Imatges de pÓgina
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point, in the fear and in the presence of God. I am far from desiring to aggravate the defects of my brethren, or to paint them in the strongest colours. Far be it from me, to treat others as I have been treated myself; to return evil for evil, or railing for railing. But to speak the naked truth, not with anger or contempt, as too many have done; I acknowledge, that many, if not most of those that were appointed to minister in holy things, with whom it has been my lot to converse in almost every part of England or Ireland, for forty or fifty years last past, have not been eminent either for knowledge or piety. It has been loudly affirmed, that most of those persons now in connexion with me, who believe it their duty to call sinners to repentance, having been taken immediately from low trades; tailors, shoemakers, and the like; are a set of poor, stupid, illiterate men, that scarce know their right hand from their left: yet I cannot but say, that I would sooner cut off my right hand, than suffer one of them to speak a word in any of our chapels, if I had not reasonable proof, that he had more knowledge in the holy Scriptures, more knowledge of himself, more knowledge of God and of the things of God, than nine in ten of the clergymen I have conversed with, either at the universities, or elsewhere.

18. In the mean time I gladly allow that this charge does not concern the whole body of the clergy: undoubtedly there are many clergymen in these kingdoms, that are not only free from outward sin, but men of eminent learning; and what is infinitely more, deeply acquainted with God. But still I am constrained to confess, that the far greater part of those ministers I have conversed with for above half a century, have not been holy men, not devoted to God, not deeply acquainted either with God or themselves. It could not be said, that they set their "affections on things above, not on things of the earth;" or that their desire, and the business of their lives, was, to save their own souls and those that heard them.

19. I have taken this unpleasing view of a melancholy scene, of the character of those who have been appointed of God to be shepherds of souls for so many ages, in order to determine this question: "Ought the children of God to refrain from his ordinances, because they that administer them are unholy men ?" A question with which many serious persons have been exceedingly perplexed. Ought we not," say they" to refrain from the ministrations of ungodly men? For is it possible that we should receive any good from the hands of those that know not God? Can we suppose, that the grace of God was ever conveyed to men by the servants of the devil?"

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What saith the Scripture? Let us keep close to this, and we shall not be misled. We have seen there what manner of men most of these have been who have ministered in holy things for many ages. Two or three thousand years ago, we read, "The sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord." But was this a sufficient reason for the Israelites to refrain from their administrations? It is true, they "abhor red the offerings of the Lord," on their account: and yet they constantly attended them. And do you suppose that Samuel, holy as he was, ever advised them to do otherwise? Were not the priests, and public teachers, equally strangers to God, from this time to that of the Babylonish captivity? Undoubtedly they were. But did Isaiah, or any of the prophets, exhort them, for that cause, to forsake the ordinances of

God? Were they not equally ungodly from the time of the Babylonisi captivity, to the coming of Christ? How clearly does this appear, were there no other proof, from the prophecies of Jeremiah and Malachi! Yet did either Malachi, or Jeremiah, or any other of the prophets, exhort the people to separate themselves from these ungodly men?

20. But to bring the matter nearer to ourselves. Never were any pries.s, or public teachers, more corrupt, more totally estranged from God, than those in the days of our blessed Lord. Were they not mere whited walls? Were not those that were the best of them, painted sepulchres? Full of pride, lust, envy, covetousness? Of all ungodliness and unrighteousness? Is not this the account which our Lord himself, who knew what was in man, gives of them? But did he therefore refrain from that public service, which was performed by these very men? Or did he direct his apostles so to do? Nay, just the contrary: in consequence of which, as he constantly attended them himself, so likewise did his disciples.

21. There is another circumstance in our Lord's conduct, which is worthy of our peculiar consideration. "He calls to him the twelve, and sends them forth, two by two," to preach the gospel, Mark vi. And as they do not go the warfare at their own cost, the very "devils were subject unto them." Now one of these was Judas Iscariot. And did our Lord know that "he had a devil?" St. John expressly tells us he did. Yet he was coupled with another of the apostles, and joined with them all in the same communion. Neither have we any reason to doubt but God blessed the labour of all his twelve ambassadors. But why did our Lord send him among them? Undoubtedly for our instruction. For a standing, unanswerable proof, that he "sendeth by whom he will send;" that he can and doth send salvation to men, even by those who will not accept of it themselves.

