Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.
~ Hebrews 10:19-23
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
~ Hebrews 13:6
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
~ Romans 8:15-17
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
~ Isaiah 55:6-7
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
~ Matthew 7:7-11
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 4:6-7
Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
~ 1 Peter 2:10
An Humble Supplication for the Influences of Divine Grace, To Form and Strengthen Religion in the Soul, by Philip Doddridge. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Fifteen of his work, “The Rise And Progress Of Religion In The Soul”.
“Blessed God! I sincerely acknowledge before thee my own weakness and insufficiency for any thing that is spiritually good. I have experienced it a thousand times; and yet my foolish heart would again ‘trust itself,’ (Prov. 28:26) and form resolutions in its won strength. But let this be the first fruits of thy gracious influence upon it, to bring it to an humble distrust of itself, and to a repose on thee!
“Abundantly do I rejoice, O Lord, in the kind assurances which thou givest me of thy readiness to bestow libera1ly and richly so great a benefit. I do therefore, according to thy condescending invitation, come with boldness to the throne of grace, that I may find grace to help in every time of need. (Heb. 4:16) I mean not, O Lord God, to turn thy grace into wantonness or perverseness (Jude, ver. 4) or to make my weakness an excuse for negligence and sloth. I confess that thou hast already given me more strength than I have used; and I charge it upon myself, and not on thee, that I have not long since received still more abundant supplies. I desire for the future to be found diligent in the use of all appointed means; in the neglect of which I well know that petitions like these would be a profane mockery, and might much more probably provoke thee to take away what I have, than prevail upon thee to impart more. But firmly resolving to exert myself to the utmost, I earnestly entreat the communication of thy grace, that I may be enabled to fulfil that resolution.
“Be surety, O Lord! unto thy servant for good. (Psa. 119:122) Be pleased to shed abroad thy sanctifying influences on my soul, to form me for every duty thou requirest. Implant, I beseech thee; every grace and virtue deep in my heart, and maintain the happy temper in the midst of those assaults from within and from without, to which I am continually liable while I am still in this world and carry about with me so many infirmities. Fill my breast, I beseech thee, with good affections towards thee, my God, and towards my fellow-creatures. Remind me always of thy presence, and may I remember that every secret sentiment of my soul is open to thee. May I therefore guard against the first risings of sin, and the first approaches to it; and that Satan may not find room for his evil suggestions, I earnestly beg that thou, Lord, wouldst fill my heart with thine Holy Spirit, and take up thy residence there. Dwell in me, and walk with me, (2 Cor 6:16) and let my body be the temple of the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor. 6:19)
“May I be so joined to Christ Jesus my Lord, as to be one spirit with him, (1 Cor. 6:17) and feel His invigorating influences continually bearing me on, superior to every temptation, and to every corruption; that while the youths shall faint and he weary, and the young men utterly fall; I may so wait upon the Lord as to renew my strength, (Isai. 40:30,31) and may go on from one degree of faith, and love, and zeal, and holiness, to another, till I appear perfect before thee in Zion; (Psa. 84:7) to drink in immortal vigor and joy from thee, as the everlasting fountain of both, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in whom I have righteousness and strength, (Isai. 45:24) and to whom I desire ever to ascribe the praise of all my improvements in both. Amen.”
THE CHRISTIAN CONVERT WARNED OF, AND ANIMATED AGAINST THOSE DISCOURAGEMENTS WHICH HE MUST EXPECT TO MEET WHEN ENTERING ON A RELIGIOUS COURSE.
1. Christ has instructed his disciples to expect opposition and difficulties in the way to heaven.—2. Therefore a more particular view of them is taken, as arising from the remainder of indwelling sin.—3. From the world, and especially from former sinful companions.—4. From the temptations and suggest ions of Satan.—5, 6. The Christian is animated and encouraged, by various considerations, to oppose them; particularly by the presence of God; the aids of Christ; the example of others, who, though feeble, have conquered; and the crown of glory to be expected.—7. Therefore, though apostacy be infinitely fatal, the Christian may press on cheerfully. Accordingly the soul, alarmed by these view; is represented as committing itself to God, in the prayer which concludes the chapter.
1. WITH the utmost propriety has our Divine Master required us “to strive to enter in at the strait gate,” (Luke 13:23) thereby intimating, not only that the passage is narrow, but that it is beset with enemies; beset on the right hand and on the left with enemies cunning and formidable. And be assured, O reader! that whatever your circumstances in life are, you must meet and: encounter them. It will therefore be your prudence to survey them attentively in your own reflections, that you may see what you are to expect; and may consider in what armor it is necessary you shall be clothed, and with what weapons you must be furnished to manage the combat. You have often heard them marshalled, as it were, under three great leaders, the flesh, the world, and the devil; and; according to this distribution, I would call you to consider the forces of each, as setting themselves in array against you. O that you may be excited “to take to yourself the whole armor of God,” (Eph. 6:13) and to “acquit yourself like a man,” and a Christian! (1 Cor. 16:13)
2. Let your conscience answer, whether do you not carry about with you a corrupt and degenerate nature? You will, I doubt not, feel its effects. You will feel, in the language of the apostle, who speaks of it as the case of Christians themselves, “the flesh lusting against the spirit, so that you will not be able,” in all instances, “to do the things that you would.” (Gal. 5:17) You brought irregular propensities into the world along with you; and you have so often indulged those sinful inclinations, that you have greatly increased their strength; and you will find, in consequence of it, that these habits cannot be broken through without great difficulty. You will, no doubt, often recollect the strong figures in which the prophet describes a case like yours; and you will own that it is justly represented by that “of an Ethiopian changing his skin, and the leopard his spots.” (Jer. 13:23) It is indeed possible, that, at first, you may find such an edge and eagerness upon your spirits, as may lead you to imagine that all opposition will immediately fall before you. But, alas! I fear that in a little time these enemies, which seemed to be slain at your feet, will revive, and recover their weapons, and renew the assault in one form or another. And perhaps your most painful combats may be with such as you had thought most easy to be vanquished; and your greatest danger may arise from some of those enemies from whom you apprehended the least, particularly from pride and from indolence of spirit; from a secret alienation or heart from God, and from an indisposition for conversing with him, through an immoderate attachment to “things seen and temporal,” which may be oftentimes exceedingly dangerous to your salvation, though perhaps they be not absolutely and universally prohibited. In a thousand of these instances you must learn to deny yourself, or you “cannot be Christ’s disciple.” (Matt. 16:24)
3. You must also lay your account to find great difficulties from the world, from its manners, customs, and examples. The things of the world will hinder you one way, and the men of the world another. Perhaps you may meet with much less assistance in religion than you are now ready to expect from good men. The present generation of them is generally so cautious to avoid every thing that looks like ostentation, and there seems something so insupportably dreadful in the charge of enthusiasm, that you will find most of your Christian brethren studying to conceal their virtue and their piety, much more than others study to conceal their vices and their profaneness. But while, unless your situation be singularly happy, you meet with very little aid one way, you will, no doubt, find great opposition another. The enemies of religion will be bold and active in their assaults, while many any or its friends seem unconcerned; and one sinner will probably exert himself more to corrupt you, than ten Christians to secure and save you. They who have been once your companions in sin, will try a thousand artful methods to allure you back again to their forsaken society: some of them perhaps with an appearance of tender fondness, and many more by the almost irresistible art of ridicule: that boasted test of right and wrong, as it has been wantonly called, will be tried upon you, perhaps without any regard to decency, or even to common humanity. You will be derided and insulted. by those whose esteem and affection you naturally desire; and may find much more proprietary than you imagine, in that expression of the apostle, “the trial of cruel mockings,” (Heb. 9:36) which some fear more than either sword or flames. This persecution of the tongue you must expect to go through, and perhaps may be branded as a lunatic, for no other cause than that you now begin to exercise your reason to purpose, and will not join with those that are destroying their own souls in their wild career of folly and madness.
