THAT human kind were not deſigned merely to ſojourn a few Days upon this Earth: that a Being of ſuch Excellence as the Soul of Man, ſo capable of a nobler Life, and having ſuch a high Senſe of Things moral and intellectual, was not created in the ſole View of being impriſoned in an earthly Tabernacle, and partaking a few Pains and Pleaſures which chequer this mortal Life, without aſpiring to any thing either above or beyond it, is a Fundamental Doctrine as well of Natural Religion as of the Chriſtian. It comes at once recommended [Page 4] by the Authority of Philoſophers and Evangeliſts. And that there actually is in the Mind of Man a ſtrong inſtinct and deſire, an appetite and tendency towards another and a better State, incomeparably ſuperior to the preſent, both in point of Happineſs and Duration, is no more than every one's Experience and inward Feeling may inform him. The ſatiety and diſreliſh attending ſenſual Enjoyments, the reliſh for things of a more pure and ſpiritual kind, the reſtleſs Motion of the Mind, from one terrene Object of purſuit to another, and often a Flight or Endeavour above them all towards ſomething unknown, and perfective of its Nature, are ſo many ſigns and tokens of this better State, which in the Style of the Goſpel is termed Life Eternal.
AND as this is the greateſt Good that can befal us, the very end of our Being, and that alone which can crown and ſatisfy our Wiſhes, and without which we ſhall be ever reſtleſs and uneaſy; ſo every Man, who knows and acts up to his true Intereſt, muſt make it his principal Care and Study to obtain it: And in order to this, he muſt endeavour to live ſuitably to his Calling, and of conſequence endeavour to [Page 5] make others obtain it too. For how can a Chriſtian ſhew himſelf worthy of his Calling, otherwiſe than by performing the Duties of it? And what Chriſtian Duty is more eſſentially ſo, than that of Charity? And what Object can be found upon Earth more deſerving our Charity, than the Souls of Men? Or, how is it poſſible for the moſt beneficent Spirit to do them better Service, than by promoting their beſt and moſt laſting Intereſt, that is by putting them in the Way that leads to Eternal Life.
WHAT this Eternal Life was, or how to come at it, were Points unknown to the Heathen World. It muſt be owned, the wiſe Men of Old, who followed the Light of Nature, ſaw even by that Light, that the Soul of Man was debaſed, and born downwards, contrary to its natural Bent, by carnal and terrene Objects; and that, on the other hand, it was exalted, purged, and in ſome ſort aſſimulated to the Deity, by the Contemplation of Truth and Practice of Virtue. Thus much in general they ſaw or ſurmiſed. But then about the Way and Means to know the one, or perform the other, they were much at a loſs. They were not agreed concerning the true End [Page 6] of Mankind; which, as they ſaw, was miſtaken in the vulgar Purſuits of Men; ſo they found it much more eaſy to confute the Errors of others, than to aſcertain the Truth themſelves. Hence ſo many Diviſions and Diſputes about a Point which it moſt imported them to know, inſomuch as it was to give the Bias to human Life, and govern the whole Tenor of their Actions and Conduct.
BUT when Life and Immortality were brought to Light by the Goſpel, there could remain no Diſpute about the chief End and Felicity of Man, no more than there could about the Means of obtaining it, afer the expreſs Declaration of our Bleſſed Lord in the Words of my Text; This is Life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jeſus Chriſt whom thou haſt ſent. For the right underſtanding of which Words we muſt obſerve, that by the Knowledge of God, is not meant a barren Speculation, either of Philoſophers or Scholaſtic Divines, nor any notional Tenets fitted to produce Diſputes and Diſſentions among Men; but, on the contrary, an holy practical Knowledge, which is the Source, the Root, or Principle of Peace and Union, of Faith, Hope, Charity, and univerſal Obedience.
