INHABITANTS OF OLNEY.
My Dear Friends,
EVERY person in the parish has a place in my heart and prayers, but I cannot speak to each of you singly. Yet I am desirous to give full proof that I watch for the welfare of your souls ; and likewise (if it be possible) to have a witness in every conscience, that none may plead ignorance of those things which it highly concerns them to know. I hope you will receive this paper in good part, as a token of my love,and read it with attention.
The great God, who appoints to all " the children " of men the bounds of their habitation," Acts xvii. 26. has been pleased to fix yours in a place favoured with the light of the Gospel. This is a great and distinguishing privilege in itself; but it may be abused, and if it is, will aggravate your guilt and condemnation. " Jesus Christ crucified," 1 Cor. ii. 2. is preached among you ; the foundation, which God himself has iprovided whereon poor sinners may build their eternal hope, is set before you, 1 Cor. iii. 11. You are warned of the evil of sin, of the wrath of God denounced against transgressors, and of the impossibility of being saved without that faith which, being of the operation of God, purifies the heart, " and works by love." And the great blessings of life and immortality, pardon, justification, adoption, holiness, perseverance, and eternal glory, are preached amongst yon, as the sure and inseparable effects of a living faith iq the Son of God, Col. ii- 12. Acts xv. 9. Gal. v. 6.
In a little time we must all give an account of our improvement of the opportunities we are favoured with. This thought, joined to a consideration of the. state of the parish, leads me to offer a word in season to each of you. Perhaps there is hardly a single person who will not be more or less concerned under one or other of the following particulars.
1. If God has taught you the truths I have mentioned above, if you have faith in his Son Jesus Christ, or if, convinced of its necessity, you are humbly and diligently seeking it in the use of the means he has appointed ; 1 may address you in the angel's language to Mary, " Hail, that thou art highly favoured !" Luke i. 28. for if you have this faith, you have the promise and earnest of everlasting life ; John vi. 47. or if you account yourself but a seeker, the word of the living God is engaged for your success ; for he has said, " Those who seek shall find," Matt. vii. 7- I am persuaded that you will readily receive the word of exhortation. You are called with a "high and holy " calling," Phil. iii. 14. 2 Tim. i. 9. Watch and pray therefore, that you may be preserved from the snares of the world, and the devices of Satan. That no errors in judgment, no sinful indulgence in practice, nothing contrary to the spirituality, love, gentleness, and patience, which become the Gospel of Christ, may defile your conscience, rob you of your comfort, or " cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of," 2 Pet. ii. 2. through your miscarriage. You are called " out of " darkness into marvellous light," 1 Pet. ii. 9. that by your profession God may be glorified. Therefore
ieep close to his word as your rule; be constant in your application at the throne of grace; attend diligently upon his public ordinances, that thus by waiting upon the Lord your strength may be renewed, Isa. xl. 31. and " your light may shine before men" Matt. v. 16. to his praise. That justice, truth, sobriety, and diligence may adorn the exercise of your ordinary calling ; and that you may fill up your relation in life as a master or servant, a husband or a wife, a parent or a child, in such a manner as may and will be expected from one who has " tasted that the Lord " is gracious," 1 Pet. ii. 3. Beware of a worldly or selfish, a proud, peevish or passionate spirit : if you give way to any of these evils, you will walk uncomfortably yourself, you will grieve or discourage others, and you will open the mouths of the wicked to " blaspheme that worthy name by which you are " called," James ii. 7.
II. But if you are one of those who account the Gospel of Christ a burden, and can hardly be brought to give it a patient hearing ; what can 1 say to you ? You are already prejudiced against all I can offer, and perhaps account me an enemy because 1 tell you the truth. Yet I would fain persuade you of my good will. I have no complaint to make of you upon my own account ; having received no personal incivility even from those who are dissatisfied with my ministry. Though you are unwilling to hear me from the pulpit, yet let me expostulate a minute with you in this way. If I cannot prove my doctrine by the Scripture, and even, by the articles and public offices of our own church, you have reason to be displeased with me. But why will you venture to reject, what you must confess may at least possibly be the truth ? I am sure you cannot disprove the general subjects of my ministry, not even to the satisfaction of your own minds, if you will sit leisurely down, and examine them by the New Testament. It is, indeed, easy to turn off the inquiry with a laugh, while you are in health and good spirits : but if you can remember a time when you have been sick, and apprehensive of the approach of death, probably you then felt your confidence fail, and was not so sure of the safety of your state as you once thought yourself. Such a time will come again. If you should not be cut off by a sudden stroke, or visited with some illness which may deprive you of your senses (which God forbid should be the case !) you must again be brought within the view of death. You must experience that untried moment, and render up your soul to the tribunal of God. O then beware of resting your eternal hopes upon any less authority than his Word ! You may now be supported by the names and examples of men ; but no teacher, or friend, or favourite author, can or will stand between you and your judge. You may live in a crowd, but you must die alone.— What you think of yourself, or what others may think of you, is of small moment; the main question is, What you are in the sight of the great Judge, to whom " all " hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom " no secrets are hid," 1 Cor. iv. a : for according to his unalterable sentence, you must stand or fall to eternity. Alas ! if our Gospel is true, and you live and die a stranger to it, " it will be more tolerable in that day," for those who never heard of the name of Jesus, than for you, Matt. xi. 22.