4. And it is not at all improbable, that in the meantime Satan may be doing his utmost to discourage and distress you. He will, no doubt, raise in your imagination the most tempting idea of the gratifications, the indulgences, and the companions you are obliged to forsake; and give you the most discouraging and terrifying view of the difficulties, severities, and dangers, which are, as he will persuade you, inseparable from religion. He will not fail to represent God himself, the fountain of goodness and happiness, as a hard Master, whom it is impossible to please. He will perhaps fill you with the most distressful fears, and with cruel and insolent malice, glory over you as his slave, when he knows you are the Lord’s freeman. At one time he will study, by his vile suggestions, to interrupt you in your duties, as if they gave him an additional power over you. At another time he will endeavor to weary you of your devotion, by influencing you to prolong it to an immoderate and tedious length, lest his power should be exerted upon you when it ceases. In short, this practiced deceiver has artifices which it would require whole volumes to display, with particular cautions against each. And he will follow you with malicious arts and pursuits to the very end of your pilgrimage, and will leave no method unattempted which may be likely to weaken your hands and to sadden your heart, that if through the gracious interposition of God, he cannot prevent your final happiness, he may at least impair your peace and your usefulness as you are passing to it.
5. This is what the people of God feel, and what you will feel in some degree or other, if you have your lot and portion among them. But, after all, be not discouraged: Christ is the “Captain of your salvation.” (Heb. 2:10) It is delightful to consider him under this view. When we take a survey of these host of enemies, we may lift up our head amidst them all, and say, “More and greater is he that is with us, than all those that are against us.” (2 Kings 6:16) “Trust in the Lord, and you will he like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.” (Psa. 125:1) When your enemies press upon you, remember you are to “fight in the presence of God.” (Zech. 10:5) Endeavor, therefore, to act a gallant and a resolute part; endeavor to “resist them steadfast in the faith.” (1 Pet. 5:9) Remember, “He can give power to the faint, and increase strength to them that have no might.” (Isai. 40:29) He hath done it in ten thousand instances already, and he will do it in ten thousand more. How many striplings have conquered their gigantic foes in all their most formidable armor, when they have gone forth against them; though but as it were “with a staff and a sling, in the name of the Lord God of Israel!” (1 Sam. 17:40-45) How many women and children have trodden down the force of the enemy, “and out of weakness have been made strong!” (Heb. 11:34)
6. Amidst all the opposition of earth and hell, look upward and look forward, and you will feel your heart animated by the view. Your General is near; he is near to aid you, he is near to reward you. When you feel the temptation press the hardest, think of him who endured even the cross itself for your rescue. View the fortitude of your Divine Leader, and endeavor to march on in his steps. Hearken to his voice, for he proclaims it aloud, “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me.” (Rev. 22:12) “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10) And, oh! how bright will it shine! and how long will its lustre last! When the gems that adorn the crowns of monarchs, and pass (instructive thought!) from one royal head to another through succeeding centuries, are melted down in the last flame, it is “a crown of glory which fadeth not away.” (1 Pet. 5:4)
7. It is indeed true, “that such as turn aside to crooked paths” will be “led forth with the workers of iniquity,” to that terrible execution which divine justice is preparing for them, (Psa. 125:5) and it would have been “better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn aside from the holy commandment.” (2 Pet 2:21) But I would, by divine grace, “hope better things of you.” (Heb. 6:9) And I make it my hearty prayer for you, my reader, that you may be “kept by the mighty power of God,” kept, as in a garrison on all sides fortified in the securest manner, “through faith, unto salvation.”
The Soul, alarmed by a sense of these difficulties, committing itself to Divine Protection.
“Blessed God! it is to thine Almighty power that I flee. Behold me surrounded with difficulties and dangers, and stretch out thine omnipotent arm to save me, ‘O thou that savest by thy right hand them that put their trust in thee, from those that rise up against them.’ (Psa. 17:7) this day do I solemnly put myself under thy protection: exert thy power in my favor, and permit me ‘to make the shadow of thy wings my refuge.’ (Psa. 57:1) Let ‘thy grace be sufficient for me,’ and ‘thy strength be made perfect in my weakness.’ (2 Cor. 12:9) I dare not say, ‘I will never forsake thee, I will never deny thee,’ (Mark 14:31) but I hope! can truly say, O Lord, I would not do it; and according to my present apprehension and purpose, death would appear to me much less terrible, than in any willful and deliberate instance to offend thee. O root out those corruptions from my heart, which in an hour of pressing temptation might incline me to view things in a different light, and so might betray me into the hands of the enemy! Strengthen my faith, O Lord, and encourage my hope! Inspire me with heroic resolution in opposing every thing that lies in my way to heaven; and let me ‘set my face like a flint’ against all the assaults of earth and hell! (Isai. 50:7) ‘If sinners entice me, let me not consent;’ (Prov. 1:10) if they insult me, let me not regard it; if they threaten me, let me not fear! Rather may a holy and ardent, yet prudent and well-governed zeal, take occasion from that malignity of heart which they discover, to attempt their conviction and reformation! At least, let me never be ashamed to plead thy cause against the most profane deriders of religion! ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness’ in my soul, and I will endeavor to ‘teach transgressors thy ways, that sinners may be converted unto thee’ (Psa. 51:8,13) Yea, Lord, while my fears continue, though I should apprehend myself condemned, I am condemned so righteously for my own folly, that I would be thine advocate, though against myself.
Keep me, O Lord, now, and at all times! Never let me think, whatever age or station I attain, that I am strong enough to maintain the combat without thee! Nor let me imagine myself, even in this infancy of religion in my soul, So weak that thou canst not support me! Wherever thou leadest me, there let me follow; and whatever station thou appointest me, there let me labor: there let me maintain the holy war against all the enemies of my salvation, and rather fall in it, than basely abandon it.
“And thou, O glorious Redeemer; ‘the Captain of my salvation,’ the great ‘Author and Finisher of my faith,’ (Heb. 12:2) when I am in danger of denying thee, as Peter did, look upon me with that mixture of majesty and tenderness, (Luke 22:61) which may either secure me from falling, or may speedily recover me to God and my duty again! and teach me to take occasion, even from my miscarriages, to humble myself more deeply for all that has been amiss, and to redouble my future diligence and caution! Amen.”
THE CHRISTIAN URGED TO, AND ASSISTED IN, AN EXPRESS ACT OF SELF-DEDICATION TO THE SERVICE OF GOD.
1. The advantages of such a surrender are briefly suggested.— 2, 3, 4. Advice for the manner of doing it; that it be deliberate, cheerful, entire, perpetual.—5. And that it be expressed with some affecting solemnity.—6. A written instrument to be signed and declared before God, at some season of extraordinary devotion, reposed. The chapter concludes with a specimen of such an instrument, together with an abstract of it, to be used with proper and requisite alterations.
1. AS I would hope, that, notwithstanding all the forms of opposition which do or may arise, yet in consideration of those noble supports and motives which have been mentioned in the two preceding chapters, you are heartily determined for the service of God, I would now urge you to make a solemn surrender of yourself unto it. Do not only form such a purpose in your heart, but expressly declare it in the divine presence. Such solemnity in the manner of doing it is certainly very reasonable in the nature of things; and surely it is highly expedient for binding to the Lord such a treacherous heart as we know our own to be. It will be pleasant to reflect upon it, as done at such and such a time, with such and such circumstances of place and method, which may serve to strike the memory and the conscience. The sense of the vows of God which are upon you, will strengthen you in an hour of temptation; and the recollection may also encourage your humble boldness and freedom in applying to him, under the character and relation of your Covenant God and Father, as future exigencies may require.
2. Do it therefore; but do it deliberately. Consider what it is that you are to do, and consider how reasonable it is that it should be done, and done cordially and cheerfully; “not by constraint, but willingly,” (1 Pet. 5:2) for in this sense, and in every other, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7) Now surely there is nothing we should do with greater cheerfulness or more cordial consent, than making such a surrender of ourselves to this Lord, to the God who created us, who brought us into this pleasant and well-furnished world, who supported us in our tender infancy, who guarded us in the thoughtless days of childhood and youth, who has hitherto continually helped, sustained, and preserved us. Nothing can be more reasonable than that we should acknowledge him as our rightful owner and our Sovereign Ruler; than that we should devote ourselves to him us our most gracious Benefactor, and seek him as our supreme felicity. Nothing can be more apparently equitable than that we, the product of his power, and the price of his Son’s blood, should be his, and his for ever. If you see the matter in its just view, it will be the grief of your soul that you have ever alienated yourself from the blessed God and his service: so far will you be from wishing to continue in that state of alienation another year, or another day, you will rejoice to bring back to him his revolted creature; and as you have in times past “yielded your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin,” you will delight to “yield yourselves unto God as alive from the dead,” and to employ “your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (Rom. 6:13)
3. The surrender will also be as entire as it is cheerful and immediate. All you are, and all you have, and all you can do, your time, your possessions, your influence over others, will be devoted to him, that for the future it may be employed entirety for him, and to his glory. You will desire to keep back nothing from him; but will seriously judge that you are then in the truest and noblest sense your own, when you are most entirely his. You are also, on this great occasion, to resign all that you have to the disposal of his wise and gracious providence; not only owning his power, but consenting to his undoubted right to do what he pleases with you, and all that he has given you; and declaring a hearty approbation of all that he has done, and of all that he may farther do.
