- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
on the means and the importance of grace.
2 Peter, iii. 18.—Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
No acquisitions in polite learning, in elegant arts, or profound science, are comparable, in the opinion of a true Christian, to improvement in grace, and in the knowledge of his Redeemer. The comfort which the human heart derived from moral philosophy, and the light of nature, was indeed great; but it was fugacious and unsubstantial as a dream, in comparison with the solid satisfactions of a state of grace. It is the peculiar glory of Christianity that it affords its worthy professors the enjoyment of heavenly grace; a gift which no other system could ensure, and of which man in his corrupt and unregenerated state could never participate.
The grace of God, in its primary signification, implies, in general, his favour. The favour of God is evidently the most valuable of all possessions; but the word grace, as used in scripture and by Christian writers, means not so much that favour in general, as some particular effects of it. It implies that holy temper of mind, that habitual spirit of devotion, that cheerful resignation, that uniform piety and innocence of life, which originate from an unshaken belief of Christianity, from a conscientious discharge of its duties, and from an inward conviction, that God Almighty vouchsafes to infuse into the heart the sweet influence of his heavenly benediction. Good Christians have, in all periods of the church, felt and acknowledged the Divine comforts of this state. Their souls have been elevated, and their hearts have burned within them; and there is no doubt but that the lively effects on their feelings were immediately produced by the operation of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, the third person in the adorable Trinity.
It is not indeed to be wondered, that libertines, whose perceptions are limited to sensuality, should deny the existence of sensations too pure and refined to obtain admittance into their hearts. It is not difficult to account for the scepticism of sophistical disputants in the schools, men who pride themselves on, I know not what, infallibility of human reason. They are blinded to the truths, and rendered impenetrable to the influence of Christianity by their arrogance and presumption; for pride is so offensive to Heaven, that grace is particularly denied to the proud, and most expressly promised to the lowly.
But he who understands not, or will not acknowledge, the reality of grace, the actual operation of the Holy Ghost on the human heart, deprives Christianity of its vital principle, its most essential excellence. Grace, or the benign influence of the Holy Spirit, acting with holy energy on the pious heart, at this moment, and in all ages, is the very soul of our religion. It is this which, with invisible force, pervades the spiritual world, as the electrical fluid animates the natural. It is health, joy, and life; and the want of it, disease, despair, and death.
When our Saviour had accomplished the benevolent purpose for which his spirit assumed a human form, and visited our planet, he left us not comfortless in his absence. He deputed the third Person in the Divine essence to remain with us for ever, to live in our bosoms, a warm, active, energetic principle of religious life. He required only, that we should preserve our hearts in that proper state of purity which is necessary for its reception. It is this entrance of the Holy Ghost into our bosoms, which constitutes the recovery of human nature from the direful effects of its fall. Awful, mysterious, yet delightful truth∗ Part of the Divine nature deigns to fix its residence, and to build its temple, where it delights to dwell, in the bosom of man; of man, once ruined and abandoned. The prospect is immediately brightened. Death and despair, with all their pallid, lurid, and sable train, vanish. Life and light spring up once more. The fabric of human nature is no longer condemned to lie in ruins. See it again rise, a regular mansion, beautiful and magnificent as it was originally formed by the Divine architect of the universe. The broken Corinthian columns, that, with all their sculptured foliage, lay mouldering in the dust, like the ruins of Balbec or Palmyra, start into symmetrical form, and become a gorgeous temple, a temple for the Holy Ghost, the unspeakable effluence of the mysterious Deity.
But, alas∗ we must repress our triumphs; for what has been done by grace and mercy, may be undone by man's disobedience. By sin our life is converted to death, our light to darkness, our joy to unutterable woe. Sin, like a deadly poison, has power to quench this Holy Spirit, and to introduce a spiritual death in the midst of our animal life.
I shall, in the subsequent remarks, first, endeavour to describe the spiritual death; secondly, to point out the means of recovering life; and, thirdly, add such exhortations as may preserve men in a state of grace, or restore them to it after they have unfortunately relinquished it by their folly.
