Front Page Titles (by Subject) 27: William Smith, A SERMON PREACHED BEFORE A CONVENTION OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH - Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
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27: William Smith, A SERMON PREACHED BEFORE A CONVENTION OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH - Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) 
Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1.
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A SERMON PREACHED BEFORE A CONVENTION OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
William Smith (1727–1803). Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Smith was educated at the University of Aberdeen and then emigrated to New York in 1751. A man of controversy and extremes, Smith immediately joined Samuel Seabury and other Anglicans in the struggle to define King’s College as an Anglican rather than a nonsectarian institution. The controversy, and his A General Idea of the College of Mirania (1753), brought Smith to the public’s attention and to the favor of Benjamin Franklin, who brought him to the College of Philadelphia, as it became in 1755. Smith was appointed a professor of logic, rhetoric, and natural and moral philosophy and was ordained an Anglican priest. He served as provost of the College until 1779 and again from 1789 to 1791, when the University of Pennsylvania was formed. He was awarded doctorates of divinity by the universities at Oxford, Dublin, and Aberdeen and became a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1768.
Along the way Smith had parted company with his more moderate sponsor, Franklin, taking the side of the colonial proprietors in favoring a vigorous policy against the French and Indians during the war that raged from 1755 to 1763, rather than the passivity and compromise favored by the Quakers, Germans, and colonial assembly. He made many enemies in the process, and even though he opposed the Stamp Act in 1765 and preached A Sermon on the Present Situation (1775) arguing the American case (responded to by John Wesley in A Calm Address to Our American Colonies), Smith could never warm to the cause of independence and was driven out of Pennsylvania in 1779. He moved to Maryland and spent a decade there, establishing the Kent School (later renamed Washington College), and becoming a founder of the Protestant Episcopal Church. He spent his last years in Philadelphia and died there.
A fine writer, gifted teacher, and powerful preacher, Smith held uncompromisingly to a view of religion and culture that he saw threatened by multiple dangers: the popery of the French, the barbarity of the Indians, the enthusiasm of the revivalists, the quietism of the Quakers, the alien culture of the Germans, and the dangers of republicanism bereft of virtue and the steadying hand of traditional authority.
Hold fast the form of sound Words which thou hast heard of me in Faith and Love which is in Christ Jesus—That good Thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.
For the Time will come when they will not endure sound Doctrine, but after their own Lusts shall heap to themselves Teachers, having itching Ears, and they shall turn away their Ears from the Truth, and shall be turned unto Fables.
2 Tim. ch. i. ver. 13, 14,—and ch. iv. ver. 3, 4.
In this very adventurous and inquisitive day, when men spurning their kindred-earth, on which they were born to tread, will dare, on airy (or baloon) wing to soar into the regions of the sky; were it the pleasure of our Almighty Creator to purge any of us mortals of our terrestrial dross, and to place us, in good earnest, upon some distant orb, from which with clear and serene view, corporeal as well as intellectual, we could survey this world of ours—what a strange scene would it appear? Itself, in the rank of worlds, dwindled into a small mole-hill; and men, the little Emmets upon it, bustling and driving and crossing each other, as if there were no settled walk of life, no common tie, or “Form of sound words to be held fast of all, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus![”]
In our intellectual view, from this eminence of station, we should behold one sett of men boasting of the all-sufficient and transcendent power of reason as their rule and guide, yet all wandering through different tracts in the same pursuits of happiness and peace! We should find another sett of men declaring themselves the special favorites of heaven, directed by a glorious inward light, communicated (or as they apprehend, communicated) immediately from the everlasting fountain of all light; yet neither should we perceive them to be travelling in the same common way! But, thirdly, we should find another sett of men, and those of truly respectable and venerable name, professing themselves guided only by a sure and written form of sound words, revealed and given to them for their instruction and salvation, by their Almighty Creator himself. Yet, alas! they would be seen, perhaps, almost as irregular and eccentric in all their motions as the rest!
This is a sad view of things—and as the poet says—
And would to God, therefore, that, in all religions and in all sciences, this accursed root of bitterness and contrariety could be wholly plucked out. For until humanity and divine charity can have their sway, until our faith is exercised in love, and the truths of God are held in righteousness of life, there will never be a total harmony among men!
