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their cries to the same common Father, for the same mercies. Christ speaks of agreement in asking, as what contributes to the prevalence of the prayers of his people. Matt. xviii
. 19, “ Again I say unto you, that if any two of you shall agree on earth, as touching
any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” If the agreement or united purpose • and appointment of but two of God's children, would contribute much to the
prevalence of their prayers, how much more the agreement of so many thousands! Christ delights greatly in the union of his people, as appears by his prayer in the 17th of John: and especially is the appearance of their union in worship, lovely and attractive unto him.
I doubt not but such a thing as I have now mentioned is practicable, without a great deal of trouble. Some considerable number of ministers might meet together and draw up the proposal, wherein a certain day should be pitched upon, at a sufficient distance, endeavoring therein to avoid any other public day, that might interfere with the design, in any of the provinces, and the business of the day should be particularly mentioned ; and these proposals should be published, and sent abroad, into all parts, with a desire that as many ministers as are disposed to fall in with them, would propose the matter to their congregations, and having taken their consent, would subscribe their names, together with the places of which they are ministers, and send back the proposals thus subscribed to the printer (the hands of many ministers might be to one paper); and the printer having received the paper thus subscribed, from all the provinces, might print the proposals again, with all the names ; thus they might be sent abroad again, with the names, that God's people might know who are united with them in the affair: one of the ministers of Boston might be desired to have the oversight of the printing and dispersing the proposals. In such a way, perhaps, might be fulfilled in some measure, such a general mourning and supplication of God's people, as is spoken of, Zech. xii
. at the latter end, with which the church's glorious day is to be introduced. And such a day might be something like the day of atonement in Israel, before the joyful feast of tabernacles.
One tħing more I would mention concerning fasting and prayer, wherein I think there has been a neglect in ministers; and that is, that although they recommend, and much insist on the duty of secret prayer, in their preaching, so little is said about secret fasting. It is a duty recommended by our Saviour to his followers, just in like manner as secret prayer is; as may be seen by comparing the 5th and 6th verses of the 6th chapter of Matthew with verses 16, 17, 18. Though I do not suppose that secret fasting is to be practised in a stated manner, and steady course as secret prayer, yet it seems to me it is a duty that all professing Christians should practise, and frequently practise. There are many occasions, of both a spiritual and temporal nature, that do properly require it'; and there are many particular mercies, that we desire for ourselves or friends, that it would be proper, in this manner, to seek of God.
Another thing I would also mention, wherein it appears to me that there has been an omission, with respect to the external worship of God. There has been of late, a great increase of preaching the word, and a great increase of social prayer, and a great increase of singing praises : these external duties of religion are attended much more frequently than they used to be ; yet I cannot understand that there is any increase of the administration of the Lord's supper, or that God's people do any more frequently commemorate the dying love of their Redeemer, in this sacred memorial of it, than they used to do: though I do not see why an increase of love to Christ, should not dispose
Christians as much to increase in this, as in those other duties; or why it is not as proper, that Christ's disciples should abound in this duty, in this joyful season, which is spiritually supper-time, a feast-day with God's saints, wherein Christ is so abundantly, manifesting his dying love to souls, and is dealing forth so liberally of the precious fruits of his death. It seems plain by the Scripture, that the primitive Christians were wont to celebrate their memorial of the sufferings of their dear Redeemer every Lord's day: and so I believe it will be again in the church of Christ, in days that are approaching. And whether we attend this holy and sweet ordinance so often now, or no, yet I cannot but think it would become us, at such a time as this, to attend it much oftener than is commonly done in the land.
But another thing I would mention, which is of much greater importance, that we should attend to; and that is the duty, that is incumbent upon God's people at this day, to take heed, that while they abound in external duties of devotion, such as praying, hearing, singing, and attending religious meetings, there be a proportionable
care to abound in moral duties, such as acts of righteousness, truth, meekness, forgiveness, and love towards our neighbor ; which are of much greater importance in the sight of God, than all the externals of his worship : which our Saviour was particularly careful that men should be well aware of. Matt. ix. 13, “ But go ye, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. And chap. xii. 7, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless."
