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the trade is so quick, and withal so certain, them in the things of God, and compared the multitudes will be sure to follow it.
superstructure with the foundation, their pracThis is too manifestly our present case. All tice with their knowledge, he finds them so men see it; and wise and good men lament far from arriving at the happiness which they it: and where vice, pushed on with such aspired to by this means, that upon a full mighty advantages, will stop its progress, it survey of the whole matter, the result of all is hard to judge ; it is certainly above all comes to this sad and deplorable issue, that human remedies to control the prevailing they were sinful and miserable, and that withcourse of it; unless the great Governor of the out excuse. In the words, taken with the colieworld, who quells the rage and swelling of rence of the precedent and subsequent verses, the sea, and sets bars and doors to it, beyond we have these four things considerable,which the proudest of its waves cannot pass, I. The sin here followed, upon a certain shall, in his infinite compassion to us, do thé sort of men, with this so severe a judgment; same to that ocean of vice, which now swells, namely, that “ knowing God, they did not and roars, and lifts up itself above all banks glorify him as God,” (ver. 21.) and bounds of human laws; and so, by his II. The persons guilty of this sin; they omnipotent word, reducing its power, and such as professed themselves wise, abasing its pride, shall at length say to it, (ver. 22.) “ Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.” III. The cause or reason of their falling Which God in his good time effect.
into this sin ; which was their “ holding the To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is truth in unrighteousness,” (ver. 18.) And, most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do IV. and lastly. The judgment, or rather the minion, both now and for ever more. Amen. state and condition, penally consequent upon
these sinners ; namely, that “they were without excuse,” (ver. 20.)
Of each of which in their order : and first, for the first of them.
The sin here followed with so severe a judgSERMON XIX.
ment, and so highly aggravated, and condemned by the apostle, is, by the united
testimony of most divines upon this place, NATURAL RELIGION, WITHOUT REVELA
the sin of idolatry; which the apostle affirms TION, SUFFICIENT TO RENDER A SINNER to consist in this, " That the Gentiles glorified INEXCUSABLE.
not God, as God.". Which general charge he
also draws forth into particulars; as, that PREACHED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY, AT CHRIST
they “changed his glory into the similitude CHURCH, OXON, NOVEMBER 2, 1690. and images of men, and beasts, and birds;"
where, by glory, he means God's worship, to wit, that by which men glorify him, and not
the essential glory of his nature; it being such “ So that they are without excuse." – Rom. 1. 20. a glory, as was in men's power to change and
to debase ; and therefore, must needs consist, This excellent epistle, though in the front either in those actions, or those means, which of it it bears a particular inscription, yet, in they performed the divine worship by. I the drift and purpose of it, is universal ; as know no place, from which we may more designing to convince all mankind (whom it clearly gather what the Scripture accounts idosupposes in pursuit of true happiness) of the latry, than from this chapter. From whence, necessity of seeking for it in the gospel, and that I may represent to you what idolatry is, the impossibility of finding it elsewhere. All and wherein one sort of it, at least, does conwithout the church, at that time, were com sist, you may observe, that the persons who prehended under the division of Jews and are here charged with it are positively affirmed Gentiles, called here by the apostle, Greeks; to have known and acknowledged the true the nobler and more noted part being used God. For it is said of them, that they knew for the whole. Accordingly, from the second his “ eternal power and godhead,” in this chapter, down along, he addresses himself to twentieth verse ; nay, and they worshipped the Jews, shewing the insufficiency of their him too. From whence this undeniably and law to justify, or make them happy, how invincibly follows, that they did not look upon much soever they doated upon it. But here, those images, which they addressed to, as gods, in this first chapter, he deals with the Greeks, nor as things in which the divine nature did or Gentiles, who sought for and promised or could enclose itself; nor, consequently, to themselves the same happiness from the dic which they gave, or ultimately designed their tates of right reason, which the Jews did from religious worship. This conclusion, therefore, the Mosaic law. Where, after he had took an I infer, and assert, that idolatry is not only account of what their bare reason had taught | an accounting or worshipping that for God
which is not God, but it is also a worshipping infinitely unhappy, if they cannot perform a the true God in a way wholly unsuitable to necessary duty without school-distinctions, his nature; and particularly by the mediation nor beg their daily bread without metaphyof images and corporeal resemblances of him. sics. And thus much for the first thing proThis is idolatry : for the persons here spoken posed, namely, the sin here spoken against by of, pretended to glorify the true God, but the apostle in the text, which was idolatry: “ they did not glorify him as God," and upon 2. The second is the persons charged with that account stand arraigned for idolaters. this sin. And they were not the Gnosticks, Common sense and experience will and must as some whimsically imagine, who can never evince the truth of this. For, can any one meet with the words γινώσκοντες, γινώσκειν, imagine, that men of reason, who had their yvãoss, or yuwotòy, but presently the Gnosticks senses quick, and their wits and discourses must be drawn in by the head and shoulders; entire, could take that image or statue, which but the persons here meant were plainly and they fell down before, to be a god ? Could manifestly the old heathen philosophers; such they think that to be infinite and immense, as not only in the apostles, but also in their the ubiquity of which they could thrust into own phrase, “professed themselves to be wise." a corner of their closet ? Or, could they con Their great title was oopoi, and the word of ceive that to be eternal, which a few days applause still given to their lectures was oo@uis. before they had seen a log, or a rude trunk, And Pythagoras was the first who abated of and perhaps the other piece of it a joint-stool the invidiousness of the name, and from goos in the workman's shop?