However strong our reason, however enligtened our souls, however ardent our faith; unless that spirit of love and humanity be in us, which was in Christ Jesus, all besides will be of little value.
With good reason, therefore, does St. Paul admonish his beloved Timothy to let his faith be exercised in love, and “to hold fast the form of sound words which he had heard of him”; for even in those early days, some had begun to depart from the foundation laid by Christ and his apostles; following “vain babblings,” being like withered leaves, sticking to the tree, only to be blown away by the first wind of doctrine; still desiring to hear some new thing; led by the ear and not by the heart, or as it is strongly expressed in my text, “heaping to themselves teachers, having itching ears, &c.”
A venerable old luminary of our church, soon after the Reformation, preaching even before princes and nobles, has a most severe stroke of irony against this itching humour, according to the honest and indignant (altho perhaps blunt) satyr of the times. It is to the following* effect—
“All is hearing, now a-days—no fruits—the ear is all! and if it were not for our ear-mark, no man could tell we were Christians!”
But, if I may pursue the allusion, it is not the ear-mark but the heart-mark, by which at the great day of accounts, we shall be known and acknowledged as belonging to Christ’s sheepfold in the other world; nor is it the despising sound doctrine, the following vain fables and still seeking something new, that can denominate us of his flock in this world.
This whole epistle of St. Paul to Timothy (in whose character as a preacher of the gospel he appears peculiarly interested) is intended to stir him up, and all preachers and friends of the gospel after him, to diligence and zeal in maintaining and enforcing its divine truths, against heresies and corruptions.
“I charge thee, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the world at his appearing, and kingdom.” And what does he charge in this awful manner? It is a charge which, as it may be drawn from the whole of this epistle, it becomes all the preachers of the gospel of every age and denomination to hear, and (thro’ grace) to follow with reverence and awe.
“I charge thee, preach the word”—even the eternal word of truth and salvation by Jesus Christ, or, as he has it a little above—“Stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands.” Consider thyself as called and separated to this great work of the ministry, according to the true appointment of Christ, “by the putting on of an apostle’s hands.” Wherefore, “be instant in season and out of season.” Let no occasion escape you either in public or private, in times of ease or times of difficulty. Be not dismayed, nor fear the powers of this world; “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind”; and therefore, “Reprove, rebuke”—reprove transgression and sin, even tho’ cloathed with terror and seated in high places. “Be not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord”; but hold it forth boldly against whatever is at enmity to his cross, and the truth and spirit of his holy religion. Be not weary nor faint in this great work; but, if thereunto called, “Be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God, who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling.”
Thus, in all trials and conditions, continue stedfast in the faith of Jesus, and “exhort with all long suffering and [soundness of] doctrine”; leaving the success and issue in the hands of our great Master and Judge—“For the time will come” (when the preaching of the gospel may not have any visible influence on the hearts of many, nay a time) “when they will [not] endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
In these words are described with wonderful majesty and simplicity, the chief obstacles to the success of the preached gospel, and the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus in the hearts of men.
They will not endure sound doctrine. They will not, by faith resign their spirits to the holy influence and direction of the spirit of God. Whatever runs contrary to their carnal and unrenewed affections, they wish to reject; never considering that the gospel of Christ was not intended, by its divine author, to flatter our corrupt lusts, or gratify the irregularities of sense and unsubdued appetite; but to reform the heart and regulate the will; or, as it is more fully and beautifully expressed by our apostle, “to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Thus it is that men turn away their eyes from the pure light of the gospel, because it would render their darkness visible. They seek to follow the shadow of truth and “cunningly devised fables,” in order to stifle their own convictions, and gain a temporary quiet, rather than strive, through the grace offered them, to cast down all vain imaginations, and yield to their great Creator that pure worship of the heart, that evangelical obedience and righteousness of life, which Christ died to establish; and by which only we can derive true peace and everlasting joy; so true it is (what the scriptures tell us) that where “the gospel is hid, it is hid to them whom the God of this world hath blinded.”
