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an interest and concern after our deaths. Now it appears to me to be the very excess of unreasonableness and stupidity to be so careful and so solicitous, so pleased and distressed as we are, about what is to take place after our deaths in this world in which our existence then is only imaginary, and not to provide and look forward to our fate in the next world, where we are to be, where our interest is real and actual, where we shall ourselves feel, where we shall ourselves enjoy or suffer, the happiness or misery which our former conduct has brought upon us. These observations are made in order to show the deep importance of the question which was proposed to our blessed Lord, and that it is a point which it is natural for every man and woman breathing to think upon most anxiously. I would next wish you to attend to the character and circumstances of the person who proposed the question; for that is a consideration of some consequence. If you read St Matthew’s account of the transaction, xix, 20, you will find, that the person who addressed this question to our Saviour was a young man ; and that is the circumstance in the history which I desire may be particularly taken notice of. The earnestness and anxiety with which he sought to know what he was to do to inherit eternal life, are most significantly expressed by the manner in which he presented himself to Christ; “And there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life P’ From what he had seen of our Saviour’s mighty works, and heard of his divine discourses, he seems to have been assured, that, if ever there was a person appeared in the world who could tell him what he was to do to be saved, our Saviour was that person. This was the question which hung and dwelt upon his mind; and now that he had an opportunity of being informed and satisfied concerning it, he most eagerly and devoutly embraced it. ‘He came running, and kneeled to him.’ Here therefore you have a youth, in the bloom and vigor of his age, in full possession of every thing which this world can give, for it appears that he was rich as well as young, solicitously searching after eternal life. He knew, that amidst all the pleasures of his age and station, amidst all the delights and recreations of youth, the salvation of his immortal soul was not to be forgotten or neglected; nay, was the thing which stood before all other things, the business to be regarded with the deepest anxiety. This disposition was highly acceptable to our blessed Lord. “Jesus beholding him, loved him;’ that is, approved affectionately that pious serious temper of mind, which led a young man in the midst of health and strength and pleasure, to fix his thoughts upon the concerns of religion. And it is from this example, as well as from the supreme advantage of following it, that I would put it to the consciences of young persons of every rank and station of life, to take up religion betimes. And there is a particular reason to young members of our church for giving attention to this matter at this time, because the bishop is about to hold a public confirmation, which is or ought to be a solemn initiation of young persons into the duties and hopes of a Christian. It is to be considered, with respect to religion, as a point for them to set off from upon their own bottom ; as the line from which they start in the great race that is set before them ; the term from which they may date their having their spiritual concerns in their own hands, and when it becomes their business to look to themselves and their behaviour, and begin that progress in virtue, which is the only course that can lead them, and which infallibly will lead them, to everlasting peace and rest and happiness in heaven. Such a point, such a term in a man’s life, ought to be marked by some peculiar solemnity. And none seems better suited to the purpose, more becoming, or more affecting, than that ancient rite which Christ's church hath practised for a great many ages past, and which so many wise and good men, who have gone before us in the steps and ways of godliness, have left us to celebrate in the office of confirmation. * I have endeavoured to impress upon your attention that the great question, ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” will one day be the only question we shall care about at all. I will now point out the happiness and wisdom of those who make it their care betimes, in their youth, and during the season of strength and activity. And I will admit that sentiments of religion are not the natural growth of youth, nor to be cherished without training and reflection. With us the case is rather different; the time of our life, or the state of our health, may have reminded most of us that our sojourning here cannot be long. But in youth, as I observed before, every thing wears the appearance of firmness and stability. The appearance, I say, for in truth, it is a delusion....What is the difference of ten or twenty years to etermity ? What matters it to those who are dead, whether they died yesterday, last year, or many years ago; in youth, in manhood, or old age : What, in short will it signify to us? Besides this, young persons are very much deceived in their calculations. The probability of life is not, as they suppose, in proportion to the shortness of our past years. Many distempers are peculiar to youth; many which are more dangerous at their time of life than at any other; many common to them with others, and quite as frequent amongst persons of their age as amongst persons of advanced years. Every day’s experience proves, the very tombstones in the churchyard show, that, whilst one, now and then, reaches three or four score of years, which all young persons reckon upon as a kind of certainty and calculate upon having before them, by the far greatest number are cut off at a much earlier period, and very many in the prime of their lives. There is no age that is safe, no constitution that is secure from the visitation of death; nay, the strongest men and women are more liable to inflammatory disorders than those who are weaker; and these disorders are more fatal to them than to persons in less vigorous health. But the grand reason for setting forwards early in a