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be considered as a kind of anti-christian mortification; a black virtue of a counterfeit angelof light. With this however, they impose upon the unwary, who are not able to see through specious appearances. They affect to breathe nothing but peace and gentleness ; they leave all others to think as they please, and desire nothing but that freedom of thought which they allow to other people. And who can deny to such accomplished gentlemen, the liberty of insulting all articles of faith, blaspheming the scriptures, defaming the Christian church, and corrupting the morals of Christian people, by undermining the very foundations of morality ? especially when it is considered on the other hand, that piety and orthodoxy have nothing to uphold their credit in the world, but the arbitrary authority, and persecuting spirit of some men, working upon the folly and credulity of others : that all the refinements of learning are on one side; bigotry, superstition and ignorance on the other : that all the worst men are with the church, and all the best are against it.
A farther artifice of those who attempt to subvert the faith of their readers, is to pretend a sacred regard to truth, and a laudable desire to rescue the minds of their brethren from error and imposition. A man, who comes to make an impudent attack upon all the distinguishing articles of Christianity, introduces himself to us as a sincere lover of the gospel. He dare not leave his readers to find that out by the perasal of his work ; but hopes they will be blind to the mischief of it, when they have conceived a fair opinion of the spirit and candour of the writer. This outward appearance of meekness and charity has always been assumed by those who have had ill designs against
the flock of Christ. Disguise is necessary to the success of every impostor; insomuch that our blessed Saviour hath given it as the characteristic of a false prophet-Beware, said he, of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's cloathing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. To secure themselves under their disguise, they caution us largely against censoriousness: they can bear every thing but censure and detection, which they call uncharitableness. We can never offend a thief so much as by following him with a candle, to shew people what he is about: but no good man will fear to give 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 intrusted with us, for the guiding of their feet into the way of 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
* This Discourse was preached before the Clergy, at an Episcopal Visitation.
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 any interruption.
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 deserves 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 choose 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 instruction 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.
AND UPON THE EARTH DISTRESS OF NATIONS, WITH
PERPLEXITY; THE SEA AND THE WAVES ROARING; MEN'S HEARTS FAILING THEM FOR FEAR, AND FOR LOOKING AFTER THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE COMING UPON THE EARTH; FOR THE POWERS OF HEAVEN
SHALL BE SHAKEN. LUKE xxi. 25, 26. 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.
There will always be difficulty in the language of a prophecy which foretels an event not yet come to pass: therefore I would not venture to decide hastily in a matter of some obscurity. But it seems highly probable, from the language of our Saviour in the text, that the last age of the world shall be troubled, in an unusual manner, with popular tumults and commotions; arising partly as the natural and necessary fruits of wild and novel opinions, and partly from the just judgment of God upon those who have forsaken him.
Before we consider critically the words of the text, we may judge what will happen before the destruction of the world, from what did actually happen on certain other occasions, which have been marked as prophetical of that event. Before the coming of the