« PreviousContinue »
heaven upon earth to view God in His sanctuary. And the obtaining of the change is, or should be, one main end of this our meeting ; and that it may be the happy effect of it our recourse must be to the throne of grace by humble prayer in the name of our Mediator, Jesus Christ the righteous.
“Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house," saith the psalmist; and he adds this reason, "They will be still praising Thee.” There is, indeed, always in God's house both fit opportunity and plentiful matter of His praises. But the greater number of those that frequent His house do not dwell in it; their delight and affection is not there, therefore they cannot praise Him; they come in as strangers, and have no skill in the songs of praise. Yea, and the very children of the family, who worship in spirit and in truth, find their instruments (their hearts) very often quite out of tune for praises, and sometimes most of all when praises are requisite. They find still such abundant cause of complaint in themselves, weighing down their spirits that they can hardly at all wind them up to magnify that God whose mercy is far more abundant. If we would take a reflex view, and look back upon our carriage this day, in the presence of our God, who is there among us who would not find much work for sad thoughts ? Would not one find that he had a hard and stony heart; another, a light, inconstant, wandering heart to complain of; a third, an unbelieving heart; and some, all of these? And they (if such there be) who have both deeply sorrowed and been largely comforted, will possibly, for all that, upon former sad experience, be full of fears and jealousies that this sweet temper will not be of long continuance; that before long the world or some lust will find or make a way to creep in and banish those heavenly thoughts, and trouble that peace and joy which accompanies them.
There is no exercise so delightful to those that are truly godly as the solemn worship of God, if they find His powerful and sensible presence in it, and, indeed, there is nothing on earth more like to heaven than that is. But when He withdraws Himself, and withholds the influence and breathings of His Spirit in His service, then good souls find nothing more lifeless and uncomfortable. But there is this difference, even at such a time, betwixt them and those that have no spiritual life in them at all, that they find and are sensible of this difference, whereas the others know not what it means. And for the most part, the greatest number of those that meet together with a profession to worship God, yet are such as do not understand this difference. Custom and formality draw many to the ordinary places of public worship, and fill too much of the room ; and sometimes novelty and curiosity, drawing to places not ordinary, have a large share ; but how few are there that come on purpose to meet with God in His worship, and to find His power in strengthening their weak faith, and weakening their strong corruptions, affording them provision of spiritual strength and comfort against times of trial, and, in a word, advancing them some steps forward in their journey towards heaven, where happiness and perfection dwell. Certainly these sweet effects are to be found in these ordinances, if we would look after them. Let it grieve us, then, that we have so often lost our labour in the worship of God through our own neglect, and entreat the Lord that at this time He would not send us away empty. For how weak soever the means be, if He put forth His strength, the work shall be done, in some measure, to His glory and our edification.
How sounds it, to many of us at least, but as a wellcontrived story whose use is to amuse us, and possibly delight us a little, and there is an end; and, indeed, no end, for this turns the most serious and most glorious of all messages into an empty sound. If we awake, and give it a hearing, it is much; but for anything further, how few deeply beforehand consider, I have a dead heart, therefore will í go unto the Word of Life, that it may be quickened. It is frozen ; I will go and lay it before the warm beams of that Sun which shines in the Gospel. My corruptions are mighty and strong, and grace, if there be any in my heart, is exceeding weak; but there is in the Gospel a power to weaken and kill sin, and to strengthen grace, and this being the intent of my wise God in appointing it, it shall be my desire and purpose in resorting to it, to find it to me according to His gracious design; to have faith in my Christ, the fountain of my life, more strengthened, and made more active in drawing from Him ; to have my heart more refined and spiritualised, and to have the sluice of repentance opened, and my affections to divine things enlarged, more hatred of sin, and more love of God and communion with Him.
