Imatges de pÓgina

find enough proposed as such in the sacred writings. What, must one be raised from the dead to instruct him, while Moses, the prophets, and the blessed Jesus, are still presented to his view in those everlasting tables? Certain it is, that he who will not imitate these, would not be converted, though one literally rose from the dead.

Let it suffice to have paid my last duty to him, (whether he is now hovering over these lower regions, or retired already to the mansions of eterna! glory,) by saying, in a few plain words, such as were his own, and were always agreeable to him, that he was to his parents an affectionate, dutiful son; to his acquaintance, an ingenuous, cheerful, good natured companion; and to me, a well tried, sincere friend.

At such a loss, if considered without the alleviating circumstances, who can blame him that drops a tear? The tender meltings of a heart dissolved with fondness, when it reflects on the several agreeable moments which have now taken their flight, never to return, gives an authority to some degree of sorrow. Nor will human frailty permit an ordinary acquaintance to take his last leave of them without it. Who then can conceive, much less describe, the strong emotion, the secret workings of soul, which a parent feels on such an occasion? None, surely, but those who are parents themselves: unless those few who have experienced the power of friendship; than which human nature, on this side of the grave, knows no closer, no softer, no stronger tie!

At the tearing asunder of these sacred bands, well may we allow, without blame, some parting pangs: but the difficulty is, to put as speedy a period to them, as reason and religion command us. What can give us sufficient ease after that rupture, which has left such an aching void in our breasts? What, indeed, but the reflection already mentioned, which can never be inculcated too often,—that we are hastening to him ourselves; that, pass but a few years, perhaps hours, which will soon be over, and not only this, but all other desires will be satisfied; when we shall exchange the gaudy shadow of pleasure we have enjoyed, for sincere, substantial, untransitory happiness?

With this consideration well imprinted in our minds, it is far better, as Solomon observes, to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting. The one unbraces the soul, disarms our resolution, and lays us open to an attack. The other cautions us to recollect our reason, and stand upon our guard, and infuses that noble steadiness, and seriousness of temper, which it is not in the power of an ordinary stroke to discompose. Such objects naturally induce us to lay it to heart, that the next summons may be our own; and that since death is the end of all men without exception, it is high time for the living to lay it to heart.

If we are, at any time, in danger of being overcome by dwelling too long on the gloomy side of this prospect, to the giving us pain, the making us unfit for the duties and offices of life, impairing our faculties of body or mind,-which proceedings, as has been already shown, are both absurd, unprofitable, ard sinful; let us immediately recur to the bright side, and reflect, with gratitude as well as humility, that our time passeth away like a shadow; and that, when we awake from this momentary dream, we shall then have a clearer view of that latter day, in which our Redeemer shall stand upon the earth: when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall be clothed with

[ocr errors]

immortality; and when we shall sing, with the united choirs of men and angels, "Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?"

SERMON CXXXIII.-On Corrupting the Word of God.
Preached about the year, 1728.

"We are not as many, who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ,” 2 Cor. ii, 17.

MANY have observed, that nothing conduces more to a preacher's success with those that hear him, than a general good opinion of his sincerity. Nothing gives him a greater force of persuasion than this; nothing creates either a greater attention in the hearers, or a greater disposition to improve. When they really believe that he has no other end in speaking, but what he fairly carries in view, and that he is willing that they should see all the steps he takes for the attainment of that end, it must give them a strong presumption, both that what he seeks is good, and the method in which he seeks it.

But how to possess them with this belief is the question. How shall we bring them to take notice of our sincerity, if they do not advert to it of themselves? One good way, however common, is, frankly and openly to profess it. There is something in these professions, when they come from the heart, strongly insinuating into the hearts of others. Persons of any generosity that hear them, find themselves almost forced to believe them; and even those who believe them not, are obliged in prudence, not to let their incredulity appear, since it is a known rule, -the honester any man is, the less apt is he to suspect another. The consequence whereof is plain: whoever, without proof, is suspicious of his neighbour's sincerity, gives a probable proof, that he judges of his heart from the falseness of his own.

