- 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.
the pride of human learning and false philosophy,
a great obstacle to the reception of christianity.
1 Corinthians, iii. 18, 19, 20.—Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world. let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, he taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
And again, the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain.
The purport of the passage which I have just recited, appears, on a superficial view, to militate against those profound acquisitions and polite accomplishments of human learning, after which the most generous and enlightened of the human race have esteemed it an honour to aspire. Unfortunate indeed is our condition, if, after all the labours of a comprehensive education, we have accumulated a load of learning, which serves but to augment our folly, and to render us less acceptable in the eye of our heavenly Father, than he whose situation, or whose culpable neglect, has retained him in a state of the grossest ignorance. If thus we are to interpret the passage, farewell all the sweets of knowledge, the sublime contemplations of truth, moral, physical, and religious; and welcome the narrowness, the rudeness, the barbarity of the savage.
But we learn, both from reason and from the Scriptures-, to entertain worthier ideas of the Deity, than are compatible with the divine prohibition of human learning. He whose essence is spirit, cannot but be pleased with the improvements of his creatures in all spiritual excellence. We may rest assured, that it is not learning, but the abuse, and the pride of learning, which appear thus contemptible in the sight of that omniscient Being, to whom all our improvements are but as the elementary acquisitions of childhood.
It is indeed a melancholy truth, that in many of the professors of learning, who have acquired a considerable share of that little which is given to man to know, the pride and the abuse of learning have been remarkably conspicuous. But it is at the same time true, that this, and all other Christian countries, can exhibit a much more numerous train of learned men, who have most illustriously displayed their talents and attainments in the service of mankind, and in the glory of the gospel. Philosophy has been taught to serve with an amiable humility at the altar of the Christian church, and learning has deemed herself most honoured, when she has been permitted to minister, as the handmaid of religion.
But since both learning and philosophy have too often rebelled against the authority, which ought always to controul them, and have erected themselves into judges and arbiters of that religion, to which they ought to be subservient, it becomes expedient to check their presumption, and obviate its consequences. The following remarks are therefore addressed to all those, who, in the course of their reading and reflection, involve themselves in such metaphysical, or other investigations, as allure them to an excessive admiration of their own powers, and to a contempt of the lovely, though simple system of Christian morality.
It is too evident to require demonstration, that a great number of scholars are prevented from forming an idea of Christianity, by an early and irrational prepossession against it. They have been used, in the pursuit of polite learning, to the perusal of authors who have adorned their errors with the graces of an artificial style, and a glossy expression. They have felt the beauties of a Cicero, and a Xenophon; of a Plato, a Homer, and a Virgil. When they take up the New Testament, they find not those flowers, to the selection of which they had hitherto devoted their time and attention. Their classical taste is disgusted. They close the volume, or if they proceed with this prejudice against it, discover nothing in it but deformity. Inclined to doubt the authenticity of a book, which recommends not itself by those charms which they have usually admired, they eagerly peruse such authors as have exerted their ingenuity in exploding the revelation of Jesus Christ. In these they commonly discover those external graces which they, love, but which are too often misapplied both in life and in learning.
They now no longer trouble themselves to investigate the original Scriptures. They have found a philosopher, as they are pleased to name him, who writes much more politely than the Evangelists and Apostles. They read, mark, and digest him. Their own studies take a predominant tinge from the channel in which they have flowed. From disciples of infidelity, they gradually become masters; and whether they give utterance to their opinions by conversation or by writing, they endeavour to inform their fellow-creatures in those truths, which they flatter themselves they have been so sagacious as to discover. But let them remember the prophecy of St. Peter, and tremble. There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
To whatever eminence they arrive in the schools, they still retain their original prepossession against the Christian religion. They cultivate the science of nature, and in the sublime discoveries of a Newton, they find many things which appear to be irreconcilable with the doctrines of Moses and Jesus Christ. They are immediately elevated in their own imaginations, and look down with contempt on all who willingly acquiesce in the scriptural history.
