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which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Pure worship of prayers and praises. Holy discipline and good government, for the encouragement of piety, and suppressing of sin in the family, Psalm ci. And to the advancing of these, every one is to hold hand, as they would have the Lord to dwell in the family.
3. Help forward the reformation of other persons, families, and particularly of the congregation whereof you are members. It is the commendation of the Tekoites, Neh. iii. 5-27. It seems they were resolved not to be idle, while any thing was to do. They had less encouragement than others from their nobles, but they were not the more slack. Every one is our neighbour, and we have a relation to all, to engage us to be useful to them as far as we can. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially to them that are of the household of faith." Thus you may be useful for national reformation and that two ways.
1. Thus doing, that part of it falling to your share is done, and so it is not all lying behind. God will take notice who puts his hand to the work as well as who stand back from it. Nay he notices how every one works, Neh. iii. 20. Your labour shall not be in vain. God reckons a Christian who repents of all his known sins, to repent of all his sins without exception; and he that doth what he can towards national reformation in his sphere, will be reckoned of God, one that would have reformed the whole land if he could.
2. Your example will have a native tendency to stir up others. The flame that burns the house must rise in some place, and some person must take the lead in reformation. And O! but that is an honourable post. Paul speaks most affectionately of Epinetus, as being the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ; and tells us that the zeal of the Corinthians provoked very many. When the first fruits come, the whole harvest follows. Though it should not have that effect, yet it will be your best testimony against your defection and apostacy of the day.
To excite you to family and personal reformation, Consider,
1. This is very necessary at all times, especially at this time in which God is pleading with us in such a manner, many families mourning for the loss of their relations, and we know not how soon the cup may come about to our own persons, if the Lord do not stay his hand.
It is an ordinary excuse for doing nothing that we cannot do all;
but it is a very insufficient one. In Ezra's days, the building of the temple was interrupted for many years; yet they built the altar, Ezra iii. 2. Though we cannot reform the land; we may do something towards it.
Though you cannot stop the flood of iniquity and apostacy through the land; yet you may put a stop to that part of it that is in your own course and life. You might do something to stop it in those of the same family with you and in your neighbourhood. Ay, but as are the nobles, so are the commons, they will not put their shoulder to the Lord's work. They are not their brother's keepers; though they can speak well enough in their own cause, they have not a mouth to open for the cause of God. We are all persuaded public oaths have done much mischief to this church and nation. This we cannot help, but may we not reform the common profane swearing among us, that no person imposes. They have need of a brow of brass, that will pretend a zeal against the former, and yet make no obstacle of profane swearing in their own conversation, or are at no pains to reform it in others.
Though we cannot get the land to mourn, yet we may mourn over our own family and its case. Though matters be so that we cannot get national humiliations, for all that we judge to be sins of the land, yet we may get personal and family fasts and humiliations for them. In these we may be as particular as we please. And if they put us to this course, it would be a good evidence, that the sins of the land are really heavy to us before the Lord; and that the sins of the land are not a matter of discourse, but of solemn seriousness with us. Amen.
Note. The remainder of this subject, on personal and family fasting was published by the author himself, in his Treatise on that subject.
Ettrick, Sept. 18, 1717.
THANKSGIVING FOR MY CONTINUANCE IN ETTRICK.
Where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
WE are called this day to give thanks unto God, that the congregation is not left desolate, and wanting a settled ministry. The due consideration of the evils attending such a case is a proper mean to excite unto thankfulness, for averting such a stroke. And where thankfulness is to be found in its due latitude, it will extend to a suitable improvement of the means of grace. But of these we have in the text, where notice,
1. What makes a people very unhappy, with respect to the concerns of their souls. Where there is no vision the people perish The want of vision puts a people in very unhappy circumstances. By vision is understood prophecy, 1 Sam. ix. 9. "Before time in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come and let us go to the seer; for he that is now called a prophet, was before time called a seer." And by prophecy is meant the preaching, expounding, and applying the word of God, 1 Cor. xiv. 1. "Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophecy." This also is clear from the opposite clause, which mentions the law, as the rule by which people are to walk. They that are left without this mercy of the word, they perish, their spiritual case goes to wreck, they are made naked, stripped of their ornaments.
