- 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.
good intentions the least fallible security for good conduct.
Proverbs, xi. 3.—The integrity of the upright shall guide him,
The most valuable knowledge is the easiest to be obtained. Such is the knowledge of our duty. It is engraven on the tablets of our hearts; it is written in the plainest language of the Scriptures; it is taught by parents, preceptors, and preachers; it is explained and enforced by an infinite number of books, most of which are easily attainable, and intelligible by all who sincerely desire to procure and understand them.
Life has often been compared to a journey. But he who goes a journey, if he knows the way, or is directed by intelligent guides, seldom deviates from the right road. How happens it then that many who are perfectly acquainted with the road of life, should wander so far from it, as often to be entirely lost, always to be perplexed and embarrassed? The truth is, man obscures the light within him by his own devices, and puzzles the most obvious directions which he receives, by foolish comments, subtleties, and refinements. His pride leads him to wish to be wise above that which is written, and to render that which is abundantly plain, obscure and difficult by the perversion of ingenuity.
It is indeed certain, that many plain and illiterate men are much more constant in the performance of their duty, than the learned, the refined, and the fashionable. It has been said that since learned men have multiplied, good men have decreased. It is evident that improvement in piety and good morals has not always kept pace with improvement of understanding. True learning indeed has been supposed, with great probability, to be particularly favourable to virtue; but false learning, pretensions to learning without the reality, superficial attainments in science, and erroneous philosophy, are found by experience to be rather favourable to vice. The writers against religion have been for the most part men of great pride and audacity; but in learning little better than sciolists; and in judgment, rash and unsound. They have often perplexed both themselves and their readers, till both have fallen into a state of intellectual darkness leading to despair.
It therefore becomes the profoundest scholars and philosophers, amidst all their improvements, to retain that native simplicity, which, in the amiable state of infancy, we usually possess, and which our Saviour himself particularly loved; of such is the kingdom of Heaven. It has pleased a benevolent Providence to represent the outlines of our duty so clearly, that the honest peasant can discover them by sincere endeavours, no less fully and perfectly, than the profound student by diligent investigation. The student will indeed know how to discourse on the subject of his duty, to make nice distinctions where there is little difference, and to determine casuistical doubts; but I repeat, that in the great high road of sound morality and unadulterated religion, he will not have much, if any, advantage over him who possesses an honest, though uncultivated mind, plain sense, and true simplicity. He ought therefore to be humble; and however he may speculate on indifferent subjects, to confine himself to the dictates of his heart and conscience, in all which concerns his relative, personal, and religious duty.
I shall endeavour to evince, in the following remarks, that an honest mind is the best qualification for finding and for practising all that is necessary to recommend us to the favour of God, and to secure happiness both in the present and in a future state.
The children of this world conduct all their schemes of pleasure, profit, and ambition, by the arts of cunning, and the maxims of worldly policy. They value themselves for the character of shrewd men; such as are able to devise stratagems, and to turn the simplicity of the honest and unsuspecting to their own advantage. They have so strong an inclination to duplicity, that they had rather obtain a point by artifice, though it is equally attainable by an open conduct. Their whole lives are spent in contrivance. They pause not to enjoy, even when they have obtained their object. They see some plausible scheme, by which they may be enabled to improve their success. They go on ever anxiously pursuing some distant object, and consequently for ever dreading a disappointment, and often feeling one.
Such men do indeed too often succeed; for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. But is their success the source of solid satisfaction? Is it not mixed with such restlessness, fears, and suspicions, as must greatly impair it? Grant that they both succeed and enjoy their success, yet let it be remembered that they have purchased their acquisition at a great prices. They have spent many sleepless eights, they have done many hard and unjust things, they have uttered lies, violated their promises, broken their engagements, betrayed confidence, and abused innocence. At such a price ten thousand worlds would be dearly bought.