This perverseness of temper subsisted in the hearts of men, even before “the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, shone unto them.” Men had then, at least, the light of conscience and natural reason (and one people had also the law and the prophets super-added) as their rule and guide. But these were disregarded by far too many; and when their lives became corrupted, they corrupted their reason, their conscience, their rules of wisdom and religion also; fashioning the whole to their own imaginations, and opening the way to all that ignorance and idolatry, which philosophers and patriarchs, holy men and prophets, patriots and lawgivers, strove in vain to eradicate or destroy. For, as our apostle tells us, God did not leave even the heathen world without a witness in their hearts; because “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world were clearly seen, being [to be] understood by the things that are made; namely his eternal power and godhead”—visible and speaking in the hearts of men, through his great and gracious works of creation and Providence!
But men revolted against the God within them, “and became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened”; so that professing “themselves to be wise [in their own conceits] they became foolish, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.”
The like corruptions (I need not mention it to a Christian audience) are recorded, for our instruction, to have taken place among the Jewish nation, under the law and the prophets. And, alas! how short a time was the gospel of Christ received (as we learn from our apostle and other sacred writers) before some who had been baptized into the name of Christ, fell from their faith; “denying the Lord that bought them and through covetousness, with feigned words, making merchandize of souls.” From Simon Magus downwards they began to “heap to themselves teachers”; dividing the Christian world with endless disputes and speculations about the form and shadow of religion, neglecting the substance; till, at length, scarce any where could be found that purity of manners, that sanctity of life, that spirit of truth and love, that holy zeal and fortitude, that simplicity and beauty of holiness, which were the glory of primitive Christianity.
It became almost a vain doctrine, that Jesus Christ had come into the world to blot out the hand-writing of ordinances, or nail them to his cross. For in what was then considered as the universal Christian church, the inventions of men were more and more multiplied, and the pure light of the gospel obscured, until at length it was almost wholly overshadowed or hid under an enormous pile of rubbish, and superstition, and pageantry, and will-worship and bodily servitude, more monstrous and burdensome than all the idolatry of the Jews, or even the barbarous rites of the gentiles!
Yet God, of his infinite goodness, in those corrupt ages of the church, did not leave himself wholly without some chosen witnesses; who contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, till at length, after the long night of darkness and error, the day dawned, and the glorious sun of the gospel again shone forth under the blessed Reformation; when our fathers, the founders, or rather the restorers, of the church whereof we profess ourselves the members, bore an illustrious part (many of them with the price of their blood) in throwing down the vast fabric of straw and stubble, and building again upon the pure and stable foundation, that rock of ages which isChrist! True religion again lifted up her radiant head in ours and other reformed churches, who “sought the good old way to walk therein, that so they might find rest to their souls.” They turned their hearts to the truth as it is in Jesus, and did not seek to be turned unto fables. For truth is ancient, and whatever any reformers may propose that is altogether new, we may well suspect to be altogether false; the religion of the gospel being stamped with this great character of its adoreable author, that it is the same to day, yesterday and for ever!
But it is a misfortune incident to our imperfect condition in this world, that the best things may be abused. That liberty which is necessary for repelling temporal as well as spiritual bondage—that freedom of debate and enquiry which ought to be maintained for the further investigation and dissemination of truth in a liberal, enlightened and philosophic age—all these may be perverted and abused! Even with the broad day-light of the gospel shining round us, and while that church* which was once the great bar to Christian Reformation, is now giving most comfortable and edifying proofs of a contrary temper, and of an enlarged and tolerating spirit (except so far, Alas! as she yet finds it convenient to accommodate religion to worldly purposes)—I say, even amidst this abundance of light and liberty, this general reforming spirit, occasion hath been taken to reform too much, to fill the world, as of old, with disputes and distinctions totally unessential to Christianity, and destructive of its true spirit, when set in opposition to the weightier matters of the law—vital piety and true evangelical obedience.
Thus, too many seem to run a constant round from error to truth, and from truth to error back again—
—there being scarce a folly of all the ancient corruptions of Christianity, which might not be shown to be now acting over again, by some novel-sect or another of the present day!
How long, alas! how long shall such things be! How long shall circumstantials prevail over essentials, embittering the followers of the lowly Jesus, and “enflaming their breasts with a madness even unto death”?
The first Christians were the admiration of the world for their love and union in their humble and suffering state. And will nothing less than suffering, will not the spirit of the gospel itself, prevail on us to remove this stone of stumbling, to wipe away this reproach of our profession, and to heal our unchristian breaches!
