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As it is an indifferent proof of our wisdom, it is still a worse of our affection for the dead. It is the property of envy, not of love, to repine at another's happiness; to weep, because all tears are wiped from their eyes. Shall it disturb us, who call ourselves his friends, that a weary wanderer has, at length, come to his wished for home? Nay, weep we rather for ourselves, who still want that happiness; even to whom that rest appeareth yet in prospect.
Gracious is our God and mercifui, who, knowing what is in man, that passion, when it has conquered reason, always takes the appearance of it, lest we should be misled by this appearance, adds the sanction of his unerring commands, to the natural dictates of our own understanding. The judgment, perhaps, might be so clouded by passion, as to think it reasonable to be profuse in our sorrow at parting from a beloved object; but revelation tells us, that all occurrences of life must be borne with patience and moderation; (otherwise we lay a greater weight on our own souls, than external accidents can do without our concurrence;) with humility,-because from the offended justice of God we might well have expected he would have inflicted much worse ; and with resignation, because we know, whatsoever happens is for our good; and although it were not, we are not able to contend with, and should not therefore provoke, Him that is stronger than we.
Against this fault, which is inconsistent with those virtues, and therefore tacitly forbidden in the precepts that enjoin them, St. Paul warns us in express words : " I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him :
Wherefore comfort one another with these words," 1 Thess. iv, 13, 18. And these, indeed, are the only words which can give lasting comfort to a spirit, whom such an occasion hath wounded. Why should I be so unreasonable, so unkind, as to desire the return of a soul now in happiness to me; to this habitation of sin and misery; since I know that the time will come, yea, is now at hand, when, in spite of the great gulf fixed between us, I shall shake off these chains and go to him?
What he was, I am both unable to paint in suitable colours, and unwilling to attempt it. Although the chief,
Although the chief, at least the most common, argument, for those laboured encomiums on the dead, which for many years have so much prevailed among us, is, that there can be no suspicion of flattery; yet we all know, that the pulpit, on those occasions, has been so frequently prostituted to those servile ends, that it is now no longer capable of serving them. Men take it for granted, that what is there said, are words of course; that the business of the speaker is to describe the beauty, not the likeness, of the picture; and so it be only well drawn, he cares not whom it resembles : in a word, that his business is to show his own wit, not the generosity of his friend, by giving him all the virtues he can think on.
This, indeed, is an end that is visibly served in those ill timed commendations : of what other use they are it is hard to say. It is of no service to the dead to celebrate his actions; since he has the applause of God, and his holy angels, and also that of his own conscience. And it is of very little use to the living; since he who desires a pattern, may
find enough proposed as such in the sacred writings. What, must one be raised from the dead to instruct him, while Moses, the prophets, and the blessed Jesus, are still presented to his view in those everlasting tables ? Certain it is, that he who will not imitate these, would not be converted, though one literally rose from the dead.
Let it suffice to have paid my last duty to him, (whether he is now hovering over these lower regions, or retired already to the mansions of eternal glory,) by saying, in a few plain words, such as were his own, and were always agreeable to him, that he was to his parents an affectionate, dutiful son; to his acquaintance, an ingenuous, cheerful, good natured companion; and to me, a well tried, sincere friend.
At such a loss, if considered without the alleviating circumstances, who can blame him that drops a tear ? The tender meltings of a heart dissolved with fondness, when it reflects on the several agreeable moments which have now taken their flight, never to return, gives an authority to some degree of sorrow. Nor will human frailty permit an ordinary acquaintance to take his last leave of them without it. Who then can conceive, much less describe, the strong emotion, the secret workings of soul, which a parent feels on such an occasion ? None, surely, but those who are parents themselves : unless those few who have experienced the power of friendship; than which human nature, on this side of the grave, knows no closer, no softer, no stronger tie!
At the tearing asunder of these sacred bands, well may we allow, without blame, some parting pangs: but the difficulty is, to put as speedy a period to them, as reason and religion command us. What can give us sufficient ease after that rupture, which has left such an aching void in our breasts? What, indeed, but the reflection already mentioned, which can never be inculcated too often,--that we are hastening to him ourselves; that, pass but a few years, perhaps hours, which will soon be over, and not only this, but all other desires will be satisfied; when we shall exchange the gaudy shadow of pleasure we have enjoyed, for sincere, substantial, untransitory happiness?