The internal acts and principles of the worship of God, or the worship of the heart, in the love and fear of God, trust in God, and resignation to God, &c., are the most essential and important of all duties of religion whatsoever; for therein consists the essence of all religion. But of this inward religion, there are two sorts of external manifestations or expressions. The one sort are outward acts of worship, such as meeting in religious assemblies, attending sacraments, and other outward institutions, and honoring God with gestures, such as bowing, or kneeling before him, or with words, in speaking honorably of him, in prayer, praise, or religious conference. And the other sort, are the expressions of our love to God, by obeying his moral commands, of self-denial
, righteousness, meekness, and Christian love, in our behavior among men. And the latter are of vastly the greatest importance in the Christian life. God makes little account of the former, in comparison of them. They are abundantly more insisted on, by the prophets, in the Old Testament, and Christ and his apostles, in the New. When these two kinds of duties are spoken of together, the latter are ever more greatly preferred. As in Isa. i. 12, to 18, and Amos v. 21, &c., and Mich. vi. 7, 8, and Isa. lvü. 5, 6, 7, and Zech. vii. ten first verses, and Jer. ii. seven first verses, and Matt. xv. 3, &c. Often, when the times were very corrupt in Israel, the people abounded in the former kind of duties, but were, at such times, always notoriously deficient in the latter ; as the prophets complain, Isa. lviii., four first verses, Jer. vi. 13, compared with verse 20. Hypocrites and self-righteous persons, do much more commonly abound in the former kind of duties, than the latter; as Christ remarks of the Pharisees, Matt. xxiii. 14, 25,
When the Scripture directs us to show our faith by our works, it is principally the latter sort are intended; as appears by James ii
. from 8th verse to the end, and 1 John ii. 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. And we are to be judged at the last day, especially by these latter sort of works ; as is evident by the account we have of the day of judgment in the 25th of Matthew. External acts of worship in words and gestures, and outward forms, are of little use, but as signs of
something else, or as they are a profession of inward worship: they are not so properly showing our religion by our deeds; for they are only a showing our religion by words, or an outward profession. But he that shows religion in the other sort of duties, shows it is something more than a profession of words, he shows it in deeds. And though deeds may be hypocritical, as well as words ; yet in themselves they are of greater importance, for they are much more profitable to ourselves and our neighbor. We cannot express our love to God, by doing any thing that is profitable to God; God would therefore have us do it in those things that are profitable to our neighbors, whom he has constituted his receivers; our goodness extends not to God, but to our fellow Christians. The latter sort of duties put greater honor upon God, because there is greater self-denial in them. The external acts of worship, consisting in bodily gestures, words, and sounds, are the cheapest part of religion, and least contrary to our lusts. The difficulty of thorough, external religion, does not lie in them. Let wicked men enjoy their covetousness, and their pride, their malice, envy and revenge, and their sensuality and voluptuousness, in their behavior amongst men, and they will be willing to compound the matter with God, and submit to what forms of worship you please, and as many as you please; as is manifest in the Jews of old, in the days of the prophets, and the Pharisees in Christ's time, and the Papists and Mahometans at this day.
At a time when there is an appearance of the approach of any glorious revival of God's church, God does especially call his professing people to the practice of moral duties. Isa. lvi. 1,“ Thus saith the Lord; Keep ye judgment and do justice ; for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.” So when John preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and cried to the people, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, as we have an account, Luke iii. 4, the people asked him, What they should do? He answers, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. The publicans said, What shall we do? He answers, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers asked him, What shall we do? He replies, Do violence to no man; neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. Verses 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
God's people, at such a time as this, ought especially to abound in deeds of charity, or alms-giving. We generally, in these days, seem to fall far below the true spirit and practice of Christianity, with regard to this duty, and seem to have but little notion of it, so far as I can understand the New Testament. At a time when God is so liberal of spiritual things, we ought not to be straithanded towards him, and sparing of our temporal things. So far as I can judge by the Scripture, there is no external duty whatsoever, by which persons will be so much in the way, not only of receiving temporal benefits, but also spiritual blessings, the influences of God's holy Spirit in the heart, in divine discoveries, and spiritual consolations. I think it would be unreasonable to understand those promises, made to this duty, in the 58th chapter of Isaiah, in a sense exclusive of spiritual discoveries and comforts. Isa. lviii. 7, &c. “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out, to thy house? When thou seest the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rere-ward, then shalt thou call
, and the Lord shall answer ; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the pointing forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday; and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” So, that giving to the poor is the way to receive spiritual blessings, is manifest by Psal. cxii. 4, &c. : "Unto the upright, there ariseth light in the darkness; he is
gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous : a good man showeth favor, and lendeth, he will guide his affairs with discretion ; surely he shall not be moved forever ; the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance ; he shall not be afraid, of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord; his heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies : he hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his horn shall be exalted with honor.” That this is one likely means to obtain assurance, is evident by 1 John iii. 18, 19“ My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed, and in truth; and hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”
We have a remarkable instance in Abraham, of God's rewarding deeds of charity with sweet discoveries of himself, when he had been remarkably charitable to his brother Lot, and the people that he had redeemed out of captivity with him, by exposing his life to rescue them, and had retaken not only the persons, but all the goods, the spoil that had been taken by Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and the king of Sodom offered him, that if he would give him the persons, he might take the goods to himself; Abraham refused to take any thing, even so much as a thread or shoe latchet, but returned all. He might have greatly enriched himself, if he had taken the spoils to himself, for it was the spoils of five wealthy kings, and their kingdoms, yet he coveted it not; the king and people of Sodom were now become objects of charity, having been stripped of all by their enemies, therefore Abraham generously bestowed all upon them; as we have an account in Gen. xiv. and four last verses. And he was soon rewarded for it, by a blessed discovery that God made of himself to him; as we have an account in the next words : “ After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abraham, in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." "I am thy shield, to defend thee in battle, as I have now done; and though thou hast charitably refused to take any reward, for exposing thy life to rescue this people, yet fear not, thou shalt not lose, thou shalt have a reward, I am thy exceeding great reward.”
