OF DEALING WITH FORMAL CHRISTIANS.
THERE is not a more desperate estate than that of the formal Christian, who has the outward show of godliness, but denies the power thereof; who performs the common duties of Christianity without any great concern to do them well:--believes in God without sense of His presence or thoughts of being accountable to Him; and in Jesus Christ, without feeling the want of a Redeemer; without considering the life of Christ, which he ought to imitate, or the Gospel, which is his rule to walk by;--who believes in the Holy Ghost, without thinking how much he stands in need of His aids; without considering the enemies he has to deal with, the difficulties he shall meet with, the self-denial he is to undergo, or the good works he must abound in, as he hopes for heaven.
In short, he hopes for heaven with the indifference of one who scarce thinks of going thither, and believes eternal torments without being concerned to avoid them. He knows he ought to do more than he does, but he has some faint hopes that what he does may secure him from hell.
Now this being the case of an infinite number of people, a pastor can hardly look abroad without meeting with one or other of these formal, indifferent, thoughtless Christians, who live without fear of dying, and if not hindered by timely care, will die unhappily.
These Christians therefore should be often put in mind of God's displeasure against such as pretend to be His servants, without any concern to serve Him faithfully; of the folly of being indifferent when a man's soul lies at stake; of the absolute necessity of an inward conversion as well as of an outward religion; of the very great sin of neglecting or abusing the means of grace which God vouchsafes unto us.
He will shew him, moreover, that without a lively faith it will be impossible to please God; that without a serious repentance there is no forgiveness; and that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
In short, such Christians should have no rest until they shall be forced, out of a sense of their danger, to ask in good earnest, What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? And that it was not for nothing that He commanded His followers to seek the kingdom of God in the first place and before all other things.
He will then shew him that all outward ordinances from the beginning were appointed either to create or to promote or to secure a lively sense of God and of the duties we owe Him amongst men.
And as these ordinances are not, at our peril, to be neglected, so neither are they to be depended upon, unless they lead us to the love of God and of our neighbour, and become a means of recovering in us the image of God in which we were created, which consists in righteousness and true holiness.
When he has convinced them of this, he will exhort them to lose no time, but to beg of God to increase their faith, to plant His fear in their hearts, to awaken in them a hearty concern for their souls, and to give them such a measure of hope and love of God as may enable them to overcome the difficulties, the temptations, and the dangers of a Christian life.
And the good pastor will not fail to add to these endeavours his earnest prayers, that God of His great mercy would awaken the careless world into a better sense of religion and care for their souls; that men may desire in good earnest to serve God, and be solicitous how to do it most acceptably, without abusing the means of grace, or deluding themselves with the foolish hopes of serving God and mammon, of being indifferent here and happy hereafter.