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if, as we proceed in stating what we consider to be the truths of the everlasting gospel, we can take along with us the persuasions of your own judgments, that they are such truths, and if, breaking through the barriers of worldliness and self-deception, we can get hold of your consciences, and prevail upon them to utter sentiments corresponding to the sentiments we utter, and to maintain facts corresponding to the facts we maintain,--then I conceive we are in a sure way of being rendered serviceable to you. Hear, then, with attention, and hear with an understanding heart. We remark,
II. That it becomes you to hear, on all occasions, with AN EARNEST DESIRE TO BE PERSONALLY BENEFITED.
This observation is worthy of attention, not only from the classes of individuals to whom we have referred, but also from various other classes, of which there are some to be met with in almost every assembly of christian worshippers ; as, for instance, the class of formal hearers, the class of curious hearers, the class of critical hearers, and a class of hearers whom, were I allowed to designate them, I would call self-constituted proxies, or such as hear for others, but not for themselves.
Among those who appear in our sanctuaries, there are multitudes of merely formal attendants. They are regular in filling up their places, almost to a proverb; they are unexceptionable in their external behaviour ; they listen attentively to whatever we have to state, and on retiring from the house of prayer, they can easily refer to any portion of our discourse, and can make the most correct observations relative to its merits; but were a stranger to judge of them from an acquaintance with their mode of hearing, or from the strain of their remarks, he would necessarily conclude that they themselves were uninterested characters. The idea of being personally profited never seems to enter their minds; the fact that they are the men to whom what we advance is applicable never seems to gain from them a moment's consideration; and sabbath after sabbath passes away, sermon after sermon is delivered, without their ever knowing what it is to experience the slightest feeling of individual concernment.
Among those who hear us, there are also frequently not a few actuated solely by motives of idle curiosity. How often are we told, and told it too by persons who ought to know better, “I went on such a day to such and such a place, and I heard such and such a man, out of mere curiosity.” And how often are the hallowed seasons appropriated for public worship, and, I suspect, the sabbath
evenings in particular, devoted to an employment that would scarcely become rational beings, and especially christian professors, even in the most leisure hours of the week. To ascertain what kind of a looking person the preacher is, to observe what sort of action he employs, to see whether he reads his sermons, or delivers them without notes, and other objects equally unimportant, are, it is to be feared, the only objects which they have in view in coming to the house of God.
There are others who make it their entire business to sit in judgment upon the merits and defects of our addresses, both as to their style and as to their matter, and are engaged, during the whole time of service, in marking the grammatical rules we violate, in detecting the inaccuracies of our figures, and in fancying how this idea might have been more forcibly conveyed, how that doctrine might have been more satisfactorily explained, and how the other sentiment, or description, or appeal, might have had more strength thrown into it.
But, probably, the most numerous class of our hearers, who stand in need of rectified habits, or, at least, that class which comprehends the greatest number of truly pious individuals, consists of those who hear for any but themselves. O, I have been annoyed and grieved beyond measure, to be told, on a Monday morning, by the very person to whom, perhaps, I had had a more especial reference in preparing for the sabbath, that he thought the remarks I had made were particularly applicable to such an individual ; and that, while I was making them, he was wondering what that individual thought, and how he felt, and was watching the indications of his countenance : and it is unquestionable, that there is a disposition too generally prevalent in the members of every congregation, to refer what is said to others, rather than take it home to themselves.
Now, it will not be supposed by such as are at all acquainted with the present speaker, that the remarks we have made are designed to be in the slightest degree apologetical, or meant to induce a spirit of indifference relative to points of minor consequence. We have told you to make use of discrimination and judgment, and that discrimination and judgment ought unquestionably to be exercised, if exercised in a proper way, with regard to the minutest particulars ; and we wish nothing to be tolerated which an enlightened understanding cannot approve, and the most refined sensibility would be distressed at. But the doctrine we are anxious to impress upon your consideration is, that moral and spiritual improvement should always be your primary and main object; that it should always be your principal anxiety to get real and permanent good; that it should always be your chief concern to retire from the sanctuary better than when you entered it, and to go into your own houses holier than when you came out of them. Each one of you should take his seat with the reflection upon his mind, “I am now about to enjoy an opportunity of giving my whole attention to the affairs of a soul which must live for ever; I am now about to spend an hour in which it will be possible for me to obtain advantages of inestimable value ; I am now about to hear what I may have to be thankful for to all eternity." The thought of being addressed by a fellow-mortal, should be lost in the infinitely more solemn and impressive idea of listening to the voice of God, and of having those truths enforced upon you, which, at the last day, will be recited in the hearing of an assembled universe ; and whatever subject we introduce, and whatever remark we offer upon it, your first inquiry should be, “ how can I derive benefit from this ? how can I turn this to account ? how can I get this rendered instrumental of my salvation ?" If we speak of forgiveness, it should immediately strike you, that this is the forgiveness you want. If we speak of a divine and almighty Redeemer, you should instantly call to mind that this is the Redeemer you need. If we speak of the Holy Spirit, you should recollect that it is by this Spirit you have to be renewed and sanctified. If we speak of the world, it should occur to you that this is the world, from the entanglements of which you have to be liberated; of the devil, that this is the adversary from whose snares you have to be rescued ; of hell, that this is the place of torment you have to escape ; of heaven, that this is the place of happiness you have to secure. In a word, since there is no sermon, however poor, from which some spiritual good may not be obtained, you should never visit the sanctuary but with an earnest desire to make that good your own, and to carry
III. Always hear with the impression upon your minds, that the OPPORTUNITY YOU ARE ENJOYING MAY BE THE LAST YOU WILL EVER
BE FAVOURED WITH.
