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gratitude and obedience of this people to their temporal benefactor, have we not all reason to believe, he is full as well pleased with the gratitude and obedience of Christians to those who derive far greater blessings to them, than ever Jonadab conveyed to his posterity?
6. It may be of use yet again to consider, in what instances it is the duty of Christians to obey and submit themselves to those that watch over their souls. Now the things which they enjoin, must be either enjoined of God, or forbidden by him, or indifferent. In things forbidden of God, we dare not obey them; for we are to obey God rather than man. In things enjoined of God, we do not properly obey them, but our common Father. Therefore, if we are to obey them at all, it must be in things indifferent. The sum is, it is the duty of every private Christian, to obey his spiritual Pastor, by either doing or leaving undone any thing of an indifferent nature; any thing that is in no way determined in the word of God.
7. But how little is this understood in the Protestant world! At least in England and Ireland. Who is there, even among those that are supposed to be good Christians, who dreams there is such a duty as this? And yet there is not a more express command, either in the Old or New Testament. No words can be more clear and plain; no command more direct and positive. Therefore, certainly none who receive the Scripture as the word of God, can live in the habitual breach of this, and plead innocence. Such an instance of wilful, or at least careless disobedience, must grieve th Holy Spirit of God. It cannot but hinder the grace of God from having its full effect upon the heart. It is not improbable, that this very disobedience may be one cause of the deadness of many souls; one reason of their not receiving those blessings which they seek with some degree of sincerity.
8. It remains only to make a short application of what has now been delivered.
You that read this, do you apply it to yourself? Do you examine yourself thereby? Do not you stop your own growth in grace, if not by wilful disobedience to this command; yet by careless inattention to it; by not considering it as the importance of it deserves? If so, you defraud yourself of many blessings which you might enjoy. Or, are you of a better mind; of a more excellent spirit? Is it your fixed resolution, and your constant endeavour, " to obey them that have the rule over you in the Lord?" To submit yourself as cheerfully to your spiritual, as to your natural parents? Do you ask, "Wherein should I submit to them?" The answer has been given already not in things enjoined of God; not in things forbidden by him; but in things indifferent: in all that are not determined, one way or the other, by the oracles of God. It is true, this cannot be done, in some instances, without a considerable degree of self denial, when they advise you to refrain from something that is agreeable to flesh and blood. And it cannot be obeyed in other instances, without taking up your cross; without suffering some pain or inconvenience, that is not agreeable to flesh and blood. For that solemn declaration of our Lord has place here, as well as on a thousand other occasions: "Except a man deny himself, and take up his cross daily, he cannot be my disciple." But this will not affright you, if you resolve to be not only almost, but altogether a Christian: if you determine to fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life.
9. I would now apply myself in a more particular manner to you who desire me to watch over your souls. Do you make it a point of conscience, to obey me for my Master's sake? To submit yourselves to me in things indifferent; things not determined in the word of God? In all things that are not enjoined, nor yet forbidden in Scripture? Are you "easy to be entreated," as by men in general, so by me in particular? Easy to be convinced of any truth, however contrary to your former prejudices?—And easy to be persuaded to do or forbear any indifferent thing at my desire? You cannot but see, that all this is clearly contained in the very words of the text. And you cannot but acknow ledge, that it is highly reasonable for you so to do, if I do employ all my time, all my substance, all my strength, both of body and soul, not in seeking my own honour or pleasure, but in promoting your present and eternal salvation; if I do indeed "watch over your souls as one that must give account."
