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As the late Mr. Howe judiciously ob serves, “ there is beside bare understand“ ing and judgment, and diverse from " that heavenly gift which in the scrip “ ture is called grace, such a thing as guft “ and relish belonging to the mind of man, “ (and, I doubt not, with all men, if they “ observe themselves) and which are as “ unaccountable and as various as the re“ lishes and disgusts of sense. This they “ only wonder at who understand not thema “ felves, or will consider nobody but “ themselves. So that it cannot be faid « universally, that it is a better judgment, « or more grace, that determines men the “ one way or the other; but somewhat in " the temper of their minds distinct from “ both, which I know not how better to « express than by mental taste. And this “ hath no more of mystery in it, than “ that there is such a thing belonging to « our natures as complacency and displi“ cency in reference to the objects of the « mind. And this, in the kind of it, is « as common to men as human nature; “ but as much diversified in individuals « as men's other inclinations are *."
* See his Humble Request bo'b to Conformiffs and Dif fenters.
Now this different taste in matters re. lating to religion, (though it may be fometimes natural, or what is born with a man, yet) generally arises from the difference of education and custom. And the true reason why some persons have an inveterate disrelish to certain circumstantials of religion, though ever so justifiable, and at . the same time a fixed esteem for others that are more exceptionable, may be no better than what I have heard some very honeftly profefs, viz. that the one they have been used to, and the other not. As a perfon by long use and habit acquires a greater relish for coarse and unwholesome food than the most delicate diet ; so a per. for long habituated to a set of phrases, notions, and modes, may by degrees come to have such a veneration and esteem for them, as to defpise and condemn others which they have not been accustomed to, though perhaps more edifying and more agreeable to scripture and reason.
This particular taste in matters of religion differs very much (as Mr. Howe well obferves) both from judgment and grace.
However, it is often mistaken for both. When it is mistaken for the former, it leads to error ; when mistaken for the late ter, to cenforiousness. L 3
This different taste of mental objects is much the same with that which, with regard to the objects of senfe, we call fancy : for as one man cannot be said to have a better judgment in food than another, purely because he likes some kind of meats better than he; so neither can he be said to have a better judgment in matters of religion, purely because he hath a greater fondness for some particular doctrines and forms.
But though this mental taste be not the fame as the judgment, yet it often draws the judgment to it, and sometimes very much perverts it.
This appears in nothing more evidently than in the judgment people pass upon the sermons they hear. Some are best pleased with those discourses that are pathetic and warming, others with what is more solid and rational, and others with the sublime and mystical. Nothing can be too plain for the taite of some, or too refined for that of others. Some are for having the address only to their reason and understanding, others only to their affections and paflions, and others to their experience and confciences. And every hearer or reader is apt to judge according to his particular talte, and to esteem him the best preacher
or writer who pleases him most; without examining first his own particular taste by which he judgeth.
It is natural indeed for every one to defire to have his own taste pleased; but it is unreasonable in him to set it up as the best, and make it a test and standard to others : but much more unreasonable to expect that he who speaks in public should always speak to his taste which might as reasonably be expected by another of a different taste. But it can no more be expected, that what is delivered to a multitude of hearers should alike suit all their tastes, than that a single dish, though prepared with ever so much art and exactness, should equally please a great variety of appetites ; among which there may be some perhaps very nice and fickly. . It is the preacher's duty to adapt his fubjects to the taste of his hearers, as far as fidelity and conscience will admit; because it is well known from reason and experience, as well as from the advice and practice of the apostle Paul *, that this is
the the best way to promote their edification. But if their taste be totally vitiated, and incline them to take in that which will do them more harm than good, and to relish poison more than food, the most charitable thing the preacher can do in that cafe is, to endeavour to correct fo vicious an appetite, which lothes that which is most wholesome, and craves that which is pernicious. This, I say, it is his duty to attempt in the most gentle and prudent manner he can, though he run the risk (f having his judgment or orthodoxy called into question by them, as it very porn fibiy may; for commonly they are the most arbitrary and unmerciful judges in this case, who are least able to judge.
* Rom. xv. 2. “ Let every one of us please his #neighbour for his good to edification.” i Cor. ix. 22. "To the weak became I as weak, that I might “ gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, ss that I might by all means save fome.”
There is not perhaps a more unaccounts able weakness in human nature than this, that with regard to religious matters, our animosities are generally greatest where our differences are leaft : they who come pretty near to our standard, but stop short there, are more the object of our disgust and censure, than they who continue at the greatest distance from it; and it requires the greatest knowledge and command of our temper to get over this weakness. To whatever secret spring in the man mind it may be owing, I thall not