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through his grace, brought to lead a godly, righteous, and sober life, to his honour and glory.
This was the false hopes of the Jews, and this was their ruin at last, when they would not be persuaded, either by their prophets, or by Christ, or by his forerunner the Baptist, to mend their lives, but depended upon their acceptance with God, on account of their strict observance of their outward worship and ceremonies, without a change of heart and manners.
At the same time we must not imagine, but that the public worship and ordinances of religion are an acceptable way of honouring our Creator and Redeemer; of obtaining the graces and blessings of God; and a powerful means of forwarding our salvation. But still they are only means, and intended by God to lead and enable us to perform the duties, the necessary duties, which we owe to God, our neighbour, and ourselves; namely, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil world.
Outward ordinances are a powerful means of bringing us to salvation, through the grace of God. For indeed, if we did not observe one day in seven, we should soon forget the God that made us, and the Saviour who redeemed us; if we did not go to church to hear God's word, we should be ignorant of his will; if we did not often pray to God for his blessing upon ourselves and our labours, we should forget that we depend upon him for life, and breath, and all things; that is, in other words, we should live without God in the world; we should be downright atheists.
But when we join with our fellow christians in glorifying God for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings we enjoy, or hope for; this will be a powerful means of imprinting on our hearts a grateful reverence for God when we leave his house.
So when we hear his promises of eternal happiness to those that obey him, and the dreadful judgments that must be the portion of those that neither love, nor fear, nor worship God, as they ought to do; these truths, often repeated, are very proper to comfort and encourage such as are serious and good, and to awaken and to amend the wicked.
And so for the other outward ordinances of christianity; they are truly means of salvation, when they are observed as they ought to be.
What an invaluable blessing is it, to be received into the church of God by baptism; to be made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven; to be under the government of God's Holy Spirit, and under the care of his angels!
These are powerful motives to such as have any thoughts and concern for their souls, to live as becomes the children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
The sacrament of the Lord's-Supper is another outward and powerful means of salvation. We are too apt to forget what was promised for us when we were made Christians, and too apt, God knows, to fall into the sins we have repented of. Now in this sacrament Jesus Christ has provided a remedy for both these evils.
We are here put in mind, and required, to examine into our lives, whether we live as becomes the gospel of Christ; and if we have not done so, to repent and amend, as we hope for salvation, with assurance of pardon, through the merits and mediation of Christ, if we do so.
These are means of making us religious, and acceptable to God; but then we must have a care of flattering ourselves, that because we observe these outward ordinances, that therefore we are truly religious, and in a happy condition; for a man may have a form of godliness without the power. One may be a strict observer of the Lord's Day, a careful attendant upon the public worship, without an heart sincerely disposed to lead a Christian life, to be governed by the word we have heard, and the precepts given us in the gospel. They hear my words, (saith God, by his prophet,*) but will not do them. You shall hear what God saith by another prophet: Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and come before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, we hope for pardon?-Is not this to make the house of God a den of thieves, of drunkards, and all uncleanness?
You shall hear what an apostle of Christ tells us, That in the last days, even an outward profession of Christianity shall be attended with the greatest crimes:‡ Men (even men profess ing Christianity) shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers,
Ezek. xxxiii. 31. ↑ Jer. vii. 9.
2 Tim. iii. 2.
incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,
Need we any greater proof that we are even now in the last days of Christianity; when we see Christians, so called, guilty of such crimes as these, under an outward form of religion? Not considering, that they crucify to themselves the Son of God again, and put him to an open shame.*
Now in order to prevent these sad delusions, let every serious Christian, who hopes for salvation, ask himself, Why do I call Jesus Christ my Lord; or, in other words, why do I profess myself to be a Christian? Is it not because, as we are sinners, we are under the displeasure of God, and therefore can have no hopes of salvation, if by the merits of Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we are not restored to God's favour, and obtain his pardon, and by his Holy Spirit are enabled to lead an holy and a Christian life? If we do not therefore endeavour to lead such a life, we must never hope for the kingdom of heaven, notwithstanding all our outward devotion and professions.
You observe the Lord's Day, and attend the service of the church: this is certainly a christian duty, and well done; but then, if you are not a better Christian for it all the week after, it is to be feared you went to church out of shame, or out of custom only, and not out of devotion to God, or to obtain such heavenly dispositions as are necessary to your leading a good life.
Heb. vi. 5.
We come to church to glorify God, by owning our whole dependence on him, and to give him thanks for his providence and care of us; but then we must not forget, that God will be more glorified by our good lives when we return home, than by our good words here. You have our Lord's word for this: In this is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit.
We come hither to confess and beg pardon for our sins. Now if we come with an unforgiving temper, or without a full purpose, through the grace of God, of leading a new life, not one sin will be forgiven us, but we shall return home under the displeasure of an offended God, and fall into all the disorders of a sinful life.
We come here to make an open confession of our faith; and it is our duty to do so.
We profess our belief in God, the Father and Creator of all things. Now if as such we fear, love, honour, and obey him, our faith is right. Only let us not forget, that there are people who profess to know God, but in works deny him;* and that such are reprobates.
We profess our belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our Lord and Saviour; but then we must know, and remember, that he is the Author of eternal salvation to them, and to them only, that obey him.
We profess our belief in the Holy Ghost, as the author of all our graces, who helps our infirmities, enlightens our minds with saving truths, and is the sole principle of a Christian life, and for that end given us at our baptism.
• Tit. i. 16.