« AnteriorContinuar »
14. Was the last century more religious than this? In the former part of it, there was much of the form of religion; and some undoubtedly experienced the power thereof. But how soon did the fine gold become dim! How soon was it so mingled with worldly design, and with a total contempt both of truth, justice, and mercy, as brought that scandal upon all religion, which is hardly removed to this day. Was there more true religion in the preceding century; the age of the reformation? There was doubtless in many countries a considerable reformation of religious opinions ; yea, and modes of worship, which were much changed for the better, both in Germany and several other places. But it is well known, that Luther himself complained with his dying breath, “The people that are called by my name, (though I wish they were called by the name of Christ,) are reformed as to their opinions and modes of worship; but their tempers and lives are the same they were before.” Even then both justice and mercy were so shamelessly trodden under foot, that an eminent writer computes the number of those that were slaughtered during those religious contests, to have been no less than forty millions, within the compass of forty years !
15. We may step back above a thousand years from this, without finding any better time. No historian gives us the least intimation of any such, till we come to the age of Constantine the great. Of this period several writers have given us most magnificent accounts. Yea, one eminent author, no less a man than Dr. Newton, the late bishop of Bristol, has been at no small pains to show, that the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, and the emoluments which he bestowed upon the church with an unsparing hand, were the events which are signified in the Revelation, by “the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven!"
16. But I cannot in any wise subscribe to the bishop's opinion in this matter. So far from it, that I have been long convinced, from the whole tenor of ancient history, that this very event, Constantine's calling himself a Christian, and pouring that flood of wealth and honour on the Christian church, the clergy in particular, was productive of more evil to the church, than all the ten persecutions put together. From the time that power, riches, and honour of all kinds, were heaped upon the Christians, vice of all kinds came in like a flood, both on the clergy and laity. From the time that the church and state, the kingdoms of Christ and of the world, were so strangely and unnaturally blended together, Christianity and heathenism were so thoroughly incorporated with each other, that they will hardly ever be divided, till Christ comes to reign upon earth. So that, instead of fancying, that the glory of the New Jerusalem covered the earth at that period, we have terrible proof that it was then, and has ever since been, covered with the smoke of the bottomless pit.
17. “However, were not the days antecedent to this, those of the third century, better beyond all comparison, than any that followed them ?” This has been almost universally believed. Few doubt but in the age before Constantine, the Christian church was in its glory, worshipping God in the beauty of holiness. But was it so indeed? What says St. Cyprian, who lived in the midst of that century; a witness above all exception, and one that sealed the truth with his blood ? What account does he give, of what he saw with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears? Such a one as would almost make one ima
gine, he was painting to the life, not the ancient church of Carthage, but the modern church of Rome. According to his account, such abominations even then prevailed over all orders of men, that it was not strange God poured out his fury upon them in blood, by the grievous persecutions which followed.
18. Yca, and before this, even in the first century, even in the apostolic age, what account does St. John give of several of the churches which he himself had planted in Asia ? How little were those congregations better than many in Europe at this day! Nay, forty or fifty years before that, within thirty years of the descent of the Holy Ghost, were there not such abominations in the church of Corinth, as were “not even named among the heathens ?” So early did the “mystery of iniquity” begin to work in the Christian church! So little reason have we to appeal to “the former days," as though they were better than these !"
19. To affirm this, therefore, as commonly as it is done, is not only contrary to truth, but is an instance of black ingratitude to God, and a grievous affront to his blessed Spirit. For whoever makes a fair and candid inquiry, will easily perceive that true religion has in no wise decreased, but greatly increased in the present century. To instance in one capital branch of religion, the love of our neighbour. Is not persecution well nigh vanished from the face of the earth? In what age did Christians of every denomination show such forbearance to each other? When before was such lenity shown by governors towards their respective subjects ? Not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but in France and Germany; yea, every part of Europe ? Nothing like this has been seen since the time of Constantine; no, not since the time of the apostles.
