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ly despise. And who can blame them for despising such characters? But, alas for those, who, by thus causing the ways of truth to be evil spoken of, lay stumbling-blocks before the blind!*
The effects of a consistent conversation becoming the Gospel in those who profess it, were remarkably exemplified in the first Christian church at Jerusalem. They were apparently like sheep in the midst of wolves. They were surrounded by the very people who had lately murdered their Lord. But the holiness, love, joy, peace, union, and simplicity, which animated their conduct, impressed an awe upon the beholders, so that no poor pretender durst presume to join them ;† and, though divested of all outward advantages and support, the people were constrained to magnify them. Were this spirit more general amongst us, I believe it would be more effectual to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and to silence the cavils of infidels, than all our books and sermons. And the twelve apostles, were they now living amongst us, would probably preach to little purpose, unless a measure of this spirit were discoverable in their professed admirers..
2. By your prayers. You are not called to preach the Gospel, but, in this way you may greatly assist those who are. Brethren, pray for us. Our work is great; the difficulties we have to surmount, the snares and temptations which surround us, and our infirmities, are many. Who is sufficient for these things? The apostle Paul, distinguished as he was by the eminence of his grace, experience, and services, set a high value upon the prayers of God's people. Hear how he pleads with them, with an earnestness like that of a needy beggar requesting alms, "I be seech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together in your prayers to God for me;" and pray, "that the word of the Lord may have free course, may run, and be glorified." The Lord has promised to do great things for his people, but he has said "that he will be inquired of by them, to do it for them." Prize and improve your great privilege of access to the throne of grace, by which every believer in Jesus, like Israel of old, has power with God and with man. In answer to effectual fervent prayer, the army of Sennacherib was destroyed in a night, T and Peter was delivered from a strong prison, and from the malice of Herod.** The efficacy of prayer is still the same. If the Lord were pleased to pour out a spirit of prayer and supplication upon his people, we should find our public ordinances more lively and more fruitful: We should then hope to be more successful in winning souls, and § 2 Thess, iii. 1.
* Levit. xix. 14. Ezek. xxxvi. 57. VOL. III
† Acts, v. 13. + Rom. xv. 30.
Acts, xii. 5. 12.
you might justly claim a principal share in the comfort and honour of seeing that good work prosper, to the success of which your prayers would largely contribute. Next to the immediate assistance and consolations of the Holy Spirit, nothing encourages a faithful minister so much, as when he thinks he can perceive that, while he is speaking, his hearers are drawing down a blessing upon his words by their prayers: it adds wings to his zeal, gives him a double impression upon his own heart, of the weight and importance of the truths he delivers; and enables him to dispense them with a double impression of demonstration and power upon the hearts of others.
3. By affording your countenance and assistance, according to the ability the Lord has given you, to promote every prudent and well-directed scheme which is set on foot for the more effectual spreading of that knowledge which is necessary in order to win souls from the dominion of sin to the service of God. Among these there are few, if any, which I can more warrantably cominend to your attention, than the laudable and benevolent object of the Society for promoting Religious Knowledge among the Poor; an institution which it has pleased God signally to prosper, both by the large increase of their fund from year to year, and the many instances of the known happy effects which have followed the perusal of the books they have distributed. Many more instances, as yet unknown to us, we trust will be manifested in the great day, when the Lord shall appear in glory. Though the beginning of this society was small, they have, since the year 1750, when it was first formed, distributed more than four hundred thousand books, upwards of one hundred and five thousand of which were Bibles and New Testaments; the rest were small and plain books, well adapted to the capacities and circumstances of those who have, mostly, but a confined education, and who have not much time for reading. The number of books bestowed annually has been on the increase from year to year. In the course of the last year, according to the printed account, the number of all the different books was fifteen thousand five hundred and eighty. How much these donations may have multiplied the means of religious knowledge among people otherwise destitute, in these kingdoms, in our Plantations, and in America, who can say, who can even conjecture? And we hope, by the benefactions of this year, the Society will be able to do more the following year than in any former.
People who are in danger of perishing for lack of knowledge, are still very numerous. The much which has been done, is little, compared with what the Society might yet do, were their resources equal to their wishes. I trust my request, that you will
strengthen their hands at this time will not be in vain : and that the brief account I have given you of their design and progress, will render further solicitation needless. To bespeak the benevo lence of my stated congregation, when a collection is proposed, I seldom do more than inform them of the occasion, and that it has my good wishes. After the repeated proofs I have had of their generosity, I need do no more. Nor will I suppose that it is necessary to use any further arguments to prevail with you.
There may be some persons present who will kindly assist us in procuring the means of religious knowledge for others, who are hitherto unacquainted with the power and the comforts of religion themselves. May the good Lord now awaken their desires to obtain the one thing needful, the pearl of great price! That knowledge which is necessary for the poor, is equally so for you, whatever your situation in life 'may be. Will you pity others, and not feel a concern for your own case? You may deserve thanks from us for your ready assistance in this good work, and yet your heart may be in a state of alienation from God; you may have amiable qualifications, which entitle you to the esteem of your fellow-creatures, as you are members of society, and be, at the same time, destitute of the faith and hope of the Gospel. Permit me, before we part, to offer one consideration to your serious thought. We read that eight persons only were saved in the ark ;* and only four of these, Noah and his three sons, were men. Considering the large dimensions of the ark, I think we may take it for granted that Noah and his sons did not build it without assistance; and there were no men to assist them in escaping from the flood, but such as afterwards perished in it. What an awful case! To afford their help to build an ark for the preservation of others, and then to remain out of the ark themselves, until the flood came and swept them all away. There is a day of wrath approaching. It will burn like an oven; it will ravage like a flood. The Gospel points out a refuge. The believer in Jesus Christ, like Noah in the ark, is in perfect safety. He is already delivered from condemnation, and shall stand before the Lord in humble confidence, when he shall come to judge the world. Your concurrence in this charitable design of distributing Bibles among the poor, that they may be timely warned to flee from the wrath to come, is commendable: thus you assist in preparing an ark for them; the very book or books which your money will purchase, may be blessed to the saving of souls, and consequently you may be the instrument. Can you bear the thought of being instrumental to the salvation of others, and to
* 1 Pet. iii. 20.
lose your own soul, and be yourself a cast-away at last, after all the means and opportunities you have been favoured with; after all the warnings and calls you have had; after all the good you may have done as a member of society?-Alas! is it possible that you can believe there is a flood coming, and that an ark is prepared, and not flee, instantly flee, for refuge, to the hope set before you? Oh! may the Lord make you truly wise, and effectually win your soul to himself.
Brethren, the wisdom spoken of in my text is very different from the wisdom of this world, which knows not God. But the Scripture cannot be broken; let us therefore abide by the sure decision of that word which cannot deceive or disappoint us. They are truly wise who are wise to win souls; and though they may be now obscured by misrepresentations and reproachesthey shall shine, ere long, as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars, for ever and ever.*
* Dan. xii. S.
THE GREAT ADVENT.
PREACHED IN THE
PARISH CHURCH OF ST. MARY WOOLNOTH,
ON APRIL 23, 1789.
THE DAY OF GENERAL THANKSGIVING FOR THE KING'S HAPPY RECOVERY.
He shall caH upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.-PSALM xci. 15, 16.