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SERMON CXXXVIII.

THE MEANS OF GRACE.

ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.

HEARING THE WORD OF GOD.

TAKE HEED, THEREFORE, HOW YE HEAR.

LUKE VIII. 18.

In the last Discourse but one I distributed the principal means of

grace under the following heads :-
I. The preaching of the Gospel ;
II. The reading of the Scriptures ;
III. Prayer ;
IV. Correspondence with religious men ;

V. Religious meditation ; particularly self-examination ; and,

VI. The religious education of children.

In that Discourse also I endeavoured to exbibit the influence of these means in the work of salvation.

The next object which I propose is a separate consideration of these several subjects; that their respective efficacy may be more particularly displayed. It will be remembered, that they are all here to be considered as means, in the application of which, holiness is originally communicated, as well as means of improving in holiness.

The direction in the text is, I apprehend, a direction given to all men who are in possession of the Gospel. It is delivered in the most general terms; and may therefore be regarded as extending to every mode of hearing which is useful. There are modes of hearing which, unless I am deceived, are eventually useful to sinners; and in which the Gospel becomes to sinners 'the power of God unto salvation. I shall consider these modes as included in it; modes in which I should wish a sinful child of my own, and for the same reason should wish others also, to hear the Gospel. Such as have heard in these modes have, in great multitudes, as I verily believe, been profited in a degree which yo man can estimate. The

persons who in this sense would take heed how they hear' the Gospel, (by which I intend the Scriptures at large) ought, while they hear, to remember the following things :

1. That the Gospel is the word of God.

To prevent any misapprehension, I wish it to be kept steadily in view, that no attention or reverence is here claimed to preaching, any farther than the Gospel is preached. To the mere opinions and declarations of a preacher, as such, no other respect is due, than that which by common consent is rendered to the opinions and declaration of all men, of similar understanding and worth. The best opinions of men are merely useful, wholesome advice. The Scriptures are a law : possessed of Divine authority and obligation. So far as the doctrines, precepts, and ordinances of the Scriptures are preached, they claim the reverence which they themselves have challenged.

The solemn remembrance, that the Scriptures are the word of God, involves a variety of interesting considerations.

In this character, particularly, they come home to us as the word of him, by whom we were created, and by whom we are preserved, and governed. From this great and glorious Being all that we have, and all that we hope for, is, and must be, derived. We are his property; and are rightfully disposed of, and rightfully required to dispose of ourselves, according to his pleasure. In the Scriptures alone is this pleasure made known to us. In them alone, therefore, we learn the proper destination of our faculties, our services, and ourselves. The law, by which we are here required to do bis pleasure, is invested with all possible authority and obligation; and demands our reverence and obedience in a manner supremely impressive.

As the Word of God also the Scriptures are dictated by his wisdom, goodness, and truth. They are the word of Him who cannot mistake, deceive, nor injure. Consequently they contain all things necessary for life and godliness;' whatever we need to know, and whatever we ought to do, for the attainment of his approbation. On their entire wisdom and integrity, their fitness to promote the great purpose for which they were written, and their conduciveness to it in ourselves, we are wholly to rely. Not a doubt can be reasonably entertained concerning the truth of the doctrine, the soundness of the precepts, or the sincerity of the promises. Nor are we any more to distrust the certainty of the threatenings, or the reality of those awful dangers which they disclose. We are bound, on the one hand, not to question the truth, and on the other not to dispute the wisdom and goodness of that which is revealed. All things which this sacred book contains, are to be received as they are. Our own opinions are implicitly to bow before them; and we are ever to be ready to believe that what we think • the foolishness of God, is wiser than men,' than all the substituted opinions of ourselves or others. Let God be true, ought to be our invariable language; but every man,' who opposes his declarations, “a liar.'

Against this great and awful Being we have rebelled. Hence, although he is our Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, he still regards our moral character with abhorrence. The Scriptures therefore are published to us as the Word of an offended God. Hence are derived all those denunciations of anger and punishment found in them, which could have no place in the will of God, as revealed to obedient creatures.

