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may expect to be despised by him. O consider what it is for a sinner that must shortly die, to go with the servants of God to worship him; to pray for his salvation, and to hear what God hath to say to him by his minister, for the life of his immortal soul!
Direct, n. 'Enter not into the holy assembly either su- perstitiously or irreverently.' Not as if the bending of the knee, and mumbling over a few words with a careless, ignorant mind, and spending an hour there as carelessly, would save your souls: nor yet as if the relation which the worship, the worshippers and the dedicated place have unto God, deserved not a special honour and regard. Though God be ever with us, every where; yet every time, and place, and person, and business is not equally related to God. And holiness is no unfit attribution, for that company or that place, which is related to God, though but by the lawful separation and dedication of man. To be uncovered in those countries where uncovering signifieth reverence, is very well becoming a reverent soul; except when the danger of cold forbids it. It is an unhappy effect of our contentions, that many that seem most reverent and holy, in their high regard of holy things, do yet carry themselves with more irreverent deportment, than those that themselves account profane. God is the God of soul and body, and must be worshipped by both: and while they are united, the actions of one are helpful to the other, as well as due and decent.
Direct. 111. 'If you can, come at the beginning, that you may shew your attendance upon God, and your esteem of all his worship.' Especially in our assemblies, where so great a part of the duty, (as confession, praises, reading the Scriptures,) are all at the beginning. And it is meet that you thereby shew that you prefer public worship before private, and that needless businesses keep you not away.
Direct, iv. If you are free, and can do it lawfully, choose the most able, holy teacher that you can have, and be not indifferent whom you hear.' For O how great is the difference; and how bad are our hearts; and how great our necessity of the clearest doctrine, and the liveliest helps! Nor be you indifferent what manner of people you join with, nor what manner of worship is there performed; but in all choose the best when you are free. But when you are not free, or can have no better, refuse not to make use of weaker teachers, or to communicate with faulty congregations in a defective, faulty manner of worship, so be it, you are not compelled to sin. And think not that all the faults of the prayers, or communicants are imputed to all that join with them in that worship; for then we should join with none in all the world.
Direct, v. 'When the minister is weak, be the more watchful against prejudice and sluggishness of heart, lest you lose all.' Mark that word of God which he readeth to you, and reverence, and love, and lay up that. It was the Law, read and meditated on, which David saith the godly do delight in. The sacred Scriptures are not so obscure and useless as the Papists do pretend, but convert the soul, and are able to make us wise unto salvation. Christ went ordinarily to the synagogues where even bad men did read Moses and the prophets every sabbath day. There are thousands that cannot read themselves, who must come to the assembly to hear that Word read, which they cannot read or hear at home. Every sentence of Scripture hath a Divine excellency, and therefore had we nothing but the reading of it, and that by a bad man, a holy soul may profit by it.
Direct, vi. 'Mind not so much the case of others present as yourselves: and think not so much how bad such and such a one is, and unworthy to be there, as how bad you are yourselves, and unworthy of communion with the people of the Lord, and what a mercy it is that you have admittance, and are not cast out from those holy opportunities,
Direct, vn. 'Take heed of a peevish, quarrelsome humour, that disposeth you to carp at all that is said and done, and to find fault with every mode and circumstance, and to affect a causeless singularity, as thinking that your own ways, and words, and orders are far more excellent than other mens'. Think ill of nothing out of a quarrelsome disposition, but only as evidence constraineth you to dissent. And then remember that we are all imperfect, and faulty men must needs perform a faulty worship, if any, for it cannot be better than the agent.
Direct, vm. 'When you meet with a word in a sermon or prayer, which you do not like, let it not stop you, and hinder your fervent and peaceable proceeding in the rest; as if you must not join in that which is good, if there be any faulty mixture in it. But go on in that which you approve, and thank God that pardoneth the infirmities of others as well as your own.'
Direct, ix. 'Conform yourselves to all the lawful gestures and customs of the church with which you join.' You come not thither proudly to shew the congregation, that you are wiser in the circumstances of worship than they, nor needlessly to differ from them, much less to harden men into a scorn of strictness, by seeing you place religion in singularities in lawful and indifferent things. But you come to exercise love, peace, and concord, and with one mind and mouth to glorify God. Stand when the church standeth; sit when the church sitteth; kneel when the church kneeleth, in cases where God doth not forbid it.
