THE Necessity and Benefits OF RELIGIOUS SOCIETY.
ECCLES. vi. 9, 10, 11, 12.
Two are better than One, because they have a good Reward for their Labour. For if they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow: But woe be to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if Two lie together, then they have Heat; but how can one be warm alone? And if One prevail against him, Two shall withstand him; and a Threefold Cord is not quickly broken.
AMong the many Reasons assignable for the sad Decay of True Christia|nity, perhaps the neglecting to assem|ble ourselves together, in Religious Societies, may not be one of the least. That I may therefore do my Endeavour towards promoting so excellent a Means of Piety, Page 4 I have selected a Passage of Scripture drawn from the Experience of the wisest of Men, which being a little enlarged on and illustrated, will fully answer my present Design; that be|ing to shew, in the best Manner I can, the Ne|cessity and Benefits of Society in general, and of Religious Society in particular.
Two are better than One, &c,
From which Words I shall take Occasion to prove,
First, The Truth of the Wise Man's Asser|tion, viz. Two are better than One, and that in Reference to Society in general, and Religious Society in particular.
Secondly, To assign some Reasons why Two are better than One, especially as to the last Particular. 1. Because Men can raise up one another when they chance to slip: For if they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow. 2. Because they can impart Heat to each other: Again, if Two lie together, then they have Heat; but how can One be warm alone? 3. Because they can secure each other from those that do oppose them: And if One prevail against him, Two shall withstand him; and a threefold Cord is not quickly broken. From hence,
Thirdly, I shall take Occasion to shew the Duty incumbent on every Member of a Religious Society.
Fourthly, and lastly, I shall draw an Inference or two from what shall have been said; and then conclude with a Word or two of Exhortation from the whole.
Page 5First then, I am to prove the Truth of the Wise Man's Assertion, viz. that Two are better than One, and that in Reference to Society in general, and Religious Societies in particular.
And how can this be done better than by shewing that it is absolutely necessary for the Welfare both of the Bodies and Souls of Men? Indeed, if we look upon Man as he came out of the Hands of his Maker, we imagine him to be perfect, entire, lacking nothing. But GOD, whose Thoughts are not as our Thoughts, saw something still wanting to make Adam happy. And what was that? Why, an Help meet for him. For thus speaketh the Scripture: And the LORD GOD said, It is not good that the Man should be alone, I will make an Help meet for him.
Observe, GOD said, It is not good, thereby implying that the Creation would have been imperfect, in some sort, unless an Help was found out meet for Adam. And if this was the Case of Man before the Fall; if an Help was meet for him in a State of Perfection surely since the Fall, when we come naked and helpless out of our Mother's Womb, when our Wants increase with our Years, and we can scarcely subsist a Day without the mutual Assistance of each other, well may we say, It is not good for Man to be alone.
Society then, we see, is absolutely necessa|ry in respect to our bodily and personal Wants. If we carry our View farther, and consider Man|kind as divided into different Cities, Countries, and Nations, the Necessity of it will appear yet Page 6 more evident. For how can Communities be kept up, or Commerce carried on, without So|ciety? Certainly not at all, since Providence seems wisely to have assigned a particular Pro|duct to almost each particular Country, on Pur|pose, as it were, to oblige us to be social; and hath so admirably mingled the Parts of the whole Body of Mankind together, that the Eye cannot say to the Hand, I have no Need of thee, nor again, the Hand to the Foot, I have no Need of thee.
Many other Instances might be given of the Necessity of Society, in Reference to our bodily, personal, and national Wants. But what are all these when weighed in the Ballance of the Sanc|tuary, in Comparison of the infinite greater Need of it, with respect to the Soul? It was chiefly in regard to this better Part, no doubt, that GOD said, It is not good for the Man to be alone. For, let us suppose Adam to be as happy as may be, placed as the Lord of the Creation in the Paradise of GOD, and spend|ing all his Hours in adoring and praising the blessed Author of his Being; yet as his Soul was the very Copy of the Divine Nature, whose peculiar Property it is to be communicative, without the Divine All-sufficiency, he could not be compleatly happy, because he was alone and incommunicative, nor even content in Paradise for want of a Partner in his Joys, GOD knew this, and therefore said, It is not good that the Man should be alone, I will make a Help meet for him. And tho' this proved a fatal Means of Page 7 his falling; yet that was not owing to any na|tural Consequence of Society; but partly to that cursed Apostate, who craftily lies in wait to deceive; partly to Adam's own Folly, in ra|ther chusing to be miserable with one he loved, than trust in GOD to raise him up another Spouse.