Let them impartially compare their acquisitions with those of the plain honest man, who has earned all he possesses by regular industry, in the beaten path of an honest occupation. He has possessed his soul in peace during the course of his labours, and at the end of them can enjoy their fruits with a perfect relish of their flavour. He feared no detection; for his deeds were good, and received from the light an addition of lustre. The cunning man always looked down upon him with contempt, treated him with the insulting appellations of a grovelling mind, a stupid plodder, who had no genius for enterprise. But the event justifies his conduct. That conduct which brings a man peace at the last, and peace also during the whole of his life, is certainly founded on substantial wisdom.
The man of integrity acts, in all his relations, by the guidance of that light with which God has illuminated his conscience. Is he a father, husband, son? he endeavours to perform the duties which these relations demand, and which are rendered evidently incumbent on him, by the light of common sense, and by the feelings of his own bosom. He wants no casuistry to determine difficult points; for he has no difficult points to determine. The path of the upright is as shining light, it is straight and. even, it can neither mislead him, nor cause him to stumble. Obliquities belong to those whose dispositions are crooked, and whose practices are consequently the same. As a son, his common sense and his affections teach him to be dutiful, obedient, and tender. He perplexes not himself with logical inquiries concerning relatives and correlatives; he has no occasion for ethical treatises to prescribe the bounds of paternal authority or of filial obedience. He reads the volume of his heart, and leaves it to men of subtle intellects and dull feelings to puzzle themselves where all is clear and perspicuous. In all his other relations, he permits himself to be governed by the same infallible direction. What he reads written on his heart, is written as with a sun-beam; while the little comments of minute philosophy are like writings which cannot be understood without the laborious assistance of the decipherer.
The man of an honest heart conducts all his negociations with no less ease than honour. He deals plainly. His word is a bond. But true worth is soon discovered in the world, and admired and celebrated, if not imitated. Thus a good character is formed; and men are eager to be engaged with one on whom they can depend in the weightiest concerns with full security. His worldly success is now secure; and, without any artifice, he gains those important objects, which the dissembler perhaps never gains, or gains with difficulty, after a life spent in the meanest, most degrading, and most troublesome submissions and embarrassments.
There is certainly no virtue so estimable in mercantile life, as honesty; and I appeal to experience for a proof of the assertion, that none leads more infallibly to honourable opulence: but in the professions also, this quality is most estimable, and will often contribute, as it ought always, to popular favour. An honest practitioner in the Law or in Physic is justly deemed a most valuable member of society; and how little weight will the words of the preacher carry with them, when his doctrine is contradicted by his example, when it is suspected that he is a hypocrite, and that his admonitions are merely official, the effects of his regard for interest, and not the genuine effusions of a sincere conviction?
If the upright man is advanced to high offices of honour and confidence, he finds but little difficulty in the discharge of his duty. He is determined to do justice, but to love mercy. In his mind the notions of right and wrong, good and evil, have never been confounded. He has not learned in the school of the world, to consider only what is most convenient or expedient; but in the school of Christ, and of the moral philosophers, to do the thing that is right, to love the truth in his heart, and to leave the event to Providence. Cases which perplex the subtle disputant, are to him perfectly clear. He may not perhaps have digested volumes of law, the comments of civilians, and the nice discriminations of artful pleaders; but he has read the law of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ; and he has preserved the light of nature in its original lustre, unobscured by the perversions of human pride, undarkened by sophistical ingenuity. His decisions are clear and satisfactory to others, and at the same time to himself; for they are confirmed and applauded by the internal testimony of a good conscience.
