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were; that our zeal for the honour of God, and the interests of religion, shines with a brighter lustre, and burns with a purer flame. But alas! my brethren, I must here change my strain. Your own eyes, your own hearts, will tell you the dismal truth. Is it not a deplorable fact, that instead of being fervent in spirit to serve the Lord, an indifference about religion almost universally prevails ? The very face of seriousness is banished from society, and were it not for this day, on which we assemble together to worship the God of our fathers, the very form of godliness would be exterminated from the earth.
To induce you to the practice of devotion, it is proposed, in the first place, to illustrate the importance and the advantage of serving the Lord; and, in the second place, to explain and to enforce with a few arguments, the duty of serving the Lord wiih fervency of spirit.
1. Let us consider the importance and the advantage of serving the Lord.
We are urged to the practice of some virtues, by our strong sense of their inviolable obligation ; we are allured to the love of others, by the high approbation of their native beauty, which arises in every well-disposed-mind; we are engaged to the performance of others, by our experience of their utility and influence upon the public good. Piety is equally enforced in all these respects. Its obligation is indispensable: its beauty is supreme, and its utility is universal. It is not so much a single virtue, as a constellation of virtues. Here reverence, gratitude, faith, hope, love, concentre their rays, and shine with united glory. Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsover things are pure, are honest or of good report; if there be any merit, any praise in human action, piety comprehends the whole. There is not a disposition of the mind which is more noble in itself, or is attended with greater pleasure than piety. It is accompanied with such inward satisfaction, that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance; and it hath such true grandeur in it, that when duly performed, it exalts us to a state but little lower than the angels. The most illiterate man under the impressions of true devotion, and in the immediate acts of divine worship, contracts a greatness of mind that raises him above bis equals. Thereby, says an admired ancient, we build a nobler temple to the Deity than creation can present.
Piety is adapted to the notions of happiness and chief good which all men entertain, although these notions were as various in themselves as the theories of philosophers have been about their object. If we are actuated by the mild and gentle affections, lovers of nature, willing to retire from the bustle of the world, and to steal through the vale of life with as little noise, and as much peace as possible, religion sanctifies our choice, and doubles all the joys of life with the peace of heaven. Are we lovers of society, delighting to enlarge the sphere of our acquaintance in the world, and to cultivate universal friendship with all ranks and degrees of men? Here too, religion befriends us, as it unites all men under one common interest, that of being probationers for eternity. Are we ambitious of fame and honour among men? This is indeed the universal passion. Nothing more distinguishes the nature of man, than this restless desire of rising above his fellows, of becoming famous and acquiring a name. But it does not lie in the way of every one to rise in the world, by being advanced to honour and distinction, and commanding the applause of attending multitudes: Fame unbars the gates of her temple but to a chosen few; the candidate will infallibly meet with many a disappointment, and many a downfal, in climbing the steep ascent; but the paths of religion, that lead to glory, honour, and immortality, are ever open and safe; by piety we already enjoy a reputation among the just, and the approbation of our own hearts, and have the certain expectation of that immortal honour which cometh from God only, who writes our name in the book of life. Hither let the man of the world turn, that he may find durable riches, more to be desired than gold and all earthly possessions. Here the man of pleasure may find a perpetual fund of enjoyment, in drinking of that stream which proceeds from the river of life; a stream whose fountain never fails, which has no sediment, and which runs unmingled with the waters of bitterness.
Piety is the foundation of virtue and morality. True devotion strengthens our obligations to a holy life, and superadds i> new motive to every social and civil duty. Upon an impartial observation of mankind, it will be found, that those men who are the most conscientious in the public and private exercises of divine worship, will be most diligent in performing the duties they owe to their neighbour, and in observing the rules of morality. Our holy religion lays us under strong obligations to duty; the spirit of Christianity dwelling in the heart must of necessity inspire it with an ardent desire to perform whatever things are virtuous and praise-worthy; and the example of Jesus Christ, which the true Christian sets continually before his eyes, will engage him by all the laws of love, to walk as he also walked, who according even to the testimony of his enemies, "did all things well." On the other hand, impiety and immorality naturally go together, as cause and effect. Who is it that is altogether corrupt, and a worker of iniquity? It is the fool, who hath said in his heart, there is no God. When we read of the unjust judge in the Gospel, who feared not God, we naturally inicr that he regarded not man. Under this particular, we may likewise take notice, that serving the Lord with sincere piety, is the most successful method of becoming publicly useful in the world. Man, fallen as he certainly is, is still a benevolent being. Formed for society, he delights in the exercises of hit social qualities, he aspires to be eminently useful in the station in which he it placed, and is in his prop<ir element when he is dispensing happiness around him. The sympathetic emotions that rise in the bosom at the sight of an object in distress, the smile that wakens on the cheek, the tear that starts spontaneous from the eye, at the representation of scenes of human joy or sorrow, are indisputable indications of the benevolence of our nature. But the low station of many, checks the benevolence of their hearts, and circumscribes it to a narrow sphere. Few have it in their power to become usetul to their country, by contriving or effectuating public-spirited designs; few have it in their power to save their country from the miseries of war, by being its shield in the day of battle; few can act as the instruments of Providence, in bringing about national happiness. But all of us can be pious, and by serving the Lord with fervency of spirit, can become universally useful to our country and to the world. By piety, like the Prophets of old, we can shield our country from the wrath of heaven; we can interest Omnipotence an its side, and even derive blessings to ages unborn. A good man is the guardian angel of his country.