I. It is reasonable to suppose that all human creatures over the whole surface of the peopled globe are capable of grace; there cannot be a doubt of it, after baptism, or their admission into the religion of Jesus Christ. The manifestation of the spirit is given toevery manto profit withal. A good education, corroborated by the influence of a good example, can seldom fail to cause us to grow in grace as we grow in years, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But where education is entirely neglected, or only that part of it attended to which prepares for a successful conduct in this world; where parents are little solicitous concerning the examples which are presented to their children's observation, the seeds of grace are killed before they have germinated, the spark is extinguished before it has been able to grow into a flame. Spiritual life is cruelly destroyed in its immature state, and is succeeded by a dismal death; the death of all those sensibilities which preserve us alive to God, and to the blessed operation of the Holy Ghost; a death, which not only deprives us of our most desirable feelings during this mortal state, but which leads to the everlasting death of a soul intended to be immortal.
It is a most unfortunate circumstance attending this unhappy state, that the sufferer is insensible of the danger to which he is exposed. The state itself is, indeed, a perfect stupor, or delirium. He is fallen into a trance; and the various objects which he pursues, and which agitate his passions, are like the shadowy visions of a dream. He seeks wealth, pleasure, and honours, as if they were substantial and everlasting. If he succeeds in such vain pursuits, he deems himself completely happy; if he fails, completely miserable. Little does he think of other pleasures, other riches, other honours, in comparison with which, those of the world are despicable, its pleasures tasteless, its riches worthless, its honours disgraceful. The pleasures of devotion, the riches of grace, the honours which the King of kings can confer, never enter his thoughts, or excite his desire. If the ideas of such things should occur either in reading or in converse, he treats them with contempt, as the puerile conceits of a silly superstition. He is dead to Christ; but he is tremblingly alive to vanity. As the Holy Ghost forsakes him, an evil spirit enters in. He delights not to exercise himself in virtue, but finds ample scope for his activity in vice. Fashionable folly fills his thoughts; and fashionable sin occupies his time, and employs all the faculties of his mind and body. He becomes enchained to sensuality. He has no other objects than the gratification of his passion. Pride and vanity hold a divided, yet despotic empire over him, and confine him in the bonds of a most ignominious servitude. The adversary of mankind marks him as his victim, and his misery begins even on this side the grave. That it may be infinitely aggravated beyond the grave, the scriptural representations afford us too much reason to forebode.
Shall we then be afflicted at the natural dissolution of a good man, and shall we not mourn over the melancholy condition of a fellow-creature who indicates every symptom of a spiritual death; who is dead in trespasses and sins, wherein he walked, according to the course of this world? Shall we spare no endeavours to secure, to preserve, to restore the health of a poor, frail, perishable body, and shall we be regardless of the soul's health? Shall we stand in perpetual fear of death, and have recourse to every art for the prolongation of animal existence, and shall we be totally indifferent on the subject of spiritual life? It becomes not the wise and brave to dread that event to which all created being is destined; but the death of the spirit, the extinction of the noblest of our constituent part—who but the man who is stupified by sin, can think himself in danger of it, and not tremble? Alas∗ he who has no fears concerning it, ought, on that very account, to be immediately alarmed. A numbness has seized him. A spiritual palsy is approaching, or a mortification begun. The physician of the soul announces the danger. Death has probably invaded him, and if not instantly repelled, will soon acquire a complete dominion. Indifference is a certain sign of imminent danger, if not of actual perdition. In order to preserve the spiritual life, and to perpetuate the residence of the Holy Spirit within us, there is an absolute necessity for vigilance. The holy guest will not be neglected or coldly received. He requires to be fostered and cherished by devout attention, For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh often upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing of God; but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
II. Let us then, in the second place, endeavour to prescribe such rules as may have a tendency to preserve or restore the life of God in the soul of man; a topic far worthier of attention than all the arts and prescriptions of health which the ingenuity of man can invent.—Let us seek the medicine of the soul, the restorative of the spirit, the dispenser of everlasting life.
In considering the likeliest means of preserving the heavenly blessing of grace, the first which occurs is habitual and fervent prayer. We have the strongest assurances in the scriptures, that prayer performed in a proper manner, and proceeding from a right disposition, shall be effectual. If ye, being evil, says our Saviour, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give his HOLY SPIRIT to them that ask him? But besides the beneficial tendency of prayer in procuring the blessings for which it supplicates, it has a most benign influence on the heart of the suppliant. It prepares it for the admission of good impressions, it fills it with good resolutions, it opens it for the reception of the Holy Ghost. He most assuredly cannot long be deserted by grace, or occupied by the evil one, who is regular and ardent in practising the duty of prayer. Prayer, indeed, as well as faith, constitutes the shield of the Christian. All the powers of darkness assault him in vain when protected by prayer. Temptation may commence an attack, but it will find him willing to oppose and able to conquer. It is therefore of the highest importance that young persons should be taught an uniform regularity in performing the duty of prayer. Let no one, in a more advanced age, and when he is emancipated from parental authority, lay aside the pious practice of adoring the Almighty at every return of morning and evening. Them that honour me I will honour, but those that dishonour me shall be lightly esteemed. If he suffers the example of the profane and profligate to banish from his mind the remembrance of his God, he maybe assured that his God will withdraw the influence of the Holy Ghost from his heart; and from the neglect of prayer, let him date his destruction.
