Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

you found yourselves surrounded with the snares of death, when the gates of destruction seemed opening to receive you, and the overflowings of your own ungodliness made you horribly afraid ! Tell what were your feelings, when the bright scene of life opened afresh upon the wondering eye, and all you had suffered and all you had feared seemed vanished like a dream! Tell what were the mutual feelings, when first you revisited your families and friends ! — of the child returning to the fond parent's care, — of the father receiving back from the grave the joy, the solace of his age, — of the husband restored to the wife of his bosom, — of the wife, not yet a widow, again embracing her yet living lord ! Tell what are now your happy feelings of inward peace and satisfaction, sinners rescued from the power of darkness, awakened to repentance, and reconciled to God! Your interesting tale will touch each charitable heart, and be the means of procuring deliverance for many from the like dangers which threatened your bodies and your souls. Let it be the business of your days, so unexpectedly lengthened, first to pay to God the true thanksgiving of a holy life ; next, to acknowledge, for the good of others, the instruments of his mercy. Say, “ These are they who saved our bodies from the power of the grave, and have restored us to thy fold, O Shepherd and Bishop of our souls! What though the dead praise thee not, nor they that go down to the regions of silence ? yet we will bless the Lord from this time forth for evermore !”

SERMON XL.

MATTHEW, xxiv. 12.

Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall

wax cold. *

COMPARING the actual manners of mankind with those magnificent descriptions which occur in every page of prophecy, of the prosperous state of religion, both speculative and practical, under the Christian dispensation, — in those happy times “ when the mountain of the Lord's house should be exalted above all hills, and all nations should flow unto it," “ when the earth should be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea," — when this knowledge should not only be imparted to all nations, but indiscriminately dispensed to all ranks and conditions of men, (for the promise was, that not only on “ the sons and daughters” but on “the servants also and the handmaids” the spirit should be poured forth,) — when the fruit of this knowledge was to be, that “kings should reign for righteousness, and for equity princes should bear rule ;” that government should be administered, not for the purposes of avarice and ambition, but for the advantage of the subject, and the general happiness of mankind, “when the vile person should no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful ;” when the foolish preacher of infidelity (a mean and sordid doctrine, which perplexes the understanding and debases the sentiments of man,) should no longer have the praise of greatness of mind; nor the atheistic churl, who envies the believer his hope full of immortality, be esteemed as a patriot generously struggling for the freedom of mankind enthralled by superstitious fears,

* Preached for the Philanthropic Society, March 25. 1792.

“ when nothing to hurt or destroy should be found in all the holy mountain ;” when all pernicious opinions should be banished from the schools of the learned, and all evil passions weeded out of the hearts of men, - “ when the work of righteousness should be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever,” — comparing the actual manners of mankind, even in those countries where the Christian religion is taught and professed in its greatest purity, with these prophetic descriptions of the state of religion under the Gospel, we may, perhaps, imagine that we see too much reason to conclude, that the liberality of the promise is balked in the poverty of the accomplishment, - that the event of things falsifies the prediction.

Survey the habitable globe, and tell me in what part of Christendom the fruits of Christianity are visibly produced in the lives of the generality of its professors ? in what Christian country is charity the ruling principle with every man in the common intercourse of civil life, insomuch that the arts of circumvention and deceit are never practised by the Christian against his brother, nor the appetites of the individual suffered to break loose against the public weal, or against his neighbour's peace? Where is it that the more atrocious crimes of violence and rapine are unknown? Where is it that religion completely does the office of the law, and the general and habitual dread of future wrath spoils the trade of the executioner? — If that zeal for good works which ought to be universal in Christendom is nowhere to be found in it, it may seem that Christianity, considered as a scheme for the reformation of mankind, has proved abortive. In truth, since the whole object of Revelation is to recover mankind from the habit and dominion of sin, in which the first transgression had involved them, — since this was the common object of the earliest as well as of the latest revelations, since the promulgation of the Gospel is evidently, in the nature of the thing, and by the express declarations of Holy Writ, the last effort to be made for the attainment of that great object, — if that last effort still proves unsuccessful, the conclusion may seem inevitable, that in a contest for the recovery of man from sin and perdition, continued for the space of full seven thousand years, from the hour of the fall to the present day, between the Creator of the world and man's seducer, the advantage still remains (where from the first indeed it hath ever been) on the side of the apostate angel ; a strange phenomenon, it should seem, if Infinite Goodness, Infinite Wisdom, and Omnipotence, have really been engaged on the one side, and nothing better than the weakness and malice of a creature on the other!

But ere we acquiesce in these conclusions, or indulge in the scepticism to which they lead, let us compare the world, as it now is, not with the perfection of the ultimate effect of Christianity as described

by the entranced prophets contemplating the great schemes of Providence in their glorious consummation, but let us compare the world as it now is, with what it was before the appearance of our Saviour. We shall find, if I mistake not, that the effect of Christianity in improving the manners of mankind, though as yet far less than may be ultimately hoped, is already, however, far from inconsiderable. Let us next consider by what means God vouchsafes to carry on this conflict of his mercy with the malice of the Devil. We shall see, that the imperfection of what is yet done so little justifies any sceptical misgivings, that, in the very nature of the business itself, ages are necessary to the completion of it; and that the considerable effect already wrought is an argument of the efficacy of the scheme to the intended purpose, and an earnest of the completion of the work in God's good season. We shall also be enabled to discern what we may ourselves contribute to the furtherance of a work so important even to the present interests of the individual and of society.

Comparing the world as it now is with what it was before the promulgation of the Gospel, we shall find the manners of mankind, in this respect at least, improved, – that they are softened. Our vices are of a more tame and gentle kind than those of the ancient heathen world; they are disarmed of much of their malignity, by the general influence of a spirit of philanthropy, which, if it be not the same thing in principle with Christian charity (and it may, indeed, be different), is certainly nearly allied to it, and makes a considerable part of it in practice. The effect of this philanthropic spirit is, that the vices which are still generally harboured are sins of indulgence and

[blocks in formation]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »