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good, and yet wilfully neglects it, must contract greater guilt, and be liable to a severer punishment. If that man be culpable who is careless of doing all the good which by an exertion of his talents he is able to do; is not that man much more culpable, who presumptuously omits to do the good to which he has opportunities to solicit bim? But why should I spend time in establishing so plain a truth, especially when it is already confirmed by the highest authority ? Our blessed Lord himself expressly tells us, (Luke xii. 47.) that “ the servant who knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes."
The only question that remains then is, Whether this be a supposition that can be made? Is it to be thought, that any man is capable of deliberately resisting his own conviction, and of declining obedience to a law which be both knows and believes to be binding on him?
I confess, indeed, that a superior Being, if we could imagine him to be altogether unacquainted with human affairs, might reject this supposition as improbable. But surely we have no cause to object against the representation as forced, or beyond the life. Our own observation, unless we have been extremely inattentive, cannot fail to furnish us with numberless proofs of this determined neglect of duty. We need not go from home to bring our examples from persons in high and public trust, who have been known to sacrifice the acknowledged interest and honour of a whole nation to their own private resentment or personal advantage. They are farther seen, for no other reason but because they are placed higher. The importance of their station renders their faults the more conspicuous, while a groaning community points out, as with the finger, the authors of its distress. But let each of us look into his own breast; and if conscience
is not asleep, it will say to us as Nathan said to David, “ Thou art the man.” Thou thyself hast neglected the fairest opportunities of doing good, when thou hadst the strongest conviction that it was thy reasonable duty.
I mean not to pry into the secrets of your hearts, any more than to divulge the secrets of my own. But I speak from a thorough conviction, that all of us pass too slightly over our omissions, even in the most serious review which we take of our conduct. We are, alas! too fruitful in excuses, and too ready to gloss over our most culpable neglects, with the specious colour of ignorance or incapacity. But God, to whom the night shineth as the day, knows the conviction of mind against which we sin; and our most dexterous arts of concealment cannot screen us from his penetrating eye. A just impression of this would prevent many' fatal mistakes in our conduct.
I have now, for example, an opportunity of doing good; and my conscience tells me, that I ought to improve
it. On the other hand, I have many strong temptations to neglect it. It would put me to too much cost or trouble; it would involve me in a train of action against which my indolence revolts; or it would divert me from other employments more agreeable to my inclination. On which side shall I resolve? May I not so manage it, that the neglect shall escape the observation of my neighbour? Or if he should perceive it, may I not put a good face upon it, and find out some excuse to save me from his censure ? Ah! but here is the check. The Searcher of hearts knows my present conviction. In vain shall I attempt to prevaricate with him. I may elude the censure of man; but I never can escape the just judgment of that God who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things. Such reasoning as this, if it were once become habitual to us, would be a constant
and powerful incitement to all holy obedience; and would prevent the deep guilt of neglecting to do good, even when we know the extent and obligation of the law of God, and are convinced that it is our duty to comply with it.
Having thus endeavoured to illustrate and comfirma the two propositions contained in my text, I proceed now to the practical improvement of the subject. And,
1st. This subject administers a sharp reproof to those who, in any case, attempt to evade their convictions of duty. “ To him that knoweth to do good," saith the Apostle, “and doth it not, to him it is sin.” For, consider what kind of disposition this conduct betrays. Is it not evidently the disposition of a slavish and mercenaту
mind? You do no more in the service of God than you suppose to be necessary, in order to escape eternal misery; and this is the only consideration which deters you from open transgressions of bis law. You have therefore no regard for bim, but only a concern for your own safety. Your plan of conduct is to offend God as far as you can, without incurring his vengeance: So that any appearance of goodness about you is nothing more than the effect of a natural timidity. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Doth his goodness challenge no better return from you, than merely to refrain from acts of open rebellion against bim? Consider, I beseech you, the baseness and ingratitude of this conduct; and if your hearts retain any spark of in. genuity, you will surely be pursuaded to yield him a more faithful and generous service in time to come. But,
Rdly. This subject administers reproof also to the slothful and inactive servant, who rests contented with low attainments in religion. You perhaps flatter your. self, that although you are remiss in seeking out oppor
tunities of doing good, yet you are not unfaithful to any known obligation. But in this case you greatly deceive yourself. For is it not a known obligation, that we should aim at as much perfection as we are capable of attaining? But you have renounced this desire alto . gether. In other words, you have deliberately left off that work to which our Saviour hath expressly commanded us to devote onrselves. For, are not these bis words ? “ Be ye perfect, even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect.” Once more,
What hath been said on this subject ought to quicken the zeal and activity even of those who have made tbe greatest progress in the good ways of God.
The declining state of religion calls loudly on all who are its real friends, to exert themselves to the utmost, in order to revive its influence in the world. Nothing, be assured, will be so effectual for accomplishing this desirable object, as the bright and exemplary lives of professing Christians. Are you then zealous for the glory of God ? be “ zealous of good works.” Let it appear that your religion gives authority to your conscience, by your being more just, and humane, and generous than other men. “ Ye are the salt of the earth, ye are the light of the world.” Your divine Master bath intrusted you with the honour of that religion which he taught on earth, and expects that you should display it in an amiable light. But surely a mere negative degree of virtue will pever convince men that your principles have any excellence superior to their own; and that professing Christians satisfy themselves with a virtue of this sort, is, I am afraid, in no small degree, the cause to which the rapid growth of infidelity in these times must be ascribed.
If this is at all the fact, doth it not afford us a subject of the most serious lamentation ? " It is impossible but that
offences will come, but wo unto him through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were banged about his neck, and he cast into the sea.” 0 then study to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things. “ Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “ Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, what. soever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things,” and do them. This will administer to you true pleasure in life, and solid hope in death; and hereafter the sound of the last trumpet, the terror of the negligent and unfaithful servant, will be the triumphant signal of your release from the grave, and the summons of your Lord to enter into his joy. Amen.
PROVERBS vi. 6, 7, 8.
Go to the Ant, thou Sluggard; consider her ways and
be wise: which, having no guide, overseer, or ruler, prorideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
was created with more understanding than the beasts of the earth: But our minds are so debased by our apostacy from God, that the meanest creatures may become our teachers. And accordingly, the Spirit of