Temperance, or moderation in the indulgence of all the animal appetites, is highly conducive, if not absolutely necessary, to the preservation of the spiritual life. Gluttonous excess obscures the lustre, and blunts the acuteness, of our intellectual nature. It weighs down our soul to the earth. It pollutes its purity, and degrades it to a level with the body. He whose faculties are darkened with the fumes of indigestion, is unable to look up to Heaven, or behold its divine irradiation streaming from the Sun of Righteousness. Let him therefore who is solicitous to preserve the influence of the Holy Spirit in his heart, take heed to himself, lest at any time his heart be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Benot overcome with wine in excess; but be filled WITH THE Spirit.
Innocence of life, or purity of morals, is essentially necessary to retain the soul in a state susceptible of grace. The bodies of true Christians are declared to be the temples of the Holy Ghost. How dreadful must be the sin of him who can venture so far to offend this divine Person, as to pollute the place chosen for his residence? He will turn from the heart in which defilement is lodged, and leave it for the habitation of those foul spirits who delight in impurity. To be carnally minded, is death; but to be spiritually minded, is life. If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
It will also be necessary to the preservation of grace, that we restrain our hearts from an immoderate attachment to the world, and all its allurements. The Holy Ghost requires to be cherished with the ardour of an undivided affection. If he finds our hearts pre-occupied, so as to afford him but a cold and unwelcome reception, he will depart in displeasure. He will leave us to the direction of vain idols, which we have profanely erected in the temple, and before which we have foolishly fallen down in voluntary adoration.
The choice of company and conversation will ever be of great importance in conciliating, or in resisting, the grace of God. Infidels and libertines usually treat the whole doctrine of grace with ridicule. They are not unprovided with subtle arguments to shake the faith of weak or irresolute believers. The enemy of mankind, whose cause they undertake, is ever ready to assist them in contending against the Spirit of God. But the conversation and example of good men contribute greatly to Christian edification.
It will conduce much to our continuance in a state of grace, if we are cautious of indulging the pride of our reason. Reason is certainly an incompetent judge in the mysterious subjects of religion. Learning must not, presumptuously, pretend to decide. For we are but of yesterday, and KNOW NOTHING; because our days upon earth are a shadow. We must not concern ourselves in fruitless inquiries into the mode in which the Holy Spirit is enabled to operate. We shall never discover, after all our disputations on the subject, the secret things which belong unto the Lord. But if we proudly drag them to the tribunal of our reason, we shall probably be led, by our presumption, to pronounce an unfavourable sentence on their pretensions to truth. Our vanity will be flattered with starting many doubts and difficulties, which we think, have eluded the sagacity of other inquirers. We shall be gradually seduced, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, not only to question the existence of a Holy Ghost, but the truth of Christianity. Such is the frequent effect of trusting to the dim light of human perceptions, in opposition to the revealed illumination of the Gospel. They who appear to have possessed reason in a high state of natural vigour and acquired improvement, have been fools, and blind to all the truths of the Christian dispensation.
I will only add to the number of virtues and habits which I have already recommended, as tending to the preservation of grace, those of Humility and Charity. Without these, all pretensions to Christian excellence are false and hypocritical. God resisteth the proud, and without charity there can be no grace.
It is certain that the methods which contribute to preserve, contribute likewise to restore a state of grace. Indeed, he whose heart is conscious of a sincere desire of being reinstated in the favour of God, has already made a considerable progress in the accomplishment of his purpose. Grace will come forth to meet him, whenever his aspirations after it are ardent, constant, and sincere. But his good resolutions and desires must not be transient; they must proceed from serious principles, and not from caprice, disappointment, or dejection.
