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PREACHED IN THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY-LE-BOW,
DECEMBER 4, 1754, AT THE YEARLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETIES.
MALACHI iii. 16.
Then they, that feared the Lord, spake often one to
another : and the Lord hearkened, and heard it ; and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his
This prophecy was delivered long after the return of the Jews from Babylon; when they had ceased in general to be superstitious and idolatrous, for it scarce accuses them once of either sin, but were falling into the opposite extreme of indifference about all religion. Many of the priests themselves performed their functions carelessly and contemptuously, from a principle of mere worldly interest *; and either neglected to instruct others, or misled themt. The people, partly, without question, in consequence of this, were destitute of zeal for God's worship; said it was a weariness, and snuffed at it ; sacrificed to him the refuse of their cattle I, robbed him in tithes and offerings $, married heathens without scruple ||, broke their marriage vows by adultery 1, dealt treacherously
Mal. i. 6, 7. 10. + Ibid. ï. 7,8. Ibid. i. 13, 14. $ Ibid, iii. 8, &c. | Ibid. ii. 11.
Ibid. ii. 14.
every man against his brother*, were guilty of oppression and perjury t: for the prophet expressly charges them with all these crimes. And he adds, that they not only indulged, but applauded themselves in impiety and immorality: casting off with scorn the serious regard, which they had formerly paid to unpleasing rules of duty; and declaring those, who had fearlessly broke through them, the only wise persons. Your words have been stout against me,saith the Lord. Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and, What profit is it, that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? And now we call the proud happy : yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered I. So that they still seem to have professed some belief in a sort of deity: but at the same time prevailed on themselves to fancy, that he was unconcerned about their treatment of himself, or each other.
How lively a picture this is, though drawn above two thousand years ago, of the free-livers and freethinkers, as they have been called, of our own age, and how large and increasing the numbers of them are, I need not say: their practices, their discourse, their writings, shew it too plainly. The question is, while they behave thus, what should our behaviour be!
Now undoubtedly earnest endeavours ought to be used for reclaiming them. And such as are qualified for this employment, especially if they are likewise peculiarly called to it, should be conscientiously diligent in it: labouring to convince, both the avowedly profane and vicious, and all who lean towards them, of the unreasonableness and final uncomfort
Mal. ii. 10.
+ Ibid. iii. 5.
1 Ibid. ii. 13, 14, 15.
ableness of their notions, the absurd rashness of their talk, the ruinous tendency of their conduct, even in this life, to themselves, to such as are most nearly connected with them, and to the public; but above all, of the certain future misery, which they must bring on their own heads, if the Maker of the world govern it with justice or wisdom, or indeed with real goodness to the whole ; and for what other ends he could possibly create it, is utterly inconceivable.
But though every person of plain understanding and upright heart is capable of seeing these things; and most may represent them, with good effect, to such as err through inconsiderateness or bad suggestions only, yet many are not capable of debating them with acute and artful opponents : or if they were, still would not be a match, on other accounts, for the bold and overbearing, the contemptuous and ridiculing. Whatever cause a modest man, of common parts and attainments, were to maintain against such, the combat would be unequal, and therefore is better avoided by him. But supposing him ever so accomplished : what success can be expected against scornful levity, conceited self-sufficiency, hardened unfairness, or stupid sensuality ? against those, who, as the Apostle admirably describes them, walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts ; who being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness*. Probably formal opposition would only provoke such to more shocking expressions of irreligion at the time,
Eph. iv, 17, 18, 19.
and greater mischievousness afterwards. Therefore Solomon's general maxim and direction is: he that reproveth a scorner, getteth to himself shame : and he that rebuketh a wicked man, getteth himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee : rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee *.
Still they, to whose province it belongs, must, while there is any view of success, instruct those who oppose themselves t reprove, rebuke I, exhort with all authority ll. And others must never even seem to countenanance licentious talk, and to give up the cause of religion when attacked; but walk in wisdom toward them that are without, that is, towards unbelievers; take care that their speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt ş; becoming, inoffensive, discreet; and that they be ready always to give an answer to every man, that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them [. But usually it will be most advisable, on all such occasions, to speak briefly: and in so mild a manner, that the party concerned may not think himself challenged to attempt a reply; yet in so home a one, that he may feel inwardly, and if possible also lastingly, the force of what is said to him: which he will oftener do, than he will care to own it. For the words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened ** Excepting what this act of charity may require, we shall do well to keep our mouths, as it were with a bridle, while the ungodly is in our sight : not disagreeably abtaining from all conversation, but studiously from all which they can be likely to pervert; keeping silence, when there is danger of that, even from good words *; and not casting our pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend † the well-meaning giver.
* Prov. ix. 7,8. || Tit. ii. 15.
+ 2 Tim. ii. 25.
j Col. iv. 5, 6.
I 2 Tim. iv. 2.
The duty therefore of the generality of Christians, in regard to the enemies of their faith and practice, besides pitying them and praying for them, goes little further, than first securing themselves, and those who belong to them, from the contagion: and determining with Joshua, that let others serve whom or what they choose, they and their houses will serve the Lord I: then, as opportunity may offer, strengthening the rest of their brethren ş, and using the means of being mutually strengthened by them, in the same resolution.
This method, we find, the pious and virtuous took in the days of Malachi. Doubtless the faithful priests and messengers of the Lord of Hosts, whose lips were to keep knowledgell, uttered it also : lifted up their voices like trumpets to shew the people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins T. But of the bulk of believers we read, not that they were forward to dispute, indeed we may be sure they were backward to intermix, with unbelievers; but only, that they who feared the Lord, spake often one to another, certainly of things relating to his fear; and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
Now in these words we have it plainly signified to us,
I. That serious conference amongst good persons is peculiarly needful in thoughtless and irreligious times.
II. That God observes and remembers, and will reward the proper use of it.
* Psa. xxxix. 2, S. + Matt. vii. 6. Josh. xxiv. 15. § Luke xxii. 32. || Mal. ii. 7. (Is. lvii. 1.