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inquire why we come here to pray, and sing, and read, we reply, For no other reason than this, that we may promote your salvation; that we may stir you up to consider your need of it; that we may show you, from the Gospel, the only true way of it, and put you upon seeking it immediately. Observe, then,
I. That serious Christians plainly see the dangerous state in which many of their neighbours are.
II. That they earnestly desire their deliverance from it.
I. We observe that serious Christians plainly perceive the dangerous state of unconverted sinners around them. We cannot tell what the grace of God may do hereafter for the worst of men; and the condition of some may be doubtful; but, in many cases, it is too evident that many are in the "gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." This appears,
1. From their living in open sin; for indeed "some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment." St. Paul says, "the works of the flesh are manifest,'' among which he names "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, wrath, murder, and drunkenness." . Gal. v. 19. Our Saviour has directed us to judge of men by their fruits—"for every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit;" and he adds (observe his solemn words), "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire." Matt. vii. 17. We are forced to conclude, therefore, that "if men live after the flesh, they must die;" that if they proceed in the broad road, it must be to destruction; and that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Some men are evidently "men of the world," "servants of sin," and "captives of Satan;" such to whom our Lord said, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." .
2. Carelessness about religion is another alarming
symptom of a graceless, and therefore dangerous, state. There are many who have no concern about their souls or salvation. Like Gallio, they " care for none of these things." But this carelessness is as strong a proof of being in a state of nature and of WTath as living in open sin is; for it is written, Heb. ii. 3, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" To neglect this salvation is to omit all those duties which are necessary to a profitable hearing and keeping of the word preached. How many are there who every Sabbath turn their backs on the house of God, and spend the day in idleness and sinful pleasure! How many are there who never look into the Bible that they may become wise to salvation! How many who never lift up their hearts to God in prayer! Now, how shall such escape? Those who despised the law of Moses died without mercy; but to despise the gospel is a greater crime, and deserves a greater punishment. Those who seek not mercy now, according to the gospel, shall never have it "This is the acceptable time; this is the day of salvation:" if this be neglected, let poor sinners expect no more to hear of mercy through all eternity.
3. Formality in religion is another evidence of being in a dangerous condition. There are some who dare not omit all religious duties, public and private, but they are like the Pharisees, "who drew nigh to God with their mouth, and honoured him with their lips, but their heart was far from him;" by many religious ceremonies " they washed the outside of the cup and platter, but within they were full of extortion and excess." See Matt. xv. and xxiii. How many say their prayers like parrots, without knowing their meaning! How many go to church only to see and be seen; and, when they come away, are full of mirth and folly; thinking no more of what has passed, and spending the rest of the day in worldly conversation or amusement! Others think, that because they belong to a good church, and have been baptized, and say their prayers, and take the sacrament, all is well with them; while they are strangers to heart-work in religion; were never alarmed on account of their sins; never humbled for their sins; never fled to Jesus for refuge from their sins; and never knew any thing of that great change of heart, called in Scripture, regeneration, or the new-birth. Now, when we see our neighbours content with this poor empty form of godliness, and denying the power thereof, we cannot but be deeply concerned on account of their clanger.
4. There is another thing which alarms us on their behalf; that is, when we see them receive for truth, great and fundamental errors as to the doctrines of religion. We know it is commonly said, that it does not signify what a man believes, if he does but live a good life. But we testify against this opinion, as destructive to the souls of men. Did not the great Redeemer come into the world to enlighten it! Is he not the great teacher, who, by his word and Spirit, reveals the will of God for our salvation? Has he not promised his people that they shall "know the truth, and that the truth shall make them free!" And has he not said that his sheep hear and know his voice, but will not follow the voice of a stranger! How then can error be harmless? The Scripture speaks of "damnable heresies," as well as damnable vices. Surely it is of great importance that we have right views of the blessed God, as to his holiness, justice, and mercy; that we have right views of ourselves, as fallen, guilty, helpless sinners; and especially that we have right views of Jesus Christ, and of the nature and way of salvation through him by faith. It was the want of these that made St. Paul use the words of our text And this leads us to observe, in the next place,
II. That serious Christians earnestly and sincerely desire the salvation of their neighbours, whom they thus perceive to be in a dangerous state.
If love to our neighbour requires that we should pity and help him in the time of sickness, poverty, or any other kind of temporal distress; how much more that we should care for his soul, and labour to prevent his eternal ruin! All the love and politeness that worldly men show to their neighbour, is for the perishing body; while they care not for the soul, but perhaps contribute much to its eternal destruction. But if the love of God be shed abroad in our heart, the salvation of souls will be the first object we have in view; for,
1. We tremble to think of their future misery. We know assuredly that "the wrath of God is revealed .from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Rom. i. 18. We certainly know that all men are born in sin, and are children of wrath; and that without an interest in Christ by faith, and a heart changed by grace, no man shall see the Lord: that "the wrath of God abideth on every unbeliever," and that he will render indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every man who dies in his sins, impenitent, unpardoned, unrenewed. Now, can we think of our relations, our friends, our neighbours being in this state, without pitying them, praying for them, and exhorting them to "fly from the wrath to come?" It is impossible! If any man can, how dwelleth the love of God in him? When our compassionate Saviour paid his last visit to Jerusalem, and from a hill beheld that great and wicked city, which on account of unbelief, was to be destroyed in about forty years, he wept over it; though then surrounded with a multitude, crying, "Hosanna," he lamented over it with tears, saying, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." Luke xix. 42. Andfmay not we be permitted, with some small portion of the same love and compassion to our perishing neighbours, to say, oh how happy would it be for you now to know those things which are necessary to your present peace and everlasting salvation; lest, ere long, God should deprive you of the means of grace, and give you up to the blindness of your minds and the hardness of your hearts! It would shock us -beyond measure to see one of you burning in a great fire, were it but for a few minutes; but who can think without horror of everlasting burnings? We therefore would, as St. Jude speaks, "save you with fear, pulling you out of the fire."
2. As we wish to prevent your future destruction, so likewise we earnestly desire that you may share with us in the joys and glories of the heavenly world. We believe "there is a reward for the righteous;" that " the pure in heart shall see God;" that "in his presence is fulness of joy, and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore." We believe that Christ is gone to heaven to prepare mansions for his people; and that in due time, they shall be with him, to behold his glory, to enter into his rest, to sit down with him on his throne, and to wear a crown of glory. We humbly hope, through Jesus, to partake of these blessings, and we would gladly take all the world along with us. We are grieved to think that any should despise the good land, slight the invitations of Heaven, or expect it on false grounds. We are grieved to think that so many cleave to the dust, and for the sake of the short-lived pleasures of sin, and a portion in this world, are in danger of losing eternal joys. This, therefore, puts us upon urging you to seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, that you also may be admitted into the kingdom of glory.