« FöregåendeFortsätt »
nation. How he can deal thus contemptuously by his own understanding, and yet conceitedly call himself a rational, nay, a free creature, is inconceivable to a man really in his senses. However, he may venture himself perhaps safely enough with these Discourses. They are not such miracles in their kind, but that their defects, and his unanswerable arguments for infidelity and wickedness, may happen to bring him off, with his favourite system unshaken. Should this be the case, he will have one additional presumption (and surely he needs a thousand) to settle him more securely on the lees of his present infatuation.
Should you, Gentlemen (which God avert), lay aside that attachment to religion and virtue, from which result the many blessings you have long enjoyed; experience will soon teach us to date the ruin of you and your country from that unhappy era. Infidel principles are the source of dissolute practices, and dissipated fortunés. No degree of present prosperity or affluence can stand its ground against dishonesty, striking at the root of that credit, and a vicious profusion, wasting those funds, on which commerce, the spring of wealth, is founded. The city, fully convinced of this important truth, will consider every encroachment of infidelity as they do a French invasion, and treat every pert pretender to disputation, who, having made shipwreck of his principles, harangues for irreligion in the drawingroom, the coffee-house, and such-like talkeries, as a contemptible bankrupt to common sense and common honesty. Thus, Gentlemen, it is hoped, you will look on this coxcomb of controversy, even though he should give himself the air of having learned his infidel parade at St. James's. Your piety is much nearer akin to true wisdom, and your humanity to true politeness, than that superficial pomp and flourish, which the unthinking citizen is apt to admire in the mere courtier. Quit not these honest principles and pursuits, that have made you rich, for the contrary, howsoever dignified by vain appearances, in hopes they will make you great; for if you use your wealth as the Author of religion and giver of wealth prescribes, you are infinitely greater already than all the titles and splendour of nobility can make
All the miseries you have ever suffered, or feared, considered either as private persons, or as a collective and permanent body, were owing to the vices lashed in the Discourses hereby introduced to you: and all your wealth and power have flowed from the virtues therein recommended. The writer before you endeavours to give you a still deeper detestation of those vices, that have engendered all your factions and bankruptcies, all your public and private calamities : and he endeavours to inspire you with a yet warmer attachment to those virtues which have given you your trade, increased your numbers, extended and adorned your buildings, and heaped the delicacies of the world on your tables.
In order to accomplish these happy purposes, he urges the Christian principles in their genuine purity, and with all the weight of their eternal sanctions. And, as the best means deeply to impress the sentiments he would excite, he follows the impulses of nature, without regarding the formality of those rules, to which the critics in sermons would confine that species of performance. As thevariety of subjects, on which discourses of this kind may be executed, and of the minds to which they may be applied, is endless, so he thinks every human talent may be properly exerted in such a work; nay, exerted with all its force, since the ends pursued in such compositions are of infinite moment. How is it possible for the bounded eloquence of man to exceed on topics, every one of which necessarily carries the eye into an eternity of duration, and an immensity of happiness or misery! Topics, on which the miracles of infinite wisdom, compassion, and power, and of human ingratitude, human insensibility, and impenitence, are occasionally to be displayed! Were every word of the preacher to fly on fire to the ears of his audience, they could not be too warm for the subjects he handles, much less too piercing, God knows, for the callous of those minds they are aimed at. The eloquence of the pulpit cannot possibly be too much animated, if good sense and truth give a basis to every period. Where these are found, infidelity itself cannot suspect it of enthusiasm or imposture. But how, on the other hand, to reconcile the frostiness of some discourses on the great things of religion, with the supposition of a lively faith in the preacher, is a difficulty which such a preacher only can explain. He may say he is a firm believer, and sufficiently warmed with his faith ; but thinks reasonable beings ought to be dealt with only by reason. And why only? Why not rather according to their whole nature ? Did God give us our passions for nothing? Does religion furnish no objects of love and fear? Or does this dispassionate preacher so far regret his own religious warmths, as to think the communication of them to others would be criminal in him?
If a point is evident of itself, or demonstrated to the understanding, or already taken for granted on good grounds by those who hear us; is there any danger in pressing it home on the heart? or rather, is there any thing else to be done? We know by experience, not only that a man may be convinced, without being moved; but that when he is so, his conviction is of littie consequence to him. The prophets, the apostles, and primitive fathers, were above the little arts of rhetoric; yet they wrote and spoke with ardour, as well as the ancient heathen orators. What they had proved, even by miracles, they urged on the active part of the mind with the most pathetic addresses, with the most inducing promises, with the most alarming menaces. The goodness, the power, the majesty, of God, glowed in their descriptions. The virtuous heard, and loved; the vicious heard, and trembled.
