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yourself of! How often have you disabled yourself from doing good, by purchasing what you did not want! For what end did you buy these ornaments? To please God? No; but to please your own fancy, or to gain the admiration and applause of those that were no wiser than yourself. How much good might you have done with that money? And what an irreparable loss have you sustained by not doing it, if it be true that the day is at hand, when "every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour !"
15. I pray consider this well. Perhaps you have not seen it in this light before. When you are laying out that money in costly apparel, which you could have otherwise spared for the poor, you thereby deprive them of what God, the proprietor of all, had lodged in your hands for their use. If so, what you put upon yourself, you are, in effect, tearing from the back of the naked; as the costly and delicate food which you eat, you are snatching from the mouth of the hungry. For mercy, for pity, for Christ's sake, for the honour of his gospel, stay your hand! Do not throw this money away. Do not lay out on nothing, yea, worse than nothing, what may clothe your poor, naked, shivering, fellow creature!
16. Many years ago, when I was at Oxford, in a cold winter's day, a young maid (one of those we kept at school) called upon me. I said, You seem half starved. Have you nothing to cover you but that thin linen gown? She said, "Sir, this is all I have!" I put my hand in my pocket; but found I had scarce any money left, having just paid away what I had. It immediately struck me, Will thy Master say, "Well done, good and faithful steward! Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold!" Oh justice! Oh mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid! See thy expensive apparel in the same light: thy gown, hat, head dress! Every thing about thee, which cost more than Christian duty required thee to lay out, is the blood of the poor! Oh be wise for the time to come! Be more merciful! More faithful to God and man! More abundantly adorned (like men and women professing godliness) with good works!
17. It is true, great allowance is to be made for those who have never been warned of these things, and perhaps do not know that there is a word in the Bible which forbids costly apparel. But what is that to you? You have been warned over and over; yea, in the plainest manner possible. And what have you profited thereby? Do not you still dress like other people of the same fortune? Is not your dress as gay, as expensive as theirs, who never had any such warning? As expensive as it would have been, if you had never heard a word said about it? Oh how will you answer this, when you and I stand together at the judgment seat of Christ! Nay, have not many of you grown finer as fast as you have grown richer? As you increased in substance, have you not increased in dress? Witness the profusion of ribands, gauze, or linen about your heads? What have you profited then by bearing the reproach of Christ? by being called Methodists? Are you not as fashionably dressed as others of your rank that are no Methodists? Do you ask, "But may we not as well buy fashionable things as unfashionable?" I answer, Not if they give you a bold, immodest look, as those huge hats, bonnets, head dresses do. And not if they cost more. "But
I can afford it." Oh lay aside for ever that idle, nonsensical word! No Christian can afford to waste any part of the substance which God has entrusted him with. How long are you to stay here? May not you to morrow, perhaps to night, be summoned to arise and go hence, in order to give an account of this and all your talents to the Judge of quick and dead?
18. How then can it be, that after so many warnings, you persist in the same folly? Is it not hence? There are still among you, some that neither profit themselves by all they hear, nor are willing that others should: and these, if any of you are almost persuaded to dress as Christians, reason, and rally, and laugh you out of it. Oh ye pretty triflers, I entreat you not to do the devil's work any longer! Whatever ye do yourselves, do not harden the hearts of others! And you that are of a better mind, avoid these tempters with all possible care; and if you come where any of them are, either beg them to be silent on the head, or quit the room.
19. Sixthly: the putting on of costly apparel is directly opposite to what the apostle terms, "the hidden man of the heart:" that is, to the whole "image of God," wherein we were created, and which is stamped anew upon the heart of every Christian believer ;-opposite to “ the mind which was in Christ Jesus," and the whole nature of inward holiness. All the time you are studying this outward adorning, the whole inward work of the Spirit stands still or rather goes back; though by very gentle, and almost imperceptible degrees. Instead of growing more heavenly minded, you are more and more earthly minded. If you once had fellowship with the Father and the Son, it now gradually declines; and you insensibly sink deeper and deeper into the spirit of the world,-into foolish and hurtful desires, and grovelling appetites. All these evils, and a thousand more, spring from that one root, indulging yourself in costly apparel.
