Copyright
Thomas Secker.

Works (Volume 1) online

. (page 18 of 20)
Online LibraryThomas SeckerWorks (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Profanenefs and Profligatenefs muft : which in
all Ages have been too generally practifed, but
in ours are openly defended. Such a Situation
of Things makes it doubly necerTary, that Reli-
gion and Virtue fhould have a full Hearing.
Whoever barely wimes well to civil Society,
cannot fail to be in fome Degree concerned for
their Support. And whoever is in earneft a
Chriftiajr., will think it of the higheil Import-
ance, to the future as well as prefent Happinefs
of Men, that the Arguments for our holy Faith
be propofed to the World in their genuine
Force; the Objections, which maycaufe Unea-*
finefs to good Minds, and furnifh Matter of
Triumph to bad ones, anfwered; and the difin,
genuous Artifices of Unbelievers expofed.

But making known to us vvh:,t we have to
do, to hope and to fear, is only the firft Ad-
vantage of religious Inftrudtion. Though we
every one of us knew it completely already $

yet



SERMON XL 253

yet unlefs we always recollected it too, as often
as there was Need, and were influenced by it,
frequent Admonition would frill continue ex-
tremely ufeful. Very often the moft acknow-
ledged Truths are the leaft regarded. They
arefo familiar to us, that they have no Effect,
but when placing them in a ftronger Light
awakens us into a diftincter Attention to them.
But efpecially what affords us no Pleafure, as
oar Duty too feldom doth, we are very apt to
pafs over as flightly, as poflible. The World
attracts our Eye with a vail Variety of Ob-
jects, infinitely more agreeable : to thefe we
give up our whole Souls, and are totally loft
in vehement Purfuits or vain Amufements.
The ferious Confideration, what we ought to
do in Life ; and what will follow, if we do it
not ; feldom prefents itfelf to us, and is little
encouraged, when it doth. If we think, it is
of other Matters : if we read, it is for other
Purpofes : if we have Friends, they will fcarce
look on it as their Bufmefs to be more con-
cerned for us, than we are for ourfelves : or,
if they were, often they dare not attempt to fet
us right : and too often they, who pafs for
fuch, are mofl artfully induftrious to lead us
wrong. Then, befides the Multitudes- of thbfc

who



254 SERMON XL

who are almoft abfolutely inattentive to their
Duty, how many are there, who impofe on
themfelves with flattering Imaginations, that
they perform it faithfully, when they do not :
blind to Faults and Defects, that every one elfe
difcerns in them : proud of merely feeming, or
merely fuperficial, good Qualities ; and having
the A7k^andShewof//w;2g-, while indeed they
are dead h / Now both the thoughtlefs and the
prefumptuous muft be brought to a right Senfe
of their Condition, or they are ruined for ever :
and what can be fo likely to do this, as the
Voice of public Instruction, crying loudly in
their Ears; calling the former from Follies and
Vanities to the true Bufinefs of Life, and
warning the latter againft fatal Self-deceit ?
Admonitions from this Place confeffedly are
founded on fuch an Authority, as warrants us
in delivering them with a Spirit and Boldnefs,
that Men would not bear in private: and no
Part of our Difcourfes being ever levelled at
any one in particular, we can decently and in-
offenlively reprove, with whatever Freedom is
requifite, the Errors of all in general -, Jhew-
ing the People their T^ranfgrejjiony and the ttoufe
of Jacob their Sins \

h Rev, iii. i, 'If. Iviii. i.

