- 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 duties of the preacher and the hearer.
2 Corinthians, ii. 16.—And who is sufficient for these things?
Though the Christian world is deplorably divided on the articles of the creed, yet it unites in some particulars of more importance than any contested opinions on topics merely doctrinal and speculative. All sects and all persuasions seem to allow the utility of periodical exhortations from the pulpit, to piety and to virtue. The voice of experience has long decided on the benefits derived to society, from this mode of religious instruction. Great good has certainly been produced by it, and much evil prevented: thousands, and tens of thousands, reclaimed from sin and misery: charities, for the relief of every evil which human endeavours can alleviate, instituted, supported, extended: religion cherished and diffused through all ranks; as it is a means of instruction open to all, without price, without solicitation, shining like the sun upon the poor and the abject, with no less warmth and light than on the great and powerful.
The establishment of a standing ministry, and of weekly instruction in certain districts throughout the kingdom, is a fine opportunity afforded by Providence for the improvement of civil society, and the instruction of human nature. Where the magistrate cannot reach, the preacher can penetrate, even to the recesses of the heart. Great is the undertaking and, great has been the success of it in all ages of Christianity. The soldiers of Christ have fought a good fight; the olive branch their banner, the souls of their fellow-creatures their trophies, and heaven, we humbly hope, the reward of their victory.
But useful as is the institution, and honourable the office of the Christian preacher, it is also in a high degree difficult; and every one of us, however able and improved, may exclaim with the Apostle, Who is sufficient for these things?
Give me leave to enumerate, in a cursory manner, some of the requisites in a Christian preacher, not with an intention to arrogate too much to our office, but that, considering the difficulty of the work, you may learn to make due allowances for slight defects and involuntary failure. Let it be remembered, that we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants, for Jesus Christ's sake.
Theology has been termed by an old writer, “the art of arts, the science of sciences; the queen of all other attainments, to which they do but administer, in a subordinate capacity.”
But, if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch, saith our Saviour. He therefore who completely supports the character of a parish priest and a Christian orator, must unite in himself, natural abilities of the first rate, and acquirements of the highest value. He must possess inborn endowments, the gifts of God, improved by a most comprehensive education. To these he must add the study of the languages and sciences, great reading, mature reflection in silence and solitude, accurate observation of men and manners in active life, a knowledge of the heart and the effects of the passions: a perspicuous, if not a graceful style; a command of language, powers of oratory, both bodily and mental, a love of his profession; above all, a warm and lively sense of devotion, of piety to God, and charity to man.
But, if all these accomplishments are necessary, what mortal but must shrink from the arduous employment, and exclaim with the Apostle, Who is sufficient for these things?
Human nature, in the general idea of it, we are all ready to acknowledge, is weak. Pastors of the church cannot be supposed by any reasonable man, exempt from the common infirmity. The powers of the understanding are bestowed in various degrees, limited in all, liable to decay, to lapses, to errors, where they are bestowed by nature in the greatest vigour, and confirmed by every attainable auxiliary of art. The will is depraved in the best of men. Strong passions usually accompany strong powers. The love of pleasure operates most intensely on the warmest imagination; and a great degree of irritability always attends that fine organization of the nerves, which accompanies great genius, and too often renders this noble distinction a real misfortune. Ill health, indisposition of mind, seasons of unaccountable languor and inactivity, often deaden the energies of the understanding, cloud the splendour of genius, and render learning an unwieldy mass of useless and indigested materials.
When we thus contemplate the greatness of the work, and the imbecility of the workman, we cannot but feel a deep sense of humiliation. We might, indeed, sink, into despair, if we did not discover fountains of hope issuing from two different sources; from the GRACE of heaven, and the favourable propensities of a pious and benevolent audience. Persuasion, indeed, depends no less on the disposition of the hearer, than the skill of the preacher, and the art of hearing with improvement, requires to be studied no less assiduously than the art of speaking with power and authority. “You think, very justly, “says a great prelate,” that a great deal is incumbent upon us; but do you consider with equal attention, what is incumbent on yourselves?”
It is the duty of the hearers to enter the church with minds open to conviction, divested of pride, self-conceit, and all personal prejudices against the instructor. It is their duty to approach the altar, not as critics assembled in the schools to judge the literary merit of a composition, or to mark with censorious rigour the defects of delivery.
It should indeed be considered by those, who sit before us as our critical judges, instead of our disciples, that those passages of a discourse which may not be adapted to one part of our audience, may to another; that what may be disregarded by the learned and polite, may be improving to the poor and the uneducated; and that what may be too refined for the ignorant, may afford pleasure and instruction to the well-informed. The preacher must be unfortunately incapable indeed, by whom every individual of his audience is too wise to be instructed, and too good to be reformed.
