- 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 cunning oe the wicked inconsistent with wisdom.
Jeremiah, iv. 22.—They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.
There are persons in the world, who are celebrated for shrewdness and sagacity; who understand business, who know how to acquire money in abundance, and to preserve and improve their acquisitions; but who, at the same time, are acknowledged to have no pretensions to goodness of heart, or that kind of wisdom which the Scriptures recommend. They are known to do many things, which, if they are strictly just, are hard; they are tormented by continual anxiety and suspicion; and however they may boast of wisdom, they are certainly guilty of extremefolly, if to renounce innocence, a good conscience, and tranquillity, can deserve that appellation.
I shall think our time and attention well employed, in endeavouring to convince them of their error, and to lead them from false wisdom and false happiness, to such conduct as produces enjoyments at once substantial and durable.
Different men appear to view the world with different degrees of attachment to it. Some are so passionately fond of it, as to determine at all events, and whatever it may cost them, to possess a considerable share of it. They observe, that more is to be gained by art and cunning, than by real merit and sincerity. They learn to watch for opportunities favourable to their designs; and if, in the course of their negotiations, they find a man who is unsuspicious, because he is honest, they select him as their proper and natural prey, and as furnishing full scope for the practice of their artful machinations. They are, it must be acknowledged, too often successful; for the good are not on equal terms with the wicked, in the contests for worldly profit and preferment. But what do they gain of real and durable satisfaction? If their gains are weighed against the pleasures of a good conscience and a good character, they will be found light as the dust in the balance. The honest man whom they over-reach, is far happier than they, even though he should be so far injured by them as to be reduced to poverty. It is better to be cheated, than to cheat. The worldly wise man does not see his folly in the midst of worldly affluence. He trusts in riches and honours, and exalted station; but the time will certainly arrive, when he will feel the weakness, or rather madness, of putting his trust in any thing but the approbation of conscious virtue, and the well-grounded hopes which the Christian religion must always afford to the faithful.
There are others, who value themselves greatly on their skill in games of chance; who live apparently for no other purpose, but to shake the dice, or to win and lose by any other casual contingencies. It must be acknowledged, that many of their sports and games require a great deal of ingenuity and care in the successful practice of them. But they incur great temptation to wrong, and frequently commit it, when engaged in play with those who are not equally skilful in the various games, and in the doctrine of chances. Their characters are thus sullied, and their peace of mind interrupted. They are afraid of detection. They are afraid of a vicissitude of fortune, and indeed often experience it. They are either elevated with joy beyond all the bounds of reason, or they are depressed with grief in the same degree. Their grief often terminates in despair; for none are found to be guilty of suicide so frequently, as gamesters by profession. After all their pretensions to sense and judgment, can they justly be esteemed wise, or even able men, who pursue such a course of life, as is inconsistent with peace and reputation?
There are again many who value themselves on those polite accomplishments and shining arts, which enable them to seduce the innocent to ruin, and to destroy the happiness of families. Their arts are 'subtle, their behaviour refined; and they too often succeed in the immediate objects of their pursuit. But they pay a dear price for all their acquisitions. They are avoided by all decent and respectable persons, as soon as their characters are known. They are loaded with the reproaches of those whom they have deeply injured, and they are stung by remorse. What avail an insinuating address and an artful management, an assiduous attention and an unwearied perseverance in pursuit, if the result is infamy, anguish, and repentance?
How much happier it had been for the seducers themselves, as well as for society, if they had exerted their agreeable and active powers in sweetening domestic intercourse, and adding to the security and comfort of family connection? Many a broken heart would have beat with joy at their presence, and taken refuge under their protection. O that ye could bear witness to the villainy and folly of seduction, ye numerous tribes both of men and women, who have been brought by its consequences to an untimely grave∗ I wish it were possible to call you from your clay-cold mansions, to appal with your pale and sorrowful looks the gay, the riotous, the unthinking debauchee, who like the evil spirit, goes about seeking whom he may devour, and prides himself on that cunning which enables him to diffuse deep and lasting misery for the sake of selfish and momentary gratification.
Listen, young man, and return from the paths that lead to destruction, while a return is practicable∗ Thousands have tried the course of life which you pursue, and have, with a sigh, confessed that it is deceitful; and that, though it looks pleasant on the first entrance, it ends in darkness and horror. Suppose the cause of the seduced person, that of your own near relation, that of your daughter or of your wife. Your blood boils within you at the idea. Feel then for others, and endeavour to subdue those passions which you have hitherto fomented; and to which you have given the strength of habits, by long indulgence. Value not yourself any longer, on that address and ability which render you successful in destruction. You have been hitherto wise only to do evil, than which there can be no greater folly.