111. There are too many people amongst us who abstain from the public worship, not so much from any particular objection they have to the doctrines of the Gospel, as from an inconsiderate and worldly turn of mind, which keeps them in a general neglect of religion. I have more than once publicly lamented and testified against the shameful profanation of the Lord's day in this town. ' I am informed, it was not thus some years ago ; but the increase of every kind of wickedness (as will generally be the case where the Gospel is known and despised) seems breaking in upon us like a flood. It is with some a day " of buying and selling, of slaying oxen and kil" ling sheep;" Isa. xxii. 13. others associate for drink and vain conversation, to the scandal of the town, the grief of all serious persons, and no less in defiance to the laws of the land, than to the commandments of God. If I could have suppressed these enormities, I would. But as I have not been able to obtain assistance and concurrence sufficient to put the statutes in force, I can only give notice as a minister and a watchman, that " for these things thg u wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience ;" Ephes. v. 6. If you, my reader, are concerned in these practices, let me entreat you to consider what you are doing. Why will you " provoke the Lord to jealousy ?" 1 Cor. x. 22. Are you stronger than he ? If your whole dependence was upon what we call a great man, you durst not wilfully and publicly disobey him : and can you think it safe to trifle with the great God ? Do you not know that your life, your health, the peace of your family, and the success of your industry, all depend upon him ? Are you not afraid, lest by openly affronting his Majesty in profaning the day he has commanded to be kept holy, you should provoke him to send a curse upon all your concerns, and to blast your endeavours in the course of the week ? liaggai i. 6—9. Every rebellion against God makes our state more desperate, sin being progressive. Have you never read, or heard or seen, that the contempt of the sabbath (like a breach in the bank of a river) opens the way for a long train of evils to follow ? How many have made a confession to this purpose at the gallows ? And how many families may be found that are as full of misery, dissention, and confusion throughout the week, as they are destitute of the fear and worship of God on the Lord's day i Alas ! I shall tremble for you if you do not lay this admonition to heart: I shall fear lest you provoke the Lord to give you up to a reprobate mind, or lest, in the course of his providence, he should set some mark upon you, to teach others by your example, that it is a dreadful thing to sin against the light, Rom. ii. 4. But though his patience should bear with you to the last, and j ou to the last should despise it, yet death will finally summon you to judgment, unless by his grace.you are brought to repentance : though you may say, "Peace, peace to your" self, sudden destruction will then come upon you, " and you shall not be able to escape," 1 Thess. v. 3 If you are one of those who do not wholly neglect the public worship of God, but accustom yourself to attend only once in the day, give me leave to ask you, or rather to desire you would ask your own conscience, whether you have a sufficient excuse for not attending twice ? I know the circumstances of many families, such as sickness, young children,. &c. will net essarily confine some people at home. But a due allowance for these impediments, will by no means account for the great difference between our congregations in the morning and in the afternoon of the same day. Now, if you have not a lawful hindrance to plead, consider whether the same reasons that require your presence at the public worship once, are not equally strong for your being there both parts of the day. Why do you go at all ? Is it not to join with others in paying homage to the great God I But by doing this once only, wjiere opportunity and the example of otners invite you twice, you contradict yourself; and act as if you thought it was sometimesyour duty to join in worship, and sometimes not worth your while. Or do you go with a
hope of receiving good for your souls ? Why then should you at any time be willing to stay away ? Perhaps the opportunity you miss might have been made peculiarly useful to you. At least the Lord may justly punish your frequent neglect, by withholding his blessing when you do attend. And this may be one reason why you have heard so long to so little purpose. ■
IV. It is with grief I observe how generally the word of God is disregarded amongst us, though few can plead ignorance of his will. The Scripture denounces a woe against them " who are mighty to " drink strong drink," Isa. v. 22. and against " him " who urges strong drink upon his neighbour to put " him to shame," Hab. ii. 15. The Scripture declares, " Every one that sweareth shall be cut off " with a curse," Zech. v. 3. Exod. xx. 7. These threatenings are frequently repeated in the ears of those who have not entirely cast off the very form of religion. Yet I fear intemperance, riot, and profaneness, visibly gain strength from year to year. If you will go on in those practices—-yet remember I this day take God and your consciences to witness, that " I am pure of your blood," Acta xx. 26. As I have forewarned you before, so I tell you again, the wrath of God hangs over you. " Except you " repent you will surely perish ;'' Luke xiii. 3, 5. and it will be a great aggravation if you perish with your eyes open. Think, I beseech you, before it is too late, of that awful passage—" If there be a" mong you a root that beareth gall and wormwood, " and it come to pass when he heareth the words of " this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, say" ing, I shall have peace though I walk in the ima" ginations of my heart to add drunkenness to thirst; " the Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the " Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that " man, and all the curses that are written in " this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord " shall blot out his name from under heaven," Dent. xxix. 18, 19.
