« PreviousContinue »
as these ought not to stop us at any time, and least of all at this time; let us therefore proceed.
When we review the different sorts of men as they present themselves to us on the present occasion, the first that occur are the Infidels of the age, who openly declare their unbelief. That the faith is not found in them, and that it never will be, needs no proving. Here the fact is as open as it is lamentable; and if we cast our eye over Christendom, we shall observe how they have increased of late years; perhaps there are ten for one, if the end of this century be compared with the beginning of it. The more we have of these in the earth, so much the less is faith found in it: and if we look forward, the prospect is tremendous ! Should the world go on to its appointed period (whatever that may be) and this humour should prevail in the proportion it hath of late years, it seems as if no flesh could be saved. But it is promised, for the sake of God's elect, that the days shall be shortened. Matt. xxiy. 22.
A few years ago it seemed as if the infidel party trusted to scoffing and jesting and pleasantry, and meant no more than to laugh the Gospel out of the world if they could. These were the corusca
tions tions of wit, which played in the air for a while, and pretended to be gentle and harmless; but they were soon changed into the thunders of persecution, and followed by torrents of Christian blood ; insomuch that it is probable the heathens, when they raged most furiously against the Gospel, did never shed so much blood in so short a time. If they have any friends in this country, they are found among persons of the same class, actuated by the same spirit; men of no religion, or of a false religion, which is as bad as none, and sometimes worse. These are the worst members of society amongst us.
Next to these are the men of pleasure, whose minds being wholly devoted to themselves, they see nothing of God or of another world. With them the present moment is all: and when pleasure is the God, we can easily tell how he will be worshipped. In the days of Faith and Piety, churches are seen to arise about a country, for the honour of God, and the practice of devotion : but in proportion as infidelity increases, it will be with us as with the Greeks and Romans ; spectacles will be multiplied; theatres will arise, and outshine the glories and splendors
of religion * There was a time, when the priest of the country parish was seen leading his people to public prayers in the middle of the week; in some places on every day; where now no such practice is seen or thought of. If faith is alive in the heart, it will as certainly pray, as a living body will certainly breathe. If Christians do not pray so much in this age, as they used to do in the last; there is not so much faith amongst them now as there was then t. And if we proceed from
* One of our poets, a professed derider of faith, triumphs in this as a certain symptom of the decay of superstition : his words are too remarkable to be omitted :
In the good age of ghostly ignorance,
There never was a more severe satire
the entertain. ments of the theatre; not excepting even the Book of Jeremiah Collier with all its wit and spirit. The author of these lines was supposed to be Dr. Garth: and they were preached (as a prologue) to a very numerous congre. gation.
+ An excellent discourse on the daily service of the Church of England, is distributed this year, as the an. nual present, by the Society for promoting Christian Know. Jedge ; occasioned by the notorious decay of daily worship, particularly in cities and populous towns.
the state of prayer, to the way of preaching and handling the Scripture; there again we are much degenerated ; and all upon the same principle, the decay of faith.
We preach Christ crucified, said the Apostle : too many of his successors, alas, might say, “we do not preach Christ crucified,” we have more of the örator and the philosopher than of the apostle, and have improved the obsolete Christian Homily, into an Essay upon Virtue. How many there may be of this way I do not conjecture: may their number be much less than is apprehended ! but in the beginning of the last century there were none. In expounding the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, the decay of faith makes a great difference. It was the doctrine of St. Paul, in his charge to a Minister of the Gospel, that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were able to make men wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus : 2 Tim. iii. 15. consequently, if they are interpreted without that faith, their nature is changed, and they no longer answer their design. The word of God, like man, for whom it was given, consists of two parts, a body and a soul, called the Letter and the Spirit; the one the object of sense, the other of faith ; and as the body
without the spirit is dead, so is the Scripture a dead letter, unless we keep the spirit and interpretation of it. Instances might be given in abundance to shew my meaning; but let us be content with one.
The things which God did for our fathers, under Moses, have a spiritual relation to us, and shewed what God would do for us under the Gospel; and many excellent and necessary lessons are thence to be drawn * Thus, they were saved by water, when they passed the Red Sea; as we are saved by water in baptism. They were fed with manna, as we are by that bread of life, which, like the manna, came down from heaven! They drank of miraculous waters from a rock, which Jock, as St. Paul adds, was Christ, because he gives to all his thirsting followers the waters of life: let him come to me, said this rock himself, and drink. Of these and other like events, the plain history, as it was witnessed by the Jews of old, is the Letter : the meaning, as it concerns us Christians, is the Spirit ; and the relation between the facts undet Moses and those under Christ is so certain, that it is our duty to understand them, and to
See 1 Cor. x,