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no light in them.” To this test you are bound
to bring every sentiment, which claims the .:sanction of divine authority ; and to “ judge
for yourselves what is right." Still, however, you may be much assisted by those who “la. bour among you and admonish you ;” and, very special cases excepted, to forsake their ministrations would be no less injurious to yourselves, than disheartening to them. On* this point, the advice of the well known and eminently pious Newton is peculiarly pertinent. * .“ A stated and regular attendance encourages the minister, affords a good example to the congregation; and a hearer is more likely to meet with what is suited to his own case from a minister, who knows him, and expects to see him, than he can be from one who is a stranger. Especially be not absent for the sake of gratifying your curiosity ; to hear some new preacher, who, you have perhaps been told, is a very extraordinary man. “ As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive. They usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their
* This excellent advice may be seen at large in the works of John Newton, rector of St. Mary, Woolnoth, London. Vol. I. p. 188—195. London edition of 1787.
heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, crit-
“ As it is our trial to live in a day, wherein so many contentions and winds of strange doctrine abound, you will do well to watch and pray, that you may not have itching ears,
inclining you to hearken to novel and singular to opinions, and the erroneous sentiments of men Of of unstable minds. In this way niany have
been hurt, yea, many have been overthrown. Talking Errour is like poison ; the subtility, quick/ness, and force of its operation is often amaz. Cooking. As we pray not to be led into tempta
tion, we should take care not to run into it Wilfully. If the Lord has shown you what is
right, it is not worth your while to know (if - you could know it) how many ways there are the way of being wrong.
“Prize the gospel liberty, which sets you free from the doctrines and commandments of men ; but do not abuse it to the purposes of pride and self. There are hearers, who make themselves, and not the scriptures, the standard of their judgment. They attend, not so much to be instructed, as to pass their sentence. To them the pulpit is the bar, at which the min. ister stands to take his trial ; a bar, at which. fèw escape censure from judges at once so severe and inconsistent. For as these censors are not all of a mind, and perhaps agree in nothing so much, as in the opinion they have of their own wisdom, it has often happened, that, in the course of one and the same sermon, the minister has been condemned as a legalist and an antinomian! This is a hateful spirit, that breaks in upon the rights of private judgment, and makes a man an offender for a word. I pray God to preserve you from this spirit, which I fear is spreading, and infects us like a pestilence ; and to guide you in all things.”
III. But not to enlarge on the acceptable manner of hearing, let us proceed, thirdly, to remark its tendency to our improvement and salvation.
This head of discourse has been, in a measure anticipated, under the two preceding. The same observations, which enforce and dei scribe the duty, tend also to prove its salutary influence upon the human character and destiny. We cannot be insensible, that an insti. tution calculated to enlighten, admonish, and excite us, on subjects “ pertaining to life and godliness,” bears a favourable aspect on our virtue and felicity; and if attended to, in a meek and docile frame, will contribute much to facilitate the work which is given us to do ; and to qualify us for the favour, protection, and presence of our maker. Independent of a divine promise to support it, this conclusion is rendered probable by the nature of the case. But when we consider the practice, as an appointment of heaven, expressly intended for this purpose ; and are unequivocally informed, that it " is able to save our souls,” we no longer rest exclusively on the deductions of reason, but confide in the immutable veracity of Jehovah, and expects from him, sufficient grace to give energy and success to the means, which his wisdom and goodness have ordained. Whatever indifference or contempt may be expressed by the world, our minds are satis. fied with the assurance, that “ it hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching," (should
they even give it that reproachful appellation, u to save them that believe.” Admitting the inspiration of scripture, no rational doubt can be entertained upon this topick. “ Faith cometh by hearing.” Men are “ born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever: And this is the word, which by the gospel is preached unto you."
. The natural, as well as gracious tendency of evangelical truth, thus ingrafted on the heart is to produce “ the fruits of righteousness.” It is not hearing in the abstract, but in connexion with its proper effects, which constitutes us “heirs of salvation.” To come to the house of God, and 66 sit before him as his people,” is no farther advantageous, than as it serves to stimulate exertions of obedience. “ If,” says the forecited author, * “ if the twelve apostles were again upon earth, and you could hear them all, every week ; yet if you were not attentive to the duties of the closet ; if you did not allow yourself time for reading, meditation, and prayer ; and if you did not likewise conscientiously attend to the concernments of your particular calling, and the discharge of your duties in relative life, I
• Newton, ut supra, p. 192.