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men have been left to their own reason, neither every one hath taught himself, nor the wiser part of the world taught the rest, even these plain things; so as to produce any steady regard to them, as duties, or even any settled conviction of them, as truths. And for want of it, sin and misery have prevailed every where. Men have made others and themselves wretched in numberless ways; and often doubly wretched by the reflections of their own hearts; knowing they had done ill, and not knowing how to be sure of pardon.
Foreseeing from eternity these dreadful consequences of human ignorance and wickedness, God provided suitable remedies of instruction and grace; which he notified to the world from time to time, as his own unsearchable wisdom saw would be fittest; increasing the light gradually, until it shone out in the full day of Christianity. But revelation, as well as reason, hath been given in vain to a great part of mankind. The propagation of it through the earth hath been strangely neglected; in many places, where it hath been received, it hath been lost again; and in too many, where it is retained, it is grievously corrupted and obscured. Without question, we ought to judge as charitably as we can of all who are in any of the same conditions; but at the same time we ought, from the bottom of our hearts, to thank God that none of them is our own. Undoubtedly he is and will be gracious to all his creatures, as far as they are fit objects; but it is "the riches of "5 that he hath bestowed on us; and grace, as, with justice, he might dispose of his own free gifts as he pleased, so, in mercy, he hath conferred a large proportion of them on this nation and age. Blessings, that are common and familiar, though indeed much the greater for that, are usually but
(5) Eph. i. 7. ii. 7.
little regarded. And thus, amongst other things, the opportunities that we enjoy of religious knowledge, it may be feared, are often very lightly esteemed. But would we reflect, how much less means of being acquainted with the duties of this life, and the rewards of another, not only the unenlightened heathen world, but the Jews, the people of God, had formerly; and much the greatest part even of Christians have had for numbers of successive generations, and have still, than we; it would make us feel, that our Saviour's words belong to us also: "Verily, I say unto you, "that many Prophets and righteous men have "desired to see those things which ye see, and "have not seen them; and to hear those things "which ye hear, and have not heard them. But "blessed are our eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear." 6
But then, and for the sake of God and our souls, let us observe it; if "seeing we see not, and hear"ing we hear not "7 to the only good purpose of life, that of becoming in heart and in practice such as we ought; "better had it been for us, not to "have known the ways of righteousness, than, "after we have known it, to turn from the holy "commandment delivered unto us." 8 "For unto "whomsoever much is given, of him shall much
be required. The servant, that knew his lord's "will, and prepared not himself, neither did ac"cording to his will, shall be beaten with many "stripes; he that knew it not, with few."9 But take noiice; he that in comparison with others, may be said not to know the will of God, knows enough of it however to subject him, if he fails of doing it, to future punishment; "to be beaten "with stripes." Not even a heathen sinner therefore shall escape entirely by his ignorance; much
(6) Matt. xiii. 16, 17. (7) Matt. xiii. 13. (8) 2 Pet. ii. 21. (9) Luke xii. 47, 48.
less will that plea excuse a Christian; but least of all can those Christians hope for mercy, who hear the word of God preached to them weekly; have it in their hands and may read it daily; and yet transgress it; "Verily, I say unto you, it shall be "more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the "day of judgment," than for such persons.
Let no one argue from hence, that knowledge then is no blessing. For the more we know of our Maker and our duty, the better we are qualified to be good in this world, and happy in the next.' And we can never be worse for it, unless we will, by making either no use, or a bad use of it. Nor let any one imagine, that, though we need not be the worse for our knowledge, yet since we may, ignorance is the safer choice; as what will excuse our sins, if not entirely, yet in a great measure. But let us all remember, it is not pretended, but real, ignorance; nor even that, unless we could not help it, that will be any plea in our favour. Wilful, or even careless ignorance, is a great sin itself; and therefore can never procure us pardon for the other sins which it may occasion. What should any of us think of a servant, who kept out of the way of receiving his master's orders, purposely because he had no mind to do them? Nay, supposing him only through negligence, not to understand the business that he was required to learn and follow, would this justify him? Would it not be said, that what he might and ought to have known, it was his own fault if he did not know? And what do we think of God, if we hope to impose on him with pleas that will not pass amongst ourselves?
Fix it in your hearts then the first indispensable duty of man is, to learn the will of his Maker: the next, to do it; and nothing can excuse you
(1) Mark vi. 11.
from either. Attend, therefore, diligently on all such means of instruction, as God's providence gives you; especially the public instruction of the church, which, having expressly appointed for you, he will assuredly bless to you; provided you observe our Saviour's most important direction, "Take heed how you hear."2 For on that depends whether the preaching of the Gospel shall be life or death to you." 993 One it must be ; and these very Lectures, amongst other things, which have been truly intended for your eternal good, will prove, if you apply them not to that end, what God forbid they should, a means of increasing your future condemnation. Be entreated therefore, to consider very seriously what you are taught; for be there ever so much of the weakness of man in it, there is the power of God unto salvation, unless you hinder it yourselves. Never despise, then, the meanest of your instructors; and never think of admiring the ablest; but remember that your business is, neither to applaud nor censure other persons' performances; but to improve your own hearts, and mend your own lives. Barely coming and hearing is nothing. Barely being pleased, and moved, and affected, is nothing. It is only minding and doing the whole of our duty, not some part of it alone, that is any thing.
Knowing the words of your Catechism is of no other use, than to preserve in your memories the things which those words express. Knowing the meaning of your Catechism ever so well, in every part, is of no other use than to put you on the performance of what it teaches. And performing some things ever so constantly or zealously, will not avail, without a faithful endeavour to perform every thing. Have it always in your thoughts therefore, that practice, uniform practice, is the
(2) Luke viii. 18.
(3) 2 Cor. ii. 16.
one thing needful. Your knowledge may be very low and imperfect, your faith not very clear and distinct; but however poorly you are capable of furnishing your heads; if your hearts and lives be good, all is well.
But here, I pray you, observe further, that as it is not in understanding and believing, so it is not in devotion merely, that religion consists. The common duties of common life make far the greatest part of what our Maker expects of us. be honest and sober, and modest and humble, and good tempered and mild, and industrious and useful, in our several stations, are things to which all persons are as much bound, as they can be to any thing: and when they proceed from a principle of conscience towards God, and are offered up to him, as our bounden duty, through Jesus Christ, are as true and acceptable a service to him, as either our attendance at church, or our prayers in retirement at home. And they, who abound in these latter duties, and neglect any of the former, only disgrace religion, and deceive themselves.
Yet understand me not, I beg you, to speak slightly of devotion, eitheir private or public. On the contrary, I recommend both to you most earnestly; for our immediate duty to God is the highest of all duties, "the first and great com"mandment" of natural religion; and the payment of due and distinct regards to the Father Almighty, to his blessed Son, and holy Spirit, of course obtains an equal rank in revelation. In particular I recommend it to you, not to omit coming to evening prayers, because now these Lectures will be discontinued. Joining in God's worship, and hearing his holy word read to you, is always a sufficient, and should always be the principal
(4) Matt. xxii. 38.