proved in so short a way, nor, perhaps, to an equal degree of plainness; but, to a sufficient degree, they may, as I hope to show you also. And in such matters, they, who have but small abilities or opportunities for knowledge, must, where they connot do better for themselves, rely on those who have more; not blindly and absolutely, but so far as is prudent and fit; just as, in common business, and the very weightiest of our worldly concerns, we all trust, on many occasions, to one another's judgment and integrity; nor could the affairs of human life go on, if we did not. And, though in this method of proceeding, some will have far less light than others; yet, all will have enough to direct their steps; and they who have the least, are as much obliged to follow that carefully, as if they had the most; and will be as surely led by it to a happy end. Hearken, therefore, to instruction diligently, and consider of it seriously, and judge of it uprightly; and fear not at all after this, but that when you are asked, whether "you think yourselves bound to believe "and to do what was promised in your name," you will be well able, and on good grounds, to answer in the first place, "Yes, verily."

But your answer must not stop here. When you are thus persuaded, your next concern is, immediately to act accordingly to that persuasion. Now, as this depends on two things, our own resolution and assistance from above, so both are expressed in the following words of the answer,

and by God's help, so I will." Further, because our own resolution is best supported by our sense of the advantage of keeping it; there fore, the person instructed, goes on in the same answer, to acknowledge that the state in which he is placed by Baptism, is a state of salvation; and because assistance from above is best obtained by thankfulness of God's mercy hitherto, and


prayer for it hereafter, he concludes, by "thanking our heavenly Father, for calling him to this state, and praying for his grace, that he may "continue in the same to his life's end."


[ocr errors]

Now, the necessity and nature of God's grace, and of prayer and other means to obtain it, will be explained in their proper places. The two points, therefore, of which it remains to speak at present, are, the need of good resolution, and of thankfulness for that happy state in which Baptism hath placed us.

In every thing that we attempt, much depends on a deliberate and fixed purpose of mind. But particularly in religion, when once we are thoroughly convinced that whatever it requires must be done; and have determined accordingly, that though we know there will be labour and difficulty in going on, and many solicitations and enticements to leave off, yet we will set about the work, and persevere in it; obstacles and discouragements, that till then appeared very threatening, will, a great part of them, vanish into nothing; and those which remain will serve only to exercise our courage, and make our triumph glorious; provided we keep our resolution alive and in vigour, by frequently repeating it in a proper manner; that is, in a strong sense of God's presence, and an humble dependence on his blessing. For, if we trust in ourselves, we shall fail. And, if we pretend to trust in God, without exerting ourselves, we shall fail equally. In either case, the good impressions made on our minds will be continually growing fainter of course; and multitudes of things will conspire to wear them quite out. Pleasures will soften us into dissoluteness, or amusements into neglect of every serious attention. Love of riches, or power or applause, will engage us in wrong methods of attaining them, or the cares of life will banish the duties of


it from our thoughts. Vehement passions will overset our virtue, or insinuating temptations undermine it as effectually. Some of these things must happen, unless we preserve a steady and watchful, a modest and religious resolution against them, ever fresh on our minds.

And nothing will contribute more to our doing this, than reflecting often, with due thankfulness, that the state" to which God hath called us, (is) 66 a state of salvation," a state of deliverance from the present slavery of sin, and the future punishment of it; a state of the truest happiness that this life can afford, introducing us to perfect and everlasting happiness in the next. Such is the condition in which, through the mercy of God, we Christians are placed; and in which, by a Christian behaviour, we may secure ourselves; and not only preserve, but continually enlarge our share of its blessings. But if we now neglect to do for ourselves what we ought, all that hath been done for us by others, will be of no avail. Neither our Baptism, nor our instruction, nor our learning ever so exactly, or understanding ever so distinctly, or remembering ever so particularly, what we were instructed in, can possibly have any effect, but to increase our condemnation, unless we faithfully continue in the practice of every part of it to our life's end. This, therefore, let us determine to make our constant and most earnest care, with humble gratitude to God, our heavenly Fa ther, for his undeserved mercy to us; and with such confidence, that if we be not wanting to ourselves, "he that hath begun a good work in us, "will perform it, until the day of Jesus Christ."

(4) Phil. i. 6.


Grounds and Rule of Faith.

HAVING already explained to you the several things which Christians, by the covenant of their Baptism, renounce, I come now to speak of what we are to believe, after which will follow properly what we are to do. For all reasonable practice must be built on some belief, or persuasion, which is the ground of it; virtuous practice, on a persuasion, that what we do is fit and right; religious practice, on a persuasion, that it is the will of God. Now, God hath been pleased to make his will known by two ways, partly by the more inward light of our own understandings-partly by the outward means of additional declarations from himself. The former of these we call natural religion-the latter revealed religion.

The natural reason of our own minds, if we would seriously attend to it, and faithfully assist each other in using it, is capable of discovering, as shall be proved to you, not only the being, and attributes, and authority of God, but in general what sort of behaviour he must expect from such creatures, placed in such a world as we are, in order to avoid his displeasure, and procure some degree of his favour. And as we cannot doubt of what our clear apprehension, and the common sense of mankind plainly tell us, here is one foundation of religious belief and practice, evident to all men. And if our belief and practice be not suitable to it, our consciences, whenever we consult them, nay often, whether we consult them or not, will condemn us, to our faces, of sin;

and proclaim to us, beforehand, the justice of that future condemnation, which God will pass upon it. Every one of you, that hear me, have at all times felt this; make, every one of you, a proper use of it.


If, then, the light of nature were our only guide, it would teach us more than, I fear, many of us observe. But happy are we that this is not our only guide. For it would leave us uninformed, in many particulars, of unspeakable moment, even were our faculties unimpaired, and employed to the best advantage. But alas, the very first of mankind fell into sin, and derived a corrupted nature down to their posterity; who yet further inflamed their own passions and appetites, perverted their own judgments, turned aside their attention from the truth; and "the light that was in them became (in a great measure) darkness,"1 even in respect of what they were to do. But what they were to hope and fear after doing wickedly, this was a matter of far greater obscurity still. And had we, here present, been left to ourselves, in all likelihood we had been, at this hour, (like multitudes of other poor wretches in every part of the world, that is unenlightened by Christianity), worshipping stocks and stones; or, however, we should certainly, in other respects, have been "walking in the vanity of our minds, "having the understanding darkened, alienated "from the life of God;"2" Strangers from the "covenant of promise, having no hope, and with"out God in the world." 3


But he was graciously pleased not to leave fallen men to themselves, but to furnish them with needful knowledge. What human abilities, when at the best, might have discovered, they would in

(2) Eph. iv. 17, 18. (3) Eph. ii. 12.

(1) Matt. vi, 23.

« VorigeDoorgaan »