Taste the pleasures of benevolence; of sparing the innocent, those whom a confidence in your apparent goodness may have placed in your power; and experience, whether any transitory pleasure, any poor triumph over the defenceless, can exceed the sublime, the godlike enjoyment. Your wisdom will be evinced in laying aside every alluring art, on which you have hitherto felt an ill-grounded pride and self-complacency.
All those who are distinguished by vice of any kind, who seek their own private pleasure or profit, in such a manner as to give just cause of offence, or to injure others, are to be numbered among the persons characterised in the text, as being wise to do evil; but having no knowledge to do good, that is, to promote real happiness and rational enjoyment.
Many have been the disputes of philosophers, on. the chief good and the true wisdom. It is evident, that TO DO GOOD, AS FAR AS OUR INFLUENCE EXTENDS, IS OUR CHIEF GOOD AND ONLY WISDOM. To approach nearest to God, is to approach to perfection; but how can we approach so nearly to that fountain of all good, as by doing good in every possible sense of that expression?
No oue will dispute the propriety of doing good to ourselves. This is at once the dictate of nature, and of duty. But how shall we effect it? What is our good? Does it consist in pampering our appetites, and rioting in sensuality? in gratifying the passions of pride, envy, or ambition? Certainly not; though the votaries of this world act as if they were convinced, that the happiness of man depends on sensual pleasure, grandeur, and opulence. Let them maintain by their conduct, or by arguments, any system which they may casually have adopted; it is certain, that the good or happiness of every man depends rather on his restraint, than his indulgence of exorbitant passions. Peace, tranquillity, self-possession, are necessary to all true happiness; but will any one affirm, that these are to be enjoyed by those who are deeply engaged in gaming, in seduction, in pursuit of unbounded wealth, or the contests of ambition? The agitations of competition, frequent disappointments, hope and fear in the extremes; these prevent all solid enjoyment, weary and embarrass the mind with constant anxiety, and not only imbitter, but abbreviate existence.
To do good to ourselves, is to promote the welfare of our minds and bodies, by constantly cultivating the one, and purifying and strengthening the other, by temperance and exercise. Our souls are ourselves: to watch over their state; to cure all their diseases by applying to the physician of souls, Jesus Christ; to sacrifice all advantages of this world, and all pleasures of sense, to their improvement, this is to do good to ourselves; substantial good, such as shall continue its beneficial effect upon us in the present life, and through eternity. To have this regard for ourselves, and to consult our good in this extended sense, is to be laudably selfish, and truly wise. They who feel no inordinate attachment to what the world madly pursues, to pleasures, wealth, and honours, and silently seek an acquaintance with God, with their own souls, and with their duty, appear indeed foolish and enthusiastic in the eye of the men of the world; but they experience, in the solid pleasures which an intercourse with heaven affords, that enjoyment which no worldly cunning or abilities can possibly procure.
Man was placed in this world that he might be continually employed in doing good to himself in this liberal sense; that he might secure to himself both temporal and eternal good; ease of mind, and the favour of God, who alone can bestow unmixed felicity.
As man is compounded of two different principles, a spiritual and a corporeal, it is his duty to preserve and improve them both, by the exertion of his reason, and by prayer. He will have a due regard to his health, which is best preserved by temperance and industry. He will have a still greater regard for the state and condition of his soul, which is preserved and improved by piety and charity. He will, by a constant vigilance, promote the welfare of both, and thus have the knowledge to do good to himself, in such a manner as to be able to do good to others most effectually; for it can never be denied, that he who preserves his body and soul in a vigorous state, is better able to serve his neighbour and society, than he who, by intemperate pleasures, and a regard for the things of this world only, corrupts and weakens both his animal and spiritual nature.
He who is ingenious in luxury, and sagacious in the pursuit and improvement of unlawful pleasures, cannot be said to be wise in any other respect, than wise to do evil. He has no knowledge to do good, and no inclination. The apparent good which he pursues is delusive, and, however fair its appearance, terminates in evil.
But he who is really wise, not only pursues good himself, but promotes it in his neighbour. He never wishes to derive advantage from injuring another. On the contrary, he would choose to suffer an injury himself, rather than to hurt any man for private emolument, however considerable.
He deems it not folly to forego an opportunity of advancement or advantage, when there is a probability that his success is not to be obtained but at the expense of another's interest, and of justice. But the wise man of this world lays it down as a maxim, that no profit or honour is to be relinquished, which can be obtained consistently with a fair appearance, with secresy, and with safety.
The good and religious man is not contented with avoiding the commission of injuries; he is vigilant to discover opportunities for the practice of benefits, and the diffusion of comfort. He exerts his ingenuity and sagacity, in discovering proper objects for the exercise of his beneficence. He feels the miseries of life, and learns, from his own sufferings, to sympathize with the unhappy.
