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of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” Heb. iv. 1. “Let us, therefore, fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” 2 Pet. jii. 17. “Ye, therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.”
2 John v. 8. “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.”—Thus you see how earnestly the scriptures press on Christians, exhortations to take diligent heed to themselves that they fall not away. And certainly these cautions are not without reason.
The scriptures particularly insist upon watchfulness, in order to perseverance in the duty of prayer. Watch and Christ; which implies, that we should watch unto prayer, as the apostle Peter says, 1 Pet. iv. 7. It implies, that we should watch against a neglect of prayer, as well as against other sins. The apostle, in places which have been already mentioned, directs us to pray with all prayer, watching thereunto with all perseverance, and to continue in prayer, and watch in the same. Nor is it any wonder that the apostles so much insisted on watching, in order to a continuance in prayer with all perseverance; for there are many temptations to neglect this duty; first to be inconstant in it, and from time to time to omit it; then, in a great measure to neglect it. The devil watches by temptation to draw us away from God, and to hinder us from going to him in prayer.
We are surrounded with one and another tempting object, business, and diversion : particularly, we meet with many things which are great temptations to a neglect of
3. To move you to persevere in the duty of prayer, consider how much you always stand in need of the help of God. If persons who have formerly attended this duty, leave it off, the language of it is, that now they stand in no further need of God's help, that they have no further occasion to go to God with requests and supplications: when, indeed, it is in God we live, and move, and have our being. We cannot draw a breath without his help. You need his help every day for the supply of your outward wants; and especially you stand in continual need of him to help your souls. Without his protection, they would immediately fall into the hands of the devil, who always stands as a roaring lion ready, whenever be is permitted, to fall upon the souls of men and devour them. If God should, indeed, preserve your lives, but should otherwise forsake and leave you to yourselves, you would be most miserable : your lives would be a curse to you.
Those that are converted, if God should forsake them, would soon fall away totally from a state of grace into a state far more miserable than ever they were in before their conversion. They have no strength of their own to resist those powerful enemies who surround them. Sin and Satan would immediately carry them away, as a mighty flood, if God should forsake them. You stand in need of daily supplies from God. Without God you can receive no spiritual light nor comfort, can exercise no grace, can bring forth no fruit. Without God your souls will wither and pine away, and sink into a most wretched state. You continually need the instructions and directions of God. What can a little child do in a vast howling wilderness, without some one to guide it, and to lead it in the right way? Without God, you will soon fall into snares, and pits, and many fatal calamities.
Seeing, therefore, you stand in such continual need of the help of God, how reasonable is it that you should continually seek it of him, and perseveringly acknowledge your dependence upon him, by resorting to him to spread your needs before him, and to offer up your requests to him in prayer. Let us consider how miserable we should be, if we should leave off prayer, and God, at the same time, should leave off to take care of us, or to afford us any more supplies of his grace. By our constancy in prayer, we cannot be protitable to God, and if we leave it off, God will sustain no damage: he doth not need our prayers; Job xxxv. 6, 7. But if God cease to care for us, and to help us, we immediately sink : we can do nothing: we can receive nothing without him.
4. Consider the great benefit of a constant, diligent, and persevering attendance on this duty. It is one of the greatest and most excellent means of nourishing the new nature, and of causing the soul to flourish and prosper. It is an excellent mean of keeping up an acquaintance with, and of growing in the knowledge of God. It is the way to a life of communion with God. It is an excellent mean of taking off the heart from the vanities of the world, and of causing the mind to be conversant in heaven. It is an excellent preservative from sin and the wiles of the devil, and a powerful antidote against the poison of the old serpent. It is a duty whereby strength is derived from God against the lusts and corruptions of the heart, and the snares of the world.
• It hath a great tendency to keep the soul in a wakeful frame, and to lead us to a strict walk with God, and to a life that shall be fruitful in such good works, as tend to adorn the doctrine of Christ, and to cause our light so to shine before others, that they secing our good works, shall glorify our Father who is
in heaven. And if the duty be constantly and diligently attended, it will be a very pleasant duty. Slack and slothful attendance upon it, and unsteadiness in it, are the causes which make it so great a burthen as it is to some persons. Their slothfulness in it hath naturally the effect to beget a dislike of the duty, and a great indisposition to it. But if it be constantly and diligently attended, it is one of the best means of leading not only a Christian and amiable, but also a pleasant life; a life of much sweet fellowship with Christ, and of the abundant enjoyment of the light of his countenance.