4. Once more, let me remind you that this surrender must be perpetual. Yon must give yourself up to God in such a manner as never more to pretend to be your own; for the rights of God are, like his nature, eternal an immutable; and with regard to his rational creatures, are the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
5. I would farther advise and urge that this dedication may be made with all possible solemnity. Do it in express words. And perhaps it may be in many cases most expedient, as many pious divines have recommended, to do it in writing. Set your hand and seal to it, “that on such a day of such a month and year, and at such a place, on full consideration and serious reflection, you came to this happy resolution, that, whatsoever others might do, you would serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15)
6. Such an instrument you may, if you please draw up for yourself; or, if you rather choose to have it drawn up to your hand, you may find something of this nature below, in which you may easily make such alterations as shall suit your circumstances, where there is any thing peculiar in them. But whatever you use, weigh it well, meditate attentively upon it, that you may “not be rash with your mouth to utter any thing before God.” (Eccl. 5:2) And when you determine to execute this instrument, let the transaction be attended with some more than ordinary; religious retirement. Make it, if you conveniently can, a day of secret fasting and prayer; and when your heart is prepared with a becoming awe of the Divine Majesty, with an humble confidence in his goodness, and an earnest desire of his favor, then present yourself on your knees before God, and read it over deliberately and solemnly; and when you have signed it, lay it by in some secure place, where you may review it whenever you please; and make it a rule with yourself to review it, if possible, at certain seasons of the year, that you may keep up the remembrance of it. And God grant that you may be enabled to keep it, and in the whole of your conversation to walk according to it. May it be an anchor to your soul in every temptation, and a cordial to it in every affliction. May the recollection or it embolden your addresses to the throne of grace now, and give additional strength to your departing spirit, in a consciousness that it is ascending to your covenant God and Father, and to that gracious Redeemer, whose power and faithfulness will securely “keep what you commit to him unto that day.” (2 Tim. 1:12)
An Example of Self-Dedication.
“Eternal and unchangeable Jehovah! thou great Creator of heaven and earth, and adorable Lord of angels and men, I desire, with the deepest humiliation and abasement of soul, to fall down at this time in thine awful presence, and earnestly pray that thou wilt penetrate ‘my heart with a suitable sense of thine unutterable and inconceivable glories.
“Trembling may justly take bold upon me, (Job 20:6) when I, a sinful worm, presume to lift up my head to thee, presume to appear in thy majestic presence on such an occasion as this. Who am I, O Lord God! or what is my house? What is my nature or descent, my character and desert, that I should thus address the King of kings, and Lord of lords! I blush and am confounded before thee. But, O Lord! great as is thy majesty, so also is thy mercy. If thou wilt hold converse with any of thy creatures, thy superlatively exalted nature must stoop, must stoop infinitely low. And I know, that in and through Jesus, the Son of thy love, thou condescendest to visit sinful mortals, and to allow their approach to thee, and their covenant intercourse with thee; nay, I know that the scheme and plan is thine own, and that thou hast graciously sent to propose it to us; as none untaught by thee would have been able to form it, or inclined to embrace it, even when actually proposed.
“To thee therefore do I now come, invited by the name of thy Son, and trusting in his righteousness and grace. Laying myself at thy feet, ‘with shame and confusion of face,’ and ‘smiting, upon my breast,’ I say, with the humble publican, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13) I acknowledge, O Lord! that I have been a great transgressor. ‘My sins have reached unto heaven,’ (Rev. 18:5) and ‘my iniquities are lifted up unto the skies.’ (Jer. 51:9) The irregular propensities of my corrupted and degenerated nature have, in ten thousand aggravated instances, ‘wrought to bring forth fruit unto death.’ (Rom. 8:5) And if thou shouldst be strict to mark my offences, I must be silent under a load of guilt, and immediately sink into destruction. But thou hast graciously healed me to return unto thee, though I have been a wandering sheep, a prodigal son, a backsliding child. (Jer. 3:22) Behold, therefore, O Lord! I come unto thee. I come, convinced not only of my sin, but of my folly. I come, from my very heart ashamed of myself, and with an acknowledgment, in the sincerity and humility of my soul, that ‘I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.’ (1 Sam. 26:21) I am confounded myself at the remembrance of these things; but be thou ‘merciful to my unrighteousness, and do not remember against me my sins and my transgressions!’ (Heb. 8:12) Permit me, O Lord, to bring back unto thee those powers and faculties which I have ungratefully and sacrilegiously alienated from thy service; and receive, I beseech thee, thy poor revolted creature, who is now convinced of thy right to him, and desires nothing in the whole world: so much as to be thine!
“Blessed God! it is with the utmost solemnity that I make this surrender of myself unto thee. ‘Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth! I avouch the Lord this day to be my God, (Deut. 26:17) and I avouch and declare myself this day to be one of his covenant children and people. Hear, O thou God of heaven! and record it in the book of thy remembrance,’ (Matt. 3:16) that henceforth I am thine, entirely thine. I would not merely consecrate unto thee some of my powers, or some of my possessions, or give thee a certain proportion of my services, or all I am capable of for a limited time; but I would be wholly thine, and thine for ever. From this day I would solemnly renounce all the ‘former lords which have had dominion over me,’ (Isai. 26:13) every sin and every lust; and bid, in thy name, an eternal defiance to the powers of hell, which have most unjustly usurped the empire over my soul, and to all the corruptions which their fatal temptations have introduced into it. The whole frame of my nature, all the faculties of my mind, and all the members of my body, would I present before thee this day, ‘as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which’ I know to be ‘my most reasonable service.’ (Rom. 12:1) To thee I consecrate all my worldly possessions: in thy service I desire to spend all the remainder of my time upon earth, and beg thou wouldst instruct and influence me, so that, whether my abode here be longer or shorter, every year and month, every day and hour, may be used in such a manner as shall most effectually promote thine honor, and subserve the designs of thy wise and gracious providence. And I earnestly pray, that, whatever influence thou givest me over others, in any of the superior relations of life in which I may stand, or in consequence of any peculiar regard which may be paid to me, thou wouldst give me the strength and courage to exert myself to the utmost for thy glory; resolving not only that I will myself do it, but that all others, so far as I can rationally and properly influence them, ‘shall serve the Lord’ (Josh. 24:15) In this course, O blessed God! would I steadily persevere to the very end of life; earnestly praying, that every future day of it may supply the deficiencies and correct the irregularities of the former; and that I may, by divine grace, be enabled not only to hold on in that happy way, but daily to grow more active in it!
“Nor do I only consecrate all that I am and have to thy service, but I also most humbly resign, and submit to thy holy and sovereign will, myself, and all that I can call mine. I leave, O Lord! to thy management and direction, all I possess, and all I wish; and set every enjoyment and every interest before thee, to be disposed of as thou pleasest. Continue or remove what thou hast given me; bestow or refuse what I imagine I want, as thou, Lord, shalt see good! And though I dare not say I will never repine, yet I hope I may venture to say, that I will labor not only to submit, but to acquiesce; not only to bear what thou doest in thy most afflictive dispensations, but to consent to it, and to praise thee for it; contentedly resolving, in all thou appointest for me, my will into thine, and looking on myself as nothing, and on thee, O God! as the great eternal ALL, whose word ought to determine every thing, and whose government ought to be the joy of the whole rational creation.
