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IT is a matter of common observation, that, for several years past, a spirit of innovation has prevailed in the earth, spreading desolation on every side; destructive to morality and religion, as the pestilence is to life and beauty; pernicious to the peace and welfare of mankind, as is the whirlwind to the productions of nature. This restless spirit, this mischievous demon, stays not to inquire what is right or what is wrong: every institution that bears the marks of antiquity, provokes her malignity, and is exposed at once to her desperate assaults. Placed, as we are, in these circumstances, I cannot refrain, on this occasion, from calling your particular attention to the following solemn injunction:
"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein; and ye shall find rest for your souls."
 It has heretofore been a generally received opinion, that for the well-being of civil society, subordination must be maintained: that a distinction of rank and condition must necessarily subsist: that authority must be exercised over the great and corrupted mass of every nation: that magistrates ought to be considered the ministers of God for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise and encouragement of those who do well. This innovating spirit, on the contrary, proclaims a general deliverance from all manner of restraint, demands an universal equality of condition, and thus gives the signal for perpetual uproar and confusion. With respect to our moral conduct, it has been said by them of old time, that we have all, to a certain degree, a sense of right and wrong: that it is natural to cultivate the tender charities of father, son, and brother: that we are the creatures of God, and are, therefore, obliged to fear, and love, and serve him. In opposition to these sentiments, it is declared in the newfangled system of those who deviate from the [4/5] old paths, that, in all cases, power constitutes right: that there is little distinction to be made between what is vulgarly called virtue and vice: that children are under no peculiar obligation to love and reverence their parents: that the doctrine of a Particular Providence is inadmissible: that there will be no Day of General Judgment: that, consequently, not much regard is due to the solemnity of an oath: that all the offices of piety, such as prayer, and thanksgiving, and praise, are superfluous and absurd. It cannot be denied by any attentive observer of human life and manners, that these opinions have obtained among us too extensive a currency, and that they are inevitably destructive to the peace and welfare of the world.
When the words, to which I have called your particular attention, were addressed by the holy Prophet to his countrymen, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, they had become exceedingly corrupt in their principles, and depraved in their manners: as it is said in another place, "They walked after their own devices, and every one followed the imagination of his evil heart; [5/6] they had forgotten God, and burned incense to vanity"--to the fictitious Deities of the Heathen: "they stumbled in their ways from the ancient paths, and walked in paths, in a way not cast up"--not prepared by their legislator Moses, nor made smooth by the footsteps of the wise and good men of their nation. In this condition, he earnestly exhorts them "to stand in the ways and see"--like bewildered travellers to stop and look diligently around them; "to ask for the old paths, where is the good way" through which so many of their pious predecessors had been conducted to the abodes of bliss: and when they should happily find it, to walk steadily therein; for thus only would they be cheered with the pleasing consciousness of rectitude; in this way alone would "they find rest to their souls."
And, surely there is no necessity for any forced construction, in the application of this passage of sacred scripture to the present condition of professing Christians. Is it not a lamentable truth, that the Christian world in general has far departed from the simplicity and purity of the Gospel? Where is that [6/7] warmth of gratitude which is due to the Redeemer of sinners; that constant sense of the superintendence of the Almighty; that singleness of eye to his glory which fills the whole body with light; that inward purity of thought and intention; that deadness to the world and the things in it, as matters of little consequence to our real felicity; that elevation of our affections to the pleasures which are above; that ardour of devotion which is justly claimed by Him who called us into existence, to whom we are indebted for our redemption; for the constant assistance of his Holy Spirit, and on whose decision will hereafter depend our fate for eternity? Where are all those exalted Christian virtues which are so solemnly enjoined in almost every page of the Gospel? Infidelity no longer lurks in secret places. Our holy Religion is treated with open contempt by her avowed enemies, and she is too often wounded, like her divine Author, in the house of her pretended friends. Some absolutely and entirely refuse her directions; some who pretend to place themselves under her guidance, on too many occasions follow [7/8] their own perverse inclinations, turn aside into crooked paths, and listen not to her warning voice clearly declaring to them, "this is the right way, walk ye in it."
It will be readily conceded, that a desire to add to the stock of human knowledge by new and repeated experiments is laudable, and ought to be encouraged; and that, in fact, by the indulgence of this enterprizing spirit, great improvements have been made in natural philosophy, and in many of the mechanical arts. But, with respect to religion, let it be ever impressed upon our minds, that human industry and experience can do nothing more than make us acquainted with the meaning of that sacred volume which contains the revelation of God's will to mankind. Real Christianity is now precisely what it was in the days of Christ and his Apostles. As the presumption of man ought to deduct nothing, so all the exertions of man's understanding can make no addition to that book of life which discloses the method of our salvation. We know no more than what we have been taught, nor is it possible that our knowledge should be extended beyond what [8/9] God has been pleased to reveal to us, respecting his own perfections, the nature of our existence in a future state, the way of reconciliation disclosed to sinful and penitent mortals through the atonement and intercession of his beloved Son, and the renovation of our corrupted nature by the operations of his Holy Spirit. Let us, therefore, in working out our salvation, diligently adhere to the simplicity of the Gospel: Let us listen to the admonition of the Apostle; not attempting to be wise above what is written; not intruding into those things which we have not seen; not vainly puffed up by our fleshly mind. Let us, with unceasing vigilance in this daring age of pretended illumination, beware lest any man spoil us through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: In a word, when solicited to engage in strange adventures and to make bold experiments in morality and religion, let us stand and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein; for, we may well be assured, there is no other method of securing permanent rest for our souls.
