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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.
Lustly, 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
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 !
SERMON THE ELEVENTH.
ON THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD.
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
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 aonsequences of it among us.
Now, because this is a prejudice which may provail with some
persons, so far as to lessen the influence of the gospel; and whereas, therefore, this is an opinion which men of edu, ation are likely to be encountered with, when they have produced themselves into the world; I shall endeavor to show that their preference of heathen wisdom and virtue before that of the Christian is every way unjust, and grounded upon ignorance or mistake; in order to which, I shall consider four things : First, I shall produce certain points wherein the wisdom and virtue
of all unrevealed philosophy in general fell short and was very
imperfect. Secondly, I shall show in several instances where some uf the most
renowned philosophers have been grossly defective in their lessons
of morality. Thirdly, I shall prove the perfection of Christian wisdom, from the
proper characters and marks of it. Lastly, I shall show that the great examples of wisdom and virtue
among the heathen wise men were produced by personal merit, and not influenced by the doctrine of any sect, whereas in Chris
tianity it is quite the contrary. First, I shall produce certain points wherein the wisdom and virtue
of all unrevealed philosophy in general fell short and was very imperfect.
My design is to persuade men that Christian philosophy is in all things preferable to heathen wisdom; from which, or its professors, I shall however have no occasion to detract. They were as wise and as good as it was possible for them to be under such disadvantages, and would have probably been infinitely more so with such aids as we enjoy; but our lessons are certainly much better, however our practices may fall short.
The first point I shall mention is that universal defect which was in all their schemes, that they could not agree about their chief good, or wherein to place the happiness of mankind; nor had any of them a tolerable answer upon this difficulty to satisfy a reasonable person. For to say, as the most plausible of them did, “that happiness consisted in virtue,” was but vain babbling and a mere sound of words, to amuse others and themselves; because they were not agreed what this virtue was, or wherein it did consist; and likewise because several among the best of them taught quite different things, placing happiness in health or good fortune, in riches or in honor, where all were agreed that virtue was not, as I shall have occasion to show when I speak of their particular tenets.
The second great defect in the Gentile philosophy was, that it wanted some suitable reward proportioned to the better part of man, his mind, as an encouragement for his progress in virtue. The difficulties they met with upon the score of this default were great, and not to be accounted for: bodily goods being only suitable to bodily wants are no rest at all for the mind; and if they were, yet are they not proper fruits of wisdom and virtue, being equally attainable by the ignorant and wicked. Now human nature is so constituted that we can never pursue anything heartily, but upon hopes of a reward. If we run a race, it is in expectation of a prize; and the greater the prize the faster we run; for an incorruptible crown, if we understand it, and believe it to be such, more than a corruptible one. But some of the philosophers gave all this quite another turn, and pretended to refine so far as to call virtue its own reward, and worthy to be followed only for itself; whereas if there be anything in this more than the sound of the words, it is at least too abstracted to become a universal influencing principle in the world, and therefore could not be of general use.
It was the want of assigning some happiness proportioned to the soul of man, that caused many of them, either on the one hand to be sour and morose, supercilious and untreatable; or on the other, to fall into the vulgar pursuits of common men, to hunt after greatness and riches, to make their court and to serve occasions, as Plato did to the younger Dionysius, and Aristotle to Alexander the Great. So impossible it is for a man, who looks no further than the present world, to fix himself long in a contemplation where the present world has no part: he has no sure hold, no firm footing, he can never expect to remove the earth he rests upon, while he has no support besides for his feet, but wants, like Archimedes, some other place whereon to stand. To talk of bearing pain and grief without any sort of present or future hope cannot be purely greatness of spirit, there must be a mixture in it of affectation and an allay of pride, or perhaps is wholly counterfeit.
It is true there has been all along in the world a notion of rewards and punishments in another life, but it seems to have rather served as an entertainment to poets, or as a terror of children, than a settled principle by which men pretend to govern any of their actions. The last celebrated words of Socrates, a little before his death, do not seem to reckon or build much upon any such opinion, and Cæsar made no scruple to disown it, and ridicule it in open senate
Thirdly, The greatest and wisest of all their philosophers were