- 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.
religion the chief concern of life.
Ecclesiastes xii. 13.—Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
A Great variety of guides is scarcely less distressing than the total want of them. There was a time when books and instructors were few, and men deviated from the road, because they were destitute of direction; but both these assistances abound in the present age, and yet the mistakes of mankind are equally numerous and detrimental. The choice is distracted; and false lights are frequently exhibited so like the true, that the traveller is often conducted to dangerous ground, while he imagines himself treading in the firm and safe road that terminates in felicity.
No tongue indeed can relate the variety of opinions, on the nature of man, on his duties, on his end, which, in various periods and countries, have been advanced by the contemplative. One doctrine contradicts another; and though none of them should be found true, yet most of them are specious and plausible. The studious and thoughtful may probably select from the heterogeneous mass, a consistent system. They may congratulate themselves on their discoveries, and even claim the praise of wisdom. But the studious and thoughtful constitute, comparatively speaking, but a small portion in the great mass of mankind. Their sublime Speculations, whatever effects they may produce upon themselves, are of little utility to the world at large. The poor, who have neither the advantages of education, nor the opportunities for study, stand in the greatest need of instruction. But will the labourer, the mechanic, and the husbandman, comprehend the elegant philosophy of an Athenian school? Indeed, it may be doubted, whether the refined theories of speculative morality produce any beneficial effect on their inventors and admirers; besides that of amusing them innocently, and preventing them from contracting vicious habits, or engaging in sordid practices. They are chiefly confined in their effects to the intellect; but that which is to regulate the conduct of mankind at large, the rude as well as the polished, must, at the same time, be addressed to the head, to the heart, to the understanding, to the imagination, and to the affections.
Happily for man, who previously to Revelation was wandering in a wilderness, a forlorn pilgrim, liable to be misled at every step by false or mistaken guides, an infallible direction has been vouchsafed, by a commiserating Deity. What philosophy in vain attempted, is accomplished by revealed religion. Fear God, and keep his commandments. The precept is short, but full. It is the essence of folios of morality compressed and concentered; the whole duty of man in a few words; the epitome of the law and gospel. The wandering bark of the mariner, which once knew no other guide than the dubious conduct of the stars often concealed by clouds, pursues, since the invention of the compass, a certain path in the great deep, and arrives, without any dangerous deviation, at the haven where she would be. Religion is the chart and compass for the guidance of the human soul in the pursuit of happiness, the chief good of the Christian philosopher, peace and confidence in this world, and an humble, but sanguine hope of a blessed resurrection.
The subject on which I now address you, is, of all those which fall under the notice of the human mind, undoubtedly the most momentous. What is this short life, those enjoyments which we snatch as we journey on our way, compared to the objects of Christianity? The dust in the balance, the drop in the ocean, the gossamer that floats in the air, are expressions scarcely strong enough to describe the vanity of all earthly things compared to heavenly. Then let me entreat you, as you regard yourselves, and your own souls, to listen to all salutary doctrines from this place, not with the cavilling spirit of literary or controversial critics, but with the seriousness of auditors deeply impressed with the importance of the subject offered to their consideration. How trifling is the praise of elegance compared to that of sincerity∗ Regard not the merit or demerit of the preacher, but regard yourselves; and suffer him, however inadequate, to be the mean instrument, under God, of contributing to your immortal happiness and your present tranquillity. Let others seek the graces of words, and please your ears by studied periods; be mine to affect and penetrate your hearts with the word of truth as it is in Jesus; that word, by which both he who ministers, and they who are ministered to, must stand or fall at the great tribunal.
If a prospect of advancement or of riches occurs to men, with what eagerness do they attend to it? The heart palpitates, the cheek is flushed, as possession or enjoyment approaches. In the morning and in the evening it returns, and occupies the first place in the thoughts. On the pillow devoted to repose, it keeps the eye open, and the bosom throbbing with anxiety. A small disappointment occasions a paroxysm of grief. Shame on human folly∗ In the midst of all this perturbation, not one thought on that, the neglect of which shall imbitter the pleasures of the world, sully its glories, and render all that opulence can bestow, or luxury desire, tasteless and disgustful.
Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. From these words I mean to inculcate the necessity of making religion the guide of our conduct, and to assert the importance of grace to every mortal under the canopy of heaven, above all that solicits desire, and paints itself, like a bubble blown by children, in gaudy colours to the imagination.
The irreligious usually shield themselves with effrontery, and attack the defenders of the faith with the shafts of ridicule. Many who have been accustomed from their youth upwards to the hourly pursuit of gain, and the sordid arts of preserving and augmenting it; many who have devoted every moment to the pursuit of civil rank or sensual pleasure, will be inclined to deride the doctrine which asserts that religion is of more consequence than any thing that ever entered into the heart to conceive. But their triumph will be short. The gaiety and ebullition of lively spirits will one day subside. Disease, disappointment, and the approach of death, will present them with a scene totally different from that which now dances, in all the brilliancy of a deceitful pageant, before their fascinated fancy. They will look back with shame and confusion on the years that are passed, never to return. They will then acknowledge the truth of that warning voice, which told them in their youth, how necessary it was to embrace with ardour the doctrines of religion; to fear God, and to keep his commandments. In the dejection of spirits which such circumstances must occasion, they will find themselves naturally impelled to hold up their arms, like the wailing infant to its mother, and seek comfort of Him, who can alone smooth the bed of sickness, and soften the horrors of approaching dissolution.
What then, it may probably be asked, is religion the principal business of human life? is it to occupy the chief place in our thoughts, and to employ a large share of our time? I answer in the affirmative. And do you, says the objector, recommend this to the man of fashion? I do. Will he not be laughed at ? Perhaps he may. Do you inculcate ideas so serious to youth, the happy period when gay ideas crowd upon the imagination? To that dangerous age, I recommend it more particularly, because it will heighten all the innocent pleasures of youth, and enable it to avoid all which are not innocent. Religion is indeed the only rational employment which can justify a constant and indefatigable attention in all the stages of human life.
If this representation be real, my situation, says the man of business and pleasure, is truly deplorable. The calls of my profession are so urgent, that, with all good, dispositions imaginable, I cannot find time for religious contemplation, or for the duties of a devot. Besides, I look into the world, and I find some of those who are most admired in it, who succeed best in the pursuit of its advantages, and who are esteemed not only just, but wise men also, totally regardless of religious offices, utterly unacquainted with the Holy Scriptures, perfect strangers at the church, immoral in their actions, and profane in their conversation. With such examples before me, I make myself easy, and attribute the words of the preacher to official necessity; the devotion of books, to the weakness of superstition. I have not indeed time to inspect the volumes of sacred or profane writers; but in my intercourse with the world, and its various characters, I find so many worthy and good kind of persons, who never attend to sacred things, that I am tempted to believe, one may fulfil every social duty without the least idea of religion.
Such is the apology, expressed or implied, of many individuals who support a decorous character, and imagine that they are in no respect objects of compassion. But they cannot be considered by the Christian, whose heart has been impregnated with the gracious influences of Heaven, in any other light than as deserving of charitable commiseration. They urge with supercilious severity of countenance the importunity of business. They talk of their concerns, as if they were of infinite importance; while in truth, however exalted may be their situation, their affairs are like the amusements of children, when compared to the employments of religious duty. And what is their excuse for their neglect, and what their security under the danger of it? They see other poor mortals exalted by the transient breath of popularity to great eminence of station or fame, who at the same time indicate every appearance of irreligion. But the favour of the people, and the enjoyment of prosperity are equivocal proofs of real virtue. The characters which they admire have probably consumed their whole time and attention in cultivating the arts of popularity. In their anxious endeavour to accomplish their selfish purposes, they have forgotten the God that made them; forgotten that immortal part of themselves, which, as it is not subjected to the notice of the external senses, too often passes unregarded. Such men are by no means models for imitation. They may possess great industry, habits of business, and many estimable qualities in active life; but their want of religious ideas is a defect which the most brilliant accomplishments can never compensate. Let me then conjure the fond admirers of virtuous grandeur, and of irreligious prosperity, to undeceive and disabuse their judgment, when they associate the idea of universal excellence with that of civil eminence, high rank in the profession of law, or in offices of state, popular favour, eloquence, or opulence. There is often more true greatness, that is, greatness of mind, in a cottage than in a palace.