With this consideration well imprinted in our minds, it is far better, as Solomon observes, to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting. The one unbraces the soul, disarms our resolution, and lays us open to an attack. The other cautions us to recollect our reason, and stand upon our guard, and infuses that noble steadiness, and seriousness of temper, which it is not in the power of an ordinary stroke to discompose. Such objects naturally induce us to lay it to heart, that the next summons may be our own; and that since death is the end of all men without exception, it is high time for the living to lay it to heart.
If we are, at any time, in danger of being overcome by dwelling too long on the gloomy side of this prospect, to the giving us pain, the making us unfit for the duties and offices of life, impairing our faculties of body or mind, -which proceedings, as has been already shown, are both absurd, unprofitable, and sinful ; let us immediately recur to the bright side, and reflect, with gratitude as well as humility, that our time passeth away like a shadow; and that, when we awake from this momentary dream, we shall then have a clearer view of that latter day, in which our Redeemer shall stand upon the earth: when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall be clothed with
immortality; and when we shall sing, with the united choirs of men and angels, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy
SERMON CXXXIII.-On Corrupting the Word of God.
Preached about the year, 1728. “We are not as many, who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ,” 2 Cor. ii, 17.
MANY have observed, that nothing conduces more to a preacher's success with those that hear him, than a general good opinion of his sincerity. Nothing gives him a greater force of persuasion than this; nothing creates either a greater attention in the hearers, or a greater disposition to improve. When they really believe that he has no other end in speaking, but what he fairly carries in view, and that he is willing that they should see all the steps he takes for the attainment of that end,-it must give them a strong presumption, both that what he seeks is good, and the method in which he seeks it.
But how to possess them with this belief is the question. How shall we bring them to take notice of our sincerity, if they do not advert to it of themselves? One good way, however common, is, frankly and openly to profess it. There is something in these professions, when they come from the heart, strongly insinuating into the hearts of others. Persons of any generosity that hear them, find themselves almost forced to believe them ; and even those who believe them not, are obliged in prudence, not to let their incredulity appear, since it is a known rule, -the honester any man is, the less apt is he to suspect another. The consequence whereof is plain : whoever, without proof, is suspicious of his neighbour's sincerity, gives a probable proof, that he judges of his heart from the falseness of his own.
Would not any man be tempted to suspect his integrity, who, without proof, suspected the want of it in another, that had fairly and openly professed the principles on which he acted ? Surely none, but such as had corrupted the word of God, or wished that it were corrupted, could lightly suspect either St. Paul of doing it, or any that after him should use his generous declaration : “We are not as many, who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
Not that the apostle any more than his followers in preaching the gospel, desires the people wholly to rely on his words: for afterwards he appeals to his actions to confirm them. And those who in this can imitate him, need not to entreat men to believe their sincerity. If our works bear the stamp of it, as well as our words, both together will speak so loudly and plainly, that every unprejudiced person must understand that we speak in Christ, as in sincerity, and that in so doing we consider we are in the sight of that God, whose commission we bear.
Those whom the apostle accuses of the contrary practice, of corrupting the word of God, seem to have been Jews, who owned Jesus to be the Christ, and his gospel to be divine, yet adulterated it, by
intermingling with it the law of Moses, and their own traditions. And in doing this, their principal view was, to make a gain of Christ; which, consequently, laid them under a necessity of concealing the end they proposed, as well as the means they used in order to obtain it. On the contrary, those who intend the good of mankind, are by no means concerned to hide their intentions. If the benefit we propose in speaking be to ourselves, it is often our interest to keep it private. If the benefit we propose be to others, it is always our interest to make it public; and it is the interest both of ourselves and others, to make public those marks of distinction whence may clearly be known who corrupt the word of God, and who preach it in sincerity.
