« FöregåendeFortsätt »
honour attended the Christian profession, the Christians did not gradually sink, but rushed headlong into all manner of vices. Then the "mystery of iniquity" was no more hid, but stalked abroad in the face of the sun. Then, not the golden, but the iron age of the church commenced: then one might truly say,
Protinus irrupit venæ pejoris in ævum
And force, and thirst of gold, claimed universal sway.
28. And this is the event which most Christian expositors mention with such triumph! Yea, which some of them supposed to be typified in the revelation, by "the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven!" Rather say, it was the coming of Satan, and all his legions from the bottomless pit: seeing from that very time he hath set up his throne over the face of the whole earth, and reigned over the Christian, as well as the pagan world, with hardly any control! Historians, indeed, tell us, very gravely, of nations, in every century, who were by such and such, (saints without doubt!) converted to Christianity: but still these converts practised all kind of abominations, exactly as they did before; no way differing, either in their tempers or in their lives, from the nations that were still called heathens. Such has been the deplorable state of the Christian church, from the time of Constantine till the reformation. A Christian nation, a Christian city, (according to the scriptural model,) was no where to be seen; but every city and country, a few individuals excepted, was plunged in all manner of wickedness. 29. Has the case been altered since the reformation? Does "the mystery of iniquity" no longer work in the church? No: the reformation itself has not extended to above one third of the western church; so that two thirds of this remain as they were; so do the eastern, southern, and northern churches. They are as full of heathenish, or worse than heathenish abominations, as ever they were before. And what is the condition of the reformed churches? It is certain that they were reformed in their opinions, as well as their modes of worship. But is not this all? Were either their tempers or lives reformed? Not at all. Indeed many of the reformers themselves complained, that "The reforination was not carried far enough." But what did they mean? Why, that they did not sufficiently reform the rites and ceremonies of the church. Ye fools and blind! To fix your whole attention on the circumstantials of religion! Your complaint ought to have been, the essentials of religion were not carried far enough! You ought vehemently to have insisted on an entire change of men's tempers and lives; on their showing they had "the mind that was in Christ," by "walking as he also walked." Without this, how exquisitely trifling was the reforma. tion of opinions, and rites, and ceremonies? Now let any one survey the state of Christianity in the reformed parts of Switzerland; in Ger many, or France; in Sweden, Denmark, Holland; in Great Britain and Ireland. How little are any of these reformed Christians better than heathen nations! Have they more, (I will not say, communion with God, although there is no Christianity without it) but have they more
justice, mercy, or truth, than the inhabitants of China, or Indostan ? Oh no! we must acknowledge with sorrow and shame, that we are far beneath them!
That we, who by thy Name are named,
30. Is not this the falling away or apostasy from God, foretold by St. Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, chap. ii, 3? Indeed, I would not dare to say, with George Fox, that this apostasy was universal; that there never were any real Christians in the world, from the days of the apostles till his time. But we may boldly say, that wherever Christianity has spread, the apostasy has spread also: insomuch that, although there are now and always have been individuals who were real Christians, yet the whole world never did, nor can at this day, show a Christian country or city.
31. I would now refer it to every man of reflection, who believes the Scriptures to be of God, whether this general apostasy does not imply the necessity of a general reformation? Without allowing this, how can we possibly justify either the wisdom or goodness of God? According to Scripture, the Christian religion was designed for "the healing of the nations;" for the saving from sin by means of the second Adam, all that were" constituted sinners" by the first. But it does not answer this end it never did; unless for a short time at Jerusalem. What can we say, but that if it have not yet, it surely will answer it? The time is coming, when not only "all Israel shall be saved, but the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in." The time cometh, when" violence shall no more be heard in the earth, wasting or destruction within our borders;" but every city shall call her "walls salvation, and her gates praise ;" when the people, saith the Lord, "shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified," Isa. Ix, 18, 21.
