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SERMON VII.

The Harbinger's Cry, addressed to Sinners.

MATTHEW III. 3.

PREPARE YE THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.

In the case of every one, naturally, there are numerous obstacles in the way of his becoming a subject of the spiritual salvation, which Christ has to bestow. " As they are principally such obstacles, as men freely and voluntarily contribute to accumulate, they are such as are to be removed only by the willing efforts of men. It is for this reason, that scripture abounds with invitations, exhortations, injunctions, and commands urging men to remove whatever prevents their reception of saving mercy. They are addressed as in need of a Saviour, and as competent to prepare the way for the saving benefits of his redemption to reach their hearts. The text clearly recognizes both these, and is a particular call to impenitent men to put away those evils from their ways, which hinder their acceptance of redeeming grace. But they, who have been induced to remove or surmount impediments in the way of their own personal interest in Christ, are sometimes the guilty cause of preventing the successful endeavors of others. They are not always careful to take away occasions of offence, and to do what they can, to give the Saviour access to the hearts of the unregenerate. The duty of such persons was considered

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in a former discourse from these words. It will be the object of the present, to point out some things which men in their natural state are required to do, in order TO PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.

Let it not be supposed, that I am about to prescribe to the unregenerate a long course of doings preparative to their reception of Christ, as a substitute for such a reception, or as any thing, which, for a moment, releases them from obligations immediately to repent and believe. To do these, is the grand direction which the word of God constantly addresses to the least solicitous inquiry after salvation. Until this direction is obeyed, salvation must remain far from the wicked. Yet it must not be forgotten, that there are certain acts of the unconverted, which, though they are not the great and all-important ones of believing and turning to the Lord, have a connexion with these acts. So that faith and conversion to God are so invariably connected with these certain acts, as to forbid our looking for the former, where the latter have not gone before. No one ever yet learned to do well, who had not ceased to do evil. No votary of worldly pleasure ever yet

became a penitent believer, who had not for a considerable season previous, renounced his low delights. No covetous orldling was ever yet converted to God, who had not for a time, abandoned the eager and engrossing pursuit of wealth. Every truly converted drunkard, for weeks and months before he gave his heart to the Lord, gave up his intemperance. The evil speaker, who has, found Christ precious to his soul, had previously bridled his tongue, and ceased from the language of calumny and invective. So in all instances of true conversion, there is a previous relinquishment of such habits and pursuits, as are incompatible with the solicitous endeavors of men after salvation. This relinquishment is within the

power

of men. It is effected often where there is no heartfelt turning to the Lord. A visible reformation in the life by no means implies, though it is one step in the progress towards that all-important pro

cess, by which the Saviour becomes enthroned in the heart. TO PREPARE THE WAY, THEREFORE, for him to reign there, it may be observed,

I. That men are carefully to avoid outward sins, and to observe that class of visible virtues and moralities, which are more especially enjoined in the second table of the Decalogue. It cannot have escaped the notice of many of my hearers, how extensively very hurtful mistakes prevail in relation to the precise character and importance of the doings of the unregenerate. The fact, that there is nothing meritorious in such doings, and that they can only spring from unholy motives, has been so stated as to lead men to conclude, that it would be no less auspicious to their final safety to continue to practice known and open sins, than to avoid them. Because outward reformation is not inward spiritual conversion, and in numerous instances is not seen to lead to it, great numbers venture to practice on the dangerous inference, that they are as likely to be reached by converting grace in the paths of open and palpable sin, as in a course of outward and visible reformation. Now such an inference is not justified by any correct view of the gospel. Its morality does, indeed, flow from a rectified state of the heart. The acts it demands as connected with salvation, are those which proceed from the heart. But it does not offer a premium to any form of transgression, by encouraging in men a persuasion, that they are as fair candidates for the special divine favor, while in the habitual practice of many obvious sins, without either watching or struggling against them, as they are, while they are endeayoring to cease doing what is manifestly wrong, and attempting to do what is manifestly right. No less unfounded and erroneous, is such an inference as viewed in the light of reason. It can never be true in the nature of things, that sin leads to holiness that the multiplication of any acts of sin, throws no increasing barriers in the way of salvation-or thạt to break off from

any obviously wrong course, does not narrow the distance between the sinner and the Saviour. Every thing in the conduct of men visibly wrong, marks the estrangement of the heart from God, and goes to perpetuate that alienation, by rendering the heart less and less sensible to the sway of holy motives. In regard to the comparative importance of a right state of the heart, and a right course of visible conduct, there can be no question; nor can there be any doubt, but that the best and most effectual way to render the outward life unexceptionable, is to make the heart right. But yet a solicitous concern to make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, by no means implies or requires, that this exterior purity of conduct, is to be made a substitute for a reformation of the heart. In the case of the scribes and pharisees, it was, indeed, thus substituted; and in all such instances it must prove ruinous. But such a substitution, if it be more common, is certainly not more fatal, than to plead an absorbing attention to the sinfulness of the heart, and an engrossing concern to promote inward sanctity, as an apology and reason for inattention and insensibility to the sinfulness of the conduct. The one is as much in the way of the Saviour's reigning in the hearts of men as the other. The grand point, then, which I wish, in the first place, to urge on the minds of all, who are not yet in a state of salvation, is that in order that the way of the Lord be prepared, and his holy dominion established in their hearts, they must conform their visible conduct to the requisitions of evangelical morality. Let him that steals, steal no more. Let him that is addicted to the sins of profaneness, of falsehood, or of slander, henceforth keep his lips as with a bridle. Let him who is dishonest in his dealings, from this moment, be scrupulously upright and equitable in all his business transactions. Let him who seeks to live in pleasure, indulging in the not to be named abominations of the flesh, immediately withdraw his feet from this way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. Let him that allows himself to be made drunken or rich, by tasting, or making, or vending intoxicating liquors, instantly cease to taste or touch these waters of death. Let him that is engaged in any pursuits, in which it is impossible for him to keep a conscience void of offence, unhesitatingly hazard the consequences of speedily abandoning them. In a word, whatever visible iniquities any one is practising, let them be at once and forever put away. Until this is done, nothing is done to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD—to make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. Deep gulfs of pollution, and mountains of sins, lie between the sinner and the Saviour, while such palpable transgressions are perpetuated.

IÌ. Solemn and interested attention to the things of God and the soul, is necessary to prepare the way for the Saviour to become enthroned in the hearts of men. With the more serious and considerate among those, who live estranged from God and in the rejection of Christ, the attention given to these things, is far from being constant and solicitous. While with a large proportion of men, the mind is never thoroughly aroused, and the thoughts are rarely, if ever, strongly drawn to these momentous subjects. The preacher, who is in any considerable degree affected by a view of the condition of the impenitent, and addresses them with a tender earnestness, prompted by his lively impressions, is a highly privileged individual, if one in twenty of his hearers, is induced to contemplate with suitable solemnity and concern his character, relations, and prospects. In the ordinary circumstances of our congregations, only here and there one can be found, who searches the scriptures in private, or listens to the preached word in public, as he would search for hid treasures, or heed a voice from heaven. Compared with the concern which other things awaken, and with the attention bestowed on the interests of a day, God, and the soul, and eternity, are things of no account. The merest trifles

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