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Still probably some of you will ask, Why should the blessing of God peculiarly follow public prayers and sermons, when you can make use of the same, or better, at home? But if you can, is it true that you do; and that you do it statedly? If not, this is only a poor attempt to deceive others and yourselves. But supposing you do: may not God with justice, try your obedience, by directing in what method you shall apply for his favours? And may he not with great wisdom, direct to this method? Unless mankind be taught to worship and obey the Sovereign Lord of all, they must be wicked and miserable. The generality cannot sufficiently learn in private to do this: and most of the remainder will not. Without some farther care, the lower sort will be absolute barbarians: and the upper, much worse, than they now are. Therefore God requires all to assemble for instruction. Were he to make exceptions: every one, that pleased, would imagine or pretend himself to be excepted. Therefore he prescribes it even to those, who may seem to need it least: but who in truth need his grace, as much as any. If they will condescend to set a good example in this respect to others, they shall be rewarded for it by spiritual benefits conferred on themselves. If they will not, the haughtiness of their fancied wisdom shall be punished by withdrawing the divine influences from them. And what is there, in this procedure, unworthy of God, who resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble * ?
But here some of the upper part of the world will reply, that they acknowledge the necessity of setting a good example: and therefore, amongst their neighbours and dependents in the country, they do go to church on Sunday. But is it there only, that ex
James iv. 6. 1 Pet. v. 5.
ample is necessary? Or is it not, if possible, more necessary in this wicked town than any where else? Doth not your family here, see your neglect of your duty to God, and learn from thence to neglect their duty, both to Him and you? Do not your neighbours and dependents in the country hear of your behaviour when absent from them? And will they not very naturally conclude, that if you worship your Maker only at some times and places, it is from no principle of conscience that you worship him at any ?
But others will probably allege, that they would be much more regular and constant than they are, if it were not for frequent hindrances, which intervene, and prevent them. But do you not often throw these hindrances in your own way? At least, could you not easily, if you would, remove them out of your way? Business perhaps, that might be let alone, is done; or what might, with a little forecast, be well enough dispatched at other times, is reserved for Sunday; or what might be finished before church time, is delayed till then; or what one person might manage, keeps several at home. And do you think this fitting, and will it be thought so at the last day, that every thing else should be preferred before the most weighty of all things? that you should make excuses for not serving you Creator, which you would be ashamed to make in any other case, and can hardly make in this with a serious countenance? Be not deceived: God is not mocked *.
Some however will urge, that care of their health at least is a serious plea: and that, during the winter season, they cannot attend public worship, without hazard of it. Now unquestionably, where this is really so, God will have mercy and not sacrifice †. But
* Gal. vi. 7.
Matt. ix. 13. xii. 7.
do not these same people venture to expose their healths, on any day of the week besides, perhaps on some part of this very day, to much greater hazards, in places, to which they have much less call? And why then will they attempt in vain to blind others and themselves with this pretence?
But a still farther allegation is, that, could they come to church ever so safely, they cannot possibly : they have no accommodation there. Would to God all who have, would constantly use them! But were they, who allege that they have not, to speak their hearts are they glad to make this excuse, or are they sorry? If the former, it is not a sincere one. If the latter, I heartly wish, that, where they are wanted, more places of worship were built. Some of these persons could do a great deal towards this: and probably they spend their money by no means so well. But at present there is room, for the poor without any expence, for the rich at very little expence, even in this town, at one time or another of the day, either at their own church, or some church or chapel very near them.
But the hours of church are inconvenient. And whose fault is it, that they are become so? We have not made them earlier: but these complainers have made theirs absurdly later. Why will they not, on this day at least, alter them back to what they were formerly? Do they not often bear with the inconvenience of as great or greater changes on very slight occasions? Why then must a change be thought impracticable or insupportable, in order to attend upon God and his word? Reflect a little, how very low your esteem of him must be, if you think this too much to submit to on his account. Indeed they, who do attend public worship on the former part of the
day, should remember, that it is equally appointed, equally useful on the latter also; and should dispose their family affairs in such a manner, as to be present (so many of them as can) at each: applying to their devotions that rule, which the wise man lays down concerning their charity: In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand. For thou knowest not, whether shall prosper, either this or that or whether they both shall be alike good *.
And as all ranks of men are jointly concerned in the duty of frequenting divine offices; all should allow their servants, and those with whom they have concerns, leisure for it. If they desire leisure for this purpose, refusing it is most shocking cruelty: and not contriving for it, is criminal in the next degree. But even though they do not desire it; exhorting, disposing, pressing them to it; nay insisting upon it, so far as we have authority, is matter both of conscience and prudence.
But now, from the public exercises of religion, I proceed,
2. To the private ones requisite on the Lord's day. If, before we come to the congregation, we think of nothing serious; or as soon as we leave it, lay aside out of our minds every thing that we have said and heard and felt there: we must expect to be little the better for our attendance. And a principal cause, why men are commonly so very little the better, is the latter of these two great faults. Our Saviour himself hath told us: When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and considereth it not, (for so we should translate) then cometh the wicked one; and immediately catcheth away that, which was sown in his heart. This is he, that receiveth seed by the way side †. + Matth. xiii. 19. Mark iv. 15.
* Eccl. xi. 6. VOL. IV.
Since therefore hearing God's word is a duty of the day, that preparation for it beforehand, and reflection upon it afterwards, which are necessary to give it root within us, must be so too. And let us ask our consciences, do we practise both? Do we consider on the morning of the Lord's day, for what excellent ends it was distinguished from others; how carefully we ought to keep our feet, as the wise man expresses it, when we go to the house of God *; and what a sin we shall be guilty of, and what a loss we shall suffer, if we regard only outward form, and neglect inward improvement? Do we again, after church take the first convenient opportunity for retiring into ourselves for thinking impartially, what is the proper use to make of all that hath been delivered to us; for determining, that we will make it, without loss of time, and for intreating the assistance of heaven, that we may or are we glad to get rid of such unwelcome ideas, by any method, the first moment that we are able? And if our behaviour hath been blamable in respect hitherto, shall it be better for the future? And will we give, as the Apostle directs, more earnest heed to the things, which we have heard, lest we let them slip +?
But, besides the particular subjects, that have happened to be laid before us at church, we have need to consider frequently at home the general state of our hearts and lives, and what we have to hope or fear from it, here and hereafter. Such inquiries may indeed be made on other days: and the oftener the better. But is it likely they will, if they are omitted on that day, which is peculiarly proper for them, and on which we are continually reminded of them? Some have little time else for any deliberate self-examina+ Heb. ii. 1.
* Eccl. v. 1.