20. If it be said, "Why this is the fruit of the general infidelity, the deism which has overspread all Europe." I answer, whatever be the cause, we have reason greatly to rejoice in the effect: and if the all wise God has brought so great and universal a good out of this dreadful evil, so much the more should we magnify his astonishing power, wisdom, and goodness herein. Indeed so far as we can judge, this was the most direct way, whereby nominal Christians could be prepared, first for tolerating, and afterwards for receiving, rcal Christianity. While the governors were themselves unacquainted with it, nothing but this could induce them to suffer it. Oh the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; causing a total disregard for all religion, to pave the way for the revival of the only religion which was worthy of God! I am not assured whether this be the case or no, in France and Germany; but it is so beyond all contradiction in North America : the total indifference of the government there, whether there be any religion or none, Icaves room for the propagation of true, scriptural religion, without the least let or hinderance.
21. But above all this, while luxury and profaneness have been increasing on the one hand, on the other, benevolence and compassion towards all the forms of human wo, have increased in a manner not known before, from the earliest ages of the world. In proof of this, we see more hospitals, infirmaries, and other places of public charity, have been erected, at least in and near London, within this century, than in five hundred years before. And suppose this has been owing in part to vanity, desire of praise ; yet have we cause to bless God, that so much good has sprung even from this imperfect motive.
22. I cannot forbear mentioning one instance more, of the goodness of God to us in the present age. He has lifted up his standard in our islands, both against luxury, profaneness, and vice of every kind. He caused, near fifty years ago, as it were a grain of mustard seed to be sown near London ; and it has now grown and put forth great branches, reaching from sea to sea. Two or three poor people met together, in order to help each other to be real Christians. They increased to hundreds, to thousands, to myriads, still pursuing their one point, real religion; the love of God and man ruling all their tempers, and words, and actions. Now I will be bold to say, such an event as this, considered in all its circumstances, has not been seen upon earth before, since the time that St. John went to Abraham's bosom.
23. Shall we now say, " The former days were better than these ?!! God forbid we should be so unwise and so unthankful. Nay, rather let us praise him all the day long; for he hath dealt bountifully with us. No“ former time," since the apostle left the earth, has been better. than the present. None has been comparable to it in several respects. We are not born out of due time, but in the day of his power; a day of glorious salvation, wherein he is hastening to renew the whole race of mankind in righteousness and true holiness. How bright hath the Sun of righteousness already shone on various parts of the earth! And how many gracious showers has he already poured down upon his inherit
How many precious souls has he already gathered into his garner, as ripe shocks of corn! May we be always ready to follow them; crying in our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus ! Come quickly!"
SERMON CVIII. What is Man?
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man?" Psa. viii, 3, 4.
How often has it been observed, that the book of Psalms is a rich treasury of devotion, which the wisdom of God has provided to supply the wants of his children in all generations! In all ages the Psalms have been of singular use to those that loved or feared God: not only to the pious Israelites, but to the children of God in all nations. And this book has been of sovereign use to the church of God, not only while it was in its state of infancy, (so beautifully described by St. Paul in the former part of the fourth chapter to the Galatians,) but also since, in the fulness of time, “life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel.” The Christians in every age and nation have availed themselves of this divine treasure, which has richly supplied the wants, not only of" babes in Christ," of those who were just setting out in the ways of God, but of those also who had made good progress therein ; yea, of such as were swiftly advancing towards “ the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
The subject of this psalm is beautifully proposed in the beginning of it: “Oh Lord, our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the earth; who hast set thy glory above the heavens !" It celebrates the
glorious wisdom and love of God, as the Creator and Governor of all things. It is not an improbable conjecture, that David wrote this psalm in a bright star light night, while he observed the moon also " walking in her brightness ;" that while he surveyed
“ This fair half round, the ample azure sky,
Terribly large, and beautifully bright,
With stars unnumber'd, and unmeasured light," he broke out, from the fulness of his heart, into the natural exultation ; “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man?" How is it possible that the Creator of these, the innumerable armies of heaven and earth, should have any regard to this speck of creation, whose time "passeth away like a shadow ?”
“ Thy frame but dust, thy stature but a span;
A moment thy duration, foolish man !" “What is man ?" I would consider this, first, With regard to his magnitude : and, secondly, With regard to his duration.
