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their own eternal good and the eternal good of others. When any man becomes acquainted with his own heart, and is brought out of darkness into marvellous light, he knows more about God, about himself, about his fellow-men, about the world in which they live, the objects which they pursue, and the effects and consequences of their living here and hereafter, than he could learn by merely searching the history of the whole world: If men would only seek after self-knowledge, which is so easy to attain, it would fill their hearts with gratitude to God for making them wiser than the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven; for giving them such a noble, rational, and immortal existence; for sending his Son to save them from their guilty and lost condition; for doing them so much good, while they are evil, and abusing his favors; and for preparing them to know, love, serve, and enjoy him forever. At the same time, it would fill them with humiliation and self-abasement for all the injuries they have done to God, to Christ, to the holy Spirit, to saints, to sinners, and to themselves. Since you are men, why will you not seek to know and show yourselves men!
9. Since all men have rational powers and faculties, it is easy for God to give sinners a true knowledge of themselves, and humble them in the dust for living and acting as the horse and the mule, which have no understanding. It is only for God to open the eyes
of their mind and turn their attention to their own powers and faculties, and their abuse of them, and it will make them appear more vile than the brutes that perish. Such a view of themselves has led many to wish that God had not made them men. And it would be infinitely better for sinners, who employ all their rational powers in contending with their Maker, and opposing his interests and their own forever, if they were not men. Be entreated then to awake from your stupidity and show yourselves men. But if you despise this admonition, God has told you, that you alone must bear the tremendous consequences.
Whether sinners will hear, or forbear to hear, the text, we are to remember, is addressed to saints, and forbids them to be as the horse and mule, which have no understanding. If you will awake out of stupidity, God promises to guide you by his eye, and lead you to employ all your powers and faculties, gifts, and graces, in promoting his glory, the good of your fellow-creatures, and your own future and eternal felicity.
MORAL INABILITY OF SINNERS.
"AND Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is a
holy God.”—Joshua, xxiv. 19.
IMMEDIATELY after the death of Moses, Joshua took the charge of the children of Israel, and conducted them, through hosts of enemies whom he subdued, to the land of promise. And though he was then eighty-five years old, yet he continued to govern the nation for twenty-five years longer. During this period, he divided the land among the twelve tribes, and di. rected all their civil and religious concerns with great wisdom and integrity. But in the course of nearly thirty years, many of the people died, and others lost the serious impressions which the dangers and trials of the wilderness. had made upon their minds, while a younger generation rose up, who had seen less, and known less of the God of their fathers. These causes Joshua foresaw would naturally bring on a religious declension, which he greatly deprecated. Deeply impressed with their danger and his own speedy departure, he called all the people together, and rehearsed their history from the beginning. And in the review of the divine goodness towards them, he exhorted them to fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth; but as for himself and his household, they would serve the Lord. To this the people replied, “ God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods ; for the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up, and our fathers, out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed.—Therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.
And Joshua said unto the people, ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is a holy God.” These words plainly teach us,
That though sinners think they can, yet they cannot serve the Lord. I shall show,
I. That sinners generally think they can serve the Lord.
I. I am to show, that sinners generally think that they can serve the Lord. I say they generally think so, because they may think otherwise, and do sometimes, under certain circum. stances, really think otherwise. But so long as God suffers them to walk in their own way, and pursue the objects which are the most agreeable to their natural hearts, they universally think that they can serve the Lord, whenever they find it convenient or important to serve him. Though they feel a present reluctance to every religious duty, yet they have no apprehension that this reluctance will ever arise so high, as to become unconquerable. They are very confident they can perform that service, which God requires them to perform, in order to obtain his pardoning mercy. This will appear from various considerations.
1. They sometimes secretly intend to serve the Lord. There are many, who have been religiously educated, who early think seriously about their spiritual concerns, and really intend to secure the salvation of their souls before they die. But they find so much reluctance to religious duties, and religious objects, that they totally neglect the service of God. They do not, however, renounce their good intentions in childhood, nor in youth, nor in riper years, but endeavor in some measure to cherish their serious purposes, especially when they hear serious things, or are placed in serious circumstances. And though some may grow very stupid, and grossly disobedient, yet even these have their serious intervals, when their serious intentions recur, and constrain them to re-resolve that they will carry
their intention into effect, and sincerely serve the Lord. Now all such secret intentions of sinners necessarily imply, that they really think that they can serve the Lord, and that there is no insurmountable difficulty in the way. They imagine that they can lay aside their present aversion to religion, as easily as their aversion to many things, which they have laid aside. They have laid aside the follies and vanities of youth, for more manly and important pursuits. They have grown wiser, and mean to grow better, and finally devote themselves to the service of God. These secret intentions flow from a belief, that they can, whenever they shall set about it in earnest, perform every religious duty which God has enjoined. They live upon their good intentions, and self-sufficiency, which afford them much
peace, and hope, and confidence, while they are looking for. ward to long life and prosperity.
