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in all this? O God, arise and maintain thy own cause ! Let not men or devils any longer put out our eyes, and lead us blindfold into the pit of destruction.
28. I beseech you, every man that is here present before God, every woman, young or old, married or single, yea, every child that knows good from evil, take this to yourself. Each of you take the Apostle's advice : at least, hinder not others from taking it. I beseech you, O ye parents, do not hinder your children from following their own convictions; even though you might think they would look prettier, if they were adorned with such gewgaws as other children wear.
I beseech you, O ye husbands, do not hinder your wives : you, O ye wives, do not hinder your husbands, either by word or deed, from acting just as they are persuaded in their own minds. Above all, I conjure you, ye half Methodists, you that trim between us and the world, you that frequently, perhaps constantly, hear our preaching, but are in no farther connexion with us : yea, and all you that were once in full connexion with us, but are not so now; whatever ye do yourselves, do not say one word to hinder others from recovering and practising the advice which has been now given! Yet a little while and we shall not need these poor coverings; for this corruptible body shall put on incorruption. Yet a few days hence, and this mortal body shall put on immortality. In the inean time, let this be our only care, esto put off the old man,” our old nature, “which is corrupt,” which is altogether evil; and to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” In particular, “put on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, gentleness, long-suffering." Yea, to sum up all in one word, “put on Christ, that when he shall appear, ye may appear with him in glory.”
THE MORE EXCELLENT WAY.
* Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet I show unto you a more excel
lent way.”—1 CORINTHIANS xii. 31.
1. IN the preceding verses St. Paul has been speaking of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost : such as healing the sick, prophesying in the proper sense of the word; that is, foretelling things to come ; speaking with strange tongues, such as the speaker had never learned, and the miraculous interpretation of tongues. And these gifts, the Apostle allows to be desirable : jea, he exhorts the Corinthians, at least the teachers among them, (to whom chiefly, if not solely, they were wont to be given in the first ages of the Church, to covet them earnestly, that thereby they might be qualified to be more useful either to Christians or Heathens. “And yet,” says he, “I show unto you a more excellent way,” far more desirable than all these put together. Inasmuch as it will infallibly lead you to happiness, both in this world and in the world to come : whereas you might have all those gifts, yea, in the highest degree, and yet be miserable both in time and eternity.
2. It does not appear, that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were very common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period, when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches, and power, and honour, upon the Christians in general; but in particular, upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased : very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed, “because there was no more occasion for them,” all the world having become Christians. This is a miserable mistake : not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christians. The real cause was, the love of many, almost of all Christians, so called, was waxed cold. The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly “ find faith upon earth.” This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church ; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.
3. However, I would not, at present, speak of these, of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, but of the ordinary: and these, likewise, we may covet earnestly, in order to be more useful in our generation. With this view.we may covet “the gift of convincing speech,” in order to “sound the unbelieving heart;" and the gift of persuasion, to move the affections, as well as enlighten the understanding. We may covet knowledge, both of the word and of the works of God, whether of providence or grace. We measure of that faith, which, on particular occasions, wherein the glory of God or the happiness of men is nearly concerned, goes far beyond the power of natural causes. We may desire an easy elocution, a pleasing address, with resignation to the will of our Lord : yea, whatever would enable us, as we have opportunity, to be useful wherever we are. These gifts we may innocently desire : but there is a more excellent way.
4. The way of love, of loving all men for God's sake, of humble, gentle, patient love, is that which the Apostle so admirably describes in the ensuing chapter. And without this, he assures us, all eloquence, all knowledge, all faith, all works, and all sufferings, are of no more value in the sight of God, than sounding brass or a rum
may desire a
bling cymbal: and are not of the least avail toward our eternal sal. vation. Without this, all we know, all we believe, all we do, all we suffer, will profit us nothing in the great day of accounts.
5. But at present I would take a different view of the text, and point out a more excellent way, in another sense. It is the observation of an ancient writer, That there have been from the beginning two orders of Christians. The one lived an innocent life, conforming in all things not sinful, to the customs and fashions of the world, doing many good works, abstaining from gross evils, and attending the ordinances of God. They endeavoured, in general, to have a conscience void of offence in their behaviour, but did not aim at any particular strictness, being in most things like their neighbours. The other Christians not only abstained from all appearance of evil, were zealous of good works in every kind, and attended all the ordinances of God; but likewise used all diligence to attain the whole mind that was in Christ ; and laboured to walk, in every point, as their beloved Master. In order to this, they walked in a constant course of universal self-denial, trampling on every pleasure which they were not divinely conscious prepared them for taking pleasure in God. They took up their cross daily. They strove, they agonized without intermission, to enter in at the strait gate. This one thing they did ; they spared no pains to arrive at the summit of Christian holiness : “ leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, to go on to perfection;" to “know all the love of God which passeth knowledge, and to be filled with all the fulness of God.”
6. From long experience and observation, I am inclined to think, that whoever finds redemption in the blood of Jesus, whoever is justified, has then the choice of walking in the higher or the lower path. 'I believe the Holy Spirit at that time sets before him the “ more excellent way,” and incites him to walk therein; to choose the narrowest path in the narrow way; to aspire after the heights and depths of holiness, -after the entire image of God. But if he does not accept this offer, he insensibly declines into the lower order of Christians. He still goes on in what may be called a good way, serving God in his degree, and finds mercy in the close of life, through the blood of the covenant.
