« PreviousContinue »
and fear, persons in inferior stations might suggest a useful hint even to their superiors.
When the family of Elimelech went to sojourn in Moab, they carried their religion with them; so recommending the God of Israel to those with whom they formed connexions, that one of them was induced to leave her country, her kindred, and her gods, and to put her trust under the shadow of his wings. And even a little maid of the land of Israel, who had been carried captive into Syria, by speaking to her mistress, on a favourable opportunity, was instru. mental in her master's being healed of his leprosy, and in his being brought to acknowledge and adore the true God. Such cases are recorded to encourage us to communicate the good knowledge of God on all proper occasions : but, in order to do this, we must first possess it, and that in a greater degree than is sufficient barely to denominate us Christians.
Perhaps, one of the most favourable opportunities for Christians to suggest important truth to their neighbours and connexions is, when any of them are under a tbreatening affliction. To visit them at such a time would be kindly taken : even the worst of characters are commonly accessible when they apprehend eternity to be drawing nigh. You may then freely converse and pray with them; and, if your circumstances will admit, and theirs require it, a communication of your worldly substance would convince them of your good-will, give weight to your instructions, and correspond with the conduct of him who went about doing good to the bodies and souls of men. But such a practice requires an intimate acquaintance with divine truth. It is an important matter to converse with men who are just on the borders of an eternal world : it requires not only tenderness, faithfulness, and prudence; but an ability to expose those false refuges, and detect those delusive hopes, to which, at such seasons, they are generally disposed to fly; and to direct them to the only name under heaven, giden among men, whereby they must be saved.
5. In times of apostasy from the truth, Christians are exhorted to be steadfast. But a steadfast adherence to truth requires that we be rooted and grounded in it. The wisdom of God sees meet, in order to prove mankind, and especially his professing people, to suffer other gospels besides the true one, to obtain footing among us. I am aware, that it is become custom ary, in these times to make a jest of heresy, and to deride, as illiberal, narrow-minded bigots, all those who consider any religious sentiments as endangering the salvation of men. But I hope we shall not, on this account, be deterred from such an attachment to truth as the scriptures encourage. It is granted that the term heresy has been wretchedly abused ; and that it becomes Christians to beware of applying it to every departure from even truth itself : yet there is such a thing in being. There were beresies in the apostles' times; and it was predicted that there should, in after times, be persons who would bring in even damnable heresies. Let no one be startled at the use of these terms: I did not coin them, and am not accountable for them; but, seeing they occupy a place in the holy scriptures, I think myself concerned to understand them. Whatever difficulty there may be in as. certaining their precise object, they, undoubtedly, teach us that men's souls may be destroyed by mental, as well as by sensual lusts, even the souls of professing Christians ; for the words are not intended to describe open Infidels, but such as should bear the Christian name, yea, and who should be teachers of Christianity.
The circulation of doctrines pleasing to corrupt nature will prove men to be what they are. They are the fan in Christ's hand, by which he will thoroughly purge his floor. That lightminced professors of religion should be carried away with them, is no more a matter of surprise than that chaff should be carried away by the wind : but how is it that those of whom we would hope better things are often shaken?
If a minister, in almost any congregation, should relinquish truth, and fall into the grossest errors; unless he had so conducted himself as to have gained little or no esteem among the people he is seldom known to go off alone : sometimes half a congregation, and sometimes more, have been known to follow him, or, at least to be greatly unhinged for a considerable time. If a writer start up, in almost any connexion, let his performance be ever so VEL. VII.
weak or extravagant; yet, if he possess but a sufficient quantity of overbearing assurance, he will have his admirers; and some serious people too, will be in danger of being turned aside. How are these things to be accounted for? I conceive the principal reason is, that Christians content themselves with a superficial knowledge of divine things. Great numbers from a dislike to controversy, will never take any pains to understand the difference between one set of religious principles and another. They have no desire to enable themselves to distinguish between true and false reasonings. They are too apt to take it for granted, that what they have imbibed is truth, and that nothing can be advanced, with the least colour of reason, for the contrary : when, therefore, an argument appears with a little plausibility on its face, it has only to obtain a reading, or a hearing, and their assent is gained. Brethren, let shame, if nothing else, provoke us, that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Let us be concerned, not obstinately to adhere to our present sentiments, be what they may; but to know the mind of God in his word; and, knowing it, let us steadfastly adhere to it.
