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SERMON XI.

· CHARACTER AND CRIMINALITY OF LUKEWARMNESS IN

RELIGION

REVELATION, 111. 15, 16.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or

hot; so then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

This chapter, and that which precedes it, contain a message from our blessed Saviour to each of the seven churches in Asia ; which, in one part or another, suit the state and character of all Christian churches whatever. As therefore they were intended for the use of other ages and nations, it is added at the close of each, “ He that hath an ear, let him bear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

The message to the Laodiceans differs materially from all the rest ; for the professed Christians in that city had degenerated far more than any of the others. They were become lukewarm, yet proud of their imagined proficiency: and the reproofs, warnings, and counsels of our Lord were adapted to this peculiarity of character and conduct.

We know that lukewarm water is exceedingly disagreeable: the stomach recoils at it, and we spit it out with loathing. Thus Christ declared that he would cast off the church of Laodicea with disdain and abhorrence. There might, however, be some individuals of a better character, though probably infected with the same disease : and others might be brought to repentance. For the sake of these, therefore, the message was sent: they were warned, rebuked, instructed, counselled, and encouraged ; and we may hope that many derived special benefit. Yet the church at large seems to have degenerated more and more : so that, while those churches, which our Lord mentioned with approbation, continue in some poor remains to this very day, there has not for a long time been a single professed Christian at Laodicea !

Many commentators have thought, that these epistles are prophetical of seven distinct periods in the history of the church: but there seems no sufficient ground for this opinion. If, however, such an interpretation should be admitted, it must be feared, that this to Laodicea is descriptive of the present times; for we are unquestionably fallen very much into the same spirit. In prosecuting the subject, I purpose,

1. To describe the nature and symptoms of lukewarmness.

II. To explain the grounds of that decided abhorrence of it, which Christ expresses.

III. To add something by way of solemn warning and particular application.

1. Let us consider the nature and symptoms of lukewarmness, both in collective bodies, and individuals professing Christianity.

It may here be proper to premise one observation, to prevent mistakes. When our advantages, opportunities, and obligations are duly considered, we may all be justly charged with comparative lukewarmness; and the more

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we become acquainted with ourselves, and experience the power of divine truth upon the heart, the keener will be our sensibility, and the deeper our abasement on this account. But this case is totally distinct from that of the allowed, and self-sufficient lukewarmness of the Laodiceans. Such characters alone, however, are immediately intended in our present inquiry: and it would be a very undesirable effect, if any humble believer, who longs to live more zealously devoted to the glory of God, should be discouraged by it; because he finds by experience, he “ cannot do the things that he would.”

The disease of which we speak is only found in the church and where some profession of religion is made: The irreligious world is not lukewarm. Persons of this description may say, 'we make no pretensions to piety or sanctity; we seldom think about religion ; it is a subject that never gives us any concern.' Then indeed you are not chargeable with lukewarmness ; you are clear of that crime: but if you pretend to no religion, what do you pretend to? Do you profess yourselves children of disobedience and of wrath, and heirs of hell? Is this your meaning, your character, or prospect ? Whatever you may suppose, these things alone belong to those who avow that they disregard God and religion.

But leaving such men to their own reflections, we observe that lukewarmness pre-supposes the form and appearance of a church; and that possibly, neither very erroneous in doctrine nor corrupt in morals. In like manner the lukewarm individual may retain the form of sound doctrine, avoid gross vices, and continue in communion with some Christian society: he may even manage so well, that no specific charge can be substantiated against him; no foul spot be visible in his character; no proof brought that he has renounced his profession. He may observe in some measure all the forms of godliness; but he wants the spirit, life, and activity of religion. We cannot say that he is dead: yet he resembles a wounded man, for whom great fears are entertained, even while symptoms of life seem discernible.

Ministers, who are conversant with the state of their flocks, generally class people according to their apparent characters in their private judgment of them. Some are evidently in the broad way: others are thought more promising ; at least they desire to be so esteemed. But among some favourable tokens, many things appear very exceptionable: we would hope the best ; but “ what meaneth this bleating of the sheep, and lowing of the oxen that we hear?". Something criminal or suspicious is observable in the shop or in the family ; some duty is evidently neglected, or slightly performed ; and this damps our fond expectations concerning them. Others are not wholly irreligious, nor is there any remarkable blemish in their conduct; but they are neither cold nor hot: they do not appear serious, active, or zealous; and therefore we grieve over them, and stand in doubt as to the event of their professsion. But there are some of another description, who are our hope, and joy, and crown of rejoicing: may God exceedingly increase the number of them !-These are the ornament and credit of the gospel ; from them the light shines with efficacious splendour: and their bright example, with the energy of their influence and fruitfulness, counteracts the pernicious tendency of loose profession, to wound the interests of truth, and retard its progress.

