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To the young Persons belonging to the Dissenting Congregations at Hinckley,
Harborough, and Kibworth in Leicestershire, and at Ashley, and Northampton.
MY DEAR BRETHREN AND FRIENDS, At length, after a long and unexpected delay, 1 offer to your perusal a few sermons which I promised the public some years ago; all which some or other of you heard, and in which you are all concerned.
It is not material to tell you, on what account I have laid by some, which I had transcribed for your service, and which you probably expected to have seen with these. I have substituted in their room such, as. I thought might, by the divine blessing, be most useful to you.
I hope you will peruse them with candor; and the rather, considering they were prepared for the press chiefly in some broken moments, while I was on journies, or in some fragments of time at home, often taken from my sleep; as the stated duties of my calling require an attendance, which will not allow of any long interruption. You would readily excuse what defects you may discover in them, if you knew that tender concern for your present and future happiness, by which every sermon, and every page has been dictated. They have often been mingled with prayers and with tears; and my beart is so full of affection to you, that it is with great difficulty that I forbear enlarging, more than the proper limits of such an address will admit.
As for you, my Leicestershire friends, amongst whom my ministry was opened, and the first years of it were delightfully spent, I cannot forget, and I hope you have not forgotten, that intimate and pleasing friendship, with which we were once almost daily conversing; the sweet counsel we have often taken together in private, as well as the pleasure with which we have gone to the house of Godin company. All these sermons, but the second and fitth of them, were first drawn up for your service, and preached to you; and much of that tenderness for you, which gave birth to them, has been rising afresh in my mind, while I have been taking this review of them. I hope they were not then like water unprofitably spilt on the ground, and that the perusal of them may revive impressions made by the first hearing. Intermediate years have introduced new scenes; and some of us, who were then in the morning of life, are now risen up to the meridian of it. Providence has conducted many of you into new relations; and it is my pleasure to observe, in how honourable and how useful a manner several of you are filling them up with their proper duties.
While you are yourselves instances of the happy consequences which attend a religious education, I hope you will be singularly careful, that your descendants may share in the like advantages; and I shall heartily rejoice, if these sermons, or those I bave formerly published, may be of any assistance to you in those pious cares. God bas put an early period to the lives of some, who, when I was amongst you, were the growing hopes of the respective congregations to which they belonged. Several of them have died while these sermons were transcribing. May the thought quicken you in the improvement of so uncertain a life; and may divine grace render some things, peculiarly intended for the use of those who are now beyond the reach of such an address, serviceable to others, into whose hands they may fall!
I greatly rejoice in the goodness of God to you, in setting over you such able and faithful shepherds, as those worthy ministers of Christ, under whose care you now are; and I heartily pray, that you and they may long be spared, as comforts to
each other, and as blessings to the church. Though I am providentially separated from you, may I still hear that you walk worthy of the Lord; and may every advance ing year, and revolving day of life, ripen us more for that happiness, which we hope ere long to share with each other, in the house of our heavenly Father!
If any of you, who were once my care and my bope, have now forsaken the ways and the God of your fathers, and turned aside to the paths of licentiousness and folly, I now repeat the admonitions which I have formerly given you, that these things till, to you above all others, be bitterness in the end. And I intreat you, that if you bave any little regard still remaining, for one, to whom some of you have professed not a little, you would at least attentively peruse the sixth of these discourses, as containing reflections, which must, sooner or later, pierce your hearts, with penitential remorse, or everlasting despair. Oh, that divine grace might concur with it to prevent your ruin, and might give me to see you as wise, as religious, and as happy, as those excellent parents once wished you, whose eyes are now closed in the dust; whose precepts and examples, charges and tears, you seem long since to have forgot!
As for you, my dear friends here at home, I have the pleasure of conversing so often with you, that it is the less necessary now to address you at large. Yet it is but justice to you thus publicly to declare, that, amidst all that goodness and mercy, which has followed me all my days, there is no providence, which I more gratefully own, than that which brought me hither; nor does any thing contribute more to make my ministry here comfortable, than the spirit of seriousness which discovers itself in many young persons amongst us. Oh, that it were as universal as in some it is amiable and exemplary! Permit me to remind you, that, as your remarkable importunity was the consideration, which turned the scales for my coming hither, after they had long hovered in uncertainty, so you are under some peculiar obligations to study the ease and comfort of my life, which you can never so effectually secure, as by the holy regularity of your own. Our aged friends are dropping away apace; nay, the graves have swallowed up many, very many of your own age, who, but a few months ago, promised long and extensive usefulness here. It is you that are to comfort me under these sorrows. I can solemnly say, that I had much rather be numbered amongst them, than live to see the glory of practical religion lost in this society, while it is under my care. Remember, that, under God, you are its support; and remember, that the high hopes you have given me, would make a disappointment sit so much the heavier upon my heart.
But I will not conclude with any thing so uncomfortable, as the mention of a disappointment from you; but rather with recommending you, and those to whom I have formerly stood in the like relation, to the care of Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and to the influence of that gracious Spirit, who can cause you to grow in know. ledge and picty like the grass, and like willoses by the water-courses. A generous friend* is intending some of you a present of that course of sermons, which I am now preaching on the Power and Grace of Christ, and the evidences of his glorious gospel; and it much sweetens the labour of preparing them for the press, to reflect, that they are in part intended for your service. I hope you will not forget to pray for all that appear concerned for your spiritual edification and eternal happiness, and inore especially for
Your most affectionate
and faithful friend and servant,
Northampton, Dec, 30,1734.
* William Coward, Esq.