brought it down to Qinboo@os, from a master The ground and reason of all worship is, to a lover of wisdom, from a professor to a an opinion of power and will in the person candidate. worshipped to answer and supply our desires ; These were the men here intended by Saint which he cannot possibly do, unless he first Paul-men famous in their respective agesapprehend them. But can any man, who is the great favourites of nature, and the top and master of sense himself, believe the rational masterpiece of art, - men, whose aspiring inheathens so void of it, as to think that those tellectuals had raised them above the common images could fulfil the petitions which they level, and made the higher by the head than could not hear, pity the wants they could the world round about them. Men of a polite not see, do all things when they could not reason, and a notion refined and enlarged by stir a hand or a foot ? It is impossible they meditation. Such, as with all these advanshould; but it is also certain, that they were tages of parts and study, had been toiling and idolaters.
plodding many years, to outwit and deceive And therefore, it is clear that their idolatry themselves; sat up many nights, and spent consisted in something else, and the history many days, to impose a fallacy upon their
reaof it would demonstrate so much, were it son; and, in a word, ran the round of all the proper to turn a sermon into a history. So arts and sciences, to arrive, at length, at a glothat we see here, that the sin condemned in rious and elaborate folly, even these, I say, the text, was the worshipping of the true God these grandees and giants in knowledge, who by images. For the defence of which, there thus looked down, as it were, upon the rest of is no doubt but they might have pleaded, and mankind, and laughed at all besides themdid plead for those images, that they used selves, as barbarous and insignificant, (as quick them not as objects, but only as means and and sagacious as they were to look into the instruments of divine worship, not as what little intrigues of matter and motion, which they worshipped, but as that by which they a man might salva scientia, or at least, saloa directed their worship to God. Though still
, anima ignorare,) yet blundered and stumbled methinks, it is something hard to conceive, about their grand and principal concern, the that none of the worship should fall upon the knowledge of their duty to God, sinking into image by the way, or that the water can be the meanest and most ridiculous instances of conveyed into the sea, without so much as idolatry - even so far, as to worship the great wetting the channel through which it passes. God under the form of “beasts and creeping But, however, you see it requires a very dis- things”- to adore eternity and immensity in tinguishing head, and an even band, and no a brute, or a plant, or some viler thing-bowsmall skill in directing the intention, to carry ing down, in their adoration, to such things a prayer quite through to its journey's end": as they would scarce otherwise have bowed though, after all, the mischief of it is, that the down to take up. Nay, and to rear temples, distinction, which looks so fine in the theory, and make altars to fear, lust, and revenge ; generally miscarries in the practice; especially there being scarce a corrupt passion of the where the ignorant vulgar are the practisers, mind, or a distemper of the body, but what who are the worst in the world at distinguish- they worshipped. So that it could not be exing, but yet make far the greatest part of man pected that they should ever repent of those kind, and are as much concerned and obliged sins which they thought fit to deify, nor morto pray, as the wisest and the best; but withal, ) tify those corrupt affections to which they
ascribed a kind of divinity and immortality. by him, is certainly one,) is contrary to the By all which, they fell into a greater absurdity common order and nature of things, and those in matter of practice, than ever any one of essential relations which (by virtue thereof) them did in point of opinion, (which yet cer they bear to one another; and consequently, tainly was very hard,) namely, that having absurd and impossible. So that upon a bare confessed a God, and allowed him the perfec- principle of reason, creation must needs infer tions of a God, to wit, an infinite power, and providence; and God's making the world, an eternal godhead, they get denied him the irrefragably prove that he governs it too; or worship of God, thus reversing the great that a being of a dependent nature remains truths they had subscribed to in speculation, nevertheless independent upon him in that by a brutish, senseless devotion, managed respect. Besides all which, it is also certain with a greater prostration of reason than of that the heathens did actually acknowledge body.