If we reflect indeed on that familiar Inter|course our first Parents could carry on with Heaven, in a State of Innocence, we shall be apt to think he had as little Need of Society, as to his Soul, as before we supposed him to have, in respect to his Body. But yet, as GOD and the Holy Angels were so far above him on the one Hand, and the Beasts so far beneath him on the other, there was nothing like having one to to converse with, who was Bone of his Bone, and Flesh of his Flesh.
Man, then, could not be fully happy, we see even in Paradise, without a Companion of his own Species, much less now he is driven out. For, let us view him a little in his natural Estate now, since the Fall, as having his Understanding darkened, his Mind alienated from the Life of GOD; as no more able to see his Way wherein he should go, than a blind Man to describe the Sun: That notwithstanding this, he must re|ceive his Sight e'er he can see GOD: And that if he never sees him, he never can be happy. Let us view him, I say, in this Light (or rather this Darkness) and deny the Necessity of Society if we can. A Divine Revelation we find is absolutely necessary, we being by Nature as un|able Page 8 to do our Duty. And how shall we learn except one teach us? But was GOD to do this himself, how should we, with Moses,exceed|ingly quake and fear? Nor would the Ministry of Angels in this Affair be without too much Terror. It is necessary, therefore (at least GOD's Dealing with us hath shewed it▪ to be so) that we be drawn with the Cords of a Man. And that a Divine Revelation being granted, we should use one another's Assistance, under GOD, to instruct each other in the Knowledge, and to exhort one another to the Practice of those Things which belong to our everlasting Peace. This is undoubtedly the great End of Society intended by GOD since the Fall, and a strong Argument it is, why Two are better than One, and why we should not forsake the assembling our selves together.
But farther, let us consider ourselves as Chri|stians, as having this natural Veil, in some mea|sure, taken off from our Eyes by the Assistance of GOD's Holy Spirit, and so enabled to see what he requires of us. Let us suppose ourselves in some degree to have tasted the good Word of Life,and to have felt the Powers of the World to come, influencing and moulding our Souls into a religious Frame: To be fully and heartily convinced that we are Soldiers listed under the Banner of CHRIST, and have proclaimed open War at our Baptism, against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil; and have, perhaps, frequently renewed our Obligations so to do, by partaking of the Lord's Supper: That we are surrounded Page 9 with Millions of Foes without, and infested with Legions of Enemies within: That we are commanded to shine as Lights in the World, in the midst of a crooked and perverse Generati|on: That we are travelling to a long Eter|nity, and need all imaginable Helps to shew us, and encourage us in our Way thither. Let us, I say, reflect on all this, and then how shall each of us cry out, Brethren, what a necessary Thing it is to meet together in Religiuos Societies?
The Primitive Christians were fully sensible of this, and therefore we find them continually keeping up Communion with each other: For what says the Scripture? They continued sted|fast in the Doctrine and Fellowship, Acts ii. 42. Peter and John were no sooner dismissed by the Great Council, than they haste away to their Companions. And being set at Liberty, says the Text, they came to their own, and told them all these Things which the High Priest had said unto them, Acts iv. 23. Paul, as soon as converted, tarried three Days with the Disciples that were at Damascus, Acts ix. 19. And Peter after|wards, when released from Prison, immediately goes to the House of Mary, where there were great Multitudes assembled, praying, Acts xii. 12. And it is reported of Christians in After-Ages, that they used to assemble together before Day|light, to sing a Psalm to CHRIST as GOD. So precious was the Communion of Saints in those Days.
If it be asked, what Advantage we shall reap from such a Procedure now? I answer, much Page 10 every Way. Two are better than One, because they have a good Reward for their Labour: For if they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow; but woe be to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if Two lye together, then the have Heat; but how can One be warm alone? And if One prevail against him, Two shall withstand him; and a Three-fold Cord is not quickly broken.