There is one sin too frequent in the parish, which upon this occasion I think it especially necessary to mention. St. Paul assures us (agreeable to many other passages of Scripture, that " whoremongers " and adulterers God will judge," Heb. xiii. 4. Adultery, which implies a breach of the marriage contract, is so dreadful, so irreparable an evil, and as such condemned even by the heathens who know not God, that 1 would hope none of you are chargeable with it! If you are, however you may conceal your wickedness from your fellow-creatures, you cannot hide it from God ; his eye is upon you, and his justice will surely overtake you.' Indeed, if he is pleased to give you faith in the name of Jesus, and a sincere repentance of your crimes, there is yet hope ; for " the blood of Christ cleanseth from " all sin;" 1 John i. 7. otherwise I testify to you from this Word, you shall surely perish. He who said, " Thou shalt not commit adultery," Exod. xx. 14. will not hold you guiltless in the day of his wrath. But the apostle joins "whoredom with adultery, and has expressly inserted fornication in the black list of those sins which will certainly exclude from a place in the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. vi. 9. Gal. v. 19. If you have been guilty, may the Lord fix a sense of your sin upon your conscience while you are reading, that you may not think it alight matter, but may instantly humble yourselves before him, and flee to the refuge provided for helpless sinners in the Gospel! Heb. vi. 18. If by his restraining grace and providence you have been hitherto preserved from this iniquity, you have reason to praise him. And O pray to him (I speak more especially to young persons) that you may be enabled to "" abstain from fleshly lusts which '* war against the soul," 1 Pet. ii. 11. It is your duty and interest to flee from this hateful evil, and to .watch against the temptations which lead to it, as you would avoid a pestilence. By complying with it, you hazard all your peace and comfort in this life, as well as sin against the great God. If a criminal intercourse between single persons does not issue in marriage, a long train of mischiefs is the usual consequence ; shame, remorse, misery, and very often total ruin, especially on the woman's part. And even if the parties are afterwards married, though the frequency of such cases may lessen the scandal in the sight of men, the sin committed against God remains the same. And an occasion is opened for such reflections and suspicions, as frequently embitter the peace and destroy the confidence and affection in which they might otherwise have lived.