 And, in order to apply this general rule to particular cases, I shall proceed to urge the necessity of asking for the old paths, of seeking for the good way, with respect to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church, and the life and conversation of the primitive Christians.
When, according to the systems of some of our modern philosophers, you hear of the purity and perfection of human nature; of the ability of man to merit salvation by the exact performance of his duty, and, of course, that no atonement and no intercession is necessary for him; of the beauty of virtue and the fitness of things as a sufficient inducement to keep us in the right way, and, consequently, that there is no necessity for the aid of the Holy Spirit; of the powers of human reason as adequate to the important business of discovering the true path which leads to immortal bliss and glory--When you hear these opinions maintained, then be careful to ask for the good old way as pointed out in the Scriptures, and pursued by the Disciples of Christ in the first and purest ages of Christianity. Here you will find, that humility is [10/11] laid down as the ground-work of all true religion: that we must approach God with penitence, as depraved and guilty creatures; beseeching him, at all times, not to weigh our merits, but to pardon our offences: that unless we apply for acceptance in his sight through the intercession of a Redeemer, we must necessarily fall under condemnation: that from the lively oracles of his word alone, can a knowledge of our religious duty be obtained: that the assistance of his Holy Spirit is to be continually requested, to render the dispositions of our heart, and the actions of our life, more and more conformable to his will: that the great principle of our Christian obedience must be love and gratitude to that merciful Redeemer who first loved us; who left us an example of all goodness, commanding us to follow his footsteps, and to be like Him, holy in all manner of conversation. Farther;
When you hear the infidels of the present day inculcate their libertine notions, with respect to the power and origin of the Christian Church, its Priesthood, and its Sacraments, inquire again for the old path through which [11/12] the first Christians passed to the mansions of heavenly glory. They travelled forward to a place of rest, under the steadfast Conviction, that the Church was established upon earth by the authority of God himself: that the Ministers of the Gospel were to be considered, not as among the privileged orders of human invention, but as appointed by Christ, and acting in his name: that it was a great blessing, a glorious privilege to be received into this Church, and taken into a covenant of mercy by the ordinance of Baptism: that no earthly entertainment was worthy to be compared with that spiritual banquet, that heavenly refreshment provided for them in the Holy Communion: that no worldly loss was so much to be deplored, as the loss of these privileges by a just sentence of excommunication. These were the settled sentiments of the primitive professors of Christianity: this happy state is thus described by the holy Apostle; "He who ascended up far above all heavens that he might fill all things, gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and some Pastors and Teachers, for the perfecting of Saints, for the work [12/13] of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love." Again;
With respect to the godly conversation which becometh the Gospel of Christ, be not seduced by that lukewarmness and indifference, that laxity of manners with which the Christian world in general is now debased; but rather turn your view to the primitive ages, and be animated by the pious zeal which then prevailed among the professors of Christianity. At that period of the Church, the Disciples of Jesus Christ made it the great business of life to adorn in all things the doctrine of God their Saviour. They were incessant in the performance of their public and private devotions--they prayed always, and in every thing gave thanks: [13/14] the lord's Day (so far from being spent in idleness, vicious pleasures, or worldy business) was devoted entirely to the purposes of religion; the great festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide were celebrated with becoming solemnity; and on those and all other occasions when the Holy Communion was administered, a professing Christian could not absent himself from that sacred ordinance without incurring the imputation of absurdity, as well as irreligion. They let their light shine before men by a faithful discharge of all the relative duties of life; and, more especially, in the treatment of their children, the utmost care and assiduity were employed to make them well acquainted with the principles of their holy religion; to bring them up, according to the Apostle's direction, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So far from indulging in that excess of riot with which the Heathen were polluted, by incessant vigilance they mortified the affections and lusts of their depraved nature, striving to be holy in all manner of conversation, to be without spot, and blameless, to be pure in heart, that they might be qualified [14/15] to see God. In a word; this world was not taken as the place of their rest; the business of it was not made their primary pursuit; the pleasures of it were not their sole enjoyment--they considered themselves as strangers and pilgrims upon earth: heaven was the goal towards which they ran: immortal glory was the prize which they strove to win: the salvation of their souls was deemed the one thing needful. And is not Christianity still the same? Are not we equally concerned in these momentous considerations? Are not our souls equally precious? Is it not still necessary to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then to rely with humble confidence, that by his wise and gracious providence all things needful for our temporal well-being will be added unto us? Is it not still required of us, by faith and patience to inherit the promises? Let us then, my Brethren, be persuaded to ask for this old path; to seek for this good way through which the glorious company of the Apostles and the noble army of martyrs passed from the trials of earth to the felicity of heaven: For, most assuredly, there is no other way of [15/16] obtaining rest to our souls. If we can be prevailed upon to pursue the footsteps of those who have gone before us to the mansions of glory, emulating their humility, faith, and penitence; their sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, we shall possess the same serenity of soul with which they were cheered in every stage of their progress. The God who sustained them is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
Christ still liveth to make intercession for us.