the world governed by a supreme mind; Had the poor vulgar rout only, who were which knowledge, whether they had it from held under the prejudices and prepossessions tradition, or the discourses of reason, they of education, been abused into such idolatrous stood however equally accountable for upon superstitions, as to adore a marble or a golden either account. deity, it might have been detested indeed, or 3dly, That this God, or supreme Being, was pitied, but not so much to be wondered at; but to be worshipped. For this was founded upon for the Stoa, the Academy, or the Peripaton his omnipotence and his providence. Since to own such a paradox; for an Aristotle or a he, who could preserve or destroy as he pleased, Plato to think their Nous ciòsos, their eternal and withal governed the world, ought surely mind or universal spirit, to be found in, or to be depended upon by those who were thus served by, the images of fourfooted beasts ; obnoxious to his power, and subject to his for the Stagyrite to recognize his gods in his government; which dependence could not own book de Animalibus,-this, as the apostle manifest itself but by acts of worship, homsays, “ was without excuse;" and how will age, and address to the person thus depended these men answer for their sins, who stand upon. thus condemned for their devotions? And 4thly, That this God was to be worshipped, thus, from the persons here charged by the or addressed to, by virtuous and pious pracapostle with the sin of idolatry, pass we now tices. For so much his essential holiness to the
required, and those innate notions of turpe et 3d thing proposed, namely, the cause or honestum, wrote in the consciences of all men, reason of their falling into this sin ; and that and joined with the apprehensions they had was their holding of the truth in unrighteous- of the infinite purity of the divine nature, ness. For the making out of which, we must could not but suggest. inquire into these two things,
5thly, That upon any deviation from virtue 1. What was the truth here spoken of. and piety, it was the duty of every rational 2. How they held it in unrighteousness. creature so deviating, to condemn, renounce,
For the first of them, there were these six and be sorry for every such deviation, -- that great truths, the knowledge of which the Gen- is, in other words, to repent of it. What, tile philosophers stood accountable for ; as, indeed, the issue or effect of such a repentance
1. That there was a God; a being distinct might be, bare reason could not of itself disfrom this visible, material world ; infinitely cover, but that a peccant creature should disperfect, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, tran approve, and repent of every violation of, and scendently good and holy. For all this is declination from, the rules of just and honest, included in the very notion of a God. And this, right reason, discoursing upon the stock this was a truth wrote with a sunbeam, clear of its own principles, could not but infer. And and legible to all mankind, and received by the conscience of every man, before it is deuniversal consent.
bauched and hardened by habitual sin, will 2. That this God was the maker and gover- recoil after the doing of an evil action, and vor of this visible world. The first of which acquit him after a good. was evident from the very order of causes, Othly and lastly,
That every such deviation the great argument by which natural reason from duty rendered the person so deviating evinces a God. It being necessary, in such an liable and obnoxious to punishment. I do not order or chain of causes, to ascend to, and ter say that it made punishment necessary, but minate in, some first, which should be the that it made the person so transgressing worthy original of motion, and the cause of all other of it; so that it might justly be inflicted on things, but itself be caused by none. And him, and consequently, ought rationally to be then, that God also governed the world, this feared and expected by him. And upon this followed from the other; for that a creature notion, universally fixed in the minds of men, should not depend upon its Creator in all re were grounded all their sacrifices, and rites of spects in which it is capable of depending expiation and lustration. The use of which upon him, (amongst which, to be governed | has been so general, both as to times and
places, that there is no age or nation of the they knew the judgment of God, that those world in which they have not been used as who committed such things were worthy of principal parts of religious worship.
