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fore all things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them ; for this is the law and the prophets,” Christ also pronounceth blessings on the merciful: Mat. v. 7. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Thus much shall suffice concerning the different kinds of mercy which we ought to show to our neighbour : let us conclude by calling to mind the precept which Christ gave to his disciples at his last supper :
" A new commandment I give unto you: That
that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye
have love one to another. Let us endeavour to obey this precept, and to exercise mercy, and do good to each other; for hereby are christians known, when they show love to the brethren. Thus ye have the meaning of the text.
1 Timothy, Chap. i. verses 5, 6, and 7.
5 Now, the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure
heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6 From which some having swerved, have turned aside unto
vain jangling ; 7 Desiring to be teachers of the law ; understanding neither
what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
It is well known to you, beloved brethren, how earnestly God hath enjoined upon us the duty of reading and hearing his word. He esteemeth it of immense value to mankind, and hath therefore manifested his love and goodness by disseminating it among us at a very great expense. His holy prophets encountered perils and dangers in establishing it, and at last he sent his beloved Son to proclaim
it to the whole world, and to confirm it by suffering the death of crucifixion. The apostles also suffered martyrdom, and christians in all ages have experienced innumerable persecutions in the same cause. Surely if the word of God was a thing of small consequence, he would not have promulgated it at such a cost.
Had we no other inducement, the knowledge that it is God's will and pleasure that we attend to the reading and preaching of his word, ought to be sufficient. He is the Lord and Sovereign of the universe, and we, as his dependent creatures, owe him implicit obedience. God hath not only commanded us to attend to his word, but he bath also promised that great benefits shall redound to us thereby; so that it is made our interest as well as our duty, and therefore we can have no excuse whatever for neglecting it. It then behooves us to give it our diligent attention, and to treasure it up in our hearts, as a thing of inestimable value ; for in so doing we render an acceptable service to God, and it may also be a means of promoting our own eternal welfare.
There are indeed many other ways of serving God, which are also acceptable. If a prince or king rule justly, and with moderation ; if a father faithfully discharge his duty to his family; or if a child or servant be obedient and faithful to his parent or master--all these may render acceptable service to God, by discharging the duties of their respective stations with fidelity. There is therefore no excuse for neglecting to serve God at all ; neither is there any reason or necessity for inventing new modes of worship, as hath been practised by the papists ; for every person may serve him acceptably in the station and sphere in which he is placed.
But of all other kinds of worship, the Lord most esteemeth that which we render him by attending to his word; whether as preachers or as hearers. He
hath for this purpose ordained a particular day in each week, on which he hath forbidden us to attend to any other labour or business. This day he hath specially chosen and commanded to be kept, in order that we might have time to perform this service, and that no one might make excuse, that he had no leisure, by reason of the multiplicity of his labours and business. He hath also caused certain edifices to be erected, wherein we may assemble for the performance of this duty : as our temples, churches, and chapels. He hath moreover called and instructed certain persons to minister in this service, and hath bestowed upon them various gifts, proper for the discharge of their offices. In short, he hath, by a special precept, commanded the whole world to attend to this duty, as the most acceptable worship they can render him: and that he highly esteemeth it, is farther evident from the delight which all true christians take therein.
This service as far excelleth all other kinds of worship, as the brightness of the sun exceedeth that of the stars ; as the sabbath is above the other days of the week; yea, as far as the heavenly kingdom surpasseth in glory the kingdoms of this world ! In the house of God all things are holy, and specially chosen ; the time, place, and person who ministers therein : because the word, which is holy, sanctifieth them. Let us, therefore, take heed to ourselves, that we fall not into slothfulness and inattention in performing this duty, for in showing contempt for the word of God, we also contemn its author.
Many persons soon become weary of attending to this service, and complain that they only hear a continual repetition of the same things. But those persons have bestowed upon it only a small share of their attention, and are utterly ignorant of the marvellous beauties, and divine excellencies, which the word of God contains. Though they imagine that
they are perfectly acquainted with the scripture, they are as destitute of true knowledge as the most benighted heathens.
But admitting that we were perfectly acquainted with the scripture, and needed no instruction in the mysteries of the gospel, (which I fear, however, is not the case with any of us,) still we ought to attend to the word of God from inclination, for a true christian will never be weary with hearing it, how oft soever it be repeated. There is need, moreover, that we should be frequently reminded of the things we have learned ; lest, forgetting them, our hearts should wax cold in love, and we become negligent of good works. Although our Saviour was perfect in all things, yet we see that he continued preaching and praying until the last hour of his earthly mission. St. Paul likewise, the chief of the apostles, although instructed while a Pharisee in all things relative to the law, and afterwards inspired by the Holy Ghost, still continued to preach and exhort, travelling through many countries and kingdoms. How much more then ought we, who are blind and ignorant, to read the word of God, and attend to the preaching of the gospel.
This service which God hath enjoined upon us, is not laborious, but easy. It requireth nothing but our time and attention : and if it can afford a person pleasure to sit during whole days and evenings at an ale-house or tavern, engaged in revelry and mirth with lewd and wicked companions, it should give him little pain to sit, during a few hours, in the house of God, for he would not only spend his time more profitably to himself, but would also render an acceptable service to his Maker.
If this duty seem burthensome, how should we endure to go from temple to temple, and from altar to altar, to attend to rites and ceremonies, as we did among the papists? Or how should we sustain
those laborious services, such as carrying stones from quarries, and going armed on pilgrimages, which those blind bigots imposed upon us? These services were performed willingly, when we were deluded by false doctrine. So doth the devil blind the eyes of men; he then prompted them to action in the execution of his own work, and he now inclineth them to be slothful and weary with hearing the word of God; so that forgetting its value, they may grow negligent in the practice of its precepts.
But let us endeavour to delight in hearing the word of God, remembering that in so doing we render him an acceptable service. Let us listen to it with prayerful attention, that the grace of God may accompany his word, and the seed may not be sown in vain. Whenever the word is rightly preached, and attentively heard, it never fails to bring forth fruit. We may indeed perceive no immediate effects from it, but in process of time, the fruit will most certainly appear. But it would consume too much time to rehearse all the benefits which proceed from hearing the word of God; indeed, it were a task far beyond our capacity.
Thus much we have said by way of preface to the discourse ; or rather as an exhortation to stir up your minds to more diligent attention: and certainly, there is much need of such an exhortation in every sermon ; for it is greatly to be feared, that many who appear to hear, pay very little attention to what is said, and never reflect upon it afterwards. What we have thus far said, is also in some degree pertinent to the text; for Paul, in this place, reproveth those curious spirits, who, endeavouring to become masters of the word of God by their own wisdom, do at length falsely persuade themselves that they perfectly understand it; and that they need no farther instruction.
It is from this cause that numerous congrega