The Holy Spirit is still given to those who ask for him.
We enjoy the same means of grace; the same hope of glory is set before us; our advantages are equal; our trials are much less severe. What, then, forbids the believer to enjoy the peace of God which passeth all understanding? They who walk by faith and not by sight, are satisfied that whatever may be their portion, whether it be life or death, things present or things to come, all will work together for good. Not in heaven alone, even in this world, a blessed rest is provided for the people of God.
 In this subtle and disputatious age, that you may not be misled by the wild schemes which are so confidently proposed; that you may hold fast the true faith which was once delivered to the Saints, have constant recourse to the Sacred Oracles of truth; diligently search the Scriptures for the words of eternal life. Those of the Old Testament alone had been known by Timothy from his youth; and still, it is said, they were able to make him wise unto salvation. Added to these, we have now the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles of Jesus Christ. This inestimable treasure of heavenly wisdom was given by inspiration of God, and it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Study it with deep attention of soul, with meekness and docility, with fervent prayer for illumination from on high; and, rest assured, you also will be wise unto salvation: the man of God will be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
To every considerate person who is concerned for the temporal and eternal welfare of his fellow-men, it must be matter of deep [17/18] regret to behold iniquity so abounding in the earth, the love of many waxing cold, scoffers walking after their own lusts, denying the Lord who bought them, and disbelieving the promise of his coming to judge the world in righteousness. At such a season as this, when the adversary, with uncommon malignity, is going about seeking whom he may devour, let those who have engaged to fight manfully under the banner of a crucified Redeemer, be peculiarly solicitous to take unto themselves the whole armour of God: Let those who sincerely wish the advancement of Christ's kingdom upon earth, show the genuine effects of the Gospel, by being holy in all manner of conversation; let them endeavour to reclaim a gainsaying world, by cherishing in their own bosoms the spirit of primitive Christianity, and making it apparent from their whole deportment, that the ways of religion are pleasantness, and all her paths peace.
When we behold so many running directly contrary to the wise man's advice, and "meddling with those who are given to change;" Let us learn the peculiar necessity under [18/19] which we lie, of being steadfast and unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord. The Apostle commands us "to prove all things:" But, let it be remembered, that our whole life is not to pass away in making experiments; after sufficient trial, "we must hold fast that which is good." In the estimation of the holy Psalmist, one of the greatest evils which God could inflict upon his enemies, was "to make them like unto a wheel"--subject to perpetual revolutions. Let us, then, as members of civil society, maintain the institutions which have the sanction of antiquity, and walk in those paths which experience pronounces to be good. And, as persons belonging to the Christian Church, let us ask for the old ways which were trodden by the holy men of God in the first and purest ages of Christianity. You, my Brethren, in this respect, enjoy peculiar advantages. The doctrines of our Church are drawn from the pure source of divine truth; her discipline rests upon Apostolic authority, and, for many centuries, prevailed throughout the Christian world. Several parts of our Liturgy are derived from [19/20] pure and primitive antiquity. This Liturgy is altogether well calculated to promote a spirit of ardent piety, and to impress a constant attention to the wonderful transactions which occurred in the work of man's redemption. In the stated course of it, you are called upon to keep holy the Lord's-day; with due devotion to celebrate his Sacraments; to commemorate his nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension to glory, and the subsequent descent of the Holy Ghost; you are required to preserve, from time to time, the remembrance of his blessed Apostles, and learn to imitate their Christian virtues. And give me leave to assure you, that, on all these occasions, you are walking in the footsteps of holy men who lived in the earliest ages of Christianity; you are imitating the example of the zealous Reformers of the Church of England, and of your pious forefathers in this country, who were members of that religious society to which we now belong. They have gone before us to the mansions of bliss and glory. One generation of men has been succeeded by another, and we are now the actors on this busy stage of human [20/21] life. We too must pass away like fleeting shadows, and at the conclusion of this variegated scene of human affairs, what will be able to sustain the soul but the consolations of religion! What will all the wealth and power, the pomps and vanities of this world then avail to render us happy, if we are destitute of hope in Christ; if we have never experienced the efficacy of that faith which worketh by love! Let us, then, be persuaded to follow the example of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Let our conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ: let our life be holy, just, and pure; that we may die the death of the righteous, and that our last end may be like his. Thus, in due time, we shall be associated with the spirits of just men made perfect; with the general assembly and Church of the first-born, who will be triumphant in heaven through a blessed eternity. In every stage of our earthly pilgrimage, let us be sober in all things, and watchful unto prayer. Let us in simplicity and godly sincerity have our conversation in the world. Let us be careful to maintain a conscience void of [21/22] offence towards God and towards men; so that our posterity may have reason to say of us, as we say of our pious predecessors, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labour and their works do follow them." That we may be justly entitled to this high benediction, may God of his infinite mercy grant for Christ's sake, to whom, &c.