But,



SERMON XL 255

Bat, fuppofing Men both acquainted with
their Duty, and attentive to their Failures ;
they may ftill have great Need of being di-
rected, what Method to take in Order to a
Reformation. Not every one, that deiires to
become good, any more than every one that
defires to become healthy, knows the eafieft and
fafeft and fpeedieit Way to it. Here again
therefore fuch, as have made it their Study,
may do great Service : animating the dejected,
confirming the doubtful, ftrengthening the
weak : informing each, what particular Dangers
are in their Circumftances moll to be feared,
and by what Means to be avoided -, when to
fly from Temptation, when to ftand their
Ground againft it ; how to gain Advantages,
how to retrieve LofTes, how to bear up un-
der tedious and fevere Trials ; and become, at
Length, in all Things, more than Conquerors.
Few, it may be feared, are ferious enough to
think of thefe Helps with the Regard, which
they deferve. But fome, however, God be
thanked, both fee their Ufefulnefs, and have
experienced it. Things of this Nature, indeed,
are often moft effectually taught in private:
but public Inftruftion alfo, from Time to Time,

enters

4



SERMON XL

enters far into the Particulars of them : though
it is, and ought to be, more ufually employed
in furniihing the more general Means and Mo*
lives to Piety and Virtue : oppofing to the
vehement Paffions thatafTault Men, fuch lively
Reprefentations, as every one cannot make to
himfelf, of the Reafonablenefs, the Beauty, the
Excellency, the Rewards of Religion ; the Ab-
furdity, the Deformity, the prefent Mifchiefs,
the future Punifhments of Sin : Stripping each
Vice of its fpecious Difguifes, and refuting its
plaufible Pretences : administering Confolation
under the Difficulties of Duty, and the Af-
flidions cf Life : and placing, in a ftrong Light,-
both the Glories and the Terrors, that are
ready to be revealed k .

Such are the natural Benefits of religious In-
ftrudion : and evidently none can be greater. If
it anfwers its End but imperfectly > and hath
often been abufed to ferve bad Purpofes : every
good Thing in the World is equally liable to
the fame Charge. Againft Abufes, it is per-
haps no where better guarded, than in this Na->
tion : nor hath ever been freer from them> than
at this Time. Imperfections will always t>e

1 i Pet, i. 5.

found



S E & M O N XL 257

found in what Men are to execute : and will
in all Cafes be reprefented by many, as greater
than they are. Particularly in the prefent, fome
will affect to fhew their own Wifdom, in
cenluring what the public Wifdom hath ap-
pointed : fome will revenge themfelves, by
condemning an Inftitution, which mult con-
demn the Notions they advance, and the Lives
they lead : fome will be prejudiced to its Dif-
advantage by perfonal or Party Interefts : and
Others will be provoked, by Diflike of parti*
cular Men, to hate the very Office they fuftain ;
or, by Difapprobation of fome Parts of an
Eftablifhment, to inveigh againft the Whole*
And very commonly they, who afford them-
felves the feweft Opportunities of being ac-
quainted with public Inftruclion, are loudeffc
in their Complaints, of the wrong and wretched
Manner, in which it is given. Now a candid,
or an upright Man, would never think him-
felf at Liberty, either to find Faults without
impartial Examination, or to exaggerate thofc
which he might apprehend he did find. And
a good, or even a prudent Man, far from lay-
ing too great a Strefs on accidental, or fmall,
Defects and Inconveniences, would labour to
conceal, unlefs it were in Order to remedy,
VOL. L R what-



SERMON XL
whatever appeared amifs, in a Thing of fuch
general Ufefulnefs. For, if teaching Truth,
and cautioning againft Error ; if fetting before
Men their Duty, and their Intereftj if di-
recting them how to fucceed in their Views,
and how to efcape Dangers .-, if fupporting them
in a right Courfe of Action, and deterring them
from a wrong one, be of Service in any of our
Concerns ; it muft be of moft Service in the
mofl important one of all, Religion. And
whoever hath Need, either to be taught what
he did not fufficiently know, or to be reminded
of what he did not fufficiently confider j to be
retrained from doing Evil, or excited to do
Good; to be comforted under the Afflictions of
Life, or encouraged againfl the Fears of Death ;
may certainly be the better, if he will, for the
preaching of God's Word. There are few, one
mould imagine, fo perfect, as not to have Room
left for receiving Advantage from it, in fome of
thefe Ways; And whoever conceives he is,
cannot with any Decency tell the World fo ;
which in Effect he doth, by flaying away from
it. At leair, he cannot think the Bulk of Man-
kind hath attained to this Height of Know-
ledge and Goodnefs : and therefore he ought
to .countenance, by his Example, what may

in



SERMON XL 259

in all Likelihood be of the greateft Benefit to
thofe amongft whom he lives ; and, in Propir-
tion as it amends and improves them, will be of
no fmall Benefit to himfelf.