Which directly leads me to my Second general Head, under which I was to assign some Reasons why Two are better than One, espe|cially in Religions Society.
I. As Man in his present Condition cannot always stand upright, but by Reason of the Frail|ty of his Nature cannot but fall; one eminent Reason why Two are better than One, or, in other Words, one great Advantage of Religious Society is, That when they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow.
And an excellent Reason this, indeed! For alas! When we reflect how prone we are to be drawn into Error in our Judgments, and into Vice in our Practice; and how unable, at least how very unwilling, to espy or correct our own Miscarriages; when we consider how apt the World is to flatter us in our Faults, and how few there are so kind as to tell us the Truth; what an inestimable Privilege must it be to have a Set of true, judicious, hearty Friends about us, continually watching over our soul, to inform us where we have fallen, and warn us that we fall not again for the future. Surely it is such a Page 11 Privilege that (to use the Words of an eminent Christian) we shall never know the Value of, till we come to Glory.
But this is not all; for supposing that we could always stand upright, yet whosoever re|flects on the Difficulties of Religion in general, and his own Propensity to Lukewarmness and Indifference in particular, will find that he must be zealous as well as steady, if ever he expects to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Here then, the Wise Man points out to us another excel|lent Reason why Two are better than One. Again, says he, If Two lie together, then they have Heat, but how can One be warm alone?
Which was the next Thing to be considered under the Second general Head, viz. to assign a second Reason why Two are better than One, because they can impart Heat to each other.
It is an Observation no less true than com|mon, That kindled Coals, if placed asunder, soon go out, but if heaped together, quicken and enliven each other and afford a lasting Heat. The same will hold good, in the Case now be|fore us. If Christians kindled by the Grace of GOD unite, they will quicken and enliven each other; but if they separate and keep asunder, no marvel if they soon grow cool or tepid. If Two or Three meet together in CHRIST's Name, they will have Heat; but how can One be warm alone?
Observe, How can One be warm alone? The Wise Man's expressing himself by way of Que|stion, implies an Impossibility, at least a very Page 12 great Difficulty, to be warm in Religion with|out Company, where it may be had. Behold here, then, another excellent Benefit flowing from Religious Society; it will keep us zealous, as well as steady, in the Ways of Godliness.
But to illustrate this a little farther by a Comparison or two. Let us look upon ourselves (as was above hinted) as Soldiers listed under CHRIST's Banner; as going out with ten thou|sand to meet One that cometh against us with twenty thousand: as Persons that are to wrestle not only with Flesh and Blood, but against Princi|palities, against Powers, and spiritual Wicked|nesses in high Places. And then tell me, all ye that fear GOD, if it be not an invaluable Privi|lege to have a Company of Fellow Soldiers conti|nually about us, animating and exhorting each other to stand our ground, to keep our Ranks, and manfully to follow the Captain of our Salva|tion, though it be through a Sea of Blood?
Lastlv, Let us consider ourselves in another View before mentioned, viz. as Persons travel|ling to a long Eternity; rescued by the freeGrace of GOD, in some Measure, from our natural Egyptian Bondage, and marching under the Con|duct of our spiritual Joshua, thro' the Wilder|ness of this World, to the Land of our Heavenly Canaan. Let us farther reflect how apt we are to startle at every Difficulty; to cry, There are Lions! There are Lions in the Way! There are the Sons of Anak to be grappled with, e'er we can possess the Promised Land: How prone we are, with Lot's Wife, to look wishfully back on Page 13 our spiritual Sodom, or with the foolish Israelites, to long again for the Flesh-Pots of Egypt, and to return to our former natural State of Bondage and Slavery. Consider this my Brethren, and see what a blessed Privilege it will be to have a Set of Israelites indeed about us, always reminding us of the Folly of any such cowardly Design, and of the intolerable Misery we shall run into, if we fall in the least short of the Promised Land.
More might be said on this Particular, did not the Limits of a Discourse of this Nature, oblige me to hasten.
