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are of the invaluable privilege. But have all who attend them the form of godliness ? Before those solemn addresses to God begin, does the behaviour of all who are present show, that they know before whom they stand? What impression appears to be left on their minds when those holy offices are ended? And even during their continuance; can it be reasonably inferred from the tenor of their outward behaviour, that their hearts are earnestly fixed on him who standeth in the midst of them? I much fear, were a heathen, who understood not our tongue, to come into one of these, our assemblies, he would suspect nothing less, than that we were pouring out our hearts before the majesty of heaven and earth. What then shall we say, if indeed “God is not mocked;" but what a man soweth, that also shall he reap ?"
4. On Sundays, however, say some, it cannot be denied that we have the form of godliness, having sermons preached both morning and afternoon, over and above the morning and evening service. But do we keep the rest of the sabbath day holy? Is there no needless visiting upon it? No trifling ? no impertinence of conversation? Do neither you yourself do any unnecessary work upon it, nor suffer others, over whom you have any power, to break the laws of God and man herein ? If you do, even in this, you have nothing whereof to boast. But herein also you are guilty before God.
5. But if we have the form of godliness on one day in a week, is there not on other days what is quite contrary thereto? Are not the best of our conversing hours spent in foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient ? Nay, perhaps, in wanton talking too; such as modest cars could not bear ? Are there not many among us found to eat and drink with the drunken? And if so, what marvel is it that our profaneness should also go up into the heavens, and our oaths and curses into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth ?
6. And even as to the hours assigned for study, are they generally spent to any better purpose ? Not if they are employed in reading (as is too common) plays, novels, or idle tales, which naturally tend to increase our inbred corruption, and heat the furnace of our unholy desires, seven times hotter than it was before ! How little preferable is the laborious idleness of those who spend day after day in gaming or diversions, vilely casting away that time, the value of which they cannot know, till they are passed through it into eternity!
7. Know ye not then so much as this, you that are called moral men, that all idleness is immorality ? That there is no grosser dishonesty than sloth ? That every voluntary blockhead is a knave? He defrauds his benefactors, his parents, and the world; and robs both God and his own soul. Yet how many of these are among us! How many lazy drones, as if only, Fruges consumere nati! “Born to eat up the produce of the soil.” How many whose ignorance is not owing to incapacity, but to mere laziness! How few, (let it not seem immodest that even such a one as I should touch on that tender point,) of the vast number who have it in their power, are truly learned men ! Not to speak of the other eastern tongues, who is there that can be said to understand Hebrew? Might I not say, or even Greek ? A little of Homer, or Xenophon, we may still remember ; but how few can readily read or understand so much as a page of Clemens Alexandrinus, Chrysostom, or Ephrem Syrus? And as to philosophy, not to mention
mathematics, or the abstruser branches of it,) how few do we find who have laid the foundation, who are masters even of logic? who thoroughly understand so much as the rules of syllogizing ? the very doctrine of the moods and figures ? Oh what is so scarce as learning, save religion ?
8. And indeed learning will be seldom found without religion; for temporal views, as experience shows, will very rarely suffice, to carry one through the labour required to be a thorough scholar. Can it then be dissembled, that there is too often a defect in those to whom the care of youth is entrusted ? Is that solemn direction sufficiently considered: (Statut. p. 7:) " Let the tutor diligently instruct those scholars committed to his care in strict morality, and especially in the first principles of religion, and in the articles of doctrine ?”
And do they to whom this important charge is given, labour diligently to lay this good foundation ? To fix true principles of religion in the minds of the youth entrusted with them, by their lectures ? To recommend the practice thereof by the powerful and pleasing influence of their example? To enforce this by frequent private advice, earnestly and strongly inculcated ? To observe the progress, and carefully inquire into the behaviour of every one of them? In a word, to watch over their souls, as they that must give account?
9. Suffer me, since I have begun to speak upon this head, to go a little farther. Is there sufficient care taken that they should know and keep the statutes which we are all engaged to observe ? How then is it that they are so notoriously broken every day? To instance only in a few :
It is appointed, as to divine offices and preaching, “ That all shall publicly attend graduates and scholars shall attend punctually, and continue till all be finished, with due reverence from the beginning to the end," p. 181.
It is appointed, " That scholars of every rank shall abstain from all kinds of play where money is contended for; such as cards, dice, and bowls; nor shall they be present at public games of this nature," p. 157.
