Leonard Withington.

Cobwebs swept away, or some popular deceptions exposed : a sermon delivered on Fast Day, April 6, 1837, at the First Church in Newbury online

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonCobwebs swept away, or some popular deceptions exposed : a sermon delivered on Fast Day, April 6, 1837, at the First Church in Newbury → online text (page 1 of 3)
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APRIL 6th, 1837



Pastor of said Church. "7 /





John vii. 12.


On this day set apart by the civil authorities, for the confes-
sion of our sins and the worship of God, I have always deem-
ed it lawful to depart a little from the usual style of preaching
on the Sabbath. The day is not sacred by divine authority,
and the time is not holy, at least in the usual sense of that
woi'd. And though a preacher of the gospel should never for-
get that you are immortal beings, yet this day seems to invite
us sometimes to discourse on what mure immediately touches
upon your secular interests.

We come this day into the house of God to confess our sins.
But that is our professed object on the Sabbath. In what
then do the services of this day differ from the common wor-
ship of the sacred day ? In this, I apprehend, chiefly, that to-
day we come to confess our sins as a people ; to review our
conduct as citizens ; to deplore our manifold deficiencies and
transgressions, as a part of the body politic ; and to beseech
God to give us pardon and salvation as a nation.

A charge is brought in our text against our Saviour, of a
crime of which he was most innocent. He is said to deceive the
people. His object in coming into the world was to open the
eyes of the blind ; to unstop the deaf ears, and to teach those
to know the truth, who had never known it before. But the
purest merit cannot escape the tongue of slander. The spotless
Jesus himself was charged with a very high crime. JVay; hut
h» deceiveth the people. It is obvious that this charge never
would have been brought against him, had it not been an

odious one. Such is the general sentiment of mankind. All
love the deceiver w^hile his art is in progress and they are un-
der the delusion ; but all hate him when his artifices are de-
tected. No one now approves of Absalom ; Every one hon-
ors David.

As we have reason to think that the people are still deceiv-
able and there are some willing to deceive them ; let me call
your attention to this subject. An enlightened people should
be above the arts of low impostors.

There is great guilt undoubtedly, in deceiving the people.
It shows a selfish disposition which is willing to purchase its
own happiness at the expense of the public welfare. But it is
not so generally understood that there is some guilt in being

In the first place — When a people are deceived there is
generally a criminal inattention to truth previously existiag
amongst them. They have not fortified their minds by set-
tled principles and have lost sight of the fact, that virtue itself
is founded on knowledge. We ought not to live at random ;
we have no right to commit our happiness to chance. We
should survey the ground over which we are to pass, and im-
plore of God the light we need to direct our steps. It is
always expected of a pilot that he should know how to dis-
tinguish the channel from the quicksands, and every man's
enlightened conscience is his pilot in life. We cannot do
our duty without some knowledge of the will of God ; and we
cannot secure our own happiness without some attention to
the foundation on which it is built. In the first transgression
of our primitive parents in Eden, the tempter addressed their
ignorance ; but it was ignorance on a subject on which they
ought to have been well informed. He told them that they
should not surely die ; but God had before said that the fruit,
if eaten, would be fatal. They disbelieved his word and lost
their innocence.

Thus we see it is a fault to be deceived on any subject, in
which we have the means of knowledge, and ignorance is

History presents us with a long catalogue of evil men and
impostors who have played with ihe credulity of man-
kind. We have only to read its pages to learn the lesson.
Our own experience too, if we have lived long, must have
taught us a similar truth. In the communications of time, we
hear the voice of God ; and it is criminal as well as foolish,
not to be profited by it.