V. I observe likewise with concern, a spirit of open impiety and infidelity spreading amongst some persons. They are bold to " proclaim their sin as Sodom ;'' Isa. Hi. 9. they cannot be content with the practice of wickedness, or with tempting others to partake of their evil deeds, but they are prompted to scoff at the truths of the Gospel, and to ridicule and revile those who will not " run with them into the same excess of " riot," 1 Pet. iv. 4. If any one, of this unhappy turn, should read this paper, I would take the opportunity to tell you, that I pity you, and pray for you. I well know the gall and wormwood, Lam. iii. 19. of your state, for it was once my own. I cannot be surprised at any thing you say or do. You sin against the light, and this makes you desperate : " It is h.ard " to kick against the pricks," Acts ix. 5. I can tell from my own past experience, that your heart and your language do not always agree- You are sometimes constrained to reverence the people you affect to despise ; and often, when you boast of jollity and pleasure, you feel something within that makes you wish you could change conditions with a sheep or a dog. I doubt not but you understand what I mean. Why then should you remain in this miserable bondage, when there is One able to set you free ? Perhaps you have concluded that you have gone too far to stop ; that you have sinned with too high a hand to be forgiven. A secret despair of this kind, is Satan's great engine, by which he hurries many sinners to the most dreadful extrava,gancies. But may I not allege my own case for your encouragement against such a conclusion? You have probably heard that I was once " a persecutor, a, " blasphemer and injurious," 1 Tim. i. 13—lti. I was so, indeed, to a degree I cannot express. But I obtained mercy. The exceeding abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ brought me out of that dreadful state, and in his providence he has placed me amongst you, that if 1 only pass you in the street, you have a proof before your eyes of his gracious declaration, that *• all manner of sin and blasphemy " shall be forgiven to men for the Son of man's sake. " There is forgiveness with him that he may be fear" ed," Matt. xii. 31. Psalm exxx- 4. Oh that I could prevail with you to seek him while he is to be found, to submit to him before the gate of mercy is quite shut! then " I am sure iniquity should not be 44 your ruin :" Ezek. xviii. 30. for " he is able to " save to the uttermost all that come unto God by 44 him," Heb. vii. 25. At least, let me give you one caution: do not make the Scripture, or the people who love it, the subjects of y^ur wanton mirth. 4l Be hot a mocker, lfstyour bands be made 44 strong," Isa. xxviii. 22. A common proverb says, " Jt is ill jesting with edged tools." I am sure it may be applied in the present case- If the cause you despise is the cause of God, it will be a dreadful thing to be found fighting against Him.
VI. There remains a considerable number to whom I have not yet spoken; who may know they are not believers, yet are tolerably regular in their attendance upon the means of grace, and are not habitually guilty of gross and open sins. I commend you lor your readiness to hear the Gospel, and rejoice that it has some influence upon your conduct. But 1 would caution you against resting in outward privileges, or thinking yourself safe because you have escaped the abominations in which you see some others live. There are other sins which, though not so heinous in the judgment of man, are sufficient to ruin the soul. If you " love the world, the love of "the Father is not in you, 1 John ii. 15. To be " carnally minded is death, Rom. viii. 6. Covet*-' ousness is idolatry, Col. iii. 5. If you are under " the prevailing power of passion, pride and resent41 ment, you are strangers to the grace of God," Gal. v. 20. In a word, " if you have not the spirit 4' of Christ, you are none of his," Rom. vii. 9. A form of godliness without the power, 2 Tim. iii. 5. will leave you helpless and hopeless. Can you be content to be no more than chaff amongst the wheat, Matt. iii. 12. to converse and worship with the people of God for a season here, and then to be separated from.them for ever ? If you should see those whom you know and love, your friends and relatives, received into the kingdom at last, and you yourselves shut out, Luke xiii. 25—.30. how awful will your disappointment be ! May the Lord awaken you to a diligent search into your own hearts, and in his holy Word, and not suffer you to take up with any thing short of a real and saving change ! " Look to " Jesus, the author and finisher of faith :" Heb. xii. 2. who is exalted to " be a Prince and a Saviour, to 4' give repentance and pardon, life and immortal" ity :'' Acts v. 31. and remember.you have his faithful promise, " Him that comethunto me, I will " in no wise cast out," John vi. &7. Vol. II. Z
I can truly say, my dear friends, that " my heart's " desire and prayer to God for you is, that you may " be saved,'' Rom. x. 1. As some, I fear, have hitherto heard in vain, and some will not hear me at all,
1 have chosen this method to address you all : 1 hope none will be offended, for I would not willingly offend a child. 1 hope I can appeal to yourselves, that God has given me a desire to live peaceably with -all men, and, to the utmost of my power, to promote your welfare. " 1 seek not yours, but you,'' -J. Cor. xii. 14. In a little time " we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ," 2 Cor. iii. 1C There I must give an account of my ministry, and you must account for the privileges with which you have been favoured. When I think of the solemnities of that day, and the worth of your immortal souls, I am at a loss for words suitable to my desires on your behalf. " 1 beseech you by the tender mercies of our God," Rom. xii. 1. I warn you, by his approaching terrors,
2 Cor. v. 11. that you receive not this grace of God in a preached Gospel in vain, 2 Cor. vi. 1. And though I cannot expect to prevail on you all, yet I write in hope, that a blessing from the Lord will make the reading of this paper useful to some. And if it be so, even to one person, I ought to esteem it an over-payment for the labour of my whole Hfe.
And now I commend you to God, to the word of his grace, and to the teaching of his Spirit, Acts xx. 32. I make it my earnest request, to the favoured few who know the Lord, and have received the spirit of prayer, that in your supplications to the throne of grace, you will frequently bear in remembrance,
Your affectionate Friend and Servant
in the Gospel of Christ,