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great command of considering their ways; to-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts * Tomorrow may be quite too late: and at best every delay will make self-inspection more painful, and our condition more hopeless. But how carefully soever we may have searched into our breasts already, fresh occasions for it will be daily rising; and unless the repetition of it be frequent, we shall perform it ineffectually, and very soon leave it off entirely. The present season indeed is a yearly memorial of recollection and seriousness. But as the mere outward shew of it is of no value; so the more real goodness of a few weeks, if it end with them, is of very little. Our business therefore is, so to examine ourselves now, as to live more christianly ever after. And whence can we better begin, than from what we owe to Him that made us ?
Do we then often think of him, and constantly reverence him, as the wise and good, the just and powerful, ruler of the world? Do we praise him for his mercies, pray for his pardon, protection and grace, not only now and then in public form, but daily in private, with a deep and awful sense of what we say before him? Or can we perhaps some of us
would it deserve were we to treat an earthly superior so? What doth it deserve, if we treat the Lord and King of all so?
But besides worship, we owe him further, faith in what he teaches, obedience to what he commands. Have we then inquired with humility of heart, what doctrines he hath proposed to our belief, what laws he hath prescribed to our conduct, by reason or revelation ? Or do we set up our own fancy and caprice for absolute judges of his declarations and appointments : indolently and securely determining, that this article of faith, or rule of life, be its evidence what it will, cannot come from him; and another, though it doth, ought however to give way to our private interest, ease, or humour? Could such treatment of human laws be borne ? And will the Almighty and All-wise bear it? Be not deceived: God is not mocked.
But, how fully soever we own the authority of religion, do we practise it? What is our great aim and endeavour here? Is it to secure a happy immortality ? or to grasp as many as we can, of the splendid bubbles of this momentary scene; to get a little more power, or wealth, or rank, and then, with unabated thirst, a little more still ; even to the very night, that our souls shall be required of us? Whom do we think happy? the virtuous, the humble, the good ? or the artful, the prosperous, the great ? What do we rejoice in, or grieve at ? Is it our proficiency or failure, in love and duty to God, in reasonableness of heart, uprightness of behaviour, disengagement from this trifling world ? Are these the things we are concerned about ? or a very different sort of advantages and pre-eminences, belonging to the present state of things entirely, and many of them quite
remember when we prayed in secret and in earnest last? If not, why this neglect of the Author of all we enjoy, the Disposer of all we hope for? Can we think it meanness to honour him, even with the lowest submission ? Do we think it meanness in our inferiors to pay due respect to us? If not, why in
us to pay all respect to God? Will we then at least do it for the future? Resolving otherwise delibe
rately, comes very little short of renouncing and defying him; and dare we then go thus far ? What
* Psalm xcv. 8.
contemptible, even were no other to follow ? When our duty and our interest thwart each other, how do we act ? honestly and cheerfully give up the latter ? or frame poor excuses for preferring it, or unfair contrivances for reconciling it, to the former? These are questions of the last importance. For if the love of the world be our reigning passion, the love of the Father is not in us*. Which do we choose then, earth or heaven? Let us not cheat ourselves, but speak it out to our own hearts.
Or, however free in this respect, do we live to no other passion, equally unworthy? Is not our principal view to be admired for some accomplishment, or applauded for some ability, of very little merit? And are we not led both into follies and sins, to obtain and increase a false kind of esteem from others, that will only tempt us to forget ourselves? Do we attentively distinguish, what is truly of value, and to what degree ? in how many things of consequence we are deficient, in how few we excel ? and who hath made us to differt from the very meanest of our fellow-creatures ? Are we willing, if need require, to be slighted and despised, hated and reproached, for the sake of acting as we ought? Or do we love the praise of men I, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only g?
But, supposing we are clear both of worldliness and vanity, still what can we answer with respect to pleasure ? Do we indulge none, that is condemned by impartial reason: or, what we are sure is impartial, the word of God ? Every forbidden way of gratifying sensual desires, visibly produces many and dreadful mischiefs and crimes. Excess and intemperance ruin 1 John ii. 15.
+ 1 Cor. iv. 7. I John xii. 43.
