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scorn of preaching, and to discover the real causes whence it pro


The scorn

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. 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 preacher, 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 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 further 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 colors, 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 a usurer of charity and mercy, and restitution, yon 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 argu- · ments 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 anything?

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 talents 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 many 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 stupefied, 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!



1 COR. iii. 19.

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

It is remarkable that about the time of our Savior'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, than 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 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 end but vain and fruitless; the consequence of which must be not only an acknowledgment of the weakness of all human wisdom, but likewise an open passage hereby made for letting in those beams of light which the glorious sunshine of the gospel then brought into the world, by revealing those hidden truths which they had so long before been laboring to discover, and fixing the general happiness of mankind beyond all controversy and dispute. And therefore the providence of God wisely suffered men of deep genius and learning then to arise, who should search into the truth of the gospel now made known, and canvass its doctrines with all the subtilty and knowledge they were masters of, and in the end freely acknowledge that to be the true wisdom only "which cometh from above."

However, to make a further inquiry into the truth of this obser

vation, I doubt not but there is reason to think that a great many of those encomiums given to ancient philosophers are taken upon trust, and by a sort of men who are not very likely to be at the pains of an inquiry that would employ so much time and thinking. For the usual ends why men affect this kind of discourse appear generally to be either out of ostentation, that they may pass upon the world for persons of great knowledge and observation; or, what is worse, there are some who highly exalt the wisdom of those Gentile sages, thereby obliquely to glance at and traduce divine revelation, and more especially that of the gospel; for the consequence they would have us draw is this, that since those ancient philosophers rose to a greater pitch of wisdom and virtue than was ever known among Christians, and all this purely upon the strength of their own reason and liberty of thinking, therefore it must follow that either all revelation is false, or, what is worse, that it has depraved the nature of man, and left him worse than it found him.

But this high opinion of heathen wisdom is not very ancient in the world, nor at all countenanced from primitive times. Our Savior had but a low esteem of it, as appears by his treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who followed the doctrines of Plato and Epicurus. St. Paul likewise, who was well versed in all the Grecian literature, seems very much to despise their philosophy, as we find in his writings, cautioning the Colossians to "beware lest any man spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit." And in another place he advises Timothy to "avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called;" that is, not to introduce into the Christian doctrine the janglings of those vain philosophers, which they would pass upon the world for science. And the reasons he gives are, first, That those who professed them did err concerning the faith; secondly, because the knowledge of them did increase ungodliness, vain babblings being otherwise expounded vanities, or empty sounds, that is, tedious disputes about words, which the philosophers were always so full of, and which were the natural product of disputes and dissensions between several sects.

Neither had the primitive fathers any great or good opinion of the heathen philosophy, as it is manifest from several passages in their writings; so that this vein of affecting to raise the reputation of those sages so high is a mode and a vice but of yesterday, assumed chiefly, as I have said, to disparage revealed knowledge, and the consequences of it among us,

Now, because this is a prejudice which may prevail with some

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