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a philosophical, view of human nature. The principle which leads ber to this choice is, that ordinary men (and such in the nature of things the greater number of every body of clergy must be) are not to be trusted with the uncontrolled conduct of the highest part of the services of the Christian church, because it cannot be supposed that they shall possess the qualifications necessary for that purpose. Let experience testify if this be not a sound principle. In the present state of buman nature, that church, as well as that individual, acts wisely, who puts little confidence in man."
Respecting the instruction given and received at the meetings under consideration, especially when no clergyman is present, we have no hesitation in recommending, that they be principally, if not exclusively, drawn from the sacred scriptures, and approved sermons, of which the divines of the Church have furnished us with an ample and rich supply. If it be the object of those who frequent these meetings, as we charitably hope, to acquire sound wisdom and dis. cretion, to become wise unto salvation, on what other sources can they depend with equal prospects of benefit? The lively oracles of truth, and the explanation of them by great and good men, present an unrivalled claim to their attention and regard. They furnish the surest directory in things pertaining to life and godliness. They are a light shining in a dark place, and, like the star in the east, will infallibly conduct the serious inquirer to the Fountain of light, to Him who emphatically styles himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To exchange these sources of instruction and edification, for the ex. bortations of " weak,” or even of the most intelligent, “laymen," would appear like preferring the light of a taper, to the splendour of the meridian sun. Besides, where every person, whose inclination may prompt him, is permitted to exhort, it will generally be found, that those will be most forward to exercise this prerogative, who, in reality, have the least to say. Our correspondent, we are sensible, regards lay exhortation as a duty enjoined in scripture, and refers to two passages in support of his position. But these passages, we apprehend, afford no sanction to lay exhortation and instruction, in publick, but relate to the duty of Christians in their private intercourse with each other. If it be the duty of all Christians publickly “ to exhort, admonish, and reprove,” it is obvious that it is a duty which many eminently pious Christians never perform, and for the performance of whicb, many are totally unqualified.
We would not be understood, by the preceding remarks, to speak lightly of the services rendered to religion and the Church by pious and exemplary laymen. They are doing much to encourage the hearts and strengthen the hands of their ministers, and to promote the best interests of their fellow-creatures. We hail, with gratitude and delight, their zealous and active co-operation in building up the waste places of our Zion, in diffusing among men the light of divine truth, and in hastening the predicted period, wben all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. It is our fervent prayer, that their number may be daily increased; that they may abound more and more in wisdom and knowledge, in love and good works; that they may approve things that are excellent, that they may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.
ON THE USE OF RELIGIOUS ORDINANCES.
ISAIAH 1. 11.-To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto,
me ? saith the Lord.
Among the spiritual blessings and religious privileges, which God, in his abundant mercy, has bestowed upon men, bis sacraments, and other holy ordinances, are among the greatest, and most deserving of our gratitude and pious regard. By these, when properly used, in piety and faith, we hold communion with our God and Saviour, and our souls are strengthened with spiritual grace.
But the best things, when abused, may become the worst; and what Divine goodness has intended to edify, and build us up in his holy faith and fear, may be made the occasion of blinding our eyes, and of producing self righteousness. The mere formality of religious ceremonies is worse than useless. Receiving such sacred memorials of God's goodness in Jesus Christ, without feeling in our hearts any thankfulness for his mercies, or desire to live to bis glory, is itself sinful and displeasing to God; and has a tendency to increase a vain confidence and hardness of heart.