Why should those part on earth, who all wish to meet again in heaven? Although a perfect union in lesser matters may not be attainable, nor perhaps needful, in this world; yet the want of this could never lead to a breach of unity in affection, if men would not lay stress, where God has laid none. Unity of judgment is, indeed, a great ornament of Christianity and needful to its well-being; but unity of affection is essential to its very being and existence, and was the great badge by which Christ declared his disciples should be known. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” If, therefore, upon every slight notion or apprehension, we cast this badge away, we are none of his.
Those things which he hath declared necessary to our salvation, as might well be expected from so wise and merciful a lawgiver, are so clear as not to be easily mistaken by an honest mind; and they have all this plain mark, that they tend to make men wiser and better; whereas those things that occasion so much unchristian noise and uncharitable censure in the world, are, for the most part but points of doubtful speculation; in which good men might suffer each other to be at rest, according to that measure of light which they have attained. For why should an agreement in some poor controversial point of faith or doctrine, be set in eminent place above all other virtues or graces, and made the badge of our Christianity? Surely, brethren—and I will repeat it again and again—there is a greater weight of religion in the evangelic grace of charity, in one sigh of good-will to men, than in all the doubtful questions about which the Protestant churches have been puzzling themselves, and biting and devouring each other since the days of their Reformation!
Thus to seek our religion in things without us, is to seek the living among the dead. The gospel of Christ teaches far different things. It teaches us to look for God and religion within us;—that we are to be renovated and strengthened by the intellectual touches of his divine spirit upon our spirits;—that we are to “taste and see that he is good,”—see with our eyes, hear with our ears and handle with our hands the word of life. And the marks of this gracious state, this experimental knowledge and vital religion will be manifested, not in loud and lofty pretensions to superior knowledge and sanctity; but by the calm spirits of love and good works—in mildness, serenity and resignation of the whole soul to God.
But too many, letting go their hold of the form of sound words, and substituting or mistaking mere mechanical motions—the fervors of heated imagination—for the true and active signs of grace, those living impulses of God on the soul, are often carried into the wildest extravagances. Fetching the marks of their religion from the notions of visionary or mystical men, instead of looking for them in the life and gospel of Christ, they set their passions to work, and at length persuade or terrify themselves into all those experiences and feelings, which pass, in their creed, as the evidences of salvation.
Buoyed up by such strong delusions, they think “they have built their mansions among the stars, have ascended above the moon, and left the sun under their feet”; while they are still but like their kindred-meteors, which having scarce mounted to the middle regions are precipitated downwards again by their own gross and earthly particles! A devotion worked up by fervor, whatever proceeds from the mere force of animal spirits is of the earth, earthy; in no manner like to that true spirit of regeneration which is of the Lord from heaven, and begets the divine life in the souls of men. This true celestial warmth will never be extinguished, being of an immortal nature; and, when once vitally seated in the heart, it does not work by fits and starts, but expands itself more and more, regulating, purifying and exalting the whole inward man!
It is, indeed, of great importance that we should be grounded in our principles, and adhere to the form of sound words, as my text directs us—but we must not stand still at principles or doctrines, but “go on to perfection.” Our faith must not be a mere empty assent to the truth, but the holding the truth in love. It is love that shews our faith to be genuine. By this it must work, and by this only can God be well pleased. For love flowing from faith is the hand-writing of God on the heart. Whatever proceeds from it will bear his image and superscription. He will know it as his own, and openly acknowledge as such, before men and angels, at the last day.
This fruit of love is what St. Paul every where holds up for the trial of our faith and spirits. “The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance and the like!” All other marks of the soundness of our faith, except these gospel-marks, namely the fruits of the spirit, are only a dangerous ministration of fuel for inflammable tempers, or of despair to those of a contrary frame.
How think you, brethren, shall the branch of a tree most safely know whether it derives sap from the body and root? Is it by tracing minutely all the vessels and canals thro’ which the moisture is ever silently flowing? This would be too intricate a labor—but to find itself covered with leaves, flowers and fruit, leads to a sure conclusion.