3. To give a Third Reason, mentioned by the Wise Man in the Text, why Two are better than One; namely, because they can secure each other from Enemies without. And if One prevail against him, yet Two shall withstand him; and a Threefold Cord is not quickly broken.
Hitherto we have considered the Avantages of Religious Societies, as a great Preservative against falling (at least dangerously falling) into Sin and Lukewarmness, and that too from our own Corruptions. But what says the Wise Son of Sirach? My Son, when thou goest to serve the Lord, prepare thy Soul for Temptation: And that not only from inward, but outward Foes; par|ticularly from these two grand Adversaries, the World and the Devil: For no sooner will thine Eye be bent Heavenward, but the former will be immediately diverting it another Way, tel|ling thee thou needest not be singular in order to be religious; that one may be a Christian with|out going so much out of the Common Road.
Nor will the Devil be wanting in his artful Page 14 Insinuations, or impious Suggestions, to divert or terrify thee from pressing forwards, that thou mayst lay hold on the Crown of Life: And if he cannot prevail this Way, he will try another; and in order to make his Temptation the more undiscerned, but withal more successful, he will employ, perhaps, some of thy nearest Relatives, or most powerful Friends (as he set Peter on our blessed Master) who will always be bidding thee spair thyself; telling thee thou needest not take so much Pains; that it is not so difficult a Matter to get to Heaven as some People would make of it, nor the Way so narrow as others imagine it to be.
But see here the Advantage of Religious Com|pany; for supposing thou findest thyself thus surrounded on every Side, unable to withstand such horrid (though seemingly friendly) Coun|sels, haste away to thy Companions, and they will teach thee a truer and better Lesson; they will tell thee, that thou must be singular if thou wilt be religious; and that it is as impossible for a Christian, as for a City set upon a Hill, to be hid: That if thou wilt be an almost Christian (and as good be none at all) thou mayst live in the same idle indifferent Manner as thou seest most other People do: But if thou wilt be not only almost but altogether a Christian, they will inform thee thou must go a great deal farther: That thou must not only faintly seek, but ear|nestly strive to enter in at the strait Gate: That there is but One Way now to Heaven as former|ly, viz. through the narrow Passage of a sound Conversion: And that in order to bring about Page 15 this mighty Work, thou must undergo a constant, but necessary Discipline of Fasting, Watching, and Prayer. And that therefore, the only Rea|son why these Friends give thee such Advice, be|cause they are not willing to take so much Pains themselves; or, as our Saviour told Peter on a like Occasion, because they savour not the Things that be of GOD, but the Things that be of Men.
This then, is another excellent Blessing arising from Religious Society, that Friends can hereby secure each other from those that oppose them. The Devil is fully sensible of this, and therefore he has always done his utmost to suppress, and put a Stop to the Communion of Saints. This was his grand Artifice at the first planting of the Gospel; to persecute the Professors of it, in order to se|parate them. Which, though GOD, as he always will, over-ruled for the better; yet it shews what an Enmity he has against Christians assembling themselves together. Nor has he yet left off his old stratagem; it being his usual Way to entice us by our selves, in order to tempt us; where, by be|ing destitute of one another's Helps, he hopes to lead us captive at his Will.
But, on the contrary, knowing his own Inte|rest is strengthened by Society, he would first per|suade us to neglect the Communion of Saints, and then bid us stand in the Way of Sinners, hoping thereby to put us into the Seat of the Scornful. Judas & Peter are melancholly Instances of this. The former had no sooner left his Company at Supper, but he went out & betrayed his Master: And the dismal Downfal of the latter, when he would venture himself amongst a Company of Page 16 Enemies, plainly shews us what the Devil will endeavour to do, when he gets us by ourselves. Had Peter kept his own Company, he might have kept his Integrity; but a single Cord, alas, how quickly was it broken? Our blessed Saviour knew this full well, and therefore it is very observable, that he always sent out his Disciples Two by Two.
And now, after so many Advantages to be rea|ped from Religious Society, may we not very just|ly cry out with the Wise Man in my Text, Woe be to him that is alone; for when he falleth, he hath not another to lift him up: When he is cold, he hath not a Friend to warm him; when he is assaulted, he hath not a Second to help him to withstand his Enemy.
