IT is the great object of revelation to acquaint men with what God requires, and the end and design of all religious institutions, to impress upon them the obligation and advantage of being conformed to his will, and to furnish motives and helps for its performance. For this purpose the Church was founded in the world; made the depository of the oracles of truth; furnished with visible sacraments, and a ministry of reconciliation; sanctified and governed by the continual operations of the Holy Spirit; and is still so maintained by the providence of God, that agreeably to his own promise, "the gates of hell shall never prevail against it."
Being thus established on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself [1/2] being the chief corner-stone, this Church, to which he has promised his presence always, even unto the end of the world, while she renders unceasing homage to her Lord, keeps ever in view the object of which I have spoken; and therefore, while for her members she continually implores that needful grace, without which they cannot be fitted for his appearing, and such a diligent regard also to the Holy Scriptures which he has caused to be written for our learning, that they may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; she especially supplicates of him, who at his first coming did send his messenger to prepare his way before him; that the ministers and stewards of his mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready his way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at his second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in his sight. [Collects, second and third Sundays in Advent.]
My brethren, while such is the solicitude of the Church in our behalf, there is in the truths of that religion which she proclaims, an inherent necessity and importance, a dignity and a grandeur, which ought of themselves to impress our minds, and control our lives. The topics of which it treats; the origin and destination of our wondrous existence; the state of probation in which we are placed; the account we are hereafter to [2/3] render; the happiness or the misery which are to be our portion in a future state of being; and the unending ages of eternity, through which we shall never cease to suffer or to enjoy: these are themes which open a vast range for our noblest contemplation, and which should carry forward all our best thoughts and desires to the future life; or fix them upon this, only with a view of "giving all diligence to make our calling and election sure." But it is a fault of our nature, and one of the proofs how greatly our original faculties were impaired by the fall, that our judgment in many things of the highest importance does not rightly decide for our interest: and even where the judgment may well and truly determine what belongs to our advantage, we are borne away from pursuing it by the impulses of the will. "Men are more easily moved by desires arising from present uneasiness, than by those which have reference to their future good." "Objects near our view," says Mr. Locke, "are apt to be thought greater than those of a larger size that are more remote; and so it is with pleasures and pains: the present is apt to prevail, and those at a distance have the disadvantage in the comparison. Thus, most men, like spendthrift heirs, are accustomed to judge a little in hand, better than a great deal to come, and so for small matters in possession, part with great ones in reversion."
 No allusion could more aptly illustrate the fatal decision which is constantly made, in reference to the claims of religion, and its promises of a future life. To be admitted into mansions of glory--to be clothed upon with immortality--to be' equal to the angels of God--to inherit a new heaven and a new earth--to receive a crown of life--to be before the throne of God, and to serve him day and night in his temple--to be led unto living fountains of waters, where God shall wipe away all tears from all faces, where there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, nor any more pain--to participate of pleasures which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, and which have not even entered into the heart of man to conceive, but which God hath prepared for them that love him; these are the images of that blessedness which is promised as the reward of living soberly, righteously, and godly, during our short probation in this present world. These are the proffered recompense of patient continuance in well-doing for so brief and uncertain a span. I say nothing of the temporal satisfaction and joy--of the peace and the hope which must attend this course of virtuous obedience even here--nor of that fearful doom of unutterable woe--that dread foreboding of punishment and wrath--that fearful looking for of fiery indignation, which all belong to the rejection or neglect of religion, and to the pursuit of courses of sin.
 The consideration of so great blessedness on the one hand, and of so great misery and despair on the other, one would think well calculated to impress deeply the minds of all men, and sufficient effectually to control all their actions and purposes. But alas! my brethren, how far is this from being the case? For while almost all reasonable and thinking men are found to confess the importance of the duties which Christianity enjoins, sincerely to appreciate their excellency and fitness, and in their hearts to desire the high rewards which the Gospel holds out; yet for some trifling present advantage, for the pursuit of some momentary object, the success or disappointment of which would in a few years or days be of equal insignificance, for some temptation of sinful passion, bitter even in the moment of its indulgence, and productive in the moment of reflection, of bitterness and self-reproach; through habitual neglect or habitual indolence, they forfeit their inheritance of a heavenly state, and lose for ever the pleasures which are reserved at God's right hand.
Such being the delusion of men with regard to their greatest and most important concern; such their habitual indifference to the things unseen, notwithstanding they are invested with the awful character of being unchangeable and eternal; we may readily perceive the necessity which exists for calling them frequently to pause, and consider [5/6] their true interest: and we ought gratefully to acknowledge the goodness of God in having provided that the truths and obligations of religion should be constantly impressed upon our minds, "line upon line, precept upon precept;" and also in having presented to those who are exposed to so many dangers, temptations, and hindrances, the Ark of Christ's Church into which they may be received and separated from the world; and in which, being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, they may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally they may come to the land of everlasting life.