“Use me, O Lord! I beseech thee, as the instrument of thy glory; and honor me so far, as, either by doing or suffering what thou shalt appoint, to bring some revenue of praise to thee, and of benefit to the world in which I dwell! And may it please thee, from this day forward, to number me among thy peculiar people! that I may ‘no more be a stranger and foreigner, but a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God!’ (Eph. 2:19) Receive, O heavenly Father! thy returning prodigal! Wash me in the blood of thy dear Son; clothe me with his perfect righteousness; and sanctify me throughout by the power of thy Spirit! Destroy, I beseech thee, more and more the power of sin in my heart! Transform me more into thine own image, and fashion me to the resemblance of Jesus, whom henceforward I would acknowledge as my teacher and sacrifice, my intercessor and my Lord! Communicate to me, I beseech thee, all needful influences of thy purifying. thy cheering, and thy comforting Spirit! And lift up that ‘light of thy countenance upon me,’ which will put the sublimest joy and ‘gladness into my soul.’ (Psa. 4:6,7)
“Dispose my affairs, O God! in a manner which may be most subservient to thy glory and my own truest happiness; and when I have done and borne thy will upon earth, call me from hence at what time and in what manner thou pleasest: only grant, that in my dying moments, and in the near prospect of eternity, I may remember these my engagements to thee, and may employ my latest breath in thy service. And do thou, Lord, when thou seest the agonies of dissolving nature upon me, remember this covenant too, even though I should then be incapable of recollecting it. Look down, O my heavenly Father! with a pitying eye, upon thy languishing, thy dying child; place thine everlasting arms underneath me for my support; put strength and confidence into my departing spirit, and receive it to the embraces of thine everlasting love. Welcome it to the abodes of them that sleep in Jesus, (1 Thess. 4:14) to wait with them that glorious day, when the last off thy promises to thy covenant people shall be fulfilled in their triumphant resurrection, and in that abundant entrance which shall be administered to them into that everlasting kingdom, (2 Pet. 1:12) of which thou hast assured them by thy covenant, and in the hope of which I now lay hold of it, desiring to live and to die, as. with mine hand on that hope.
“And when I am thus numbered among the dead, and all the interests of mortality are over with me for ever, if this solemn memorial should chance to fall into the hands of my surviving friends, may it be the means of making serious impression on their minds. May they read it, not only as my language, but as their own; and learn to fear the Lord my God, and with me, to put their trust under the shadow of his wing for time and for eternity! And may they also learn to adore with me that grace which inclines our hearts to enter into the covenant, and condescends to admit us into it when so inclined; ascribing, with me, and with all the nations of the redeemed, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, that glory, honor, and praise, which is so justly due to each divine person for the part he bears “ in this illustrious work. Amen.
N.B. For the sake of those who may think the preceding Form of Self-Dedication too long to be transcribed, as it is possible many will, I have, at the desire of a much esteemed friend, added the following Abridgment of it, which should, by all means, be attentively weighed in every clause before it is executed; and any word or phrase which may seem liable to exception, changed, that the whole heart may consent to it all.
“Eternal and ever-blessed God! I desire to present myself before thee, with the deepest humiliation and abasement of soul, sensible how unworthy such a sinful worm is to appear before the holy Majesty of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and especially on such an occasion as this, ever to dedicate myself, without reserve, to thee. But the scheme and plan is thine own. Thine infinite condescension hath offered it by thy Son, and thy grace hath inclined my heart to accept of it.
“I come, therefore, acknowledging myself to have been a great offender; smiting upon my breast, and saying with the humble publican, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I come, invited by the name of thy Son, and wholly trusting in his perfect righteousness, entreating that for his sake thou wilt be merciful to my unrighteousness, and wilt no more remember my sins. Receive, I beseech thee, thy revolted creature, who is now convinced of thy right to him, and desires nothing so much as that he may be thine “This day do I, with the utmost solemnity, surrender myself to thee. I renounce all former lords that have had dominion over me; and I consecrate to thee all that I am, and all that I have; the faculties of my mind, the members of my body, my worldly possessions, my time, and my influence over others; to be all used entirely for thy glory, and resolutely employed in obedience to thy commands, as long as thou continuest me in life; with an ardent desire and humble resolution to continue thine through all the endless ages of eternity; ever holding myself in an attentive posture to observe the first intimations of thy will, and ready to spring forward with zeal and joy to the immediate execution of it.
“To thy direction also I resign myself, and all I am and have, to be disposed of by thee in such a manner as thou shalt in thine infinite wisdom judge most subservient to the purposes of thy glory. To thee I leave the management of all events, and say without reserve, ‘Not my will, but thine be done,’ rejoicing with a loyal heart in thine unlimited government, as what ought to be the delight of the whole rational creation.
“Use me, O Lord, I beseech thee, as an instrument of thy service! number me among thy peculiar people! Let me be washed in the blood of thy dear Son! Let me be clothed with his righteousness! Let me be sanctified by his Spirit! Transform me more and more into his image! Impart to me through him, all needful influences of thy purifying, cheering, and comforting Spirit! And let my life be spent under those influences, and in the light of thy gracious countenance, as my Father and my God!
“And when the solemn hour of death comes, may I remember thy covenant, ‘well ordered in all things and sure, as all my salvation and all my desire,’ (2 Sam. 23:5) though every hope and enjoyment is perishing; and do thou, O Lord! remember it too. Look down with pity, O my heavenly Father, on thy languishing, dying child! Embrace me in thine everlasting arms! Put strength and confidence into my departing spirit, and receive it to the abodes of them that sleep in Jesus, peacefully and joyfully to wait the accomplishment of thy great promise to all thy people, even that of a glorious resurrection, and of eternal happiness in thine heavenly presence!
“And if any surviving friend should, when I am in the dust, meet with this memorial of my solemn transactions with thee, may he make the engagement his own; and do thou graciously admit him to partake in all the blessings of thy covenant, through Jesus the great Mediator of it; to whom, with thee, O Father, and thy Holy Spirit, be ever-lasting praises ascribed, by all the millions who are thus saved by thee, and by all those other celestial spirits in whose work and blessedness thou shalt call them to share! Amen.”
Chapter XVIII. On Communion in the Lord’s Supper.
1. If the reader has received the Ordinance of Baptism, and; as above recommended, dedicated himself to God.—2. He is urged to ratify that engagement at the Table of the Lord.— 3. From a view of the ends for which that Ordinance was instituted.—4. Whence its usefulness is strongly inferred.—5. And from the Authority of Christ’s Appointment; which is solemnly pressed on the conscience.—6. Objections from apprehensions of Unfitness.—7. Weakness of grace, &c. briefly answered.—8. At least, serious thoughtfulness on this subject is absolutely insisted upon.—9. The chapter is closed with a prayer for one who desires to attend, yet finds himself pressed with remaining doubts.
1. I hope this chapter will find you, by a most express consent, become one of God’s covenant people, solemnly and most cordially devoted to his service; and it is my hearty prayer, that the engagements you have made on earth may be ratified in heaven. But for your farther instruction and edification; give me leave to remind you, that our Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed a peculiar manner of expressing our regard to him, by commemorating his dying love, which, though it does not forbid any other proper way of doing it, must by no means be set aside or neglected for any human methods, how prudent and expedient soever they may appear to us.
2. Our Lord has wisely ordained, that the advantages of society should be brought into religion; and as, by his command, professed Christians assemble together for other acts of public worship, so He has been pleased to institute a social ordinance, in which a whole assembly of them is to come to his table, and there to eat the same bread; and drink the same cup. And this they are to do, as a token of their affectionate remembrance of his dying love, of their solemn surrender of themselves to God, and of their sincere love to one another, and to all their fellow-Christians.
3. That these are indeed the great ends of the Lord’s supper, I shall not now stay to argue at large. You need only read what the apostle Paul hath written in the tenth and eleventh chapters or his first epistle to the Corinthians, to convince you fully of this. He there expressly tells us, that our Lord commanded “the bread to be eaten,” and “the wine to be drunk, in remembrance of him,” (1 Cor. 11:24,25) or as a commemoration or memorial of him; so that, as often as we attend this institution, “we show forth the Lord’s death,” which we are to do “even until he come,” (1 Cor. 11:26) And it is particularly asserted, that “the cup is the New Testament in his blood;” that is, it is a seal of that covenant which was ratified by his blood. Now, it is evident, that, in consequence of this, we are to approach it with a view to that covenant, desiring its blessings, and resolving, by divine grace, to comply with its demands. On the whole, therefore, as the apostle speaks, we have “communion in the body and the blood of Christ,” (1 Cor. 10:16) and partaking of his table and of his cup, we converse with Christ, and join ourselves to him as his people; as the Jews, by eating their sacrifices, conversed with Jehovah, and joined themselves to him. He farther reminds them, that, though many, they were “one bread and one body,” being “all partakers of that one bread,” (1 Cor. 10:17) and being “all made to drink into one Spirit;” (1 Cor. 12:13) that is, meeting together as if they were but one family, and joining in the commemoration of that one blood which was their common ransom and of the Lord Jesus, their common head. Now, it is evident, all these reasonings are equally applicable to Christians in succeeding ages. Permit me, therefore, by the authority of our divine Master, to press upon you: the observation or this precept.
