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a difference betwixt them and you, and giving you company so much more amiable than theirs. Once more,
4. Let young persons of a regular character take great heed, that they do not by insensible degrees, become dangerous companions to each other.
That social turn of mind which is natural to men, and especially to young persons, may perhaps lead you to form yourselves into little societies, particularly at this season of the year, to spend your evenings together. But let me intreat you to be cautious how you spend them. If your games and your cups take up your hours till you intrench on the night, and, perhaps, the morning too, you will, to be sure, quickly corrupt each other, and soon degenerate into a club of rakes and debauchees. Farewel then to prayer, and every other religious exercise in secret. Farewel to all my pleasing hopes of you, and to those hopes which your pious parents have entertained. You will then become examples and instances of all the evils I have so largely been describing. Plead not, that these things are lawful in themselves; so are most of those in a certain degree, which by their abuse prove the destruction of men's souls and bodies. If you meet, let it be for rational and christian conversation; and let prayer and other devotions have their frequent place amongst you. And if you say, or think, that a mixture of these will spoil the company, it is high time for you to stop your career, and call yourselves to an account; for it seems, by such a thought, that you are Lovers of pleasure, much more than lovers of God. Some of these things may appear to have a tincture of severity; but consider, whether, in present circumstances+, I could have proved myself faithful to you, and to him in whose name I speak, if I had omitted the caution I have now been giving you. I shall only add, that, had I loved you less tenderly, I had perhaps warned you more coldly of this dangerous and deadly snare. May God render the admonition as successful as I am sure it is seasonable and necessary!
* 2 Tim. ii. 4.
N. B. The substance of this Sermon was first preached at Harborough, Dec. 25, 1725; and afterwards at Northampton, on that day eight years.
TO YOUNG PERSONS.
The young Christian invited to Communion.
Isaiah xliv. 3—5.—For I will pour Water upon him that is thirsty, and Floods upon the dry Ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy Seed, and my Blessing upon thine Offspring; and they shall spring up as among the Grass, as Willows by the Watercourses: One skall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the Name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his Hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the Name of Israel.
N the first hearing of these words, you will easily apprehend, that they afford abundance of very proper matter for a discourse to young people; but you may perhaps be surprised when I tell you, that I shall take occasion from them to address religious youth, with a large invitation to an early attendance on the table of the Lord.
This is a surprise which I do not at all affect to give: For to press in a scripture to serve a purpose foreign to its original design, and to turn a mere allusion into an argument, is, in its degree, to Handle the Word of God deceitfully*, and is indeed an injury to it, rather than an honour. So that I much fear, that by thus attempting to make every thing of the scripture, we shall at length come to make nothing of it: For those seemingly distant extremes approach nearer to each other, than some seem to be aware.
But I hope, my friends, you have learned to judge of the pertinency of scripture to any purpose in hand, not merely by the first sound of the words, but by an attentive view of its sense and connection; and when the words I have been reading are diligently examined, they may appear more suitable to my design, than you at first apprehended.
Though God had before been reproving Israel with great severity, and Setting their sins in order before them, he intimates purposes of grace and mercy, which he yet entertained
towards them, unworthy as they were*: And, in order to prepare them for farther favours, he promises in the words of the text, to pour out upon them an abundant effusion of the blessed Spirit. Now we well know, by a multitude of scriptures, which I must not particularly enumerate, that it was to be in the latter day, i. e. the gospel-times, that this glorious promise was most eminently to be fulfilled+.
The blessed effects, which were to attend its accomplishment, are described in great variety and elegance of language. They are represented by the refreshment which water gives to him that is thirsty, and which plentiful floods of it afford to the dry ground, when scorched with the summer's heat. Accordingly it is said, that they, and their offspring too, should flourish in religion, like the grass when thus abundantly refreshed, or like willows by the water-courses, the verdure of which is so delightful, and the growth so speedy, that no more proper emblem could have been chosen. Thus should the souls of the children flourish, through the divine blessing, on the instructions of pious parents, and other methods appointed by God for their religious improvement: And in the next words the prophet uses still greater plainness of speech, to let us know that their number should be considerable, and their resolutions for God firm and determinate. One and another, this man and that, should come and own his relation to God, should publicly enter himself into the engagements of his covenant, and put in an humble claim to the important blessing it was intended to convey: One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
Some very celebrated translators and critics understand the words which we render, Subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, in a sense a little different from that which our English version has given them. They would rather render them, Another shall write upon his hand, I am the Lord's; and they suppose it refers to a custom which formerly prevailed in the east, of stamping the name of the general on the sol
Isa. xliii. 22-28.
+ Compare Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 26. Zech. xii. 10. Joel ii. 28. Acts i. 17. John vii. 38, 39.