Would not any man be tempted to suspect his integrity, who, without proof, suspected the want of it in another, that had fairly and openly professed the principles on which he acted? Surely none, but such as had corrupted the word of God, or wished that it were corrupted, could lightly suspect either St. Paul of doing it, or any that after him should use his generous declaration: "We are not as many, who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."

Not that the apostle any more than his followers in preaching the gospel, desires the people wholly to rely on his words: for afterwards he appeals to his actions to confirm them. And those who in this can imitate him, need not to entreat men to believe their sincerity. If our works bear the stamp of it, as well as our words, both together will speak so loudly and plainly, that every unprejudiced person must understand that we speak in Christ, as in sincerity, and that in so doing we consider we are in the sight of that God, whose commission we bear.

Those whom the apostle accuses of the contrary practice, of corrupting the word of God, seem to have been Jews, who owned Jesus to be the Christ, and his gospel to be divine, yet adulterated it, by

intermingling with it the law of Moses, and their own traditions. And in doing this, their principal view was, to make a gain of Christ; which, consequently, laid them under a necessity of concealing the end they proposed, as well as the means they used in order to obtain it. On the contrary, those who intend the good of mankind, are by no means concerned to hide their intentions. If the benefit we propose in speaking be to ourselves, it is often our interest to keep it private. If the benefit we propose be to others, it is always our interest to make it public; and it is the interest both of ourselves and others, to make public those marks of distinction whence may clearly be known who corrupt the word of God, and who preach it in sincerity.

The first and great mark of one who corrupts the word of God, is, introducing into it human mixtures; either the errors of others, or the fancies of his own brain. To do this, is to corrupt it in the highest degree. To blend with the oracles of God, impure dreams fit only for the mouth of the devil! And yet it has been so frequently done, that scarce ever was any erroneous opinion either invented or received, but scripture was quoted to defend it. And when the imposture was too bare faced, and the texts cited for it appeared too plainly either to make against it, or to be nothing to the purpose; then recourse has usually been had to a second method of corrupting it,-by mixing it with false interpretations. And this is done, sometimes by repeating the words wrong; and sometimes by repeating them right, but putting a wrong sense upon them. One that is either strained and unnatural, or foreign to the writer's intention in the place from whence they are taken. Perhaps contrary either to his intention in that very place, or to what he says in some other part of his writings. And this is easily effected: any passage is easily perverted, by being recited singly, without any of the preceding or following verses. By this means it may often seem to have one sense, when it will be plain, by observing what goes before and what follows after, that it really has the direct contrary. For want of observing which, unwary souls are liable to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, whenever they fall into the hands of those who have enough of wickedness and cunning, thus to adulterate what they preach, and to add now and then a plausible comment, to make it go down the more easily.

A third sort of those who corrupt the word of God, though in a lower degree than either of the former, are those who do so, not by adding to it, but by taking from it: who take either the spirit or substance of it away, while they study to prophesy only smooth things, and therefore palliate or colour what they preach, in order to reconcile it to the taste of the hearers. And that they may do this the better, they commonly let those parts go that will admit of no colouring, They wash their hands of those stubborn texts, that will not bend to their purpose, or that too plainly touch upon the reigning vices of the place where they are. These they exchange for those more soft and tractable ones, that are not so apt to give offence. Not one word must be said of the tribulation and anguish denounced against sinners in general; much less of the unquenchable fire, which, if God be true, awaits several of those particular offences that have fallen within their own notice. These tender parts are not to be touched without danger, by them who study to recommend themselves to men; or if they are,

it must be with the utmost caution, and a nice evasion in reserve. But they may safely thunder against those who are out of their reach, and against those sins which they suppose none that hear them are guilty of. No one takes it to heart, to hear those practices laid open which he is not concerned in himself. But when the stroke comes home, when it reaches his own case, then is he, if not convinced, displeased, or angry, and out of patience.

These are the methods of those corrupters of the word, who act in the sight of men, not of God. He trieth the hearts, and will receive no service in which the lips only are concerned. But their words have no intercourse with their thoughts. Nor is it proper for them that they should. For if their real intention once appeared, it must make itself unsuccessful. They purpose, it is true, to do good by the gospel of Christ, but it is to themselves, not to others. Whereas they that use sincerity in preaching the gospel, in the good of others seek their own. And that they are sincere, and speak as commissioned officers, in the sight of him whose commission they bear, plainly appears from the direct contrariety between their practice, and that of the dissemblers above described.

