« PreviousContinue »
SERM. reform the World; and that Defign II. being fo remarkably defeated; were not our Religion founded on a Rock, on the most apparent Reason, and most incontestable Miracles, it muft, a long Time ago, have funk under the Weight Acts v. 38, of this fingle Prejudice. Had this Counfel, or this Work been of Men, it would, under fuch a Disadvantage, have certainly come to nought; but it being of God, nothing can overthrow it. We may from hence in the
2d. Place, Take Occafion to confider the monftrous Degree of Pravity and Perverseness, that is hid in the Heart of Men, and to account for the Rife of it. It is plainly fuch, and fo great, we fee, as to be Proof against the brightest Discoveries of God's Will, and our Duty; fuch as no Rules can rectify, no Endeavours can reform.
And this one Reflection, duly attended to, would fatisfy us, that we are not now in our natural State, and as we came forth from the Hands of God; but fallen and degenerated from primi
tive Perfection. For can it enter into SERM. the Heart of Man to conceive, that the II. nobleft Part of the vifible Creation
fhould, in its Original Frame and Conftitution, be the most imperfect and faulty? That Man fhould have been created by God, with fuch violent Tendency to Evil, and fuch rooted Averfions from Goodness, as at prefent difcover themselves in him? Even without the Light of Revelation, it would, on this very Account, be highly reafonable for us to believe (what those, who reasoned beft among the Heathens, the Scholars of Socrates did believe) that fome Change mufts needs have happened in our Faculties and Natures, fince they were firft formed; and that our Souls are now placed in a State, not of natural Dignity and Excellence, but of Probation and Recovery.
3. It will be a third good Use of what has been difcourfed, if we learn from thence, not to measure Doctrines by Perfons, or Perfons by Doctrines; that is, not to make the One a compleat Rule
SERM. and Standard, whereby to judge of II. the Goodness or Badness of the Other. I cannot now duly explain this Reflection and fhall therefore employ it only in order to wipe off a Reproach, that hath been fometimes caft on that excellent Church of which we are Members; as if ill Lives abounded more than ordinarily in her Communion. I trust in God, the Afperfion is utterly falfe and groundless; the mere Effect of Malice, Envy or Design. But, were it never fo true, yet would not this be a Touchftone to try her Doctrines by; fince for the fame Reason that the Wickedness of Chriftians in general is no Argument against the Truth of Chriftianity, the Wickedness to be found in any particu lar Society of Chriftians, can be no Objection against the Doctrines particularly profeffed in that Society. By Scripture and by Reafon religious Opinions are to be examined; and not by the Lives and Practice of those who espouse them.
However, fince the World is for the SERM. moft Part compofed of fuch as do not reafon rightly, but judge merely by outward Appearances; fince Mankind are generally fo made, that the holiest Religion in the World muft needs fuffer in their Opinions, on the Account of the ill Lives of those who profess it ; let us therefore make this
4th and last Use of what has been faid, To excite our felves from thence to do what in us lies towards removing this Scandal from the Christian Faith at large, and from that particular Church of Chrift to which we belong; both by living Ourselves, as becomes our holy Religion; and by influencing Others, as we have Ability and Opportunity, to live as we do; that fo both we, and they may adorn the Doctrine of Tit. ii. 10 God our Saviour in all Things; may render it lovely and defirable in the Eyes of all Men, even its fierceft Enemies and Oppofers; having our Conversation 1Pet.ii.1z (as the Apostle speaks) honeft among the
SERM.Gentiles, (and those who are worse than II. Gentiles; Chriftians in Name and Profeffion, but at the bottom hardened and feared Unbelievers) that, whereas they speak against us, as Evil-doers, they may by our good Works, which they shall bebold, glorify God in the Day of Vifitation.
The primitive Chriftians (as you have heard) appealed freely from their Doctrines to their Lives, in Confirmation of the Truth of Chriftianity: We, on the contrary, are forced to appeal from our Lives to our Doctrines; and fo fhelter our felves under the indif putable Goodness of the Rule we embrace, whilft we are guilty of very many, and very great Deviations from it. Let us be ashamed to make use of this Argument any longer, and refolve to render our Actions and Opinions perfectly confiftent; that fo our Religion may appear to be, not a Notional Syftem, but a vital and fruûi fruitful Principle of Holiness; and we may fave not only our own Souls, but the Souls