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any truth in religion or not; they can soon determine which is most eligible, a life of obedience and self-denial, with heaven for a reward, or a life of irreligion and sin, with hell for a punishment. They no longer halt between two opinions; but it is too late, their opportunity is past. They would give. all the world for another opportunity to choose; they would then soon come to a determination. But it will not be granted them.
I. Let this put every one upon examining himself, whether or no he have ever yet come to a full determination in the affair of religion.
First, Inquire whether you have yet come to a full determination with respect to the truth of the things of religion. Have you ever been fully convinced? Is it a question which has been answered and determined with you, whether there be a future state; or does it yet remain a question with you unresolved? Are you not yet to seek whether there be any future state, and whether or no the story about Jesus Christ be any more than a fable? Here I desire you to note two things.
1. If the main reason why you assent to the truth of religion be, that others believe so, and you have been so instructed from your childhood, you are of those with whom the truth of religion yet remains undetermined. Tradition and education will never fix and settle the mind in a satisfactory and effectual belief of the truth. Though men, taking religion upon trust, may seem to give a full assent to the truth of religion, and not to call it in question, yet such a faith will not stand a shock; a temptation easily overthrows it. The reason of man, in time of trial, will not rest on so poor an evidence.
There are multitudes who seem to grant the truth of religion, with whom the main foundation of their faith is the tradition of their fathers, or the profession of their neighbours ; and it is to be feared, it is so with many who count themselves good Christians. But as to all such persons as never have seen any other evidence to satisfy them, either of the truth or falsehood of religion, they only halt between two opinions.-The same may be said of those who are unstable in their disposition with regard to Christ, or the things which he taught.
2. If you are fully come to a determination concerning the things of religion, that they are true, they will be of weight with you above all things in the world. If you be really convinced that these things are no fable, but reality, it is impossible but that you must be influenced by them above all things in the world; for these things are so great, and so infinitely exceed all temporal things, that it cannot be otherwise. He that really is
convinced, that there is a heaven and hell, and an eternal judgment; that the soul, as soon as parted from the body, appears before the judgment seat of God; and that the happiness and misery of a future state is as great as the scripture represents it; or that God is as holy, just, and jealous, as he hath declared concerning himself in his word; I say, he that is really convinced, and hath settled it with himself, that these things are certainly true, will be influenced by them above all things in the world. He will be more concerned by far how he shall escape eternal damnation, and have the favour of God and eternal life, than how he shall get the world, gratify the flesh, please his neighbours, get honour, or obtain any temporal advantage whatsoever. His main inquiry will not be, what shall I eat, and what shall I drink, &c. but he will seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Examine yourselves therefore by this: Are not your hearts chiefly set upon the world and the things of it? Is it not more your concern, care, and endeavour, to further your outward interest, than to secure an interest in heaven? And is not this the very reason that you have never seen the reality of eternal things?
Secondly. Inquire whether you have ever yet come to a determination about religion with respect to the practice of it; whether you have chosen heaven with the way to it, viz. the way of obedience and self-denial, before this world and the ways of sin; whether you have determined upon it as most eligible, to devote yourselves to the service of God.-Here I shall mention three or four things, which are signs that men halt between two opinions in this matter.
1. To put off duty till hereafter. When persons love to keep their duty at a distance, engage not in it for the present, but think of engaging when they shall be under better conveniences for it ;-when they are very good intenders concerning what they will do to-morrow, but very poor performers to-day; when they say, as Felix, "Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee”—it is a sign that they halt between two opinions, and have never as yet come to a full determination with respect to the practice of religion. Those that have once fully determined that religion is necessary and eligible, will not desire to put it off, but will make it their present and immediate business.
2. It is a sign of the same thing, when persons are strict and conscientious in some things, but not universal in their obedience; do some duties, but live in the omission of others; avoid some sins, but allow themselves in others; are conscientious with respect to the duties of worship, public and private, but not in their behaviour to their neighbours; are not just in their dealings, nor conscientious in paying their debts; nor do to
others as they would that they should do to them but have crooked, perverse ways in their dealings among mankind.