Such was the state of the Jews, when God touched by his Spirit the lips of Isaiah, and by this prophet reproved them. Those sacri. fices which the Israelites offered, were of God's own appointment ; and their publick prayers, as to the external períormance, were agreeable to the Divine command. And yet in the text, and words following, he speaks of them with disapprobation ; even with abhorrence: he disowns them, as though they were not of his own appointment. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ? saith the Lord : I am full of the burnt offerings of rains, and of the fat of fed beasts ; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who bath required this at your hands, to tread in my courts ? Bring no more vain oblations : incense is an abomination unto ine :--Your new moons and your appointed feasts, my soul hateth ; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you ; when ye make many prayers I will not hear : your hands are full of blood.” The sense of all this, and much more which the prophet adds, to the same purpose, is too obvious to be misunderstocd. God did not delight, nor will he
ever delight, in such sacrifices as they offered, in outward form only, disregarding the inward grace, or thing signified. Those very people were required to tread his courts ; to appear before him in solemn assemblies, and to observe the “ appointed feasts," which were regulated by the “new moons." They would have sinned very much in neglecting these religious rites. But God did not require them to draw nigh with their lips, while their hearts were far from him. He did not require of them oblations for a vain show; to offer incense with hands defiled with blood ; nor to pray to the God of Israel with their tongues, when, with their minds and affections, they adored the idols of this world. These only were the offerings, which he bids them not to bring. This manner of reproof is calculated to reach the heart, and, if any thing can, to awaken the soul to righteousness. To fly from the Almighty is foolish, as it would be vain. Even when he seems to reject his own ordinances, and forbid us to pray, or to approach him, the only course of wisdom, the only refuge, is to draw still nearer to him, with more earnestness and more humility: and this, if you read the whole chapter, you will see is the course, which, in the present instance, his goodness prescribes. If they would turn to the Lord their God, with faith and obedience, he was ready to blot out all their offences, and give them his blessing.
The few words, Christian friends, the very awakening interrogation, which I have read for the text, in its most direct application, would teach us to examine ourselves with regard to our religious performances; whether our affections and our lives correspond with our Christian profession. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord.” And we ought to " be ready always," and now especially, “ to give an answer,” to our own hearts, and to God, who “is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.”
But my intention is, if the Lord permit, to take a more comprehensive view of the subject, which this text suggests, and to consider generally what is the use of religious ordinances, and especially of the two sacraments : or, in the words of the catechism, “What are the benefits, whereof we are partakers thereby ?" And that we inay conform the more to the manner of teaching, which Divine wisdom has here adopted, let us first very briefly consider, what the sacraments will not do for us; or what use of them is not profitable. Knowing this we shall better understand their true nature and design.
First. It is obvious, that receiving the sacraments will not profit us at all, nor do any good, except they are used in sincerity, with devout sensations, and religious motives. Very few Christians, if any, feel that degree of piety, that humble devotion to God, that ardour of gratitude and love, which bis mercies merit, and his word requires. We all fall short of this, as of every perfection. No one need be discouraged, nor to absent himself from the Lord's table, because he is not yet all that he desires to be. But those who come with indifference, or from worldly views, ought not to expect any spiritual benefit.
11 GOSPEL ADVOCATE, VOL. III.
Secondly. Christians should not suppose that receiving a sacrament is a meritorious act. It is not an evidence of your goodness, but of your faith. It does not show that you are righteous; but that God is merciful, and that you trust in his mercy. This is a point not regarded as it ought to be; and especially by worldly people. They think, or they pretend to think, that we who come to the Lord's supper, claim to be better than other men; more holy and less wicked. If any Cbristians do claim this bonour, it is from ignorance of themselves and of the gospel. We have not, or certainly we ought not to have, any such idea. We feel and know that we are sinful, unworthy creatures. Our desire is to obtain forgiveness and immortal life ; and we believe that this salvation, this life immortal, is to be obtained through Jesus Christ, and in no other way. That he only is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, God has revealed to us in his word; and be invites us, and all men, to come to him, in that way, and be saved. With thankful and humble hearts we accept this invitation. In receiving the sacraments, we acknowledge before the world, that we are sinners, justly condemned by God's holy laws. Our desire is to submit to his righteousness, and do his will, in hope that we sball be accepted through our faith in the Saviour's merits, and our trust in God's gracious promise. Perhaps you say, for inany do say, that we Christians are no better than other men. Do we pretend to be better? Do we make any boast of moral goodness ? Say if you please (God only is to be the judge ; say) that unbelievers live as well as we live. We reply, that they ought to live better, very much better, than we, if they would live without a Saviour-if they trust in themselves and reject the gospel. Were we as good as you think yourselves, we, perhaps, should also trust in ourselves, and walk in our own ways. Knowing that we are wicked ; desiring to be saved ; believing in Jesus Christ, and being determined, through God's grace, to renounce our own righteousness and submit to his, we make a religious profession; and receive the sacraments. Let us then inquire, “ What are the benefits, whereof we are partakers thereby ?” What advantage is there in Christian communion? What good effect have the Christian ordinances, on those who receive them with a right faith and sincere devotion ?