It is appointed, “That all (the sons of noblemen excepted) shall accustom themselves to black or dark coloured clothing; and that they shall keep at the utmost distance from pomp and extravagance," p. 157.
It is appointed, " That scholars of every rank shall abstain from ale houses, inns, taverns, and from every place within the city where wine, or any other kind of liquor, is ordinarily sold," p. 164.
10. It will be objected, perhaps, " That these are but little things.” Nay, but perjury is not a little thing: nor, consequently, the wilful breach of any rule, which we have solemnly sworn to observe. Surely those who speak thus have forgotten those words: “Thou shalt pledge thy faith to observe all the statutes of this university. So help thee God, and the holy inspired gospels of Christ !" p. 229.
11. But is this oath sufficiently considered by those who take it? Or any of those prescribed by public authority ? Is not this solemn act of religion, the calling God to record on our souls, commonly treated as a slight thing? In particular by those who swear by the living God, “That neither entreaties nor reward; neither hatred nor friendship; neither hope nor fear, induce them to give a testimony to any unworthy person ?" p. 88. And by those who swear, “ I know this person to Vol. II.
be meet and fit in morals and knowledge for that high degree to which he is presented ?" p. 114.
12. Yet one thing more. We have all testified before God, “That all and every, the articles of our church, as also the book of common prayer, and the ordaining of bishops, priests, and deacons, are agreeable to the word of God.” And in so doing we have likewise testified, “ That both the first and the second book of homilies, doth contain godly and wholesome doctrine.” But upon what evidence have many of us declared this? Have we not affirmed the thing we know not ? If so, however true they may happen to be, we are found false witnesses before God. Have the greater part of us ever used any means to know whether these things are so or not? Have we ever, for one hour, seriously considered the articles to which we have subscribed ? If not, how shamefully do we elude the design of the very compilers, who compiled them,“ to remove difference of opinion, and to establish unanimity in the true religion?"
13. Have we half of us read over the book of common prayer, and of ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons ? If not, what is it we have so solemnly confirmed ! In plain terms, we cannot tell. And as to the two books of homilies, it is well if a tenth part of those who have subscribed to them, I will not say, had considered them before they did this, but if they have even read them over to this day! Alas, my brethren! how shall we reconcile these things even to common honesty, to plain heathen morality? So far are those who do them, nay, and perhaps defend them too, from having even the form of Christian godliness!
14. But waiving all these things, where is the power ? Who are the living witnesses of this? Who among us, (let God witness with our hearts) experimentally knows the force of inward holiness! Who feels in himself
the workings of the Spirit of Christ, drawing up his mind to high and heavenly things ? Who can witness,—"The thoughts of my heart God hath cleansed by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit ?" Who knoweth that "peace of God which passeth all understanding ?" Who is he that “rejoiceth with joy unspeakable and full of glory? Whose "affections are set on things above, not on things of the earth ?" Whose "life is hid with Christ in God ?” Who can say, “I am crucified with Christ : yet I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me? In whose heart is the “ love of God shed abroad, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him ?"
15. Is not almost the very notion of this religion lost? Is there not a gross overflowing ignorance of it? Nay, is it not utterly despised ? Is . it not wholly set at nought, and trodden under foot ? Were any one to witness these things before God, would he not be accounted a mad man, an enthusiast ? Am not I unto you a barbarian, who speak thus? My brethren, my heart bleeds for you. Oh that you would at length take knowledge, and understand that these are the words of truth and soberness ! Oh that you knew, at least in this your day, the things that make for your peace!
16. I have been a messenger of heavy tidings this day. But the love of Christ constraineth me; and to me it was the less grievous, because for you it was safe. I desire not to accuse the children of my people. Therefore, neither do I speak thus in the ears of them that sit on the
wall: but to you I endeavour to speak the truth in love, as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ. And I can now you
to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”
17. May the God of all grace, who is long suffering, of tender mercy, and repenteth him of the evil, fix these things in your hearts, and water the seed he hath sown with the dew of heaven! May he correct whatsoever he seeth amiss in us ! may he supply whatsoever is wanting ! may he perfect that which is according to his will; and so establish, strengthen, and settle us, that this place may again be a faithful city to her Lord, yea, the praise of the whole earth!
Sermon CXXXII. - On Mourning for the Dead.
Preached at Epworth, January 11, 1726, at the funeral of John Griffith ; a hopeful
“ Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me," 2 Sam. xii, 23.
