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Christians, stand confessed the sons of perdition; as far from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them!) as the depth of hell from the height of heaven.
9. For this reason the Adversary so rages, whenever "Salvation by Faith "is declared to the world: for this reason did he stir up earth and hell, to destroy those who first preached it. And for the same reason, knowing that Faith alone could overturn the foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and employ all his arts of lies and calumny to affright that champion of the Lord of Hosts, Martin Luther, from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat; for, as that man of God observes, "How would it enrage a proud strong man armed, to be stopped and set at nought by a little child coming against him with a reed in his hand?" Especially, when he knew that little child would surely overthrow him, and tread him under foot. Even so, Lord Jesus! Thus hath thy strength been ever "made perfect in weakness!" Go forth then, thou little child that believest in him, and "his right hand shall teach thee terrible things!" Though thou art helpless and weak as an infant of days, the strong man shall not be able to stand before thee. Thou shalt prevail over him, and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him under thy feet. Thou shalt march on, under the great Captain of thy Salvation, "conquering, and to conquer," until all thine enemies are destroyed, and "death is swallowed up in victory."
Now, thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, for ever and ever. Amen.
THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN:
ST. MARY'S, OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
ON JULY 25, 1741.
"Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Acts xxvi. 28. AND many there are who go thus far: ever since the Christian Religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation, who were "almost persuaded to be Christians." But seeing it avails nothing before God, to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider,
First, What is implied in being almost;
Secondly, What in being altogether a Christian.
I. (I.) 1. Now, in the being almost a Christian is implied, first, Heathen Honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question of this; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean, not that which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers only, but such as the common heathens expected one of another, and many of them actually practised. By the rules of this they were taught, that they ought not to be unjust; not to take away their neighbour's goods, either by robbery or theft; not to oppress the poor, neither to use extortion toward any; not to cheat or over-reach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them; to defraud no man of his right; and, if it were possible, to owe no man any thing. 2. Again, the common heathens allowed, that some regard was to be paid to truth as well as to justice. And, accordingly, they not only held him in abomination, who was forsworn, who called God to witness to a lie; but him also, who was known to be a slanderer of his neighbour, who falsely accused any man. And, indeed, little better did they esteem wilful liars of any sort, accounting them the disgrace of human kind, and the pests of society.
3. Yet, again, there was a sort of love and assistance, which they expected one from another. They expected, whatever assistance any one could give another, without prejudice to
himself. And this they extended not only to those little offices of humanity, which are performed without any expense or labour, but likewise, to the feeding the hungry, if they had food to spare; the clothing the naked, with their own superfluous raiment; and, in general, the giving, to any that needed, such things as they needed not themselves. Thus far, in the lowest account of it, heathen honesty went, the first thing implied in the being almost a Christian.
(II.) 4. A second thing implied in the being almost a Christian, is, the having a Form of Godliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the Gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly, the Almost Christian does nothing which the Gospel forbids. He taketh not the name of God in vain: he blesseth and curseth not: he sweareth not at all, but his communication is yea, yea; nay, nay. He profanes not the day of the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger that is within his gates. He not only avoids all actual adultery, fornication, and uncleanness, but every word or look, that either directly or indirectly tends thereto; nay, and all idle words, abstaining both from all detraction, backbiting, tale-bearing, evil-speaking, and from "all foolish talking and jesting,”—evтęzñekiz, a kind of virtue in the heathen moralist's account;-briefly, from all conversation that is not "good to the use of edifying," and that, consequently, "grieves the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption."
5. He abstains from "wine wherein is excess;" from revellings and gluttony. He avoids, as much as in him lies, all strife and contention, continually endeavouring to live peaceably with all men. And, if he suffers wrong, he avengeth not himself, neither returns evil for evil. He is no railer, no brawler, no scoffer, either at the faults or infirmities of his neighbour. He does not willingly wrong, hurt, or grieve any man; but in all things acts and speaks by that plain rule, "Whatsoever thou wouldest not he should do unto thee, that do not thou to another."
6. And, in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. In spite of toil or pain," Whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth it with all his might;" whether it be for his friends, or for his cuemies; for the evil or for the good. For, being not slothful in this, or
in any business, as he hath opportunity he doeth good, all manner of good to all men; and to their souls as well as their bodies. He reproves the wicked, instructs the ignorant, confirms the wavering, quickens the good, and comforts the afflicted. He labours to awaken those that sleep; to lead those whom God hath already awakened to the Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, that they may wash therein and be clean; and to stir up those who are saved, through faith, to adorn the Gospel of Christ in all things.
7. He that hath the form of Godliness, uses also the means of grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. He constantly frequents the house of God; and that, not as the manner of some is, who come into the presence of the Most High, either loaded with gold and costly apparel, or in all the gaudy vanity of dress, and either by their unseasonable civilities to each other, or the impertinent gaiety of their behaviour, disclaim all pretensions to the form, as well as to the power of godliness. Would to God there were none even among ourselves who fall under the same condemnation: who come into this house, it may be, gazing about, or with all the signs of the most listless, careless indifference, though sometimes they may seem to use a prayer to God for his blessing on what they are entering upon; who, during that awful service, are either. asleep, or reclined in the most convenient posture for it; or, as though they supposed God was asleep, talking with one another, or looking round, as utterly void of employment. Neither let these be accused of the form of godliness. No; he who has even this, behaves with seriousness and attention, in every part of that solemn service. More especially when he approaches the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or careless behaviour, but with an air, gesture, and deportment, which speaks nothing else, but "God be merciful to me a sinner."
8. To this, if we add the constant use of family prayer, by those who are masters of families, and the setting times apart. for private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness of behaviour; he who uniformly practises this outward religion, has the form of godliness. There needs but one thing more in order to his being almost a Christian, and that is, Sincerity.
(III.) 9. By sincerity, I mean a real, inward principle of Religion from whence these outward actions flow. And, indeed, if we have not this, we have not heathen honesty; no, not so much of it as will answer the demand of a heathen
Epicurean poet. Even this poor wretch, in his sober intervals, is able to testify,
Oderunt peccare bont, virtutis amore;
Oderunt peccare malı, formidine pœnæ .*
So that, if a man only abstains from doing evil in order to avoid punishment, Non pasces in cruce corvos, † saith the Pagan; there, "Thou hast thy reward." But even he will not allow such a harmless man as this, to be so much as a good heathen. If then, any man, from the same motive, viz., to avoid punishment, to avoid the loss of his friends, or his gain, or his reputation, should not only abstain from doing evil, but also do ever so much good; yea, and use all the means of grace; yet we could not, with any propriety, say, this man is even almost a Christian. If he has no better principle in his heart, he is only a hypocrite altogether.
10. Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied in the being almost a Christian; a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will: it is necessarily implied, that a man have a sincere view of pleasing God in all things; in all his conversation ; in all his actions; in all he does, or leaves undone. This design, if any man be almost a Christian, runs through the whole tenor of his life. This is the moving principie, both in his doing good, his abstaining from evil, and his using the ordinances of God.
11. But here it will probably be inquired, Is it possible, that any man living should go so far as this, and nevertheless, be only almost a Christian? What more than this can be implied, in the being a Christian altogether? I answer, first, that it is possible to go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian, I learn, not only from the Oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of experience.
12. Brethren, great is "my boldness towards you in this behalf." And "forgive me this wrong," if I declare my own folly upon the house-top, for yours and the Gospel's sake.-Suffer me, then, to speak freely of myself, even as of another man. I am content to be abased, so ye may be exalted, and to be yet more vile, for the glory of my Lord.
13. I did go thus far for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a
Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue: Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment. + Thou shalt not be hanged.