III. I now come to my Third general Head, under which was to be shewn the several Duties incumbent on every Member of a Religious Society, as such, which are three.
- 1. Mutual Reproof:
- 2. Mutual Exhortation:
- 3. Mutual assisting and defending each other.
1. Mutual Reproof. Two are better than One: for when they fall, the One will lift up his Fellow.
Now, Reproof may be taken either in a more extensive Sense, and then it signifies our raising a Brother by the gentlest Means, when he falls into Sin and Error; or in a more restrained Sig|nification, as reaching no farther then those, lit|tle Miscarriages, which unavoidably happen in the most holy Men living.
The Wise Man in the Text, supposes all of us subject to both: For when they fall (says he, thereby implying that each of us may fall) the One will lift up his Fellow. From whence we Page 17 may infer, that when any Brother is overtaken with a Fault, he that is spiritual (that is, regene|rate, and knows the Corruption and Weakness of Human Nature) ought to restore such a one in the Spirit of Meekness. And why he should do so, the Apostle subjoins a Reason considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted; i.e. considering thy own Frailty, lest thou also fall by the like Temptation.
We are all frail unstable Creatures; and it is merely owing to the Free Grace and good Provi|dence of GOD, that we run not into the same Excess of Riot with other Men. Every offending Brother, therefore, claims our Pity rather than our Resent|ment; and each Member should strive who should be most forward, as well as most gentle, in resto|ring him to his former State.
But supposing a Person not to be overtaken, but to fall wilfully into a Crime; yet who art thou that deniest Forgiveness to thy offending Brother? Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall. Take ye, Brethren, the holy Apostles as eminent Examples for you to learn by, how you ought to behave in this Matter. Consider how quickly they joined the Right Hand of Fellowship with Peter, who had so wilfully denied his Master: For we find John and him together but two Days after, Joh. xx. 2. And v. 19. we find him assembled with the rest. So soon did they forgive, so soon associate with their sinful, yet relenting Brother,—Let us go & do likewise.
But there is another kind of Reproof incum|bent on every Member of Religious Society; name|ly, a gentle Rebuke for some Miscarriage or other, which, though not actually sinful, yet may become the Occasion of Sin. This indeed seems more easy, but Page 18 perhaps will be found a more difficult Point than the former: For when a Person has really sin|ned, he cannot but own his Brethrens Reproof to be just; whereas, when it was only for some little Misconduct, the Pride that is in our Natures, will scarce suffer us to brook it. But however ungrate|ful this Pill may be to our Brother, yet if we have any Concern for his Welfare, it must be admini|stred by some friendly Hand or other. By all Means then let it be applied; only, like a skilful Physi|cian, gild over the ungrateful Medicine, & endea|vour if possible, to deceive thy Brother into Health and Soundness. Let all Bitterness, & Wrath, and Malice, & Evil-speaking, be put away from it. Let the Patient know his Recovery is the only Thing aimed at, that thou delightest not causelesly to grieve thy Brother; & then thou canst not want Success.
2. Mutual Exhortation is the second Duty re|sulting from the Words of the Text. — Again, If Two lie together, then they have Heat.
Observe here again, the Wise Man supposes it as impossible for Religious Persons to meet toge|ther, & not to be the Warmer for each other's Com|pany, as for two Persons to lie in the same Bed, and yet freeze with Cold. But now, how is it possible to communicate Heat to each other, without mu|tually stirring up the Gift of GOD which is in us, by brotherly Exhortation? Let every Member then of a Religious Society write that zealous Apostle's Advice on the Tables of his Heart; See that ye ex|hort, & provoke one another to Love, & to good Works; and so much the more as you see the Day of the LORD approaching. Believe me, Brethren, we have need of Exhortation to rouze up our sleepy Souls, to set Page 19 us upon our Watch against the Temptations of the World, the Flesh, & the Devil; to excite us to re|nounce ourselves, to take up our Crosses, & follow our blessed Master, & the glorious Company of Saints & Martyrs, who thro' Faith, have fought the good Fight, & are gone before us to inherit the Promi|ses. A third Part, therefore, of the Time wherein a Religious Society meets, seems necessary to bespent in this important Duty: For what avails it to have our Understandings enlightned by pious Reading unless our Wills are at the same Time inclined, and inflamed by mutual Exhortation, to put it in Practice? Add to this, that this is the best Way both to receive & impart Light, & the only Means to preserve & increase that Warmth & Heat which each Person first brought with him; GOD so order|ing this, as all other spiritual Gifts, that to him that hath, i.e. improve & communicates what he has shall be given; but from him that hath not, i.e. does not im|prove the Heat he hath, shall be taken away even that which he seemed to have. So needful, so essentially necessary is Exhortation to the Good of Society.