The instructor who does not enlighten the understanding, may refresh the memory, or at least alarm the conscience. Is there any man who, in a large congregation, has no need to learn from this place, whoever stands in it, something he did not know before, to be reminded of something which he had forgotten, to be excited to something which he neglects, to be dissuaded from something which he pursues with imprudence and unreasonable ardour? Let the conscience of every man answer the question. Instead of despising or degrading your teacher; profit by his instruction, supply what is wanting, add strength to what is weak in him, pass lightly over his imperfections, remembering your own; nor come as the Scribes and Pharisees came to our Saviour's discourses, not to gain improvement, but to entangle us in our talk. Neither lie in wait to detect us in a failure, like some noxious insect, which has a power of sucking poison from the most fragrant, wholesome, and beautiful flower. It is the hearer's principal duty, not to lift up their eyes to the pulpit with severity, but their hearts to heaven with humiliation, and to pray for spiritual grace; for, indeed, to be a successful hearer, something must be infused by the Holy Spirit. Before we can apprehend sacred things clearly, or desire them with ardour, the Spirit of God must spiritualize our understanding, and sanctify our hearts. A ray darted from the realms of light, must illuminate our bosoms, and be our guide to the Holy of Holies. The natural man has no relish for the things which are spiritually discerned. The cion of spiritual grace must be grafted on the wild stock of nature.
With this aid, with this luminary shining on our minds, the preacher, however, from human infirmity, insufficient, shall be enabled to guide our feet into the pleasant paths which lead to peace. The grace of God must assist both the hearer and the preacher, to render the ministry of the word effectual. Then shall our weakness become strength; our poverty, riches; our darkness, noon-day splendour. The treasure of the Gospel is indeed preserved in earthen vessels; but the intrinsic value is not diminished by the fragility or meanness of the repository. The diamond may subsist in all its brilliancy, and retain all its solidity, though concealed by a temporary incrustation. The pearl of great price, though set by a clumsy hand, and in an awkward manner, yet loses neither its intrinsic value, nor its natural beauty. The eye of faith will penetrate the veil, and see the sun shining gloriously behind the clouds of human imbecility.
The more defects in the preacher, the more care is requisite in the hearer. To you then, we, whom our lot in life, or the Providence of God, has constituted pastors and ministers of the Gospel, to you we apply for the co-operation necessary to give success to our labours. It is not the language of affectation, but of unaffected humility, when we declare ourselves insufficient for these things without your assistance. Take heed how you hear, was the command of our Saviour himself; and it is a duty no less strictly required of you, than it is of us, to take heed how we preach.
It is the first care of the good husbandman, to render the ground fit for the reception of the seed. Permit me then to prepare your minds for instruction, by offering a few suggestions on the duty of a pious and well-disposed hearer.
In the first place, the heart should be prepared by prayer and meditation on the Sunday morning previously to entering the sanctuary. To rush into the more immediate presence of God with the same heedlessness that you enter a tavern or a theatre, is a great indecency; and argues a levity of mind, incompatible with devotional sentiment.
In the next place, take especial heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief. Faith is no less necessary to qualify you for an entrance into this holy place, than the wedding garment for the nuptial festivity. You have probably been educated in the faith. Let no seducing books, no petulant conversation of half-learned and conceited companions, lead you to renounce a religion in which your forefathers lived and died in peace. Can any evil arise to you from believing? but if there be but a bare possibility that Christianity may be true, think what may be the consequences of a presumptuous rejection of its promises, and an audacious defiance of its terrible denunciations∗ Every thing may be lost by unbelief, and what can be gained but an emancipation from salutary restraint, from a controuling power, which keeps us from hurting our health, our reputation, our peace? Nothing the preacher can advance, will have any effect on your minds, if you are deficient in this prime requisite of a hearer, faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No wonder if his words are, to the unbeliever, as a sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal.
The Apostle says, “The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” But be it remembered, that we are told in the Scripture, that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.—Therefore, hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus.
Let no one enter a church with those dispositions or intentions with which he enters a gay assembly, convened for the display of personal decoration. Let no one enter a place dedicated by human and divine laws to sacred things, from motives of mere curiosity, to hear a trial of skill in rhetoric, or for the amusement of a vacant hour. The spirit of criticism is essentially different from the spirit of devotion. The critic and the Christian are often distinct characters. Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him. He who comes merely with a view to be pleased, will think little of being profited. He who comes merely because he is idle, will probably slumber on his seat; and as he entered with carelessness, will remain with impatience, and depart with indifference. Ye are idle, ye are idle, said Pharaoh to the Israelites, therefore, ye say, let us go, and do sacrifice unto the Lord. After noticing the text, and marking the time, he will fold his hands together, compose himself in the arms of gentle dulness, count the slow minutes till the close of the discourse; then having yawned, and measured the length of the sermon with the accuracy of an astronomical observer, hasten away with looks of unmeaning satisfaction; though all that has been said has been like sweet melody to the deaf adder. He cannot watch one hour. He minds little at the time, reflects less afterwards, and continues exactly the same man he was before, though life and death are the issue. Like Gallio, he cares for none of these things; and his attendance at church, if his behaviour there did not arise rather from folly than guilty intention, might be termed a blasphemous mockery of the Almighty.
