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SERMON CXVII.

CHRISTIAN DIVISIONS.

St. Luke xii. 51.

* Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but

rather division."

When missionaries go out to foreign and distant lands, on the great work of converting heathens, Jews, or Mahometans from the error of their ways, it is commonly the case that they endeavour to set forth the Christian faith to the best advantage, and with such attractions as shall be most likely to induce their hearers to embrace it. Thus we often see in some of the reports that a good deal is said about the peace, the liberty, the love and harmony which (it is said) are sure to follow wherever the Gospel is received; and very glowing descriptions are given from time to time, of the astonishing change and improvement wrought by the labours of the missionaries in their respective districts. In the mean time, any discouraging and doubtful circumstances which may have occurred, are generally either quite passed over, or very slightly noticed.

Now all this is natural enough, and considering what human weakness is) also, perhaps, very pardonable.

Yet it is much to be observed, that such was not the way in which the Prince and Pattern of missionaries and preachers, our LORD JESUS CHRIST, accomplished "the great work which the FATHER

gave

Him to do.” We observe that HE, our adorable

VOL. IV.

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Saviour, never endeavoured (if one may so speak with reverence) to set forth his religion to the best advantage, or in the most attractive form. He dwelt as much on the difficulties and trials, as on the comforts and benefits attending the faithful profession of the Gospel. Nay, more than this, He seems to have taken particular pains to prevent His first disciples from imagining that the success of the Gospel would be complete, or at all such as might be expected. He warned them of these things, and not them only, but Christians of every age, for two purposes; both that they might acknowledge His Divine prescience, and also that they might not be cast down or discouraged when things should turn out so different from what they were naturally inclined to look for.

These things have I said unto you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.”

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There are numerous instances of our Lord's great care to prevent men from expecting too much from His Gospel. I mean from expecting that the effects of it would be proportioned to its truth and its importance.

Of these instances let me mention two or three.

One occurs in the 14th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, where it seems that our LORD having been invited to a feast at the house of one of the chief Pharisees, His discourse, and perhaps His manner altogether, so affected one of the guests, that he could not restrain himself from uttering his thoughts aloud, “ Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God." Meaning, how happy should they be who would be admitted to the privileges of the Messiah's kingdom, the Gospel of Christ. Whereupon our LORD, in a parable, addressed, you will observe, not to all the company, but to the person who made the forementioned observation,-in the parable, I say, of the great supper, He set forth most distinctly the way in which His Gospel would be received by the generality of mankind. “They all with one consent began to make excuse. None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” Another instance of the same discouraging tone (if it may

be so called) occurs in that same 14th chapter. For the sacred historian, having observed that there went great multitudes with

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Jesus, goes on to say, that HE, so far from giving them any encouragement, stopped in the way, turned round, and addressed them to this effect : If any man come to Me, and forsaketh not all that he hath, his coming is in vain, he cannot be My dis

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ciple.”

Again, in His solemn prophetical discourse with His disciples, just before the last passover, how disheartening and melancholy to human thought is the account which He condescended to give of the future condition of the Christian world! I refer to the tendency of those general expressions, which evidently imply that the state of things in the latter days of the Church militant on earth would be far from triumphant, even fearful and alarming in the greatest degree.

Thus, “ Take heed that no man deceive you. Many shall come in my name, many false prophets, and shall deceive many." “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many—of the many, the generality of Christians-shall wax cold.” “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth ?”

To hear the blessed JESUS speak thus of the reception which His religion would meet with in the earth, to hear Him so solemnly foretell that it should every where prevail, and yet every where be in practice slighted and neglected", this, I say, must have astonished his disciples, who were, of course, ready to think that if His Gospel were from Heaven, surely it would win and overpower the hearts of all men to whom

should be proposed. HE, however, in mercy to them and to us, forewarned us all plainly, both by the word of His own sacred lips, and afterwards also in the writings of His Apostles, that as the world in profession grew more and more Christian, Christians would grow more and more worldly, till in the end, nothing more scarcely than the name and profession of the Gospel would remain ; the profession might remain, the practice would be gone.

