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sleep? Is this a proper situation to be dreaming about gains and pleasures, and advantages, which will all cease and perish with us, whilst death and judgment, and the sentence of God Almighty at the last day, are unthought of and neglected ?
It is a practice with many, in the arrangement of their worldly concerns, to settle at every year's end their accounts, to inquire how their affairs stand, to see what improvement they have made, as well as what faults and mistakes they have committed ; to know whether they go backwards or forwards, wherein they chiefly fail, what they are to set to rights, and how they may proceed with more safety and advantage the next year. This is a general thing, and a good thing; insomuch as they who do not use something of this sort seldom, I think, thrive or succeed well. Now I would earnestly recommend a similar proceeding in our religious concerns. sure there is infinitely greater reason for it; because our being saved or perishing everlastingly is of infinitely greater consequence to every one of us than any other thing we can possibly gain or lose here. Now this being the case, I cannot employ the remainder of this discourse better than by suggesting such topics for this annual selfexamination as may appear most necessary and most important to be inquired into.
And first, I would speak to those who are sunk in habits of sottishness and sensuality; who have given themselves up to a life of drunkenness, debauchery, riot, and disorder, which, if the bible can be depended upon, must, without a sincere repentance and reformation, bring your souls to final destruction. We adjure, we warn, and admonish you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, trust not to another year. You may not live through this. Amuse not yourselves with false calculations of long life. Old age is the lot of few, of very few indeed; not of one in a thousand who addict themselves to these things, to vice and unlawful courses. You suppose you shall be alive at the beginning of next year. You will have the same work to do as at this. You will have less ability, less inclination, more confirmed habits, more tyrannical propensities to conquer. To repent to any purpose, you will have greater difficulty, greater pain, greater struggles. What ground is there to expect that if your resolutions yield now, they should be able to stand steadfast then?
In the second place, let me address a word to such as have spent the last year, and their past life, in a total neglect and forgetfulness of all religious concerns; who may be truly said to sleep in darkness and insensibility. Consider the time. Another year is gone; a sixth or a seventh part of the whole, you can reckon your lives worth, is just departed. Open your eyes to the light. Awaken to a sense of your situation, to a knowledge of what you are, and whither you are going. It is your own affair, your own interest. Your own welfare and salvation are at stake. Things you find, do come to pass. The silent but irresistible progress of time brings events home, which you have been accustomed to regard as at a vast distance. Perhaps one, certainly a few, of such years as that which is gone, will bring you to death and to judgment, whether you have thought of these things or not.
The exhortation to other Christians I would found upon the principle, that the true Christian's life is a state of continual progress ; a constant growing in grace; a gradual amendment of ourselves, either by shaking off bad qualities or acquiring good ones, or most commonly and most naturally by both together. Now in this view, what has the last year done for us? What virtues have we planted in our hearts? What vices have we exterminated ? Have we gone backwards or forwards? Is our moral character better or worse? Have we fought a good fight? Have we practised a steady opposition to the enemies of our salvation, to the allurements of the world, the flesh and the devil? If we have gained one point, if we have advanced one step, if we perceive the smallest improvement in our principles and conduct, it is a high encouragement to quicken our speed, to redouble our endeavours. The hill which we climb is steepest at the bottom.
The first advances in the way of virtue, are most slow and most laborious. Let us not faint or desist. We shall soon add virtue to virtue, cut down one vice after another. We shall, ere long, begin to taste and to relish the satisfaction, the joys, the hopes of religion.
On the other hand, if we find that we are sinking more and more under temptation, our good principles daily giving way, our old sins grown more confirmed and irresistible, and new ones making their appearance in us, it is time to take the alarm. Another such year may ruin us for everlasting. Our case will bear no delay. We must set about it immediately, if we intend it at all, with firmness, with resolution, with perseverance. Let us then search out our condition to the bottom. Have we the last year managed our earthly affairs with scrupulous honesty, and truth, and fair dealing ? or have we in any instance, for the sake of any advantage to ourselves, taken in, overreached, or gone beyond any man? Have our transgressions and tresspasses, as to sobriety and purity, been more or
less frequent this last year than heretofore? Are we growing better in this respect, or worse? How shall we better withstand temptation for the future? or what course shall we take to avoid it? Do we feel more or less frequently, fits of anger, rage, and passion ? Have we striven against them? Have we striven to any purpose? In what degree have we conquered or corrected them? or how shall we set about to do it? Are peevishness, envy, discontent, strife, malice, hatred, covetousness, more or less rise and strong in our hearts of late than they used to be? What evil actions, what evil speakings have they of late put us upon ? What quarrels, what contentions have they drawn us into ? Have we endeavoured to get the better of these evil passions ? Have our endeavours been successful ? Have they been sincere and continued? Do we feel peace, and quietness and humility, and good nature, and good will ? Have any impressive and lively lessons been spreading and gaining ground on our hearts ? In a word, has the past year been distinguished by any virtuous acts and virtuous endeavours, any bad habits broken and got the better of, any good rule of living begun?