death, yet not only did the same themselves, Now, these six graud truths were the talent but also had pleasure in those that did them.” intrusted, and deposited by God in the hands Which certainly is the greatest demonstration of the Gentiles for them to traffic with, to his of a mind wholly possessed and even besotted honour, and their own happiness. But what with the love of vice that can possibly be little improvement they made of this noble imagined. So notoriously did these wretches talent, shall now be shewn in the next par balk the judgment of their consciences, even ticular, nainely, their holding of it in un in the plainest and most undeniable duties rerighteousness, which they did several ways. lating to God, their neighbour, and themselves, As,
as if they had owned neither God nor neighí. By not acting up to what they knew. As bour, but themselves. in many things their knowledge was short of 2dly, These men held the truth in unrightthe truth, so, almost in all things, their prac eousness, by not improving those known printice fell short of their knowledge. The prin- ciples into the proper consequences deducible ciples by which they walked, were as much from them. For surely, had they discoursed below those by which they judged, as their rightly but upon this one principle, that God feet were below their head. By the one they was a being infinitely perfect, they could never looked upwards, while they placed the other have been brought to assert or own a multiin the dirt. Their writings sufficiently shew plicity of gods. For can one god include in what raised and sublime notions they had of him all perfection, and another god include the divine nature, while they employed their in him all perfection too? Can there be any reason about that glorious object, and what more than all ? and if this all be in one, can excellent discourses of virtue and morality the it be also in another? Or, if they allot and same reason enabled them to furnish the world parcel out several perfections to several deities, with. But when they came to transcribe these do they not, by this, assert contradictions, theories into practice, one seemed to be of no making a deity only to such a measure perfect; other use to them at all, but only to reproach whereas, a deity, as such, implies perfection them for the other. For they neither depended beyond all measure or limitation ? Nor could upon this God as if he were almighty, nor they, in the next place, have slid into those worshipped him as if they believed him holy; brutish immoralities of life, had they duly but in both prevaricated with their own prin- manured those first practical notions and dicciples to that degree that their practice was a tates of right reason, which the nature of man direct contradiction to their speculations. For is originally furnished with ; there being not the proof of which, go over all the heathen any one of them, but what is naturally protemples, and take a survey of the absurdities ductive of many more. But they quickly and impieties of their worship, their mon stifled and overlaid those infant principles, strous sacrifices, their ridiculous rites and those seeds of piety and virtue sown by God ceremonies. In all which, common sense and and nature in their own hearts ; so that they reason could not but tell them, that the good brought a voluntary darkness and stupidity and gracious God could not be pleased, nor, upon their minds ; andby not “exercising consequently, worshipped, with any thing their senses to discern between good and evil,” barbarous or cruel — nor the most holy God came at length to lose all sense and discernwith any thing filthy and unclean - nor a ment of either; whereupon, as the apostle God infinitely wise with any thing sottish or says of them in the 21st verse of this chapter ridiculous, and yet these were the worthy to the Romans, “ their foolish heart was darkqualifications of the heathen worship, even
ened”- and that not only by the just judgamongst their greatest and most reputed philo- ment of God, but also by the very course of sophers.
nature -- nothing being more evident from And then, for the duties of morality; surely experience, than that the not using or emthey never wanted so much knowledge as to ploying any faculty or power, either of body inform and convince them of the unlawfulness or soul, does insensibly weaken and impair of a man's being a murderer, a hater of God, that faculty; as a sword, by long lying still, will a covenant-breaker, without natural affection, contract a rust, which will not only deface its implacable, unmerciful. These were enormi- brightness, but by degrees also consume its ties branded and condemned by the first and very substance. "Doing nothing, naturally most natural verdict of common humanity; ends in being nothing. and so very gross and foul, that no man could It holds in all operative principles whatpretend ignorance that they ought to be soever, but especially in such as relate to avoided by him; and yet the apostle tells us, morality; in which, not to proceed, is cerin the last verse of this chapter, that they tainly to go backward, there being no third practised so much short of their knowledge, estate between not advancing and retreating even as to these particulars, “ that though in a virtuous course. Growth is of the very
essence and nature of some things. To be, told his fellow-artists, (Acts, xix. 25,) " it and to thrive, is all one with them; and they was by this craft that they got their wealth ;" know no middle season between their spring so loug experience has found it true of the and their fall.