'The present age seems to be an age of trial. Not only is the gospel corrupted by those who bear the Christian name ; but, of late, you well know, it has been openly assailed. The most direct and daring opposition has been made to the very.name of Christianity. I am not going to alarm you with any idea that the church is in danger : no, my brethren : the church of which we, I trust, are members, and of which Christ, and Christ alone, is the head, is not in danger ; it is built upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Neither are my apprehensions excited concerning those who are true members of the church : these trying blasts, though they may affect them for a season, will ultimately cause them to take deeper root. Nevertheless, it becomes us to feel for the souls of men, especially for the rising generation; and to warn even good men that they be not unarmed in the evil day.
The human heart has ever been averse from the gospel of Christ, but the turn or temper of the present age is peculiarly in favour of Infidelity. In much the same manner as in former ages men were violently attached to a persecuting superstition, they are now verging to the opposite extreme, and are in danger of throwing off all religion. Our temptations and those which will attend our posterity after us, are likely, therefore, to be widely different from what they have hitherto been. Hitherto, nominal Christianity has been no reproach ; but reproach has attached itself to the other side. The case, in this respect, may soon be altered. Men grow bold in avowing their contempt of Christianity; and many among the dissipated part of the youth are following their example. Now, if characters of this description should spring up in sufficient numbers, not only to keep each other in countenance, but to turn the tide of reproach against Christians, as a company of wrongheaded enthusiasts, we shall soon see which side the mass of mankind will take. Their characters being loose and profligate, they have long felt themselves condemned by the gospel ; and this is a matter that does not sit very easy upon them. Nothing has kept them from rejecting it before, but the disgrace that would follow upon their becoming open Infidels : whenever, therefore, this disgrace shall be removed, we may expect them to go off in great companies. The slightest observation of human nature must convince us, that the greater part of mankind, even in religious matters, are governed by fashion: they go with the course of this world. So great an influence bas the tide of public opinion upon them, that even where it is not altogether agreeable to their own views and inclinations, they are, nevertheless, frequently carried away by it: but if it be thus where public opinion and private inclination are at variance, it must of course, be much more so in those cases wherein they are agreed. This will be like a union of the wind and tide; and the vessel which is carried along by such a joint influence, can scarcely have any thing left to impede its progress.
The great influence which a certain popular pamphlet has had upon men's minds, is not so much owing to the work itself, (though it possesses all the agreeableness to a depraved heart
which wit and malignity can give it,) as to the bias of the present generation in favour of the principles which it contains. Of this the author himself seems to have been sufficieutly aware, by the title which he has thought proper to give his performance. The Age of Reason.
It is not unlikely, that almost all our religious controversies will soon be reduced to one, upon which the great body of men will divide. Is Christianity true or false? Is there a God? Is there a heaven and a hell ? or is it all a fiction ? Agitated by these important questions, the greater part of the inhabitants of Europe, and, perhaps, of America, including our own posterity, may rank either as real Christians, or as open Infidels.
What shall we say to these things? Ought they to depress us? We ought, undoubtedly, to feel for the welfare of men's souls, and cannot but feel for those who are more intimately connected with us : but, upon any other principle, I know not that they ought to have any
such effect upon us. God is upon his throne: his church is upon a rock: whatever hour of temptation may be coming upon the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth, those who hold fust the word of his patience will be kept through it. All things work together for good to them that love God. With these views Christians may rejoice, and rejoice always.
While we rejoice, however, we must rejoice with trembling ; and, while we confide in God, must be diffident of ourselves. Let us not presume on our own tirmness, but put on the whole armour of God, that we may withstand in the evil day. The first thing required in this divine accoutrement is, that our loins be girt about with truth : but truth will not prove as girdle to our loins in the day of battle, except we be deeply and intimately acquainted with it.
Oye sons and daughters of carelessness, who are called Christians, but have no root in yourselves, what aspect do these things wear towards you? The time seems drawing nigh that will prove you to be what you are ! Hitherto there has been an outer-court for you, and you have worshipped in it. You have long had a form of godliness, but have been without the power. You have ranked with the friends of truth, but have never received it