Direct, x. 'Take heed of a customary, formal, senseless heart, that tolerateth itself from day to day, to do holy things in a common manner, and with a common, dull, and careless mind; for that is to profane them.' Call in your thoughts when they attempt to wander; stir up your hearts when you feel them dull. Remember what you are about, and with whom it is that you have to do, and that you tread on the dust of them who had such opportunities before you which are now all gone, and so will yours. You hear and pray for more than your lives; therefore do it not as in jest or as asleep.
Direct, xi. ' Do all in faith and hope. Believe what you may get of God in prayer, and by an obedient hearing of his Word.' Would you not go cheerfully to the king, if he had promised you to grant whatever you ask? Hath not God promised you more than kings can give you? Oh it is an unbelieving and a despairing heart, that turneth all into dead formality! Did you but hope that God would do all that for you which he hath told you he will do, and that you might get more by prayer than by your trades, or projects, or all your friends, you would go to God with more earnestness and more delight.
Direct, xn. ' Apply all the Word of God to yourselves according to its usefulness.' Ask as you go, ' How doth this concern me? this reproof, this mark, this counsel, this comfort, this exhortation, this direction?' Remember as much as you can; but especially the most practical, useful parts. Get it home so deep upon your hearts, that it may not easily slide away. Root it by close application as you go, that affection may constrain you to remember it.
Direct, xm. Above all, 'Resolve to obey what God shall make known to be his will: take heed lest any wilful sin should escape the power of the word; and should ordinarily go away with you as it came.' Careless hearing and careless living tend most dangerously to a hardened heart, and a forsaken state. If you regard iniquity in your heart, God will not hear your prayers. The sacrifice of the wicked is abominable to him. The foolish shall not stand in his sight, he hateth all the workers of iniquity. He that turneth away his ear from hearing (that is, obeying) the law, even his prayer is abominable. To the wicked saith God, What hast thou to do to take my covenant into thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and hast cast my words behind thee ( Obedience is better than sacrifice. He that nameth the name of Christ must depart from iniquity, or else God will not find his mark upon him, nor take him to be one of his. Christ's sheep know his voice and follow him, and to them he will give eternal life. But if you had preached or done miracles in his name, he will say to you, "Depart from me, I know you not," if ye be workers of iniquity. Look therefore to your foot (to your heart and life) when you go to the house of God, and be more ready to hear (his law that must govern you, that you may know his will and do it) than to offer the sacrifice of fools, (that is disobedient sinners,) that think by sacrifices and outside worship to get pardon for an unholy life, and to reconcile God to them in their sins, not knowing that thus they add sin to sin. If you seek God daily, and delight to know his ways, as a nation that did righteousness and forsook not the ordinance of their God; if you ask of him the ordinances of justice (sound doctrine, regular worship, strict discipline), and take delight in approaching to God; if you humble your souls with frequent fasts; and yet live in a course of wilful disobedience, you labour in vain, and aggravate your sins, and preachers had need to lift up their voices and be louder trumpets to tell you of your sins, than to other men. But if ye will wash you, and make you clean, and put away the evil of your doings, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, &c.; you may then come with boldness and confidence unto God. Otherwise to what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? your oblations will be vain, and your incense abominable. If ye be willing and obedient, you shall be blessed; but if ye refuse and rebel ye shall be destroyed, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. If you do well shall you not be accepted? but if ye do evil, sin lieth at the door. Let your profession be never so great, and your parts and expressions never so seraphical, sin is a reproach to any people: and if you would hide yourselves from justice in the purest church, among the holiest people, and the most numerous and longest prayers, be sure that your sin will find you out. Your secret lust, your covetous overreaching, your secret gluttony or tippling, much more your crimson sins will surely find you out. Alas! what then will those miscreants do, whose sins are scarlet, bloody persecutions, under pretence of promoting unity, and obedience, and the Catholic church, while the cloak or cover of it is but the thin, transparent spiderweb of human traditions, and numerous ceremonies, and childish complimenting with God; and when they have nothing but the prayers of a long liturgy, to cover the effects of their earthly, sensual, and diabolical zeal and wisdom (as St. James calls itb), and to concoct the widows houses which they devour, and to put a reverence upon the office and work, which they labour all the week to render reproachful, by a sensual, luxurious, idle life, and by perfidious making merchandize of souls. As ever you care what becometh of your souls, take heed lest sin grow bold under prayers, and grow familiar and contemptuous of sermons and holy speeches, and lest you keep a custom of religious exercises and wilful sins. For oh, how doth this harden now, and wound hereafter! He is the best hearer, that is the holiest liver, and most faithful obeyer.