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Now it extends its aim to permanent delusion. Now it misleads in a special instance by suggesting unsound conclusions from just and recognised principles of conduct. Now it attains its purpose by exalting a false principle into the place and sovereignty of the true. Of all the machinations of error the last, though among the most difficult to carry into effect, portends, when : its victory is affured, the most durable and the most extensive mischief. The disease of a single branch infects but the fruit of that branch.
The rill drawn aside from the main current is alone polluted by the impurities of the channel into which it is diverted, Is the whole produce to be corrupted? Canker the root. Is the whole stream to be tainted ? Poison the fountain.
Such is the nature of the offence, against which in the paffage of Scripture before us a woe is denounced by the prophet. In other parts of the chapter, speaking, as here allo, by the command and in the person of the Almighty, he proclaims vengeance from God against various descriptions of sinners: against the covetous, who join house to house and lay field to field : against fenfualists, who follow strong drink, and cheer their feasts with the þarp and the viol, but regard not the work of
the Lord : against the self-righteous, who are wife in their own eyes and prudent in their own fight: against scoffers, who deride the longsuffering of God, and call upon him to make Speed and basten his counfels : against iniquitous judges, who for a bribe justify the wicked, and take away the righteousness of the righteous : against those who, professing to be His people, through their own wilfulness have no knowledge of the real nature of religion, and are groaning under the appointed retribution of calamity : and, by parity of reasoning, against all, who, like the sinners selected as examples to illustrate the general denunciation, have cast away the law of the Lord of hofts, and defpised the word of the Holy One of Israel. In this catalogue of crimes and the text has its station. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil : that put darkness for light, and light for darkness : that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter ! Woe unto them, who in any one of the ramifications of the two component branches of religion, piety and morality; in any subdivifion of human duties, whether it has God or man for its immediate object ; establish a wicked principle in the place of the righteous opposite: either openly uphold the false rule of conduct, and openly vilify the true; or con
LIIId catalogue 01 crimes and coniequent woes
fine themselves to the tacit impeachment and fubversion of the latter by a studied exaltation of the former.
I propose, under the divine blessing, to elucidate by some instances derived from modern life the guilt here stigmatised by the mouth of God; and the present and future woes here denounced by the fame authority against every offender. The discussion lies at the root of all religion. Give me your diligent attention. And may the Spirit of God bless the good seed, which I may be made the inftrument of sowing in your hearts !
I. Among the most prominent illustrations of the present subject we may produce those persons, who represent enthusiasm as religion.
By enthusiasm, as applied with a reference to religion, I understand the subjection of the judgement, in points of religious faith or practice, to the influence of the imagination. The forms under which this influence manifests its predominance may be divers.
The power which its exercises over one mind may in degree be greater or less than that which it pollelles over another. But where ever, and in whatever shape and measure, it operates : there, and in that shape and measure, exists enthusiasm.
In many instances enthusiasm suggests unauthorised ideas of personal communication between the individual and the Deity'; of personal inspiration sensibly vouchsafed by the Holy Ghost in mode or measure different from that divine influence on the heart and understanding, which is promised to every Christian. Sometimes it deludes the mind with ideas equally unauthorised of the visible agency of the Spirit of God on others. On fome occasions it pronounces with no less decision, and equally without the sanction of the Scriptures, that the miraculous interposition of the finger of God is clearly discernible in a recent and perhaps customary event. And not seldom, it impels pious men to carry their views of a particular doctrine beyond the sober tenor of the Scriptural declarations concerning that doctrine. In this instance, as the opinions of different persons concerning the extent and importance of an individual doctrine may be various, enthusiasm is less easily ascertained than when it appears under one of the preceding forms: and in confequence, is frequently imputed by the careless, the ignorant, and the prejudiced, when it does not exist. It is sufficient however for my present purpose, that under this shape also it is occasionally manifested.
Woe - Woe unto the world, said our Lord, because of offences. For ii must needs be that offences come : but woè unto that man, by whom the offence cometh. It were better for him that a millfone were hanged about his neck, and be caft into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones (a). Enthusiasm entails a woe on the person whom it infects. It darkens his understanding : it enslaves him more and more to the dreams of a heated fancy: it teaches him to judge whether he is in a ftate of salvation rather by internal impulses and reveries than by a comparison of his own dispositions and conduct with the characteristic marks, by which the Scriptures difminate the true Christian: and thus contributes in various ways to ensnare him into errors dangerous to his soul, and to encrease the difficulties in the way of his return to the form of found doctrine, the words of truth and foberness. But its pernicious effects on others, the mischiefs scattered far and wide by this evil when called good, are incalculable. Enthufiasm disparages genuine piety, and causes it to be despised as lukewarm formality. It degrades many doctrines for the immoderate exaltation of one. It disgusts the sober and discourages the timid Christian. It expofes (a) Matth. xviii. 7. Luke, xvii. 2.