Even pious and well-disposed persons are but too apt to behave with an apparent inattention, which though it arises not from corruption of principle, but from mere thoughtlessness, and perhaps the gaiety of innocence, yet produces on themselves a bad effect, by gradually superinducing a disregard for sacred ordinances; and on others, by the influence of example. Affected, gestures, unnecessary whispers, occasional laughter, unmeaning ceremonies, and an apparent indifference of deportment, are wrong in themselves, give offence to the more devout, and tend to defeat the beneficial purposes of the whole institution. The strict decency of the sectaries in their places of worship, preserves a spirit of devotion among them, and should stimulate the sons of the church to afford a better example.
It has been justly observed, that not a few have been engaged so deeply in the observation of what they see at church, that they have no room left for taking notice of what they hear. As to the sermon, they are in the habit of thinking it something of course to be said, and not to be minded. When such persons have decorated themselves in the most whimsical, or gayest apparel, attracted notice, seen and been seen, it is enough;—Now, Lord, let thy servant depart in peace;—they leave piety and devotion to the minister, or any of their neighbours. An assembly room would have served their intentions better than the church. Vanity is their idol; and they fall down and worship it in the temple of the living God, like the idolators of the golden image.
And this reminds me of a very necessary caution to those who are, in other respects, sufficiently willing to obey the command,—Take heed how you hear. Let them avoid that common, but most unjust and uncharitable practice, of applying the observations of the pulpit to their neighbours, to particular persons, whom the preacher perhaps never had in view, and if he had, ought not to stigmatize in pointed and particular language; for though he hates their faults, he must love their persons, and seek their peace. He is commanded, indeed, to rebuke with all authority, but not to satirize with personal malice, and render those whose consciences he probes, objects of public censure. The minister who preaches at particular persons, as it is called, is guilty of a great offence to God and man. He takes an unmanly advantage of his consecrated situation, to gratify his own malignity. Whatever he so says, may justly raise displeasure in the party pointed out, but can never promote his reformation. But, on the other hand, let it be considered, that it is impossible to preach of virtues and vices, without sometimes drawing such characters as the censorious may apply to their neighbours, or some noxious individual. The pictures he paints could not be well delineated, if they resembled nobody. They are not drawn as portraits; but they must be pictures of human nature, or they will be drawn to no purpose. But beware of applying to particulars, what is only intended as a general representation; beware of finding out meanings never meant, and making piety a cloak for malice. I exhort you to apply whatever strikes you, to yourselves. Say rather, Lord, is it I? and leave your neighbour to his God and his conscience. To come to church to gratify spleen and resentment, is to add hypocrisy to malice. Piety without charity, is an offensive sacrifice, all rank and foul as a putrid victim on an altar, and ascends to heaven in fumes of an evil savour.
I will not proceed on this topic. You must see by this time, the great necessity of that precept, Take heed how you hear; and that the duties of the hearer as well as of the preacher, are urgent, numerous, and indispensable. Be careful to practise them, and you will greatly alleviate the burden of your minister, and enable him to do you good. Though he may not be sufficient for these things alone, yet, with your co-operation, and the divine blessing, he may contribute, as an humble instrument, weak though he be, to the comfort of your lives at present, to a resigned death, to a happy immortality.
Great objects these, a noble enterprise∗ Alas∗ Who is sufficient for these things? We ask the question with a sigh, and a deep sense of our own imperfections. Yet will we not sit down in indolence, doing nothing because we cannot do all that we desire. No; let us gird up the loins of our mind, do the best in our power, and trust for the result to him who, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, has ordained strength. Let us endeavour, by persuasive exhortations and sound doctrine, to train the young to virtue, to afford the old and the afflicted the consolations of Christianity, to promote charity and good-will among all. Be this our task. And if we bring an honest and sincere mind to the performance of it, God will accept it; you will accept it; you will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss, but will extend that indulgence, which each of you wish in the performance of your several duties in the station to which Providence has called you, to your religious instructor. You will consider that he is but a man. Expect him not to be a God. Be satisfied, if, human errors excepted, he is a faithful, a zealous minister to you, for the greatest good to which your wishes can aspire. In the most despicable sermon, an humble mind may find something to exercise its charity and its patience, if not to excite its zeal, and improve its knowledge.
Whoever then is appointed to be your instructor, examine whether you do the duty of a hearer, before you censure the failure of the preacher.