For, that Inftrudbion always hath had, and
will have, a mighty Influence on the Belief and
Practice of Mens Duty, not only the Nature of
the Thing, but the Teftimony of all Hiflory, fa-
cred and profane, {hews. Our firil Parents
were instructed by their Creator. Had they not ;
how quick foever the Improvements of a felf-
taughtPhilofopher may be,when defcribed from
mere Imagination, yet Reafon and Fact make
it highly probable, that even had they continued
innocent, they would have been very ignorant
for a confiderable Time. But the Entrance of
Sin muft enfeeble and darken their Underftand-
ings greatly : and had their Knowledge of what
they were to do, been ever fo clear, yet, what
they were to expect, and on what Terms, when
they had failed of doing it, muft be fo very
obfcure, that it was of the utmoft Importance
for God to interpofe and inform them ; as we
find in Scripture he did by the immediate No-
.tification of a Redeemer. Divine Inftruction
therefore began Religion ; and human hath pre-
ferved it. Hence that honourable. Character,
R Z



260 SERMON XI.

given to Abraham by God himfelf : For I know
him, that he 'will command bis Children, and his
Houfchold after him \ and they foall keep the Way
of the Lord> to do Juftice and Judgement '. This
pious Care, for which he was diftinguifhed,
feems to have been fallingintoDifregard amongft
the other Men of that Age. And the Confe-
quence was, what it always will be. The Sepa-
ration of Inflrudtion from Worfhip feparated
Morals from Piety : and, when this unnatural
Divorce brought them to be confidercd, as inde-
pendent Things, the Obligations to Virtue
were fatally weakened, the Notions of Religion
were greatly corrupted, and, in Proportion as
Ignorance increafed, Wickednefs and Superfti-
tion prevailed.

Still there were, in the Heathen World, Per-
fons very eminent for great and good Qualities.
And as no flated public Inftrudion was efta-
'blilhed among them ra ; they are fometimes pro-
duced, as Arguments againft the Need of it.
'But their Number by no Means appears to have
been confiderable. Lefs had been faid of them,
if the Generality of their Countrymen had been
r like them : and what is faid, is delivered by Au-

1 Gen. xviii. 19. " See Aug. de Civ. Dei, I. 2. c. 4, 6, 7,
16, 22, z6.

thors,



S E R M O N XL 261
thors, chiefly delirous of gaining Honour to
themfelves, by drawing beautiful Pictures of the
Merit of their Heroes. Yet, after all, we find
that Merit, even according to the moft favour-
able Accounts of it, which heighten it far be-
yond Truth", mixed with great Blemifhes. Their
Piety, the firft Article of human Duty, if they
had any, (for feveral of their Syftems of Philo-
fophy were inconliftent with or unfavourable to
it) was grofsly idolatrous : their Love of their
Country was greatly injurious to their Neigh-
bours j efpecially thofe whom they were pleafed
to call Barbarians : moft of them were polluted
with unlawful, fome with unnatural, Lufts :
and none of them ever mewed that Humility of
Heart, and deep Senfe of Imperfection and Sin,
which belongs to the very beft of human Crea-
tures. Still, {hining Accomplifhments they
undoubtedly had : but they had alto generally
private Initructors at leaft, from whofe Leflbns
they might in a good Meafure derive them : or
copied them, though not taught in Form, from
thofe, with whom they converfed. Or fup-
pofing the contrary ; in every Science, in every
common Art, fome few will make a great Pro-
grefs with fmall Advantages for it : but mal!

D See Leland againft Tindal, Introd, p. 46, Sec.