Far be it from me to question what may pass on the inner stage of a man’s heart; or to deny that God, who pervades and actuates the whole material world with his goodness, should not also delight to influence the world of spirits, and to give testimony to the souls of men in every thing well-pleasing to him. This world were a most gloomy scene without the belief of God’s active presence and applauding testimony.
My text is love. I would not do violence to my subject. My disposition forbids uncharitable censure—I would judge no man’s heart, nor seek to weaken those comfortable workings or experiences which any may apprehend there—But I would warn and exhort all “who think they stand, to take heed lest they fall.” And especially, if they think they have ascended high, and skip like roes on the mountains, let them remember that the greater their height, the more will it be necessary to have all their own eyes about them. Let them not look down in scorn upon those who walk humbly on through the vale below; lest thereby they miss their own tract, and be precipitated with the greater ruin. Whoever may think to climb up to God, and by immediate vision or illumination to read in his effulgent countenance their own special favor, will (it may be feared) find their wings scorched, their wax melted, and fall down from this towering height of ungrounded persuasion!
Safer far, most surely it is, to discover the conformity of our souls to God’s will, through the reflected light of his written word. The Lamb’s book of life is a great mystery, reserved for himself to open at the last day. Who, then, shall think to open it immediately and read its awful secrets, either concerning himself or others?
All ages have witnessed numerous delusions from this source. The heart of man is very deceitful, and evil will often pass upon us for good; even as Satan, for certain purposes, will sometimes transform himself into an angel of light.
Hence it is that, among men, spiritual pride will assume the guise of extraordinary sanctity; censoriousness will pass for a just reproof of sin; gloomy severity for strictness of conscience; backbiting and busy meddling with the affairs of others, as a zealous concern for their reformation; our own prejudices or hasty conceptions, as improvements in the modes of faith; vain phantasies for divine impulsies; and a fierceness for the particular shibboleths of party, as a zeal for the essentials of Christianity! But, be assured that none of these things have the stamp of Jesus on them. His wisdom begets and teaches far different things. It is the modest, humble, ingenuous, charitable spirit that denominates the true believer; and whenever we see any sect or party of men more closely linked to each other, by their peculiarities of thinking, than the great law of gospel charity can bind them to the whole houshold of faith, to all sincere Christians—we may well doubt whether such ties can be of God!
Love and good-will to our fellow-travellers, through this valley of tears to a better country, as it is above all speculative points of belief, so it is the true mark of our own belief. To multiply matters of faith by human inventions, and to let our zeal run out in things of this nature, is to weaken charity and to tempt God. It is to be for ever laying foundations, neglecting the superstructure, and forgetting St. Paul’s judgment, that concerning such things we trouble not the brethren.
We should all be workers together in building up the body of Christ’s church. But what sort of building must that be where the hearts and tongues of the builders are at variance with each other? Where there is no unity of design, but envyings, strifes and confusions among the workmen? Where some members will attach themselves immoderately to some particular points of faith or doctrine; where they will not bear the whole truth, nor fully ponder the form of sound words; where they are full of censure and bitterness; pronouncing even their instructors ignorant or carnal, who labor with all conscience to lay before them the whole counsel of God; and desert their stated ordinances, following after cunningly devised fables, and heaping to themselves teachers having itching ears?
Can this be the true fruits of the spirit, or tend to the edification, or building up the body of Christ’s church? I would speak with great love, but with great plainness too—this may build up the walls of a Babel, but cannot rear up the walls of Jerusalem, which is to be a city of peace, at unity within itself.
Unbelievers, too, receive great triumph at this. In vain do we tell them that “our religion is divine and worthy of all acceptation.” Their answer is at hand—“If you would be called the disciples of Christ, shew us that you have the spirit of Christ dwelling in you. Shew us the divinity of your religion by its influence on your lives. First be agreed among yourselves what your religion is, before you press it for our acceptance. Were it truly divine, it would be so clear and explicit as not to be easily mistaken by an honest enquirer, nor to admit of the least controversy in points of faith. Would a religion from God kindle the wild-fire of unhallowed zeal, or sanctify wrath, and railings, and persecutions, and frauds, and perjuries, and even murders, to do God service?”
These charges, brethren, have had their answers. For from the abuse against the use there is no conclusion. But the most powerful answer would be in our own lives as Christians; bringing our religion down from our heads to our hearts, and following that divine law of love, which is the very spirit of the gospel!