10. Do you then take my advice (I ask in the presence of God and all the world) with regard to dress? I published that advice above thirty years ago; I have repeated it a thousand times since. I have advised you not to be comformable to the world herein: to lay aside all needless ornaments; to avoid all expense; to be patterns of plainness to all that are round about you. Have you taken this advice? Have you all, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, laid aside all those needless ornaments, which I particularly objected to? Are you all exemplarily plain in your apparel? As plain as Quakers, (so called,) or Moravians? If not, if you are still dressed like the generality of people of your own rank and fortune, you declare hereby, to all the world, that you will not obey them that are over you in the Lord. You declare, in open defiance of God and man, that you will not submit yourselves to them. Many of you carry your sins on your forehead, openly, and in the face of the sun. You harden your hearts against instruction and against conviction: you harden one another: especially those of you that were once convinced, and have now stifled your convictions. You encourage one another to stop your ears against the truth, and shut your eyes against the light; lest haply you should see, that you are fighting against God, and against your own souls. If I were now called to give an account of you, it would be " with groans, and not with joy." And sure that would be " unprofitable for you :" the loss would fall upon your
11. I speak all this on supposition, (though that is a supposition not to be made,) that the Bible was silent on this head; that the Scriptures said nothing concerning dress, and left it to every one's own discretion. But if all other texts were silent, this is enough: "Submit yourselves to them that are over you in the Lord." I bind this upon your consciences, in the sight of God. Were it only in obedience to this direction, you cannot be clear before God, unless you throw aside all needless ornaments, in utter defiance of that tyrant of fools, fashion; unless you seek only to be adorned with good works, as men and women professing godliness.
12. Perhaps, you will say, "this is only a little thing: it is a mere trifle." I answer, if it be, you are the more inexcusable before God and man. What! will you disobey a plain command of God, for a mere trifle? God forbid! Is it a trifle to sin against God?—To set
his authority at nought? Is this a little thing? Nay, remember, there can be no little sin, till we can find a little god! Meantime, be assured of one thing: the more conscientiously you obey your spiritual guides, the more powerfully will God apply the word, which they speak in his name to your heart! The more plentifully will he water what is spoken, with the dew of his blessing; and the more proofs will you have, it is not only they that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in them.
SERMON CIII.-On Visiting the Sick.
"I was sick, and ye
visited me," Matt. xxv, 36.
1. Ir is generally supposed, that the means of grace, and the ordi nances of God, are equivalent terms. We commonly mean by that expression, those that are usually termed, works of piety; viz. hearing and reading the Scripture, receiving the Lord's supper, public and private prayer, and fasting. And it is certain, these are the ordinary channels which convey the grace of God to the souls of men. But are they the only means of grace? Are there no other means than these, whereby God is pleased, frequently, yea, ordinarily, to convey his grace. to them that either love or fear him? Surely there are works of mercy, as well as works of piety, which are real means of grace. They are more especially such to those that perform them with a single eye. And hose that neglect them, do not receive the grace which otherwise they might. Yea, and they lose, by a continual neglect, the grace which hey had received. Is it not hence, that many who were once strong n faith, are now weak and feeble minded? And yet they are not sensible whence that weakness comes, as they neglect none of the ordinances of God. But they might see whence it comes, were they seriously to consider St. Paul's account of all true believers; "We are his workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before prepared, that we might walk therein," Eph. ii, 10.
2. The walking herein is essentially necessary, as to the continuance of that faith whereby we are already saved by grace, so to the attainment of everlasting salvation. Of this we cannot doubt, if we seriously consider, that these are the very words of the great Judge himself: "Come, ye blessed children of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me," Matt. xxv, 34, &c. Verily, I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." If this do not convince you that the continuance in works of mercy is necessary to salvation, consider what the Judge of all says to those on the left hand: "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat: thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. In as much as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these, neither have ye
done it unto me." You see, were it for this alone, they must "depart" from God," into everlasting punishment."
3. Is it not strange that this important truth should be so little understood, or at least should so little influence the practice of them that fear God? Suppose this representation be true, suppose the Judge of all the earth speaks right, those, and those only, that feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, relieve the stranger, visit those that are in prison, according to their power and opportunity, shall "inherit the everlasting kingdom." And those that do not, shall "depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
4. I purpose at present, to confine my discourse to one article of these: visiting the sick: a plain duty, which all that are in health may practise, in a higher or lower degree; and which, nevertheless, is almost universally neglected, even by those that profess to love God. And touching this I would inquire,
I. What is implied in visiting the sick?
II. How is it to be performed?-And,
III. By whom?
I. First, I would inquire, what is the nature of this duty? What is implied in "visiting the sick?"
1. By the sick, I do not mean only those that keep their bed, or that are sick in the strictest sense. Rather I would include all such as are in a state of affliction, whether of mind or body; and that, whether they are good or bad, whether they fear God or not.