[Page 7] A Man may frame the moſt accurate Notions, and in one Senſe attain the exacteſt Knowledge of God and Chriſt that human Faculties can reach, and yet, notwithſtanding all this, be far from knowing them in that ſaving Senſe. For St. John tells us, [Note: 1 Joh. iii. 6.] that whoſoever ſinneth, hath not ſeen Chriſt, nor known him. And again, [Note: 1 Joh. iv. 8.] He that loveth not, knoweth not God. To know God as we ought, we muſt love him; and love him ſo as withal to love our Brethren, his Creatures, and his Children. I ſay that Knowledge of God and Chriſt, which is Life eternal, implies univerſal Charity, with all the Duties ingrafted thereon, or enſuing from thence, that is to ſay, the Love of God and Man. And our Lord expreſly ſaith, [Note: John xiv. 21.] He that hath my Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. From all which it is evident, that this ſaving Knowledge of God is inſeparable from the Knowledge and Practice of his Will; the explicit Declaration whereof, and of the Means to perform it, are contained in the Goſpel, that divine Inſtrument of Grace and Mercy to the Sons of Men. The metaphyſical Knowledge of God, conſidered in his abſolute Nature of Eſſence, is one thing, and to know him as [Page 8] he ſtands related to us as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, is another. The former kind of Knowledge (whatever it amounts to) hath been, and may be, in Gentiles as well as Chriſtians, but not the latter, which is Life eternal.
FROM what hath been ſaid, it is a plain Conſequence, that whoever is a ſincere Chriſtian, cannot be indifferent about bringing over other Men to the Knowledge of God and Chriſt; but that every one of us, who hath any Claim to that Title, is indiſpenſably obliged in Duty to God, and in Charity to his Neighbour, to deſire and promote, ſo far as there is Opportunity, the Converſion of Heathen and Infidels, that ſo they may become Partakers of Life and Immortality. For, this is Life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jeſus Chriſt whom thou haſt ſent.
- Firſt, CONSIDER in general, the Obligation that Chriſtians lie under, of bringing other Men to the Knowledge of the only true God, and of Jeſus Chriſt. And,
- [Page 9] Secondly, I ſhall conſider it in Reference to this laudable Society, inſtituted for the Propagation of the Goſpel. And under each Head, I propoſe to obviate ſuch Difficulties as may ſeem to retard, and intermix ſuch Remarks as ſhall appear proper to forward ſo good a Work.
NOW although it be very evident, that we can really have neither a juſt Zeal for the Glory of God, nor a beneficent Love of Man, without wiſhing and endeavouring, as occaſion ſerves, to ſpread the glad Tidings of Salvation, and bring thoſe who are benighted in the Shadow of Death, to Life eternal, by the Knowledge of the only true God, and of Jeſus Chriſt whom he hath ſent. Yet this Duty, plain and undoubted as it ſeems, happens to be too often overlooked, even by thoſe, whoſe Attention to other Points would make one think their Neglect of this, not an Effect of lukewarm Indifference, ſo much as of certain miſtaken Notions and Suppoſitions. Two principal Conſiderations occur, which, in this particular, ſeem to have ſlackened [Page 10] the Induſtry of ſome, otherwiſe zealous and ſerious Chriſtians.
ONE I apprehend to be this, that it is ſurmiſed, the Chriſtian Religion is in a declining State, which by many Symptoms ſeems likely to end either in Popery, or a general Infidelity. And that of Courſe a prudent Perſon has nothing to do, but to make ſure of his own Salvation, and to acquieſce in the general Tendency of things, without being at any fruitleſs Pains to oppoſe what cannot be prevented, to ſteer againſt the Stream, or reſiſt a Torrent, which as it flows, gathers Strength and Rapidity, and in the End, will be ſure to overflow, and carry all before it. When a Man of a deſponding and foreboding Spirit hath been led, by his obſervation of the Ways of the World, and the prevailing Humour of our Times, to think after this manner; he will be inclined to ſtrengthen this his preconceived Opinion, as is uſual in other the like Caſes, by Miſapplication of holy Scripture: For inſtance, by thoſe Words of our Bleſſed Saviour, [Note: Luke xviii. 8.] When the Son of Man cometh, ſhall he find Faith upon Earth? which have been applied to this very purpoſe, as importing that before the final Judgment, [Page 11] Chriſtian Faith ſhould be extinguiſhed upon Earth; Although theſe Words do, from the Context, ſeem plainly to refer to the Deſtruction of Jeruſalem, and the obſtinate Blindneſs of the Jews, who even then when they felt the Hand of God, ſhould not acknowledge it, or believe the Roman Army to be the Inſtrument of Divine Vengeance, in the Day of their Viſitation, by him whom they had injuriouſly treated, rejected, and put to Death.