But let us enumerate some particulars, in which lukewarmness especially discovers itself. This may be observed in the conduct of professors, as to the ordinances of public worship, and all the means of grace. The lively Christian says, “ I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” “O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee : my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land where no water is : to see thy power and glory, as I'have seen thee in the sanctuary : because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Hence you see him anticipating the opportunity of waiting upon God, as a man expects any season of pleasure and delight; and making preparation lest any thing should deprive him of the satisfaction he expects.

He suffers not a trivial hindrance to prevent his 'attendance on religious duties; and if he cannot break through intervening obstructions, he finds it difficult to bring his mind into a due resignation to the divine will. He does not inquire how often he is bound to attend at the house of God: but rather rejoices when opportunity offers on any day, which he can embrace consistently with other duties,

On the contrary, the lukewarm come reluctantly to the ordinances of divine worship; and are secretly pleased, when an excuse, deemed sufficient, is suggested for absenting themselves.-A visit or an invitation from a friend, some trivial business, a slight indisposition, or the inconvenience of unfavourable weather, are no unwelcome hindrances to their attendance at the house of God. The same also is observable in respect of the Lord's Supper, in which the lively Christian delights to commemorate the Redeemer's love, unless his mind has entertained some misconception about it. But such frivolous excuses, as keep the lukewarm from publie worship, operate still more effectually, in leading him to absent himself from the Lord's table : unless it be a convenient part of that form, by which he maintains his credit, and quiets his conscience ; for in other respects he regards it as a matter of indifference.

We may further observe, that lukewarm persons commonly consider the sermon as the principal object, and think little of joining with reverence and fervency in other parts of divine service. They commonly therefore come late to the

places of worship, and disturb the devotions of such as are more zealous. They are also ready to say to ministers, “speak to us smooth things,” · discourse on soothing and consolatory topics; avoid awful and distinguishing subjects, and do not offend the audience with plain dealing.' Such persons are peculiarly attentive to the manner, the voice, and delivery of the preacher ; if these be graceful and suited to their taste, they are more easily satisfied in other respects. Above all, they recommend brevity, Let the sermon be short, the prayer short, and make haste to dismiss us. For they are soon weary of an employment, so little congenial to their prevailing disposition. They attend from custom, or amusement, or to pacify conscience; they delight not in the sacred service, and are reluctant to be « detained before the Lord." 1 Sam. xxi. 7.

But if this be the case as to public worship, what can be expected in respect of family religion? If this be not totally neglected, it is very superficially and irregularly conducted. Business, engagements, amusements, or visitants, easily induce the lukewarm to omit it entirely; or it is hurried over at an unseasonable hour, when perhaps several of the family are half asleep. Thus the souls of children and domestics are neglected : and every person of discernment and obseryation must be convinced, that, according to all human probability, the religion of such professors, whatever it be, will die with them. Indeed the families of the lukewarm have few advantages above those of the irreligious: while they are led to believe, that an evangelical creed will suffice to bring a worldly man to heavenly felicity.

Some of the puritan divines have observed, that apostacy begins in the v closet :' and the same may certainly be said concerning lukewarmness: for even when our hearts are truly engaged in religion, we find it difficult to maintain habitual fervour and devotion in secret duties. It is therefore obvious to conclude, that they who are cold and formal in public and family worship, must be still more remiss in private. This, however, falls not under observation, but the lukewarm cannot but be conscious of it. Indeed the grand difficulty of the Christian course, consists in duly attending to selfexamination, meditation, and secret devotion : our sharpest conflicts with Satan and our own hearts will generally be about these duties. While matters go well with us in this respect, we shall be carried through trials and services with comfort and advantage ; but when we grow negligent in secret, our public conduct will after a time be less respectable and edifying. Yea, this is as it were the pulse of the soul, by which we may best judge whether it

be healthy or otherwise. So that the difference between a lukewarm and a zealous Christian must here be peculiarly observable to a man's own conscience.

The two characters may also be discriminated by the company which they prefer. Business or incidental circumstances may carry the most zealous believer into the society of worldly men: but he goes among them from a sense of duty; he is out of his element, and bears a cross all the while; and he feels a quick sensibility and a watchful jealousy, lest he should disgrace his profession, or sustain detriment from so incongenial an association.When the necessity ceases, he consequently returns to the society of pious persons; and he habitually says with David, “ I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and keep thy precepts.”—But the lukewarm finds numerous pretences for visiting and loitering among ungodly associates, and for joining in some of their vain amusements. Their profane conversation or fri. volous behaviour do not render them very uneasy: and it happens unfortunately that they have some objection or other against every one of their acquaintance, who is strictly religious. This man, though pious, is uncourtly or unpleasant in his demeanour: the other on a certain occasion said an impertinent thing; and the third hath given just cause of offence. Thus they excuse themselves to their own consciences as well as to others, while they separate from the company of religious people : and in proportion they must more and more approximate to the spirit and maxims of their chosen companions. They yield to solicitation in one instance, and then say,

I what harm in this? They go a little further, and urge the same excuse. They plead for conformity to the world in one thing after another, till almost every trace of distinction vanishes ; and then deem it a mark of a liberal mind to maintain no singularities, and not to thwart the humour of the company: till at length they often come within the immediate attraction of the whirlpool, and are swallowed up in it beyond recovery!