R 3 we



2 62 SERMON XI.
-foe conclude from thence, that any Sort of
Knowledge can become general, without being
generally taught ; and every one do what no
one is exhorted, or affifted, to learn ? Belides,
the original Poverty and Frugality, the acciden-
tal Neceffities and Diftreffes, nay the unac-
countable Famions and Fancies of fome Coun-
tries and Ages, have brought particular Vir-
tues into Practice and. high Repute, and they
have been greatly celebrated for them -, though
deferving of the fevereft penfure for their Faults
in other Refpects. And, bad as we are at pre-
fent ; it would be doing us great Injuftice, to
prefer upon the Whole, perhaps the beft of the
Heathen Times, but certainly the common Run
of them, to ours. The Number is great in it-
felf, though fmall in Comparifcn, of fuch as in-
finitely excel, in Piety, in Benevolence, in Pu-
rity of Heart, the utmcil Perfection, to which
Men, without the Grace of the Gofpel, could
attain. But not to infift on thefe, we are with-
out Queftion in general not only more rational
in our Devotions, but milder in 'our Treatment
of each other, and more regular in our Conduct
of ourfelves. An impartial Reader of the Greek
and Roman Authors, efpecially of fuch as livej
in the Times of which they ipeak, will eafily

"fee



SERMON XI. 263

fee and acknowledge this. But were it other-
wife, their wanting Inflrudrion, and our having
it, cannot poffibly be the Reafon, that we are
inferior to them : but we, without it, fhould
have been flill much worfe; and they, with it,
Aill much better. Indeed, they were fenfible,
whatever we are, how great Need they had of
it : and accordingly the beft of them, fome after
taking long Journeys to inform themfelves,
made it their Bufmefs to teach others, who ap-
plied to them, the wifeft Rules they could, for
the Conduct of Life. But they plainly found,
both their Knowledge fo imperfect, and their
Authority fo infufficient > that they declared, of
their own Accord, what many now fet them-
felves to deny; that Interpolation from above was
requiiite to inform and influence Mankind.

This Advantage the Poflerity of Abraham en-
joycd. And though they did not receive from
ir near the Good they might ; as indeed we
none of us ever do from any Advantage ; yet it
produced, befides the more diftinguifhed Ex-
amples of Piety and Holinefs, mentioned in
Scripture, and doubtlefs many others, n confi-
derable Degree of national Faith in the one true
God, and Obedience to his Laws -, which was
not only a Bleffing to that (ingle Country, but
R 4 (battered



264 SERMON XI.

fcattcred fome Rays of Light through all tho
People, that fat in Darknefs round them, And
no fooner had they learnt from their Captivity,
Jnflicted on them for their Neglect of the divine
Commands, to fet up and carry on a more con-
flant and extenfive Courfe of Inflection, than
they had done before, by reading and interpret-*
Ing the Scriptures every Sabbath J)ay in theSyna^
gogues of every City; than their inveterate, and
till then incurable, Difeafe of Idolatry ceafed
from amongft them almoft intirely ; and they
preferved for many Ages a more uniform Re-
gard to their Duty, than they feenito have had,
ever fmce they were a Nation.

But at Length, even this Method of Inflruc-
tion being corrupted by the eftablimed Dif-
penfers of it, the Light itfelf became Dark-*
nefs*. And then was the proper Seafon for
the great Enlightener of the World to appear :
who detected and condemned the Abufes of
this Inftitution, placed the Conduct of it in
better Hands, and forbad his Followers for
ever that blind Submifiion to the J)offrmes of
Men,' which had in fide the Commandments of God
$f no Effeft* 1 . Nor did he only purify, but
perfect it with ineftimable Additions of new

* Afls X7. 21, P Matth- vi. 23. q Matth. xv. 6, 9.