What need I spend more of your time in applying the doctrine of my text to the present occasion of our meeting? an occasion (I will only add) on which if you could be indulged to hear the voice of an apostle or angel from God, he would preach to you—love and unity!
Consider that you are members of a church, which is acknowledged by all the Christian world to teach the doctrine of the gospel, and to hold fast the form of sound words, the faith once delivered to the saints—a church which has given to the world a long and illustrious list of eminent divines, pious preachers and even glorious confessors and martyrs for the truth as it is in Jesus.
But in this country, at present such is her state, that she calls for the pious assistance and united support of all her true sons, and of the friends of Christianity in general. Besides a famine of the preached word, her sound doctrines are deserted by many, who “turn away their ears from the truth” as taught by her, and heap to themselves teachers as described in the text. But let us leave all such to God and their own consciences—if they have but weighed matters seriously, and have not suffered themselves to be imposed upon by cunningly devised fables—they have a right to follow St. Paul’s advice and to be persuaded in their own mind. If the kingdom of Jesus be promoted, by whatsoever means and instruments, let us with the same Apostle have joy therein; Some, says he, preach Christ even of envy and strife, supposing to add afflictions to my bonds—notwithstanding this, every way, whether in pretence or truth, Christ is preached; and therein do I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. As to those who profess not to oppose our church, but to be fellow-workers with us in the same great cause, nay, to go beyond us in all godly zeal and holiness—let us be roused by their example and pray them God-speed. A time will come when whatever is intemperate and new-fangled in religion will be done away, or lost and swallowed up in Christian charity; and those who have been tossed upon the ocean of doubt and uncertainty, will again seek for rest and comfort in the bosom of the true church of Christ.
It is not from such that our church receives her chief wounds. It is from the luke-warmness and growing indifference of her own professed members—who are supplied with the word and doctrine, but know not how to value the things that belong to our peace until they are now almost hid from our eyes! Any excuse of weather, any worldly avocation of pleasure or profit, any hasty grudge or prejudice against the ministers of religion, will induce many to neglect the worship of their great Creator. Too many more are spoiled or staggered in their faith by what is called the free and philosophic, but more truly, the loose and libertine principles of the present day. Many others, from a selfish and niggardly spirit, or from a dissipation of their substance in luxury and intemperance, will not, or cannot, yield the mite which is necessary for supporting the ordinances of religion. Thus they become ashamed to appear in the place of God’s worship, leaving the burden of all upon a few, whose conscience and the awful dread of an account to be given hereafter, will not suffer them to desert their Master’s gospel, to renounce their baptism, and trample under foot the blood of the covenant wherewith they are sanctified.
Hence religion mourns, and the houses and altars of God, erected by the piety of our forefathers, are deserted and running into ruin. The tempests beat and the winds howl thro’ the shattered roofs and mouldering walls of our places of worship; while our burying-grounds and church-yards, the graves, the monuments, and the bones of our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, and friends, are left open and unprotected from the beasts of the field; as if all our care was only to succeed to the honors, the estates and places of emolument which belonged to our friends and ancestors, without any regard to their memories or venerable ashes!
In the late times of war, distress and confusion, there might be some plea for this reproach of our Christian name; but now, with the blessed prospects of peace, liberty, safety, and future prosperity before us, I trust this reproach will be speedily done away; to which nothing can so eminently contribute as love and union among ourselves joined to a rational and enlightened zeal and public spirit. For, in all our pursuits, we must rest at plain and practical points at last, which are few in number, and in religion come to little more than Solomon found, viz. that “the fear of God and keeping his commandments is the whole duty of man”; or, in all the sciences, what another wise man found as the sum of his enquiries—that
O heaven-born charity! what excellent things are spoken of thee! What a transcendent rank was assigned thee, when the Saviour of the world gave thee as the badge of his holy religion; and his inspired apostles enthroned thee as the queen of all Christian virtues, declaring that neither the martyr’s zeal, the self-denial of the saint, nor all languages, nor all knowledge, nor any virtue besides, would profit the man any thing who is unadorned with thy sweet cœlestial garb. Christ himself vouchsafed to wear thee as his own garb on earth, and if we expect to be benefited by his death, it must be by following that great law of love, which he enforced with his last words. All other virtues shall have their completion, and be of no service to us beyond our pilgrimage on this earth. But charity thou shalt endure for ever!—Even as some majestic river, when it comes to mix its streams with its parent ocean, needs no further supply from the scanty rills, and tributary fountains which flowed in its course from every mountain-side—so charity, which is now fed and nourished by the streams of faith and hope in this lower world, when it comes to its native heaven shall have no further need of their scanty supply, but shall mix and flow for ever undiminished in the unbounded ocean of the Father’s love.