2. "But is there need of visiting them in person? May we not relieve them at a distance? Does it not answer the same purpose, if we send them help, as if we carry it ourselves?" Many are so circumstanced, that they cannot attend the sick in person; and where this is the real case, it is, undoubtedly, sufficient for them to send help, being the only expedient they can use. But this is not properly visiting the sick; it is another thing. The word which we render visit, in its literal acceptation, means, to look upon. And this, you well know, cannot be done, unless you are present with them. To send them assistance is, therefore, entirely a different thing from visiting them. The former then ought to be done, but the latter not left undone.
"But I send a physician to those that are sick: and he can do them more good than I can." He can in one respect: he can do them more good with regard to their bodily health. But he cannot do them more good with regard to their souls, which are of infinitely greater importance. And if he could, this would not excuse you: his going would not fulfil your duty. Neither would it do the same good to you, unless you saw them with your own eyes. If you do not, you lose a means of grace: you lose an excellent means of increasing your thankfulness to God, who saves you from this pain and sickness, and continues your health and strength; as well as of increasing your sympathy with the afflicted, your benevolence, and all social affections.
3. One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is, that, according to the common observation, one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorance, as an excuse for their hardness of heart.
"Indeed, sir," (said a person of large substance,) "I am a very compassionate man. But to tell you the truth, I do not know any body in the world that is in want." How did this come to pass? Why, he took good care to keep out of their way. And if he fell upon any of them unawares, "he passed over on the other side."
4. How contrary to this are both the spirit and behaviour of even people of the highest rank in a neighbouring nation! In Paris, ladies' of the first quality, yea, princesses of the blood, of the royal family, constantly visit the sick, particularly the patients in the grand hospital. And they not only take care to relieve their wants, (if they need any thing more than is provided for them,) but attend on their sick beds, dress their sores, and perform the meanest offices for them. Here is a pattern for the English, poor or rich, mean or honourable! For many years we have abundantly copied after the follies of the French. Let us for once copy after their wisdom and virtue, worthy the imitation of the whole Christian world. Let not the gentlewomen, or even the countesses, in England, be ashamed to imitate those princesses of the blood! Here is a fashion that does honour to human nature. It began in France; but God forbid it should end there!
5. And if your delicacy will not permit you to imitate those truly honourable ladies; by abasing yourselves in the manner which they do, by performing the lowest offices for the sick; you may, however, without humbling yourselves so far, supply them with whatever they want. And you may administer help of a more excellent kind, by supplying their spiritual wants: instructing them (if they need such instruction) in the first principles of religion: endeavouring to show them the dangerous state they are in, under the wrath and curse of God through sin ; and pointing them to the "Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world." Beside this general instruction, you might have abundant opportunities of comforting those that are in pain of body, or distress of mind: you might find opportunities of strengthening the feeble minded, quickening those that are faint and weary; and of building up those that have believed, and encouraging them to "go on to perfection.' But these things you must do in your own person: you see, they cannot be done by proxy. Or suppose you could give the same relief to the sick by another, you could not reap the same advantage to yourself. You could not gain that increase in lowliness, in patience, in tenderness of spirit, in sympathy with the afflicted, which you might have gained, if you had assisted them in person. Neither would you receive the same recompense in the resurrection of the just, when" every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour."
II. 1. I proceed to inquire in the second place, How are we to visit them? In what manner may this labour of love be most effectually performed? How may we do this most to the glory of God, and to the benefit of our neighbour? But before ever you enter upon the work, you should be deeply convinced, that you are by no means sufficient for it: you have neither sufficient grace, nor sufficient understanding, to perform it in the most excellent manner. And this will convince you of the necessity of applying to the Strong for strength; and of flying to the Father of lights, the Giver of every good gift, for wisdom; ever remembering, "There is a Spirit in man that giveth wisdom, and the inspiration of the Holy One that giveth understanding." Whenever therefore you