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by which the most exalted feraph about the throne of God, is used to compute. The groans of the expiring Saviour, the victory he obtained over the powers of darkness, the joys of heaven upon his return thither, and the descent of his Spirit to our earth; all proclaim with a loud voice i this grand, effential, and most interesting truth-That re ligion is the one thing needful. In fhort, when we have: said that it exists and lives through the death and mediation of the Son of God, we have faid the utmost which can be imagined, by a finite mind, to reflect an importance anď folemnity, as well as a beauty and glory on this great concern. But I forbear to enlarge here, leaving each one," amidst this scene of wonders, to his own contemplations.
The fubject however of the neceffity of religion must not be difmiffed, without a word or two by way of improvement.
1. How aftonishing is the infatuation of mankind in general, that they concern themselves fo little about an affair of fo interesting a nature! The fact is too true to be difputed. Look where we will, we see men with the greatest eagerness pursuing their worldly advantage. Either the riches, the honours, or the pleasures of the prefent life, are with them the one thing needful. So they confider these temporary and unfatisfying enjoyments, amidst all the plain evidence they daily have before their eyes of their wretched mistake; and even amidst the convincing proofs which fometimes ftrike their confciences, of the truth and importance of religion. But how fad a reflection is this on all their boasted wisdom and prudence! It hath ever been a maxim, admitted even by thofe who have the flendereft pretences to wisdom, that what is of the greatest moment fhould be firf and chiefly attended to. But how egregiously do these men of wisdom contradict the very maxim, by which they would be thought to govern their conduct! Religion, which is confeffedly the most important concern, is treated with the utmost indifference and neglect.
justly then does fuch a behaviour merit the defcription of madness and folly, which the Bible every where gives it!
And how affecting a proof doth this furnish of the degeneracy of human nature! Can it be questioned that fin hath drawn a vail of darkness over the minds of men, and that it hath brought a difeafe of the most fatal tendency upon their hearts? It is impoffible, methinks, for any one to fit down and seriously confider this mournful fact, without acknowledging that the whole world is apoftatized from God, and funk into guilt and mifery. Convinced however, as the Christian is, of the reality and importance of religion, it would argue a strange kind of infenfibility in him, were he not,
2. With earneftnefs and affection to exhort men to a ferious attention to it. So Jefus and his apostles did, fo we are commanded to do, and while we do it, have the dictates of found wisdom on our fide, as fufficiently appears from what hath been already faid. They who have been made fenfible of the value of their own fouls, and have entered into the spirit of thofe great things of which we have been treating, cannot but feel a concern for the welfare of others. And how natural to exprefs this concern for our acquaintance, friends, and relations, by our tears, expoftulations, and prayers!
Suppofing it then, finners, only posible, that the things you have heard may be true; how can you acquit yourfelves of the charge of imprudence and folly to the last degree, while you refolutely turn a deaf ear to these remonftrances? What is this better than laying violent hands on your own fouls, and wilfully plunging yourselves in death and deftruction? He that finneth against me, fays Wisdom,. wrongeth his own foul; and all they that hate me, love death *. O! may you be perfuaded, then, to listen to the voice of wisdom! Compare the dictates of fcripture with thofe of your own confciences. Set the interefts of this world
*Prov. viii. 36,
world in the balance with thofe of another. Reflect on the miserable state you are in, while at enmity with God and religion. Retire into your clofets, converfe with your own hearts, and pray God, if peradventure your folly and disobedience may be forgiven you. So would we most heartily commend you to his rich and boundless mercy, through Jefus Christ, and to the mighty influence of his grace and Spirit. To conclude,
3. What abundant cause have you for joy and thankfulnefs, who are interested in the one thing needful, and have with Mary chofen the better part, which shall not be taken away from you +. In proportion to the importance of this great concern, so should be the cheerfulness of your spirits, and the gratitude of your hearts. Give God the praise; for from him it is you derive this ineftimable bleffing. Had he bestowed on you a crown, and denied you the one thing needful, you would have been miferable.
And fince you poffefs that which is moft neceffary and defirable, and with which is connected the promise of every thing which infinite wisdom fees fit for you, be not care-.. ful and troubled about the many trifling affairs and enjoy. ments of the prefent life. They are trifling indeed, when compared with those momentous concerns of which we have been difcourfing. Let not, therefore, an unbecoming anxiety about them ruffle your breafts, fadden your countenances, or difgrace your religion. Having fought firft the king- . dom of God and his righteoufnefs, you are affured that all other things fhall be added to you; that God will with bold. no good thing from you; and that your heavenly Fa ther careth for you. Refer, then, your temporal interefts to the direction of a wife and good. Providence having intrusted your immortal fpirits to the care of the Lord. Jefus Chrift, reft fatisfied that he will keep what you have. thus committed to him, against the great day §.
Luke x. 42. Píal, lxxxiv. 11. Luke xii. 30, 31. § 2 Tim. i. 12.
Then faid Jefus unto his difciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his crofs, and follow me.
HAT there is a reality in ferious religion, and that it is
Tthe most important concern of the prefent life, furely
no thoughtful perfon will deny. Yet, alas! fad experience fufficiently proves, that a general perfuafion of these things is ineffectual to determine men to the purfuit of it. The truth is, there are certain prejudices against the one thing needful, arifing from the fuppofed unfurmountable difficul ties attending it, which have taken fuch deep root in the human heart, that they unreafonably overpower all tranfient convictions of its importance.
To trace thefe prejudices up to their original fource would be no difficult tafk; though to enumerate all the immediate causes of them, and to defcribe particularly the manner of their taking effect, would carry me too far befide my present defign. It must, however, be observed in general, that mankind are in a fallen and depraved state, and that the heart hath received a bias quite oppofite to what it had in the beginning. Men are prone to vanity and fin, and averfe to that which is fpiritual and goed. And this difaffection to religion operates, by difpofing the mind to admit readily
every objection which is unfavourable to it, whether real or only imaginary. The chief therefore of thefe practical objections I propofe to confider, to fet them in their full light, and give them their due weight; that we may fee how far their ufual influence upon the heart, in the face of all the evidence we have of the truth and importance of religion, is to be justified, even upon the principles of natural reafon.
They are reduceable to three heads-The restraints which religion obliges us to lay upon our inclinations and paffions; we must deny our felves.-The afflictions and fufferings in which it does or may involve us; we must take up our cross. And that perfection of character it feems to enjoin; we must follow Chrift. All this our Saviour tells us is neceffary to our becoming his difciples. The explanation, therefore, of thefe facred injunctions, will give me an opportu nity of shewing, that fome of those difficulties which are apt to startle the mind at the first appearance of religion, are entirely groundless; and that others, though they may be real difficulties in the apprehenfion of depraved nature, yet are most fit and reasonable to be complied with. In the mean while it throw fome light upon
to advert a moment to the occafion of our Lord's thus addreffing his difciples. He had been foretelling his approach ing fufferings. Upon which Peter, urged by the violence of his natural paffions, and not confidering the indispensible importance of our Saviour's death, began to rebuke him, faying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee But Jefus turned, and with unusual severity faid unto Peter, Get thee behind me Satan, thou actest the part of a devil and an adversary instead of a friend, thou art an offence to me for it should seem by this thy language, that thou favourest not the things which be of God, but thofe which be of men * that thou hast lost fight of the great objects of my mission, the glory of God and the salvation of men, and art fondly dreaming
*Ver. 22, 23.