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I need not exhort you to press forward, for you know that in walking in the Spirit there is a great reward. Rather will 1 exhort you, in patience to pofless your souls yet a little while, and Jesus Christ will deliver you from the burden of the flesh, and an abundant entrance shall be administered to you, into the eternal joy and uninterrupted felicity of his heavenly kingdom,
Which God of his infinite mercy grant, through JESUS
CHRIST our LORD: To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, be ascribed all honour, power, and glory, for ever and ever.
HESE words contain the ingenuous confession of king
Agrippa ; which having some reference to, it may not be improper to relate the substance of the preceding verses, with which the words are so closely connected.
The chapter, out of which the text is taken, contains an admirable account which the
of his wonderful conversion from Judaisın to Christianity, when he was called to make his defence before Feftus a Gentile governor, and king Agrippa. Our blessed Lord had long since foretold, that when the Son of man should be lifted up,
« his difciples should be brought before kings and rulers, for his name's fake, for a testimony unto them.” And very good was the design of infinite wisdom in thus ordaining it ; for Christianity being, from the beginning, a doctrine of the Cross, the princes and rulers of the earth thought themselves too high to be instructed by such mean teachers, or too happy to be disturbed by such unwelcome truths; and therefore would have always continued strangers to JESUS CHRIST, and him crucified, had not the apostles, by being arraigned before them, gained opportunities of preaching to them “ JESUS and the resurrection." St. Paul knew full well that this was the main reason, why his blessed Master permitted his enemies at this time to arraign him at a public bar; and therefore, in compliance with the divine will, thinks it not
fufficient, barely to make his defence, but endeavours at the fame time to convert his judges. And this he did with such demonstration of the spirit, and of power, that Feftus, unwilling to be convinced by the strongest evidence, cries out with a loud voice, “ Paul, much learning doth make thee mad.” To which the brave apostle (like a true follower of the holy Jesus) meekly replies, I am not mad, most noble Feftus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” But in all probability, seeing king Agrippa more affected with his discourse, and observing in him an inclination to know the truth, he applies himself more particularly to him. “The king knoweth of these things; befote whom alfo I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him.” 'And then, that if possible he might complete his wilhed-for conversion, he with an inimitable strain of oratory, addresses himself still more closely, “ King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets ? I know that thou believest them.” At which the passions of the king began to work so strongly, that he was obliged in open court, to own himself affected by the prisoner's preaching, and ingenuously to cry out, Paul, al. most thou persuadeft me to be a Christian."
Which words, taken with the context, afford us a lively representation of the different reception, which the doctrine of Christ's ministers, who come in the power and spirit of St. Paul, meets with now-a-days in the minds of men. For notwithftanding they, like this great apostle, “ speak forth the words of truth and soberness ;” and with such energy and power, that all their adverfariès cannot justly gainfay or resist; yet, too many, with the noble Feftues before-mertioned, being like him, either too proud to be taught, or too sensual, too careless, or too worldly-minded to live up to the doctrine, in order to excuse themselves, cry out, that “much learning, much study, or, what is more unaccountable, much piety, hath made them mad.". And though, blessed be God! all do not thus disbelieve our report; yet amongst those who gladly receive the word, and confess that we speak the words of truth and soberness, there are so few, who artive at any higher degree of piety than that of Agrippa, or are any
farther persuaded than to be almost Christians, that I cannot but
think it highly necessary to warn my dear hearers of the danger of such a state. And therefore, from the words of the text, shall endeavour to shew these three things :
Firs, What is meant by an almost christian.
Secondly, What are the chief reasons, why so many are no more than almost chriftians.
Thirdly, I shall consider the ineffectualness, danger, absurdity, and uneasiness which attends those who are but almost christians; and then conclude with a general exhortation, to fet all upon striving not only to be almost, but altogether christians.
I. And, First, I am to consider what is meant by an almost christian.
An almost christian, if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile GoD and Mammon, light and darkness, CHRIST and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious how he goes too far in it: his false heart is always crying out, Spare thyself, do thyself no harm. He prays indeed, that “God's will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” But notwithstanding, he is very partial in his obedience, and fondly hopes that God will not be extreme to mark every thing that he wilfully does amiss; though an inspired apostle has told him, that “ he who offends in one point is guilty of all.” But chiefly, he is one that depends much on outward ordinances, and on that account looks upon himself as righteous, and despises others; though at the same time he is as great a stranger to the divine life as any other person whatsoever. In short, he is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. He goes on year after year, attending on the means of grace, but then, like Pharaoh's lean kine, he is never the better, but rather the worse for them.
If you consider him in respect to kis neighbour, he is one that is strictly just to all; but then this does not proceed from any love to God or regard to man, but only through a principle of self-love : because he knows dishonesty will spoil bis reputation, and consequently hinder his thriving in the world,
He is one that depends much upon being negatively good, and contents himself with the consciousnefs of having done ho one any harm; though he reads in the gospel, that “ the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness," and the barren fig-tree was cursed and dried up from the toots, not for bearing bad, but no fruit.
He is no enemy to charitable contributions in public, if not too frequently recommended: but then he is unlacquainted with the kind offices of visiting the sick and imprisoned, cloathing the naked, and relieving the hungary in a private manner. He thinks that these things belong only to the clergy, though his own false heart tells him, that nothing but pride keeps him from exercifing these acts of humility; and that JESUS CHRIST, in the 2gth chapter of St. Matthew, condemns persons to everlafting punishment, not merely for being fornicators, drunkards, or extortioners, but for neglecting these charitable offices, * When the Son of man shall come in his glory, he fhall set the fheep on his right-hand, and the goats on his left. And then shall he say unto them on his left-hand, depart from me, ġe cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels : for I was an hun gted, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a ftranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye cloathed me not; stck and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then fhall they also fay, LORD, when faw we thee an hungred, or a-thfirst, or a stranger; or naked, or fick, or in prifon, and did not minister unto thee? Thén fhall he anfwer them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it pot unto me : and these fhall go away into everlasting punishment.” I thought proper to give you this whole passage of feripture at large, because our Saviour lays such a particular VOL. VI.