If a preacher is forbidden to meddle with the pathetic (in which is comprehended every thing that can rightly stir up the passions), he must be forbidden to quote the Scriptures, where a more than human pathos breathes almost in every page. But if he may quote, why may he not imitate? Or indeed, how can he forbear expressing the vehement emotions of his own heart, if his heart is really moved ? He is surely as much at liberty to use enforcements, as reasonings of his own. Nay, it is infinitely more his business to furnish such enforcements, than reasonings, for all those numerous cases, where conviction hath already taken place, but is not attended with a suitable practice. Were a man, for instance, to preach on the subject of murder, it would surely be most impertinent in him to spend the time in proving murder to be a sin, and shewing that God will punish it; which every one knows as well as he. Ought he not rather to say every thing that could heighten the horror of his audience at the heinousness of that enormous crime? that could rebate their pride, their rage, and malice? that could fill their hearts with sentiments of tenderness towards men, and with awful apprehensions in respect to God and his judgments ?
No man hath a more settled aversion to fanaticism and enthusiasm, properly so called, than the Author of these Discourses. But whereas the enemies of religion have always been industrious to throw those contemptuous names on its most rational warmths, and are seconded by all the cold tribe of indifferents, who profess without ever feeling it; we ought carefully to distinguish between the natural and the'feverish heat of religion, that we may not be deceived in a matter of more consequence than is generally imagined. In order to this, we may lay it down for a just account of enthusiastic excesses, that they are religious, or rather superstitious, transports, raised against reason, or without it. But this cannot be said of those ardours, in their highest elevation, which breathe nothing but love to God, to mankind, and to virtue; or abhorrence to vice and wickedness. In this light right reason may condemn the fainter warmths of one man, while it justifies the more vehement transports of another. Every thing ought to strike and stir our affections in proportion to its real importance, and our concernment in it. Both reason and nature vote for the justness of this maxim. Reason therefore and nature vote for the highest transports in regard to true religion; because it is of infinitely more importance and concernment to us than all other things. Hence we must conclude, that to be religiously cool, if it is not a contradiction in terms, is at least the most irrational and senseless state of mind we can conceive. Here reason herself bids us be warm, not in animosities and contentions about religion, which are never the growth of that, but of a bad heart; no, sbe bids us be warm in true piety, and the love of God, and in a settled detestation of every thing that may lessen the love, on either side, between him and us. If the preacher is not thus warmed himself, he will warm nobody, and, consequently, will do no good; especially in an age like this, which for its coldness may be called the winter of Christianity. All disorders require to be cured by applications of a contrary nature. The disorder, that reigns epidemically at present over the minds of men, is of so chilly a nature, as to call for the most warm and stimulating medicines. Men are hot enough indeed in the pursuit of unlawful pleasures or profits; but the preacher does nothing, who cannot give a better turn to their ardour, who cannot call up their affections from things on earth, and place them, with all their fervour, on things above. And how is that to be done, but by painting both in their proper colours, and urging the comparison on their apprehensions with a force and vehemence proportionable, both to the immensity of the difference, and to the natural numbness of their conceptions ?
It is the business of an orator to convince, to stir, and to persuade; of the sacred orator, to convince mankind of such truths, to stir them to such emotions, and to persuade them to such actions, as are necessary to the virtue or reformation, and, consequently, to the happiness, of all who hear him, from the first dawn of reason, through every period of their eternal duration. It is therefore fit to use a greater energy, and, perspicuity being preserved, a greater elevation, of style, in speaking from the pulpit, not only, than in mere controversial and moral treatises, which are not, like sermons, sounded in the ears, and acted before the eyes of men, but also than in any other species of oratory, wherein subjects of infinitely less dignity and importance are handled. The sacred advocate pleads the cause of all that is good, against all that is bad, at the bar of God. Ought he, can he be cool in such a cause? No; the wisdom of God ought to issue like light, the goodness of God ought to pour like refreshing showers of rain, and the judgments of God ought to rush like thunder, from his tongue. To a work so arduous, and, if ably executed, so glorious, every faculty of his soul, and all the purer powers, passions, and affections, of his mind, should be summoned; while all his looks and gestures, as well as words, should co-operate to express the convictions, or enforce the emotions, he feels, and would communicate. If he comes thus prepared to speak, nature will speak with him; and he will not want the aid of art, to soothe, to alarm, to comfort, to terrify, or, in a word, to stamp any impressions on the minds of his audience, which the purposes of religion may require. It will be no boast in the Author of these Discourses to say, he was, so far, thus prepared, that his whole understanding and heart, such as