BUT, granting the former Senſe might be ſupported by no abſurd Hypotheſis, or no improbable Gueſs; yet ſhall the Endeavours of Chriſtian Men for propagating the Goſpel of Chriſt be foreſtalled by any Suppoſitions or Conjectures whatſoever? admitting, I ſay, thoſe Words regard the future Advent of Jeſus Chriſt, yet can any one tell how near or how far off that Advent may be? Are not the Times and Seaſons foreknown only to God? And ſhall we neglect a certain Duty to Day, upon an uncertain Surmiſe of what is to come hereafter? This way of thinking might furniſh as ſtrong Reaſons againſt Preaching at home, as abroad, within, as without the Pale of the Church. It would be as ſpecious an Argument againſt the one as the other, [Page 12] but in reality can conclude againſt neither. For, as we know not when that ſuppoſed Time of general Infidelity is to be, or whether it will be at all; ſo, if it were ever ſo ſure, and ever ſo near, it would nevertheleſs become us to take Care, that it may not be an Effect of our own particular Indifference and Neglect.
BUT if we take our Notions, not from the uncertain Interpretation of a particular Text, but from the whole Tenor of the divine Oracles, from the expreſs Promiſe and reiterated Predictions of our Bleſſed Lord, and his Apoſtles, we ſhall believe, that [Note: Phil. ii. 9, 10, 11.] Jeſus Chriſt is highly exalted of God, to the End, that at his Name every Knee ſhall bow, and every Tongue confeſs that he is the Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. That [Note: 1 Cor. xv. 25.] he muſt Reign till he hath put all Enemies under his Feet. That [Note: Mat. xxviii. 20.] He is with us alway, even unto the End of the World. And that, [Note: Mat. xvi. 18.] The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of Truth, is ſo far from being deſtroy'd human Means, that the gates of Hell (all the infernal Powers) ſhall not prevail againſt it. Let us therefore baniſh all ſuch Conceits as may ſeem to juſtifie our Indolence, as may reaſon us out of all courage and vigour in the Race that is ſet before [Page 13] us; let us not, I ſay, ſlacken our own Hands, nor enfeeble our own Knees, by preconceived Fancies and Suppoſitions, conſidering that as the Succeſs of all Enterpriſes in great Meaſure depends on the Spirit of the Undertakers, ſo nothing is more apt to raiſe a Spirit than Hope; or to depreſs it, than Deſpondency. We ought therefore to ſhake off every vain Fear in our ſpiritual Warfare. The Number, the Preſumption, and the Abilities of thoſe, who take Counſel together againſt the Lord, and againſt his Anointed, ſhould not diſhearten, but rather excite and encourage us to ſtand in the Gap.
ANOTHER Conſideration, that may poſſibly withhold divers ſincere Believers from contributing their Endeavours for bringing Men to the Knowledge of God and Chriſt, and thereby to eternal Life, is the want of Miracles in the preſent Age. Men naturally caſt about for Reaſons to countenance the Part they take. And as the Gift of Miracles was of mighty Influence and Help to thoſe, who were commiſſioned to ſpread abroad the Light of the Goſpel in its firſt promulgation, ſo no Pretence offers it ſelf more naturally to excuſe a Man from executing any purpoſe, than the want of Authority, which, in the Opinion of [Page 14] Men, cannot be without a juſt Commiſſion, nor this unleſs diſtinguiſhed by thoſe proper Means and Powers that have been known to attend it. Now, with regard to this defect of Miracles, I ſhall beg leave to make two Obſervations.
Firſt, It is to be obſerved, that if we have not Miracles, we have other Advantages which make them leſs neceſſary now, than in the firſt ſpreading of the Goſpel: Whole Nations have found the Benefit of Chriſt's Religion, it is protected by Princes, eſtabliſhed and encouraged by Laws, ſupported by Learning and Arts, recommended by the Experience of many Ages, as well as by the Authority and Example of the wiſeſt and moſt knowing Men. Certainly, if the greater Part of Mankind are Gentiles or Mahometans, it cannot be denied that the moſt knowing, moſt learned, and moſt improved Nations, profeſs Chriſtianity, and that even the Mahometans themſelves bear Teſtimony to the Divine Miſſion of Jeſus Chriſt. Whereas therefore, in the Beginning, a few illiterate Wanderers, of the meaneſt of the People, had the Prejudices, the Learning, and the Power of their own, as well as other Nations, in one Word, the whole World, to oppoſe [Page 15] and overcome: Thoſe who at this Day engage in the Propagation of the Goſpel, do it upon Terms in many Reſpects far more eaſy and advantageous. It is Power againſt Weakneſs, Civility againſt Barbariſm, Knowledge againſt Ignorance, ſome or other, if not all theſe Advantages, in the preſent Times, attending the Progreſs of the Chriſtian Religion, in whatever Part of the World Men ſhall attempt to plant it.