The same may be said when they are just in their dealings and trade with men, but are not conscientious in other things; indulge sensual appetites, drink to excess, or allow themselves in wanton practices: Or are honest and temperate, but licentious in using their tongues, backbiting and reproaching their fellow men, 2 Tim. iii. 6, 7.
3. It is a sign that you halt between two opinions, if you sometimes are wont to be considerably engaged in religion, but at other times neglect it; sometimes forming a resolution to be in good earnest, then dropping it again; sometimes seeming to be really engaged in seeking salvation, and very earnest in religious duties; at other times, wholly taken up about the things of the world, while religion is neglected, and religious duties are omitted.
These things shew, that you are yet unsettled, have never yet come to a full determination concerning religion, but are halting between two opinions, and therefore are thus unstable in all your ways, and proceed thus by fits and starts in religion, James i. 6, 7, 8. "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think, that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." If your determination were fixed in religion, you would be more steady in your practice.
4. It is a sign that you are halting between two opinions, if it be your manner to balk your duty whenever any notable difficulty comes in the way, considerably cross to your interest, or very inconsistent with your ease or convenience, or your temporal honour. Whatever zeal you may seem to have, whatever concern about the things of religion, and however strict you be in ordinary, you have never, if this be your manner, come to a full determination; have never fully made choice of religion and the benefits of it for your only portion; and at best have got no further than king Agrippa, who was almost persuaded to be a Christian, Acts xxvi. 28. You are in the state of the stonyground hearers, you have no root in yourselves, and, like a tree without root, are easily blown down by every wind.
II. I shall conclude with an earnest exhortation to all, no longer to halt between two opinions, but immediately to come to a determination whether to be Christians or not. Let me insist upon it, that you now make a choice, whether you will have heaven, with a life of universal and persevering obedience for your portion; or hell, with a life spent in the pursuit of this world. Consider those things which have been said, shewing the unreasonableness of continuing in such irresolution about an VOL. VI.
affair of infinite importance to you, and as to which you have so short an opportunity to make your choice. Consider two things in addition to what hath been already said.
1. Those who live under the gospel, and thus continue undetermined about religion, are more abominable to God than the heathen. He hates those persons who continue from year to year, under the calls, and warnings, and instructions, and entreaties of God's word; who yet can be brought to nothing; who will come to no determination at all; will neither be Christians nor heathens. These are they who are spoken of in Rev. iii. 15, 16. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth."—And Ezek. xx. 39. "As for you, O house Israel, thus saith the Lord God, Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter, also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols."These are (2 Tim. iii. 7,) "Ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth."
2. If you still refuse to come to a determination whether to be Christians or not, how just will it be, if God shall give you no further opportunity! If you refuse to make any choice at all-after all that hath been done to bring you to it, in setting life and death so often before you, in calling and warning you, how just will it be, if God shall wait no longer upon you; but shall, by his unalterable sentence, determine the case himself, and fix your state with the unbelievers, and teach you the truth and eligibleness of religion, by sad and fatal experience, when it will be too late for you to choose your portion.
UNBELIEVERS CONTEMN THE GLORY AND EXCELLENCY
ACTS IV. 11.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders.
In the foregoing chapters we have an account of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the apostles, and of its extraordinary effects in their speaking boldly in the name of Jesus, and speaking many strange languages, and so being made the instruments of the sudden conversion of vast multitudes. And in the chapter immediately preceding, there is an account how Peter and John miraculously healed a man who had been a cripple from his birth; which, together with the word which they spake to the people that flocked together on the occasion, was the means of a new accession to the church: so that the number of them that heard the word and believed, as we are told in the fourth verse of this chapter, was about five thousand.
This sudden and extraordinary progress of the gospel greatly alarmed the priests and scribes, and other chief men among the Jews; so that they laid hands on Peter and John, and put them in hold, and the next day brought them forth to appear before them, and called them to an account for what they had done. They asked them particularly by what power or by what name, they had wrought the miracle on the impotent man. Upon which Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, makes answer, "Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought by you builders, which is become the head of the corner. The apostle quotes to them as now fulfilled, the 118th Psalm, ver. 22. "The stone which the builders refused is
* Dated, May 1736.