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Prayer, exclusive of every other advantage, is itself a great preservative from sin; for it would be absurd to suppose we should address that Being for his favour, to whose laws we paid not a due obedience.
Let then the advantages of prayer be the greatest imaginable, they can only be so to the righteous. The praying of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: it is even an insult on his knowledge, and a defiance of his power. The prayer of penitence, however, must be excepted; for that, as a forgiving and a compassionate Father, he is ever ready to receive.
Can the utility of prayer then any longer be doubted? Lives there a good man that would be deprived of this comfortable, this inestimable privilege? Is there even a wicked man who could bear to be informed, that he should never be permitted to address his of. fended God? The piety of the first would languish, unassisted and unenlightened by this divine intercourse. The wretched situation of the last would involve him in despair, when deprived of all attainable means of reconciliation.
May we evermore avail ourselves of these reflections, and offer up our prayers in an acceptable time !
S E R M O N VIII.
THE DANGER OF A FALSE CONFIDENCE IN
1 Cor. x. 12. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he
PERHAPS there is nothing more dangerous in the great business of our salvation than a mistaken confidence. He who goes on in an uninterrupted course of wickedness, and hardens himself in the pursuit of conscious villainy, is indeed, to all appearance, in a wretched situation. Yet his condition, however dangerous, is not desperate: the repeated efforts of conscience may awake him to a sensibility; sickness or misfortune may break the way for reason; the sense of present calamities may subdue, or the prospect of future punishment alarm him. But what shall convince that man of his danger, who thinks himself already secure? who believes that his conduct is agreeable to
his duty, and that his feet are in the way which leadeth to life? It would be vain to point out a precipice to the traveller who can see nothing but an even prospect, or to warn the pilot of a rock, who pursues his passage with invincible confidence. Yet as the traveller may sometimes be deceived by his eye, and as the pilot may be misled by his chart, so it is possible for a man, in his great journey from this world to the next, to be mistaken when he thinks himself in the right path, and to wander far from the narrow way that leadeth to life. I would therefore, upon this occasion, endeavour to point out some of the most pre
vailing causes of a false confidence in religion,
to discover those means by which the heart is flattered into a mistaken security, and to enquire upon what grounds we may entertain a reasonable hope of our salvation. I. To discover all the causes of religious security would, indeed, be too hard a task— a task to which HIs powers alone are adequate, who can trace the human heartthrough all its recesses; who can perceive the principles of action, however speciously dressed, and read the language of the soul in every character. - - It must be in the last degree difficult to
judge of the motives by which others are conducted, since we are sometimes so far deceived in ourselves, as to mistake the principles of our own actions. But admitting the impossibility of finding out all the means by which men are flattered into a mistaken confidence in religion, some of them are nevertheless sufficiently obvious. Amongst the attributes of the Divine power, none is more frequently admired, none so much attended to, as his mercy. We contemplate this perfection of the Godhead with an interesting pleasure; we bless the generosity that is industrious in the dispensation of unmerited favours, and adore that benevolence which supports our weakness and bears with our frailties; and with reason we adore. But while we hourly experience the Divine goodmess, and constantly rely upon it—when, notwithstanding our follies and our errors, we find ourselves supported by the Supreme benevolence, we are apt to forget that there are faults which the clemency of heaven cannot connive at, and that there is a conduct which infinite mercy, consistently with justice and wisdom, cannot accept; what we ought to look upon only as the forbearance of that gracious Being, who is not willing that any should perish, we conclude to be an invariable principle of mercy, that will exert itself in producing the same effects for ever. Upon this mistaken conclusion, not only he, who expects salvation on his own terms, builds his hopes, but he who has no other view than the uninterrupted pursuit of wickedness, founds his daring confidence. “Because sentence against an evil work is “not executed speedily, therefore are the “hearts of the children of men fully set in “ them to do evil.” Another species of false security, and not less prevalent than that which has been already mentioned, arises from a partial obedience. It is in the duties of religion, as in the business of the world; we are willing to obtain what we want with as little trouble as possible; and indulge a desire equally vain and unreasonable, to enjoy, at the same time, the pleasures of idleness, and the rewards of industry". Yet not indolence alone, not merely an unwillingness to undergo the active labours of religion, makes us content ourselves with a partial performance of our duty; we have generally some favourite passion to indulge, which is not altogether consistent with the strict precepts of Christianity; and, “Nae illi falsi sunt quires diversissimas pariter expectant ignaviae voluptatem et praemia virtutis. SALLUST.