32. From the preceding considerations, we may learn the full answer to one of the grand objections of infidels against Christianity; namely, The lives of Christians. Of Christians, do you say? I doubt whether you ever knew a Christian in your life. When Tomo Chachi, the Indian chief, keenly replied to those who spoke to him of being a Christian, "Why there are Christians at Savannah! There are Christians at Frederica!"-the proper answer was, "No; they are not; they are no more Christians than you and Sinauky." "But are not these Christians in Canterbury, in London, in Westminster ?" No; no more than they are angels. None are Christians, but they that have the mind which was in Christ, and walk as he walked. "Why, if these only are Christians," said an eminent wit, "I never saw a Christian yet." I believe it: you never did; and, perhaps, you never will; for you will never find them in the grand or the gay world. The few Christians that are upon the earth, are only to be found where you never look for them. Never, therefore, urge this objection more: never object to Christianity the lives or tempers of heathens. Though they are called Christians, the name does not imply the thing: they are as far from this as hell from heaven!
33. We may learn from hence, secondly, the extent of the fall; the astonishing spread of original corruption. What, among so many thou sands, so many millions, is there none righteous, no, not one? Not by
nature. But including the grace of God, I will not say with the heathen poet;
Rari quippe boni, numero vix sunt totidem quot
As if he had allowed too much, in supposing there were a hundred good men in the Roman empire; he comes to himself, and affirms there are hardly seven. Nay, surely, there were seven thousand! There were so many long ago in one small nation, where Elijah supposed there were none at all. But allowing a few exceptions, we are authorized to say, "The whole world lieth in wickedness;" yea, "in the wicked one;" as the words properly signify. "Yes, the whole heathen world." Yea, and the Christian too; (so called ;) for where is the difference, save in a few externals! See with your own eyes! Look into that large country, Indostan. There are Christians and heathens too. Which have more justice, mercy, and truth? The Christians or the heathens? Which are most corrupt, infernal, devilish, in their tempers and practice? The English or the Indians? Which have desolated whole countries, and clogged the rivers with dead bodies?
Oh sacred name of Christian! how profaned!
Oh earth, earth, earth! how dost thou groan under the villanies of thy Christian inhabitants!
34. From many of the preceding circumstances we may learn, thirdly, what is the genuine tendency of riches: what a baleful influence they have had, in all ages, upon pure and undefiled religion. Not that money is an evil of itself: it is applicable to good as well as bad purposes. But, nevertheless, it is an undoubted truth, that "the love of money is the root of all evil;" and also, that the possession of riches naturally breeds the love of them. Accordingly, it is an old remark, Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crescit :
"As money increases, so does the love of it;" and always will, without a miracle of grace. Although, therefore, other causes may concur; yet this has been, in all ages, the principal cause of the decay of true religion in every Christian community. As long as the Christians in any place were poor, they were devoted to God. While they had little of the world, they did not love the world; but the more they had of it, the more they loved it. This constrained the lover of their souls, at various times, to unchain their persecutors; who, by reducing them to their former poverty, reduced them to their former purity. But still remem ber, riches have, in all ages, been the bane of genuine Christianity!
35. We may learn hence, fourthly, how great watchfulness they need who desire to be real Christians; considering what a state the world is in! May not each of them well say,
"Into a world of ruffians sent,
I walk on hostile ground:
Wild human bears on slaughter bent,
And ravening wolves surround."
They are the more dangerous, because they commonly appear in sheep s clothing. Even those who do not pretend to religion, yet make fair professions of good will, of readiness to serve us; and, perhaps, of truth and honesty. But beware of taking their word! Trust not any man, until he fears God! It is a great truth,
"He that fears no God, can love no friend :"
Therefore stand upon your guard against every one that is not earnestly seeking to save his soul. We have need to keep both our heart and mouth as with a bridle, while the ungodly are in our sight." Their conversation, their spirit, is infectious, and steals upon us unawares, we know not how. Happy is the man that feareth always," in this sense also, lest he should partake of other men's sins. Oh "keep thyself pure!" "Watch and pray, that thou enter not into temptation!"