Ask yourselves concerning former times; and, to take yourselves even now, inquire within, Why came I hither this day? What had I in mine eye and desires this morning ere I came forth, and in my way as I was coming ? Did I seriously propound an end, or not, and what was my end ? Nor doth the mere custom of mentioning this in prayer satisfy the question, for this, as other such things usually do in our hand, may turn to a lifeless form, and have no heat of spiritual affection, none of David's panting and breathing after God in His ordinances; such desires as will not be stilled without a measure of attainment, as the child's desire of the breast, as our apostle resembles it. (1 Peter ii., 2.)
And then again, being returned home, reflect on your hearts : much hath been heard, but is there anything done by it? Have I gained my point? It was not simply to pass a little time that I went, or to pass it with delight in hearing, “Rejoicing in that light,” as they did in St. John Baptist's, “For a season,” as long as the hour lasts. It was not to have my ear pleased, but my heart changed; not to learn some new notions, and carry them cold in my head, but to be quickened, and purified, and “Renewed in the spirit of my mind." Is this done? Think I now with greater esteem of Christ, and the life of faith, and the happiness of a Christian And are such thoughts solid and abiding with me? What sin have I left behind ? What grace of the Spirit have I brought home? Or what new degree, or, at least, new desire of it, a living desire, that will follow its point? Oh! this were good repetition.
It is a strange folly in multitudes of us to set ourselves no mark, to propound no end in the hearing of the Gospel. The merchant sails not merely that he may sail, but for traffic, and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman ploughs not merely to keep himself busy, with no further end; but ploughs that he may sow, and sows that he may reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly, hear only to hear, and look no further ? This is, indeed, a great vanity, and a great misery, to lose that labour, and gain nothing by it, which, duly used, would be of all others most advantageous and gainful; and yet all meetings are full of this.
ROBERT SOUTH, D.D.*
GOD bears a different respect to places set apart and consecrated to His worship from what He bears to all other places designed to the use of common life, and prefers the worship paid Him in such places above that which is offered Him in any other places whatsoever ; because such places are naturally apt to excite a greater reverence and devotion in the
discharge of divine service than places of common use. The place properly reminds a man of the business of the place, and strikes a kind of awe into the thoughts when they reflect upon that great and sacred Majesty they use to treat and converse with there. They find the same holy consternation upon themselves that Jacob did at his consecrated Bethel, which he called “The gate of heaven ;” and if such places are so, then surely a daily expectation at the gate is the readiest way to gain admittance into the house.
* Sermon preached at the consecration of a chapel in 1667, on Psalm lxxxvii., 2. “God hath loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob."
It hath been the advice of some spiritual persons that such as were able should set apart some certain place in their dwellings for private devotions only, which if they constantly performed there, and nothing else, their very entrance into it would tell them what they were to do in it, and quickly make their chamber-thoughts, their tablethoughts, and their jolly, worldly, but much more their sinful thoughts and purposes, fly out of their hearts.
For is there any man (whose heart has not shook off all sense of what is sacred) who finds himself no otherwise affected when he enters into a church than when he enters into his parlour or chamber? If he does, for ought I know, he is fitter to be there always than in a church.
The mind of man, even in spirituals, acts with a corporeal dependence, and so is helped or hindered in its operations according to the different quality of external objects that incur into the senses. And, perhaps, sometimes the sight of the altar and those decent preparations for the work of devo tion may compose and recover the wandering mind much more effectually than a sermon or a rational discourse. For these things in a manner preach to the eye when the ear is dull and will not hear, and the eye dictates to the imagination, and that at last moves the affections. And if these little impulses set the great wheels of devotion on work, the largeness and height of that shall not at all be prejudiced by the smallness of its occasion. If the fire burns bright and vigorously, it is no matter by what means it was at first kindled; there is the same force and the same refreshing virtue in it, kindled by a spark from a flint, as if it were kindled by a beam from the sun.
I am far from thinking that these external things are either parts of our devotion, or by any strength in themselves direct causes of it; but the grace of God is pleased