Say to yourselves in your meditations on the doctrine received from this place on your departure, How have I this day spent the few hours which God has allotted me for the purpose of moral and religious improvement? Like my neighbours, and in compliance with the laws and customs of my country, I repaired to the church. If there is any meaning in human actions, I went to pray, to return thanks, and to be instructed in my duty. Was I humble? Was I warmed with charity to man, and piety to God? Did I hunger and thirst after righteousness? Did I forgive, as I hope to be forgiven? Was I attentive to the preacher, not merely as a critic of his performance, but as a critic of my own life, my own defects, and the most probable means of improving? Was I dull, careless, thoughtless, absent, vain, censorious, inclined to scoff at all religion, and to cavil at the difficult passages of the Scriptures, and the doctrines delivered from the pulpit? Have I only complied with a decent custom? Did I go to display my personal ornaments, to be entertained or amused, and to pass away an idle hour? Did I think the offices tedious? Did I apply what was said in general, to my neighbours in particular; secretly rejoicing, that one whom I hate, might be mortified by the reflections of the preacher? If so, is my conduct to be reconciled to reason, to benevolence, to a regard to my own happiness, and the happiness of my neighbour? I have not hitherto duly considered the duties of the hearer; but, if I go to church with such behaviour and such dispositions, I am so far from doing a meritorious action, that I am aggravating my sins, offending my neighbour, and provoking, most justly, God's wrath and indignation against me. I will henceforth take heed to my ways. I will remember that it was our Saviour himself who spoke as never man spoke, and not merely the preacher, who said, if “Take heed how you hear.” Even when our Saviour preached, I see it was necessary that his hearers should be taught to take heed how they hear, in order to render even his discourses efficacious. In future I will take care to put on, with my best apparel, my best dispositions; to be clothed with righteousness, a more becoming and beautiful dress for the church, than the most costly and splendid garments, Yes, O God, I will fall before thee in thine house, prostrating my soul, forgetting a while the world and its vanities, and clinging to thee as my support and comfort, when myfeet shall stumble on the dark mountains, and in all the changes and chances of this mortal life. Whoever is the preacher, and whatever the doctrine, 1 will not be wanting to myself, a fallen, sinful, undeserving creature as I am, who may lose my senses and my life in a moment, and who have need of every help to keep me from deplorable depravity and misery unutterable∗
If thus you argue with yourself, you will go home with a blessing on your head, and probably find all your days sweetly tranquillised by the devout exercise of your Sundays. It was an observation of the learned Judge Hales, an able lawyer, in a profession not much addicted to superstition, “that he found the success and happiness of the ensuing week, greatly depend on the manner in which he spent his Sunday.”
But, if the ministerial office is able to contribute to your happiness, surely those who exercise it, notwithstanding an insufficiency arising from infirmity, are worthy of your esteem for their works sake. Yes; we seek your esteem. We are not ashamed to avow that ambition. We seek your esteem; not indeed from vanity, but that our instructions may be more efficacious, our doctrine more acceptable. Popularity is only so far to be desired, as it renders the ministry of him, who is so happy as to enjoy it, more beneficial. It is often in itself a snare to its possessor, and in the present state of the church it certainly leads not to lucrative advantage. It is, however, an instrument of great good, and therefore much to be valued, if it comes uncourted by sinister arts, and mean compliances with unreasonable demands.
Let me conclude with reminding you after all, that the hearing of sermons is no virtue in itself, but merely an auxiliary duty. Let us therefore be, as the Apostle desires, doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving ourselves. The words of Ezekiel may not be inapplicable to this occasion. Son of man, says he, the children of thy people still are talking of thee by the walls, and within the doors of the houses; and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from, the Lord.
And they come unto thee, and they sit before thee as my people; and they hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after covetousness.
And lo∗ thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
Thus you recollect, that though pleasure may be made the vehicle of instruction, yet it must not be the end in which we are to acquiesce. The salutary draught may be sweetened, the health-restoring pill may be gilded; but if we take nothing but the syrup and the gilding, our eye or our palate may be pleased, while our disease remains uncured. Come with an honest and upright heart, and a sincere desire, not of being amused only, but of learning, in order to practise, your duty; and then, however mean the performance or the performer, you will not depart without a blessing. God will open your ears, illuminate your understandings, and direct your inclinations to the things which belong unto your peace.
It evidently appears then, that both hearer and preacher may justly exclaim, when they duly consider their duties, Who is sufficient for these things? What remains, but that they supplicate the God of mercies to supply their defects, to accept, after their earnest endeavours, the will for the deed, and to let his mercy receive, what his justice might reject and condemn.
Let us all, both hearers and preachers, remember with comfort, that though we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, yet our sufficiency is of God, who, in “all our works begun, continued, and ended in him, will assist us with his most gracious favour; that we may glorify his most holy name, and finally obtain everlasting salvation.”