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ruler of all nature; to him therefore should all thinking beings turn their whole attention, and, fixing all their love and reverence on him, as on the centre of charity, as on the dispenser of happiness, and the source of glory, should make him the first object of all their affections, the first mover of all their thoughts, the end of all their designs, the utmost aim of all their wishes, the perfection and consummation of all their enjoyments. “He is great, he is God alone. He only is to be feared, and what is there that we should desire in comparison of him? What is there fit to come between God and the heart of man? Is any thing so beautiful, so excellent, so glorious, as he ? Hath any other being done so much to engage our love as he ? Can we hope for so kind a friend, for so powerful a protector, in any thing, as in him? Can the enjoyment of all his creatures raise our souls to pleasures so exquisite, to delights so lasting, as the enjoyment of God? What is earth to heaven, or heaven itself to God ? Shall then the riches, the honours, the pleasures, of this world, “shall death or life, shall angels, or principalities, or powers, or things present, or things to come, or height, or depth, or any other creature, be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?
No: Let us therefore no longer give the honour of God to his enemies, to mere imaginary hopes, and vain desires, of that which is either impossible to be obtained, or, if obtained, would make us miserable; and let us ascribe unto the Lord the honour due unto his name; let us bring presents, and come into his courts.' But what present shall we bring to him, who made and possesses all things? The present of a heart entirely his; a heart, not shamefully divided between him and the world, but emptied of all worldly vanities, and filled with God.
But, O good God, as the soul of man, clogged with a load of flesh and blood, is unable to climb to thee, stretch out thy almighty hand, and draw us upward ; purify our hearts, that they may become acceptable temples for thy Holy Spirit; then enter thou, and make us wholly thine for ever; through the merits and mediation of Christ Jesus our Saviour; to whom with thee, and the ever blessed Spirit, be all honour and glory, all worship and dignity, all might, majesty, and dominion, in earth, as in heaven, now, and for
SPIRITUAL LIGHT AND DARKNESS.
Rom. XIII. 11.
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep. MAN comes into the world totally ignorant of all things, and afterward acquires knowledge, fancied or real, imperfect or useful, according to his capacity, his application, and his opportunities.
As to the knowledge of religion, and of morality, which depends absolutely on religion, the same is true of both. We know the principles of either, only so far as we have had the benefit of good instructions, and according to the talents and diligence we have brought with us to the inquiry. Hence it hath come to pass, that many nations, for want of proper teachers, have continued for a long succession of ages altogether ignorant of true religion, and that even in those countries, where the people have been best provided with instructors, a very few, through mere incapacity, have lived and died in a great measure ignorant of it; while an infinitely greater number, who had natural talents sufficient for the purpose, having turned them another way, passed their days in almost as gross ignorance of this most excellent kind of knowledge, as they could have done, had they been totally destitute of teachers.
The wisest heathen nations knew little or nothing of themselves, whence they came, or to what end they were destined. Whether they had any being before this life, or were to have any after it, they either did not inquire, or could by no means determine. They seemed to rise like the brutes, out of time and matter; and having little or no prospect of a future being, they lived a mere animal life, and were led by sin, like oxen, to the universal slaughter made by death
Their deepest reasoners could never agree about the chief
end or happiness of man, and therefore could never fix
upon the means to attain it. They disputed much about morality and virtue, but could never clearly determine, what they were; and, what was worse, those of them who thought the best on these points, could by no means, find out a sufficient obligation to enforce the performance of what they took to be moral duties.
Being thus ignorant of themselves, it is not to be wondered at, that they should have known still less of God; some obscure traditions, concerning a divine nature, had been handed down to them, they knew not how, which served them to no better purpose, than to put them upon worshipping, sometimes by human sacrifices, their departed benefactors or conquerors, who were often the worst of men. To these they added gods of wood and stone; nay, and while some nations were eating onions and garlick, others were transplanting them from their gardens to heaven, and cultivating them with divine honours.
This ignorance of the Gentile world, which in holy Scripture is represented to us by the strong similitude of night and darkness, was but in part removed from the Jews by the Mosaic dispensation ; which, being clouded with ceremonies, and overshadowed with types and figures, sent forth a glimmering and feeble kind of rays. These served but as a twilight to a brighter revelation by the gospel, which, in Scripture, is beautifully figured by the names of light and day; for ignorance and true knowledge are to the mind, what darkness and light are to the body.