But secondly — These prevailing deceptions are addressed to
some strong passion or propensity in the human heart and pre-
vail over the faith of men, through the strength of their de-
sires. If the heart were calm and pure, it would not be so
often deceived. The deceiver grafts his plans on some cor-
rupt part of our nature ; and addresses himself to a propensi-
ty, which he knows to be wrong. The poison is within us ;
and his propositions only draw it out into a visible activity.
Great delusions almost always have their foundation in some
.strong passion. The mind was like the waters behind a dike
already leaning in a dangerous direction, and only waiting
for the removal of the obstacle to break away. Thus men are
entraped in plans of speculation, because they love money too
well. Thus whole nations become superstitious, because they
have no filial love to God. Some are buried in ignorance
because they love vice ; and as Caesar said— who had made
many experiments in deluding mankind, — ' men gladly believe
what they ardently wish.' Our hearts often make us relish
the corrupt principle; and then the principle acts in turn still
more deeply to corrupt our hearts.

But let us once more particularly survey some of the pre-
vailing deceptions which have misled the world, and we shall
find the foregoing remarks amply illustrated.

We may divide the deceptions of mankind into four classes.

1. Political deceptioii.8, proceeding from stud
addressed fo ambifiofii.

l©¥e ©fnaosieye

III. Medical deceptions, addressed to those
unhappy persons, who, departing from tem-
perance, have lost their health, and strongly
desire its return.

And IV, and la§tly. Moral and religious de-
ceptions, addressed to dark minds ivhich arc
credulous ^when tliey ought to have faith.

Let us attend to each in their order.

First — Political deceptions, proceeding from and address-
ed to ambition.

The world is full of mountebanks and deceivers in politics :
and it has ever been so since men have been so foolish and
ignorant as to svvallovi^ the bait. The people do not always
know, who are their best friends. They love those best, who
flatter them most 5 and they often hate and withdraw their
confidence from the man who tells them the plain truth.
They are sometimes led away by their passions as by a tor-
rent ; and the most wretched impostor, who steps in at the
critical moment and chimes with their passions, is honored as
a hero, and almost worshipped as a God. History is full of
mournful examples of this mortifying truth. To see it illus-
trated, we need not look beyond the Bible. Where was there
ever a better leader than Moses .'' He was chosen of God
himself. He was very reluctant to take the office upon
him. He prayed to be excused. And Moses said unto
God, who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh and that
I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt ? And
again he cries out, — O my Lord, I am not eloquent^ neith-
er heretofore nor since thou hast sjjoken to thy servant: hut I am
slow of speech and of a slow tongue. Much rather would he
have continued to feed the flocks of Jethro his father in law,
in the wilderness, than to appear in the court of the king of
Egypt. Yet this Moses, thus qualified by God, thus chosea
by infinite wisdom. Vvlthoui ambition, and the meekest man
on the face of the earth, v/as rejected by the people — while he
was yet in the mount conversing with God and receiving the
law for them ; the people gathered themselves together- unt&

Aaron; and said unto him, up, make us gods, which shall go be-
fore us ; for as for this JVloses, the man ivhich brought us up out
of the land of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him; And
some time after, when Korah and Dathan and Abiram rose
up, — and told him that he took too much upon himself — they led
away a vast multitude ; they made the people believe a most
incredible lie ; and the delusion lasted until God interposed
and the earth opened her jaws to swallow them up. Tfcey
made the people believe that the meekest man on the earth was
taking too much on himself Where was there ever a better
ruler than David, the man after Gods own heart ? He had de-
livered his country in his youth and protected it in his age;
and whenever he had fallen into sin, he had followed those
sins with the deepest repentance. It was he that made the
noble resolution, — "I will walk in mine house with a perfect
'heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes. I hate

* the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave to me."
Yet this best of magistrates ; this warrior as well as saint, lost
the hearts of his fickle people. His son stepped in and rob-
bed him of his kingdom by flattering the populace. " And Ab-