Thus every step in their progress is an advance to infidelity. Neither can it be said, that they adopt natural religion, as they discard revealed; for they are frequently found to be no less relaxed in their principles, than in their faith. Few have written against Christianity, who have not at the same time discovered symptoms of a corrupt heart, and a vicious inclination. It has indeed been said, with great appearance of probability, that men then only labour to explode Christianity, when their consciences inform them that they cannot endure the consequences of its truth. Recollect the most celebrated names among the patrons of infidelity, and you will discover, that they have at the same time been the patrons of immorality; so that when they relinquished the Christian, they in reality forsook all religion. But he who renounces natural religion, the evidences of which are no less luminous than the sun, can be a proficient in no other kind of wisdom, than that which is styled in Scripture, folly.
It is folly, it is vanity and wickedness, which leads the greater part of infidel writers to avow their singular opinions. They boast indeed of benevolence, and assert that their love of truth and regard for mankind, will not suffer them to withhold that light which their genius has discovered. But if they were really actuated by benevolence, they would suffer mankind to be happy, even in their mistake; for they cannot but observe, that many derive the best and chief comfort of their lives from the belief of Christianity, and from the offices of religion. They would confine the discovery within their own bosoms. Their benevolence would place a watch over their words and writings, lest any doctrine should transpire subversive of the peace which soothes the bosom of their less enlightened neighbour. But the truth is, they pant for fame. They are uneasy, till they are distinguished. They have heard of many sceptical writers who are applauded as prodigies of wit, and sublime philosophers. They are flattered with the idea of becoming the leaders of a sect; and in order to arrive at that honour, either revive some antiquated objection, or invent a new one. They associate only with men of similar opinions, and read only writings of the same kind as their own; so that at last they seriously maintain those tenets, which they at first adopted without examination, and solely with a design to procure distinction. Their lives are usually uneasy, and such as must naturally be occasioned by bad principles and irrational conduct. Who can wonder that they are surrounded with clouds, when they have voluntarily extinguished HOPE, that bright luminary, which is able to irradiate the darkest scenes of human life? Who can wonder that the vessel is tossed from side to side, when they have voluntarily cut away the anchor?
Such wisdom is extreme folly: and T shall employ the remaining part of the Discourse; first, in dissuading scholars from incurring it; and secondly, in exhorting readers to avoid the books in which it notoriously abounds.
Whoever has devoted his life to letters, should resolve, to let the fruits of his studies redound to the happiness of mankind. Let it not be his first object to gratify his own pride. If he is actuated by so mean a motive, he will soon affect singularity. He must oppose opinions already received. He must alarm by novelty. In the great multitude which compose the vulgar herd, he will scarcely fail of gaining proselytes; for no absurdity of doctrine was ever yet produced which did not find its patrons. Applause will lead him still farther in the path of error; and his own wretchedness will probably be aggravated by the efforts which he has diabolically made to lead others into sin and misery.
He should, at an early period of his progress, convince himself of the infirmity of the human understanding in its highest state of improvement. He should remember, that nature is so. sparing in her gifts, that when she imparts a remarkable share of excellence in one kind, she usually leaves some defect in another. He who possesses a subtle understanding, capable of metaphysical research, may possibly be less susceptible of the warmer and social affections; less endowed with such sensibility as leads to religious devotion. He is therefore by no means a competent judge of subjects in which the religion of the multitude is interested. His lucubrations may be adapted to the taste of a few congenial students, who mix not in the concerns of vulgar life, and are unconnected by the endearing ties of fathers, husbands, and superintendants of families. But he enters not into the feelings of the majority of mankind; and indeed he possesses them not. This constitutes his defect. Happy it would be if he knew it, and presumed not to interpose in subjects addressed more immediately to such powers of perception as he possesses, only in a subordinate degree. But besides his natural defects, even the real excellence on which the student justly prides himself, is subject to fluctuation. It has all that imperfection which characterises humanity, and which ought to prevent every man who is really wise, from pronouncing with absolute certainty on spiritual subjects of importance. The acutest sight sees but little, compared with that which it sees not.