The benefits are many and great. The first I shall mention is obedience to the Divine cominand. Nothing can be more reasonable, or more obvious, than that they, who desire to be saved through Christ, should do the things which he commands. It would be very absurcler aud totally unavailing, to employ a physician to heal our bodies, and not follow his prescriptions. In regard to the Physician of our souls, the absurdity and the folly would be still greater. Our spiritual health is infinitely more important ; and our spiritual Physician is infinitely more wise and infallible. He perfectly knows what we need ; his means are adapted to the end ; and he is altogether able to make them effectual. His ordinances are appointed in perfect wisdom, with a gracious view to our benefit. He commands us to receive and to use them. Are we wiser than God? Can we pretend to receive Christ as our King, wbile we refuse to obey his precepts? This, then, is one good and weighty reason for the use of ordinances : we obey .God; we submit to his authority.
I observe, as a second reason, that the sacraments are memorials of God's mercy and love. They represent what Christ has done, and what we may hope for. They are, particularly, seals of God's covenant with his chosen people; they are sanctified tokens that we appertain to God's household ; that we are members of Christ's mystical body, bis church ; that'he died and rose again, not only for all men generally, but for us in particular. Baptism assures the faithful penitent that his sins are blotted out by the sprinkling of Christ's blood; that be is taken from the world into God's spiritual kingdom ; that he is made the child of God, by adoption and grace, and is a joint heir with Christ of an everlasting inheritance. The bread and wine in the other sacrament, symbolize the offering which was made for our sins : they assure the faithful receiver, that, as natural food strengthens our body and continues life; so the offering, which Christ made on the cross, shall be as spiritual sustenance to our immortal souls ; that we shall live by him. And is not this too a great privilege, a very great benefit? What can be more comforting than such memorials of God's mercy? What is more likely to strengthen our hope and make us thankful ? After receiving such pledges of the Saviour's love, why should we not go on our way rejoicing? “ What should allay our lively hope, or damp our flaming love ?”
A third benefit in receiving the sacraments, which we have in part anticipated, is, that we bereby declare ourselves upon the Lord's side ; we make a publick profession of our faith in Christ, and our trust in the word and promises of God. It is a publick testimony that we have chosen the Lord to serve him; that we receive the doctrines of the gospel, and are not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to take his cross and be his disciples. In receiving the sacraments, we declare that salvation is of God only, and from his free grace, And we are taught, as in other cases, so especially in this, that according to our faith it will be done unto us. This is not only profita. ble, but " generally necessary to salvation.” Our Saviour makes it essential that we are not ashamed of his cross; that we voluntarily confess him before men. St. Paul says, “ With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." All the righteousness we can boast of, or pretend to claim, is from our cordial sincere faith in Christ, who alone can merit for man ; but that we may do the will of God, and work out our salvation, he requires that we witness this good confession, and declare before the world, the wonders that he doth for the children of men.
4. And this will lead our thoughts to another, and very great “ benefit whereof we are partakers thereby.” The sacraments are means of grace, and they are among the most essential and efficacious means, by which we are edified and strengthened in spirit to hope in God, and to do his will. It is the doctrine of the gospel, and true as the foundation on which it stands, that we are not able of ourselves to