22. Our Lord gives us farther instruction upon this head: in Matthew xxiii, 1-3, we have those very remarkable words: "Then Jesus spoke to the multitude, and his disciples, saying, the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' chair: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, observe and do; but do not according to their works; for they say and do not.” Of these very men, he gives the blackest character in the following verses. Yet is he so far from forbidding either the multitude, or his own disciples, to attend their ministrations; that he expressly commands them so to do, even in those words: "All things whatsoever they bid you observe, observe and do." These words imply a command to hear them: for how could they observe and do what they bid them, if they did not hear it? I pray consider this, ye that say of the successors of these ungodly men, "They say and do not; therefore we ought not to hear them." You see, your Master draws no such inference; nay, the direct contrary. Oh be not wiser than your Master: follow his advice, and do not reason against it!

23. But how shall we reconcile this with the direction given by St. Paul to the Corinthians? "If any that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, with such a one, no not to eat," 1 Cor. v, 11. How is it reconcilable with that direction in his second epistle, chap. vi, 17, "Come out from the midst of them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing?" I answer, the former passage has no relation at all to the present question.

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It does not concern ministers, good or bad. The plain meaning of i is, have no intimacy with any that is called a Christian, and lives in any open sin a weighty exhortation, which should be much attended to by all the children of God. As little does the other passage refer to ministers or teachers of any kind. In this the apostle is exhorting the children of God, to break off all intercourse with the children of the devil. The words literally are, "go out from the niidst of them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing." Intimating that they could not continue united with them, without being more or less partakers of their sins. We may, therefore, boldly affirm, that neither St. Paul, nor any other of the inspired writers, ever advised holy men to separate from the church wherein they were, because the ministers were unholy.

24. Nevertheless it is true, that many pious Christians, as was observed before, did separate themselves from the church, some even in the second, and many more in the third century. Some of these retired into the desert, and lived altogether alone: others built themselves houses, afterwards termed convents, and only secluded themselves from the rest of the world. But what was the fruit of this separation? The same that might easily be foreseen. It increased, and bestowed, in an astonishing degree, the total corruption of the church. The salt which was thus heaped up in a corner, had effectually lost its savour. The light which was put under a bushel, no longer shone before men. In consequence of this, ungodliness and unrighteousness reigned without control. The world being given up into the hands of the devil, wrought all his works with greediness; and gross darkness, joined with all manner of wickedness, covered the whole earth.

25. "But if all this wickedness was not a sufficient reason for separating from a corrupt church, why did Calvin and Luther, with their followers, separate from the church of Rome?" I answer, They did not properly separate from it; but were viclently thrust out of it. They were not suffered to continue therein, upon any other terms than subscribing to all the errors of that church, and joining in all their superstition and idolatry. Therefore this separation lay at their door. With us it was not a matter of choice, but of necessity: and if such necessity was now laid upon us, we ought to separate from any church under heaven.

26. There were not the same reasons why various bodies of men should afterwards separate from the church of England. No sinful terms of communion were imposed upon them; neither are at this day. Most of them separated, either because of some opinions, or some modes of worship, which they did not approve of. Few of them assigned the unholiness either of the clergy or laity, as the cause of their separation. And if any did so, it did not appear that they themselves were a jot better than those they separated from.

27. But the grand reason which many give for separating from the church, namely, that the ministers are unholy men, is founded on this assertion: That the ministration of evil men can do no good; that we may call the sacraments means of grace; but men who do not receive the grace of God themselves, cannot convey that grace to others. So that we can never expect to receive the blessing of God, through the servants of the devil.

This argument is extremely plausible, and is indeed the strongest that can be urged. Yet before you allow it to be conclusive, you should consider a few things.

28. Consider, first, Did the Jewish sacraments convey no saving grace to the hearers, because they were administered by unholy men? If so, none of the Israelites were saved, from the time of Eli, to the coming of Christ. For their priests were not a whit better than ours; if they were not much worse. But who will dare to affirm this? Which is no less in effect, than to affirm, that all the children of Israel went to hell for eleven or twelve hundred years together!

