Page images

and will say to evil doers, depart from me, though they may think it strange that he runs not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of him.

He will not be conformed to this world; but, being transformed by the renewing of his mind, he proves what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

In matters of a worldly nature, he will use great condescension for the sake of peace. But in religion he will be governed, not by the opinions and customs of the world, but by the plain instructions of God's word. He is peaceable, gentle and easy to be en. treated; but he is first pure. He reckons it a small thing to be judged of man's judgment, since he who will judge him is the Lord. And though he is disposed, in matters of indifference, to please men for their good to edification, yet he will not please them with the hazard of offending God. An aim to please God is the grand principle that governs him in all his conversation. This leads me to say.

4. Forwardness in religion must appear in a zeal for great and essential things.

There are many who are forward in little matters; zealous for or against speculative opinions, outward forms, and the peculiar tenets and usages which discriminate particular sects.

But this is not forwardness in religion ; it is only forwardness in a party design. This is not to offer to Christ the first fruits of obedience. It is rather to offer him the straw and chaff, instead of the full laden sheaf.

The christian, forward in religion, principally regards the substantial and weighty matters of the gospel. He is zealous to repent and to maintain goed works. He is fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. He abounds in the proper fruits of the spirit, righteousness, goodness and truth. His heart is set in him against sin of every kind, especially against his own sins ; and engaged in the great

and unquestionable duties of the gospel. He gives deligence to make his calling and election surc, by continual improvements in all the graces of the christian temper. He is solicitous to abound in them, that he may never fall, but an entrance may be ministered to him abundantly into the kingdom of Christ.

5. One who is forward in religion, labours to promote it among others. .

When Paul calls his beloved Epenetus the first fruits of Achaia to Christ, he intimates that a rich har. vest followed ; for the first fruits imply a following harvest. This forward christian doubtless assisted Paul in his work, and contributed his aid in the cul. ture of the soil, and in the production and collection of the crop. His conversion to the faith, and his exemplary conversation, were among the means which gave the gospel a successful spread in Achaia

The forward christian will principally attend to the state of religion in his own soul. He will not neglect his own vineyard, to keep the vineyards of his brethren. He will not be officious to wipe the mote out of his brother's eye, while a beam is in his own. He will not spend his zeal in censuring the sins of others, and indulge iniquity in his own heart. His first care is to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

He next attends to the state of religion in his family. He commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord. He is watchful over their manners, that he may restrain them from making themselves vile, and from rendering others so by their vile example.

But his influence is not confined within the walls of his own dwelling; it extends to those around. He laments the prevalence of iniquity, and the decline of religion, wherever he observes it. He

prays that God would revive his work, and studies how he may be instrumental in advancing it.

He readily concurs in any reasonable measures for this

purpose. As the preaching of the gospel is an instituted mean of religion, he honours it by his at. tendance, gives credit to it by his example, and, when there is opportunity, seconds it by his advice and reproof.

They who fear God will speak often one to another in a way of consultation, what they ought to do for the Lord, when men make void his statutes. If they see a proper occasion, they will cheerfully impart their substance for the relief of their necessi. tous brethren, for the support of Christ's cause, and for the assistance of such as are under any peculiar disadvantages with respect to religion. Such was the zeal of the primitive christians. The house of Stephanas, which was the first fruits of Achaia, addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints. Paul commends to the Corinthians the forwardness of the christians in Macedonia, whose dcep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality ; and who, cven beyond their power, were willing of themselves, without solicitation, to contribute to the relief of their distressed brethren in Judea. And the forwardness of the Corinthians he also commends in the following terms--" It is superfluous for me to write to you concerning the ministering to the saints; for I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia--and your zeal hath provoked very many."

The forwardness of religious zeal among christians can be displayed in nothing more substantially, than in their liberal minds toward each other.

6. The forward christian aspires to greater eninence in religion. He is not satisfied with what he is, nor contented with what he has done : He would grow in grace, and abound still more in all the

fruits of righteousness." He reckons not himself to be already perfect; but forgetting the things which are behind, he reaches forward to the things which are before, and presses toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ. The superior example of others humbles him for his defects, and animates his endeavours to equal their virtues. He would be enriched in every thing by Christ, so as to become behind his breth ren in no gift, which may conduce to his eminence and usefulness in his christian sphere ; and thus he waits for the coming of Jesus Christ, who, he trusts, will confirm him to the end, that he may be blameless in the day of Christ Jesus his Lord.

But I may no longer detain you on this branch of my subject. I proceed,

II. 'To shew the excellency and amiableness of this forwardness in religion.

Paul commends Epenetus and calls him his be. loved, because he was the first fruits of Achaia to Christ. He boasts to the Corinthians concerning the forwardness of them in Macedonia, and to the latter concerning the forwardness of the Corinthians, in the common cause of Christ.

1. This forwardness is coinmendable as an evi. dence of sincerity. It shews the concurrence and engagedness of the heart. The hypocrite is slothful in business ; or zealous only in some less important matters. One who is forward in the great concerns of religion, and maintains his fidelity to Christ, even when others despise or oppose his cause, gives substantial proof that his heart is right with God. He may find joy in the consciousness, that his conversation is in simplicity and godly sincerity.

2. This forwardness in religion is commendable on account of its usefulness.

[blocks in formation]

The slothful, negligent christian emboldens sin, ners in their transgressions, and confirms them in their stupidity. If he sleeps as do others, he will lull them into a profounder sleep. But he who is forward in religion, not only reproves negligent christians, but condemns secure and thoughtless sinners. When Noah obeyed the divine warning, it is said, he condemned the world. The zeal of some in Corinth provoked very many. When a sinner awakes to repentance, and runs no longer with former companions to excess of riot, he warns them to repent and forsake the path of destruction. His engagedness in the work of salvation, admonishes them of its importance. When a youth yields himself to Christ, professes his gospel, and walks agreeably to it, his example invites his fellows to forsake the foolish and live, and to go in the way of understanding. A rich harvest ensued, when Epenetus had offered the first fruits to Christ. Should some of you, my young hearers, discover a warm but modest zeal in the work of Christ; and an active, but steady concern for your own salvation, you

know not how many might be won by your example. While you are saving your own souls, you know not how many more might be saved by your means.

While you are doing good to yourselves, you know not how much good you might do to others. How delightful would be the reflec. tion to your own minds, that you had been the first fruits to Christ, and that your offering had been followed with a pienteous harvest ? How much would it sweeten life to think, you were following Christ to glory, and, by your example, drawing others along in the same joyful path ? How much will it add to the delights of heaven, to find, that your first fruits have been the means and occasion of gathering a harvest of sheaves into Christ's garner ? Animated by such thoughts aud prospects, come,

« PreviousContinue »