20. Why then does not every one that either loves or fears God, flee from it, as from the face of a serpent? Why are you still so conformable to the irrational, sinful customs of a frantic world? Why do you still despise the express commandment of God, uttered in the plainest terms? You see the light: why do not you follow the light of your own mind? Your conscience tells you the truth: why do you not obey the dictates of your own conscience?
21. You answer, "Why, universal custom is against me; and I know not how to stem the mighty torrent?" Not only the profane, but the religious world, run violently the other way. Look into, I do not say, the theatres, but the churches, nay, and the meetings of every denomination; (except a few old fashioned Quakers, or the people called Moravians;) look into the congregations, in London or elsewhere, of those that are styled gospel ministers; look into Northampton chapel: yea, into the Tabernacle, or the chapel in Tottenham Court Road; nay, look into the chapel in West street, or that in the City Road; look at the very people that sit under the pulpit, or by the side of it; and are not those that can afford it, (I can hardly refrain from doing them the honour of naming their names,) as fashionably adorned, as those of the same rank in other places?
22. This is a melancholy truth. I am ashamed of it: but I know not how to help it. I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that it
is not my fault! The trumpet has not " given an uncertain sound," for near fifty years last past. Oh God! thou knowest I have borne a clear and a faithful testimony. In print, in preaching, in meeting the society, I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. I am therefore clear of the blood of those that will not hear. It lies upon their own head.
23. I warn you once more, in the name, and in the presence of God, that the number of those that rebel against God, is no excuse for your rebellion. He hath expressly told us, "Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil." It was said of a great, good man, he
"Feared not, had Heaven decreed it, to have stood
Who of you desire to share in that glorious character? To stand adverse against a world? If millions condemn you, it will be enough that you are acquitted by God and your own conscience.
24. "Nay, I think," say some, "I could bear the contempt or reproach of all the world beside. I regard none but my own relations, those especially that are of my own household. My father, my mother, my brothers and sisters, (and perhaps one that is nearer than them all,) are teasing me continually." This is a trial indeed; such as very few can judge of, but those that bear it. "I have not strength to bear it.” No, not of your own: certainly you have not. But there is strength laid up for you on One that is mighty!" His grace is sufficient for you; and he now sees your case, and is just ready to give it you. Meantime, remember his awful declaration, touching them that regard man more than God: "He that loveth father or mother, brother or sister, husband or wife, more than me, is not worthy of me.'
25. But are there not some among you that did once renounce this conformity to the world, and dress, in every point, neat and plain, suitable to your profession? Why then did you not persevere therein? Why did you turn back from the good way? Did you contract an acquaintance, perhaps a friendship, with some that were still fond of dress? It is no wonder then that you was, sooner or later, moved to measure back your steps to earth again." No less was to be expected, than that one sin would lead you on to another. It was one sin to contract a friendship with any that knew not God: for "know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" And this led you back into another, into that conformity to the world, from which you had clean escaped. But what are you to do now? Why, if you are wise, escape for your life: no delay: look not behind you! Without loss of time, renounce the cause and the effect together! Now, to day, before the heart be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, cut off, at one stroke, that sinful friendship with the ungodly, and that sinful conformity to the world! Determine this day! Do not delay till to morrow, lest you delay for ever. For God's sake, for your own soul's sake, fix your resolution
26. I conjure you all who have any regard for me, show me before I go hence, that I have not laboured, even in this respect, in vain, for near half a century. Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation. Only be more consistent with yourselves. Let your dress be cheap as well as plain. Otherwise you do but trifle with God and me, and your own souls.
I pray, let there be no costly silks among you, how grave soever they may be. Let there be no Quaker linen; proverbially so called, for their exquisite fineness: no Brussels lace, no elephantine hats or bonnets, those scandals of female modesty. Be all of a piece, dressed from head to foot, as persons professing godliness: professing to do every thing, small and great, with the single view of pleasing God.