If he is rich, he bestows a part of his riches on the poor, with regular bounty and with sincere cheerfulness. If he is wise, or particularly skilled in the knowledge of any art or science, he is willing to exert his abilities, and display his accomplishments, for the benefit of others, and the community at large, as well as for his own profit, or reputation.
He is, in a word, wise to do good to his neighbour by every possible mode. To do him evil, he has no knowledge. He possesses not the arts. of villains and deceivers; he has never studied them, and his heart would forbid him to practise them if he were able.
But I dwell no longer on the topic of beneficence. It is a duty recommended by the strong feelings of the human heart; and, lest they should not be duly attended to, by the most frequent injunctions of the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. To do good to others, or to practise charity, constitutes the very summit of all Christian excellence, and therefore it can require no proof that it is the mark of the highest wisdom of which an human creature is capable.
But is the worldling observed to seek occasions to serve his fellow-creatures? Does he use his best faculties in devising modes of relieving want, and mitigating pain? Does he not rather avoid, like the proud priest and unfeeling Levite, the sight of another's misery, lest he should be induced to remove it at the expense of his dearly beloved pelf? He is too wise, as he deems it, to put himself to any charge in relieving the wants of one who will never have an opportunity of returning the favour. To use his own phrase in expressing his own idea, he knows better, than thus to stand in his own light. There are, he argues, expenses enough which cannot be avoided, and it would therefore be a folly to give away any thing which can be withheld without violation of legal justice. It would be madness, according to the wisdom of this world, to forego any profit for the sake of others, merely from the principles of Christianity and philanthropy.
Thus we see the wise man of this world skilled in nothing which contributes to his own essential benefit, or to the benefit of his neighbour. We see him indulging a culpable selfishness to the utmost extreme. We see him little scrupulous of the means of accomplishing his purposes; and hesitating at neither meanness nor fraud, when they can be practised consistently with safety and concealment. And is this wisdom? It is the poor and narrow-minded wisdom of those to whom this world, and the external goods of fortune as they are termed, are the only objects of delight. But it is not the wisdom of those happier persons, who possess minds enlarged by Christianity, and who see things in such a light, as induces them to think the possession of wealth, and the enjoyments of sensuality, totally worthless, when compared to a good conscience and the favour of God.
The world is too much inclined to compliment with the title of wise men, those who seek only their own worldly prosperity with address and success. Such characters are admired as exhibiting examples of prudence, and frequently pointed out for the imitation of young men. It would greatly serve the cause of virtue and religion, if the world would reform its opinion of wisdom; and give the praise of it not to mere worldlings, but to the pious and honest; to men who lift up their minds from this low earth, and aspire at an excellence and happiness, which nothing sublunary can bestow; who mind not earthly things, but heavenly,
Let me prevail with all who hear me, to reform their judgments, if they have hitherto thought that a skill in the arts of acquiring and improving an estate constitutes true wisdom; if they have indulged their selfish love of profit and honours, at the expense of their fellow-creatures. To be wise to do evil, is extreme folly. Address in business, and prudence in the management of affairs, are certainly valuable and useful; but they must be controlled by strict moral honesty, or they may become a snare to their possessors, and lead them into temptation. If the end is evil, no skill in using the means can entitle a man to praise and esteem. The end will corrupt the means; as well as the means, the end.
I ardently wish, that I could prevail with all who hear me this day, to divest themselves of all ambition of being esteemed wise, independently of being good. Such wisdom is the wisdom of the serpent, the cunning of that evil being who delights in mischief and misery. The world speaks in terms of high approbation of able men, whose ability seems to consist in little else than a subtle policy; an address in managing a bargain, and taking advantage of others, who, from a want of worldly cunning or from ignorance, are liable to deception. I am concerned to remark, that such a character is frequently extolled and admired above all others; and the consequence is, that young men endeavour to acquire it, by studying the arts of cunning, rather than the generous virtues of candour and benevolence. Religion and conscience are soon sacrificed; and I know nothing which tends more effectually to diffuse vice and misery, than the admiration of abilities independently of virtue, and associated with infidelity and immorality.
Let our first endeavour be to do good, and to avoid evil. If we can accomplish this end, we are sufficiently wise. Others may over-reach us in a negotiation. Others may, in consequence of their subtilty, become richer or greater than ourselves; bat our wisdom will be evinced in the final result, and even in the general coarse of our lives. We shaft enjoy peace, and a good conscience. Hope of God's favour will brighten every prospect; and there is every reason to believe, that while the children of this world, who in their generation are wiser than the children of light, shall be excluded from the presence of God, we shall be admitted (oar good intentions and endeavours being accepted as a compensation for our defects) to the right hand of him, in whose gift are pleasures, riches and honours, far beyond what we can desire or deserve. Then may the worldly-wise say, “We fools accounted their lives madness, and their end to be without honour. How are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints∗”