It becomes every one therefore, whose wisdom is not folly, to entertain a diffidence of his abilities on things elevated above human reason: though fame may resound his praise, and though he is conscious that he has made great improvements, yet should he distrust his strength when he employs it in examining those religious systems in which mankind have agreed to think themselves greatly interested. Let him confidently contend with man, if necessary, but let him dread a conflict with the Almighty.
It is indeed observable, that the inferior pretenders to philosophy have been chiefly concerned in supporting the cause of infidelity. Of whom does this country boast herself in the philosophical department? To whom is she indebted, that all Europe honours her for the production of the greatest philosophers whom modern ages have seen. To Bacon, Newton, Locke. Yet these men were so far from disbelieving Christianity, or even entertaining doubts of it, that they not only conformed their private principles and actions to its precepts, but publicly defended it in their admirable writings. How solicitous was one of the finest authors and best wits and humourists of this country, to advance the progress, and display the beauties, of Christianity? I mean the excellent Addison; who, with every talent requisite for the gayer species of essays, never seemed to compose with so much alacrity, as when he was recommending the great duties of our holy religion.
That great abilities are modest, is well known to all who understand human nature. What wise man gives credit to bold pretenders, in any department? In medicine, they are ignorant empirics; in war, boastful cowards; in science, conceited sciolists. Experience will abundantly prove, that they who ostentatiously display their wisdom, are seldom so well qualified as those who confess themselves sensible of imperfection. We all remember the modesty of the wisest man among the heathens; who declared, that he knew nothing, while all around him were bestowing upon him the willing praise of unrivalled superiority. He paid a great respect to the religion of his country; and though he often expresses himself on the subject of a deity, like one who believed the existence of one God only, yet he attempts not to explode such popular errors, as were attended with no malignant influence on human happiness.
Let me then most earnestly exhort all who devote themselves to a life of learning, to fix their religious principles on an immovable basis, upon their first entrance. Let them also be fully convinced of the weakness of human nature, the small proficiency in knowledge which the wisest of men have made, and the necessity of a sincere and unaffected humility. Let them persuade themselves, at an early period, that those studies alone are worthy of a human creature, and productive of personal happiness, which aim at the accomplishment of benevolent purposes, which add to the comforts, alleviate the evils, of the present life, or give hope of immortality.
All, indeed, who devote themselves to the cultivation of philosophy, ought to have two ends in view; the improvement of themselves, and the advancement of general felicity. Poor and despicable are the pursuits of him, who seeks no other end in his literary pursuits, but the gratification of curiosity, the acquisition of fame, and the promotion of his temporal interest. The world abounds with ignorance; and from ignorance, proceeds much of that wickedness and misery, which are found to deform and degrade human nature, and to poison all human enjoyment.
The lot of that man is happy and honourable, who is enabled, by his successful studies, to hold out a lamp to cheer the gloom, and to direct the steps of the benighted traveller in the journey of life. When intellectual improvements are thus directed, they exalt the character of their possessor to the highest glory. He becomes a blessing to his generation. He is truly godlike, and there is every reason to entertain a hope, that he is the favourite of that God, whom, at an awful distance, he endeavours to resemble.
But how unlike is the condition of the atheistical writer, or unbelieving philosopher∗ He has employed the faculties of mind, which God Almighty gave him, in an impious endeavour to exterminate religion. He has performed the business of that evil spirit, who is represented as taking delight in the diffusion of misery. He has fought under the banners of Satan against the most high God; and what can we expect as his doom, but that he should be condemned to the realms of that potentate, whose part he has taken, whose cause he has promoted?
Can the admiration of a few mortals counterbalance the danger of incurring the everlasting displeasure of the Lord of heaven and earth; of him, who is able to annihilate him in a moment, or to condemn him to unutterable and unceasing torment? But he believes not in such a God, and he fears not the danger. He may, indeed, proceed, during the hours of health and prosperity, in the career of wickedness; but the day will come, when, in the anguish of his heart, he will wish to recal those words, and those writings, which are now irrevocable. If he feel no such remorse on his death-bed, or in the hour of sickness and pain, then is his case still more deplorable. Then is there every reason to fear, that he is utterly abandoned by grace, and given over to the evil one.
