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encouragement to all manner of vice : for in vain we preach down sin to a people, “ whose hearts are waxed gross, whose ears are dull of hearing, and whose eyes are closed.” Therefore Christ himself, in his discourses, frequently rouseth up the attention of the multitude, and of his disciples themselves, with this expression, “ He that hath ears to hear let him hear." But, among all neglects of preaching, none is so fatal as that of sleeping in the house of God. A scorner may listen to truth and reason, and in time grow serious; an unbeliever may feel the pangs of a guilty conscience; one whose thoughts or eyes wander among other objects, may, by a lucky word, be called back to attention : but the sleeper shuts up all avenues to his soul : he is "like the deaf adder that hearkeneth not to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” And we may preach with as good success to the grave that is under his feet.
But the great evil of this neglect will farther yet appear, from considering the real causes whence it proceedeth; whereof; the first, I take to be an evil conscience. Many men come to church to save or gain a reputation, or because they will not be singular, but comply with an established custom ; yet, all the while, they are loaded with the guilt of old rooted sins. These men can expect to hear of nothing but terrors and threatenings, their sins laid open in true colours, and eternal misery the reward of them; therefore no wonder they stop their ears, and divert their thoughts, and seek any amusement rather than stir the hell within them.
Another cause of this neglect is, a heart set upon worldly things. Men whose minds are much enslaved to earthly affairs all the week, cannot
disengage or break the chain of their thoughts so suddenly, as to apply to a discourse that is wholly foreign to what they have most at heart. Tell à usurer of charity, and mercy, and restitution, you talk to the deaf: his heart and soul, with all his senses, are got among his bags, or he is gravely asleep, and dreaming of a mortgage. Tell a man of business that the cares of the world choke the good seed; that we must not encumber ourselves with much serving; that the salvation of his soul is the one thing necessary : you see, indeed, the shape of a man before you, but his faculties are all gone off among clients and papers, thinking how to defend a bad cause, or find flaws in a good one; or he weareth out the time in drowsy nods.
A third cause of the great neglect and scorn of preaching, ariseth from the practice of men who set up to decry and disparage religion ; these, being zealous to promote infidelity and vice, learn a rote of buffoonery, that serveth all occasions, and refutes the strongest arguments for piety and good manners. These have a set of ridicule calculated for all sermons, and all preachers, and can be extremely witty as often as they please upon the same fund. · Let me now, in the last place, offer some remedies against this great evil.
It will be one remedy against the contempt of preaching, rightly to consider the end for which it was designed. There are many who place abundance of merit in going to church, although it be with no other prospect but that of being well entertained, wherein if they happen to fail, they return wholly disappointed. Hence it is become an impertinent vein among people of all sorts to hunt after what they call a good sermon
as if it were a matter of pastime and diversion. Our business, alas! is quite another thing; either to learn, or, at least, be reminded of our duty ; to, apply the doctrines delivered, compare the rules we hear with our lives and actions, and find wherein we have transgressed. These are the dispositions men should bring into the house of God, and then they will be little concerned about the preacher's wit or eloquence, nor be curious to inquire out his faults and infirmities, but consider how to correct their own.
Another remedy against the contempt of preaching is, that men would consider, whether it be not reasonable to give more allowance for the different abilities of preachers than they usually do. Refinements of style, and flights of wit, as they are not properly the business of any preacher, so they cannot possibly be the talents of all. In most other discourses, men are satisfied with sober sense and plain reason : and, as understandings usually go, even that is not over frequent. Then why they should be so over nice in expectation of eloquence, where it is neither necessary nor convenient, is hard to imagine.
Lastly, The scorners of preaching would do well to consider, that this talent of ridicule, they value so much, is a perfection very easily acquired, and applied to all things whatsoever; neither is any thing at all the worse, because it is capable of being perverted to burlesque: perhaps it may be the more perfect upon that score ; since we know, the most celebrated pieces have been thus treated with greatest success. It is in any man's power to suppose a fool's cap on the wisest head, and then laugh at his own supposition. I think , there are not many things cheaper than supposing and laughing; and if the uniting these two ta
lents can bring a thing into contempt, it is hard to know where it may end.
To conclude. These considerations may, perhaps, have some effect while men are awake; but what arguments shall we use to the sleeper? what methods shall we take to hold open his eyes ? Will he be moved by considerations of common civility? We know it is reckoned a point of very bad manners to sleep in private company, when, perhaps, the tedious impertinence of inany talkers would render it at least as excusable as the dullest sermon. Do they think it a small thing to watch four hours at a play, where all virtue and religion are openly reviled; and can they not watch one half hour to hear them defended? Is this to deal like a judge (I mean like a good judge,) to listen on one side of the cause, and sleep on the other? I shall add but one word more: That this indecent sloth is very much owing to that luxury and excess men usually practise upon this day, by which half the service thereof is turned to sin; men dividing their time between God and their bellies, when, after a gluttonous meal, their senses dozed and stupified, they retire to God's house to sleep out the afternoon. Surely, brethren, these things ought not so to be.
" He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” And God give us all grace to hear and receive his holy word to the salvation of our own souls !
THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD.
I COR. iii. 19.
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
It is remarkable, that about the time of our Saviour's coming into the world, all kinds of learning flourished to a very great degree; insomuch that nothing is more frequent in the mouths of many men, even such who pretend to read and to know, that an extravagant praise and opinion of the wisdom and virtue of the Gentile sages of those days, and likewise of those ancient philosophers who went before them, whose doctrines are left upon record, either by themselves, or other writers. As far as this
As far as this may be taken for granted, it may be said, that the providence of God brought this about for several very wise ends and purposes : for it is certain, that these philosophers had been a long time before searching out where to fix the true happiness of man; and not being able to agree upon any certainty about it, they could not possibly but conclude, if they judged impartially, that all their inquiries were, in the