religious course, is undoubtedly this; namely, that as according as a man sets out at first, his character most frequently is fixed for ever, for good or for bad. This is a most solemn consideration indeed, and the fact is so; I mean humanly and generally speaking. Such as is the youth, such is the man. And I further believe it to be true, and the same thing has been remarked by very wise observers of human nature, that the character seldom changes much after the middle of life. I say seldom ; I do not say never; because I hold it possible, with the assistance of God’s grace, to put away our sins; and that that assistance may always be procured by sincere prayer and corresponding endeavours, forasmuch as whilst God spares life, he spares it, * not willing that any should perish, but that all should come and turn to him.” We therefore do not now talk of possibility; for who would trust to possibility in a matter which is of infinite moment? we are speaking of probability as gathered from actual experience; and experience proves, that if a person go into a course of vice and irreligion, and hold on in that course through youth to manhood, and from the dawn of manhood towards the middle of life, he seldom changes it effectually. Whether it be owing to the strength of habit, or that the conscience loses its sensibility and timorousness, the fact is so ; and the knowledge of this fact, when they are informed of it by those who would be very unwilling to impose upon them, ought at least to quicken the attention, or rather ought to alarm the fears of young persons, I mean persons from the age of fourteen or fifteen to that of twenty. They ought to consider
themselves as at the crisis of their fate. They are arrived at the division of the road; and accordingly as they turn to the right hand or to the left, they advance towards heaven, or draw nigh unto hell; afearful consideration, and calculated, if any thing will do it, to make young people serious and earnest in their resolutions to set out right. ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life P’ was the question asked. The answer given was, ‘Keep the commandments.” What God’s commandments are, and how they are to be kept, you will for the most part know sufficiently; your conscience will not often fail of informing you. The point for you to endeavour, is to hold close to the dictates of conscience and the sense of duty, whatever passions, whatever inclinations, whatever allurements of pleasure strive to tempt and draw you aside from it; or however much the invitation of companions or the example of the world might seem to afford encouragement for so doing. Keep constantly in your minds this short maxim ; that resolution at your age for a few years, is probably to fix your character for life, and your fate for ever. Young men and young women, think not that it is too early to be religious. Take heed; for whether you would ensure yourselves against the greatest of all dangers, the danger of being cut off in the midst of your sins, from which no age, no health, no constitution is a security or protection; whether you will take warning by the thousands and tens of thousands, who, having been drawn at an early age into vicious courses, have never all their lives got out of them; whether you will credit those who have gone before you in the path of life, as to the danger of once yielding to temptations of sin, or will believe indeed your own eyes and observations as to the same thing; whether you would avoid that bitter repentance, those sore struggles which every sinner must undergo before he can possibly bring himself back to the right way, which are always painful, and often, it is to be feared, unsuccessful, that is, are not sufficiently persisted in ; whether, finally, you hope to reach, as you proceed in life, that holiness of heart and temper which the steady practice of virtue produces, and which is sure of receiving from God a crown of proportionable glory and happiness in heaven; whichever of these considerations move and prompt you to a life of religion, begin it in time; hold fast your innocency; step into the right way. Look not aside to the guilty indulgences which many take delight in ; they will fail you, they will forsake you ; they will ruin you both soul and body, both your comforts in this world and your salvation in the next. Heligion
has great things in store for you ; it will fill you with peace and joy, and hope and courage to your latest moment; and it will place you amongst the blessed in heaven, in the presence of your Father and redeemer.
1 CoRINTHIANs XI. 31.
IT is true that these words, together with the exhortation two verses before, ‘Let a man examine himself,’ are spoken particularly of the Lord’s supper. The Corinthians having strongly abused that institution, and lost sight of its religious mature entirely, St Paul here bids them consider and reflect with themselves what they were about, what they were going upon, when they come together to eat the Lord's supper. I think, nevertheless, that these words may in the present day be taken in a general sense, because whatever reason there was for the Corinthians to examine themselves and judge themselves in relation to coming to the sacrament, there is the same or greater reason for the duty in every other part or point of obligation in which we are apt to go wrong. St Paul says, ‘if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged;’ but as a man cannot judge without first examining himself and making a search into his own heart, I shall take occasion from these words to treat of the duty of selfexamination, in which duty there are three things to be considered ; its use, its neglect, and the seasons for it.
Now as to its use, for it is seldom a pleasant task, and therefore, unless useful, one would decline it, the end of all religion is a good life; but a good life is no such easy thing to be compassed. We stand in need of all the aids and helps which we can procure either from religion or our own reason. Experience proves that they are all often too little. Now of all the instrumental parts of religion, there is none in its nature so likely, none that in fact, I believe, does influence men’s behaviour so effectually, as this one of selfexamination; as it is in the first