3. Thirdly and lastly, The Text points out another Duty incumbent on every Member of a Religious Society, viz. To defend each other from those that do oppose them. And if One prevail against him, yet Two shall withstand him; and a Threefold Cord is not quickly broken.
Here the Wise Man takes it for granted, that Offences will come, nay, & that they may prevail too. And this is no more than our blessed Master has long since told us. Not indeed, that there is any Thing in Christianity itself that has the least Tendency to give rise to, or promote such Offences: No, on the Page 20 contratry, it breathes nothing but Unity & Love.
But so it is, that ever since the fatal Sentence pronounced by GOD, after our first Parents Fall, viz. I will put Enmity between thy Seed & her Seed; He that is born after the Flesh, i. e. the unregene|rate unconverted Sinner, has in all Ages persecuted him that is born after the Spirit: And so it always will be. Accordingly we find an early Proof given of this in the Instance of Cain & Abel; & of Ismael & Isaac; of Jacob & Esau afterwards. And indeed, the whole Bible contains little else but an History of the great & continued Opposition between the Children of this World & the Children of GOD. The first Christians were remarkable Examples of this; though those troublesome Times, bless;ed be GOD, are now over, yet the Apostle has laid it down as a general Rule, & all that are sincere can expe|rimentally prove the Truth of it, That they that will live godly in CHRIST JESUS, must (to the End of the World, in some Degree or other) suffer Persecution. That therefore this may not make us desert our blessed Master's Cause, every Member should unite their Forces, in order to stand against it. And for the better effecting this, each would do well, from Time to Time, to communicate his Experiences, Grievances, & Temptations, & beg his Compani|ons first asking GOD's Assitance, without which all is nothing) to administer Reproof, Exhortation or Comfort, as his Case requires: So that if One cannot prevail against it, yet Two shall withstand it; and a threefold (much less a many-fold) Cord will not be quickly broken.
IV. But it is Time for me to proceed to the Fourth general Thing proposed, viz. To draw an Inference or two from what has been said.Page 21
1. And first then, if Two are better than One, and the Advantages of Religious Society are so ma|ny and so great, then it is the Duty of every true Christian to set on Foot, establish & promote, as much as in him lies Societies of this Nature. And I believe we may venture to affirm, that if ever a Spirit of true Christianity is revived in the World, it must be bro't about by some such Means as this. Motives, surely, cannot be wanting, to stir us up to this commendable & necessary Undertaking: For granting all hitherto advanced to be of no Force, yet methinks the single Consideration that great Part of our Happiness in Heaven will consist in the Communion of Saints; or that the Interest as well as Piety of those Sectarists that differ from us, is strengthened & supported by nothing more than their frequent Meetings; either of these Consi|derations, I say, one would think, should induce us to do our utmost to copy after their good Exam|ple, & settle a lasting & pious Communion of Saints on Earth. Add to this that we find the Kingdom of Darkness established daily by such like Means; and shall not the Kingdom of CHRIST be set in Opposition against it? Shall the Children of Belial assemble & strengthen each other in Wickedness; and shall not the Children of GOD unite, and strengthen themselves in Piety? Shall Society 〈◊〉 Societies be countenanced for Midnight Revel|lings, and the promoting of Vice, and scarcely one be found intended for the Propagation of Virtue?— Be astonished, O Heavens at this!
2. But this leads me to a second Inference; namely, to warn Persons of the great Danger those are in, who either by their Subscriptions, Page 22 Presence or Approbation, promote Societies of a quite opposite Nature to Religion.