2. What makes a people or person happy. He that keepeth the law, happy is he. Negatively, you may observe, it is not the having of vision, the enjoying the ministry of the word that will do it. Though the want of it makes a people unhappy, however prosperous they may be otherwise; yet the mere having of it will not make them happy. Positively, it is the improving of vision among them, to the obeying of the truth, it is the keeping of the law which is preached unto them, the falling in with the great ends of the revelation of the mind of God made among them, by faith and a holy walk. This makes every one happy that doeth it.
Doctrine. Though the want of the ministry of the word makes a people very unhappy, yet it is not the having of it, but the right improving of it that makes them happy.
There are three things which the text presents to us, and which crave our serious consideration in our case.
I. Deplorable is the case of those that are deprived of the ministry of the word.
II. The mere having of the ministry of the word is not sufficient to make a people happy.
III. A right improvement of the ministry of the word will make a happy people.
We return to the consideration of the
I. Namely, deplorable is the case of those that are deprived of the ministry of the word. In speaking to this, I shall first show what makes that case so deplorable and heavy; and then confirm the truth of this point. Let us then,
1. Show what makes that case so deplorable and heavy. text tells us the people perish. The original word here used has several significations, which different translations give it, and I see no reason why each of them that is suitable may not be thought to be intended by the Holy Spirit, and the whole make up the just explication of what makes that case so deplorable.
1. Where there is no ministry of the word, the people are made naked, they are left in a bare condition, they are uncovered. This is the primary condition of the word. Thus the sad condition of the people by their idolatry is expressed, Exod. xxii. 25. Moses saw that the people were naked, for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame amongst their enemies. And,
1. They are stript of their ornaments to their shame. Gospel ordinances kept up by a gospel ministry are the ornaments of a house, Isa. Ixiv. 11. The ordinances are the beauties of holiness, Psal. cx. 3. Thus the saints have ever considered them, Psal. lxxxiv. 1. Where there is no ministry of the word, there the stars, which Christ holds in his right hand to give light to the people, are hid out of sight; the candles that shined in the candlestick are put out, and so such a people stript of their ornaments.
2. They are stripped of their armour, left naked in the midst of danger. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit. We cannot want it in an evil hour, if we mind to strive against the stream. is true, the word read is the sword of the Spirit as well as preached. But the preaching of it is the special mean to draw it out of the scabbard, and put it into the hand of poor sinners against their enemies. Thus the Eunuch, after reading the word, replied to Philip's question, How can I understand it, except some man should guide me? And he desired that Philip do come up and sit with him for VOL. III.
that purpose. The well is deep, and there is need of some to draw for the people, that they may drink.
3. They are stript of the means of their defence. Sinners are in danger of attacks from enemies on all hands. They have need of watchmen to stand in the watch-tower, but where there is no ministry the watch-tower is empty, none to sound the trumpet to awaken those that are asleep, and to encourage those to fight that go out to the battle. The wall is then taken down, and what is within will appear like the garden of the sluggard.
Hence they are exposed in a special manner to the subtilty and violence of their spiritual enemies, without the ordinary means of help. They that let their case go as it will, it is much alike to them, whether they have the ministry of the word or not. But such as are concerned about their souls, will find they need all the help they can get from public ordinances: so that they will look upon themselves without them, to be exposed as sheep without a shepherd.
2. Where there is no vision, the people go backward. They leave their first love, their first ways in religion, they fall into a spiritual decay and apostacy. God hath appointed the ministry of the word to set people forward in the way of duty, and in that they must strive against the stream. No wonder then that as the boat must go down the stream, when the rowers are no more; so where there is no vision the people go backward. And this is one reason why Satan strives to rob the church of her ministers. What is said to the seven churches, is said to the angels of them, for a lively minister, is most likely to make a lively people; a dead minister, a dead people; and no ministry at all, would soon issue in no religion at all.
3. Where there is no vision, the people are drawn away. They are drawn away from their God, from their duty, from the right way. They are never wanting who will be agents for Satan, to draw people aside into the ways of sin and wickedness. We have many such drawers, the devil, the world, and the flesh. draw against and oppose all these, a gospel ministry is set up in the church. All hath enough to do, to draw people forward; but how much more easily then would people be drawn away, were there none such to hold. Thus are they drawn away and scattered as sheep not having a shepherd.
4. Where there is no vision, the people are idle, they give over their work. They are like children who go to their play when they have none to call them to their books. They stand idle in the market place, while they have none to invite them to go into the