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This may therefore be considered as a good test of sterling divinity; by which it may be known from all that is counterfeit, or greatly debased with alloy.
The texts selected for these sermons are in general very plain and comprehensive; and the evident meaning of them, as they stand in the scriptures, has been carefully investigated and adhered to: so that the reader who hesitates concerning the doctrine, or the conclusion deduced from it, may, by diligently examining the context, perceive how far these are warranted by the authority of the sacred writers.
The author, since he first circulated his proposals, has been determined by the advice, and the reasons, of his friends, to omit the short prayers which he intended to add at the end of each sermon, and only to subjoin some forms for family worship at the conclusion of the work. But he hopes that, as in other respects he has exceeded the proposals, he shall escape censure in this particular; and be credited in saying, that he had no motive in the alteration but to avoid every obstacle to the usefulness of the publication.
To the special blessing and providential disposal of “ the only wise God our Saviour” he would commend this feeble endeavour to glorify him, and to promote the cause of the gospel : and, whatever reception it may meet with from the public in general, he will deem himself abundantly recompensed if any persons should, by means of it, be brought to the saving knowledge of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, into whose name all Christians are baptized,
May 12, 1796.
DEUTERONOMY XXXII. 47.
It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your
The honoured servant of God, whose words are here selected, was favoured with health and the unabated force of all his faculties, at a very advanced time of life : and, so far from claiming a privilege of relaxation from labour, he seems, as death approached, to have redoubled his diligence, in order that the Israelites might have the things which he had taught them in perpetual remembrance. The hoary head is indeed“ “ of glory," when thus “found in the way of “ righteousness :” and “ blessed is that servant “ whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so “ doing.”
Among other methods of durably impressing the minds of the people, Moses was directed to compose a prophetic song ; as poems are generally learned with greater eagerness, and remembered more easily, than other compositions: and at the close of this sacred song he thus addressed the people, “ Set your hearts unto all the words “ which I testify among you this day, which ye “shall command your children to observe to do,
even all the words of this law. For it is not a “ vain thing for you, because it is your life; and
through this thing ye shall prolong your days “ in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to pos
sess it.” Having given this earnest admonition, he was directed to ascend mount Nebo, that he might die there : a circumstance which could not fail to add peculiar energy to his concluding exhortations.
The nation of Israel had spiritual blessings proposed to them by types and shadows; and Canaan represented the everlasting felicity of heaven, the inheritance of true believers. We live under a
different dispensation, and enjoy peculiar advan1. tages. God, who at sundry times, and in divers
“manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by “ the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”
“ Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which “ we have heard, lest at any time we should let “ them slip: for--how shall we escape, if we ne
glect so great salvation ?”] The words of the text are therefore at least as applicable to us, as they were to Israel of old; and we may from them take occasion,
I. To consider the subject which is declared to be no vain thing:
II. To illustrate the import of that declaration :
III. To conclude the whole by a practical improvement.
I. Let us consider the subject which is declared to be no vain thing.
Moses, no doubt, spoke this concerning religion : but numbers would agree to the sentiment
as thus stated, who would object to it when more particularly explained. For it is evident that the prophet was not speaking of natural religion, or that religion which man in his present condition can discover or attain by the exercise of his natural powers, without any assistance from revelation. Alas! the history of the human race proves, that this is indeed a vain thing, and utterly insufficient to direct us into the knowledge of God, or to make us partakers of happiness in his presence and favour. But that religion, which Moses had taught Israel, was given by immediate revelation from God, and was exclusively intended. The same is delivered to us at present, more fully and plainly, in the sacred scriptures ; and we may perhaps obtain the clearest conceptions of it, by considering them as a message from God to us; sent by prophets, apostles, and evangelists; or rather by his well-beloved Son. As far therefore as ministers adhere to “ the oracles of God,” they also deliver the same message ; and all who disbelieve or despise them disbelieve and despise him that sent them.
This message from God declares to us his own mysterious nature, by which he is distinguished from all the objects of idolatrous worship; it discovers to us his glorious attributes ; his infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, and greatness; his eternal, omnipresent, unchangeable, and incomprehensible majesty ; but, above all, his consummate justice, holiness, truth, goodness, and mercy, ås harmoniously exercised in his dealings with his rational creatures, and comprising the full perfection of all that is adorable and excellent.
The message teaches us our relations and obligations to this glorious God, as our Creator, from whom we derive our being, and all our capacities; “ in whom we live, and move, and are,” and “who “ giveth us all things richly to enjoy ;” and as our Governor and Judge, to whom we are in all respects accountable. It further assures us, that our souls are immortal ; that our bodies will rise again from the dead ; that “after death is the judg“ ment;” and that a state of eternal retributions will succeed to the present transitory scene. And, after all the conjectures and boasted demonstrations of philosophers, even these fundamental doctrines must rest entirely on the sure testimony of God: for, could it be proved with certainty that the soul is naturally immortal, who could know, whether the Creator might not see good to annihilate it, now it is contaminated with sin? So that, in every sense, “ life and immortality are “ brought to light by the gospel.”
The same message from God makes known to us his holy law, in its extensive, spiritual, and reasonable requirements, and awful sanction ; with the rules of his providential government. It instructs us in the malignant nature and fatal consequences of sin; and gives us a general intimation of the manner in which this destructive evil entered into the world : though it it does not satisfy our curiosity by fully explaining that mysterious subject, the difficulties of which are not peculiar to any religious system. But it far more copiously and clearly instructs us in the way, by which we may be saved from sin and misery; which is unspeakably more conducive to our advantage.