When Christ was upon earth he was poor, and an object of charity; and during the time of his public ministry, he was supported by the charity of some of his followers, and particularly certain women, of whom we read Luke viii. 2, 3. And these women were rewarded, by being peculiarly favored with gracious manifestations, which Christ made of himself to them. He discovered himself first to them after his resurrection, before the twelve disciples: they first saw a vision of glorious angels, who spake comfortably to them; and then Christ appeared to them, and spake peace to them, saying, All hail, be not afraid; and they were admitted to come and hold him by the feet, and worship him, Matt. xxviii. And though we cannot now be charitable in this way, to Christ in person, who in his exalted state is infinitely above the need of our charity; yet we may be charitable to Christ now, as well as they then; for though Christ is not here, yet he has left others in his room, to be his-receivers, and they are the poor. Christ is yet poor in his members; and he that gives to them lends to the Lord: and Christ tells us that: he shall look on what is done to them, as done to him.
Rebekah, in her marriage with Isaac, was undoubtedly a remarkable type of the church, in her espousals to the Lord Jesus. But she found her husband, in doing deeds of charity, agreeable to the prayer of Abraham's servant, who prayed that this might be the thing that might distinguish and mark out the virgin, that was to be Isaac's wife. So Cornelius was brought to the knowledge of Christ, in this way. He was a devout man, and one that feared God, with all his house ; which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. And an angel appeared to him, and said to him, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God; and now send men
to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter, &c., Acts x. at the beginning. And we have an account in the following parts of the chapter, how God by Peter's preaching revealed Christ to Cornelius and his family, and the Holy Ghost's descending upon them, and filling their hearts with joy and their mouths
Some may possibly object that for persons to do deeds of charity, in hope of obtaining spiritual blessings and comforts in this way, would seem to show a self-righteous spirit, as though they would offer something to God to purchase these favors. But if this be a good objection, it may be made against every duty whatsoever. All external duties of the first table will be excluded by it, as well as those of the second. First table duties have as direct a tendency to raise self-righteous persons' expectations of receiving something from God, on account of them, as second table duties; and on some accounts more, for those duties are more immediately offered to God, and therefore persons are more ready to ex pect something
from God for them. But no duty is to be neglected, for fear of making a righteousness of it. And I have always observed, that those professors that are most partial in their duty, exact and abundant in external duties of the first table, and slack as to those of the second, are the most self-righteous.
If God's people in this land, were once brought to abound in such deeds of love, as much as in praying, hearing, singing, and religious meetings and conference, it would be a most blessed omen: there is nothing would have a greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to the
earth : so amiable would be the sight, in the eyes of our loving and exalted Redeemer, that it would soon as it were fetch Him down from his throne in heaven, to set up His tabernacle with men on the earth, and dwell with them. I do not remember ever to have read of any remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, that continued any long time, but what was attended with an abounding in this duty. So we know it was with that great effusion of the Spirit that began at Jerusalen in the apostles' days: and so in the late remarkable revival of religion in Saxony, which began by the labors of the famous Professor Franck, and has now been carried on for above thirty years, and has spread its happy influences into many parts of the world; it was begun, and has been carried on, by a wonderful practice of this duty. And the remarkable blessing that God has given Mr. Whitefield, and the great success with which he has crowned him, may well be thought to be very much owing to his laying out himself so abundantly in charitable designs. And it is foretold, that God's people shall abound in this duty, in the time of the great outpouring of the Spirit that shall be in the latter days. Isa. xxxi. 5 and 8, “ The vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. But the liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand.”
To promote a reformation, with respect to all sorts of duties, among a professing people, one proper means, and that which is recommended by frequent Scripture examples, is their solemn, public renewing their covenant with God.