And here I would not be understood to mean only those publick Meetings which are designed manifestly for nothing else but Revellings and Banquetings, for Chambering & Wantonness, and at which a modest Heathen would blush to be pre|sent; but also those seemingly innocent Entertain|ments and Meetings which the politer Part of the World are so very fond of, & spend so much Time in: But which notwithstanding, keep as many Persons out of a Sense of true Religion, as Intempe|rance, Debauchery or any other Crime whatever. Indeed, whilst we are in this World, we must have proper Relaxations, to fit us both for the Business of our Profession, & Religion. But then, for Persons who call themselves Christians, that have solemnly vowed at their Baptism, to renounce the Vanities of this sinful World; that are commanded in Scripture to abstain from all Appearance of Evil, and to have their Conversation in Heaven. For such Persons as these to support Meetings, that (to say no worse of them) are vain & trifling, & have a natural Ten|dency to draw off our Minds from GOD, is absurd, ridiculous, & sinful. Surely Two are not better than One in this Case: No; it is to be wished there was not One to be found concerned in it. The sooner we forsake the assembling ourselves together in such a Manner, the better; and no matter how quickly the Cord that holds such Societies (was it a Thousand-fold) is broken.
But you, Brethren, have not so learned CHRIST: But, on the contrary, like true Disciples of your LORD & Master, have by the Blessing of GOD Page 23 (as this Evening's Solemnity abundantly testifies) happily formed yourselves into such Societies▪ which, if duly attended on and improved, cannot but strengthen you in your Christian Warfare, and make you fruitful in every good Word and Work.
What remains for me to do, but, as was propo|sed, in the last Place, to close up what has been said, in a Word or two, by Way of Exhortation from the whole, & to beseech you, in the Name of our Lord JESUS CHRIST, to go on in the Way you have begun; and by a constant conscientious Attandance on your respective Societies, to dis|countenance Vice, encourage Virtue, and build each other up in the Knowledge and Fear of GOD.
Only permit me to stir up your pure Minds, by Way of Remembrance, and to exhort you, if there be any Consolation in CHRIST, any Fellowship of the Spirit, again and again to consider, that as all Christians in general, so all Members of Religious Societies in particular, are in an especial Manner, as Houses built upon an Hill; & that therefore it highly concerns you to walk circumspectly towards those that are without, and to take heed to your selves, that your Conversation, in common Life, be as becometh such an open & peculiar Profession of the Gospel of CHRIST: Knowing that the Eyes of all Men are upon you, narrowly to inspect every Circumstance of your Behaviour; & that every notorious wilful Miscarriage of any single Member, will, in some Measure, redound to the Scandal and Dishonour of your whole Fraternity.
Labour, therefore, my beloved Brethren, to let your Practice correspond to your Profession: And think not that it will be sufficient for you to plead Page 24 at the last Day, LORD, have we not assembled ourselves together in thy Name,& enlivened each other, by singing Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs? For verily, I say unto you notwithstand|ing this, our blessed LORD will bid you depart, from him; nay, that you shall receive a greater Damnation, if, in the midst of these great Preten|sions, you are found to be Workers of Iniquity.
But GOD forbid that any such Evil should be|fal you; that there should be ever a Judas, ever a Traitor amongst such distinguished Followers of our Common Master. No, on the contrary, the Excellency of your Rules, the Regularity of your Meetings, and more especially your pious Zeal in assembling in such a publick and solemn Manner so frequently in the Year, persuade me to think, that you are willing, not barely to seem, but to be in Reality, Christians; & hope to be found at the Last Day, what you would be esteemed now, viz. holy, sincere Disciples of a Crucified Redeemer.
Oh, may you always continue thus minded▪ & make it your daily, constant Endeavour, both by Precept and Example, to turn all you converse with, more especially those of your own Societies, in the same most Blessed Spirit and Temper▪ Thus will you adorn the Gospel of our Lord JE|SUS CHRIST, in all Things: Thus will you an|ticipate the Happiness of a future State; and by attending on, and improving the Communion of Saints on Earth, make yourselves meet to join the Communion and Fellowship of the Spirits of just Men made perfect, of the Holy Angels, nay, of the Ever Blessed and Eternal GOD in Heaven.
Which GOD of his infinite Mercy grant, &c.