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stered the knowledge and skill of one of the most difficult professions, in which they have afterwards proved great and eminent.
And some, in the full career of a wicked course, have, by a sudden thought and resolution raised in them, and allisted by a mighty grace of God, taken up presently, and made an immediate change from great wickedness and impiety of life, to a very exemplary degree of goodness and virtue.
The two great encouragements to virtue which Pythagoras gave to his fcholars, were these : and they were worthy of so great a philosopher. First, “Chufe always « the best course of life, and custom will soon make it « the most pleasant.” The other was this, That “power « and necessity are neighbours, and never dwell far from “ one another.” When men are pressed by a great necessity, when nature is spurred up and urged to the utmost, men discover in themselves a power which they thought they had not; and find at last that they can do that which at first they despaired of ever being able to do.
4. The grace and assistance of God, when sincerely fought, is never to be despaired of. So that if we do but heartily, and in good carnest, resolve upon a better course, and implore the help of God's grace to this purpose, no degree of it that is necessary shall be wanting to us. And here is our chief ground of hope : for we are weak and unstable as water; and when we have taken up good resolutions, do easily start from them. So that fresh supplies, and a continued assistance of God's grace, is necelfary to keep up the first warmth and vigour of our resolutions, till they prove effectual and victorious. And this grace God hath promised he will not deny to us when we are thus disposed for it; that he will give his Holy Spirit to them that ask it ; that he will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed, until he bring forth judgment unto victory.
All that now remains is, to apply this to ourselves. And we are all concerned in it: for we shall all find ourselves comprehended under one of these three heads : either we are of the number of those few happy persons, who, by the influence and advantage of a good educati-
on, were never engaged in a bad course; or of those who have been drawn into yice, but are not yet far gone in it; or of those who have been long accustomed to an evil course, and are grown old and stiff in it. - 1. The first of these have great cause to thank God for this singular felicity, that they were never insnared and intangled in vitious habits; that they have not had the trial of their own weakness under this miserable slavery ; that they never knew what it was to be out of their own power, to have lost their liberty, and the government of themselves. When we hear of the miserable servitude of the poor Christians in Turky, we are apt, as there is great reason, to pity them; and to think what a blessing of God it is to us, that we are not in their condition : and yet that Navery is not comparable to this, either for the sad nature or the dismal consequences of it, or for the difficulty of being released from it. And let such persons, who have been thus happy never to have been engaged in an evil course, preserve their innocency with great tenderness and care, as the greatest jewel in the world. No man knows what he does, and what a foundation of trouble he lays to himself, when he forfeits his innocency, and breaks the peace of his own mind; when he yields to a temptation, and makes the first step into a bad course. He little thinks whither his lusts may hurry him, and what a monster they may make of him before they have done with him.
2. Those who have been seduced, but are not yet deeply engaged in an evil course, let them make a speedy retreat, lest they put it for ever out of their power to return. Perhaps their feet only are yet insnared, but their hands are at liberty; and they have some power left, whereby, with an ordinary grace of God, they may loose and rescue themselves. But after a while their hands may be manacled, and all their power may be gone; and when they are thus bound hand and foot, they are just prepared, and in danger every moment, to be cast into utter darkness. .; 3. As for those who are gone very far, and are grown old in vice, who can forbear to lament over them ? for they are a sad spectacle indeed, and the truest object of pity in the world. And yet their recovery is not ut. terly to be despaired of; for with God it is posible. The Spirit of God, which hath withdrawn himself, or rather hath been driven away by them, may yet be per fuaded to return, and to undertake them once more, if they would but seriously resolve upon a change, and heartily beg God's assistance to that purpose. If we would take up a mighty resolution, we might hope that God would afford a miraculous grace to fecond it, and make it effectual to our recovery. Even in this perverse and degenerate age in which we live, God hath not been wanting to give some miraculous instan. ces of his grace and mercy to finners; and those per. haps equal to any of those we meet with in scripture, of Manasses, or Mary Magdalen, or the penitent thief; both for the greatness of the offenders, and the miracle of their change; to the end that none might despair, and, for want of the encouragement of an example equal to their own case, be disheartened from so noble an enterprize. I am loth to put you in mind how bad some have been, who yet have been snatched as firebrands out of the fire ; and that in so strange a manner, that it would even amaze a man to think of the wonder of their recovery. Those who have sunk themselves into the very depth of infidelity and wickedness, have, by a mighty hand and outstretched arm of God, been pluck. ed out of this horrible pit. And will we still stand it out with God, when such great leaders have given up the cause, and have surrendered and yielded up themselves willing captives to the grace of God ? that omnipotent grace of God, which can easily subdue the stoutest heart of man, by letting in so strong a light upon our minds, and pouring such terrible convictions into our consciences, that we can find no ease but in turning to God. brought back to life after the sentence of death seemed to have been fully executed upon them.