29. Did the ordinances, administered in the time of our blessed Lord, convey no grace to those that attended them? Surely, then, the Holy Ghost would not have commended Zacharias and Elizabeth for walking in these ordinances! If the ministrations of wicked men did no good, would our Lord have commanded his followers (so far from forbidding them) to attend those of the scribes and Pharisces? Observe, again, the remarkable words, Matt. xxiii, 1, &c: "Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," are your appointed teachers;" all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do."-Now what were these scribes and Pharisees? Were they not the vilest of men? Yet these very men he commands them to hear. This command is plainly implied in those words: "Whatsoever they command you to observe, that observe and do." For unless they heard what they said, they could not do it.

30. Consider, a little farther, the dreadful consequences of affirming, that wicked ministers do no good: that the ordinances administered by them do not convey saving grace to those that attend them. If it be so, then well nigh all the Christians, from the time of the apostles, to that of the reformation, are perished! For what manner of men were well nigh all the clergy, during all those centuries? Consult the history of the church in every age, and you will find more and more proofs of their corruption. It is true, they have not been so openly abandoned since; but ever since that happy period there has been a considerable change for the better, in the clergy, as well as the laity. But still there is reason to fear, that even those who now minister in holy things, who are outwardly devoted to God for that purpose, (yea, and in Protestant, as well as Romish countries,) are, nevertheless, far more devoted to the world, to riches, honour, or pleasure, (a few comparatively excepted,) than they are to God: so that in truth they are as far from Christian holiness as earth is from heaven. If then no grace is conveyed by the ministry of wicked men, in what a case is the Christian world! How hath God forgotten to be gracious! How hath he forsaken his own inheritance! Oh think not so! Rather say with our own church, (though in direct opposition to the church of Rome, which maintains, "If the priest does not minister with a pure intention, which no wicked man can do, then the sacrament is no sacrament at all,") the unworthiness of the minister doth not hinder the efficacy of God's ordinance. The reason is plain, because the efficacy is derived, not from him that administers, but from him that ordains it. He does not, will not suffer his grace to be intercepted, though the messenger will not receive it himself.

31. Another consequence would follow from the supposition, that no grace is conveyed by wicked ministers; namely, that a conscientious person cannot be a member of any national church in the world. For wherever he is, it is great odds, whether a holy minister be stationed there; and if there be not, it is mere lost labour to worship in that congregation. But, blessed be God, this is not the case; we know by our own happy experience, and by the experience of thousands, that the word of the Lord is not bound, though uttered by an unholy minister; and the sacraments are not dry breasts, whether he that administers be holy or unholy.

32. Consider one more consequence of this supposition, should it ever be generally received. Were all men to separate from those churches, where the minister was an unholy man, (as they ought to do, if the grace of God never did, nor could attend his ministry,) what confusion, what tumults, what commotions, would this occasion throughout Christendom! What evil surmisings, heart burning, jealousies, envyings, must every where arise! What censuring, tale bearing, strife, contention! Neither would it stop here: but from evil words the contending parties would soon proceed to evil deeds; and rivers of blood would soon be shed, to the utter scandal of Mohammedans and heathens.

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33. Let us not then trouble and embroil ourselves and our neighbours, with unprofitable disputations, but all agree to spread, to the uttermost of our power, the quiet and peaceable gospel of Christ. Let us make the best of whatever ministry the providence of God has assigned Near fifty years ago a great and good man, Dr. Potter, then archbishop of Canterbury, gave me an advice, for which I have ever since had occasion to bless God: "If you desire to be extensively useful, do not spend your time and strength, in contending for or against such things as are of a disputable nature; but in testifying against open, notorious vice, and in promoting real, essential holiness." Let us keep to this: leaving a thousand disputable points to those that have no better business, than to toss the ball of controversy to and fro; let us keep close to our point. Let us bear a faithful testimony in our several stations, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness; and with all our might recommend that inward and outward holiness," without which no man shall see the Lord!"

SERMON CX.-On Conscience.

"For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience," 2 Cor. i, 12.

1. How few words are there in the world more common than this; conscience? It is in almost every one's mouth. And one would thence be apt to conclude, that no word can be found which is more generally understood. But it may be doubted, whether this is the case or no; although numberless treatises have been written upon it. For it is certain, a great part of those writers have rather puzzled the cause than cleared it; that they have usually "darkened counsel, by uttering words without knowledge."

2. The best treatise on the subject which I remember to have seen, is translated from the French of Mons. Placatt; which describes in a

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