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people whom God by their word called out of darkness into his marvellous light, many of whom soon agreed to join together, in order to strengthen each other's hands in God. These also were simple of heart, devoted to God, zealous of good works; desiring neither honour, nor riches, nor pleasure, nor ease, nor any thing under the sun; but to attain the whole image of God, and to dwell with him in glory.
14. But as these young preachers grew in years, they did not all grow in grace. Several of them indeed increased in other knowledge; but not proportionably in the knowledge of God. They grew less simple, less alive to God, and less devoted to him. They were less zealous for God; and, consequently, less active; less diligent in his service. Some of them began to desire the praise of men, and not the praise of God only; some to be weary of a wandering life, and so to seek ease and quietness. Some began again to fear the faces of men; to be ashamed of their calling; to be unwilling to deny themselves, to take up their cross daily, "and endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.' Wherever these preachers laboured, there was not much fruit of their labours. Their word was not, as formerly, clothed with power: it carried with it no demonstration of the Spirit. The same faintness of spirit was in their private conversation. They were no longer " instant in season, out of season ;" "warning every man, and exhorting every man," "if by any means they might save some.
15. But as some preachers declined from their first love, so did many of the people. They were likewise assaulted on every side; encom passed with manifold temptations: and while many of them triumphed over all, and were "more than conquerors through him that loved them;" others gave place to the world, the flesh, or the devil; and so ed into temptation :" some of them "made shipwreck of their faith," at once; some by slow, insensible degrees. Not a few, being in want of the necessaries of life, were overwhelmed with the cares of the world; many relapsed into the desires of other things, which choked the good seed," and it became unfruitful."
16. But of all temptations, none so struck at the whole work of God, as" the deceitfulness of riches:" a thousand melancholy proofs of which I have seen within these last fifty years. Deceitful are they indeed! For who will believe they do him the least harm? And yet I have not known three score rich persons, perhaps not half the number, during three score years, who, as far as I can judge, were not less holy than they would have been had they been poor. By riches I mean, not thousands of pounds; but any more than will procure the conveniences of life. Thus I account him a rich man, who has food and raiment for himself and family, without running into debt, and something over. And how few are there in these circumstances who are not hurt, if not destroyed thereby! Yet who takes warning? Who seriously regards that awful declaration of the apostle; even "They that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into divers foolish and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and perdition?" How many sad instances have we seen of this in London, in Bristol, in Newcastle; in all the large trading towns throughout the kingdom, where God has lately caused his power to be known! See how many of those who were once simple of heart, desiring nothing but God, are now gratifying "the desire of the flesh;" studying to please their senses, particularly their
taste; endeavouring to enlarge the pleasure of tasting as far as possible. Are not you of that number? Indeed you are no drunkard, and no glutton; but do you not indulge yourself in a kind of regular sensuality? Are not eating and drinking the greatest pleasures of your life; the most considerable part of your happiness? If so, I fear St. Paul would have given you a place among those "whose god is their belly!" How many of them are now again indulging "the desire of the eye!" Using every means which is in their power, to enlarge the pleasures of their imagination! If not in grandeur, which as yet is out of their way; yet in new or beautiful things! Are not you seeking happiness in pretty or elegant apparel, or furniture? Or in new clothes, or books, or in pictures, or gardens? "Why, what harm is there in these things!" There is this harm, that they gratify "the desire of the eye," and thereby strengthen and increase it; making you more and more dead to God, and more alive to the world. How many are indulging "the pride of life!" Seeking the honour that cometh of men? Or " laying up treasures on earth?" They gain all they can, honestly and conscientiously. They save all they can, by cutting off all needless expense; by adding frugality to diligence. And so far all is right. This is the duty of every one that fears God. But they do not give all they can; without which they must needs grow more and more earthly minded. Their affections will cleave to the dust more and more; and they will have less and less communion with God. Is not this your case? Do you not seek the praise of men more than the praise of God? Do not you lay up, or at least desire and endeavour to "lay up, treasures on earth?" Are you not then (deal faithfully with your own soul !) more and more alive to the world; and, consequently, more and more dead to God? It cannot be otherwise. That must follow, unless you give all you can, as well as gain and save all you can. There is no other way under heaven to prevent your money from sinking you lower than the grave! For "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." And if it was in him in ever so high a degree, yet if he slides into the love of the world, by the same degrees that this enters in, the love of God will go out of the heart.
