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such offence: he will rather wish to be called censorious by those whom it is the duty of every true Christian to censure.
And now, if the Nature of Spiritual Wickedness is as I have represented it; (I hope without aggravation or partiality) our * office, as ministers of the gospel, calls upon us to provide against it, by alarming the careless; by rescuing, as far as we are able, those who have been ensnared by the sophistry of the adversary; and by securing those who are as yet uncorrupted. The oracles of God having been committed to us, our duty is to contend earnestly for the faith therein contained, that the people may not be defrauded of that light which God hath entrusted with us, for the guiding of their feet into the
peace : in this great and necessary branch of our ministry, we are to avoid the two extremes of petulance and fearfulness : we must neither betray the cause, nor expose ourselves. When we see men obstinately shutting their eyes against the clear light of truth, and industriously leading others aside into darkness, our indignation will be raised: but we are so to be angry in this case as not to sin: and, on the other hand, when we are moderating our zeal, we must take care not to carry our civility so far, as to give place to the devil, who deserves neither precedence nor courtesy at our hands. Some are so addicted to censure, that they see sin every where ; others are so indifferent towards evil, that they see it no where. For them, evil men and evil spirits may go on as they please without
when * This Discourse was preached before the Clergy, at an Episcopal Visitation.
Christians, who from ignorance or the prejudice of education have their doubts, and wish for information and satisfaction, are to be treated with civility and tenderness: but infidelity de* serves no quarter. No praises will ever be due to the learning or abilities of those, who pervert their talents to the everlasting destruction of mankind.
When we endeavour to secure the mind from corruption, prudence will direct us to chuse the fittest season. First impressions of every kind are strongest ; and therefore we must begin soon enough : we must sow the seeds of true religion, before the ill weeds of vanity and falsehood have got possession. The importance of early instruction, and the efficacy of catechetical forms, simply explained, is greater than any words can describe. Many, when they come to riper years, are carried about with every wind of doctrine, for want of timely in struction to keep them steady, and defend them from the deceits of enthusiasm, which have a dreadful effect on the interests of truth and piety. When a reprobate, who never had any regular foundation of Christian knowledge, changes all of a sudden into an Apostle (a phænomenon not altogether unknown in these days) he may boast that his heart is turned; but melancholy experience teaches us, that his head is too frequently turned along with it.
Lastly, it is to be remembered, that above all things we are to put on Charity ; the best motive, and the best rule, to those who communicate or defend religious truth. This will regulate our zeal, and animate our prudence. The teacher, who is sincerely affected to the welfare of the Christian society, and touched with a sense of the inestimable value of souls, for whom Christ died, will be able to say with the beloved disciple, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. That this end may effectually be promoted, we who teach or preach must, according to the doctrine of this discourse, have regard to the mind as well as to the manners, when we form the young or reform those of riper years, we must begin where we ought; and then we may expect the blessing of heaven upon our instructions: when we have rectified men's principles, these principles will rectify their morals ; and so shall the God of peace sanctify them wholly ; that their whole spirit, and soul and body, may be preserved blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
SER MON XVI.
AND UPON THE EARTH DISTRESS OF NA
TIONS, WITH PERPLEXITY; THE SEA AND
ARE COMING UPON THE EARTH; FOR THE
THE authority of God's laws, and of his ministers, to keep a fallen world in order, and secure to the good and virtuous the blessings of peace, is one of the greatest and best gifts of an over-ruling Providence. But we have reason to fear, that, as the world degenerates, and Christian piety declines, this blessing will not be preserved to us.