He will find his pious intentions greatly confirmed, by regularly performing the public offices of religion. A constant attendance at church, a sincere and internal observation of fasts and ecclesiastical festivals, and a frequent participation of the holy communion, will add fresh vigour to his exertions. These will give him perseverance till he shall have formed a habit, and a habit once formed will secure his growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He may now be congratulated. He is risen from the dead. Light is broken in upon his darkness. His heart, which was lately dull and heavy within him, now glows with the fervour of devotion. Impenetrable to religious sentiment as the clod, before his re-animation, he now trembles with the sensibility of affectionate and reverential piety. His soul rises from its slumber, feels new life, new powers, new spirit, and on the wings of faith soars to heaven. Heaven rejoices over the repenting sinner, and sheds its all enlivening influence in showers of grace, to encourage his progress in the path that leads to happiness and glory. A soul is saved; angels rejoice, and ministering spirits around the throne sing Hallelujahs.
III. When we turn our attention to the world, how many do we observe, for whom there is every reason to fear that they are dead in a spiritual sense, dead to God, dead to Christ, and dead to the influences of the Holy Ghost. I shall address a short exhortation to them, hoping that it may be efficacious on the hearts of some among great numbers, and that it may call a few from the sleep of death.
Awake, says the word of God, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Hear this friendly voice, thou that devotest thyself to the unceasing pursuit of nominal pleasure. Little dost thou know of thy real state. Thou hast not time enough to think of it, or of any thing serious. Some new diversion, or some fashionable pleasure, is devised for every day, and for every hour. Thou art whirled in the vortex of dissipation. All is hurry and confusion. But thou art not sensible of thy danger. While thou art countenanced by thy companion, while thou preservest the distinction of fashion, thou remainest in complete security. Thou art allowed to be a man of spirit, and to make a figure equal to thy rank in life. Thou therefore concludest that all is well. With respect to religion, it is too dull for thy attention, and thou hearest it frequently ridiculed by the wits into whose company thou art admitted. Thou also discernest, that the most fashionable writers have espoused the cause of infidelity. It is enough. Thou must also be in the fashion, even though it should endanger thy immortal existence. Thou must also be a wit, since the character is so easily gained by blasphemy. Alas∗ poor mortal∗ thou art an object of the sincerest commiseration∗ Lively and gay as is thy appearance, vigorous as thy health, active as thy exertions, thou art already in the arms of death; sunk in a spiritual slumber, from which it is too probable that, without an effort of thine own, thou wilt only rise to hear the sentence of perdition∗ Thou art forsaken by grace, and given over to thy own will; a dereliction equivalent to the actual curse of that Almighty God who made thee, and gave thee all the delights in which thy soul rejoices to revel. Pause a moment, and listen to the voice of reason and religion. If thou now refusest, it is devoutly to be wished that God in his mercy may send thee some calamity. The terrors of the Lord will be instances of his love. O that the preacher could rouse thee with the trump of the arch-angel, repeating that awful call, “Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
And ye also, who are engaged in the business of the world, who toil for gold with anxious solicitude, who deem yourselves happy when you have at last accumulated superfluous opulence, which you can never enjoy, and for which even your heir shall not thank you, little do ye know the most valuable purposes of life, and how completely poor you are without the riches of grace. You devote your time to lucre, and hesitate not to travel to both the Indies, to enlarge the boundaries of your traffic; but what, in the mean time, becomes of your spiritual life? Do you seek the proper methods of preserving yourselves in a state of grace; and of being restored to it if you have lost it? You are ready to answer, you. have not time for superstition; you leave such things to the idle, to monks and priests, whose leisure they may amuse. You have no leisure. You are occupied in manly and important employments. We must not disturb you with notions which tend to interrupt the business of your husbandry, or of your merchandise.
But let us implore your attention for a moment. We will not interrupt you in your business. You say, with eager looks, it is of the utmost importance. Be it so. But we ask a few of those moments, in which you steal from your daily employment, and break the chains of your engagements. Vouchsafe, in these intervals, to think of your real state. You will find that it has become truly deplorable through want of attention, like your field or your garden when neglected. A spiritual death has seized upon you, and great exertions will be necessary to the restoration of your life. You say, you have no taste for devout duties. You have lost the habit of them. The very confession proves that you are insensible to the influences of the Holy Ghost. The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit; for they are foolishness unto him. Awake, awake, arise from thy deep sleep, now in this thy time, lest the slumber of death should seal thine eyelids for ever. Awake to righteousness and sin not, for thou hast not the knowledge of God; and remember that if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.
