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to like and choose their society; not to take pleasure in being where God is openly dishonoured. Instead of that, we should choose, with David, to be "companions of them that fear God, and of those that keep his precepts," Psal. cxix. 63. And especially for that reason, to constitute our families, if possible, of such; as in Psal. ci. 4. "A froward heart shall depart from me, I will not know a wicked person." Ver. 6, 7. "Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; he that walketh in a perfect way, shall serve me. He that worketh deceit, shall not dwell within my house; he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight."
II. I proceed, in the second place, to mention some of the obligations which lie upon Christ's disciples to be regularly zealous.
1. The importance of religion deserves our zeal. It is that wherein the honour of God, the present welfare of the world, and the everlasting interest of ourselves and others, is more concerned than any thing else. And where, then, should zeal and fervour be employed, if not here?
2. The difficulties that attend religion, make zeal necessary. There are many indispositions within ourselves, and many oppositions from without, that will never be surmounted without a holy fervour. When we are remiss, our enemies are vigilant and active. Indeed, the maintenance of a right zeal is of the utmost consequence for our own security against infection by the many evils around us. It is an easy transition from conversing with sin and sinners with indifference, to learn their ways, and become like unto them. By this means, people of a sober education are gradually drawn off from wisdom's ways.
3. Sincerity in religion obliges to zeal. If we love God, we shall hate evil, Psal. xcvii. 10. And so great is his excellence, and sin's evil, that if our affection be right set between both, we cannot remain cold and indifferent for the one, or against the other,
4. The end of religion, divine acceptance, cannot be obtained without zeal. Christ plainly declares this in the context, where he threatens the Laodiceans with utter rejection, because they were neither cold nor hot; and, therefore, calls
them to repentance, and to resume a warmth and spirit in religion, as ever they would avoid so dreadful a doom.
5. The exercise of regular zeal is the most likely way to do good to others. Not, indeed, when we treat them with supercilious contempt, or with a peevish moroseness; or when pretended zeal breaks in upon the offices of humanity, civility, or charity. But if they see, along with all the marks of love and good-will to their persons, that we are in earnest in religion ourselves; that we dare not run with them to the same excess of riot, nor comply with them in their sins and errors ; it is natural to inquire in such a case, why do these people act against the stream of the world? Why will not they allow themselves to behave as we do? Why do they shew uneasiness, when we speak profanely, or act loosely? Why do they choose to expose themselves to censure and dislike? If this be a steady conduct, joined with the expressions of benevolence and civility upon other occasions, God may lead them to see, that we dare not go their lengths, "because of the fear of the Lord;" and it may dispose them to consideration, and to bear with patience what we have to offer for God and religion.
6. Zeal is eminently recommended by the example of the great Head of our religion, the Lord Jesus. As man and Mediator, he was always fervent in his course of obedience: "I must," says he, "work the work of him that sent me, while it is day," John ix. 4. He expressed the most vigorous concern for the honour of God, and for all that belonged to him; whereby the evangelist takes notice, that that ancient passage spoken in his person, in a prophetical psalm, was accomplished: "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up," John ii. 17. How ardent was his love to souls, and his zeal against sin, upon all occasions! We are obliged to learn this, as well as other graces, of him; to be zealous in the work assigned to us, as he was in his; to be zealous and active for God in our stations; and to have his interest much at heart, as he had ours.
Upon the whole,
1. We should seriously examine how we comply with this exhortation, or whether the character which our Lord had reproved in the context, be our character. Have we ever to this
day began to be in earnest in religion, or only made it a bybusiness? Is any zeal we seem to express the mere fruit of a natural warmth of temper, or the fruit of religious principles ? Is it "a godly zeal ?" 2 Cor. xi. 2.; a zeal for God, founded on the authority of God, and directed by the will of God. Is our warmest zeal for the substantial and most indisputable parts of religion? Is our zeal first, most constantly, and most earnestly, spent upon the advancement of the power and practice of godliness in ourselves? Have we not left our first love? Have we not abated in the life and vigour of holy dispositions, of pious resolutions? In the spirituality of the acts of devotion? In tender fear of sin, and watchfulness against it; in endeavours to do good? These are inquiries of the greatest concern to all that call themselves Christians.
2. We should heartily and speedily repent, according to the evidence against us, which conscience gives in upon inquiry. If we have lived long under the gospel, and never felt its vital quickening heat, but have remained dead to this day, is it not high time to arise from the dead? To bewail our past stupidity, and miserable trifling in the matters of our souls; and before it is too late, to turn the main stream of our concern and care to our everlasting interests, and the means of securing them?
If there were once some holy fervour begun (but it is not with us now as in days past,) let us "remember from whence we are fallen, and repent, and do our first works," Rev. ii. 5. How ungrateful and aggravated is such a declension in those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious; Shall the avowed servants of sin and Satan be more zealous in the way to death, than the professed servants of Christ in their way to heaven? It may be, we were once very zealous and active for sin; let the thought of that quicken our zeal now in a better way. If we remit our fervour, the state of our souls will suffer unspeakable loss, the pleasure and relish of every duty will proportionably abate; our zeal itself is like to take an other course, for it will be exercised one way or another; and if we should be saved upon repentance at last, it will be as by fire.
Let us, therefore, frequently converse with the word of God, by which our zeal is to be excited and regulated;
often represent to ourselves the great motives of the gospel, the fervour of redeeming love, the constant observation of God, the danger of apostacy, the shortness of time, the greatness and nearness of the reward, if we faint not; and, along with all, often pray for the light and quickening influences of the divine Spirit. So religion will have power in us now, the peace of God will rule in our hearts, and we shall be able to go with full sails to glory.
MATT. X. 16.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye, therefore, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
UR blessed Saviour observes, "The children of this world are wiser in their generation, than the children of light," Luke xvi. 8.; that is, it is too commonly true, that those who have chosen their portion in this life, use morè prudence to gain their end, than people who have had the wisdom to determine upon a better happiness, do in pursuit of their nobler end. This is too often the fact, but at the same time is no small reproach upon Christians; they should use as much wisdom in prosecution of their end, as they did in the choice of it, and have need of wisdom in the management of the Christian life, in which they are engaged as much as worldly men have to compass their aims below. The following discourse is to be upon this argument of Christian prudence, for which the words of the text may be a proper
They are part of Christ's instructions to his apostles, when he sent them out only on a special commission in Judea. But several of the instructions seem much more to point forward to events that should befal them in the execution of a more general commission, which they were to receive after Christ's ascension. Thus, particularly, the warning he gives