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First, I shall produce certain instances to show the great neglect of preaching now among us.
These may be reduced under two heads. First, men's absence from the service of the church; and secondly, their misbehaviour when they are here.
The first instance of men's neglect, is in their frequent absence from the church.
There is no excuse so trivial, that will not pass upon some men's consciences to excuse their attendance at the public worship of God. Some are so unfortunate as to be always indisposed on the Lord's-day, and think nothing so unwholesome as the air of a church. Others have their affairs so oddly contrived, as to be always unluckily prevented by business. With some it is a great mark of wit and deep understanding to stay at home on Sundays. Others again discover strange fits of laziness, that seize them particularly on that day, and confine them to their beds. Others are absent out of mere contempt of religion. And, lastly, there are not a few who look upon it as a
it as a day of rest, and therefore claim the privilege of their cattle, to keep the sabbath by eating, drinking, and sleeping, after the toil and labour of the week. Now in all this, the worst circumstance is, that these persons are such, whose companies are most required, and who stand most in need of a physician.
Secondly, Men's great neglect and contempt of preaching appear by their misbehaviour when at church.
If the audience were to be ranked under several heads, according to their behaviour when the word of God is delivered, how small a number would appear of those who receive it as they ought! How much of the seed then sown would be found to fall by the way-side, upor stony ground; or among thorns; and how little good ground there would be to take it! A preacher cannot 'look round from the pulpit, without observing that some are in a perpetual whisper, and, by their air and gesture, give occasion to suspect that they are in those very minutes defaming their neighbour. 'Others have their eyes and imagination constantly engaged in such a circle of objects, perhaps to gratify the most unwarrantable desires, that they never once attend to the business of the place; the sound of the preacher's words do not so much as once interrupt them. Some have their minds wandering among idle, worldly, or vicious thoughts. Some lie at catch to ridicule whatever they hear, and with much wit and humour provide a stock of laughter, by turnishing themselves from the pulpit. But, of all misbehaviour, none is comparable to that of those who come here to sleep. Opium is not so stupifying to many persons as an afternoon sermon. Perpetual custom hath so brought it about, that the words of whatever preacher, become only a sort of uniform sound at a distance, than which nothing is inore effectual to lull the senses. For that it is the very sound of the sermon which bindeth up their faculties, is manifest from hence, because they all awake so very regularly as soon as it ceaseth, and with much devotion receive the blessing, dozed and besotted with indecencies I am ashamed to repeat.
I proceed, secondly, to reckon up some of the usual quarrels men have against preaching, and to show the unreasonableness of them.
Such unwarrantable behaviour as I have described among Christians, in the house of God, in
a solemn assembly, while their faith and duty are explained and delivered, have put those who are guilty upon inventing some excuses to extenuate
heir fault: this they do by turning the blame either upon the particular preacher, or upon preaching in general. First, they object against the particular preacher; his manner, his delivery, his voice, are disagreeable; his style and expression are flat and slow; sometimes improper and absurd; the matter is heavy, trivial, and insipid; sometimes despicable and perfectly ridiculous; or else, on the other side, he runs up into unintelligible speculation, empty notions, and abstracted flights, all clad in words above usual understandings.
Secondly, They object against preaching in general; it is a perfect road of talk; they know already whatever can be said ; they have heard the same a hundred times over. They quarrel that preachers do not relieve an old beaten subject with wit and invention; and that now the art is lost of moving men's passions, so common among the ancient orators of Greece and Rome. These, and the like objections, are frequently in the mouths of men who despise the foolishness of preaching. But let us examine the reasonableness of them.
The doctrine delivered by all preachers is the same : “So we preach, and so ye believe :” But the manner of delivering is suited to the skill and abilities of each, which differ in preachers, just as in the rest of mankind. However, in personal dislikes of a particular preacher, are these men sure they are always in the right? do they consider how mixed a thing is every audience, whose taste and judgment differ, perhaps, every day, not only from each other, but themselves? and how to calculate a discourse that shall exactly suit them all, is beyond the force and reach of human reason, knowledge, or invention. Wit and eloquence are shining qualities, that God hath imparted, in great degrees, to very few; nor any more to be expected, in the generality of any rank among men, than riches and honour. But farther : if preaching in general be all old and beaten, and that they are already so well acquainted with it, more shame and guilt to them who so little edify by it. But, these men, whose ears are so delicate as not to endure a plain discourse of religion, who expect a constant supply of wit and eloquence on a subject handled so many thousand times; what will they say when we turn the objection upon themselves, who with all the rude and profane liberty of discourse they take, upon so many thousand subjects, are so duil as to furnish nothing but tedious repetitions, and little paltry, nauseous common-places, so vulgar, so worn, or so obvious, as, upon any other occasion but that of advancing vice, would be hooted off the stage? Nor, lastly, are preachers justly blamed for neglecting human oratory to move the passions, which is not the business of a Christian orator, whose office it is only to work upon faith and reason. All other eloquence hath been a perfect cheat, to stir up men's passions against truth and justice, for the service of a faction; to put false colours upon things, and by an amusement of agreeable words, make the worst reason appear to be the better. This is certainly not to be allowed in Christian eloquence, and, therefore, St Paul took quite the other course; he
came not with the excellency of words, or enticing speech of men's wisdom, but in plain evidence of the Spirit and power.” And perhaps it was for that reason the young man, Eutychus, used to the Grecian eloquence, grew tired, and fell so fast asleep.
I go on, Thirdly, to set forth the great evil of this neglect and scorn of preaching, and to discover the real causes whence it proceedeth.
I think it is obvious, that this neglect of preaching hath very much occasioned the great decay of religion among us. To this may be imputed no small part of that contempt some men bestow on the clergy; for, whoever talketh without being regarded, is sure to be despised. To this we owe, in a great measure, the spreading of atheism and infidelity among us; for religion, like all other things, is soonest put out of countenance by being ridiculed. The scorn of preaching might perhaps have been at first introduced by men of nice ears and refined taste; but it is now become a spreading evil, through all degrees, and both sexes; for, since sleeping, talking, and laughing, are qualities sufficient to furnish out a critic, the meanest and most ignorant have set up a title, and succeeded in it as well as their betters. Thus are the last efforts of reforming mankind rendered wholly useless. “How shall they hear,” saith the apostle, “ without a preacher?” But, if they have a preaches, and make it a point of wit or breeding not to hear him, what remedy is left? To this neglect of preaching we may also entirely impute that gross ignorance among us in the very principles of religion, which it is amazing to find in persons who very much value their own knowledge and understanding in other things : yet it is a visible, inexcusable ignorance, even in the meanest among us, considering the many advantages they have of learning their duty. And it hath been the great