4. And let me also urge it, from the apparent tendency which it has to promote your truest advantage. You are setting out in the Christian life; and I have reminded you at large of the opposition you must expect to meet in it. It is the love of Christ which must animate you to break through all. What then can be more desirable than to bear about with you a lively sense of it? and what can awaken that sense more than the contemplation of his death as there represented? Who can behold the bread broken, and the wine poured out, and not reflect how the body of the blessed Jesus was even torn in pieces by his sufferings, and his sacred blood poured forth like water on the ground? Who can think of the heart-rending agonies of the Son of God as the price of our redemption and salvation, and not feel his soul melted with tenderness, and inflamed with grateful affection? What an exalted view doth it give us of the blessings of the Gospel-covenant, when we consider it as established in the blood of God’s only-begotten Son! And when we make our approach to God as our heavenly Father, and give up ourselves to his service in this solemn manner, what an awful tendency has it to fix the conviction, that we are not our own, being bought with such a price! (1 Cor 6:19,20) What a tendency has it to guard us against every temptation, to those sins which we have so solemnly renounced, and to engage our fidelity to him to whom we have bound our souls as with an oath! Well may our hearts be knit together in mutual love, (Col. 2:2) when we consider ourselves as “one in Christ:” (Gal. 3:28) his blood becomes the cement of the society, joins us in spirit, not only to each other, but “to all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours,” (1 Cor. 1:2) and we anticipate in pleasing hope that blessed day, when the assembly shall be complete, and we shall all “be for ever with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17) Well may these views engage us to deny ourselves, and to “take up our cross and follow our crucified Master.” (Matt. 16:24) Well may they engage us to do our utmost, by prayer, and all other suitable endeavors, to serve his followers and his friends; to serve those whom he hath purchased with his blood, and who are to be his associates and ours, in the glories of a happy immortality.
5. It is also the express institution and command of our blessed Redeemer that the members of such societies should be tenderly solicitous for the spiritual welfare of each other: and that, on the whole, his churches may be kept pure and holy, that they should “withdraw themselves from every brother that walketh disorderly;” (2 Thess. 3:6) that they should “mark such as cause offences” or scandals among them, “contrary to the doctrine which they have learned, and avoid them;” (Rom. 16:17) “that if any obey not the word of Christ by his apostles,” they should “have no fellowship or communion with such, that they may be ashamed;” (2 Thess. 3:14) that they should “not eat with such as are notoriously irregular” in their behavior, but, on the contrary, should “put away from among themselves such wicked persons,” (1 Cor. 5:11-13) It is evident, therefore, that the institution of such societies is greatly for the honor of Christianity, and for the advantage of its particular professors. And consequently, every consideration of obedience to our common Lord, and of prudent regard to our own benefit and that of our brethren, will require that those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity should enter into them, and assemble among them, in these their most solemn and peculiar acts of communion, at his table.
6. I entreat you, therefore, and if I may presume to say it, in his name and by his authority, I charge it on your conscience, that this precept of our dying Lord go not, as it were, for nothing with you; but that, if you indeed love him, you keep this, as well as the rest of his commandments. I know you may be ready to form objections. I have elsewhere debated many of the chief of them at large, and I hope not without some good effect.* The great question is that which relates to your being prepared for a worthy attendance; and in conjunction with what has been said before, I think that may be brought to a very short issue. Have you, so far as you know your own heart, been sincere in that deliberate surrender of yourself to God, through Christ, which I recommended in the former chapter? If you have, whether it were with or without the particular form or manner of doing it there recommended, you have certainly taken hold of the covenant, and therefore should devote yourself to God, in obedience to all his commands. And there is not, and cannot be, any other view of the ordinance in which you can have any further objection to it. If you desire to remember Christ’s death; if you desire to renew the dedication of yourself to God through him; if you would list yourself among his people; if you would love them, and do them good according to your ability, and, on the whole, would not allow yourself in the practice of anyone known sin, or in the omission of any one known duty, then I will venture confidently to say, not only that you will be welcome to the ordinance, but that it was instituted for such as you.
7. As for other objections, a few words may suffice by way of reply. The weakness of the religious principle in your soul, if it be really implanted there, is so far from being an argument against your seeking such a method to strengthen it, that it rather strongly enforces the necessity of doing it. The neglect of this solemnity, by so many that call themselves Christians, should rather engage you so much the more to distinguish your zeal for an institution in this respect so much slighted and injured. And as for the fears of aggravated guilt, in case of apostacy, do not indulge them. This may, by the divine blessing, be an effectual remedy against the evil you fear; and it is certain, that after what you must already have known and felt, before you could be brought into your present situation, (on the supposition I have now been making) there can be no room to think or a retreat; no room, even for the wretched hope of being less miserable than the generality of those that have perished. Your scheme, therefore, must be to make your salvation as sure, and to make it as glorious, as possible; and I know not any appointment of our blessed Redeemer which may have a more comfortable aspect upon that blessed end, than this which I flat recommending to you.
8. One thing I would at least insist upon, and I see not with what face it can be denied. I mean, that you should take this matter into serious consideration; that you should diligently inquire, “whether you have reason in your conscience to believe it is the will of God you should now approach to the ordinance or not;” and that you should continue your reflections, your inquiries, and your prayers, till you find farther encouragement to come, if that encouragement be hitherto wanting. For of this be assured, that a state in which you are on the whole unfit to approach this ordinance, is a state in which you are destitute of the necessary preparations for death and heaven; in which, therefore, if you would not allow yourselves to slumber on the brink or destruction, you ought not to rest so much as one single day.
A Prayer for one who earnestly desires ins to approach the Table of the Lord, yet has some remaining doubts concerning his right to that solemn ordinance.
“BLESSED LORD! I adore thy wise and gracious appointments, for the edification of thy church in holiness and in love. I thank thee that thou hast commanded thy servants to form themselves into churches; and I adore my gracious Savior, who hath instituted, as with his dying breath, the holy solemnity of his Supper, to be through all ages a memorial of his dying love, and a bond of that union which it is his sovereign pleasure that his people should preserve. I hope thou, Lord, art witness to the sincerity with which I desire to give myself up to thee; and that I may call thee to record on my soul, that, if I now hesitate about this particular manner of doing it, it is not because I would allow myself to break any of thy commands, or to slight any of thy favors. I trust thou knowest that my present delay arises only from my uncertainty as to my duty, and a fear of profaning holy things by an unworthy approach to them. Yet surely, O Lord! if thou hast given me a reverence for thy command, a desire of communion with thee, and a willingness to devote myself wholly to thy service, I may regard it as a token for good, that thou art disposed to receive me, and that I am not wholly unqualified for an ordinance which I so highly honor and so earnestly desire. I therefore make it my humble request unto thee, O Lord! this day, that than wouldst graciously he pleased to instruct me in my duty, and to teach me the way which I should take ‘Examine me, O Lord! and prove me, try my reins and my heart!’ (Psa. 26:2) Is there any secret sin, in the love and practice of which I would indulge? Is there any of thy precepts in the habitual breach of which I would allow myself? I trust I can appeal to thee as a witness, that there is not. Let me not, then, wrong my own soul, by a causeless and sinful absence from thy sacred table! But grant, O Lord! I beseech thee, that thy word, thy providence. and thy Spirit, may so concur as to ‘make my way plain before me!” (Pro. 15:19) Scatter my remaining doubts. if thou seest that they have no just foundation! Fill me with more assured faith, with a more ardent love, and plead thine own cause with mine heart in such a manner as that I may not be able any longer to delay that approach, which, if I am thy servant indeed, is equally my duty and my privilege! In the mean time, grant that it may never be long out of my thoughts; but that I may give all diligence. If there be any remaining occasion of doubt, to remove it by a more affectionate concern to avoid whatever is displeasing to the eyes of thine holiness, and to practice the full extent of my duty. May the views of Christ crucified be so familiar to my mind; and may a sense of his dying love so powerfully constrain my soul, that my own growing experience may put it out of all question that I am one of those for whom he intended this feast of love!