27. Let not any of you who are rich in this world, endeavour to excuse yourselves from this by talking nonsense. It is stark staring nonsense, to say, "Oh I can afford this or that." If you have regard to common sense, let that silly word never come out of your mouth. No man living can afford to waste any part of what God has committed to his trust. None can afford to throw any part of that food and raiment into the sea, which was lodged with him, on purpose to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. And it is far worse than simple waste, to spend any part of it in gay or costly apparel. For this is no less than to turn wholesome food into deadly poison. It is giving so much money to poison both yourself and others, as far as your example spreads, with pride, vanity, anger, lust, love of the world, and a thousand" foolish and hurtful desires," which tend to "pierce them through with many sorrows." And is there no harm in all this? Oh God, arise, and maintain thy own cause! Let not men or devils any longer put out our eyes, and lead us blindfold into the pit of destruction!
28. I beseech you, every man that is here present before God, every woman, young or old, married or single, yea, every child that knows good from evil, take this to yourself. Each of you for one, take the apostle's advice: at least, hinder not others from taking it. I beseech you, oh ye parents, do not hinder your children from following their own convictions, even though you might think they would look prettier, if they were adorned with such gewgaws as other children wear! Í beseech you, oh ye husbands, do not hinder your wives! You, oh ye wives, do not hinder your husbands, either by word or deed, from acting just as they are persuaded in their own minds! Above all, I conjure you, ye half Methodists, you that trim between us and the world, you that frequently, perhaps constantly, hear our preaching, but are in no farther connection with us; yea, and all you that were once in full connection with us, but are not so now; whatever ye do yourselves, do not say one word to hinder others from recovering and practising the advice which has been now given! Yet a little while and we shall not need these poor coverings; for this corruptible body shall put on incorruption. Yet a few days hence, and this mortal body shall put on immortality. In the mean time, let this be our only care, "to put off the old man;" our old nature;-" which is corrupt;" which is altogether evil;— and to " put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." In particular, put on as the elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, gentleness, long suffering." Yea, to sum up all in one word, "put on Christ;" that "when he shall appear, ye may appear with him in glory."
SERMON XCIV.-The More Excellent Way.
"Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet I show unto you a more excellent way," 1 Cor. xii, 31.
1. In the preceding verses, St. Paul has been speaking of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost: such as healing the sick, prophesying, in the proper sense of the word; that is, foretelling things to coine; speaking with strange tongues, such as the speaker had never learned; and the miraculous interpretation of tongues. And these gifts, the apostle allows to be desirable: yea, he exhorts the Corinthians, at least the teachers among them, (to whom chiefly, if not solely, they were wont to be given in the first ages of the church,) to covet them earnestly, that thereby they might be qualified to be more useful either to Christians or heathens. "And yet," says he, "I show unto you a more excellent way" far more desirable than all these put together: inasmuch as it will infallibly lead you to happiness, both in this world and in the world to come: whereas you might have all those gifts, yea, in the highest degree, and yet be miserable both in time and eternity.
2. It does not appear, that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period, when the emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches, and power, and honour, upon the Christians in general; but in particular, upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased: very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed,) "because there was no more occasion for them," because all the world was become Christians. This is a miser able mistake: not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christians. The real cause was, "the love of many," almost of all Christians, so called, was waxed cold." The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ, than the other heathens. The Son of man, when he came to examine his church, could hardly "find faith upon earth." This was the real cause, why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church; because the Christians were turned heathens again, and had only a dead form left.
3. However, I would not, at present, speak of these, of the extra ordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, but of the ordinary: and these, likewise, we may "covet earnestly," in order to be more useful in our generation. With this view we may covet "the gift of convincing speech," in order to "sound the unbelieving heart ;" and the gift of persuasion, to move the affections, as well as enlighten the understanding. We may covet knowledge, both of the word and of the works of God, whether of providence or grace. We may desire a measure of that faith, which, on particular occasions, wherein the glory of God or the happiness of men is nearly concerned, goes far beyond the power of natural causes. We may desire an easy elocution, a pleasing address, with resignation to the will of our Lord: yea, whatever would enable us, as we have opportunity, to be useful wherever we are. These gifts we may innocently desire: but there is "a more excellent way."