As a legislator, and indeed in every department of public life, he will preserve himself from the malignant influence of party; that fatal influence which blinds the understanding, and misguides the heart; which produces the most unjust actions and determinations; which destroys the liberty and tranquillity of whole kingdoms for the gratification of resentment, or the promotion of interest. His honest heart glows with true benevolence for his country and for mankind; and his understanding, guided in great measure by bis heart, will pursue such plans, and such only, as evidently tend to the diffusive and substantial good of all who can fall under either their immediate or their remote influence. An honest heart is a surer and better guide, even for those who preside in government, than those boasted principles, which are often called Machiavelian, but ought to be termed diabolical, policy. It can never be proved to the satisfaction of good men, that the virtues which communicate happiness in the civil, social, and commercial intercourse of men, are not the most productive of good in the political department. Indeed, the reason that men of corrupt morals and abandoned characters have frequently guided a nation, is, that such men are the most turbulent and ambitious; ready to destroy the community, by the power which their wealth affords, if they are not permitted to guide its councils, to engross its honours, and to divide its emoluments among themselves and the instruments of their aggrandizement.
Though it is certain that honesty of intention is far better calculated to promote the public good, than that kind of cunning and policy which constitutes the usual qualifications of those who rule the kingdoms of this world; yet I dwell not on this point, because few, in comparison with the mass of mankind, arrive at the rank of rulers, and therefore the topic is too confined to be interesting to a common congregation.
Indeed, so evident has been the truth that upright intentions are essentially and ultimately the most conducive to happiness and advantage, that the collective wisdom of nations has formed it into an adage. To those who are capable of taking comprehensive views of things, of seeing remote consequences in their causes, it must undoubtedly appear that, without any exception whatever, honesty is the best policy.
Thus far I have considered the beneficial effects of right intentions, so far only as they guide us in our social conduct, and in the management of our temporal concerns. A very cursory review will evince that they are also the best guides in religion.
He who, on his entrance on a religious life, should first resolve to examine all the systems and doctrines which perverted ingenuity have produced in the world, would find himself perplexed, without a possibility of disengagement. Absurdities and contradictions would disgust him. Mistakes, falsehood, sophistry, would mislead him. Enthusiasm and fanaticism would distract him. It would indeed be fortunate for him, if he should not at last close his eyes, and seek a fancied asylum in downright infidelity.
He again who is resolved to divest himself of all prejudices, as he calls them, in favour of any particular persuasion, and to choose a sect, a church, or mode of worship according to his own particular caprice or imagination, will be far less likely to accomplish the great end of all religion, IMPROVEMENT OF HEART, than another, who, paying a deference to the opinions of his forefathers, adopts them with humility, and, instead of disputing or cavilling, employs his thoughts and efforts in DOING, to the best of his knowledge and power, THE THING THAT is RIGHT. Religious disputes have an immediate tendency to excite and foment those very enmities which it was the principal scope of Christianity to repress. Among all the animosities which disturb mankind, those which are caused by religion appear to possess a peculiar acrimony of spirit. There is indeed too much reason to believe that pride and obstinacy are more frequently the causes of them, than any of those pious motives which the warm disputants usually pretend. The man of an upright heart, knowing that the modes of Christian faith are of far less consequence than the Christian virtues, is little disposed to enter into controversy. He pursues that calm and quiet path which his father taught him, which he thinks the Scriptures justify, and in which his soul finds rest and comfort. While the contentious are racked with envy, jealousy, and anger, he enjoys a sweet tranquillity, resulting from the surest source of it, Christian charity. He is sensible that few of those subjects on which men disagree, are of consequence enough to disturb the repose of a good and charitable heart ; and as to trifling errors and mistakes in matters of external form and ceremony, he is convinced that they had better pass unnoticed and uncorrected, than be suffered to interrupt brotherly love in the process of reformation.
