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That the influence of Christianity, which is now so much decayed, may be less and less every day, books and pamphlets are industriously handed about, among the common people, to turn away their hearts from Christian truth to the fables of in fidelity. I do not mean that these publications abound with oaths, curses, and obscenity ; (though the press is daily delivered of them also) but that they give God the lie in all the doctrines, by which our holy religion is distinguished ; and if they should be attended to, and received, must provoke him to transplant the Christian faith to some other quarter of the earth, which has not so much neglected his goodness.
Some may promise themselves, that when this shall happen, a state of perfect freedom will take place; but, let them know, that how freely soever men may offend against one another, God is not to be intimidated by the claims of licenticusness. The God of Christians is, and will be, the ruler of the world, whether libertines consent to his dominion or not: and they may assure theinselves, that the departure of the Christian religion will be no peaceable event. When the Founder of our faith expired, the heavens were darkened, the earth shook, and the minds of men were troubled, and confounded. When God departed from the Jewish nation, discord, pestilence, and famine, all the horrors of war, and all the miseries of sedition and slavery succeeded. The destruction of the world by the flood, the burning of Sodom, the captivity of Jerusalem, and other like visitations, are to be understood as so many warnings of that fate, which all apostates will meet with in another world, and as examples of what will most probably befall them in this world.
My brethren, I am one of those who, with God's help, would willingly make a stand against that torrent of heresy, and impiety, which threatens to break in upon us : but there is no chance of doing this, to any purpose, unless we can remove one fatal miltake, which most ignorant people now labour under, and of which the enemies of our faith never fail to take advantage. The mistake is this; that Christians may reckon themselves secure of the favour of God, if they are not guilty of cheating, whoring, drinking, robbing, and murdering. This is the error of the ignorant: and the artful flatter them in it; telling them, that if they do but lead what they call good lives, articles of faith are but matters of opinion, and therefore they need not be nice about their creed. To make this plausible notion the more agreeable, one of our most elegant writers, who was a better poct than a divine, kas put it into rhyme :
“ For modes of faith let senseless zealots fight,
“ His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right." But a right life can no more grow upon a wrong faith, than grapes can grow upon thistles. This is true, for more reasons than one ; but chiefly, because the worst fort of wickedness is the wickedness of the mind against God; upon which, I shall beg leave to offer you some considerations, in the following chapter, .
CH A P. I.
OF SPIRITUAL WICKEDNESS.
THE Christian life comprehends two great branches of duty:
the first towards God, the second towards our neighbour. God has an undoubted claim to the first place ; our neighbour has the next; and we are to love him, and help him, from a sense of our duty to God, who hath commanded us so to do. But if I stumble in the beginning of my duty, and offend against God himself, what reason have I to expect his favour for what I do to any body? Will acts of kindness towards a fellow subject excuse me for an act of rebellion against my prince, or stop the execution of a statute against treason? What was the offence which brought death into the world ? Not an offence against society, for there was none; but only against a positive command of God. It was revealed, that to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, would be attended with a deadly effect. This revelation was disputed; the truth of God was called in question ; the lust of pride prevailed, and the sentence of death followed. Therefore if Adam destroyed the whole world by sinning against the truth of God, certainly any single man may destroy himself by the same means; though he should give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned for the good of society.
There is another short way of exposing the same mistake. Confider the character of the devil. He is no member of society ; and, being a spirit, cannot commit the fins of the body. He is no glutton, no drunkard, no miser, no adulterer ; his wickednefs is all of a ffiritual kind; or, in other words, it is the wicked. ness not of the body, but of the spirit. It consists in opposing
the wisdom of God, perverting his word, misrepresenting his juftice, despising his incarnation, suggesting evil thoughts to men, promoting heresies, and dividing the church of Christ : in a word, it is the business of the apostate fpirit to counter-work the ways of the Divine Spirit by all the efforts of fubtilty, falsehood, pride, malice, and contradiction. Therefore, he who opposes God, as the devil doth, must be the disciple and minister of the devil; and if he do the same work, what can be expected but that he will receive the same wages ! The character most acceptable to the devil, because the fittest for his purposes, is that which most nearly resembles his own; and, for the forming of such a character, he employs the most refined of all his temptations, The stupid sot, the profane swearer, and the rotten debauchee, are low-lived examples of vice ; the meanest of the devil's scholars. Besides, these are sometimes known to be weary of their vices, and to forsake his party. But the speculative and philosophical sinner, is a man of figure, whose pride will never admit of his reformation. The Scribes and Pharisees, men conceited of their learning, found ways of eluding the divine law: they therefore adhered to the interests of Satan, and were immoveable in their errors; while the publican was wrought upon to renounce his extortion, and the harlot washed away her stains, with the tears of repentance. The extortioner is drawn away by the love of money, which “ answereth all things ;" Eccles. x. 19; and the harlot is frequently the victim of treachery, poverty, and a bad education : but the finner, who errs upon principle, hath set himself in opposition to the will of God. Meaner finners tranfgress the law, but he judges it: and where pride is entwined with error, a man finks with a weight at his heels, which will never let him rise
any inore. What are we then to think, but that he who is most like the devil, in his wickedness, is most hateful to God? And this is the case with the fpiritual seducer. Hence, the Gospel gives us warning, that the “ wisdom of this world is foolishness with “ God;" that every thought is to be “ brought into captivity ;" that “imaginations are to be cast down ;" that Satan hath his “ depths,” his “ mysteries of iniquity,” as well as his more gross and shallow deceits; that he has agents to recommend his principles, “ false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming them« felves into the apostles of Christ," and folemnly preaching down the Gospel, under the outward profession of preaching it up in a purer manner.