The first and great mark of one who corrupts the word of God, is, introducing into it human mixtures; either the errors of others, or the fancies of his own brain. To do this, is to corrupt it in the highest degree. To blend with the oracles of God, impure dreams fit only for the mouth of the devil! And yet it has been so frequently done, that scarce ever was any erroneous opinion either invented or received, but scripture was quoted to defend it. And when the imposture was too bare faced, and the texts cited for it appeared too plainly either to make against it, or to be nothing to the purpose; then recourse has usually been had to a second method of corrupting it,-by mixing it with false interpretations. And this is done, sometimes by repeating the words wrong; and sometimes by repeating them right, but putting a wrong sense upon them. One that is either strained and unnatural, or foreign to the writer's intention in the place from whence they are taken. Perhaps contrary either to his intention in that very place, or to what he says in some other part of his writings. And this is easily effected : any passage is easily perverted, by being recited singly, without any of the preceding or following verses. By this means it may often seem to have one sense, when it will be plain, by observing what goes before and what follows after, that it really has the direct contrary. For want of observing which, unwary souls are liable to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, whenever they fall into the hands of those who have enough of wickedness and cunning, thus to adulterate what they preach, and to add now and then a plausible comment, to make it go down the more easily.
A third sort of those who corrupt the word of God, though in a lower degree than either of the former, are those who do so, not by adding to it, but by taking from it: who take either the spirit or substance of it away, while they study to prophesy only smooth things, and therefore palliate or colour what they preach, in order to reconcile it to the taste of the hearers. And that they may do this the better, they commonly let those parts go that will admit of no colouring They wash their hands of those stubborn texts, that will not bend to their purpose, or that too plainly touch upon the reigning vices of the place where they are. These they exchange for those more soft and tractable ones, that are not so apt to give offence. Not one word must be said of the tribulation and anguish denounced against sinners in general ; much less of the unquenchable fire, which, if God be true, awaits several of those particular offences that have fallen within their own notice. These tender parts are not to be touched without danger, by them who study to recommend themselves to men; or if they are,
it must be with the utmost caution, and a nice evasion in reserve. But they may safely thunder against those who are out of their reach, and against those sins which they suppose none that hear them are guilty of. No one takes it to heart, to hear those practices laid open which he is not concerned in himself. But when the stroke comes home, when it reaches his own case, then is he, if not convinced, displeased, or angry, and out of patience.
These are the methods of those corrupters of the word, who act in the sight of men, not of God. He trieth the hearts, and will receive no service in which the lips only are concerned. But their words have no intercourse with their thoughts. Nor is it proper for them that they should. For if their real intention once appeared, it must make itself unsuccessful. They purpose, it is true, to do good by the gospel of Christ, but it is to themselves, not to others. Whereas they that use sincerity in preaching the gospel, in the good of others seek their own. And that they are sincere, and speak as commissioned officers, in the sight of him whose commission they bear, plainly appears from the direct contrariety between their practice, and that of the dissemblers above described.
First : Consider, it is not their own word they preach, but the word of him that sent them. They preach it genuine and unmixed. As they do not only profess, but really believe, that, “ If any man add unto the word of God, he will add unto him all the plagues that are written in it;" they are fearful of doing it in the least instance. You have the gospel from them, if in a less elegant manner, yet fair, and as it is; without any mixture of errors to pollute it, or misinterpretation to perplex it : explained in the most natural, obvious manner, by what precedes and what follows the place in question; and commented upon by the most sure way, the least liable to mistake or corruption, the
producing of those parallel places that express the same thing the more plainly.
In the next place, they are as cautious of taking from, as of adding to, the word they preach. They dare no more, considering in whose sight they stand, say less, than more, than he hath assigned them. They must publish, as proper occasions offer, all that is contained in the oracles of God; whether smooth or otherwise, it matters nothing, since it is unquestionably true, and useful too : “For all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God; and is profitable either for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness." Either to teach us what we are to believe or practise, or, for conviction of error, reformation of vice. They know that there is nothing superfluous in it, relating either to faith or practice; and therefore they preach all parts of it, though those more particularly, which are more immediately wanted where they are. They are far from abstaining from speaking against any vice, because it is fashionable, and in repute in the place providence has allotted them ; but for that very reason they are more zealous in testifying against it. They are so far from abstaining from speaking for any virtue because it is unfashionable and in disrepute where they are placed, that they therefore the more vigorously recommend it.
Lastly, they who speak in sincerity, and as in the sight of him who deputes them, show that they do so, by the manner in which they speak. They speak with plainness and holdness, and are not concerned to pal