And now, after having remonstrated with scholars and writers, on the folly of such wisdom as leads them to patronise infidelity, it remains to admonish readers of the danger of bestowing attention on writings, however celebrated, however replete with wit and ingenuity, which are intended to ridicule and revile the religion of Jesus Christ.
Very few readers in the common classes of mankind, are able to discover the fallacy of subtle argument. They take up a sceptical book, because the name of the author is celebrated. They find that he is an unbeliever, and supports his unbelief with apparent ingenuity. They understand the author but partially; but they give him credit, where they do not understand, for sound and conclusive argumentation. The authority of a name renowned throughout the countries of Europe, carries them away captive. They are desirous of enjoying the reputation of wits and philosophers, in the little circle of their companions; and therefore eagerly adopt the writer's opinions, after the most superficial examination. Their practices must keep pace with their principles, and thus are they rashly involved in speculative irreligion and practical immorality.
Let then the generality of mankind, those in the middle ranks, whose education has not been such as may enable them to refute errors in philosophy, resolve to take the safest side, and to avoid, as they would the contagion of a pestilence, the perusal of seducing books, written to weaken their belief in the religion of their country. There are books enough in every department of letters, to amuse and instruct an ingenuous mind, without having recourse to the productions of self-conceited unbelievers.
Neither should the man of cultivated understanding, the professed scholar, devote his time and attention to such writings. However celebrated they may be, it is no disgraceful, but an honourable, defect, to be unacquainted with them. There is danger in perusing them. Wit, and polished language, will disguise the poison of sophistry. The reader means only to indulge an innocent curiosity, but is at last caught in a snare, from which it is not easy to escape. Wickedness of all kinds is of an encroaching nature. It may be justly attributed, either to the natural corruption of human nature, or the operation of evil spirits, that he who has once trodden in the path that leads to destruction, cannot withdraw himself without great difficulty. Many a student has dated all his subsequent misery, from the hour in which he carelessly took up the volume of some fashionable infidel. It is safest, not to inspect such books at all; but common prudence directs, that we suspend the indulgence of our curiosity, till our principles are fixed, and our judgments mature. It happens perversely, that young men, who are least qualified to detect deceit, are the most inclined to study those writings in which it chiefly abounds. They are recommended by fashion, by novelty, by wit; and almost every one is of opinion, that he has self-command enough, to avoid the danger by which others might be undone.
There are certain homely virtues, which refined and speculative philosophy seldom mentions; the practice of which, is essentially necessary to our comfort. Such are, common honesty, probity, and a mutual interchange of good offices in ordinary life. Such are, sobriety and industry. Such are, an humble acquiescence in our lot, and a ready obedience to legal ordinances, established for the general good. These, it is our interest, as well as our duty, constantly to observe. However we may amuse ourselves in speculation, let us never be tempted to leave the high road of obvious duty, plainly dictated by the common-sense of mankind. Let retired students ingeniously deny the difference between good and evil. Such an employment of their faculties may fill up those hours which might otherwise be engaged in active vice. But let us rather believe the suggestion of our senses and our understandings, which, when they are not perverted or misled, point out the difference between good and evil as plainly as that between light and darkness. Let us be humble, as becomes such frail and wretched creatures as ourselves. Let us retain the simplicity of heart which our Saviour so warmly approved, and which is the best soil for the growth of every virtue. Let us dare to follow the footsteps of our pious ancestors, who, in all godly honesty, obeyed the dictates of their consciences, and the precepts of the Scriptures; and, after their pilgrimage, laid down their heads in peace, and with a comfortable hope of a joyful resurrection. The books in which they delighted, were their Bibles and their Prayer-books. Their philosophy was, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God; and, though they were fools in the opinion of the scorner, they were wise unto salvation. Therefore, if any of you lack WISDOM, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him: but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.