These, my brethren, are dangers, of which few Christians are now aware ; and therefore the work of every deceiver, who understands his trade, is more easy and more successful than it used to be. The cant of liberty of conscience, and the authority of private judgment, (both of which are extended to an unlimited freedom of disputing the whole revelation of God, to man) have been repeated in people's cars till they are intoxicated with the sounds, and can see no criminals left in the nation, but such as are condemned at the Old Bailey.--When a felon is convicted, and sentence is passed upon him, nobody arraigns the law of cruelty, the judges of partiality, or the jury of persecution. But when the blafpheming Socinian goes about to raise divisions in the church, and to rob Christians of their faith, the molt valuable property they have upon earth, an outcry is raised if you offer to interrupt him. Popery persecutes the truth : therefore Protestant blafphemy must escape without censure ; than which, there can be no greater scandal to the Proteftant profession, nor greater matter of triumph to the Papists, who wish to see all Protestants go a round-about way, through Socinianism, into Popery.
Upon the Christian plan then, however bad carnal wickedness may be, spiritual wickedness is worse: for the mind is better than the body in itself, and consequently, according to an established proverb, worse in its corruption. Therefore no obedience can be acceptable to God, without that which is the best of all, the obedience of the understanding ; no courage is comparable to that which contends earnestly for “ the faith delivered to the saints;" no temperance is like that which refrains from high thoạghts, and presumptuous imaginations. Let us then be no longer stunned with the affected good lives of such as fail in this sort of obedience, whose minds are at variance with the revealed wif. dom of God: for there is wickedness blacker than that of common immorality: and moral virtues are something, or nothing, or worse than nothing, according to the principles from which they proceed. If a man, who has made a practice of being drunk every day of his life, thould keep himself sober for one day, only that he may have an opportunity of picking his neighbour's pockct, or over-reaching him in a bargain ; of what value is such sobriety? Is it not worse than drunkenness? for his drunk. enness is beastly, and that is the worst you can say of it; but his
fobriety is diabolical. You may apply this to other cases: and, let me tell you, that if spiritual- wickedness were but rightly uns derstood, as it subsists in the devil, the original of it all, men could never be cheated, as they now are, with the plausible speeches of those, who lie in wait to deceive them : and, I verily believe, one good discourse upon the character of Satan, stripping that wolf of his philosopher's coat, and his sheep's cloathing, would have more effect toward keeping many people steady to the truth, than an hundred treatises upon particular points of doctrine. -And this leads me naturally to fhew what arts are practised, to propagate herefy and infidelity.
'CH A P. II.
OF THE METHOD OF THOSE WHO SPREAD FALSE
S there were false prophets against the Law of Moses, so we
are told there shall be false prophets against the Gospel ; and as the dignity apd value of our law is above that of the Jews, we are bound to look more sharply after those who would corrupt it. The church never was, nor ever will be, without them; and the Apostle informs us, that as the church grows older, they shall
worse and worse.” Our blessed Master has given us one rule for detecting them, which will seldom fail us : “ Beware
(says he) of false prophets, which shall come to you in sheep's
clothing." Here their outward appearance is described ; they make their approach to you, not as wolves, but as sheep ; not as infidels, but as Christians; not as false prophets, but as the only true prophets you ever met with. Indeed, my brethren, it is very weak and childish to imagine that nothing is sin but that which caļls itself lo. Does not every bad thing give itself a good naine? Therefore when a seducer makes an attempt upon your faith, you must not expect that he will give you notice of his intention at the market-cross, like a common cryer, and say, “ Now, good people, look to yourselves, for I am about to deny all the doctrines of the Gospel, and am persuaded I can make a better religion than that of the Bible." If he should make such a grofs mistake as this, his master would either discard him as a