IN the ſecond Place we may reflect, that if we have not the Gift of Miracles, this is a good Reaſon why we ſhould exert more ſtrongly thoſe human Means which God hath put in our Power; and make our ordinary Faculties, whether of the Head, or the Hand, or the Tongue, our Intereſt, our Credit, or our Fortune, ſubſervient to the great Giver of them; and chearfully contribute our humble Mite towards haſtening that Time, wherein [Note: Pſalm lxxxvi. 9.] all Nations whom thou haſt made, ſhall come and worſhip before thee, O Lord, and ſhall glorifie thy Name. It is at leaſt a plain Caſe, that the Want of Apoſtolical Gifts ſhould not be pleaded as a Bar to our doing that, which in no Reſpect, either of Difficulty or Danger, equals, or approaches the Apoſtolical Office. What [Page 16] Pretence can this ſupply for Mens being quite unconcerned about the ſpreading of the Goſpel, or the Salvation of Souls? For Mens forgetting that they are Chriſtians, and related to human Kind? How can this juſtify their overlooking Opportunities which lie in their Way, their not contributing a ſmall Part of their Fortune towards forwarding a Deſign, wherein they ſhare neither Pains nor Peril; the not beſtowing on it, even the cheap Aſſiſtance of their Speech, Attention, Counſel, or Countenance, as Occaſion offers? How unlike is this worldly, ſelfiſh Indifference, to that Account which St. Paul gives of himſelf, that [Note: 1 Cor. x. 33.] he ſought not his own the Profit, but the Profit of many, that they may be ſaved. And yet herein he expected the Corinthians (and the ſame Reaſon will hold for us) ſhould be like him; for he ſubjoins, Be ye Followers of me as I alſo am of Chriſt.
HAVING conſidered the Duty in general, I come now to treat of it with Reference to America, the peculiar Province of this Venerable Society; which I ſuppoſe well informed of the State and Progreſs of Religion in that part of the World, by their Correſpondencies with the Clergy upon their Miſſion. It may nevertheleſs [Page 17] be expected that one who had been engaged in a Deſign in this very View, who hath been upon the Place, and reſided a conſiderable Time in one of our Colonies, ſhould have obſerved ſomewhat worth reporting. It is to be hoped, therefore, that one Part of my Audience will pardon, what the other may, perhaps, expect, while I detain them with the Narrative of a few Things I have obſerved, and ſuch Reflections as thereupon ſuggeſted themſelves; ſome part of which may poſſibly be found to extend to other Colonies.
Rhode-Iſland, with a Portion of the adjacent Continent, under the ſame Government, is inhabited by an Engliſh Colony, conſiſting chiefly of Sectaries of many different Denominations, who ſeem to have worn off part of that Prejudice, which they inherited from their Anceſtors, againſt the National Church of this Land; though it muſt be acknowledged at the ſame Time, that too many of them have worn off a ſerious Senſe of all Religion. Several indeed of the better Sort are accuſtomed to aſſemble themſelves regularly on the Lord's Day for the Performance of Divine Worſhip. But moſt of thoſe, who are diſperſed [Page 18] throughout this Colony, ſeem to rival ſome well-bred People of other Countries, in a thorough Indifference for all that is ſacred, being equally careleſs of outward Worſhip, and of inward Principles, whether of Faith or Practice. Of the Bulk of them it may certainly be ſaid, that they live without the Sacraments, not being ſo much as baptized: And as for their Morals, I apprehend there is nothing to be found in them that ſhould tempt others to make an Experiment of their Principles, either in Religion or Government. But it muſt be owned, the general Behaviour of the Inhabitants in thoſe Towns where Churches and Meetings have been long ſettled, and regularly attended, ſeems ſo much better, as ſufficiently to ſhew the Difference, which a ſolemn regular Worſhip of God makes between Perſons of the ſame Blood, Temper, and natural Faculties.
THE native Indians, who are ſaid to have been formerly many Thouſands, within the compaſs of this Colony, do not at preſent amount to one Thouſand, including every Age and Sex. And theſe are all either Servants or Labourers for the Engliſh, who have contributed more to deſtroy their Bodies by the Uſe of ſtrong [Page 19] Liquors, than by any Means to improve their Minds, or ſave their Souls. This ſlow Poiſon, jointly operating with the Small-Pox, and their Wars (but much more deſtructive than both) hath conſumed the Indians, not only in our Colonies, but alſo far and wide upon our Confines. And having made Havock of them, is now doing the ſame Thing by thoſe who taught them that odious Vice.
