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ROMANS xii. 2.
Be not conformed to this world.
F all the discourses delivered in this pulopit, those, which deserve the greatest deference, and usually obtain the least, are such as treat of general mistakes. What subjects require greater deference ? Our design in treating of them is to difsipate those illusions, with which the whole world is familiar, which are authorized by the multitude, and which, like epidemical diseases, inflicted sometimes by providence on public bodies, involve the ftate, the church, and indi. viduals. Yet, are any discourses less respected than such as these? To attack general mistakes, is, to excite the displeasure of all who favor them, to disgust a whole auditory, and to acquire the most odious of all titles,. I mean that of pube lic cenfor. A preacher is then obliged to choose, either never to attack fuch mistakes as the multitude think fit to authorizeg. or
to renounce the advantages, which he may promise himself, if- fie adapt his subjects to the taste of his auditors, and touch their disorders only fo far as to accom. modate their crimes to their confciences.
Let us not hesitate what part to take. St. Paul determines us by his example. liam going to-day, in imitation of this apoftle, to guard you against the rocks, where the many are shipwreck. cd. He exhorts us, in the words of the text, not to take the world for a model ; ibe world, that is, the crowd, the multitude, fociety at large. But what society hath he in view ? Is it that of ancient Rome, which be describes as extreme
ly depraved in the beginning of this epifle ? Does he say nothing of our world, our cities and provinces ! We are going to examine this, and I fear I shall be able to prove to you, that our multitude is a dangerous guide to thew us the way to heaven ; and, to confine ourselves to a few articles, I shall prove that they are bad guides to direct us, firit, in regard to faith ; secondly, . in regard to the worship which God requires of us ; thirdly, in regard to morality ; and lastly, in regard to the hour of death. In these four views I shall enforce the words of my text, Be. not conformed to this world. This is the whole plan of this discourse..
I. The multitude is a bad guide to direct our faith. We will not introduce here the famous :. controversy. on this question, whether a great number rm a presumption in favor of any religion, or whether univerfality be a certain evia. dence of the true christian church? How often has this question been debated and determined ! : How often have we proved against one communi. ty, which displays the number of its professors with so much parade, that, if the pretence were well founded, it would operate in favor of paganifm, for pagans were always inore numerous than christians ! How offen have we told them, that in divers periods of the ancient church, idolatry and idolaters have been enthroned in both the kingdoms of Judah and Ifrael !: How often have we alledged, that in the time of Jesus Christ, the church was deferibed as a little flock, Luke xii. 32. that heathens and Jews were all in league against christianity at first, and that the gospel had only a small number of difciples ! How often have we retorted, that for whole cene turies, there was no trace, no shadow, of the opinions of modern Rome ! - But we will not apply ourselves to this controversy to-day, by fix. ing your attention on the sophisms of foreigners,
perhaps we might divert your eyes from your own ; by shewing you our triumphs over the vain attacks made on us by the enemies of the reformation, perhaps we might turn away your attention from other more dangerous wouods, which the reformed themselves aim at the heart of religion. When I say the multitude is a bad. guide in matters of faith, I mean, that the man.. ner, in which most men ad here to truth, is not by. principles, which ought to attach them to it, but by a fpirit of negligence and prejudice..
Ic is no small work to examine the truth, when we arrive at an age capable of difcuffion. The fundamental points of religion, I grant, lic in the scriptures clear and perfpicuous, and with in the comprehenfion of all who chuse to a:tend to them : but when we pass from infancy to manhood, and arrive ai an age in which reason feenis mature, we find ourselves covered with a. veil, which either hides objects from us, or dif. figures, them. The public discourses we have heard in favor of the feet, in which we were educated, the inveterate hatred we have for all others, who hold principles opposite to ours, the frightful portraits that are drawn before our eyesof the perils we must encounter, if we de. part from the way we have been brought up in, the impressions made upon us by the examples and decisions of our parents, and walters, and teachers, the bad taste of those, who had the care of our education, and who prevented our acquiring that most noble disposition, without which it is imposible ever to be a true philosopher, or a real christian, I mean, that of suspending our judgment on fubje&s pot sufficiently proved : from all this arise clouds, that render the truth inaccessible, and which the world cannot diffipate. We do not say, that natural.talents or fupernat. pral affiftance are wanting ; we are fully. convinced that God will never give up to final errorg
any man who does all in his power to understand the truth. But the world are incapable of this work, Why? Because all the world, except a few, hate labor and meditation in regard to the subjects, which refpect another life : because all the world would choose rather to attach theme selves to what regards their temporal interests, than to the great interest of eternal happiness :: because all the world like better to suppose the principles imbibed in their childhood true, than to impofe on themselves the task of weighing them anew in the balance of a sound and severe reafon : because all the world have an invincie ble aversion to suppose, that when they are are rived, at manhood, they bave almost lost their. time in some refpe&ts, and that when they leave school they begin to be capable of instruction.
If the nature of the thing cannot convince you, that the multitude continue through negli. gence in the profesion of that religion, in which they were boro, experience may bere fupply the place of reasoning. There is an infinite variery of geniuses among mankind. Propofe :o an af. sembly a quellion, that no system hath yet decide ed, and you will find, as it is usually said, as many opinions as heads.
It is certain, if mankind were attached to a religion only because they had studied it, we should find a great number of people forsake that, in which they had been brought up, for it is im. possible, that a whole fociety should unite in one point of error, or rather, it is clcar to a. demonItration, tha: as truth hath certain characters superior to falsehood, the temples of idols would be instantly deserted, erroneous fects would be 2000 abandoned, the religion of Jesus Christ, the only one worthy of being embraced, the only one that deserves difciples, would be the only one embraced, and would alone be received by all Gacere disciples of truth.
Do not think, my brethren, that this reflection concerning that fpirit of negligence, which retains most men in a profession of their own religion, regards only such communions as lag down their own infallibility for a fundamental article of faith, and which prescribe ignorance and blind fubmiffion as a first principle to their partizans, for it is but too easy to prove, that the same fpire it of negligence reigns in all communities. Hence it comes to pass, that in general fo few christians can render a reason for their faith. Hence it is that people are usually better furnished with argoments to oppofe such focieties as fure round them, than with those, which establish the fundamental truths of christianity. If then you 'follow the direction of the multitude in the study of religion, you will be conducted by a spirit of negligence, prejudice will be held for proof, edu.. 'cation for argument, and the decisions of your parents and teachers for infallible oracles of truth,
II. The multitude is a bad guide in regard 10 that worship, which God requireth of us, they defile it with a fpirit of superstition. Superftia. tion is a difpofition of mind, that inclines us to. regulate all parts of divine worship, not by just notions of the Supreme Being, nor by his rela. tioris to us, nor by what he has condescended to reveal, but by our own fancies. A superstitious man entertains fantastical ideas of God, and ren. ders to himn capricious worfhip ; he not unfre. quently takes himself for a model of God; he thinks, that what most resembles himself, howev. . er mean and contemptible, approaches nearest to perfection. We affirm, this difpofition is almost universal..
It would be needless to prove this to you, my brethren, in regard to erroneous communities. Were fuperftition banished from the world, we should not fee men, who are made in the image