The hebrew is. ' 17′ 2 m, which the LXX translate;
dier*, or that of the master on the slave+: As this name was sometimes borne on the forehead, so at other times on the hand; and it is certain that several scriptures, which may easily be recollected, are to be explained as alluding to this. Now from hence it seems to have grown into a custom amongst some idolatrous nations, when solemnly devoting themselves to the service of any deity to be initiated into it by receiving some marks in their flesh, which might never wear outs. This interpretation the original will certainly bear; and it here makes a very strong sense, since every true christian has a sacred and an indelible character upon him, which shall never be erased. But if we retain our own version, it will come to nearly the same, and evidently refers to a practice which was sometimes used among the jews, and which is indeed exceeding natural, of obliging themselves to the service of God, by setting their hand to some written articles emphatically expressing such a resolution. So that you see it must imply, that they who were, by the influences of divine grace, brought to a serious sense of religion, should, in a public and solemn manner, express their subjection to God, and their readiness to enter into covenant with him; and whatever rites should by him be appointed as the tokens of such a resolution, the text must intimate a cheerful compliance with them For it would be most unreasonable to imagine that any,
* Sicut Milites Imperatoris Nomen in Manu scriptum habebant, Grot. Manuj suæ inscribent Sacramentum Jehova, sicut Milites, &c. Bren. Vid. Ætius, lib. viii. cap. 12. Sigon. lib. i. cap. 8. lib. ii. cap. 5. Augustin. Epist. xx.
Servi etiam olin Stigma Manui inustum ferebant, ex quo agnoscerentur. Mercator. See Hammond, on Rev. xiii. 15.
Thus it is said, Rev. xiii. 16, 17. That all men,-bond and free, received the mark of the beast in their right-hand, or in their foreheads; and that without it none might buy or sell: And in another place we read of An angel that had the seal of the living God, to seal his servants in their foreheads, Rev. vii. 2, 3. In allusion to this also our Lord promises, Rev. iii. 12. I will write upon him that overcometh, the name of my God, and my new name. On this account christians are said to be sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption; Eph. iv. 30. as by his operations God owns them as his, and secures them to himself: And to this God seems to refer, in those condescending words, Isa. xlix. 16. I have graven Zion on the palms of my hands. See also Ezek. ix. 4. To this custom some think St. Paul alludes, when he speaks of The marks of Christ, which he bare on his body. Gal. vi. 17. Potter's Gr. Antiq.
Vol. ii. p. 7.
§ Quos Deo alicui consecrabant & initiabant, hos Stigmatibus inurebant. Pitisc. Lexic, in Inscrip. And Lucian de Deâ Syr. says, Certis Notis compunguntur omnes; alii quidem in Vola Manus, alli in Cervice, &c. The manner of doing it is described by Prudentius, Tee Sav, Hymn x. ver. 1076, &c. And many commentators suppose this rite to be referred to, Lev. xix. 28 Ye shall not print any marks apon you. See Pool's Synops. in loc, & Spencer de Leg. Hebr. lib, ii, cap. 14, Neh. ix. 38, x. 29.
of such a character, and in such circumstances, would prefer any form invented by themselves, or dictated merely by human prudence, to the express ordinance and institution of God. Now forasmuch as it is evident, that under the christian dispensation, the Lord's-supper is appointed to such purposes, the text must imply an attendance upon it; and when we see young christians presenting themselves at this holy solemnity, and joining themselves to God and his church in it, we may properly say, they Subscribe with their hand to the Lord, and surname themselves by the name of Israel; just as we may say, in the Old Testament phrase, that incense is offered, and a pure offering*, when holy souls are pouring out their prayers and supplications before the throne of grace, though odours and victims no longer accompany their devotions.
I have surely said enough, and perhaps more than enough, to account for my chusing these words to introduce the discourse I have in view; in which I am to press those young persons, whose hearts God has touched by his sanctifying grace, to subscribe, as it were, with their hand, by entering themselves early into christian communion, and eating and drinking with our Lord at his table. In order to which, I shall,
I. Propose some plain and important arguments, to engage such to an early attendance on this sacred institution.
II. Answer some objections, which are most frequently urged to excuse the neglect of it: And,
III. Conclude with hinting at some reflections and inferences, which seem naturally to present themselves.
May divine grace render this attempt the means of leading many young persons into a conviction of their duty and interest, and of Adding unto the church such as shall be saved† !
I. I am to offer some plain and important arguments to engage religions youth to an early attendance on the supper of the Lord.
And before I enter on these, I must intreat you to remember, that it is to religious youth only, that I address the invitation. I well know, my friends, that the sacred institution, I am now recommending, is a most awful and solemn thing. I know it was intended, not only as the commemoration of a Redeemer's dying love, but as a seal of our covenant engagements to God through him; so that to attend upon it without a sincere desire
† Acts ii, 47.
* Mal. i. 11.