THE Negroes in the Government of Rhode-Iſland are about half as many more than the Indians; and both together ſcarce amount to a ſeventh Part of the whole Colony. The Religion of theſe People, as is natural to ſuppoſe, takes after that of their Maſters. Some few are baptized; ſeveral frequent the different Aſſemblies: and far the greater Part none at all. An antient Antipathy to the Indians, whom, it ſeems, our firſt Planters (therein as in certain other Particulars affecting to imitate Jews rather than Chriſtians) imagined they had a Right to treat on the Foot of Canaanites or Amalekites, together with an irrational Contempt of the Blacks, as Creatures of another Species, who had no Right to be inſtructed or admitted to the Sacraments, have proved a [Page 20] main Obſtacle to the Converſion of theſe poor People.
TO this may be added, an erroneous Notion, that the being baptized, is inconſiſtent with a State of Slavery. To undeceive them in this Particular, which had too much Weight, it ſeemed a proper Step, if the Opinion of his Majeſty's Attorney and Sollicitor-General could be procured. This Opinion they charitably ſent over, ſigned with their own Hands; which was accordingly printed in Rhode-Iſland, and diſperſed throughout the Plantations. I heartily wiſh it may produce the intended Effect. It muſt be owned, our reformed Planters, with reſpect to the Natives and the Slaves, might learn from thoſe of the Church of Rome, how it is their Intereſt and Duty to behave. Both French and Spaniards have intermarried with Indians, to the great Strength, Security and Increaſe of their Colonies. They take Care to inſtruct both them and their Negroes, in the Popiſh Religion, to the Reproach of thoſe who profeſs a better. They have alſo Biſhops and Seminaries for Clergy; and it is not found that their Colonies are worſe Subjects, or depend leſs on their Mother Country, on that Account.
[Page 21] IT ſhould ſeem, that the likelieſt Step towards converting the Heathen, would be to begin with the Engliſh Planters; whoſe Influence will for ever be an Obſtacle to propagating the Goſpel, till they have a right Senſe of it themſelves, which would ſhew them how much it is their Duty to impart it to others. The Miſſionaries employed by this Venerable Society have done, and continue to do, good Service, in bringing thoſe Planters to a ſerious Senſe of Religion, which, it is hoped, will in time extend to others. I ſpeak it knowingly, that the Miniſters of the Goſpel, in thoſe Provinces which go by the Name of New-England, ſent and ſupported at the Expence of this Society, have, by their Sobriety of Manners, diſcreet Behaviour, and a competent Degree of uſeful Knowledge, ſhewn themſelves worthy the Choice of thoſe who ſent them; and particularly in living on a more friendly Foot with their Brethren of the Separation; who, on their Part, are alſo very much come off from that Narrowneſs of Spirit, which formerly kept them at ſuch an unamicable Diſtance from us. And as there is reaſon to apprehend, that Part of America could not have been thus diſtinguiſhed, and provided with ſuch a [Page 22] Number of proper Perſons, if one half of them had not been ſupplied out of the diſſenting Seminaries of the Country, who, in Proportion as they attain to more liberal Improvements of Learning, are obſerved to quit their Prejudice towards an Epiſcopal Church; ſo I verily think it might increaſe the Number of ſuch uſeful Men, if Proviſion were made to defray their Charges in coming hither to receive holy Orders; paſſing and repaſſing the Ocean, and tarrying the neceſſary Time in London, requiring an Expence that many are not able to bear. It would alſo be an Encouragement to the Miſſionaries in general, and probably produce good Effects, if the Allowance of certain Miſſionaries were augmented, in proportion to the Service they had done, and the Time they had ſpent in their Miſſion. Theſe Hints I venture to ſuggeſt, as not unuſeful in an Age, wherein all humane Encouragements are found more neceſſary, than at the firſt Propagation of the Goſpel. But they are, with all due Deference and Reſpect, ſubmitted to the Judgment of this Venerable Audience.