17. And perhaps there is something more than all this contained in those words; "Love not the world, neither the things of the world." Here we are expressly warned against loving the world, as well as against loving "the things of the world." The world, is the men that know not God; that neither love nor fear him. To love these with a love of delight or complacence, to set our affections upon them, is here absolutely forbidden; and, by parity of reason, to converse or have any intercourse with them, farther than necessary business requires. Friendship or intimacy with them, St. James does not scruple to term adultery: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend to the world, is an enemy of God." Do not endeavour to shuffle away, or evade the meaning of those strong words. They plainly require us to stand aloof from them; to have no needless commerce with unholy men. Otherwise we shall surely slide into conformity to the world; to their maxims, spirit, and customs. For not only their words, harmless as they seem, do eat as doth a canker; but their very breath is infectious 8
their spirit imperceptibly influences our spirit. It steals "like water into our bowels, and like oil into our bones."
18. But all rich men are under a continual temptation to acquaintance and conversation with worldly men. They are likewise under a continual temptation to pride, to think more highly of themselves than hey ought to think. They are strongly tempted to revenge, when they are ever so little affronted: and, having the means in their own hands, how few are there that resist the temptation! They are continually tempted to sloth, indolence, love of ease, softness, delicacy; to hatred of self denial, and taking up the cross, even that of fasting and rising early, without which it is impossible to grow in grace. If you are increased in goods, do not you know that these things are so? Do you contract no intimacy with worldly men? Do not you converse with them more than duty requires? Are you in no danger of pride? Of thinking yourself better than your poor, dirty neighbours? Do you never resent, yea, and revenge an affront? Do you never render evil for evil? Do not you give way to indolence or love of ease? Do you deny yourself, and take up your cross daily? Do you constantly rise as early as you did once? Why not? Is not your soul as precious now as it was then? How often do you fast? Is not this a duty to you, as much as to a day labourer? But if you are wanting in this, or any other respect, who will tell you of it? Who dares tell you the plain truth, but those who neither hope nor fear any thing from you? And if any venture to deal plainly with you, how hard is it for you to bear it! Are not you far less reprovable, far less advisable, than when you were poor? It is well if you can bear reproof even from me: and in a few days you will see me no more.
Once more, therefore, I say, having gained and saved all you can, do you give all you can? else your money will eat your flesh as fire, and will sink you to the nethermost hell! Oh beware of " laying up treasures upon earth!" Is it not treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath?
Lord, I have warned them! but if they will not be warned, what can I do more? I can only "give them up unto their own hearts' lusts, and let them follow their own imaginations!"
19. By not taking this warning, it is certain many of the Methodists are already fallen; many are falling at this very time; and there is great reason to apprehend, that many more will fa most of whom will rise no more!
But what method may it be hoped the all wise God will take to repair the decay of his work? If he does not remove the candlestick from this people, and raise up another people, who will be more faithful to his grace, it is probable he will proceed in the same manner as he has done in time past. And this has hitherto been his method: when any of the old preachers left their first love; lost their simplicity and zeal, and departed from their work; he raised up young men, who are what they were, and sent them into the harvest in their place. The same he has done, when he was pleased to remove any of his faith ful labourers into Abraham's bosom. So when Henry Millard, Edward Dunstone, John Manners, Thomas Walsh, or others, rested from their labours, he raised up other young men, from time to time, willing and able to perform the same service. It is highly probable, he will take the very same method for the time to come. The place of those preach
ers, who either die in the Lord, or lose the spiritual life which God had given them, he will supply by others that are alive to God, and desire only to spend and be spent for him.
20. Hear ye this, all ye preachers, who have not the same life, the same communion with God, the same zeal for his cause, the same burning love to souls, that you had once! "Take heed unto yourselves, that ye lose not the things ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward." Beware lest God swear in his wrath, that ye shall bear his standard no more! Lest he be provoked to take the word of his grace utterly out of your mouth! Be assured, the Lord hath no need of you; his work doth not depend upon your help. As he is able," out of stones, to raise up children to Abraham;" so he is able, out of the same, to raise up preachers after his own heart! Oh make haste! Remember from whence you are fallen; and repent and do the first works!