I. 1. Consider we, first, What is man, with regard to his magnitude. And in this respect, what is any one individual, compared to all the inhabitants of Great Britain ? He shrinks into nothing in the comparison. How inconceivably little is one compared to eight or ten millions of people? Is he not
" Lost like a drop in the unbounded main ?" 2. But what are all the inhabitants of Great Britain, compared to all the inhabitants of the earth? These have frequently been supposed to amount to about four hundred millions. But will this computation be allowed to be just, by those who maintain China alone to contain fifty-eight millions? If it be true, that this one empire contains little less than sixty millions, we may easily suppose, that the inhabitants of the whole terraqueous globe amount to four thousand millions of inhabitants, rather than four hundred. And what is any single individual, in comparison of this number?
3. But what is the magnitude of the earth itself, compared to that of the solar system? Including, beside that vast body the sun, so immensely larger than the earth, the whole train of primary and secondary planets ; several of which (I mean, of the secondary planets, suppose the satellites or moons of Jupiter and Saturn) are abundantly larger than the whole earth ?
4. And yet what is the whole quantity of matter contained in the sun, and all those primary and secondary planets, with all the spaces comprised in the solar system, in comparison of that which is pervaded by those amazing bodies, the comets? Who but the Creator himself can “tell the number of these, and call them all by their names ?" Yet what is even the orbit of a comet, and the space contained therein, to the space which is occupied by the fixed stars; which are at so immense a distance from the earth, that they appear when they are viewed through the largest telescope, just as they do to the naked eye!
5. Whether the bounds of the creation do or do not extend beyond the region of the fixed stars, who can tell ? Only the morning stars, who sang together, when the foundations thereof were laid. But that it is finite, that the bounds of it are fixed, we have no reason to doubt. We
cannot doubt, but when the Son of God had finished all the work which he created and made, he said,
“ These be thy bounds!
This be thy just circumference, oh world!" But what is man to this ?
6. We may take one step, and only one step farther still: What is the space of the whole creation ; what is all finite space that is, or can be conceived, in comparison of infinite ? What is it but a point, a cipher, compared to that which is filled by him that is all in all ! Think of this, and then ask, “ What is man ?”
7. What is man, that the great God, who filleth heaven and earth, “the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity,” should stoop so inconceivably low, as to " be mindful of him ?” Would not reason suggest to us, that so diminutive a creature would be overlooked by him in the immensity of his works ? Especially when we consider,
II. Secondly, What is man, with regard to his duration ?
1. The days of man, since the last reduction of human life, which seems to have taken place in the time of Moses, (and not improbably was revealed to the man of God, at the time that he made this declaration) * are three score years and ten.” This is the general standard which God hath now appointed. " And if men be so strong," perhaps one in a hundred," that they come to four score years; yet then is their strength but labour and sorrow : so soon passeth it away, and we are gone!"
2. Now what a poor pittance of duration is this, compared to the life of Methuselah ? “ And Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty and nine years.” But what are these nine hundred and sixty and nine years to the duration of an angel, which began “or ever the mountains were brought forth,” or the foundations of the earth were laid? And what is the duration which has passed, since the creation of angels, to that which passed before they were created, to unbeginning eternity ? To that half of eternity (if one may so speak) which had then elapsed? And what are three score years and ten to this?
3. Indeed what proportion can there possibly be, between any finite and infinite duration ?' What proportion is there between a thousand or ten thousand years, or ten thousand times ten thousand ages, and eternity? I know not that the inexpressible disproportion between any conceivable part of time and eternity, can be illustrated in a more striking manner, than it is in the well known passage of St. Cyprian :
Suppose there was a ball of sand as large as the globe of earth, and suppose one grain of this were to be annihilated in a thousand years ; yet that whole space of time wherein this ball would be annihilating, at the rate of one grain in a thousand years, would bear less, yea, unspeakably, infinitely less proportion to eternity, than a single grain of sand would bear to that whole mass." What then are the seventy years of human life, in comparison of eternity ? In what terms car the proportion between these be expressed ? It is nothing, yea, infinitely less than nothing !
4. If then we add to the littleness of man the inexpressible shortness of his duration, is it any wonder that a man of reflection should sometimes feel a kind of fear, lest the great, eternal, infinite Governor of the universe, should disregard so diminutive a creature as man? A creature so every way inconsiderable, when compared either with