תמונות בעמוד

impossible to distinguish between the authority of natural and revealed religion. We are bound to receive the precepts of revelation for the same reason that we comply with the dictates of nature. He who despises a command which proceeds from his Maker, no matter by what means, or through what medium, instead of advancing, as he pretends to do, the dominion of reason, and the authority of natural religion, disobeys the first injunction of both. Although it be true what the Apostle affirms, that, “ when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, they are a law unto themselves;" that is, they will be accepted together with those who are instructed in the law and obey it : yet is this truth not applicable to such, as having a law contemn it, and with the means of access to the word of God, keep themselves at a voluntary distance from it. This temper, whilst it continues, makes it necessary for us to assert the superiority of a religious principle above every other by which human conduct can be regulated-more especially above that fashionable system, which recommends virtue only as a true and refined policy; which policy in effect is, and in the end commonly proves itself to be, nothing else than a more exquisite cunning, which, by a specious behaviour in the easy and visible concerns of life, collects a fund of reputation, in order either to cherish more securely concealed vices, or to reserve itself for some great stroke of selfishness, perfidy, and desertion, in a pressing conjuncture of fortunes. Nor less justly may we superinduce the guidance of Christianity to the direction of sentiment; which depends so much upon constitution, upon early impressions, upon habit and imitation, that unless it be compared with, and adjusted by, some safer rule, it can in no

wise be trusted. Least of all ought we to yield the authority of religion to the law of honour : a law (if it deserve that name), which, besides its continual mutability, is at best but a system of manners suited to the intercourse and accommodation of higher life ; and which consequently neglects every duty, and permits every vice, that has no relation to these purposes. Amongst the rules which contend with religion for the government of life, the law of the land also has not a few who think it very sufficient to act up to its direction, and to keep within the limits which it prescribes : and this sort of character is common in our congregations. We are not to omit, therefore, to apprise those who make the statutes of the realm the standard of their duty, that they propose to themselves a measure of conduct totally inadequate to the purpose. The boundaries which nature has assigned to human authority and control, the partial ends to which every legislator is obliged to confine his views, prevent human laws, even were they, what they never are, as perfect as they might be made, from becoming competent rules of life to any one who advances his hopes to the attainment of God Almighty's favour. In contradistinction, then, to these several systems, which divide a great portion of mankind amongst them, we preach“ faith which worketh by love,” that principle of action and restraint which is found in a Christian alone. It possesses qualities to which none of them can make pretensions. It operates where they fail : is present upon all occasions, firm

upon the greatest ; pure, as under the inspection of a vigilant omniscience; innocent, where guilt could not be discovered ; just, exact, and upright, without a witness to its proceedings; uniform amidst the caprices of fashion, unchanged by the vicissitudes of popular opinion; often applauded, not seldom misunderstood, it holds on its straight and equal course, through

good report and evil report,” through encouragement and neglect, approbation and disgrace. If the philosopher or the politician can point out to us any influence but that of Christianity which has these properties, I had almost said which does not want them all, we will listen with reverence to his instruction. But until this be done, we may be permitted to resist every plan which would place virtue upon any other foundation, or seek final happiness through any other medium, than faith in Jesus Christ. At least whilst an inclination to these rival systems remains, no good end, I am apt to think, is attained by decrying faith under any form ; by stating the competition between faith and good works, or by pointing out, with too much anxiety, even the abuses and extravagances into which the doctrine of salvation by faith alone has sometimes been carried. The truth is, that, in the two subjects which I have considered, we are in such haste to fly from enthusiasm and superstition, that we are approaching towards an insensibility to all religious influence. I certainly do not mean to advise you to endeavour to bring men back to enthusiasm and superstition, but to retard, if you can, their progress towards an opposite and a worse extreme; and both in these, and in all other instances, to regulate the choice of your subjects, by the particular bias and tendency of opinion which you perceive already to prevail amongst your hearers, and by a consideration, not of the truth only of what you deliver, which, however, must always be an indispensable condition, but of its effects: and those not the effects which it would produce upon sound, enlightened, and impartial judgements, but what are likely to take

place in the weak and pre-occupied understandings with which we have to do.

Having thus considered the rule as it applies to the argument of our discourses, in which its principal importance consists, I proceed to illustrate its use as it relates to another object--the means of exciting attention. The transition from local to occasional sermons is so easy, and the reason for both is so much the same, that what I have further to add will include the one as well as the other. And though nothing more be proposed in the few directions which I am about to offer than to move and awaken the attention of our audience, yet is this a purpose of no inconsiderable magnitude. We have great reason to complain of listlessness in our congregations. Whether this be their fault or ours, the fault of neither or of both, it is much to be desired that it could by any means be removed. Our sermons are in general more informing, as well as more correct and chastised both in matter and composition, than those of any denomination of dissenting teachers. I wish it were in our power to render them as impressive as some of theirs seem to be. Now I think we may observe that we are heard with somewhat more than ordinary advertency, whenever our discourses are recommended by any occasional proprięty. The more, therefore, of these proprieties we contrive to weave into our preaching, the better. One which is very obvious, and which should never be neg. lected, is that of making our sermons as suitable as we can to the service of the day. On the principal fasts and festivals of the church, the subjects which they are designed to commemorate ought invariably to be made the subjects of our discourses. Indeed, the best sermon, if it do not treat of the argument which the con. gregation come prepared to hear, is received with coldness, and with a sense of disappointment. This respect to the order of public worship almost every one pays. But the adaptation, I apprehend, may be carried much farther. Whenever any thing like a unity of subject is pursued throughout the collect, epistle, and gospel of the day, that subject is with great advantage revived in the pulpit. It is perhaps to be wished that this unity had been more consulted in the compilation of this part of the liturgy than it has been. When from the want of it a subject is not distinctly presented to us, there may, however, be some portion of the service more striking than the rest, some instructive parable, some interesting narration, some concise but forcible precept, some pregnant sentence, which may be recalled to the hearer's attention with peculiar effect. I think it no contemptible advantage if we even draw our text from the epistle or gospel, or the psalms or lessons. Our congregation will be more likely to retain what they hear from us, when it, in any manner, falls in with what they have been reading in their prayer-books, or when they are afterwards reminded of it by reading the psalms and lessons at home. But there is another species of accommodation of more importance, and that is the choice of such disquisitions, as may either meet the difficulties or assist the reflections which are suggested by the portions of Scripture that are delivered from the reading-desk. Thus, whilst the wars of Joshua and the Judges are related in the course of the lessons which occupy some of the first Sundays after Trinity, it will be very seasonable to explain the reasons upon which that dispensation was founded, the moral and beneficial purposes which are declared to have been designed, and which were probably accom

« הקודםהמשך »