“And even now, as joined to thy church in spirit and in love, though not in so express and intimate a bond as I could wish, would I heartily pray that thy blessing may be on all thy people; that thou wouldst ‘feed thine heritage, and lift them up for ever!’ (Psa. 28:9) May every Christian church flourish in knowledge, in holiness, and in love! May all thy priests be clothed with salvation, that by their means thy chosen people may be made joyful. (Psa. 132:16) And may there be a glorious accession to thy churches every where, of those who may fly to them ‘as a cloud, and as doves to their windows.’ (Isa. 60:8) May thy table, O Lord! be ‘furnished with guests,’ (Matt. 22:10) and may all that ‘love thy salvation say, Let the Lord be magnified, who hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servants.’ (Psa. 35:27) And I earnestly pray, that all who profess ‘to have received Christ Jesus the Lord,’ may be duly careful to ‘walk in him,’ (Col. 2:6) and that we may all be prepared for the general assembly of the first-born, and may join in that nobler and more immediate worship where all these types and shadows shall be laid aside; where even these memorials shall be no longer necessary; but a living, present Redeemer shall be the everlasting joy of those who here his absence have delighted to commemorate his death. Amen’
SOME MORE PARTICULAR DIRECTIONS FOR MAINTAINING CONTINUAL COMMUNION WITH GOD, OR BEING IN HIS FEAR ALL THE DAY LONG. 1. A letter to a pious friend on this subject introduced here.—2. General plan of directions.—3. For the beginning of the day.—4. Lifting up the heart to God at our first awakening.—5, 10. Setting ourselves to the secret devotions of the morning, with respect to which particular advice is given.—11. For the progress of the day.—12. Directions are given concerning seriousness in devotion.—13. Diligence in business.—14. Prudence in recreations.—15. Observations of Providence.—16. Watchfulness against temptations.—17. Dependence on divine influence.—18. Government of the thoughts when in solitude.—19. Management of Discourse in company.—20. For the conclusion of the day.—21. With the secret devotions of the evening.—22, 23. Directions for self-examination at large.—24. Lying down with a proper temper.—25. Conclusion of the letter.—26. And of the chapter. With a serious view of death, proper to be taken at the close of the day.
1. I would hope, that upon serious consideration, self-examination, and prayer, the reader has given himself up to God; and that his concern flow is to inquire, how he may act according to the vows of God which are upon him. Now, for his farther assistance here, besides the general view I have already given of the Christian temper and character, I will propose some more particular directions relating to maintaining that devout, spiritual, and heavenly character, which may, in the language of Scripture, be called “a daily walking with God, or being in his fear all the day long.” (Prov. 23:17) And I know not how I can express the idea and plan which I have formed of this, in a more clear and distinct manner than I did in a letter which I wrote many years ago [in 1727] to a young person of eminent piety, with whom I had then an intimate friendship; and who, to the great grief of all that knew him, died a few months after he received it Yet I hope he lived long enough to reduce the directions to practice, which I wish and pray that every reader may do, so far as they may properly suit his capacities and circumstances in life, considering it as if addressed to himself. I say, and desire it may be observed, that I wish my reader may act on these directions so far as they may properly suit his capacity and circumstances in life; for I would be far from laying down the following particulars as universal rules for all, or for any one person in the world, at all times. Let them be practiced by those that are able, and when they have leisure; and when you cannot reach them all, come as near the most important of them as you conveniently can. With this precaution I proceed to the letter, which I would hope, after this previous care to guard against the danger of mistaking it, will not discourage any, the weakest Christian. Let us humbly and cheerfully do what we can, and rejoice that we have so gracious a Father, who knows all our infirmities, and so compassionate a High Priest, to recommend to divine acceptance the feeblest efforts of sincere duty and love!
My dear Friend,
Since you desire my thoughts in writing, and at large, on the subject of our late conversation, viz. “By what particular methods, in our daily conduct, devotion and usefulness may be most happily maintained and secured “—I set myself with cheerfulness to recollect and digest the hints which I then gave you; hoping it may be of some service to you in your most important interests; and may also fix on my own mind a deeper sense of my obligations to govern my own life by the rules I offer to others. I esteem attempts of this kind among the pleasantest fruits, and the surest cements of friendship; and as I hope ours will last for ever, I am persuaded a mutual care to cherish sentiments of this kind will add everlasting endearments to it.
2. The directions you will expect from me on this occasion naturally divide themselves into three heads: How we are to regard God in the beginning; the progress; and the close of the day. I will open my heart freely to you with regard to each, and will leave you to judge how far these hints may suit your circumstances; aiming at least to keep between the extremes of a superstitions strictness in trifles, and an indolent remissness, which, if admitted in little things, may draw after it criminal neglects, and at length more criminal indulgences.
3. In the beginning of the day: It should certainly be our care to lift up our heads to God as soon as we wake, and while we are rising; and then, to set ourselves seriously and immediately to the secret devotions of the morning.
4. For the first of these it seems exceedingly natural. There are so many things that may suggest a great variety of pious reflections and ejaculations which are so obvious that one would think a serious mind could hardly miss them. The ease and cheerfulness of our minds on our first awaking; the refreshment we find from sleep; the security we have enjoyed in that defenceless state; the provision of warm and decent apparel; the cheerful light of the returning sun; or even (which is not unfit to mention to you) the contrivances of art, taught and furnished by the great Author of all our conveniences, to supply us with many useful hours of life in the absence of the sun; the hope of returning to the dear society of our friends; the prospect of spending another day in the service of God and the improvement of our own minds; and above all, the lively hope of a joyful resurrection to an eternal day of happiness and glory: any of these particulars, and many more which I do not mention, may furnish its with matter of pleasing reflection and cheerful praise while we are rising. And for our farther assistance, when we are alone at this time, it may not be improper to speak sometimes to ourselves, and sometimes to our heavenly Father, in the natural expressions of joy and thankfulness. Permit me, Sir, to add, that, if we find our hearts in such a frame at our first awaking, even that is just matter of praise, and the rather, as perhaps it is an answer to the prayer with which we lay down.
5. For the exercise of secret devotion in the morning, which I hope will generally be our first work, I cannot prescribe an exact method to another. You must, my dear friend, consult your own taste in some measure. The constituent pans of the service are, in the general, plain. Were I to propose a particular model for those who have half or three quarters of an hour at command, which, with prudent conduct, I suppose most may have, it should he this:
6. To begin the stated devotions of the day with a solemn act of praise, offered to God on our knees, and generally with a low, yet distinct voice; acknowledging the mercies we have been reflecting on while rising, never forgetting to mention Christ as the great foundation of all our enjoyments and our hopes, or to return thanks for the influences of the blessed Spirit which have led our beans to God, or are then engaging us to seek him. This, as well as other offices of devotion afterwards mentioned, must be done attentively and sincerely; for not to offer our praises heartily, is, in the sight of God, not to praise him at all. This address of praise may properly be concluded with an express renewal of our dedication to God, declaring our continued repeated resolution of being devoted to him, and particularly of living to his glory the ensuing day.
7. It may be proper, after this, to take a prospect of the day before us, so far as we can probably foresee, in the general, where and how it may be spent; and seriously to reflect, “How shall I employ myself for God this day? What business is to be done, and in what order? What opportunities may I expect, either of doing or of receiving good? What temptations am I likely to be assaulted with, in any place, company, or circumstances, which may probably occur? In what instance have I lately failed? And how shall I be safest now?”
8. After this review it will be proper to offer up a short prayer, begging that God would quicken us to each of these foreseen duties; that he would fortify us against each of these apprehended dangers; that he would grant us success in such or such a business undertaken for his glory; and also that he would help us to discover and improve unforeseen opportunities to resist unexpected temptations, and to bear patiently, and religiously, any afflictions which may surprise us in the day on which we are entering.
9. I would advise you after this to read some portion of Scripture: not a great deal, nor the whole Bible in its course; but some select portions out of its most useful parts, perhaps ten or twelve verses, not troubling yourself much about the exact connection, or other critical niceties which may occur, though at other times I would recommend them to your inquiry, as you have ability and opportunity, but considering them merely in a devotional and practical view. Here take such instructions as readily present themselves to your thoughts, repeat them over to your own conscience, and charge your heart religiously to observe them, and act upon them, under a sense of the divine authority which attends them. And if you pray over the substance of this Scripture with your Bible open before you, it may impress your memory and your heart yet more deeply, and may form you to a copiousness and variety, both of thought and expression, in prayer.
10. It might be proper to close these devotions with a psalm or hymn; and I rejoice with you, that through the pious care of our sacred poets, we are provided with so rich a variety for the assistance of the closet and family on these occasions, as well as for the service of the sanctuary.
