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Father. Hold much fellowship with Jesus Christ. Study to realize that-elevation of spiritual feeling, that purity of thought, that devotional temper of mind, which will, under God make all inferior acquisitions contributory to your growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But a more powerful source of opposition to the claims of God originates in the pleasures and amusements of the world. The intellect is not so commonly assailed as the heart. The passions and lusts of a depraved heart are courted and fed by the pleasures of society, by the pursuits of the worldly, and the gratifications of the sensual. The world, and the things of the world, are opposed to God, and to the things of God. Men are tempted to seek their happiness in worldly society, in fashionable amusements, in the gratification of their senses; and when these are followed there is a distaste immediately awakened for true religion. There is a great diversity in the pleasures of the world, and in its fascinations. The plea generally is, on the part of a young man, that he intends to conform very slightly, and to keep himself within certain prescribed limits, both as to expenditure and pleasure. But who has ever done it? Who has ever successfully united a conformity to the world with true spirituality of mind; and who has ever been able, when once he has entered within the circle of worldly influence, to preserve himself from sin, but by a timely retreat? It is impossible to associate with persons whose conversation is light, trifling, lewd, or profane—it is impossible to have the eye assailed with objects that excite lust, the ear to listen to the profane jests, to the profligate and profane representations and language of our popular plays, to be addicted to fashionable amusements, to cross the threshold a gambling house, to exceed the bounds of moderation in eating and drinking, without contracting guilt in the eyes of our Maker. “ Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."
Let me ask whether any of these things can contribute to your humility, spirituality, self-denial, faith in Christ, love of God, and preparation for heaven? The claims of trade, of professional duties and studies, we allow to be great, ind we honour them. And the claims of domestic society, of friendly, and Christian, and literary intercourse, we allow to be great, and we honour them. But conformity to the pleasures and vanities of the world has no claims. You cannot plead for them. There are positive evils associated with them; a waste and loss of time ; family disarrangements; bad company; bad passions; and a deliberate exposure of the mind to contamination and evil.
PROOFS OF THE SUPERIORITY OF
THE CLAIMS OF TRUE RELIGION.
I have thus briefly adverted to what I conceive put forth claims in opposition to God and to true religion, and with which it is possible for the heart to be engrossed in the place of God and divine things. I shall now advert, for a few moments, to somE OF THE MANY
“ The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.
There are two series of observations, the outline of which only we can lay before you, establishing the supremacy of the claims of Religion.
In the first place, it might be proved from the fact that God is the Author of the claims urged upon us in the Bible.
“ My Son, give me thine heart.” “ Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth." “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God." "
God advances these claims to the children of men as the Author of their existence, their Lord, their Redeemer, and their Judge. His is the highest authority in the universe, and we ought to obey God rather than man. His claims cannot be neglected or despised without incurring his severe displeasure, and no earthly pretext can justify us in offering the homage of the heart to another God.
Secondly, The supremacy of the claims of religion may be argued from the nature of religious truth as affecting man in his present state, and in the most important relations he can sustain to this and a future life.
In this world he has to perform the part of an intelligent and responsible being; to fill up his relations in society, in the family, and in the Church, as one who must give an account to God. Religion is revealed as the means of his recovery from his naturally depraved state, and as the source of light, of truth, of holiness, and of consolation, during his present pilgrimage state.
Thirdly, The truths of religion, the way of reconciliation and forgiveness, und all the blessed prospects of a future and happy state, are not discoverable by the light of reason, nor by the indefatigable industry and the most painfid researches of the human mind.
It cannot be told by unaided reason whether there is one God, one hundred, or one thousand. It cannot be told how sin entered the world; whether it can be pardoned, whether God will be merciful to poor and wretched sinners, and whether man is to lie down in the dust to perish like the brute, or to rise to a new and immortal life. So plain however are all things in the Bible necessary to life, godliness, and immortality, that a wayfaring man though a fool cannot err. On all these most interesting subjects you have the fullest information in the pages of the inspired volume.
Fourthly, Their supreinacy may be argued from what is involved in their reception and rejection.