7. I would be far from quenching the smoking flax, from discouraging those that serve God in a low degree. But I could not wish them to stop bere : I would encourage them to come up higher, without thundering hell and damnation in their ears. Without condemning the way wherein they are, telling them it is the way that leads to destruction, I will endeavour to point out to them, what is, in every respect, a more excellent way.
8. Let it be well remembered, I do not affirm, that all who do not walk in this way, are in the high road to hell. But this much I must affirm, they will not have so high a place in heaven, as they would have had, if they had chosen the better part: and will this be a small loss? The having so many fewer stars in your crown of glory! Will
åt be a little thing to have a lower place than you might have had in the kingdom of your Father? Certainly there will be no sorrow in heaven: there all tears will be wiped from our eyes.
But if it were: possible grief could enter there, we should grieve at that irreparable loss ! Irreparable then, but not now! Now, by the grace of God, we may choose the more excellent way. Let us now compare this in a few particulars, with the way wherein most Christians walk.
I. 1. To begin at the beginning of the day. It is the manner of the generality of Christians, if they are not obliged to work for their living, to rise, particularly in winter, at eight or nine in the morning, after having lain in bed eight or nine, if not more hours. I do not say now, (as I should have been very apt to do fifty years ago,) that all who indulge themselves in this manner are in the way to hell. But neither can I say they are in the way to heaven, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily. Sure I am there is a more excellent way to promote health both of body and mind. From an observation of more than sixty years, I have learned, that men in health require, at an average, from six to seven hours sleep; and healthy women a little more, from seven to eight, in four and twenty hours. I know this quantity of sleep to be most advantageous to the body as well as the soul. It is preferable to any medicine which I have known, both for preventing and removing nervous disorders. It is, therefore, undoubtedly, the most excellent way, in defiance of fashion and custom, to take just so much sleep, as experience proves our nature to require; seeing this is indisputably most conducive both to bodily and spiritual health. And why should not you walk in this way? Because it is difficult? Nay, with men it is impossible. But all things are possible with God; and by his grace, all things will be possible to you. Only continue instant in prayer, and you will find this, not only possible, but easy: yea, and it will be far easier, to rise early constantly, than to do it sometimes. But then you must begin at the right end; if you would rise early, you must sleep early. Impose it upon yourself, unless when something extraordinary occurs, to go to bed at a fixed hour. Then the difficulty of it will soon be over, but the advantage of it will remain for ever.
II. 1. The generality of Christians, as soon as they rise, are accustomed to use some kind of prayer : and probably to use the same form still, which they learned when they were eight or ten years old. Now I do not condemn those who proceed thus, (though many do,) as mocking God; though they have used the same form, without any variation, for twenty or thirty years together. But surely there is a more excellent way of ordering our private devotions. What is you were to follow the advice given by that great and good man, Mr. Law, on this subject ? Consider both your outward and inward state, and vary your prayers accordingly. For instance, suppose your outward state is prosperous : suppose you are in a state of health, ease, and plenty, having your lot cast among kind relations, good neighbours, and agreeable friends, that love you, and you them; then your outward state manifestly calls for praise and thanks
giving to God. On the other hand, if you are in a state of adver. sity ; if God has laid trouble upon your loins ; if you are in poverty, in want, in outward distress; if you are in imminent danger; if you are in pain and sickness: then you are clearly called to pour out your soul before God, in such prayer as is suited to your circumstances. In like manner you may suit your devotions to your inward state, the present state of your mind. Is
your soul in heavi. ness, either from a sense of sin, or through manifold temptations ? Then let your prayer consist of such confessions, petitions, and supplications, as are agreeable to your distressed situation of mind. On the contrary, is your soul in peace? Are you rejoicing in God? Are his consolations not small with you? Then say with the Psalmist, “ Thou art my God, and I will love thee : thou art my God, and I will praise thee.” You may, likewise, when you have time, add to your other devotions, a little reading and meditation: and perhaps a psalm of praise, the natural effusion of a thankful heart. You must certainly see, that this is a more excellent way than the poor, dry form which you used before.
III. 1. The generality of Christians, after using some prayer, usually apply themselves to the business of their calling. Every man that has any pretence to be a Christian, will not fail to do this : seeing it is impossible that an idle man can be a good man: sloth being inconsistent with religion. But with what view ? For what end do you undertake and follow your worldly business? “ To provide things necessary for myself and my family.” It is a good answer as far as it goes; but it does not go far enough. For a Turk or a Heathen goes so far ; does bis work for the very same ends. But a Christian may go abundantly farther ; his end in all his labour is, to please God; to do, not his own will, but the will of him that sent him into the world : for this very purpose, to do the will of God on earth, as angels do in heaven. He works for eternity. He“ labours not for the meat that perisheth,” (this is the smallest part of his motive, “ but for that which endureth to everlasting life.” And is not this “ a more excellent
way? 2. Again. In what manner do you transact your worldly business? I trust, with diligence; whatever your hand findeth to do, doing it with your might: in justice, rendering to all their due, in every circumstance of life; yea, and in mercy, doing unto every man what you would he should do unto you. This is well : but a Christian is called to go still farther; to add piety to justice ; to intermix prayer, especially the prayer of the heart, with all the labour of his hands. Without this, all his diligence and justice only show him to be an honest Heathen ; and many there are who profess the Christian Religion, that go no farther than honest Heathenism.
3. Yet again. In what spirit do you go through your business ? In the spirit of the world, or in the Spirit of Christ? I am afraid thousands of those who are called good Christians, do not understand the question. If you act in the Spirit of Christ, you carry the end you at first proposed, through all your work from first to last. You