11. The most material directions which have occurred to me relating to the progress of the day, are these: That we be serious in the devotions of the day; that we be diligent in the business of it, that is, in the prosecution of our worldly callings; that we be temperate and prudent in the recreations of it; that we carefully mark the providences of the day; that we cautiously guard against the temptations of it; that we keep up a lively and humble dependence upon the divine influence, suitable to every emergency of it; that we govern our thoughts well in the solitude of the day, and our discourses well in the conversations of it. These, Sir, were the heads of a sermon which you have lately heard me preach, and to which I know you referred in that request which I am now endeavoring to answer. I will therefore touch upon the most material hints which fall under each of these particulars.
12. For seriousness in devotion, whether public or domestic, let us take a few moments before we enter upon such solemnities, to pause, and reflect on the perfections of the God we are addressing, on the importance of the business we are coming about, on the pleasure and advantage of a regular and devout attendance, and on the guilt and folly of an hypocritical formality. When engaged, let us maintain a strict watchfulness over our own spirits and check the first wanderings of thought. And when the duty is over, let us immediately reflect on the manner in which it has been performed, and ask our own consciences whether we have reason to conclude that we are accepted of God in it? For there is a certain manner of going through these offices, which our own hearts will immediately tell us “it is impossible for God to approve;” and if we have inadvertently fallen into it, we ought to be deeply humbled before God for it, lest “our very prayer become sin.” (Psa. 109:7)
13. As for the hours of worldly business, whether it be that of the hands, or the labor of a learned life not immediately relating to religious matters, let us set to the prosecution of it with a sense of God’s authority, and with a regard to his glory. Let us avoid a dreaming, sluggish, indolent temper, which nods over its work, and does only the business of one hour in two or three. In opposition to this, which runs through the life of some people, who yet think they are never idle, let us endeavor to dispatch as much as we well can in a little time; considering that it is but a little we have in all. And let us be habitually sensible of the need we have or the divine blessing to make our labors successful.
14. For seasons of diversion, let us take care that our recreations be well chosen; that they be pursued with a good intention, to fit us for a renewed application to the labors of life; and thus that they be only used in subordination to the honor of God, the great end of all our actions. Let us take heed, that our hearts be not estranged from God by them; and that they do not take up too much of our time; always remembering that the facilities of human nature, and the advantages of the Christian revelation, were not given us in vain; but that we are always to be in pursuit of some great and honorable end, and to indulge ourselves in amusements and diversions no farther than as they make a part in a scheme of rational and manly, benevolent and pious conduct.
15. For the observation of Providence, it will be useful to regard the divine interposition in our comforts and in our afflictions. In our comforts, whether more common or extraordinary: that we find ourselves in continued health; that we are furnished with food for support and pleasure; that we have so many agreeable ways of employing our time; that we have so many friends, and those so good, and so happy; that our business goes on so prosperously; that we go out and come in safely; and that we enjoy composure and cheerfulness of spirit, without which nothing else could be enjoyed: all these should be regarded as providential favors, and due acknowledgments should be made to God on these accounts, as we pass through such agreeable scenes. On the other hand, Providence is to be regarded in every disappointment, in every loss, in every pain, in every instance of unkindness from those who have professed friendship; and we should endeavor to argue ourselves into a patient submission, from this consideration, that the hand of God is always mediately, if not immediately, in each of them; and that, if they are not properly the work of Providence, they are at least under his direction. It is a reflection which we should particularly make with relation to those little cross accidents, (as we are ready to call them) and those infirmities and follies in the temper and conduct of our intimate friends, which may else be ready to discompose us. And it is the more necessary to guard our minds here, as wise and good men often lose the command of themselves on these comparatively little occasions; who, calling lip reason and religion to their assistance, stand the shock of great calamities with fortitude and resolution.
16. For watchfulness against temptations, it is necessary, when changing our place, or our employment, to reflect, “What snares attended me here?” And as this should be our habitual care, so we should especially guard against those snares which in the morning we foresaw. And when we are entering on those circumstances in which we expected the assault, we should reflect, especially if it be a matter of great importance, “Now the combat is going to begin: now God and the blessed angels are observing what constancy, what fortitude there is in my soul, and how far the divine authority, and the remembrance of my own prayers and resolutions, will weigh with me when it comes to a trial.”
17. As for dependence on divine grace and influence, it must be universal; and since we always need it, we must never forget that necessity. A moment spent in humble fervent breathings after the communications of the divine assistance, may do more good than many minutes spent in mere reasonings; and though indeed this should not be neglected, since the light of reason is a kind of divine illumination, yet still it ought to be pursued in a due sense of our dependence on the Father of Lights, or where we think ourselves wisest, we may “become vain in our imaginations,” (Rom. 1:21,22) Let us therefore always call upon God, and say, for instance, when we are going to pray, “Lord, fix my attention! Awaken my holy affections, and pour out upon me the spirit of grace and of supplication!” (Zech. 12:10) When taking up a Bible or any other good book, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law! (Psa. 119:18) Enlighten my understanding! Warm my heart! May my good resolutions be confirmed, and all the course of my life be in a proper manner regulated!” When addressing ourselves to any worldly business, “Lord, prosper thou the work of mine hands upon me, (Psa. 90:17) and give thy blessing to my honest endeavors!” When going to any kind of recreation, “Lord, bless my refreshments! Let me not forget thee in them, but still keep thy glory in view!” When coming into company, “Lord, may I do, and get good! Let no corrupt communication proceed out of my mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers!” (Eph. 4:29) When entering upon difficulties, “Lord, give me that wisdom which is profitable to direct!” (Eccl. 10:10) “Teach me thy way, and lead me in a plain path!” (Psa. 27:11) When encountering with temptations, “Let thy strength, O gracious Redeemer, be made perfect in my weakness!” (2 Cor. 12:9) These instances may illustrate the design of this direction, though they may be far from a complete enumeration of all the circumstances in which it is to be regarded.
18. For the government of our thoughts in solitude: let us accustom ourselves, on all occasions, to exercise a due command over our thoughts. Let us take care of those entanglements of passion, or those attachments to any present interest in view, which would deprive us of our power over them. Let us set before us some profitable subject of thought; such as the perfection of the blessed God, the love of Christ, the value of time, the certainty and importance of death and judgment, and the eternity of happiness or misery which is to follow. Let us also, at such intervals, reflect on what we have observed as to the state of our own souls, with regard to the advance or decline of religion; or on the last sermon we have heard or the last portion of Scripture we have read. You may perhaps, in this connection, Sir, recollect what I have, if I remember right, proposed to you in conversation; that it might be very useful to select some one verse of Scripture which we have met with in the morning, and to treasure it up in our mind, resolving to think of that at any time when we are at a loss for matter of pious reflection, in any intervals of leisure for entering upon it. This will often be as a spring from whence many profitable and delightful thoughts may rise, which perhaps we did not before see in that connection and force. Or if it should not be so, yet I am persuaded it will be much better to repent the same scripture in our mind a hundred times in a day, with some pious ejaculation formed upon it, than to leave our thoughts at the mercy of al1 those various trifles which may otherwise intrude upon us, the variety of which will be far from making amends for their vanity.
19. Lastly, for the government of our discourse in company. We should take great care that nothing may escape us which can expose us, or our Christian profession, to censure and reproach; nothing injurious to those that are absent, or those that are present; nothing malignant, nothing insincere, nothing which may corrupt, nothing which may provoke, nothing which may mislead those about us. Nor should we by any means be content that what we say is innocent: it should be our desire. that it may be edifying to ourselves and others. In this view, we should endeavor to have some subject of useful discourse always ready; in which we may be assisted by the hints given about furniture for thought, under the former head. We should watch for decent opportunities of introducing useful reflections; and if a pious friend attempt to do it, we should endeavor to second it immediately. When the conversation does not turn directly on religious subjects, we should endeavor to make it improving some other way; we should reflect on the character and capacities of our company, that we may lead them to talk of what they understand best; for their discourses on those subjects will probably be most pleasant to themselves, as well as most useful to us. And in pauses of discourse, it may not be improper to lift up a holy ejaculation to God, that his grace may assist us and our friends in our endeavors to do good to each other; that all we say or do may be worthy the character of reasonable creatures and of Christians.
20. The directions for a religious closing or the day which I shall here mention, are only two: let us see to it, that the secret duties of the evening be well performed; and let us lie down on our beds in a pious frame.