But let us again hear the apology of the man of business and pleasure:
I own myself, says he, destitute of religious knowledge. I want the principles on which to proceed. I was educated in those accomplishments which contribute to facilitate the transaction of business, and at a very early age I entered upon its management. Every hour was engaged in active employment. I rose early, and went to bed wearied. I have indeed heard of the gospel and of Jesus Christ, but the doctrines taught by them are either entirely unknown, or known too imperfectly to produce any effect. Besides, I must confess, that my ideas on these subjects are not such as lead to a diligent study of them; for it was no uncommon topic of conversation among my companions, to ridicule the clergy, and the gravity of religion. I am prepossessed against the whole system; and though I have never bestowed on it the serious examination of a single hour, I am persuaded, with the fullest conviction, that he may be a very good and a very happy man, who leaves such matters to the management of those, to whom they professionally belong, and does not interfere.
To this one might venture to reply, that the representation is just, but the case pitiable. If, from the negligence or avarice of parents, you have been so unfortunate as to be engaged in the pursuit of gain, without a religious education; you ought, at your manly age, and when you can discover the defect, to endeavour to supply it. You will have the more merit in your efforts. The improvements you will make, will be all your own, under the favour of Divine Providence. Instead, therefore, of defending yourself in your present lamentable state, turn to the Lord and seek him diligently, and he shall be found. It is never too late to amend; sincere endeavours to retrieve the errors of youth, will seldom be found unsuccessful. God can always pardon, if you can truly repent.
You urge in your defence, that you have been used to hear the religion of Christianity ridiculed and reviled. But does it become a reasonable creature, in a subject of the first importance, to be determined by a jest; by the derision of those who are equally unwilling and unable to form a solid judgment? Ridicule is the weapon of the wicked; for they who are conscious of an inability to refute a doctrine by arguments, have recourse to the easier method of exposing it by laughter. Your case is indeed a common one, but not the less dangerous on that account. The majority, I am ready to believe, are enemies to religion on much the same grounds as yourself. They are prepossessed against it by the levity with which they find it treated in the conversation of the profane. Let me exhort you to exercise that reason which you claim as an honourable distinction ; and dare not to reject a system of the most momentous concern, with less examination than you would think it right to bestow on a trifling object of temporal advantage.
If you do not correct the errors of your youth, and remove the prejudices of evil example, so as to entertain a due sense of religion, I fear your state is most miserable; whatever honours or prosperity it may be your lot to enjoy, you are the object of pity rather than of envy. The hour is probably near, when you will yourself behold those things to which you are now violently attached, in such a light, as will cause them to appear worthless and contemptible.
Whoever has formed a just estimate of man, must be ready to acknowledge, that his evils are so great and numerous, of so frequent occurrence, as to require something capable of affording a source of perpetual consolation: I say of perpetual consolation, and I wish to impress the idea forcibly on your minds. Such is the instability of the most prosperous state, and so distressful the evils of ill health, the loss of friends, and the injuries of calumny, that it is necessary something should be found, capable of supporting the tottering fabric of happiness, every day and all day long, under every concussion.
But where shall we find any thing capable of supplying this perennial stream, this never-ceasing flow of the waters of comfort? Let the world and its doating admirers paint whatever charms they please, they have nothing to bestow that is able to afford any pleasure which is not in duration transitory, in fruition unsatisfactory. Men forsake the fountains of living water; and hew them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
For solid comfort we must have recourse to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the grace of God, the benign influence of the Holy Ghost. No one ever sought it there in faith and fervent piety, without finding it in abundance. Under all disappointments, misfortunes, and sorrows, and of these every child of man shall have his share, he who is actuated by the energies of a sincere devotion, will find a gleam of joy brightening the darkness which surrounds him, and a spark kindling in his bosom, warming, cherishing, and enlivening every vital chord that vibrates in his frame.
Nothing in this world is fully adequate to the wishes of the good man. He looks beyond the grave, and sees in store, by the eye of faith, such pure delights as cause every thing which is produced below to appear contemptible on comparison. Hope leads him by the hand through regions, which to others are regions of sorrow, but which to him are for the most part pleasant, and at all times tolerable.