I hope there are none here so bad, as to need all the encouragement to repentance which such examples might give them : encouragement, I say, to repentance; for surely these examples can encourage no man to venture any farther in a wicked course; they are so very care, and like the instances of those who have been
But perhaps some will not believe that there have been fuch examples; or if there have, they impute all this, either to a disturbed imagination, or to the faint and low spirits of inen under great bodily weakness, or to their natural cowardice and fear, or to I know not what foolish and fantastical design of completing and finishing a wicked life with an hypocritical death. Nothing surely is easier than to put some bad construction upon the best things, and so flur even repentance itself, and almost dalh it out of countenance, by some bold, and perhaps witty saying about it. But on that men were wise ! oh that men were wife! that they unuerstood, and would cone sider their latter end! Come, let us neither trifle nor dissemble in this matter. I dare say every man's conscience is convinced, that they who have led very ill lives, have so much reason for repentance, that we may easily believe it to be real. However, of all things in the world, let us not make a mock of repentance; that which mult be our last sanctuary and refuge, and which we must all come to before we die, or it had been better for us we had never been born. Therefore, let my counsel be acceptable unto you, break of your sins by repentance, and your iniquities by righteousness; and that instantly, and without delay, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of lin. If we have been inslaved but a little to a
vitious course, we shall find it a tak difficult enough to up! allert our own liberty, to break these bonds in funder, and
to call these cords from us. But if we have been long under this bondage, we have done so much to undo ourfelves, and to make our case desperate, that it is God's infinite mercy to us that there is yet hope. Therefore, give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and your feet stumble upon the dark mountains; and while you look for light, he turn it into darkness and the shadow of death. I will conclude with that encouraging invitation, even to the grcateft of finners, to repentance, from the mouth of God himself, If. lv. Incline your ear, and
come unto me: hear, and your foul shall live. Seek the Tery ! Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is een near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous
man his thoughts : and let him return; unto the Lord, and he will have mercy; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
To him let us apply ourselves, and humbly beseech him, who is mighty to save, that he would stretch forth the right hand of his power for our deliverance, from this miserable and cruel bondage of our lusts; and that as the rain cometh down from heaven, and returneth not thiiher, but watereth the earth, and maketh it to bring forth and bud; so he would grant that his word may not return void, but accomplish his pleasure, and prosper in the thing to which he sent it ; for his mercy's sake in Jesus Christ. To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
The necessity of the knowledge of the holy
MATTH. xxiii. 13. Wo unto you, fcribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ; for ye shut · up the kingdom of heaven against men : and ye neither go
in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering, · to go in.
THE scribes, so often mentioned in the gospel, I were the great doctors among the Jews, the
teachers and interpreters of the law of God. And because many of them were of the sect of the Pha- . risees, which above all others pretended to skill and knowledge in the law; therefore it is that our blessed Saviour does so often put the scribes and Pharisees together. And these were the men of chief authority in the Jewish church, who equalled their own unwritten word and traditions with the law of God; nay, our Saviour tells us, they made the commandments of God of none