And as He taught men to expect, that notwithstanding all the

1 " From year to year the signs of wrath

Are gathering round the Judge's path ;
Strange words fulfill'd, and mighty works achieved,
And truth in all the world both hated and believed."

CHRISTIAN YEAR.

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blessed influences of His revelation, love would grow cold, and faith in a manner disappear; so also did he warn them, that even His kingdom on earth would be rent with divisions, that even the days of the Gospel would not be days of peace.

Suppose ye, (said HE, as it should seem with peculiar solemnity and plainness,) suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”

As if He had said,—You no doubt expect that as My Gospel is essentially a Gospel of peace, as one of the most glorious titles of the MESSIAH is that He should be the Prince of Peace,” and as the angels sung at My birth not only Glory to God in the highest, but also peace on earth,-you, I say, expect that in My Church and fold gradually extending its limits over the whole world, there will be peace and harmony. But I tell you, Nay; rather division and discord will accompany the Gospel wherever it finds its way. Henceforth, that is, now shall begin to be fulfilled that ancient prediction of the prophet Micah :

“The son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-inlaw; a man's enemies are the men of his own house."

We cannot then doubt that our omniscient LORD and Saviour prophesied even in the first foundation of His Church, that discord and division should prevail in it; even to such a degree as to break up the peace of families and neighbourhoods, to the hindrance of kindly intercourse between friends and relatives, to the overthrow of all spiritual authority, and ultimately to the extreme decay, and almost to the final extinction of faith and love out of the earth.

That signs of so disastrous and fearful a consummation have long been visible, is, I suppose, what no person of serious observation will deny or question.

The number of sects or denominations (as they are called) of Christians is now become so great in all parts of the world almost where Christianity is known, that I suppose it would be past any one's power to reckon them up. In our own country we know to what a height religious disputes and dissensions have been carried; and though owing to certain causes such controversies are not conducted with so much bitterness as they were some years ago, yet no one I think will assert, that as a nation we have made any approaches towards Christian unity.

And if the generality of people are not so violent and bitter as they used to be about religious differences, or, according to the common way of speaking, are not so bigotedthis is no sign of the growth of a spirit of peace and love—but rather no doubt it is owing to a very different cause, viz. the secret though rapid increase of infidelity and the kingdom of Antichrist.

For it is plain that nothing more strengthens the cause of infidelity, than the opinion that schisms and divisions are matters of trifling consequence—that Christ's authorized ministers are only worthy of scorn and contempt, as such—that every man's own feelings are the true test of his own spiritual condition. These notions, which lie at the root of schisms and divisions in the Church, tend also, though it is not observed, to the rapid increase of deism and infidelity—such as appeared in France about fifty years ago, and no doubt will very soon be sufficiently evident in this country—indeed I may say are now evident to all attentive, impartial observers of the state of things.

Thus then we see fulfilled before our own eyes, in a very remarkable manner, that ancient prophecy (for such it is) of the blessed Jesus, that his Gospel would be a means of giving not peace on earth, but rather division. And from this prophecy let me urge on your thoughts (as many

care for these things) two considerations :-one of comfort; one of warning.

of you as

And first, it is a ground of comfort and thankfulness that our gracious God, in this as in other cases, can make

“ the fierceness of man to turn to His praise;" that in the miserable divisions and sects which have rent the Universal Church, He gives the faithful Christian a powerful visible testimony of the truth of the Gospel. For let it be observed, that if, according to human expectation, it had been prophesied that the days of the Gospel should be days of peace and harmony-if nothing had been said of what we now see, the almost universal prevalence of the spirit of division and separation—then the scoffer might have said that Christianity was false, and its FOUNDER a deceiver, in

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