A life conducted according to religious principles, is entirely different, both with respect to the degree and nature of its enjoyments, from one totally destitute of them. We are so constituted as seldom to acquiesce in present circumstances, however fortunate. We are always promising ourselves happiness in futurity; and the temper of our minds is usually moderated by the nature of the prospect before us. What a favourable influence then must it have on the general frame of our thoughts, to be always led oil by the rays of hope; a hope of a better world than this, where all defects shall be supplied, all doubts removed, all evils and inequalities in this life compensated by a share of happiness duly proportioned to our merits I Hope indeed is peculiarly the Christian's virtue and comfort. It arises from faith, and it produces comfort, such as no opulence can purchase, and no power on earth bestow.
If indeed a man sought little else than the enjoyment of a pure, refined, and most exalted pleasure, he would do wisely to contract a habit of devotion; for there are no pleasures superior in degree or duration to those which are felt by the devout. Call them imaginary, call them enthusiastic, though you will wrong them by the appellation, still they are delightful, and not to be sacrificed to the frigid wisdom of an unfeeling philosopher. There is a fervour in the performance of religious duties when they arise from a sincere heart, which is really a most exquisite sensation. It is a sensation in the bosom, far removed from any thing enthusiastical. It is warm, but not violent; it is zealous, but not unreasonable. It is then most pleasurable, as well as estimable, when confined by the salutary restraints of moderation.
It is certain, that however scoffers may ridicule the idea, a great part of mankind derive their purest and sweetest pleasures from the regular and devout performance of religious duties in the retirement of the closet. There, all-serene, self-collected, far removed from mortal eyes, and far from exhibiting any external appearances which can justify the imputation of hypocrisy, many a devotee enjoys delights more exalted, than the professed votary of pleasure ever knew in the wildest of his extravagant indulgences.
Let us then repeat, in the words of the text, the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
Comfortable declaration∗ Adieu now to all the distraction of philosophy, learning, and human wisdom; dom; and to the labyrinths of error and confusion. The darkness and embarrassment are no more; our duty is plainly pointed out, and confined within such limits as are easily comprehended. The whole duty, and consequently the whole happiness, of man, is comprised in the fear of God, and the observation of his commandments: plain obvious precepts, intelligible to every understanding, to all ranks, and requiring no other commentary than the virtuous sentiments of a good heart.
We may, we ought to give a subordinate attention to the business, and the innocent pleasures, of life. The duties of religion, properly understood and practised, interfere with no social, no real duty, in the actual conduct of civil, professional, or commercial employments. They sanctify all our actions, and give a dignity to the lowest occupations.
But there were some pious practices of our forefathers which, through a fear of being righteous overmuch, have been wholly neglected in these times, and in the circles of dissipated life. Such was that of pronouncing a blessing on the refreshments of a meal, or returning thanks to the Giver of all good things at the conclusion of it. This was a most becoming practice, and proceeding from the head of a family, frequently produced a happy effect on the lower branches. It might sometimes be performed with inattention, or mere formality; but yet it was not without a good consequence in general, and at particular times, in the seasons of grace, could scarcely fail of causing a sentiment of sincere devotion. It is to be hoped, that this venerable practice of our forefathers may be universally revived among the great, whose example will have force, while the admonition of the preacher is neglected.
Family prayers were much more common in the last century than in the present. There is, perhaps, no institution, among all the customs and practices of mankind, which produces a more beneficial effect, than the reading of fervent prayer in the presence of every part of a family. II is too evident to require pointing out, that it keeps alive a spirit of devotion. It secures one part of every day to pious thoughts, or at least to silence, and decent behaviour; a very desirable circumstance; for, in many families, the dissipation is so predominant, especially on the sabbath-day, that scarcely a member of them is able to secure a moment of quiet for the purpose of pious meditation. How excellent, how honourable, how irresistibly alluring, would be the examples of family prayer, in the houses of the first nobility, great officers of state, and all whose rank is apt to captivate the minds of the multitude∗ Laws and political regulations would not operate on the community half so powerfully as such an example. But, in the venerable mansions of our old nobility, the chapels are shut up, and the domestic chaplains discarded, or become merely nominal dependents, appointed for interest or form Sake.