21. For the secret devotion in the evening, I would propose a method something different from that in the morning; but still, as then, with due allowances for circumstances which may make unthought-of alterations proper. I should advise to read a portion of Scripture in the first place, with suitable reflections and prayer, as above; then to read a hymn, or psalm; after this to enter on self-examination, to be followed by a longer prayer than that which followed reading, to be formed on this review of the day. In this address to the throne of grace, it will be highly proper to entreat that God would pardon the omissions and offences of the day; to praise him for mercies temporal and spiritual; to recommend ourselves to his protection for the ensuing night; with proper petitions for others, whom we ought to bear on our hearts before him; and particularly for those friends with whom we have conversed or corresponded in the preceding day. Many other concerns will occur, both in morning and evening prayer, which I have not here hinted at; but I did not apprehend that a full enumeration of these things belonged, by any means, to our present purpose.
22. Before I quit this head I must take the liberty to remind you, that self-examination is so important a duty, that it will be worth our while to spend a few words upon it. And this branch of it is so easy, that, when we have proper questions before us, any person of a common understanding may hope to go through it with advantage, under a divine blessing. I offer you therefore the following queries, which I hope you will, with such alterations as you may judge requisite, keep near you for daily use. “Did I awake as with God this morning, and rise with a grateful sense of his goodness? How were the secret devotions of the morning performed? Did I offer my solemn praises, and renew the dedication of myself to God. with becoming attention and suitable affections? Did I lay my scheme for the business of the day wisely and well? How did I read the Scriptures, and any other devotional or practical piece which I afterwards found it convenient to review? Did it do my heart good, or was it a mere amusement? How have the other stated devotions of the day been attended, whether in the family or in public? Have I pursued the common business of the day with diligence and spirituality, doing every thing in season, and with all convenient dispatch, and as ‘unto the Lord?’ (Col. 3:23) What time have I lost this day, in the morning, or the forenoon, in the afternoon, or the evening?” for these divisions will assist your recollection “and what has occasioned the loss of it? With what temper, and under what regulations have the recreations of this day been pursued? Have I seen the hand of God in my mercies, health, cheerfulness, food, clothing, books, preservation in journies, success of business, conversation, and kindness of friends, &c.? Have I seen it in afflictions, and particularly in little things, which had a tendency to vex and disquiet me? Have I received my comforts thankfully, and my afflictions submissively? How have I guarded against the temptations of the day, particularly against this or that temptation which I foresaw in the morning? Have I maintained a dependence on divine influence? Have I ‘lived by faith on the Son of God,’ (Gal. 2:20) and regarded Christ this day as my teacher and governor, my atonement and intercessor, my example and guardian, my strength and forerunner? Have I been looking forward to death and eternity this day, and considered myself as a probationer for heaven, and, through grace, an expectant of it? Have I governed my thoughts well, especially in such or such an interval of solitude? How was my subject of thought this day chosen, and how was it regarded? Have I governed my discourses well, in such and such company? Did I say nothing passionate, mischievous, slanderous, imprudent, impertinent? Has my heart this day been full of love to God, and to all mankind? and have I sought, and found, and improved, opportunities of doing and of getting good? With what attention and improvement have I read the Scripture this evening? How was self-examination performed the last night? and how have I profited this day by any remarks I then made on former negligences and mistakes? With what temper did I then lie down, and compose myself to sleep?”
22. You will easily see, Sir, that these questions are so adjusted as to be an abridgment of the most material advice I have given in this letter; and I believe I need not, to a person of your understanding, say any thing as to the usefulness of such inquiries. Conscience will answer them in a few minutes; but if you think them too large and particular, you may make still a shorter abstract for daily use, and reserve these, with such obvious alteration as will then be necessary for seasons of more than ordinary exactness in review, which I hope will occur at least once a week. Secret devotion being thus performed, before drowsiness render us unfit for it, the interval between that and our going to rest must be conducted by the rules mentioned under the next head. And nothing will farther remain to be considered here, but,
24. The sentiments with which we should lie down and compose ourselves to sleep. Now here it is obviously suitable to think of the divine goodness, in adding another day, and the mercies of it, to the former days and mercies of our life; to take notice of the indulgence of Providence in giving us commodious habitations and easy beds, and continuing to us such health of body that we can lay ourselves down at ease upon them, and such serenity of mind as leaves us any room to hope for refreshing sleep; a refreshment to be sought, not merely as an indulgence to animal nature, but as whit our wise Creator, in order to keep us humble in the midst of so many infirmities, has been pleased to make necessary to our being able to pursue his service with renewed alacrity. Thus may our sleeping, as well as our waking hours, be in some sense devoted to God. And when we are just going to resign ourselves to the image of death, to what one of the ancients beautifully calls “its lesser mysteries,” it is also evidently proper to think seriously of that end of all the living, and to renew those actings of repentance and faith which we should judge necessary if we were to wake no more here. You have once, Sir, seen a meditation of that kind in my hand: I will transcribe it for you in the postscript; and therefore shall add no more to this head, but here put a close to the directions you desired.
25. I am persuaded the most important of them have, in one form or another, been long regarded by you, and made governing maxims of your life. I shall greatly rejoice if the review of these, and the examination and trial of the rest, may be the means of leading you into more intimate communion with God, and so of rendering your life more pleasant and useful, and your eternity, whenever that is to commence, more glorious. There is not a human creature upon earth whom I should not delight to serve in these important interests; but I can faithfully assure you, that I am, with particular respect,
Your very affectionate friend and servant.
26. This, reader, with the alteration of a very few words, is the letter I wrote to a worthy friend (now, I doubt not with, God) about sixteen years ago; and I can assuredly say, that the experience of each of these years has confirmed me in these views, and established me in the. persuasion, that one day thus spent is far preferable to whole years of sensuality, and the neglect of religion. I chose to insert the letter as it is, because I thought the freedom and particularity of the advice I had given in it would appear most natural in its original form; and as I propose to enforce these counsels in the next chapter, I shall conclude this with that meditation which I promised my friend as a postscript, and which I could wish you to make so familiar to yourself as that you may be able to recollect the substance of it whenever you compose. yourself to sleep
A serious view of death, proper to be taken as we lie down on our beds.
“O my soul! look forward a little with seriousness and attention, and learn wisdom by the consideration of thy latter end, (Deut. 22:29) Another of thy mortal days is now numbered and finished; and as I have put off my clothes, and laid myself upon my bed for the repose of the night; so will the day of life quickly come to its period, so must the body itself be put off and laid to its repose in a bed of dust. There let it rest; for it will be no more regarded by me than the clothes which I have now laid aside. I have another far more important concern to attend. Think, O my soul! when death comes, thou art to enter upon the eternal world, and to be fixed either in heaven or in hell. All the schemes and cares, the hopes and fears, the pleasures and sorrows of life, will come to their period, and the world of spirits will open upon thee. And oh! how soon may it open! Perhaps before the returning sun bring on the light of another day. Tomorrow’s sun may not enlighten my eyes, but only shine round a senseless corpse which may lie in the place of this animated body. At least the death of many in the flower of their age, and many who were superior to me in capacity, piety, and the prospects of usefulness, may loudly warn me not to depend on a long life, and engage me rather to wonder that I am continued here so many years, than to be surprised if I am speedily removed “And now, O my soul! answer as in the sight of God, Art thou ready? Art thou ready? Is there no sin unforsaken, and so unrepented of to fill me with anguish in my departing moments, and to make me tremble on the brink of eternity? Dread to remain under the guilt of it, and this moment renew thy most earnest applications to the mercy of God, and the blood of a Redeemer, for deliverance from it.
“But if the great account be already adjusted, if thou hast cordially repented of thy numerous offences? if thou hast sincerely committed thyself, by faith, into the hands of the blessed Jesus, and hast not renounced thy covenant with him, by turning to the allowed practice of sin, then start not at the thought of a separation; it is not in the power of death to hurt a soul devoted to God, and united to the great Redeemer. It may take from me my worldly comforts, it may disconcert and break my schemes for service on earth; but, O my soul, diviner entertainments and nobler services ‘wait thee beyond the grave!’ For ever blessed be the name of God and the love of Jesus, for these quieting, encouraging joyful views! I will now lay me down in peace, and sleep, (Psa. 4:8) free from the fears of what shall be the issue of this night, whether life or death be appointed for me. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit, (Luke 23:46) for thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth! (Psa. 31:5) and therefore I can cheerfully refer it to thy choice, whether I shall wake in this world or another.”