I trust, and I believe, that many of us will find in the review of the past, enough to comfort and encourage us. Many no doubt will find much to mortify, much to abase, much to humble them ; but we shall all find enough to be done for the future.
Let us then awake out of sleep. Let us set about the reformation of our lives immediately. Let a new year begin a new course. Let us reflect that a year more is now gone ; the time is far spent ; that now is our salvation drawing nearer; that a single year brings us nearer to the awful trial when our destiny will be fixed; nearer, not by a small and inconsiderable degree, but by a very serious and substantial portion of the whole term which we, any of us, reasonably expect to live.
2 CHRONICLES XX. 13.
And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and
In a great and solemn act of national devotion, which was held during the pious reign of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, upon the occasion of a public danger which then threatened their country, we read that Judah gathered themselves together to ask help of the Lord; even out of all the cities of Judah, they came to seek the Lord.
Had we read no more than that Judah was gathered together, we should have been led perhaps to conclude that the assembly was made up of the king, the magistrates, and the priesthood; the heads of tribes, the masters of families, the principal persons, the aged, or at the lowest, the adult, inhabitants of the country. But the words of the text, which have been read to you, convey a more circumstantial, and, I think, very observable account of this great religious concourse. By them we are distinctly told, that not only those whom we have before enumerated formed the congregation which stood before the Lord, but that, together with the great body of the Jewish nation, were present also their little ones, their wives, and their children. This is a direct and decisive example for the proof of the following points; namely, the propriety and the duty of bringing children to the public worship of God, as an act of piety and devotion on the part of those who bring them. It is an example also of very high authority, and of an authority which is strengthened by every circumstance in the history. The assembly appears to have been held in pursuance of the prayer of Solomon, many ages before, that when any distress should overtake the nation, they should find their refuge in the protection of their God, when they sought it in his Temple. This prayer was accepted; and it was particularly remembered upon the occasion of which we are now discoursing. “If, when evil cometh upon us,' say they, “as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house and thy presence, for thy name is in this house, and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help.'
Afterwards it is related, as we have remarked, who they were that stood before that house and in God's presence; even all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.' Now the little ones and the children were there, not probably for any knowledge they could be supposed to have of the nature or extremity of the public danger, nor consequently for any part they could immediately and personally take in the subject or the devotion of the meeting, but as a proof and expression, an act and testimony of the public piety, and of the particular piety of those who brought them thither.
The service was accepted by that Being to whom it was addressed. The manner of it therefore, was such as he approved. • Thou wilt hear,' they said, and help.' God did hear and help them most effectually; their enemies were smitten and overthrown; the very people who had thus assembled in terror and supplication, returned soon after to Jerusalem to bless the Lord who had delivered them
Whether, therefore, we regard the solemnity or the effect of this religious act, we see in it a pattern for our imitation, because we see in it that which, it is evident from the consequence, was favorably received by the God of Israel, who is our God, as he is of the whole human race. And indeed, what act of piety can be more natural or more becoming, than to draw out in the presence of God, and to bring forward in his service, the youth of the country, whom his providence has given and committed to our care? It is an act, as hath already been observed, which doth not simply respect them, but us; it is our piety, rather than theirs. It is but little that the best can do towards testifying their gratitude to the supreme Benefactor, their love, their zeal, their reverence. I mean, that it is very little when compared with the immensity of the obligation, the dignity of his nature, the sense of our dependence. What therefore we can, we ought. What, however imperfect, he has been pleased to approve; what, however unworthy of him, he has condescended to accept, we surely should be willing to imitate, we should rejoice to pay. When their parents brought young children to Christ that he should touch them, the action was very graciously received by him. He showed manifestly, as well by his behaviour as by his discourse upon the occasion, that he approved of what was done ; but it was not the children's piety. They were ignorant and unconscious of what was passing; yet did not this hinder our Lord from being pleased with the service. It was the service, thought, and piety of those who brought the children, and not the children's