* salom rose up early and stood beside the way in the gate ; and
'it was so that when any man that had a controversy came to
'the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him and
' said, of what city art thoii ? And he said thy servant is of one
' of the tribes of Israel. And Absalom said unto him, See thy
' matters are good and right ; but there is no man deputed of
*■ the king to hear thee. And Absalom said moreover — O that
' I were made Judge in the land that every man that hath any
' suit or cause might come to me, and I would do him justice ;
" and when any man came he put forth his hand and kissed
' him ;" and thus by a few vain promises and some disgusting
arts of popularity he stole the hearts of all Israel from the
most accomplished of kings. His empty promises were of
Hiore avail than all the benefits they had experienced fromthe
long tried skill and integrity of David. We read in the lan-
guage of prophecy, of a vile person who obtained the kingdom
by flattery ; (Dan. xi. 21.) of all mankind, being so degrad-


ed as to worship the beast ; that is, a vile superstitious power
which though having a form that is human, has yet a charac.
ter that is brutal j and profane history gives the same degrad-
ing picture. An accomplished Cicero is banished by a vile
Clodius J Brutus is expelled from his country and a Mark
Antony reigns. Men in political life are rewarded for their vices
and punished for their virtues ; and what with the compound
wickedness between a cunning, artful impostor and a blind
and deceived people, all parties suffer; and sometimes the
public business is neglected and the nation undone.

If we ask liow it is that people with their eyes open can be
so deceived ; we shall find that it is owing, in the first place,
to their ignorance. They do not inform themselves on these
important subjects ; secondly, it is owing to party spirit and its
blinding power over the human mind. Some men believe any
thing in favor of a party, and they can believe nothing against
it. And what people call informing themselves, is often only
plunging the mind into deeper darkness. They read their
own party pamphlets and newspapers, where lie after lie is
heaped up by infamous, designing men, only to deceive them
more ; so that their investigation leads them into error ; and
they search to be more deceived. But what bhnds people moet
is interest. A man embarks his interest with a party ; he re-
ceives or expects an office ; he follows his leaders as some false
disciples followed Christ, for the loaves and fishes ; and then
farewell to truth ; farewell to impartiality and candor. He has
sold himself to do evil ; and you must expect him to return to
righteousness no more. He is willing to be deceived on the
one side by those above him, because it brings him gain ; and
he is expected to deceive those below him because it strengtk-
ens the party ; and thus the delusion is complete. The poor
people suffer because some of the strongest passions, avarice
and ambition, are playing their games over their heads.

If you ask by what arts these delusions are produced and
proloaged — we answer ; by several ; though all of them are
s-o gross that it is astonishing that people do not discover the
cheat. One is by boasting, of which Absalom gives you an


example — "O that I were made Judge in the land, that every
man with a suit might come to me; and I would do him jus-
tice." Observe how frequently this great I returns. "I, I
am the hero ; I know more and can do more than every body
else." That selfish pronoun 'I' marks the selfish passion
which prompts the boasting hero to speak of himself. We
read in the Acts of the Apostles, of a famous impostor, who
not only deceived but bewitched the people, that is, carried
their delusions to absolute infatuation ; and they were so
senseless as to say, — This man is the great power of God,
And how did he accomplish this work f Why, as all deceivers
have done, by giving out that he himself tvas some great one.
That is, he was a mighty boaster ; he praised himself at a great
rate; and the wise people took it all for gospel. "To him
' they all gave heed from the least to the greatest saying, This
*^man is the great power of God. And to him they had re-
' gard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with
' his soceries." Thus people are deceived by self-praisers and
boasters. If you wish to gain the favor of God, you must
have a humble heart ; but if you wish to rise in this world,
sound a trumpet to your own fame ; and the louder the better.
But secondly. Another art is by flattering the people. This
has been practised from time immemorial. The way to seal up
a man's eye close as midnight, is to flatter him on his weak
side ; and as lord Chesterfield says — a great master of this
art— 'flattery is pleasant just in proportion as it is false. For
when a man tells you you have some known quality too ob-
vious to be disputed; — he only gives you your due; he pays
a deht rather than a compliment. But if he comes and gener-
ously ascribes to you some perfection to which you have not
the least pretension ; why then it is a delicious gift ; and you
seem to have the excellence without the trouble of acquiring
it. Thus to flatter well, you must tell a coward that he is a
brave man ; to a griping hunks, that never opens his purse but
for an oppressive bargain, you must ascribe generosity ; you
mast praise Nero for his kindness and humanity ; and Judas
for his fidelity to his master. If you had seen Ahab, just after


he had robbed Naboth of his vineyard ; you must have told
him what a just prince he vi^as ; how careful ; how tender of
the lives and property of his subjects ! You must applaud De-
mas for his victory over the world ; and Annanias and Sapphi-
ra for their sincerity and truth.* This is the way to please
individuals ; and it is exactly so with the people. Men do
not lose their relish for flattery by being embodied in society.
They love to be praised ; and they love to have their weak
spots covered over. Now this makes it hard to be sincere,
and yet gain the favor of mankind. The very truths which
they most want, they are most unwilling to hear.