As the word of God, the Scriptures announce to us, that, notwithstanding our rebellion, he is willing to be reconciled to us. We are therefore ever to remember, that they are the word of the Father, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier of mankind. In these venerable and amiable characters, God appears to us with infinite tenderness and endearment. His word is thus presented to us as the pleasure of the best of all friends, and the most affectionate of all parents. In our ruined condition he beheld us with boundless mercy; and, unasked and undesired, undertook to rescue us from destruction. For this end, the Saviour came into the world, lived a life of humiliation, and died a death of anguish and infamy. For this end, the Spirit of truth came into the world, to convince, renew, and purify the hearts of Mankind. Of these three Persons in the one Jehovah, the Scriptures are the word; willed by the Father, dictated by the Son, and inspired by the Holy Ghost. “

As the word of God, the Scriptures are the word of him on whom we daily depend for life, and breath, and all things. Whatever we enjoy he gives; whatever we hope for must, if enjoyed at all, be also given by him. Without him, we are poor, and miserable, and in want of all things.' With his favour, we shall be 'rich' indeed, “and have need of nothing.'

The Scriptures are also the word of him by whom we shall be judged, and rewarded. The day is hastening, when we shall be called to an account for all our conduct, and shall be compelled to rehearse it before him. If we have done well, if we have obeyed, worshipped, and glorified him, and served our generation according to his will,' we shall be acquitted in this great trial, and received to everlasting glory. If we have done evil, and refused to do good, we shall be driven away to final and irremediable perdition,

Whenever we are assembled to hear the Gospel, we are to remember, that with reference to all these solemn things it is the word of God.

2. That we are sinners, who infinitely need forgiveness and salvation.

As sinners, we are irreversibly condemued by that divine law, which we have broken, and by that just government, against which we have rebelled. The soul that sinneth sball die,' was the original sentence of that law to mankind; the sentence of him who can neither deceive, nor change. The sentence will therefore be executed in its strictest meaning on all who disobey, and who do not become interested in the redemption of Christ. Under such a sentence, infinitely dreadful, and unalterably certain, our danger is immensely great, and our ruin entire. From this sentence therefore we infinitely need a deliverance. Our all is at stake ; and our souls are in a situation of the most terrible hazard. Hell, if we continue in this situation, ‘ is open before us, and destruction hath no covering.

It is impossible that any beings should be in a state of more

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absolute and pressing necessity. Rational, immortal, and incapable of perishing by annihilation, we must be, and be for ever. But to exist for ever, and yet to be sinful and miserable only, is a doom, compared with which, all other characters and sufferings lose their deformity and wretchedness, and rise into happiness and distinction. When we are present in the house of God, we should recal with deep affection this intense and melancholy necessity, and feel the declarations of Scripture with a concern, suited to the inestimable importance of our situation.

3. That the Scriptures are the book in which alone the terms and means of salvation are published.

The word Gospel, as you know, signifies good tidings, or joyful news. This name is given to the Scriptures generally, and to the New Testament particularly, because they contain the best of all tidings ever published to this ruined world. Independently of the Gospel, all the race of Adam are under 1 sentence of condemnation, without a friend, and without a hope. To these forlorn and miserable beings the infinitely merciful God has been pleased to make known a way of escape, a deliverance from destruction. This glorious communication is made to mankind in the Scriptures only. From no other source bas man ever learned that God is reconcileable on any terms; that sinners can be forgiven ; that there is in the universe an atonement for sin ; or that any atonement will be accepted. From no other source have we been iuformed, that God will be pleased with any worship which we can render; or, if he will, what that worship is. Without the Scriptures, we know not that the connection between God and man, between heaven and earth, can be renewed ; or that the gates, which admit intelligent beings to the world of enjoyment, have been, 'or ever will be, opened to apostate creatures.

To beings, in circumstances of such necessity and danger, tidings even of partial deliverance must be delightful. But these are tidings of complete deliverance from sin, and of an entire escape from misery. To beings, left in absolute ignorance of reconciliation to God, and in absolute despair of future enjoyment; to whom the world of happiness was shut, and to whom the ages of eternity rolled onward no bright reversion ; even the uncertain rumour of relief must, one would imagine, echo throughout every region of the globe which they

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