Besides, the great power which prayer, when duly attended, hath with God, is worthy of your notice. By it men become like Jacob, who as a prince had power with God and prevailed, when he wrestled for the blessing. See the power of prayer represented in James v. 16--18. By these things you may be sensible how much you will lose, if you shall be negligent in this great duty of calling upon God; and how ill you will consult your own interest by such a neglect.
I conclude my discourse with two directions in order to constancy and perseverance in this duty.
1. Watch against the beginnings of a neglect of this duty. Persons who have for a time practised, and afterwards neglect it, commonly leave it off by degrees. While their convictions and religious affections last, they are very constant in their closets, and no worldly business, or company or diversion, hinders them. But as their convictions and affections begin to die away, they begin to find excuses to neglect it sometimes.They are now so hurried; they have now such and such things to attend to; or there are now such inconveniences in the way, that they persuade themselves they may very excusably omit it for this time. Afterwards it pretty frequently so happens, that they have something to hinder, something which they call a just excuse. After a while, a less thing becomes a sufficient excuse than was allowed to be such at first. Thus the person by degrees contracts more and more a habit of neglecting prayer, and becomes more and more indisposed to it. And even when he doth perform it, it is in such a poor, dull, heartless, miserable manner, that he says to himself, he might as well not do it at all, as do it thus. Thus he makes his own dulness and indisposition an excuse for wholly neglecting it, or at least for living in a great measure in its neglect.--After this manner do Satan and men's own corruptions inveigle them to their ruin.
Therefore beware of the first beginnings of a neglect: Watch against temptations to it: Take heed how you begin to allow excuses. Be watchful to keep up the duty in the height of it; let it not so much as begin to sink. For when you give way, though it be but little, it is like giving way to an enemy in the field of battle: the first beginning of a retreat greatly encourages the enemy, and weakens the retreating soldiers.
2. Let me direct you to forsake all such practices as you find by experience do indispose you to the duty of secret prayer. Examine the things in which you have allowed yourselves, and inquire whether they have had this effect. You are able to look over your past behaviour, and may doubtless, on an impartial consideration, make a judgment of the practices and courses in which you have allowed yourselves.
Particularly let young people examine their manner of company keeping, and the round of diversions in which with their companions they have allowed themselves. I only desire that you would ask at the mouth of your own consciences what has been the effect of these things with respect to your attendance on the duty of secret prayer. Have you not found that such practices have tended to the neglect of this duty ? Have you not found that after them you have been more indisposed to it, and less conscientious and careful to attend it? Yea, have they not from time to time, actually been the means of your neglecting it?
If you cannot deny that this is really the case, then if you seek the good of your souls, forsake these practices. Whatever you may plead for them, as that there is no harm in them, or that there is a time for all things, and the like ; yet if you find this barm in the consequence, it is time for you to forsake them. And if you value heaven more than a little worldly diversion ; if you set a higher price on eternal glory, than on a dance or a song, you will forsake them.
if these things be lawful in themselves, yet if your experience shew, that they are attended with such a consequence as I have now mentioned, that is enough. It is lawful in itself for you to enjoy your right hand and your right eye: but if by experience you find they cause you to offend, it is time for you to cut off the one, and pluck out the other, as you would rather go to heaven without them than to go to hell with them, into that place of torment where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
THE FUTURE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED UNAVOID
ABLE AND INTOLERABLE.
EZEK. XXII. 14.
Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days
that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.
In the former part of this chapter, we have a dreadful catalogue of the sins of Jerusalem ; as you may see from the first to the thirteenth verse. In the thirteenth, which is the verse preceding the text, God manifests his great displeasure and fearful wrath against them for their iniquities. “Behold, I have smitten my hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee.” The expression of God's smiting his hand, signifies the greatness of his anger, and his preparing himself, as it were, to execute wrath answerable to their heinous crimes. It is an allusion to what we sometimes see in men when they are surprised, by seeing or hearing of some horrid offence, or most intolerable injury, which very much stirs their spirits, and animates them with high resentment; on such an occasion they will rise up in wrath and smite their hands together, as an expression of the heat of their indignation, and full resolution to be avenged on those who have committed the injury; as in chap. xxii. 17. “I will also smite mine hands together, and I will cause my fury to rest; I the Lord have said it.” Then, in the text, the punishment of that people is represented.
1. The nature of their punishment is more generally represented in that, God will undertake to deal with them. The prophets could do nothing with them. God had sent them one after another; but those sinners were too strong for them, and
* Dated, April 1741. VOL. VI.