Wherefore then, brethren, put on this most excellent gift of charity. Try the faith that is in you by this great test—Hold fast the form of sound words, the holy scriptures, the pure doctrines, the excellent forms of prayer, praise and thanksgiving, drawn from scripture by our church—hold them fast in faith working by love. Take them for your perfect rule and guide—they will make you wise unto salvation—what ever is imagined more, or beyond scripture—all that is beside final perfection and salvation, count it vain and superfluous. Seek not to be wise above what is written, nor establish any vain imaginations of your own for the sure form of sound words. What you have received, hold fast with a fervent and enlightened, but with a holy and charitable, zeal. Add nothing; diminish nothing; but let this lamp of God shine among you till the day-dawn, till the morning of the resurrection, and walk ye in the light of it, not kindling any sparkles of your own to mix with its pure and hallowed lustre.
Let not your best state too much elevate, nor your worst too much depress, you. Whereunto you have attained, walk; yet sit not down with attainments, but forgetting what is behind press still forward, having perfect holiness in your eye and purpose.
“Remember that faith without works is dead. Remember that God commands works, grace establishes them, Christ died to confirm them, the spirit is given to influence them; and that without a holy, humble and peaceable life, we annul the law, abuse the gospel, trample upon grace, frustrate the end of Christ’s death, grieve the spirit, dishonor God, and give the lie to our holy profession.” If one coming as an apostle or as an angel from heaven were to preach to you any other gospel than you have received, I trust, you would say, let him not be believed.
Thus, with the truth in our heads and love in our hearts; with zeal and public spirit; with a concern for liberty, civil and religious; with industry and economy; with a strict care for the education of youth and their nurture and admonition in the fear of the Lord; this American land shall become a great and glorious empire!
Transported at the thought, I am born into future days! I see this new world rising in her glory, and behold period still brightening upon period. Where depths of gloomy wilderness now extend and shut out even beams of day, I behold polished villas and religious domes spreading around. In places now accustomed only to the yell of savage beasts, or men more savage than they, I hear the voice of happy labor, and behold towery cities growing into the skies. Even the native Indian forgets his wonted rudeness and is patient of the lore of dove-eyed wisdom. His bloody hatchet he buries deep under the ground, and his murderous knife he turns into a pruning hook to lop the tender vine, and teach the luxuriant shoot how to grow.
Hasten, O blessed God, hasten this glorious period of thy son’s kingdom which we know shall yet come! And, O ye, who now enjoy the blessed opportunity, be ye the happy means of hastening it. Adorn by your lives the divine doctrines which you profess with your lips, that the heathen and unbeliever, seeing your good works may be the sooner led to glorify your Father who is in heaven!
For this cause, I now bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, most earnestly beseeching him that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, world without end.
[* ]This Quotation is made from the strong impression which the sentiment made upon the author’s memory, many years ago, on reading over the works of the old Divines of the Church of England; and he thinks the words are those of Bishop Andrews. But as the author never made any Common-Place of his reading, and composed this sermon, or rather threw it together, on a few hours notice, to suit the occasion on which he was to appear; he cannot be sure that he retains any thing more than the general sentiments of those respectable Divines, upon whose writings and sentiments of orthodoxy, he endeavoured to form himself in his youth, and which he hath never scrupled freely to make use of in his pulpit-compositions. In this sermon he hath fully delivered his sentiments, as to whatever may be pretended new in the divinity of the gospel.
[* ]The Rev. Mr. Charles Henry Wharton of Maryland, but late chaplain to the Roman Catholic Society in the city of Worcester in England, has the following truly candid and liberal remark, in a most excellent letter “Stating the motives which induced him to relinquish their communion and become a member of the Protestant church.