This leads me to the last art of deceiving the people which
I shall mention ; and which appears to me to be very preva-
lent at the present time : — I mean a kind of creeping wisdom,
by which a man says nothing or nothing to the purpose ; a
cautious policy, that dwells in ambiguities and never com-
mits itself. I have noticed this in all politicians from the vil-
lage leader up to the chief of the nation. The world is divid-
ed into parties ; not only great but subordinate factions ; and
a man who is determined to have an office must steer through
them all. He must say nothing to cross any man's path or
wound any man's feelings ; hence he becomes excessively
cautious. He weighs every word ; he thinks before he speaks,
which is wise ; and ofien speaks nothing to the purpose j
which is not wisdom but policy.

* Some of my people have objected to these examples as too gross. But they
overrate the self-knowledge of great men when their decernraeut is bKnded by
self-love. As Pope says —

Write what I will and paint it e'er so strong,
Some rising genius sins up to my song.

Did not Mrs. Behn call the Dutchess of Portsmouth a pattern of chastity ?
Did not Lucan, the poet, laud Nero to the skies ? Has not Dryden generously
lavished every virtue on Charles 11 ? And to come nearer home — Has not a
great statesman recently talked of the well spent life of his predecessor, whom
all his political antagonists believe to have broken every command in the deca-
logue ? I recollect seeing in some English dedication, from an author to his
patron, this modest remark — " Sir," said he, " what your own powerful mind
cannot teaoh you, not all the united wisdom of the rest of the Universe can
suggest" ! ! Compared with this, how tame arc my examples.


You may hear such a man talk an hour and not even guess
what he means. He never expresses any opinion ; and never
commits himself to any cause, which may rob him of a vote.
Now this is destructive of all openness and magnanimity.
It makes a man an artificial being. Some have more of this
and some less. But it destroys freedom of mind, and such a
man seldom serves the people. He that labors to please every
body, will never satisfy his conscience and will certainly dis-
please his God.

The blame in this cascj as in many others, must undoubt-
edly be divided between the people, who demand such a
cource and the individuals, who practise it. If you always
punish a man for being open, sincere, independent, magnani-
mous; of course you will be served by none but the politic
and time-serving. You will condemn the noblest minds to
obscurity ; and this it seems to me is the danger of a republic.
I cannot see, that people grow much wiser after ages of ex-
perience. The same sweet bait is let down to us from above
and swallowed with the same greadiness. We pass through
the samo Tollies to the same sufFeiings. The credulous ear of
popular sentiment is still open to the grossest flattery. The
mouth which speaks in clouds is still supposed to utter ora-
cles of wisdom ; and the man, who gives it out that himself is
some great one, is still the first to bewitch the people.

As a cure, two things are necessary.

First. The diflfusion of knowledge. For knowledge con-
fined to the few, while the mass of the people are left in the
profoundest ignorance, only increases the evil by laying the
public open to the deceptions of enlightened art on defence-
less simplicity. Of all aristocracies that of knowledge is un-
questionably the worst. The Druids of Gaul and the priests
of Egypt were the most irresistible oppressors ever known. A
one-eyed man among the blind is a most hateful king ; and he
can lead them to any precipice and destroy them whenever
he pleases. You should read history whose pages are fiull of
the arts of these detected impostors; and whose most bloody
tragedies are the sufferings which knaves have inflicted on


fools. Revolve the melancholy page— see how the same arts
have been repeated until they ought to be understood. Learn
to distmguish between a friend and a foe ; and have alight in
your own breast, which is bright enough to guide you to hap-
piness and truth. If you have not time and books enough for
an extensive research, read the Bible ; that is sufficient alone ;
It is the best book even for this kind of wisdom. Consider
the contempt you feel for those dupes which have been led
astray by the impositions and gilded lies of past ages ; and
beware lest you become the argument of your own scorn by
treading the same paths to the same destruction.