I would not however assert, that an implicit acquiescence in every opinion which our ancestors have received, is required of creatures endowed with the faculties of reason. The Scriptures direct us to inquire into the foundation of the doctrines proposed to our acceptance; and indeed, without the exercise of our reason, I know not how we could understand or adopt the plainest doctrines of Christianity. But it is of much importance to have right dispositions of mind at the time of our inquiry. Such are humility, modesty, docility, and a sincere desire to improve. But the generality of professed examiners of the Christian religion enter upon the business with the most unfavourable habits, views, arid prepossessions. They are influenced by pride, and wish chiefly to distinguish their own ingenuity. They are totally destitute of candour, ready to ridicule all which appears to them irreconcilable to their own preconceived opinions, and determined to find, or to create, a rock of offence, on which they may stumble. Observe the style and manner of many who pretend to examine and to oppose Christianity, whether they display their talents in writing or conversation. They are remarkable either for an arrogance which becomes not man, or for a levity which becomes not the serious subject. They either summon the Creator and Redeemer before their own tribunal, as if they were supreme Judges of Heaven or Earth; or laugh and jest, as if life, death, and immortality, were the topics of a farce. Is it to be supposed that, with such dispositions at the time of inquiry, they should be able to investigate truth with success, or that they should be assisted by heavenly illumination? Is it not rather to be inferred, that they shall be permitted to lose themselves in the dark labyrinths which themselves have fabricated? But the modesty and humility with which the man, whose heart is right, inquires concerning the religion of his forefathers, are of a nature so pleasing to Heaven, that they tend immediately to draw down its favour and assistance. The holy spirit of God will not long be absent from the bosom in which such virtues have chosen their abode. It will descend and enlighten the paths of the upright; delivering him from the pain and uneasiness of doubt, and guiding his footsteps to all righteousness, piety, happiness and glory. Without the toil of laborious research, the pain of disputatious contest, the solicitude of a wavering mind, the upright man finds the truth, and holds it fast for ever. He fixes his principles on the rock of faith, and suffers not the open attacks of the scorner, nor the undermining subtlety of the sophist, to shake the basis of the solid superstructure.
After all the dictates of pride and refinements of ingenuity, it is certain that the essential parts of our duty may be learned from the homely Catechism. And greatly is it to be wished, that some of those who have pushed themselves forward on the public eye as philosophers, had not forgotten, amidst the acquisitions of their mature age, the humble and unaffected instructions of their early childhood. But they scorn a kind of wisdom which is common to the vulgar. Plain truth, expressed in a simple and unadorned style, appears not gaudy enough to attract their admiration. They must be allured by the brilliancy of wit, and the ostentatious display of erudition. Truth indeed, whatever they pretend, is not really so much their object, as vain-glory. An elaborate series of metaphysical arguments, a polished style, and a parade of various reading, leads them along in willing captivity. They become rhetoricians, fine talkers, or fine writers, and in the vanity of their hearts, look down with contempt on the plain honest man, who is guided by the unprevaricating dictates of a clear conscience, of scriptural instruction, and of common sense.
Whence have the pious and honest persons who adorn the lower ranks of society, and illuminate its obscurity by the mild lustre of real virtue, whence have they derived their ideas of rectitude, but from the Scriptures? To them the very names of metaphysicians and sceptical writers are totally unknown. They never heard, and would scarcely believe, that men have been esteemed wise, because they called in question the reality of the distinction between right and wrong, vice and virtue. They would deem such visionary speculatists, fools and madmen. To deny a God∗ what is it, they would say, but to be bereaved of every external sense or power of reflection. To write and converse with levity against the Christian system of religion∗ What is it, they would ask, but to be actuated by the immediate influence of the common adversary of Jesus Christ, and the fallen race of man. Indignation would at first predominate; but it would soon be softened by the whispers of Christian charity. Compassion is indeed justly due to those poor wanderers, who, neglecting the heavenly voice of the shepherd, have erred and strayed like lost sheep, through devious paths of their own selection.
How superior to such, how much more dignified, appears the sincere Christian of the lowest class in worldly subordination, who has learned, in the plainest language, his duty towards God, and towards his neighbour, and has practised with uniformity what he learned with humility. He appears to have taken a just estimate of his dependent state, and by abasing himself before Almighty God, how is he exalted above the minute philosophers whom fame delights to celebrate∗
I should conclude, with earnestly recommending to all, the cultivation of an honest heart, and the pursuit of those maxims and rules of conduct which lead, through the paths pointed out by Scripture, to peace both temporal and eternal.