AFTER all, it is hardly to be expected, that ſo long as Infidelity prevails at home, the Chriſtian Religion ſhould thrive and [Page 23] flouriſh in our Colonies abroad. Mankind, it muſt be owned, left to themſelves, are ſo much bewildered and benighted, with reſpect to the Origin of that Evil which they feel, and from which they are at a Loſs about the Means of being freed; that the Doctrines of the lapſed State of Man, his Reconciliation by Chriſt, and Regeneration by the Spirit, may reaſonably be hoped to find an eaſy Admiſſion, as bringing with them Light and Comfort, into a Mind not hardened by Impenitency, nor fore-cloſed by Pride, nor bias'd by Prejudice. But, ſuch is the Vanity of Man, that no Prejudice operates more powerfully than that in Favour of Faſhion; and no Faſhions are ſo much followed by our Colonies, as thoſe of the Mother Country, which they often adopt in their Modes of living, to their great Inconvenience, without allowing for the Diſparity of Circumſtance or Climate. This ſame Humour hath made Infidelity (as I find it too credibly reported) ſpread in ſome of our wealthy Plantations; uneducated Men being more apt to tread in the Steps of Libertines and Men of Faſhion, than to model themſelves by the Laws and Institutions of their Mother [Page 24] Country, or the Lives and Profeſſions of the virtuous and religious Part of it.
BUT this is not all; While thoſe abroad are leſs diſpoſed to receive, ſome at home are, perhaps, leſs diſpoſed to propagate the Goſpel, from the ſame Cauſe. It is to be feared, I ſay, that the prevailing Torrent of Infidelity, which ſtaggers the Faith of ſome, may cool the Zeal, and damp the Spirit of others, who, judging from the Event and Succeſs of thoſe, who impugn the Church of Chriſt, may poſſibly entertain ſome Scruple or Surmiſe, whether it may not be, for the preſent at leaſt, abandoned by Providence, and that human Care muſt ineffectually interpoſe, till it ſhall pleaſe God, yet once more to ſhake not the Earth only, but alſo the Heavens. This Point hath been touched before, but deſerves farther Conſideration: to the end, that the peculiar Impiety of a profane Age, may not be a Bar to thoſe very Endeavours, which it ſelf renders more neceſſary, and calls for more loudly now than ever.
WHATEVER Men may think, the Arm of the Lord is not ſhorten'd. In all this Prevalency of Atheiſm and Irreligion, there is no Advantage gained, by the Powers of Darkneſs, either againſt God, or godly Men, [Page 25] but only againſt their own wretched Partiſans. The Chriſtian Diſpenſation is a Diſpenſation of Grace and Favour. The Chriſtian Church a Society of Men intitled to this Grace, on performing certain Conditions. If this Society is diminiſhed, as thoſe who remain true Members of it ſuffer no Loſs to themſelves, ſo God loſeth no Right, ſuffereth no Detriment, foregoeth no Good; his Grace reſiſted or unfruitful, being no more loſt to him, than the Light of the Sun ſhining on deſart Places, or among People who ſhut their Eyes.
BESIDES, this Exceſs, this unſtemmed Torrent of Profaneneſs, may poſſibly, in the Concluſion, defeat itſelf, confirm what it meant to extirpate, and inſtead of deſtroying, prove a Means of preſerving our Religion; the evil Fruits and Effects thereof being ſo notorious and flagrant, and ſo ſenſibly felt, as in all likelyhood to be able to open the Eyes, and rouſe the Attention of thoſe, who may be blind and deaf to every other Argument and Conſideration. Or, who knows but the Chriſtian Church corrupted by Proſperity, is to be reſtored and purified by Adverſity? which may prove, for ought we can tell, as ſalutary in future, as it hath been in paſt Ages. Many inſolent and preſumptuous [Page 26] Foes have ſet themſelves againſt the Church of God; whoſe Hook nevertheleſs may be in their Noſtrils, and his Bridle in their Lips, managing and governing, even their Rage and Folly, to the fulfilling of his own wiſe Purpoſes; and who may not fail in the End, to deal by them as he did by the King of Aſſyria, when he had performed his Work upon Sin and upon Jeruſalem, puniſhing their ſtout Heart and high Looks. This preſumptuous Conqueror was, without knowing it, a Tool or Inſtrument in the Hands of that God whom he blaſphemed. [Note: Iſa. x. 5, 6, 7.] O Aſſyrian, the Rod of mine Anger! I will ſend him againſt an hypocritical Nation, and againſt the People of my Wrath will I give him a Charge to take the Spoil, and to take the Prey, and to tread them down like the Mire of the Streets. Howbeit he meaneth not ſo, neither doth his Heart think ſo, but it is in his Heart to deſtroy and cut off Nations not a few.