The lukewarm professor reverses likewise the maxims of the gospel, in the pursuit and use of worldly things. He

first seeks prosperity or indulgence; and vainly hopes that the kingdom of God and his righteousness will be added to him, without any peculiar concern or exertion. If he can maintain a hope that he is safe ; he has no regard for the honour of God, the interests of the gospel, the salvation of souls, or advancement in holiness. In order to maintain his confidence, he looks perhaps to some past experience of the power, which divine truth had on his heart and conscience ; this he concluded at the time to be conversion; and he still endeavours to satisfy himself in the same manner; abusing some important doctrines of the gospel to support his hope, notwithstanding his present conduct. If attacked on this ground, he feels, and probably expresses, great displeasure ; but on other subjects he is destitute of sensibility. On the other hand, the zealous Christian is very suspicious of himself, and bears patiently to have the ground of his confidence investigated ! but he is ready to say on such occasions, • Have I not said or done something, which counteracts my earnest desire to glorify God my Saviour, and recommend his gospel to my fellow-sinners? Have I not been betrayed into evil tempers, or inexpedient indulgences, which may give others an unfavourable opinion of my religious principles? Have I not mis-spent my time, and neglected to improve my talents? Have I avoided the appearance of evil, and taken care that my good should not be evil spoken of ?' These are constant subjects of self-examination, and sources of humiliation to the zealous Christian, of which the lukewarm know scarcely any thing: for they seldom think of our Lord's words, “ Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

It might be supposed that persons, so deficient as to the grand essentials of Christianity, could not enjoy much comfort in religion : yet they frequently exhibit the appearance of high assurance and abundant consolations : for every good thing may be counterfeited. There are ways, by which men

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may conceal their lukewarmness even from themselves ; and acquire a kind of intoxicating self-complacency. A man may be very zealous for some appendages of religion, while extremely languid about religion itself. He may contend earnestly for certain doctrines, or for some peculiarities of discipline and church government; and defend his sentiments with great ability and fervour. His boasting, reviling, and bitterness, are indeed additional proofs that he is little acquainted with genuine Christianity: .yet the ardent zeal which he feels and expresses, in the cause of truth, as he supposes, enables him to conceal his real character from himself.

There are, however, some who' deceive themselves in an opposite manner. They call their lukewarmness candour ; they contend for no doctrine or peculiarity, and this is moderation in their use of words. Every sentiment is with them a matter of indifference: they allow every man without disturbance to hold his own opinion, hoping that all or most of them will be found right at the last; this they call charity, the principal grace of Christianity ! But in fact such men do not value the truth, and they impose on themselves by fair pretexts, while they prefer ease, credit, and interest to the glory of God, and the cause of the gospel. The spirit of persecution is, in these lands, exceedingly abated, for which we have reason to bless the Lord; but it may be questioned, whether this affected and idolized indifference about divine truth be not an evil of almost equal enormity. This fashionable way of thinking dignifies lukewarmness with the name of candour, secures it from censure, and teaches a man to be a Christian without offending the bitterest enemies of Christianity! But are not such men ashamed of Christ and his words, in this corrupt and evil generation? and will he not be ashamed of them, when he shall come in glory to judge the quick and dead?

Rashness and imprudence are often manifested, in contending for the truth once delivered to the saints : but shall we on this account be silent and satisfied, when Christianity or its leading doetrines are denied and vilified ? Is there no profession of the name and doctrine of Christ required from his disciples ? Are the peculiar instructions of revelation become matters of no consequence with professed believers ? Yet it may further be remarked, that these very candid men forget their placid moderation among zealous Christians; and frequently become warm, if not disdainful and bitter disputers against evangelical principles !

I shall only add one more peculiarity of the lukewarm professor, for the subject is almost inexhaustible. He is commonly distinguished by a proportionable measure of spiritual pride. Confident of his superior wisdom and attainments, he arrogates to himself, in almost every respect, the pre-emi-, nence among his brethren. The apostle pointed out this symptom of the disease to the Corinthians, when he said, “ Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong ; ye are honourable, v but we are despised.” 1 Cor. iv. 7–10. Yet while they were thus puffed up, their glorying was not good; and the doctrinal and practical errors and evils, which had been sanctioned among them, were almost incredibly many and dreadful. The church at Laodicea also said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knew not that she was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked :” which is the exact description of spiritual pride. So that this is one invariable symptom of lukewarmness, as well as a cause of its prevalence : for an high opinion of our attainments uniformly leads to something mean and grovelling, and “ a haughty spirit goes before a fall."

II. Then we proceed to explain the reasons, for which our Lord expressed such marked abhorrence of lukewarmness.

When he said, “I would thou wert cold or hot; so then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth :" we cannot suppose he meant that such professors were always more wicked,

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