Nor ought we to overlook the care and prudence of this Church in providing in her offices, constant subjects of instruction, devotion, and examination, for all her members, that they may be reminded continually of their obligation to live and walk as becometh their profession; and may continually be incited to watch and to be sober, to be looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.
To excite those feelings, and to keep in constant exercise those affections, which belong to the Christian character, the Church has selected the most important passages of the Saviour's life, and following his progress from the first announcement of him by his forerunner, she celebrates successively his birth and ministry, his sufferings and death, his resurrection and [6/7] ascension. Thus does she make every returning year a course of renewed preparation and of growth in grace; inviting all men to make him their daily example; with his Saints to follow him in all virtuous and godly living; and in heart and mind to ascend whither he has gone before, that with him they may continually dwell.
On this day she begins her annual course of solemn observances, and taking up the message of him who was sent before the Saviour to proclaim his coming, she calls upon her members to "prepare the way of the Lord." [Advent Sunday.]
In fulfilling the ministry with which he was charged--to announce the appearance of the promised Messiah--the Baptist did not merely declare the welcome news, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand," but founded upon this his solemn call to repentance. It is in imitation of his example, that the Church, at this season, enforces the duty of self-examination, of repentance, and amendment of life: and if we consider for a moment the twofold character of the events which this season commemorates, we must perceive that it cannot be a season of unmixed joy, excepting to those who are already prepared--whose loins are girded about, and whose lights are burning, and who are themselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.
 For, my brethren, we are not to limit our view to the glad period of that first Advent of our Lord, in which, in great humility, he came to seek and to save. We are not merely to listen to the voice of that angelic host which proclaims, "Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy." We are not merely to hear the gracious words of that compassionate Redeemer and Lord, "I am come, that ye might have life." We are bound to carry forward our thoughtful anticipations to other scenes; to realize that second Advent, when he who once came in lowliness and mercy, shall come again in majesty and in terror; when he shall appear in the clouds of heaven, in power and great glory; when every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. We are to listen to that voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God, which shall call the dead from the slumber of ages, to awake and come to judgment. We are to hear, as if it were now pronounced upon us individually, by the voice of the Lord, that sentence of reward, "Come ye blessed," or of doom, "Depart ye cursed," which shall exalt the righteous to shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, or consign them who have done iniquity, to everlasting fire, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!
My brethren, these are considerations which [8/9] should mingle solicitude with our joy at this holy season, which should fill our minds with thoughtfulness and fear, at least equal to our confidence and our hope, and which should make us listen with attention to the affectionate and earnest injunction, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
The allusion of the text, as we may readily perceive, is to the march of monarchs, who were preceded by harbingers, giving notice to remove obstructions, level and widen the roads, open highways and passes, and fit all things for their easy approach. The figure suggests the preparation which is necessary to be made in our hearts and dispositions, to fit us to welcome the Saviour, and to receive the Gospel of his grace. "The incomparable advantages which we hope for, and which we may obtain from his first coming to save us, and our security and happiness in his last coming to judge us, depend upon our receiving him now, by giving him the possession of our hearts, and the ordering of our lives." [St. Bernard, quoted in Butler's Observations of the Roman Catholic Church.] If then, my brethren, we would realize those advantages, every thing hostile to the dominion of the Saviour, every thing which will not stand his scrutiny or meet his approbation, every thing of which his Holy Spirit reproves us, or which his holy word condemns in us, must be renounced and abandoned. Here [9/10] then lies the necessity of examining and knowing, and by grace from on high, reforming, ourselves. Can the heart which is lifted up with pride, be the residence of him who was meek and lowly? Can a bosom filled with impure, or malicious, or revengeful affections, offer a meet abode to him who was holy, and harmless, and undefiled? Can a mind given up to unbelief, receive and cherish him who dwells only in the heart by faith? Or can he who is engrossed by the world, devoted to pleasure, to honour, to riches, and to self-indulgence, can he welcome in his affections, that righteous Sovereign and jealous God, who requires singleness of heart, self-denial, renunciation of evil habits, and immoderate desires, from all those who would come after him and be his disciples? No, my brethren, in the heart of him who is excessively devoted to earthly passions and pursuits, as in the inn where the concourse of the worldly resort, there is no room for Christ. He dwelleth with the meek and humble. To him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at his word, to him does he look; and the lowly abode of virtuous contentment, the home of un-repining piety, the mind whose affections are set on things above, not on things on the earth, the holy and humble men of heart, whom the world overlooks, these are the chosen residence of the world's Redeemer. Need I say then to those who are conscious that theirs is not the meek, [10/11] the confiding, the pure and submissive spirit which the Gospel requires; need I say to those whose lives are marked by any unchristian tempers, that all bitterness and wrath, anger and clamour, and evil speaking, that these must be put away from them with all malice? And those who are living in open violation of God's laws, who are pursuing unrestrained their courses of iniquity, need I say that to them belongs the admonition of the Baptist; to repent and do works meet for repentance; to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight; to get them a new heart and a new spirit; and to evidence the truth of their conversion, by renouncing every thing which God forbids, and by substituting in its place whatever he commands I Such, my brethren, is the preparation which will be acceptable and pleasing to God. It is a sincere and heartfelt devotion to him, springing from a true faith in the Redeemer, not terminating in feelings of regret for our offences, and empty desires to do his will, but producing the renunciation of all our sins, and particularly (as the Baptist declared to those who inquired of him what they should do,) the renunciation of those sins, which from our habits, our professions, or pursuits, most easily beset us; and also manifesting its evidence in practical obedience to all the moral precepts, in imparting to the necessities, and ministering to the welfare of others, in doing [11/12] good and letting our light shine before men, and glorifying our Father who is in heaven.