This is the night which, St. Paul says, 'is far spent;' and that is the day, which, he tells us, “is at hand.' From hence he draws a fine conclusion; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light;' let us walk honestly, as in the day.
For, by the light of the gospel, we can now clearly see that there is but one God, infinite in wisdom, power, and justice, infinite in mercy and goodness, who created and governs all things, who made us for his free and happy service, and who, when we fell into corruption and sin, sent his Son into the world, to retrieve us from both. By the same light we see how it is this great Master expects to be served; how it is we are to demean ourselves, one towards another;
what it is we may hope for, if we obey his laws; and what we are to fear, if we transgress them. We are now no longer in the dark about the original from whence we sprung, nor the end for which we were intended. Our greatest good and evil are now set clearly before us, with a full account of the means, by which the one is to be avoided, and the other obtained. We can now have a sufficient knowledge of ourselves, and can examine our being, from the beginning, till we pursue it beyond the grave, till we see it placed before the judgment-seat of God, and either banished from his presence, into eternal night and misery, or exalted to endless light and glory. This important prospect opens to us another, which the light of nature could never have discovered. As man, left to himself, sees nothing but the things about him in this present life, so he cannot suppose there is any thing else of the least consequence to him. But as soon as his eyes, by Christian faith, are carried forward to the much greater things of eternity, in which he is so deeply concerned, he looks upon the things of this world in quite another light. They cannot bear the comparison. They sink into nothing, and are lost to his attention. Distresses and riches, pains and pleasures, disappointments and honours, jails and thrones, dwindle into trifles, when hell and heaven are in view.
This is that light which the children of light are ever ready to receive, with the greatest affection and joy. Now the children of light are those who diligently read the word of God, who make it the subject of their meditations by day and night, who, when they find it, as often they do, above their comprehension, repair to God's house and his ministers, to hear it explained ; who listen when they are there, with attention; who labour to remember and lay to heart what they hear; and afterward, in conversation with one another, take frequent occasion to revive the consideration of what they have been taught.
This also is that light, from which the children of darkness fly away with fear and abhorrence. And the children of darkness are those, whose consciences cannot bear the pieture of themselves, which the light of Christianity holds before their eyes; whose faith affords them no views, but of eternal misery; who, as they delight only in the works of
darkness, 'hate this light, because it reproves their evil deeds;' and therefore the word of God is a stranger both to their eyes at home, and their ears in this place. Hence it comes, that we so often speak here almost to empty walls, that what we say is so little minded by those, whom the accidental goodness of the day, or a want of something else to do, suffers to saunter hither; and that, when we endeavour to carry the word of God to them, who so seldom think it worth their while to come to it, we find them and their families shocked and disobliged, at the first glimpse of its light which we discover to them.
As this sort of people make a dreadful majority at present, we may say of this light, as St. John did, at its first appearance, 'that it is a light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.'
But my business at present being only to speak to those who will hear, who have already opened their eyes, and it is to be hoped, their hearts too, to the light of the gospel, let me call upon such persons, in the bowels of charity, to consider, that, as they see this glorious light, shining both within them and about them, “it is now high time,' at least for them,“ to awake out of sleep.' In respect to them,“the night is not only far spent' but entirely past; 'the day is not only . at hand,' but fully risen, or far advanced. Let them reflect that those who know their Master's will, and do it not,' must expect to be punished with many stripes ;' and that, now they have received the light, they ought to walk worthy of that light,' taking all possible care for the time to come, to avoid those works of darkness, which they find condemned by the light of Scripture, and particularly by the apostle, in the passage immediately following my text.
And first; as to walking worthy of this light, the apostle bids us 'walk honestly,' or rather, as it is in the original, decently, and laudably, as in the day. In order to this, we are exhorted by him to put on the armour of light;' for it is now day, and we are to enter upon action. As we are immediately to take the field against the enemies of our souls, it is necessary we should be defended by the armour of piety and virtue, and girded with the weapons of our warfare; which St. Paul elsewhere, pursuing the same allegory, calls the breast-plate of faith and love, and the helmet and hope