& John v. 44.
the healths, the understandings, the usefulness, the fortunes, the families, of men. Breach of chastity produces all the same evils, and extends them further : brings innocent persons into guilt and dishonour, under treacherous pretences of esteem and love; involves their innocent friends in distress and shame along with them, and occasions innumerable evils, private and public. But particularly breach of the marriage vow dissolves the very bonds of human society. For if faith and truth, solemnly given oblige not, oblige not both sexes, in this case, why do they in any other? Are we then innocent, in these respects; or have we repented; or do we despise the threatening, that they, who do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God * ?
And, in regard to other indulgences, have we acted as becomes rational natures, designed to prepare ourselves, by the discipline of this life, for spiritual happiness in a better? Do we guard with care, against sinking into delicacy and indolence, against being dissipated amidst a hurry of gaieties, or lost in polite amusements and elegant trifles; or are we lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God †? What
proportion of our income do we spend in deeds of piety, charity, and proper beneficence? what proportion of our time, in the religious and moral improvement of our hearts, and the real duties of our respective stations ? All the wealth we have, and every hour we live, we must account for. Can we do it with joy ? Can we say we have been hitherto working, while it was day, the works of him that sent us $? If not, will we now reflect, how fast the night approaches ?
Another very material head of examination, is that of our resentments. Do we bear ill-will to no
Gal. v. 21. + 2 Tim. iii. 4. | John. i 4.
one, for excelling or coming too near us in rank, in power, in favour, in fortune, in qualifications of body or mind? Are we offended at no one, for doing what be justly might, perhaps what he ought; or, at least, apprehended himself bound to ? Have we inquired, with diligence and candour, into the truth and motives of the fact we are displeased with, and in effect heard both sides? Do we make all fit allowances for the merit, for the repentance of the offending party, for human infirmity in general ? Do we never punish but when it is plainly needful ; and never then, but by lawful means, and in a proper degree; never accuse, but when we have evident reason; and always confine ourselves in doing it to the words of truth and soberness *? We have been guilty ourselves of many and great faults both against God and man: do we forgive, as we hope to be given ?
A further inquiry yet must be (an extremely comprehensive and interesting one), what is the tendency of our common discourse and conversation ? Is it favourable to religion, to probity, to decency, to good-will among men, or the contrary? Doth it express dislike of wickedness and folly, though countenanced by fashion ; or excuse, if not approbation, of whatever chances to be in vogue ? Doth it show, that in our eyes a vile person is contemned, but we honour them that fear the Lord †? or do we love to palliate the sins of the former, and aggravate the failures of the latter ? Have we indeed ever thought of rules on this subject? or said, Our lips are our own, who is Lord over us f? Yet licentious talk, of every kind, doth unspeakable mischief. We all complain of it, when we suffer by it. And when other persons, when society, when the honour of God, when piety and * Acts xxvi. 25.
+ Ps. XV, 4. # Ps. xii. 4.
virtue, suffer by it; there is evidently the same, there is often far greater, guilt in it. And, since our hearts are as much concerned in what we say, as what we do; the declaration is perfectly reasonable: By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned *. Which then shall we be ?
But our behaviour must be recollected, not only towards our fellow-creatures in general, but with a closer view to the particular relations of life. If married persons, are we faithful, affectionate, considerate, mild, prudent? If children, do we make thankful returns for the care and tenderness of our parents; obey them dutifully; and pay them all that honour, which we shall certainly expect hereafter to be paid us? If parents, do we preserve towards our children a proper temperature of authority and condescension, and watch over and provide for those, to whom we have given being, so as may best secure their true happiness, and our own comfort in them, now and at the great day? If heads of families, have we due regard to the present eternal good of those whom we take under our roof; remembering that we also have a master in heaven! If servants, do we behave with singleness of heart, showing all fidelity, as unto the Lord, and not to men ? As subjects, do we express, in word and deed, the reverence and the gratitude we owe, to those whom Providence hath put in authority over us? Whether our condition be private or public, do we act in it, unbiassed, to the utmost of our knowledge, by interest, prejudice, and partial affection ? If employed in affairs, are we vigilant and upright, and studious, in all things, of the general good, as men fearing God, and hating covetousness f? If advanced to stations of eminence and * Matth. xii. 37.
+ Exod. xviii. 21.