Learn also the situation of your country; its magnitude,
chmate, productions, prejudices, constitution and laws; its
varied character and complex interests. You are part of a
vast whole ; and it requires no ordinary stretch of mind to
comprehend the great political body of which you are a part.
And however hard it may be to bring all the articles of infor-
mation together by a perfect examination, yet one thing you
pannot but know, that righteousness exalteth a nation ; that
private virtue is the chief source of public happiness; that an
honest man is tlie most worthy of your confidence ; that a
knave in office has only the power of doing greater mischief;
and that " a corrupt ruler is nothing else but a reigning sin."

But secondly — Principle, deep moral principle, is a most ef-
fectual guard. Here religion touches on politics. It is the
great calmer of our passions, and it exterminates or greatly
abates those violent desires to which the arts of the deceiver
are addressed. One of the moral infirmities on which the
political demagogue always plays, is envy ; he excites the
rich against the poor; he charges the man of independence
with pride ; he defeats the best candidate for an office, because
such candidate is open and sincere ; he overthrows an admin-
istration for its worth ; and, through the power of this malig-
nant principle, he can spread the blackest colors over the
whitest innocence that ever charmed the eye of discerning
wisdom. But religion expels envy from the heart ; it encoun-
ters and disayms and quells and subdues this dangerous pas -


sion. It gives a relish for all goodness ; and therefore teach-
es the people to tolerate, in office, political merit. It purges
the eye of the dangerous rheum which compells the sufferer
to see all objects in a tinctured light. It silences the tongue
of slander and defamation ; and creates a public sentiment,
sure to elevate the best men to office and sure to make them
most faithfully supported and obeyed. Thus religion in
political affairs, is hke water around the root of a plant; not
seen ; but the source of vigor and life.

It is a great sin no doubt to be a deceiver ; but the next
stage in guilt is to be deceived ; for to have any corrupt in-
terest which makes us willing to believe a lie, is almost equal
to the depravity that tells it ; indeed the one character stands
very near the other. Both are partakers of the same unfair-
ness of mind. I proceed to

II. CommeFcioil deceptions, addressed to tlie
love of money.

When the Apostle tells us that the love of money is the root
ofallevil, he evidently means that the passion is so strong,
that when it reigns predominant in the mind, there is no sin
which may not be grafted upon it. It is the combustible ma-
terials on which the sparks of external temptation are likely to
fall. And as strong passions are the ground-work of strong de-
lusions ; so we find that many of the bubbles which have
cheated mankind, through a false hope to deep despair, have
been addressed to his avarice or love of money. For this the
youth breaks from his anxious mother's arms, to adventure his
life in foreign climes ; for this the merchant commits his goods
to the winds and the waves ; and the mariner exposes his hfe.
The capitalist wakes over his interest and the speculator pays
it — urged to their toils and hazards by the sacred love of gold.
But it is not of its common operations which I propose to
speak ; though in one sense the whole system of life may be
considered as a splendid delusion. I merely wish to consider
it as facilitating some of the most remarkable deceptions, in
which the cre.duhty of mankind has mounted to its highest


flight. We talk of religious delusions ; they have been many
and are much to be lamented. But who would think that the
cold, calculating passion of avarice would lead men to be en-
thusiasts ? Who would think that the love of money would im-
pell them to embrace impossibilities in their pecuniary creed .^
Who would think that Mammon could inspire his politic wor-
shippers with visionary schemes ? Yet so it is. The whole
history of the world shows it. For many ages in Europe, it
was believed that some people had the secret art of transmut-
ing the baser metals into gold ; the art was called alchemy ;

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonCobwebs swept away, or some popular deceptions exposed : a sermon delivered on Fast Day, April 6, 1837, at the First Church in Newbury → online text (page 1 of 3)