Here they occupy the loftiest eminence. You may be a good or a bad tradesman (I do not mean a dishonest one) you may be a sound or a superficial lawyer, a skilful or unskilful surgeon, a profound or shallow metaphysician, a professed or amateur geologist, a plodding natural philosopher, or devoted to science merely for amusement—and none of these will affect your eternal destiny. But if you are not decidedly religious, born again of the Spirit of God, if you have not faith in Christ, if you are not spiritually minded, you will be eternally lost. Over the portals of heaven, in letters of fire, and legible even on earth, are these words, “ Nothing that is defiled, or that worketh an abomination, can enter here."
There is a second series of observations, establishing the same point.
First: To every thing that is commendable in the claims of the presentlife religion gives its sanction and imprimatur. Every thing taught by the enlightened moralist, derives its highest authority from the Bible, whether he acknowledges or denies the inspiration of that blessed Book. Every thing which can conspire to make a good and honourable citizen-industry, prudence, frugality, and integrity -are inculcated here. Every thing to form the character, and guide the conduct, of a husband or wife, child or parent, is inculcated here. Every thing to make
men enlightened and loyal subjects of civil and political society, has its highest authority in the Bible. It forbids and denounces ungodliness and sin, in all their horrid, disgusting, or more fascinating forms. To whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, religion gives its full and hearty sanction.
Secondly: Religious truth will give a tone and direction to the mind in the acquisition of other classes of truth, and will make their acquisition easier and more profitable. A religious state of mind, ready to bow to the authority of Revelation, is better prepared for the acquisition of general truth. God is supplicated for assistance, and his blessing is devoutly desired in all the engagements of life, by those who love him.
Thirdly: All other truth is confesscdly limited in its interest and influence to time ; but religious truth, while it is the greatest blessing and ornament of our present existence, is peculiarly intended to prepare us for the future. There cannot be a fitter and more appropriate illustration of this, than the scene of a death-bed. What is most befitting a death-bed ? and from this we may judge what is most befitting that world into which death introduces us—What is it? Merchandize? No! Literature ? No! Philosophy ? No! Sensuality? No! Ungodly companions ? No! Vain and foolish conversation and jesting? No, it is not “ convenient !"— Then what is it? It is religion, pious conversation, prayer, and the presence of God. Both young and aged Christians have found it so ; and their happiness in death, and their triumph over death, have alike attested the divinity of religion.
I have thus in a brief and very imperfect manner endeavoured to prove to you the Supremacy of the Claims of Religious Truth. Before I conclude, I must address the different classes of young persons present this evening.
The first class consists of those who have been well initiated in religious truth, but who have not yet decided for God, and are unable to say, “ The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.” I do not say that the labour that has been bestowed upon you has been bestowed in vain, but the desired and pleasant fruits have not yet been gathered by a parent's or a teacher's hand. The scene of education you well remember. The ohject of a father's care, and of a mother's deep anxiety and earnest prayer, or the object of some pious teacher's charge, you look back upon the time when you were first taught to lisp the name of Jesus; and some of you can trace your education from that period to the present. How often have you sung the praises of Jesus; how often have you united in prayer ; how often have you pondered over the sacred page, and listened to the instructive and impressive commentaries upon it by those who have wished well to your eternal interests. Your advantages have been very great, and your privileges cannot be numbered. You are intimately acquainted with the powerful and blessed influence of religion upon others. You may have known some who were insincere, and who dishonoured the profession which they made, under the influence of improper and worldly motives ; but you know, and you have seen its blessed influence upon others. You are convinced of the reality of religion, and you have seen its effects in changing the heart and conduct, in strengthening the mind, and in consoling and supporting it on the bed of death. Why ther
have you not decided for God? Have you any reason? What is it? Is it that you are young, and you will put it off for the present? You may die this year. Should it be so, what will be your eternal state? Or is it the world? Is it pleasure? Is it lust? Is it evil companionship? Or is it mere thoughtlessness and unconcern, that has prevented your decision? My young friend! whatever it may be, put it beneath your feet. Let no barrier stand betwixt you and God. You will be happy if you are pious. Happy amidst the troubles of life that you have a God to go to who will support you under them, and deliver you and watch over you as your Heavenly Father. You will be free; yes, FREE from those pangs of conscience, those TERRIBLE ANXIETIES that disturb the peace of those who are not decided for God.