The resolution of a wise and good man, just recovering the use of his reason and virtue, after the bitterness of soul he had tasted, from the hourly expectation of the death of a beloved son, is comprised in these few, but strong words. He had fasted and wept, and lay all night upon the earth, and refused not only comfort, but even needful sustenance, whilst the child was still alive, in hopes that God would be gracious, as well in that, as in other instances, and reverse the just sentence he had pronounced: when it was put in execution in the death of the child, he arose, and changed his apparel, having first paid his devotions to his Great Master, acknowledging, no doubt, the mildness of his severity, and owning with gratitude and humility, the obligation laid upon him, in that he was not consumed, as well as chastened, by his heavy hand; he then came into his house, and behaved with his usual composure and cheerfulness. The reason of this strange alteration in his proceedings, as it appeared to those who were ignorant of the principles upon which he acted, he here explains, with great brevity, but in the most beautiful language, strength of thought, and energy of expression: “Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again ? I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me.
To what end (saith the resigned mourner) should I fast now the child is dead? Why should I add grief to grief; which, being a volunteer, increases the affliction I already sustain ? Would it not be equally useless to him and me? Have my tears or complaints the power to refix his soul in her decayed and forsaken mansion ? Or, indeed, would he wish to change, though the power were in his hands, the happy regions of which he is now possessed, for this land of care, pain, and misery? Oh vain thought! Never can he, never will he, return to me: be it my comfort, my constant comfort, when my sorrows bear hard upon me, that I shall shortly, very shortly go to him! that I shall soon awake from this tedious dream of life, which will soon be at an end; and then shall I gaze upon him : then shall I behold him again, and behold him with that perfect love, that sincere and elevated affection, to which even the heart of a parent is here a stranger ! When the Lord God shall wipe away all tears from my eyes; and the least part of my happiness shall be, that the sorrow of absence shall flee away!
The unprofitable and bad consequences, the sinful nature, of profuse sorrowing for the dead, are easily deduced from the former part of this reflection : in the latter, we have the strongest motives to enforce our striving against it;-a remedy exactly suited to the disease ;—a consideration, which, duly applied, will not fail, either to prevent this sorrow, or rescue us from this real misfortune.
Grief, in general, is the parent of so much evil, and the occasion of so little good to mankind, that it may be justly wondered how it found a place in our nature. It was, indeed, of man's own, not of God's, creation : who may permit, but never was the author of evil. The same hour gave birth to grief and sin, as the same moment will deliver us from both. For neither did exist before human nature was corrupted, nor will it continue when that is restored to its ancient perfection.
Indeed in this present state of things, that wise Being who knows well how to extract good out of evil, has shown us one way of making this universal frailty highly conducive both to our virtue and happiness. Even grief, if it lead us to repentance, and proceed from a serious sense of our faults, is not to be repented of, since those who thus sow in tears shall
reap in joy. If we confine it to this particular occasion, it does not impair, but greatly assist, our imperfect reason: pain, either of body or mind, acting quicker than reflection, and fixing more deeply in the memory any circumstance it attends.
From the very nature of grief, which is an uneasiness in the mind on the apprehension of some present evil, it appears, that its arising in us, on any other occasion than that of sin, is entirely owing to our want of judgment. Are any of those accidents, in the language of men termed misfortunes, such as reproach, poverty, loss of life, or even of friends, real evils ? So far from it, that if we dare believe our Creator, they are often positive blessings. They all work together for our good. And our Lord accordingly commands us, even when the severest loss, that of our reputation, befalls us, if it is in a good cause, as it must be our own fault if it be not, to " rejoice, and be exceeding glad.”
But what fully proves the utter absurdity of almost all our grief, except that for our own failings, is, that the occasion of it is always past before it begins. To recall what has already been is utterly impossible, and beyond the reach of Omnipotence itself. Let those who are fond of misery, if any such there be, indulge their minds in this fruitless inquietude. They who desire happiness will have a care how they cherish such a passion, as is neither desirable in itself, nor serves to any good purpose, present or future.
If any species of this unprofitable passion be more particularly useless than the rest, it is that which we feel when we sorrow for the dead. We destroy the health of our body, and impair the strength of our minds, and take no price for those invaluable blessings: we give up our present, without any prospect of future, advantage; without any probability of either recalling them hither or profiting them where they are.