First: Consider, it is not their own word they preach, but the word of him that sent them. They preach it genuine and unmixed. As they do not only profess, but really believe, that, "If any man add unto the word of God, he will add unto him all the plagues that are written in it ;" they are fearful of doing it in the least instance. You have the gospel from them, if in a less elegant manner, yet fair, and as it is; without any mixture of errors to pollute it, or misinterpretation to perplex it explained in the most natural, obvious manner, by what precedes and what follows the place in question; and commented upon by the most sure way, the least liable to mistake or corruption, the producing of those parallel places that express the same thing the more plainly.

In the next place, they are as cautious of taking from, as of adding to, the word they preach. They dare no more, considering in whose sight they stand, say less, than more, than he hath assigned them. They must publish, as proper occasions offer, all that is contained in the oracles of God; whether smooth or otherwise, it matters nothing, since it is unquestionably true, and useful too: "For all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God; and is profitable either for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness." Either to teach us what we are to believe or practise, or, for conviction of error, reformation of vice. They know that there is nothing superfluous in it, relating either to faith or practice; and therefore they preach all parts of it, though those more particularly, which are more immediately wanted where they are. They are far from abstaining from speaking against any vice, because it is fashionable, and in repute in the place providence has allotted them; but for that very reason they are more zealous in testifying against it. They are so far from abstaining from speaking for any virtue because it is unfashionable and in disrepute where they are placed, that they therefore the more vigorously recommend it. Lastly, they who speak in sincerity, and as in the signt of him who deputes them, show that they do so, by the manner in which they speak. They speak with plainness and boldness, and are not concerned to pal

liate their doctrine, to reconcile it to the taste of men. They endea vour to set it always in a true light, whether it be a pleasing one or not. They will not, they dare not, soften a threatening, so as to prejudice its strength, neither represent sin in such mild colours, as to impair its native blackness. Not that they do not choose mildness, when it is likely to be effectual. Though they know the terrors of the Lord, they desire rather to persuade men. This method they use, and love to use it, with such as are capable of persuasion: with such as are not, they are obliged, if they will be faithful, to take the severer course. Let the revilers look to that; it harms not them: let the hearers accommodate themselves to the word; the word is not, in this sense, to be accommodated to the hearers. The preacher of it would be no less in fault, in a slavish obsequiousness on one side, than in an unrelenting sternness on the other.

If then we have spoken the word of God, the genuine unmixed word of God, and that only; if we have put no unnatural interpretation upon it, but taken the known phrases in their common obvious sense,—and when they were less known, explained Scripture by Scripture; if we have spoken the whole word, as occasion offered, though rather the parts which seemed most proper to give a check to some fashionable vice, or to encourage the practice of some unfashionable virtue; and if we have done this plainly and boldly, though with all the mildness and gentleness that the nature of the subject will bear;-then, believe ye our works, if not our words; or rather, believe them both together. Here is all a preacher can do; all the evidence that he either can or need give of his good intentions. There is no way but this to show that he speaks as of sincerity, as commissioned by the Lord, and as in his sight. If there be any who, after all this, will not believe that it is his concern, not our own, we labour for; that our first intention in speaking, is to point him the way to happiness, and to disengage him from the great road that leads to misery; we are clear of the blood of that man,-it rests on his own head. For thus saith the Lord, who hath set us as watchmen over the souls of our countrymen and brethren; "If they warn the wicked of his way to turn from it;"-much more if we use all methods possible to convince him that the warning is of God ;— "if he do not turn from his way,"-which certainly he will not, if he do not believe that we are in earnest,-"ne shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thine own soul."

SERMON CXXXIV.-On the Resurrection of the Dead.
Written in the year 1732.

"But some man will say, how are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" 1 Cor. xv, 35.

THE apostle having, in the beginning of this chapter, firmly settled the truth of our Saviour's resurrection, adds, "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" It cannot now any longer seem impossible to you that God should raise the dead; since you have so plain an example of it in our Lord, who was dead and is alive; and the same

« AnteriorContinua »