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ye come to have communion with him. We should not suffer every little thing to divert us; it may be, that day thou wast absent, something was spoken which would have been of special and peculiar use to thy soul ; at such a time the devil is busy to obstruct thee and throw impediments in thy way. We should break through difficulties, and it will be so in some measure, if there be a real spiritual hungering after the bread of life.
Let us be attentive in our attendance on them. We must not only be present, but diligent when we are there; careful so to hear that our souls may live, we should take in food which may be for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. No wonder if persons be crying out, “O my leanness, my leanness, if they will not come to taste of those provisions which the Lord hath made ready. Do you expect a person to be lively and look well that will not eat ? Many would be sorry to have such meals for their bodies, as they put off their souls with. We must not only be careful to come, but mind what we come for, and mind what we are about; it is work enough at once to do it as we ought. Our thoughts are apt to wander, we should endeavour to call them in, and awe them with a sense of an omniscient
eye. We should not be plotting and contriving our secular concerns, when about the great and momentous business of eternity ; but be wakeful and watchful, else we shall attend but sorrily. God hath not appointed ordinances to sleep at, we have beds for that purpose, and should not choose the assembly for a place to sleep in, as some seem to do by consulting easy postures: it is well if some do not place themselves conveniently for this end, and when they awake, are glad that the glass is run so far.
If there be a due esteem for ordinances, there will be a care to prepare for them. We should take pains with our hearts in secret, and endeavour to get them into a right frame. The Lord knows who of us here, prayed this morning in secret, before we came to seek him with others, and if we did, how we managed it.
2. Conscientiously keep up family devotion.
O that every householder here would say with Joshua: “ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” whatever others do; and like David : “ I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” O that a few things upon this head may be of use, and be followed with success! I fear we have many prayerless families amongst us, many that live year after year, and yet never call upon God together. That family, surely, is in a miserable condition, where prayer is not kept up: “ Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the
families that call not on thy name,” Jer. x. 25: a dreadful test. Is it a desirable thing to be under the wrath of God? What, have you so many family wants, family sins, family mercies, and not family prayer? This is not “praying with all prayer and supplication.” Know, that you have the care of souls under your roof committed to you ; and to be negligent herein will be of dismal consequence. Have you no pity or compassion for those that are flesh of your flesh ? Your praying would teach your children to pray. What is the reason of so many prayerless families ? Surely one is, says Mr. Gurnall,“ persons were not brought up in praying families, and therefore do not perform this duty; if you pray, it is likely your children would, when they have families, and so religion would be propagated.”
But, say some, I pray alone, will not that do ? No, it will not, one duty will not excuse another; besides, I doubt dost, thou speakest more in that word alone than thou thinkest; thou prayest alone, that is, without God, thou dost not meet with him in secret.—But I have no time. What, no time to serve God? All thy time is to serve him, and must none be spared for this duty ?-But my business will not allow me. Will it not? Thy heart is unwilling, that is the chief reason. How unreasonable is this objection, that thy business will not give leave! Man, this is thy great business. Wilt thou tell God at the great day, that thou hadst other work? Why not drive on a trade both for heaven and earth ?-But I am ashamed to pray before others. What, ashamed of thy duty ? Thou needest shame with nothing but sin. See these, with many more, answered by Mr. Doolittle in his sermon about Family Prayer, Morn. Exer. Thou wantest expressions, thou sayest; nay, it may be, impressions rather. Study thy wants, sins, mercies, this will help thee. Do as well as thou canst, and the Lord will be with thee. He looks not so much at the expression, as at the sincerity of the heart.
I will repeat a passage I lately read, in the life of an eminent minister : he said, “ he did not know how a person could be saved, that did not pray in his family." Whether that be absolutely so or not, I cannot tell; but I hesitate not to say, that if a person hath been told again and again that it was his duty, and had it closely urged; to live then in the neglect of it, is a black mark : if Christ be in the heart, he will be in the house. Another passage I met with concerning a town in Switzerland, consisting of ninety houses, which was destroyed by an earthquake, except the half of one house, where the master of the family was earnestly praying with his wife and children upon their
bended knees to God. It is, you see, sometimes of use for temporal salvation.
We might easily enlarge here, but must not run too far. Let me exhort, entreat, beseech you to set about this necessary duty; that your families may be no longer prayerless families. . O that you may not be found to have lived all your lives in the neglect of this duty, when death comes to drag you out of your houses ! The day is coming apace, and is not far off, when you will, when you must be serious. And
that have been careful and conscientious in performing this duty, go on, it is not long before your praying shall be turned into praising, your hosannahs into hallelujahs.
Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
In the first verse of this chapter the disciples were inquiring, who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven ? But our Lord was resolved to put a stop to their vain curiosity. This he did, first, by a visible sermon : “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst," that he might teach them the doctrine of humility. Secondly, by an audible sermon in these words: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We are here taught not to be childish, but child-like in several dispositions. Children are not without their faults; though they may be so young as to be without actual transgression, yet they have the seeds of all the sins in the world in their nature. Little children are generally praised as being without covetousness and ambition. In the text, our Saviour shows us the nature of true conversion, it makes men become as little
• Preached at Little Lever, April 29th, 1686.
children ; and the necessity of it, without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. From the text we may observe, 1. The truth of the assertion, “I say unto you:”—I, that am truth itself—that know the terms of salvation—that shall be the judge of quick and dead—that have all power in heaven and in earth, so that none can enter heaven but those whom I let in—I tell you, that except ye be converted, and become as little children, &c. 2. He not only asserts this truth, but confirms it; he that never spake an idle word sanctions it with an asseveration : “Verily I say unto you,” &c. 3. See here the positiveness of Christ in what he said: “You shall not enter;" without this change you shall not enter into the kingdom: as if he had said, I have the keys of heaven and keep the door, none can come into that state without my leave, and I tell you plainly, that except ye be converted, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Holiness must go before happiness.
The doctrine we shall raise, and at this time insist upon from these words is, that converting grace makes persons become like little children.
The text and context may have relation to two descriptions of children, those just born, or those who are a little grown. We shall endeavour to shew wherein converts resemble both these. Converts resemble little children newly born:
1. Children enter the world with much difficulty and hazard. So God's children have a difficult entrance into a state of grace;
Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John iii. 3. He must be renewed by the influences of the Holy Spirit, accompanying the word of God to his heart. And Oh! what pangs and sorrows the poor Christian undergoes, when God first lays hold on him. Many bitter sighs, and tears, and groans are produced ere he is born again. In his fears he is ready to cry, shall I not die before the change take place ? “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” Matt. vii. 14. The entrance into the way of holiness is so narrow, that if ever you be converted, you will experience trouble of soul, that you have been so long in sin, and so long an enemy to God and yourself. There are two descriptions of persons, whose entrance into a state of grace is more difficult than ordinary, namely, rich men, and old men. As for rich men our Saviour says: “It is easier for a a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” Matt. xix. 24. By a camel, some understand a cable rope; now it is impossible for a cable rope to go through the eye of a needle, yet it may be so untwined
as that in time it may be made to pass: so rich men, though it be hard for them to be converted, may be brought to see themselves so vile and little in their own eyes, that by the grace of God, they may yet be brought through. I have also said it is peculiarly difficult for old sinners to be born again ; “ Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil,” Jer. xiii. 23. The longer men live in sin, the more difficult is it for them to be brought to God. All sinners have not the same measure of sorrow and trouble at their conversion, yet all have some experience of it, in some degree.
2. An infant has always a principle of life and motion ; so converts have a principle of spiritual life infused into their souls. In God's family there are no abortions; all his children are brought forth into a state of grace : “You hath he quickened who where dead in trespasses and sins,”. Eph. ii. 1. The poor sinner, when first quickened, is ashamed to tell any body his state; he dares not tell good Christians how it is with him, lest he should prove a hypocrite; he dares not tell the wicked, lest they should laugh him to scorn: notwithstanding this degree of shame, there is life in the soul. Let me ask you now,
you have ever seen your miserable state by nature ? Have you ever seen yourself ready to be dragged down to hell torments for your sins ? If you are true converts, you have experienced something of this, and have been made alive to God: “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace,” Rom. viii. 6. The carnal mind is dead to God and all holy duties, but is alive to the world and worldly affairs. On the other hand, a gracious soul is dead to sin and the world, but alive to God, delights in holy duties, and can discern a difference between what he was, and the state in which he now is.
3. The child bears the image of the father : so converts bear a likeness to God, they have his image. The image of our heavenly Father consists in “ knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness." “ Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," Eph. iv. 23, 24. Now, has God given you to understand his will more experimentally than formerly Has he given you the knowledge of himself “in the face of Jesus Christ ?” Are your wills rectified, and made conformable to the will and law of God in true holiness? God's children are made partakers of a divine nature. Religion is not only an outward conformity of the outward man to the law of God, but an inward conformity of the soul and all its faculties thereunto, and a Christian's actings in religion proceed from VOL. V.