But, some of you may be saying, "I acknowledge the supremacy of the claims of religious truth: I believe the Bible; I see the impress of its divinity on every page; I admit its holy influence upon those who love God: I have seen that true religion is the basis of all true virtue; that it is the bond of domestic virtue, happiness, and prosperity; and that nothing can compensate for it in affliction and death. But still I feel that present things charm me more, and have a stronger hold upon my heart: I am living for those around me, my father or my mother, my husband or my wife, my child or my home. I should like to be religious, I wish to be, but I am not." Then why is it? The fact is, you have never been in earnest upon the subject. Have you ever gone to the throne of God in prayer, confessed your love of present things, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to subdue it, to regenerate your heart and make you decided for God, for truth, for spirituality, and holiness; and if you have, have you continued to persevere as one who was in earnest? I should as soon expect at this hour of the evening, to see the beams of the meridian sun illumine the place in which we are assembled, as to hear that God had denied your request. No, he will not deny it. May I not, O God, with reverence, tell such a person at this moment, and in thy name, that thou canst not deny such a request? Hast thou not said, “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened?" "If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" Blessed Saviour, we believe thy words. Apply them to the hearts of the undecided, that they may come to thee with sincerity and true repentance, and obtain the blessing.
There is a second class: those who at one time gave pleasing indications of a religious state: who probably went so far as to make a profession of religion, but who have declined from the ways of God, and have gone back into the world. In what terms shall I address you? In anger? No, I cannot: your state excites no anger, it excites the deepest pity. You did put your hand to the plough, but you have gone back. You professed to have tasted of the powers of the world to come, but you have put them away from you: and you are now feeding upon husks, in a world from whose influence, at one time, you hoped you had escaped. How dreadful is your state! Every pious soul in this place pities you, and prays for you. Angels mourn over you: the Son of God weeps over
you, and you have grieved the Holy Spirit of God. Who can rejoice over your state? The devils? Yes, they may. Can wicked men? No, they have remorse and conscience enough not to rejoice over you. They may have gratified a malicious pleasure in making you bad like themselves, but they cannot wish your damnation. How long will you remain in this state of backsliding? The whole of this year? No; let the first Sabbath of it determine your
abandonment of your present course. You hare felt that the way of transgressors is hard. You may have been tempted to go great lengths in sin; tempted to deny the truth of the Bible; to blaspheme the name of Christ; to desecrate the Sabbath : but have you sunk so low as to do it without remorse? I cannot believe it. Is the way of recovery open ? Yes; broad as the expanse of heaven; and God is saying to you, “ Return thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you : for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity: that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord." There
may young persons present this evening avowedly irreligious : some probably who are infected with scepticism and infidelity. You may have been trained up in this state, or you may have been led into it since you have arrived at the period of youth. Are you happy? Perfectly happy? I hear the response of such a mind : “ I am not happy: I have no foundation for happiness: I have been trying to lay a foundation in the rejection of the Bible; in gratifying the propensities of my nature ; in seeking to be free from the shackles of religion; in escaping from the influence of religious persons; in refusing to look into religious books; and in studying infidel publications: but I am not happy. I have walked in the counsel of the ungodly; I have stood in the way of sinners; I have sat in the seat of the scornful: but I anı not happy. I have laughed at the pious; I have ridiculed their foibles ; I have made a jest of their sanctity: but I am not happy. I have neglected prayer ; I have forsaken the house of God; and I have come herc to-night only out of curiosity, to hear what the preacher could say to a young man who is not happy.” Gladly would I reply to you for an hour. Come to me, unhappy young man, at any hour in private, and we will go into the details of your case. But in your present state you cannot be happy. You may be reduced by terrible lengths of profligacy and infidelity to a state of brutish insensibility; but not elevated to happiness. “ There is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked." “ The face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
« The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” “To be carnally minded is death." “ If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” The whole Bible must be proved to be false, before a wicked man can be the subject of enlightened and permanent happiness. Is there then no hope for you? There is : “Repent of this thy wickedness, and pray God: peradventure the thoughts of thine heart shall be forgiven thee." “ Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” Enter upon the paths of repentance and obedience. Hasten to the cross: there plead, “Lord, remember me;" and this night you will be forgiven. Enter the paths of pure religion, and you
will find that they are ways of pleasantness, and paths of peace. You will then, when