We may certainly seek every accomplishment of mind which becomes creatures blessed with the participation of reason. In science, in natural and experimental philosophy, we may extend our researches, as far as our learning and ingenuity can advance. But in moral philosophy, that grand science which assumes the office of guiding our social and personal behaviour, let us beware of refinement. In our early youth, the precepts of our parents and instructors acquaint us with our duty, in language and methods adapted to our comprehension. The feelings of our hearts, unhurt by commerce with a wicked world, fully confirm the truth of their remarks, and the value of their admonitions. It is the spring of life. The soil is in a state admirably suited to the vegetation of every beautiful and salutary plant. Good seed is sown. Let our prayers and endeavours co-operate, in bringing down upon it the refreshing dews of heavenly grace. Thus shall it grow up to beauty and maturity, and produce every fruit in abundance, which is either sweet to the taste, or pleasant to the eye. But if our conduct is such as deprives us of this blessing, if we are proud and vain so as to induce God to resist us, instead of favouring us with his grace, the seed sown by our parents and instructors will either die entirely, or grow up in a contracted size and a distorted shape.
Among all the improvements of our education, let us then learn to value the plain precepts of piety and moral virtue. These should constitute the firm foundation of every future edifice. Appendages and decorations may be added to the building, while they do not injure the solid supports; but not even the most splendid ornaments must be allowed, which can possibly corrupt or shake the basis. Let us value and aspire at the character of scholars and philosophers, but let us value more highly, and aspire at more eagerly, the character of good and honest men. Let us resolve and say with holy Job, Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me, so long as I live.
He who makes such resolutions, and is enabled by the assistance of God to keep them, is far wiser than if he had acquainted himself with every part of human science. What will it avail a man to have studied the doctrines of mere mortal men, however celebrated, if his heart is totally unacquainted with the religion of the humble Jesus? How little and futile is the philosophy of Zeno, Epicurus, and Aristotle, compared with the wisdom which is from above; with that wisdom which is able to derive a ray from heaven to cheer and direct ns, wretched mortals, in our dark passage through the mazes of human life?
Knowledge, says the holy writer, puffeth up, but charity edifieth. It is certainly a truth, however it may mortify the pride of human learning, that the most exalted improvements and the most extensive acquisitions are but contemptible trifles, compared with genuine charity in the sincere Christian. But men of learning are few, in comparison with the great mass of mankind. The majority is condemned to manual labour for the attainment of a subsistence, and a very great number is secluded, by want of inclination, ability, and convenient opportunity, from such a degree of application as is required in the pursuit of profound erudition, It is then a most joyful truth, that learning and ingenuity are not essentially necessary to our good conduct in the world, nor to our acceptance with God; that honesty of intention, regular obedience, and simplicity of manners, will open the gates of mercy upon us, when they shall be shut against the proud philosopher. Rejoice, O ye poor, to whom the gospel is preached, and for whom it seems to have been in a peculiar manner designed. Before the appearance of the gospel, the numerous tribes of slaves, and indeed the needy and obscure in general, seem to have been but little considered in the systems of moral philosophers. It was thine, O most merciful Redeemer, to take upon thee the form of a servant, and to show that the distinction of ranks is little regarded by him who made both the rich and the poor, who professes himself to be the father of them all, and who is ready to deliver them from sin and death, whenever they display indubitable proofs of faith and repentance∗
Faith and repentance, then, after all the pretensions of philosophy, are the two great objects, to the attainment of which he who is wise in the wisdom of the gospel will direct his endeavours. The inventions of men are endless. Books and systems are so numerous, that though we were to live to the age of antediluvians, we should never be able fully to comprehend them all, or to reconcile their discordance. Let us not lament. One book is sufficient for the most important purpose of life, the insurance of present tranquillity and future salvation. We may certainly amuse and improve ourselves by human learning, and the pleasing productions of cultivated genius, but our chief attention must be fixed on the tablet of duty, plainly written on our own hearts by the finger of God, and in the volume which the spirit of God dictated, and which is justly called, the Book of Life.