In conclusion, my brethren, let us make use of the opportunity which is now once more afforded us to review our many advantages, and inquire into the use we have made of them. The time is now again returning, as at which the only-begotten Son of God consented to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure Virgin; and we are once more solemnly called upon to "prepare the way of the Lord."
Amidst vanities and sins, amidst thanklessness and neglect of former invitations, we have been permitted to arrive at that period when the Church is renewing her yearly admonition to us, "that we receive not the grace of God in vain." A season of joyfulness is approaching, and we are called upon to make ourselves ready to participate in those acclamations of praise with which the faithful will hail the coming of their Lord. A mighty Deliverer, the promise of ages, the consolation of Israel, the desire of all nations, and the hope of the world, is about to appear. And well may be addressed to us the language, Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
How often have some among us listened to this caution, and listened in vain! How often have [12/13] we seen displayed before us, all the passages of our Saviour's birth, and life, and death, and yet looked on with unconcern, as if these had no reference to us! How many Advents have we misimproved and lost! Year after year we have been entreated to prepare the way of the Lord, and we have closed our ears to the entreaty. We have heard the holy Church throughout all the world rejoicing in the birth of a Saviour, and we have not mingled in the common gladness. We have listened to the record of his deeds of mercy, and his miracles of beneficence, and have heard him calling us to come unto him for rest and for salvation; and we have gone our ways regardless of his condescension and love. We have seen him whose life was virtue, and all whose thoughts were innocence and goodness, basely betrayed, led forth in derision, scoffed at, reviled, buffetted, dishonoured; we have listened to the story of his sufferings and his wrongs; we have beheld him crowned with thorns, pierced, crucified ignominiously between thieves; and no swelling emotion of indignation has burst from our bosom--no tear of pity moistened our cheek. We have been told that he bare our sins, and carried our griefs--that he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities--that the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; and under the weight of the load which he endured, and in the bitterness of the [13/14] cup which he drank, we have heard him say, "Behold and see, all ye that pass by, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow;" and we have not been penetrated with shame for the guilt which caused it; nor sunk down at his feet in confession and repentance. We have heard that our pardon was purchased by his agonies, and sealed in his blood; that he died that we might live; that at his hand the justice of God had received double for all our sins; and no voice of thankfulness or of gratitude has ascended from our lips. We have had the emblems of his death, and the pledges of our pardon, again and again spread before us; and though they have been pressed upon us with all the solemnity of a dying request, and pleaded to be received in remembrance of him; no thankful recollection of the benefits which he has wrought--no just apprehension of the vengeance which at his coming again he will inflict, has had any power to influence our obedience or animate our love: but coldly, unconcernedly, deliberately, we have turned our back upon these sacred memorials, and habitually gone away. My brethren, do we consider the ingratitude, the contempt, the irreverence, the defiance of the Majesty of heaven, which this conduct involves?
Were it an earthly friend who had died for us, our insensibility were disgraceful. But this man was the Son of God; he was without sin; and [14/15] yet, with love unparalleled, he presented himself to bear its curse; he left the glory which he had with the Father before all worlds, to suffer and to die for those who, by rebellion and guilt, had forfeited that inheritance which he now offers to restore.
My brethren, we believe that he will come to be our Judge; and what sentence may we not expect that he will pass upon our rejection, our ingratitude, our neglect! Let us now at length pause and consider our danger; for now again all these scenes of his life and death are about to be acted before our eyes; for some it may be for the last time. Let us no longer be guilty of crucifying afresh the Lord of glory, by sin and unbelief, by disobedience of his commandments, and rejection of his means of grace. Rather let us, by redoubled diligence, seek to recover what by neglect we have already lost. Let us reflect, seriously reflect, that if we "make the design of our Saviour's love and mercy in his first Advent abortive, he will come at the last day, not to crown, but to condemn us." And reflecting upon this, let us now prepare in our hearts the way of the Lord, that so we may be of that small thrice happy number, of whom it is written, "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Which, may he grant us all, who died for us all, Jesus Christ our Lord!