrupted principles and virtue, without the grace of God; and habitual and fervent prayer is one of the most efficacious methods of drawing upon ourselves this heavenly benediction. Therefore we must begin early to dedicate a part of every day to prayer and serious reflection. It is certain, that the business of the world, the cares necessary in providing for a family, the avocations of a profession, do require a very considerable portion of our time and thoughts; but there is yet no situation in life so fully occupied as not to leave room for the duties of devotion. Every man retires to his pillow during some part of the natural day. When he lays his head down upon it, and when he lifts it up again, let him think of Him who has given him every good which he has hither to possessed, and on whom he must depend for good in future. The practice of dedicating ourselves, at the beginning of the day, to God, will sanctify every action of it; and that of recommending ourselves to his protection when we retire, will teach us to view what we have done in a religious light, and consider whether or not it is conformable to the laws of God, before whom we are prostrate in the act of supplication.
It will also behove those who sincerely wish to persevere in the good principles they have imbibed, not to neglect public worship. It has become very common among the more fashionable part of mankind, to omit this practice entirely. In this omission they certainly do a great injury to themselves, and to society. For though it be true, which admits of doubt, that they read religious treatises at home on the days devoted to public worship, yet they should reflect, that they lose what has always been thought a great advantage in raising and supporting a devout spirit, the force of example. They should also give proper attention to what they cannot but observe, the bad consequences which arise to their servants and dependents, from their neglect of public ordinances. Allowing every thing which can be required,—that a man spends his time at home in prayer and meditation, and that his understanding is so cultivated, and reading so extensive, as not to be capable of receiving improvement from the discourse of the preacher,—yet it will be his duty, especially if he is in an exalted rank, to comply with public ordinances, for the sake of those who look up to him as a model. But this topic requires a particular discourse, and I am only now recommending an attendance on the service of God at the public meeting of the congregation, for the sake of strengthening and preserving that faith, and those religious ideas, which the guardians of our infancy may have taught us to entertain.
But the text recommends a perseverance in Hope, as well as in Faith. Continue in the Faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the Hope of the Gospel which ye have heard.
Hope is the source of so much comfort, that one would suppose no persuasion were necessary to induce men to entertain it, whenever sufficient reasons appear to give it a foundation. It is indeed true, that in the things seen, Hope is, for the most part, sufficiently strong; but it is no less evidently true, that of the things not seen, we are too apt to despair. Our hope of these is at all times faint and languid, in comparison with the hope of worldly pleasure, worldly profit, and worldly honour.
But let us dare to ascend from this low orb, and penetrate the heavens. The objects which faith points out are, certainly, such as, when distinctly seen, must of necessity excite all the ardour of sanguine hope. We do not, indeed, indulge hope, when an object appears unlikely to be accomplished. Faith is necessary to produce Hope; but, when once it is produced, our happiness receives such an addition as no sublunary object can bestow. Hope gilds the prospect all around us, dispels every mist, and converts the vale of misery into a pleasant place.
Men of pleasure and of the world are very ready to discard the hopes excited by religion. Thus are they enemies to pleasure, which at the same time they profess to pursue. For the hope of immortality, and of enjoyments in a world where no moral or natural evil is to be found, as far exceeds all transient and terrestrial delights, as the son surpasses this little orb which man inhabits. Hope diffuses a perpetual sunshine over the mind; and causes the gentle virtues of cheerfulness, resignation, humility, and piety, to grow and flourish in it. He who entertains not the hope of a better world than this, will probably seek comfort in the trifles which this world possesses, and consequently involve himself in sin and misery. The dreadful effects of losing hope have been frequently seen in this country, where, to the disgrace of the national character, melancholy, and its bad consequences, have remarkably abounded.
But it will not be enough to entertain transient and occasional hopes, according to the fluctuation of fancy or humour. We learn from the text, that both our faith and hope are to be grounded and settled, that we are to continue in them, and not to be moved away from them. It is necessary therefore to add perseverance to our faith and hope, and it is particularly so in this age, when there is great danger that they may be shaken or destroyed by the writings of infidels and of gloomy philosophers, who arrogantly make their own reason the criterion of all that has been taught in the doctrines of Christianity.
To these let us show the neglect which they deserve. Let us turn away our ears and our eyes from their seducing and artful addresses. Let us cherish in our bosoms Faith, Hope, and Charity, and when the proud and vain philosopher shall be consigned to that despair of heavenly happiness which he voluntarily chose in this life, we shall find our hopes realized by the mercy of him in whom we believed and trusted. Faith and Hope, duly persevered in, even to the end, will make our existence in this world as full of comfort as it is capable of being; and gently conduct us to a world where there is no room for doubt, where we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but, in the actual presence of God, find our faith justified, and our hopes converted into certain and everlasting enjoyments.