Another practice which prevailed when scepticism had not gone forth among the rulers of the people, was the regular and devout reading of the Holy Scriptures; a practice, to neglect which habitually and entirely, seems to prove too plainly that the Scriptures are disbelieved. If men really thought that their best interest was concerned in understanding the Scriptures, is it to be imagined, that they would, neglect to look into them, not only for a time, but, as is too frequently the case, during the space of a long life? The man who is fully persuaded that his claim to a valuable estate entirely depends on certain writings and legal instruments, would be deemed imprudent in the extreme, if he were to refuse them an examination. There is, indeed, little danger of such refusal. He would inspect them himself with the closest attention; he would consult all those who are celebrated for their knowledge and judgment in the concerns of law. It is therefore a fair conclusion, that he who never looks into the Scriptures, disclaims their authenticity. Or if he is not quite an infidel, his omission argues that he is almost one; and no method is more efficacious in completing the character, than that of totally disregarding the Holy Scriptures, and the fine comments and discourses to which they have given occasion.
That excessive refinement which suggests an idea that the Scriptures are in a style which tends to vitiate the taste, is equally effeminate and impious. The Scriptures have been proved to contain most elegant passages, considered only in a classical view. And, of them who shall dare to say, that they are ashamed of the Gospel, on account of its style, I fear, Christ will be ashamed in the kingdom of heaven.
It was another of the pious practices of our ancestors, to bestow a certain sum annually on the poor. Many families, even among those who were far from a state of affluence, used to separate a considerable part of their income for eleemosynary purposes. It would be a misrepresentation of the age, to assert that great good is not done in affording relief to every kind of suffering; but a great part of the bounty appears to proceed from a philosophical benevolence, or a natural compassion, and not from Christian charity in its genuine acceptation. Motives, indeed, are not to be too scrupulously inquired into, while actions are found to be laudable. But no conduct can claim the praise of Christian virtue, which originates not from principles purely Christian. A savage can feel no less strongly a casual emotion, than the polished European. It is therefore proper to recommend the annual distribution of a fixed sum in alms, for the love of Christ, as it is called, that is, on Christian principles, and not to wait for the accidental incitements of a miserable object, or the fanciful sensations of a refined, but capricious benevolence.
The Christian religion, ever friendly to the friendless, is remarkable for recommending almsgiving. A great part of a Christian's duty consists in almsgiving. And, indeed, it not only conduces to the relief of the indigent, but is, at the same time, an evidence of sincerity. Most men are immoderately attached to self-interest and lucre. If they can be induced to give up a portion of their money, which they love with so irrational a predilection, on conscientious principles, it is a proof that they are not nominal Christians only, but are willing to consider that which is held in higher esteem than all other sublunary things, in a subordinate rank to the performance of the duties which Christianity prescribes. It is certain that there is no method of spending a part of our fortune, which can be so conducive to our real advantage.
And let me hope, that at the present season of Christian festivity, those, who possessing this world's goods, sit round their cheerful fires, and enjoy the very allowable pleasures of a plentiful table, will drop a few crumbs for the Lazaruses at their door; will send a portion of their good things to the cheerless habitation, where the faint ember seems but to mock the misery of the poor labourer, the sick wife, the aged matron, and the shivering children. Too modest to beg, and unable to labour from the inclemency of the season, or the infirmity of age and disease, open your hearts to them: open your coffers also, though the lock is nearly rusted with disuse, and the hinges are fixed through want of motion.
I know the poor, narrow excuse for neglecting almsgiving. There is a parish provision, and there is a house for the poor. But will this satisfy the true Christian? He pays, it is true, a considerable rate. The law compels him. But is his heart concerned in the payment? Charity must be voluntary. Give something more than you are compelled to give, for your own sake; to do yourself good. Select your objects: select the sick, the aged, the lying-in woman, when female weakness endures pains at which stoics would lose their apathy, and which every one who has a right to be called a Man, must be eager to relieve; and let not an over-nice virtue be too scrupulous about the morals of the object; too often a paltry excuse of avarice. Talk not too much of immaculate objects. All that are wretched are deserving of relief from wretched fellow-creatures. Forget their failings in their misery, and be not extreme to mark what they have done amiss, lest God, when he is about to distribute mercies to thee, should examine first into thy deservings. The more wicked, the more miserable, and the more the object of a Christian's compassion.