unthinking mobile, that the closer they shut And, therefore, as it is said, (Matt. xiii. 12,) their eyes, the wider they open their hands. " that from him who hath not, shall be taken But this base trade the Church of England away even that which he hath;” so he, who always abhorred, and for that cause, as to its neglects the practice, shall, in the end, also temporal advantages, has fared accordingly, lose the very power aud faculty of doing well. and, by this time, may be thought fit for That which stops a man's actual breathing another reformation. very long, will, in the issue, take away his And thus I have shewn three notable ways, very power of breathing too. To hide one's by which the philosophers and learned men talent in the ground is to bury it; and the amongst the Gentiles held the truth in unburial of a thing either finds it dead, or will righteousness: as first, That they did not quickly make it so.
practise up to it; 2lly, That they did not 3dly, These men held the truth in unright- improve it; and 3dly and lastly, That they eousness, by concealing what they knew. For concealed and dissembled it. And this was how rightly soever they might conceive of that which prepared and disposed them to God and of virtue, yet the illiterate multitude, greater enormities ; for, “changing the truth who, in such things, must see with better eyes of God into a lie,” they became like those than their own, or see not all, were never the who, by often repeating a lie to others, came wiser for it. Whatsoever the inward senti- at length to believe it themselves. They ments of those sophisters were, they kept them owned the idolatrous worship of God so long, wholly to themselves ; hiding all those impor- till, by degrees, even in spite of reason and tant truths, all those useful notions, from the nature, they thought that he ought so to be people, and teaching
the world much otherwise worshipped. But this stopped not here; for from what they judged themselves. Though as one wickedness is naturally a step and inI think a greater truth than this cannot well troduction to another, so, from absurd and be uttered; That never any thing or person senseless devotions, they passed into vile affecwas really good, which was good only to itself. tions, practising vices against nature, and that But from hence it was, that, even in a literal in such strange and abominable instances of sense, sin came to be established by a law. sin, that nothing could equal the corruption For amongst the Gentiles, the laws themselves of their manners, but the delusion of their were the greatest offenders. They made little judgments, both of them the true and proper or no provision for virtue, but very much for causes of one another. vice: for the early and universal practice of The consideration of which, one would sin had turned it into a custom, and custom, think, should make men cautious and fearful especially in sin, quickly passed into common how they suppress or debauch that spark of
natural light which God has set up in their Socrates was the only martyr for the testi souls. When nature is in the dark, it will mony of any truth that we read of amongst venture to do any thing. And God knows the heathens, who chose rather to be con how far the spirit of infatuation may prevail demned, and to die, than either to renounce upon the heart, when it comes once to court or conceal his judgment touching the unity of and love a delusion. Some men hug an error the Godhead. But as for the rest of them, because it gratifies them in a freer enjoyment even Zeno and Chrysippus, Plato and Aris of their sensuality, and for that reason, God totle, and generally all those heroes in pbilo- in judgment suffers them to be plunged into sophy, they swam with the stream, (as foul fouler and grosser errors, such as even unman as it ran,) leaving the poor vulgar as ignorant and strip them of the very principles of reaand sottish, as vicious and idolatrous, as they son and sober discourse. For surely it could first found them.
be no ordinary declension of nature that could But it has been always the practice of the bring some men, after an ingenuous education governing cheats of all religions, to keep the in arts and philosophy, to place their sumpeople in as gross ignorance as they possibly mum bonum upon their trenchers, and their could; for, we see, the heathen impostors utmost felicity in wine and women, and those used it before the Christian impostors took it lusts and pleasures which a swine or a goat up and improved it. Si populus decipi vult, has as full and quick a sense of, as the greatest decipiatur, was ever a gold and silver rule statesman or the best philosopher in the world. amongst them all, though the Pope's legate Yet this was the custom, this the known first turned it into a benediction; and a very voice of most of the Gentiles, Dum vivimus strange one it was, and enough, one would vivamus : “Let us eat and drink to-day, for think, to have made all that heard it look to-morrow we must die.” That soul which about them, and begin to bless themselves. God had given them comprehensive of both For as Demetrius, a great master in such arts, worlds, and capable of looking into the great