2. Sinners not only secretly intend, but secretly attempt to serve the Lord. Some attempt this in childhood; some attempt it in youth; some attempt it, while in the midst of their days, and engaged in the busy scenes of life ; some attempt it, when they are sick, or exposed to danger; and some when they are awakened from their stupidity by the word or providence of God. But very few sinners, who enjoy the common means of grace, entirely neglect religious duties, in some stages and circumstances of their lives. Children and youth often read and pray in secret, as well as attend public worship. Many of riper years, who are ashamed to regard God or religion in public, do secretly call upon God, read his word, and strive to serve the Lord, and secure his favor. But no person, whether young or old, would ever attempt to serve God in secret, if he did not hope and expect to succeed. All sinners, who secretly attempt to serve God, manifest by their practice, that they think they can serve the Lord. Whenever sinners begin to perform religious duties, in any stage of life, they begin with self-confidence, that they are able, as well as desirous to serve God. How many sinners have lived from day to day, and from year to year, in the constant practice of seeking and striving to serve God in secret, with entire dependence upon their own strength, to do the whole of their duty ? Though after they have once begun to seek God in secret, they often neglect seeking; yet they do not neglect, because they feel unable to serve God, but because they feel an aversion to spiritual and divine objects. For after they have neglected time after time, they will begin again, and strive with renewed and increased exertions. This plainly proves, that they think they can serve the Lord, notwithstanding any depravity or corruption of heart. They imagine, that nothing is wanting to conquer their depravity, but more arduous, vigorous, and persevering exertions; and these they think they can increase, until they have gained the victory, and obtained the favor of God, which is all they desire.
3. Sinners not only secretly intend, and attempt to serve God, but they often publicly declare, that they will serve him. This a multitude of sinners publicly declared to Joshua. They said,
. “ Therefore will we also serve the Lord, for he is our God." The same said those at mount Sinai, who afterward fell and perished in the wilderness. In both these instances, there is reason to believe, that sinners were sincere in making their declarations, They undoubtedly meant to do what they said they would do.
They said they would serve the Lord; and they intended to do what God had required, and be obedient. But if this was true, they certainly thought they could obey and serve the Lord. Thousands and thousands of other sinners since have felt just as those Israelites did, and have made the same declarations, with the same kind and degree of sincerity. It is extremely natural for men in a state of nature, to think that they can serve God, whenever they shall think that their temporal or eternal good requires them to serve him. When sinners, at a solemn time, and under solemn circumstances, publicly declare that they will serve the Lord, we must believe, that they really think they are able to serve him. And this they have done in innumerable instances; which is a clear evidence that all secure sinners really think they can serve God. But we have still higher evidence of this. For,
4. Sinners have not only secretly intended to serve God, and secretly attempted to serve God, and publicly declared that they would serve God, but they have actually thought they did serve him. The scribes and pharisees in Christ's day, really thought they did serve God in sincerity and truth. They punctually observed all the divine commands, whether ceremonial or moral. Our Saviour, who knew their thoughts, reproved them by a parable, because “they trusted in themselves, that they were righteous.” The pharisee, who went up to the temple to pray, thanked God that he had served him perfectly. The amiable young man declared, that he had kept all the divine commands from his youth. And Paul said, that, while he was a sinner, he had thought himself, in respect to the law, blameless. It was the general opinion of sinners in Christ's day, that they did sincerely and perfectly serve God. Many sinners have ever since entertained the same high opinion of themselves. Thousands have thought, that they have sincerely obeyed the divine commands, while they were under the entire dominion of sin, and totally destitute of every gracious exercise. But it is impossible før sinners to think, that they really serve God, without thinking that they are able to serve him. Though sinners often complain of their inability to serve God, and say that they cannot serve him; yet their intentions, their exertions, their declarations, and their opinions of themselves, unite to demonstrate, that they do inwardly think they can serve God. They think just as sinners thought in the days of Moses, of Joshua, and of Christ. They really believe that they can, and often believe that they do serve God sincerely and acceptably. I now proceed to inquire,
II. Why sinners imagine they can serve the Lord. This