« FöregåendeFortsätt »
HE three great subjects with which a Christian
minister is concerned, are the word of God, the church of God, and the Christian life. Circumstances and occasions will sometimes direct his thoughts to one of these, and sometimes to another : but so long as any of the three are before him, he is within the circle of his duty.
I was led to the subject of the following Essay, by an accident. I am a curate in a country parish ; who make it my business, and have found it my pleasure, to teach the children of my people privately in my own house, and publicly in the church; and I am, for the present, the only Sunday Schoolmaster of the place. In the courfe of my inftructions, I had occafion to observe, that the catechism of the church of England, though a most excellent summary of the Christian doctrine, is deficient in one point, viz, the constitution of the church of Christ; the knowledge of which, in a certain degree, is neceffary to the preservation of that charity which is the end of the commandment; and, for the want of which, so many are drawn away from the church, who would certainly have remained with it, if they had known what it is. Yet is our catechism not fo deficient, but that it includes the grand distinction betwixt the world and the church ; which distinction being explained, I found we were poffefsed of a leading idea, which gave so much light to my young pupils, that I determined to go through the subject.
As I have been persuaded, ever since I began to think on these things, of the great importance of uniformity in worship amongst Christians, fo have I been led to observe, on the other hand, the many evil consequences of non-conformity, with the dangerous delusions of the mind, arising from the harangues of preachers pretending to extraordinary gifts, while they are but half learned in the Gospel, which they undertake to publish, and are greatly mistaken in the spirit of it. I see how some men are cheated with the appearance of being converted to godliness, when they are only converted from one sin to another; from loving the world, to hating their neighbours; from the coldnefs of church devotion, to an uncharitable heat against the church itself; from the moral philosophy of some of our pulpits, to the Antinomian faith, which gives men a license to fin; from the drunkenness of the body, to the intoxication of the mind, with spiritual pude and falfe doctrine.
I AM well assured that if this subject of the church, now so much neglected, and almost forgotten by those who are most concerned to understand it, should come to be better considered; there would be more true piety, and more peace, more of those virtues which will be required in Heaven, and which must therefore be first learned upon earth.
Some amongst us err, because they know not the Scriptures; and others, because they never considered the nature of the church. Some think they can make their own religion, and so they despise the word of God, and fall into infidelity. Others think they can make their own church, or even be a church unto themselves; and so they fall into the delusions of enthusiasm, or the uncharitableness of fchifm. But, as there is nothing to enlighten the minds of men in the doctrines of salvation, but the word of God, fo is there nothing that can unite their hearts and affections, but the church of God. “ Ye are one bread, and one
body,” saith the Apostle; one body by partaking of one bread; and that can only be in the same communion.
In the weighing of these things, the prevailing spirit of the times, and the fanction which it may have given either to the profligate finner, or to the presumptuous faint, are of no account upon the scale. In the settling of principles, we are never to consider how the world hath practifed, but how God hath taught. The practice of the multitude, how great foever that multitude may be, hath no influence upon truth: yet it will stagger the minds of many, aud carry them away, as with an overbearing torrent. llappy are they who have a better rule to direct them. They know that man applauds, highly applauds, what God abominates: and the higher the applause, the more room there is for suspicion. They know that the voice of the multitude was against Jesus Christ, when but few were for him ; and they had hid themselves, and dared not to speak their minds. When Noah followed the direction of God in building the ark, for the faving of his house, the world was against him. To them no ark was necessary, because they had determined amongst themselves that there would be no flood; and consequently, that Noah was a bigot, whose undertaking, while it expofed himself, was an invidious reflection upon the age. When the father of the faithful followed the calling of God, there were none to stand by hiin and encourage him; he was separated from his nearest relations; and wherefoever he went, he was under fears and dangers from people of a false persuasion. When Jesus Christ brought with him from Heaven, that light which was to be the glory of his people, one ruler of the Jews came to him by stealth in the night, to consult him as a teacher, come from God. So great was the authority of a blinded multitude, that a ruler of the people was afraid of being brought into disgrace, by conversing personally with the Saviour of the world!
The times, therefore, and the people who live in them, are never to be considered by us, when we are seeking or following the truth, on the ground of its own proper evidence. When it was asked, with a defign to perplex the people, who, of the rulers, or of the pharisees, had believed ? Our Saviour gave them a diíferent rule: why do ye not of yourselves, said he, judge what is right; without going first to consult those who are blinded by falfe learning, and, with an appearance of great fanctity, ' have imposed upon the people? “ See,” saith one, how fast our doctrine is increasing ! all the learned are going after it; and
you must all submit to it in a very thort time.” And who are they that thus reason with us? The very fame perfons who declaim so loudly on the fallibility of all men ; and yet hold themselves to be little less than infallible in the choice of their own opinions. Let error rise as high as it can; and let truth sink as low as a wicked world can reduce it; the difference betwixt them is the fame as ever; and we shall still find it wiser and better to follow the setting fun, as Columbus did when he discovered the Indies. The meteor of heresy, which blazes and dazzles us for a while with its appearance, will burn out, and leave not a spark behind; while the fun fets to rise again. Such will be the fate of the