36. We may learn from hence, lastly, what thankfulness becomes those who have escaped the corruption that is in the world; whom God hath chosen out of the world, to be holy and unblamable. "Who is it that maketh thee to differ ?" "And what hast thou which thou hast not received?" Is it not "God [alone] who worketh in thee both to will and to do of his good pleasure?"" And let those give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed and delivered from the hand of the enemy." Let us praise him, that he hath given us to see the deplorable state of all that are round about us, to see the wickedness which overflows the earth, and yet not be borne away by the torrent! We see the general, the almost universal contagion; and yet it cannot approach to hurt us! Thanks be unto him " who hath delivered us from so great a death, and doth still deliver!" And have we not farther ground for thankfulness, yea, and strong consolation, in the blessed hope which God hath given as, that the time is at hand, when righteousness shall be as universal as unrighteousness is now? Allowing that "the whole creation now groaneth together" under the sin of man, our comfort is, it will not always groan: God will arise and maintain his own cause; and the whole creation shall then be delivered both from moral and natural cor ruption. Sin, and its consequence, pain, shall be no more: holiness and happiness will cover the earth. Then shall all the ends of the world see the salvation of our God; and the whole race of mankind shall know, and love, and serve God, and reign with him for ever and ever!
SERMON LXVII.-The End of Christ's Coming.
"For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil," 1 John iii, 8.
MANY eminent writers, heathen as well as Christian, both in earlier and later ages, have employed their utmost labour and art in painting the beauty of virtue. And the same pains they have taken to describe, in the liveliest colours, the deformity of vice; both of vice in general, and of those particular vices which were most prevalent in their respective ages and countries. With equal care they have placed in a strong light the happiness that attends virtue, and the misery which usually accompanies vice, and always follows it. And it may be acknowledged, that treatises of this kind are not wholly without their use. Probably, hereby, some, on the one hand, have been stirred up to desire and follow after virtue; and some, on the other hand, checked in their career of vice, perhaps reclaimed from it, at least for a season. But the change effected in men by these means is seldom either deep or universal much less is it durable; in a little space it vanishes away as th morning cloud. Such motives are far too feeble to overcome the nu
berless temptations that surround us. All that can be said of the beauty and advantage of virtue, and the deformity and ill effects of vice, cannot resist, and much less overcome and heal, one irregular appetite or passion.
"All these fences, and their whole array,
One cunning bosom sin sweeps quite away."
2. There is, therefore, an absolute necessity, if ever we would conquer vice, or steadily persevere in the practice of virtue, to have arms of a better kind than these; otherwise we may see what is right, but we cannot attain it. Many of the men of reflection among the very heathens were deeply sensible of this. The language of their heart was that of Medea :
Video meliora, proboque;
How exactly agreeing with the words of the apostle: (personating a man convinced of sin, but not yet conquering it:) “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil I would not, that I do." The impotence of the human mind, even the Roman philosopher could discover: "There is in every man," says he, "this weakness;" (he might have said this sore disease ;)" Gloria sitis: thirst for glory. Nature points out the disease; but nature shows us no remedy."
3. Nor is it strange, that though they sought for a remedy, yet they found none. For they sought it, where it never was and never will be found, namely, in themselves; in reason, and in philosophy: broken reeds, bubbles, smoke! They did not seek it in God, in whom alone it is possible to find it. In God! No; they totally disclaim this; and that in the strongest terms. For although Cicero, one of their oracles, once stumbled upon that strange truth: "Nemo unquam vir magnus sine afflatu divino fuit;" (there never was any great man who was not divinely inspired;) yet in the very same tract he contradicts himself, and totally overthrows his own assertion, by asking; " Quis pro virtute aut sapientiâ gratias dedit Deis unquam ?" "Who ever returned thanks to God for his virtue or wisdom ?" The Roman poet, is, if possible, more express still; who, after mentioning several outward blessings, honestly adds
Hæc satis est orare Jovem, quæ donat et aufert:
We ask of God, what he can give or take;
4. The best of them either sought virtue partly from God, and partly from themselves; or sought it from those gods who were, indeed, but devils, and so not likely to make their votaries better than themselves. So dim was the light of the wisest of men, till "life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel;" till "the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil."
But what are "the works of the devil," here mentioned? How was "the Son of God manifested," to destroy them? And how, in what maner, and by what steps, does he actually "destroy" them? These three very important points we may consider in their order.
J. And first, What these works of the devil are, we learn from the words preceding and following the text: "We know that he was manifested to take away our sins," verse 5. "Whosoever abideth in him,