It is the idea of too many, and particularly of such as are young, that it will be time enough for them to be thoughtful, and serious, and attentive in the house of prayer, at some future period. They are now in the full vigour of health; the lessons of religious instruction, they imagine, are not applicable to them, and there is much that is far more congenial to occupy their minds. For the present, therefore, they must be allowed to be trifling, and to do little but amuse themselves; and when trouble overtakes them, or life is beginning to decline, they will see what is to be gained from ministerial admonition, and what is to be done in the way of preparation for another state of being. Ah! my hearers, be assured of it, there is in all this one of the most artful and perilous devices of the father of lies, a stratagem by which thousands have been ruined for eternity, and which threatens the perdition of all whom it ensnares. You have no warrant to calculate upon a single hour; you have no warrant to feel certain that you will ever be permitted to come here again, or to visit any other sanctuary; you have no warrant to say that you are certain of being on this side the grave when our next season for worship comes round. The moment while I am speaking, and the moment while you are hearing, are the only moments we can call our own; and if it becomes me to speak as though I were stepping into eternity, and had to pass from hence to the tribunal of God, there to give an account of my stewardship, it surely becomes you to listen as though the messenger of death were close at your side, and all the arrangements of the final judgment full in your view. And how is that? Conceive of what we have imagined possible, as a matter of certainty, and then you will probably feel how. Suppose it to be a fact that you are spending the last hour you ever will spend in the sanctuary; suppose it to have been announced to you, by an authority you cannot question, that, after this, no voice will again address you in the present world upon the concerns of the soul, or the great truths of salvation ; suppose it to be fixed, and yourselves to know it to be fixed, that, from the places now filled, you are to go into your chambers to die; suppose it determined, beyond the possibility of being altered, that ere another sun shall have risen upon the world, you must stand in the presence of a Being whose eye is a flame of fire, and whose sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness. Endeavour to realize an idea of this kind; endeavour to divest yourselves of every thought, but the thought that you have only to live another hour or two ; and do the utmost you can to get the impression,to realize the feeling of that thought; and now tell us how it becomes you to hear? Well, then, since what we have imagined as possible, may be a matter of certainty ; since you have no guarantee that your souls shall not be this night required of you, and it would be no unusual occurrence if they were ; since you cannot tell but that every time you hear the gospel may be the last time you will ever be permitted to hear it,--you ought always to hear as if you knew and felt that it were the last time : and 0! if such a feeling were more prevalent throughout our congregations, with what far more intense and anxious interest, with what far more unfeigned solemnity, and with what far more profound and honest searchings of heart, would our messages be attended to !
IV. and lastly, See to it, that you always hear IN A DEVOTIONAL
FRAME OF MIND.
It is not enough that you are attentive; it is not enough that you desire to receive benefit; it is not enough that you even hear us under the impression that you may never be permitted to hear again : but it is of unspeakable moment that you invariably come to the house of God with earnest prayer for a divine blessing, that attend to the word in humble dependence upon the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit, and that, on going from the sanctuary, you repair to the closet, for the purpose of having it rendered effectual by almighty grace, toward the pulling down of the strong holds of sin, and your establishment in holiness. We are only instruments, and consequently can accomplish nothing, unless God is pleased to make use of us. We are only earthen vessels, and you can receive no advantage, unless God is pleased to give out to you of the treasure which he has seen fit to lodge in us. We are only watchmen, stationed upon the walls of Zion, and you can only be made to feel a sense of danger by a more powerful authority than we can exercise, and a deeper impression than we are able to produce. But God has promised to own his word, where that word is listened to in a suitable frame of mind. He has pledged himself to bestow his blessing; and we have no doubt that he will invariably verify his assurance, wherever he finds a prayerful and teachable disposition. He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. He satisfieth the hungry soul, while the rich he sendeth empty away. He will beautify the meek with salvation. And we always find that those hearers derive most advantage from our preaching, who are most frequent in lifting up their hearts unto God; and whenever we observe Christians growing under our ministry, we may feel assured that the secret of their advancement lies in their cultivation of a devotional temper. They get the seed which is sown watered by fervent and effectual prayer ; and thus it is rendered productive of the most precious and salutary fruits. Do not, therefore, satisfy yourselves with a mere attendance at the sanctuary; do not satisfy yourselves with feeling interested in what we say; do not satisfy yourselves with having even the most correct ideas conveyed to your understandings, and the most correct emotions excited in your hearts, or the most correct resolutions formed in your minds with reference to the future; but let a portion of every Sabbath morning be set apart for the special