THUS much at leaſt is evident: It is no new Thing, that great Enormities ſhould produce great Humiliations, and theſe again noble Vertues, which have often recovered both ſingle Men, and whole States, even in a natural and civil Senſe. And if the Captivities, Diſtreſſes, and Deſolations of the Jewiſh [Page 27] Church, have occaſioned their Return to God, and reinſtated them in his Favour; nay, if it was actually foretold, whenever they lay under the Curſe of God, at the Mercy of their Enemies, peeled and ſcattered in a foreign Land, that nevertheleſs upon their calling his Covenant to Mind, and returning to him, [Note: Deut. xxx. 3.] the Lord their God would turn their Captivity, and have Compaſſion upon them. I ſay, if Things were ſo, why may we not in Reaſon hope for ſomething analogous thereto, in behalf of the Chriſtian Church. It cannot be denied, that there was a great Analogy between the Jewiſh Inſtitutions, and the Doctrines of the Goſpel; for inſtance, between the Paſchal Lamb, and the Lamb of God ſlain from the Foundation of the World; between the Egyptian Bondage, and that of Sin; the earthly Canaan, and the heavenly; the fleſhly Circumciſion, and the ſpiritual. In theſe and many other Particulars, the Analogy ſeems ſo plain, that it can hardly be diſputed. To be convinced that the Law of Moſes, and the Jewiſh Oeconomy were Figures and Shadows of the Evangelical, we need only look into the Epiſtle to the Hebrews. May we not therefore, in purſuance of this ſame Analogy, [Page 28] ſuppoſe a ſimilar Treatment of the Jewiſh and Chriſtian Church?
LET us then ſee, on what Terms the former ſtood with God, in order to diſcover what the latter may reaſonably expect. The ſolemn Denunciation to the Jews was, [Note: Deut. xxviii. 1.] If thou ſhalt kearken diligently to the Lord thy God, to obſerve and to do all his Commandments, which I command thee this Day, the Lord thy God will ſet thee on high above all the Nations of the Earth. But in caſe of Diſobedience, it is added among many other Threats and Maledictions: [Note: Ver. 22, 23.] The Lord ſhall ſmite thee with Blaſting and with Mildew: and the Heaven that is over thy Head ſhall be Braſs, and the Earth that is under thy Feet ſhall be Iron. And again, [Note: Ver. 28] The Lord ſhall ſmite thee with Madneſs, and Blindneſs, and Aſtoniſhment of Heart. Have not the People of this Land drawn down upon it, by more Ways than one, the juſt Judgments of Heaven? Surely we have felt in a Metaphor the firſt of the forementioned Judgments; and the laſt hath been literally fulfilled upon us. Is it not viſible that we are leſs knowing, leſs vertuous, leſs reaſonable, in proportion as we are leſs religious? Are we not grown drunk and giddy with Vice and Vanity and Preſumption, and Free-thinking, and [Page 29] Extravagance of every kind? to a Degree that we may truly be ſaid to be ſmitten with Madneſs, and Blindneſs, and Aſtoniſhment of Heart.
AS antiently moſt unchriſtian Schiſms and Diſputes, joined with great Corruption of Manners, made way for the Mahometan in the Eaſt, and the Papal Dominion in the Weſt; even ſo here at home in the laſt Century, a weak Reliance upon human Politics and Power on the one hand, and enthuſiaſtic Rage on the other, together with carnal Mindedneſs on both, gave occaſion to introduce Atheiſm and Infidelity. If the temporal State, and outward Form of the Jewiſh Church was, upon their Defection, overturned by Invaders, in like manner, when Chriſtians are no longer governed by the Light of Evangelical Truth, when we reſiſt the Spirit of God, are we not to expect, that the Heaven above will be as Braſs, that the Divine Grace will no longer ſhower down on our obdurate Hearts, that our Church and Profeſſion will be blaſted by licentious Scorners, thoſe Madmen, who in Sport ſcatter Firebrands, Arrows and Death? As all this is no more than we may reaſonably ſuppoſe will enſue upon our Backſliding, ſo we [Page 30] may, with equal Reaſon, hope it will be remedied upon our Return to God.
FROM what hath been ſaid it follows, that in order to propagate the Goſpel abroad, it is neceſſary we do it at home, and extend our Charity to domeſtic Infidels, if we would convert or prevent foreign ones. So that a View of the declining State of Religion here at home, of thoſe things that produced this Declenſion, and of the proper Methods to repair it, is naturally connected with the Subject of this Diſcourſe. I ſhall therefore beg your Patience, while I juſt mention a few Remarks or Hints, too obvious, perhaps, in themſelves to be new or unknown to any preſent, but too little viſible in their Effects, to make one think they are, by all, much attended to.