Ye also who devote yourselves, without one wish for the favour of God, to the pursuits of ambition, happy to obtain a title, a riband, an office of honour and confidence, by the unwearied attention of a life, beware, lest, if you proceed in your irreligious course, you lose all chance of honours in the kingdom of Heaven. Though you enjoy the smiles of a prince, and the acclamations of a people, yet if you seek not the favour of the King of kings, but grieve his Holy Spirit by neglect, you are already abased to the lowest degree, in the midst of your grandeur; in the midst of life and all its pomps and vanity, you are in death. Shake of the palsy, which has almost deprived you of your feeling, and seek for succour of the Lord.
Ye men of the world of whatever denomination, whether under the dominion of pleasure, avarice, or ambition, to you I call, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Listen while you have the power to hear. You have not perhaps heard whether there be any Holy Ghost; or if you have heard, peradventure you have ridiculed the idea. You have every symptom of spiritual death. You have sinned till you are past feeling, and till your consciences are seared, as it were, with a hot iron. You are alive only to this transitory world. Dreadful is your situation, whatever may be your worldly prosperity. You may have raised a fortune, ennobled a family, revelled in sensual pleasure; you may even have acquired a skill in liberal professions, and you may have acquitted yourselves with credit in that world to which you have been devoted; but, after all, without grace, you are mistaken, and miserable∗ You have been pursuing shadows, phantoms, visions, and have known nothing of the purposes for which you were sent into this transient state of probationary existence. What avails it, even if you have gained that world, which you have sought so ardently, but which you can enjoy but for a moment, if you have lost, in the pursuit, your soul's immortality? Men of the world, though they usually pride themselves on their wisdom, are of all men the most indiscreet. They pursue bubbles as realities. They exchange an inestimable jewel for a worthless bauble.
But what conduct do I mean to recommend? Does religion require that we should withdraw from the world, neglect its duties, and confine ourselves in a cloister? No; it requires nothing so unnatural. But it requires that, in every state and employment of life, our private thoughts, at every interval, and especially when we lie down on our pillows, or rise from them, should be lifted up to Heaven. No state is so busy, as not to admit some leisure. While the hands are employed, the heart may be exercised in devotion. The grace of God may be drawn down upon us by a silent ejaculation. Regularity of devotional offices may be maintained under every change, chance, and employment; and the spiritual life preserved, amidst thousands of enemies, as the river was fabled of old to flow through the sea without commixture.
Extremes, however, are never wise. Extremes in religion are pregnant with madness and misery. Be not righteous over-much, says Solomon; neither make thyself over-wise; why shouldst thou destroy thyself?
And here I cannot help adverting to a sect of pious and devout persons among us, who, with the purest intentions, often fall into the error of those who are righteous over-much. I respect their zeal, I esteem the men, but I lament their errors. Their errors are of such a nature as to throw an unnecessary gloom over their own lives, and to render them less charitable in their opinions of their neighbours, than they ought to be as Christians, and as Christians of singular strictness in profession. Why should they torment themselves more than is conducive to wholesome discipline? Let them be contented with living up to the Gospel, without endeavouring, under the influence of a severe fanaticism, to go beyond it. To enjoy the blessings which God bestows, in moderation, is to obey. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself, in thy endeavour after a perfection which is not commanded, and which thou canst not attain? Some among the severer part of sects contend, and indeed are taught, that no sort of gaiety, or mirth, no superfluous expense in dress or at the table, no ebullition of friendly conviviality, is allowable in any rank, or at any age—no sort of recreation or diversion—nothing but a dull, dismal, and austere life of perpetual mortification; no pleasure, but from religion only: yet God never required this of his creatures. If he had, in vain had Nature adorned every part of the world, and furnished a fine feast, a beautiful spectacle, for her favourite, Man. To taste the delicious flavour of a nectarine, or to inhale, with delight, the fragrance of a rose, must be, according to the rigid system of the fanatics, if their system is consistent with itself, unrighteous. But God never meant, if we may learn his will from his works, from the grand volume of the world, that religious pleasures should exclude social pleasures and natural pleasures, when enjoyment is directed by right reason, and controlled by moderation.
I have sometimes paused, to behold the crowd issuing from the thronged tabernacle; pale, emaciated, with hollow eyes and woeful countenances, they exhibit appearances, from which a Spenser might have depicted an allegorical famine and despair. And are these, said I to myself, the ardent votaries of religion, of which we are taught that all its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace? The voice of joy and gladness, I have read, is in the dwellings of the righteous; but in the dwellings of these men, all is sadness, sorrow, and melancholy. Among these men, not only health and pleasure, but cheerful industry, trade, mechanical labour, and prudential, domestic care, are totally neglected.