1 shall only add on this head, that by serving the Lord here, wc have an earnest and anticipation of the happiness of the heavenly slate. It is a pleasant reflection, and well worthy of our most serious thought, that we are now entering upon a course of life that will be our employment through eternity. As man is a progressive being, gradually tending to perfection, it is a law of his nature, that he shoultl endeavour to act beforehand, the part to which he is destined in a higher state of being. The child, from his earliest years, anticipates in sport the employment of maturer age, loves to imitate the actions of men, and is pleased with the name. We are all of us children, with respect to our future existence; and should it not be as natural for him who is born from above, to act over the exercises and enjoyments of that state of being to which he is advancing? Piety is the beginning of heaven in the mind: Here the sun faintly beams, as in the dubious twilight; there he shines forth in full meridian glory. What an inestimable privilege then is this, which God hath put into our power? A life sacred to piety, nnd to the observance of true and undefiled religion, introduces us beforehand into the world to come, and gives us an acquaintance with the state and society of the angels and blessed spirits who dwell in light.
II. I come now to explain that fervour of spirit so requisite in the exercises of devotion, and enforce it with a few arguments.
13y fervour of spirit, in general, is meant an uncommon application of mind in the performance of any thing, a warmth bordering upon transport, that moves every spring of the heart, and carries all before it, to gain its end. So that by a fervency of spirit in serving the Lord, must be understood, an ardent and active desire of loving the Lord, of worshipping him in sincerity, and obeying his commands with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. It consists not in a few transient fits and starts of natural devotion, when we are in jeopardy, without help of man; neither it is a wild blaze of religious passion, that (lashes and vanishes; much less shall it be prophaned by confounding it with those furies, Enthusiasm and Superstition, who would drench a country with innocent blood, under pretence of serving the Lord. "Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel. O my soul, enter not thou into their secret."
True fervour of spirit proceedeth from above. It is a beam from the Father of lights, pure and benign, which at once enlightens and warms the mind. It is a ray from the Sun of Righteousness, bright even at the beginning, and which shincth more and more unto the perfect day. It is a temper wrought into the heart by the Holy Spirit, compounded of love to God, and of zeal for his honour, attended with charity to man.
This fervour of mind, in its full extent, is one of the brightest ornaments of the Christian. It enters into the heart, and engages the whole man on the side of devotion; it gives a double measure of force and alacrity to that religion which before was sincere. In a word, it is to the spiritual life, what health is to the natural; it makes that spirited and cheerful, which otherwise would only breathe and move. Conscious that religion is his grand concern, the fervent Christian will set about the duties of it with feuitable ardour and intenscness of mind. The passions and affections which God hath given man, as the springs of action, will in him be exerted to their noblest purpose, to inspire him with alacrity and cheerfulness in the ways of the Lord. He will be in pain till he has performed his duties of devotion, and labours of love, holding nothing toe dear which will procure to him that robe of holiness, which is beautiful in the eyes of Heaven. He feels in his heart all the devout affections and desires so passionately described by the holy Psalmist, which we know not whether to admire most as beautiful strains of poetry, or raptures of devotion. "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, se pauteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, yea the living God: when shall I come and appear before God '. How amiable arc thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul lougeth, yea faintcth, for the courts of the Lord. For, a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. The desire of my soul is to thee, O God, and lu the remembrance of thy name. With my soul have I desired thee in the night, yea, with my spirit within me, will 1 seek thee early. My soul waiteth for thee, O Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; yea, more than they that watch lor the morning."
To engage us more effectually to the performance of this part of our duty, let us consider the general obligations we lie under, as rational creatures, to serve the Lord with fervency of spirit, and then the particular obligations that arise fiom Christianity.