SOME, preferring Points notional or ritual to the Love of God and Man, conſider the National Church only as it ſtands oppoſed to other Chriſtian Societies. Theſe generally have a Zeal without Knowledge, and the Effects are ſuitable to the Cauſe; they really hurt what they ſeem to eſpouſe. Others more ſolicitous about the Diſcovery of Truth, than the Practice of Holineſs, employ themſelves, rather to ſpy out Errors in the Church, than enforce its Precepts. [Page 31] Theſe, it is to be feared, poſtpone the great Intereſts of Religion to Points of leſs Concern, in any Eyes but their own. But ſurely they would do well to conſider, that an humble, though confuſed or indiſtinct, Faith in the Bond of Charity, and productive of good Works, is much more Evangelical than an accurate diſputing and conceited Knowledge.
A Church which contains the Fundamentals, and nothing ſubverſive of thoſe Fundamentals, is not to be ſet at naught by any particular Member; becauſe it may not, in every Point, perhaps, correſpond with his Ideas, no not, though he is ſure of being in the right. Probably there never was, or will be, an eſtabliſhed Church in this World, without viſible Marks of Humanity upon it. Saint Paul ſuppoſeth, [Note: x Cor. iii. 12.] that on the Foundation of Jeſus Chriſt, there will be human Superſtructures of Hay and Stubble, things light and trivial, wrong or ſuperſtitious, which indeed is a natural Conſequence of the Weakneſs and Ignorance of Man. But where that living Foundation is rightly laid in the Mind, there will not fail to grow and ſpring from thence thoſe Vertues and Graces, which are the genuine Effects and Tokens of true Faith, and which are by no [Page 32] means inconſiſtent with every Error in Theory, or every needleſs Rite in Worſhip.
THE Chriſtian Religion was calculated for the Bulk of Mankind, and therefore cannot reaſonably be ſuppoſed to conſiſt in ſubtle and nice Notions. From the time that Divinity was conſidered as a Science, and human Reaſon enthroned in the Sanctuary of God, the Hearts of its Profeſſors ſeem to have been leſs under the Influence of Grace. From that time have grown many unchriſtian Diſſentions and Controverſies, of Men [Note: 1 Tim. vi. 4.] knowing nothing, but doating about Queſtions and Strife of Words, whereof cometh Envy, Strife, Railings, evil Surmiſes, perverſe Diſputings of Men of corrupt Minds, and deſtitute of Truth. Doubtleſs, the making Religion a notional Thing, hath been of infinite Diſſervice. And whereas its holy Myſteries are rather to be received with Humility of Faith, than defined and meaſured by the accuracy of human Reaſon; all Attempts of this kind, however well intended, have viſibly failed in the Event; and inſtead of reconciling Infidels, have, by creating Diſputes and Heats among the Profeſſors of Chriſtianity, given no ſmall Advantage to its Enemies.
[Page 33] TO conclude, if we proportioned our Zeal to the Importance of Things: If we could love Men whoſe Opinions we do not approve: If we knew the World more, and liked it leſs: If we had a due Senſe of the Divine Perfection and our own Defects: If our chief Study was the Wiſdom from above, deſcribed by St. Paul. And if, in order to all this, that were done in Places of Education, which cannot ſo well be done out of them: I ſay, if theſe Steps were taken at home, while proper Meaſures are carrying on abroad, the one would very much forward or facilitate the other. As it is not meant, ſo it muſt not be underſtood, that foreign Attempts ſhould wait for domeſtic Succeſs, but only that it is to be wiſhed they may cooperate. Certainly if a juſt and rational, a genuine and ſincere, a warm and vigorous Piety, animated the Mother-Country, the Influence thereof would ſoon reach our Foreign Plantations, and extend throughout their Borders. We ſhould ſoon ſee Religion ſhine forth with new Luſtre and Force, to the Converſion of Infidels, both at home and abroad, and to [Note: 2 Cor. x. 5.] the caſting down high Imaginations, and every Thing [Page 34] that exalteth it ſelf againſt the Knowledge of God, and bringing into Captivity every Thought to the Obedience of Chriſt.
To whom with the FATHER, and the HOLY GHOST, be aſcribed all Praiſe, Might, Majeſty, and Dominion, now and for ever.