All this evil arises from what our divines term RIGHTEOUSNESS OVER-MUCH; but as it arises from the infirmity of human nature rather than its malignity, it should always be treated with the lenity of compassion, not the insult of ridicule, or the bitterness of reproach; it should be considered as a distemper, where balsams and emollients will be more effectual than the knife or the caustic.
Instead therefore of sharply remonstrating against these fellow-creatures who appear to be mistaken, and who suffer for their mistake by self-inflicted punishment, I would call to them with a friendly voice, and invite them into the fold of the church, by convincing them that the pasture which they seek so eagerly is to be found there in abundance; pleasant herbage, not mixed with a predominant portion of wormwood; waters of comfort, not overhung by the willow; but adorned with flowerets, and surrounded with a cheerful landscape.
For their own sakes I regret the prevalence of rigid enthusiasm among them. The evils of life require the solace of temperate pleasure. I regret it also for the sake of their neighbours, and the church, established among us with great wisdom, and sanctioned by long experience. We are sorry to lose so many valuable brethren and companions. Why should they separate from us, and take so much pains to cause others to separate? Separation must, in the nature of things, be always attended with a little violation of the law of love; of that charity, which is better worth preserving among Christians, than all the theological opinions and speculative doctrines that were ever broached from the pulpit of a church, with a steeple or without one.
Our church, it appears, teaches the true scriptural doctrine of grace; a doctrine which they justly consider of the first importance.
Our church, I humbly maintain, affords every opportunity for a good mind to grow in Grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ: A regular, well-educated clergy; order in all things; a splendour that becomes the house of God; sacred music; a stated provision for the poor; the laws of the country to establish it; every thing that conduces to the furtherance of piety to God, and love to man. It is a pleasant, cheerful service. But they who turn their backs upon us hate us, despise us, speak evil of us; which argues something of spiritual pride, a quality most adverse to the meek spirit of Christianity. Let us not retaliate; but kindly invite them to come into our fold, that we may be one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ.
O that I could prevail on Christians to melt down, under the warm influence of brotherly love, all the distinctions of Methodists, Independents, Baptists, Anabaptists, Trinitarians, Arians, Unitarians, in the glorious name of Christians; men of large, generous, benevolent minds, above disputing for trifles, men who love one another as men, sons of the same Almighty Parent, heirs of the same salvation by Jesus Christ∗ Let us throw away our petty badges Of distinction; distinction, where, in fact, there is no difference; and let us walk together, hand in hand, into the church, up to the altar, and give and forgive, and love one another, and live in unity in this world, the few years poor mortals have to live, that we may meet in love, never again to be divided, in Heaven; where will no more be found the narrow, dark, cold, wretched prejudices of little sectaries, cavilling at each other, stinging their opponents, venting the virulence of their temper in defence of a religion that forbids, above every thing, all rancour, all malice, all evil-thinking, and all evil-speaking.
But one caution is necessary on. our part. Let us of the established church take heed, lest, to avoid enthusiasm, we fall into coldness, or lukewarmness; lest we be too little righteous, through a fear of being righteous over-much. But enough of caution. I trespass on your time.
Let us conclude, with representing to our minds, in the most lively manner, the infinite advantages of living in a state of Grace. To have within us, even in our hearts, an emanation of the Deity∗ to undergo a renewing of our minds, a new creation, to become a new man. To overcome the weakness of our nature introduced by the Fall; to regain our likeness to the image of God, according to which man was created in righteousness, and true holiness. In this state of darkness, wickedness, and misery, to be enlightened, sanctified and comforted by the spirit of truth∗ These are the glories of Christianity; these her honourable triumphs over the beggarly inventions of human wisdom.
Be it our constant care to keep our hearts open to those fertilizing showers of grace, which descend from heaven, and produce the blossoms of hope, the fruits of all virtue, and all happiness. Under its powerful influence, and refreshed by the streams flowing from the fountain of life, we shall grow and flourish in Christian perfection, like a tree planted by the water side. Let us sow of the spirit in the good soil of a good and honest heart; for we are expressly informed, that he that soweth of the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God; and let us joyfully and gratefully remember, that, there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.
And God grant that, forgetting all animosities, whether of religious sects or of private life, we may all taste the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: Lovely qualities, which must cause earth to anticipate that Heaven to which they lead.