21. Would it not provoke the Lord of the harvest to lay you altogether aside, if you despised the labourers he had raised up, merely because of their youth? This was commonly done to us, when we were first sent out, between forty and fifty years ago. Old, wise men asked, "What will these young heads do ?" So the then bishop of London in particular. But shall we adopt their language? God forbid! Shall we teach him, whom he shall send; whom he shall employ in his own work? Are we then the men, and shall wisdom die with us? Does the work of God hang upon us? Oh humble yourselves before God, lest he pluck you away and there be none to deliver!
22. Let us next consider what method has the wisdom of God taken, for these five and forty years, when thousands of the people, that once ran well, one after another, "drew back to perdition ?" Why, as fast as any of the poor were overwhelmed with worldly care, so that the seed they had received became unfruitful; and as fast as any of the rich drew back unto perdition, by giving way to the love of the world, to foolish and hurtful desires, or to any other of those innumerable temptations, which are inseparable from riches; God has constantly, from time to time, raised up men, endued with the spirit which they had lost: yea, and generally this change has been made with considerable advantage for the last were, not only (for the most part) more numerous than the first, but more watchful, profiting by their example; more spiritual, more heavenly minded, more zealous, more alive to God, and more dead to all things here below.
23. And, blessed be God, we see he is now doing the same thing in various parts of the kingdom. In the room of those that have fallen from their steadfastness, or are falling at this day, he is continually raising up, out of the stones, other children to Abraham. This he does at one or another place, according to his own will; pouring out his quickening Spirit on this or another people, just as it pleaseth him. He is raising up those of every age and degree, young men and maidens. old men and children, to be "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; to show forth his praise, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light." And we have no reason to doubt, but he will continue so to do, till the great promise is fulfilled; till "the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea; till all Israel is saved, and the fulness of the Gentiles is come in.”
24. But have all that have sunk under manifold temptations, so fallen that they can rise no more? Hath the Lord cast them all off for ever, and will he be no more entreated? Is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore? God forbid that we should affirm this! Surely he is able to heal all their backslidings: for with God no word is impossible. And is he not willing too? He is "God, and not man; therefore his compassions fail not." Let no backslider despair. "Return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you; unto our God, and he will abundantly pardon."
Meantime, thus saith the Lord to you that now supply their place. "Be not high minded, but fear!" If "the Lord spared not" thy elder brethren, "take heed lest he spare not thee!" Fear, though not with a servile, tormenting fear, lest thou fall by any of the same temptations; by either the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, or the desire of other things. Tempted you will be in ten thousand different ways, perhaps as long as you remain in the body; but as long as you continue to watch and pray, you will not "enter into temptations." His grace has been hitherto sufficient for you; and so it will be unto the end.
25. You see here, brethren, a short and general sketch of the manner wherein God works upon earth, in repairing this work of grace, wherever it is decayed through the subtlety of Satan, and the unfaithfulness of men, giving way to the fraud and malice of the devil. Thus he is now carrying on his own work, and thus he will do to the end of time. And how wonderfully plain and simple is his way of working, in the spiritual, as well as the natural world! That is, his general plan of working, of repairing whatsoever is decayed. But as to innumerable particulars, we must still cry out, "Oh the depth! How unfathomable are his counsels, and his paths past tracing out!"
SERMON LXXIV.-The Imperfection of Human Knowledge. "We know in part," 1 Cor. xiii, 9.
1. THE desire of knowledge is a universal principle in man, fixed in his inmost nature. It is not variable, but constant in every rational creature, unless while it is suspended by some stronger desire. And it is insatiable: "the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing;" neither the mind with any degree of knowledge which can be conveyed into it. And it is planted in every human soul for excellent purposes. It is intended to hinder our taking up our rest in any thing here below; to raise our thoughts to higher and higher objects, more and more worthy our consideration, till we ascend to the source of all knowledge, and all excellence, the all wise, and all gracious Creator.
2. But although our desire of knowledge has no bounds, yet our knowledge itself has. It is, indeed, confined within very narrow bounds; abundantly narrower than common people imagine, or men of learning are willing to acknowledge: a strong intimation, (since the great Creator doeth nothing in vain,) that there will be some future state of being, wherein that now insatiable desire will be satisfied, and there will be no onger so immense a distance between the appetite and the object of it.