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RELIGION AN ANCIENT PATH, AND A GOOD WAY.
JEREMIAH, VI. 16.
Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way? and walk therein; and ye shall find rest for your souls.
HE prophet, in the preceding context, represents, in a strain of animated description, the supine indifference of the Jews, not only to the divine statutes and commandments, but to the temporal judgments, which had been the immediate consequences of their impiety. He represents their danger in the most affecting manner, and directs them to the sure and only way of averting it. In the words of the text he exhorts them to return to God and their duty; and, in order to this, to consider the illustrious examples of piety and holiness which the records of Israel presented to their view, and called upon them to imitate.
In discoursing on these words, I propose,
I. To consider the instructive view which is here given of religion, as an ancient path, and a good way.
II. To explain the duty enjoined in the text respecting it: Stand in the way, and see, and ask for the old paths, the good way, and walk therein. And,
III. To show the import of the gracious promise annexed to the performance of the duties here enjoined—and ye shall find rest for your souls.
I. I am to consider the instructive view which is here given of religion.
1. It is represented as AN ANCIENT PATH.-The Jews, at the time when this admonition was addressed to them, had forsaken the path in which their pious progenitors walked, and had thereby exposed themselves to the most afflicting judgments and calamities; and therefore, when the prophet exhorts them to ask for the old paths, it is as if he had said, 'Consider what your departure from the way of God's commandments, in which your pious ancestors walked, with so much honour, pleasure, and advantage to themselves, has cost you. Think how much better it was with them, and with the Jewish nation, when, walking in these ways, they enjoyed the favour and protection of heaven, than it is with you, in these sinful and destructive ways in which ye tread; which have exposed you to the most desolating judgments and calamities in this life, and which, if persevered in, will infallibly lead you to endless ruin and misery in the life to come.'
This seems to be the primary meaning of the text; but it may, with great propriety, be applied
to the religion which we profess, as well as to that of ancient Israel. Strictly speaking, they are substantially the same. The gospel is coeval with the fall. No sooner had man sinned, than the Saviour was revealed and promised, as the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head. This promise, at different times, and under different forms, was renewed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with certain additional circumstances, declaratory and illustrative of its nature. To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. The father of the faithful rejoiced to see the day of Christ: he saw it, (in the promise,) and was glad. And all the ancient patriarchs died in the faith, not having received the promises, that is, in their actual accomplishment; but, having seen them afar off, they were persuaded of them, and embraced them. It was Christ, in the promise before his coming, that was the source of their peace and consolation. It was this that kindled their love, animated their zeal, and enabled them to rise superior to the trials, difficulties, and temptations, to which they were exposed.
The same general truths may be applied to those who lived under the Mosaical or Levitical dispensation. All its rites and ceremonies, oblations and sacrifices, were typical of the blessings of the gospel dispensation, and taught the faithful worshipper to look forward to that Saviour who was to come in the fulness of time, and put an end to all other sacrifices, by the sacrifice of himself.
We may, therefore, consider the view which is here given of religion, as an ancient path, not only as referring to the patriarchal and Mosaical dispensations, but as including in it that pure and perfect dispensation of divine grace under which we live.
2. Religion is characterized, not only as an ancient path, but as A GOOD WAY. And indeed, without this, its antiquity would be of little consequence; but when both these properties of it are conjoined, we are presented with a most important and interesting truth, which cannot but have the happiest effect in animating our zeal and invigorating our resolutions to walk in it. Let me then bespeak your attention, while I endeavour to point out some of the peculiar advantages of this good way above above every other.-And,
1. This is the way which God himself, of his infinite wisdom and goodness, hath marked out for us.
Man is a being insufficient for his own happiness. This truth is impressed upon his mind by the experience, as well as the observation, of every hour. He feels wants, which he cannot supply; and he foresees dangers, which he cannot ward off. Hence his propensity to desire the favour, and to shelter himself under the protection, of an almighty power. Man therefore is, by the constitution of his nature, formed for religion. If his corruption, which is confessedly great, leads him away from his Creator, the light of reason and of conscience suggests that his conduct is unnatural and criminal.
This property of human nature warrants the in
ference, that, as man is capable of religion, so a revelation from God is agreeable to the sense and expectation of mankind: for, if men's notions of all the objects of duty, of their Creator, their fellow-men, and themselves, are liable to be perverted, and in every country unenlightened by divine revelation have been perverted, by the darkness of the human understanding, by the force of prejudice and passion, by inattention, by superstition, and by ignorance, as the history of mankind proves to be an incontestable truth; if this be the case, it follows, that a revelation, which rectifies and ascertains men's notions of the several objects of duty, by explaining the nature of God and of man, and by informing their conscience with respect to particular duties, must be highly important and beneficial.
Revelation is likewise necessary, to give such evidence of another life, and such information concerning it, as may vindicate the divine goodness and wisdom with respect to the constitution of the present, and such as may comfort good men under the evils and sufferings of life, and operate as a restraint on the passions of the wicked. And, as all mankind seem to have had an idea of the necessity of an expiation for guilt, as appears from the universal use of sacrifices, revelation seems to be still further necessary, to explain in what way we may hope for pardon, consistently with the perfection of divine justice. There are many things, with respect to these and such like interesting enquiries, of which, as they relate to things invisible or things future,