« PreviousContinue »
and convincing evidence ; there we ought to follow and obey God rather than men. There is sometimes a visible and palpable corruption in those who are to lead us ; they may have an interest to oppose the truth : And thus it was with the Pharisees and Rulers at that time ; and so it hath been among Chriftians in the great degeneracy of the Roman church. The Christian religion was never more endangered, nor ever more corrupted, than by those who have been in greatest authority in that church, who ought to have understood religion best, and to have been the principal support of it. Men may eir; but God cannoť : So that when God sends a Prophet, or by his word does plainly declare his will to us, human example and authority ceaseth, and is of no force.
The last prejudice I shall mention, which the Jews had against our Saviour and his doctrine, was, that. it did abolish and supersede their religion, as of no longer use and continuance though it was plain it was instituted by God.
This had been a very specious pretence indeed, had not this been part of their religion, and had not their own Prophets foretold, that the Messias should come and perfect what was wanting and defective in their institution. It is exprefly said in their law, That God would raise unto them another Prophet, like to Moses, and that they hould hear him, when he came. So that in truth it was the accomplishment of all those revelations which were made to the Jews, and did not reprove the Jewish religion as false, but as imperfect, and did not contradict and overthrow, but perfect and fulfil the law and the Prophets.
And thus I. have gone over the chief exceptions and offences which the Jews took at our Saviour and his doctrine ; and I hope sufficiently shewn the unreasonableness of them. I have not now time to proceed to what remains : But by what hath been faid, you may easily fee, upon what flight and unreasonable grounds men may be prejudiced against the best person and things, and yet be very confident all the while that they are in the right. For so no doubt many of the Jews, who opposed our Savi
our and his do&rine, thought themselves to be. Therefore it concerns us to put on meekness, and humili. ry, and modesty, that we may be able to judge impartially of things, and our minds may be preserved free and in different to receive the truths of God, when they are offered to us : Otherwise self-conceit and paflion will so blind our minds, and bias our judgments, that we shall be unable to discern, and unwilling to entertain the plainest and most evident truths. We see here by the fad example of the Jews, that by giving way to passion, and cherishing pride and self conceit, men may be so deeply prejudiced against the truth, as to relift the clearelt light, and reject eyen salvation itself, when it is offered to them. So that it is not in vain, that the scripture faith, Let every wan be swift to hear, and how to wrath, for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; and exhorts us so earnestly, to receive with meekness the word of God, which is able to save our souls.
MATTH. xi. 6.
The first sermon on this text.
Have from these words propounded to consider
1. Those prejudices and objections which the world had against our Saviour and his religion at their first appearance ; as also to enquire into those which men at this day do more especially insist upon, against the Christian religion ; and to shew the unreasonableness of them.
II. How happy a thing it is to escape and overcome the common prejudices which men have against religion.
'I have entered upon the first of these, the preju. dices which the world had against our Saviour and his religion. When this great teacher of mankind came from God, though he gave all imaginable te. ftimony and evidence that he was sent from heaven, yet the greatest part of the world, both Jews and Gentiles, were mightily offended at him, and deeply prejudiced against him and his doctrine; but not both upon the same account.
I have already given you an account of the chief exceptions which the Jews made against our Saviour and his do&rine, and have fliewn the unreasonable. ness of them.
I proceed now to consider the principal of those exceptions, which the Gentiles and Heathen Philosophers took at our Saviour and his doctrine. I Mall mention there four.
Firt, That Christianity was a great innovation, and contrary to the received institutions of the work.
Secondly, They objected against the plainness and fimplicity of the doctrine.
Thirdly, That it wanted demonstration.
Fourthly, That the low and suffering condition of our Saviour was unsuitable to one that pretended to be the Son of God, and to be appointed by him for a teacher and a reformer of the world. These are the chief exceptions which the Heathen, and especially their Philosophers took at our Saviour and his doctrine.
First, That the Christian religion was a great in- . novation, and contrary to the received institutions of the world; and consequently that it did condemn the religion which had been so universally received and established in the world by so long a continuance of time. And no wonder if this made a great impression upon them, and raised a mighty prejudice in the minds of men against the Christian religion ; no prejudices being so Itrong as those that are fix.
ed in the minds of men by education: And of all the prejudices of education, none so violent and hard to be removed as those about religion, yea though they be never so groundless and unreasonable. Hath a nation changed their Gods, which yet are no Gods? Intimating to us, that men are very hardly brought off from that religion which they have been brought up in, how absurd. soever it be. When Christianity was first propounded to the Heathen world, had men been free and indifferent, and not prepossessed with other apprehensions of God and religion, it might then have been expected from them, that they should have entertained it with a readiness of mind proportionable to the reasonableness of it. But the case was quite otherwise: The world had for many ages been brought up to another way of wors fhip, and inured to rites and superstitions of a quite different nature. And this sways very inuch with men; Seguimur majores noftros, qui feliciter fequuti suos; as one of the Heathen said in those days, We follow our ancestors, who happlily followed theirs. Men are hardly brought to condemn those opinions and customs in religion, which themselves and their forefathers have always embraced and followed. And wise men especially are loth to admit so great a change in a matter of so great a concernment as religion is. So that this must be acknowledged to have been a considerable prejudice against the Christian religion at its first appearance. But yet upon a thorough examination, this will not be found sufficient in reason to with-hold men from embracing Christianity, if we consider these tour things.
1. No prudent person thinks that the example and custom of his forefathers obligeth him to that which is evilin itself, and pernicious to him that does it ; and there is no evil, nor danger equal to that of a false religion ; for that tends to the ruin of men's souls, and their undoing for ever. A man might better alledge the example of his fore- fathers to justify his errors and follies in any other kind, than in this, which is so infinitely pernicious in the consequences of it.
2. In a great corruption and degeneracy, it is no sufficient reason against a réformation, that it makes a change. When things are amiss, it is always fit to amend and reform them; and this cannot be done without a change. The wisest among the Heathen did acknowledge, that their religion was inixed with very great follies and superstitions, and that the lives and manners of men were extremely corrupt and degenerate; and they endeavoured as much as they could and durst to reform these things. And therefore there was no reason to oppose an effectual reformation, for fear of a change; a change of things for the better, though it be usually hard to be effected, being always a thing to be desired and wish. ed for.
3. The change which Christianity designed, was the least liable to exception that could be, being nothing else in the main of it, but the reducing of natural religion, the bringing of men back to such apprehensions of God, and such a way of worshipping him, as was most suitable to the divine nature, and to the natural notions of mens minds; nothing else but a design to persuade men of the one true God, maker of the world ; that he is a spirit, and to be worshipped in such a manner as is suitable to his spiritual nature.
And then for matters of practice, to bring men to the obedience of those
precepts of temperance, and justice, and charity, which had been universally acknowledged even by the Heathen them. selves, to be the great duties which men owe to themselves and others. And that this is the main design of the Christian religion, the Apostle hath told us in most plain express words, Tit. ii. 11, 12. The grace of God, (that is, the doctrine of the gospel) which hath, appeared to all men, and brings salvation, teacheth us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lufts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world.
And all that the Christian religion adds beyond this, is means and helps for our direction and affiftance, and encouragement in the discharge and performance of these duties. For our direction, God hath sent his VOL, VI.