Let him who sincerely desires to revive, or to maintain a lively sense of religion, omit no opportunity of partaking of the blessed sacrament. He will experimentally find that it is a source of comfort; that it strengthens and refreshes the soul, in a manner not to be accurately described, though powerfully felt by the sincere believer. I will caution the pious Christian against too anxious a curiosity in examining this, or any other holy institution, which contains in it something of mystery. The safest method is to acquiesce in all received practices and opinions which do not evidently contradict both reason and Scripture. Faith implies a submission of the pride of human judgment. He who will not communicate till he has examined every particular respecting the sacrament with the eye of philosophy, will, it is probable, be too much elevated with the pride of reason, to be able to receive the sacrament with that awe, that sincerity and devotion, which are necessary to produce its best and most durable effect, Growth in Grace.
But the performance of these ordinances will not be sufficient to promote a due degree of Christian perfection. Private meditation, and sincere piety in the closet, are absolutely necessary to raise and preserve the ardour of religion. Without some degree of ardour, I fear, religion will be ineffectual to secure salvation. The coolness which many controversialists have displayed in the essential concerns of religious duty, while they have treated each other with unchristian virulence, is a circumstance which raises in the mind a suspicion of insincerity. When religion is considered merely as a science, it seems to extend its influence no further than the schools, and to possess no power over life and conversation.
Dismiss that frigid, languid, and cold reserve, which would disgrace an honest heart in the common transactions of human life. Let our bosoms glow with devotion. The love of God, the love of our fellow-creatures, the love of our duty in general, and the love of every thing excellent, must partake that warmth which is characteristic of all sincere affection, or how can it be denominated Love∗
Let us then devoutly pray to the God of mercy to open, to warm, to melt our hearts by the influence of his Holy Spirit. May he vouchsafe that refreshing influence on all who are assembled within these walls, on him who preaches, and on them who hear∗ May he not only inspire us with a taste for devotional pleasure, but strengthen, as well as warm, our minds, and give us resolution to practise the duties, while we love and adore the excellence of religion∗ May we never forget, that the natural consequence of a sincere fear and love of God, is to keep his commandments∗ Without an earnest endeavour to give this proof of our religion, I fear we shall, with too much justice, incur the imputation of hypocrisy, or irrational enthusiasm.
And here let me be pardoned, if I trespass on your time in adverting to the season of the year. It suggests reflections which tend, in a peculiar manner, to enforce religious instruction. The reflections on the commencement of the new year are, indeed, such as arise spontaneously in the mind of every man of thought and sensibility. The silent, yet rapid, lapse of time, the shortness of life, are common topics; but though information may be superfluous, admonition may be useful. The most important truths, because they are obvious, pass unnoticed; like the great source of light and heat, which rises and shines on many who never admire the glorious luminary.
One year more we have just closed. It is gone irrevocably, as the years before the deluge. How many important and unexpected events have happened in it∗ Let us pause a moment in the retrospect. How many of our friends and relatives have finished their course in it, and now sleep with their fathers∗ And whether all of us, who are now assembled here in health, shall live to meet again at the commencement of another year, is known only to him, to whom the past, present, and future are expanded in one unbounded scene. The probability is, that some of us shall fall asleep; that, many changes in health, many vicissitudes of fortune, may take place; that our sorrow may be turned into joy, and our joy into sorrow. Such are the probabilities.
It is certain that this world is passing away from us rapidly. You see this in the book of Nature; how soon shall the rose-bud be full blown, and then wither and fall to the ground. Year after year glides away, too often without reflection. Of nothing do we take so little notice, as of the few years we have to live. We see a long perspective—an extensive view—drawn by the flattering pencil of Hope ; but we see not the pit-falls that lie under our feet; and while we are looking at a distance, we sink, and are seen no more.
In this state of instability, walking on the brink of a precipice, how shall we fix our troubled minds; where find rest to our weary feet; on what shall we anchor the frail bark? On the firm ground of religion. Let every year advance us more nearly to Heaven, as it brings us nearer to our dissolution. Fear God, and keep his commandments. Plain, unrefined, but solid and substantial, advice∗ Keep it with anxious solicitude, and beware of that philosophy and indifference which are prevailing in the land, diffusing misery of all kinds, and terminating in madness and suicide. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for as this is the whole duty, so it is the whole happiness of man.