Knowledge ;



SERMON XI. 265

Knowledge : whence he tells his Apoilles, im~
mediately after the Text: Verily I fey unto you,
that many Prophets and righteous Men have de^
fired to fee thofe Things which ye fee, and have not
feen them -, and to hear thofe Things which ye
hear, and have not heard them. After which,
his concluding Care was to provide, by due
Regulations, for the perpetual Support of this
Ordinance ; and promife the Miniilers of it,
that he would be with them a/way, even unto the
End cf the World r . We are therefore not only
to efteem it, as a prudent and ufeful Thing;
but to reverence it, as the Appointment of our
Lord and Mafter; and attend on it in faithful
Expectation of his Blefling. For under what-
ever Difadvantages of human Weaknefs the
Gofpel is often preached, it is ftill the Power of
God unto Salvation*, to all that hear it, as they
ought. Nor can we hope, that he who rejijleth
the proud, but giveth Grace to the humble ', will
give it thofe, who fet up their own Wifdom
againfl that of Heaven ; which hath exprefsly
ordained Pajiors and Teachers, for the Edifying
of the Body of Chrift \ And fo effectually did
this Method, unafiifled by human Art or

r Matth, xxviii. 20. * Rom, i, 16. James iv. 6.

u Eph. iv. u, jz.

Power,



266 SERMON XL
Power, build up the Church in Spite of all Op-
polition of every Kind j that, in a fmall Com-
pafs of Time, the ChrifHan Faith was difTufed
through the Earth, drove Atheifm, Idolatry and
Vice into Corners, wherever it appeared j and
planted in their Stead, rational Piety, benevolent
Virtue, moral Self-government, founded on the
fure Profpeci of eternal Felicity.

Happy would Mankind have been, had the
Purity and good Influence of this excellent
Doctrine been preferved, by a careful Ufe of
the Means, that recommended it firft. But, by
Degre.es, Preachers handled the Word of God de~
celtfutty w , and Hearers turned away their Ears
from the Truth unto Fables* : Instruction was
partly perverted, partly difufed : Error and Su-^
perftition returned in a new Form, and Igno-^
ranee and Wickednefs again overfpread the
World. Once more, two Centuries ago, the
Refloration of a preaching Miniftry restored
Truth and Freedom amongft us : and keeping
up a due Refpect for it, is our great Security
againft the dreadful Alternative of open Pro-
fanenefs and Profligatenefs, or Popim Darknefs
apd Tyranny : the former of -which Evils, in
all Likelihood, if ever it prevails, will foon

w 2 Cor. iv. 2. * 2 Tim. iv. 4.

make



SERMON XL 267

make Way for the latter. And therefore reli*
gious Inftruction, which guards us at once
againft both, is a moft important public
Good.

Its private Advantage to particular Perfons
feems indeed often to be fmall. Multitudes
there are, as bad, notwithftanding it, as one can
well imagine they would be without it : and
for this Reafon fome deny its Benefit. But
furely it is a ftrange Objection againft the Ufe-
fulnefs of a Medicine, that they who refufe to
take it, or negleft to take it regularly, are never
the better for it. Many defpife and ridicule
this Inftitution ; and yet from Time to Time
gravely complain of the little Good it doth,
whilft they are diligently endeavouring, that it
fhall do ftill lefs. And of the reft of Man-
kind, few attend it fo conftantly as they ought,
and fewer ftill with a due Degree of right Dif-
polition. Yet after all, the Number made truly
and inwardly religious and virtuous by it, is
not contemptible ; thofe that are amended in
Part, or kept back from being mifchievoufly
wicked, are very large : and in how much
worfe a Condition we Should quickly be, were
it laid afide, is abundantly more eaiy to forefee,
than fafe to try. Too much Trial indeed we

4 have



*68 S E R M O N XL

have had already : more than enough to find,
that as the Contempt of God's Word andWor-
fhip increafes, Idlenefs, Debauchery, Diihonefty,
fpread through the Generality of Mankind :
Evils, which one fhould think every one is
greatly, concerned to prevent, but efpecially the
upper Part of the World, both for the Sake
of their Inferiors and their own. How far
the fame bad Consequences have taken Place
amongft themfelves, might perhaps appear dif-
refpedful to fay: but we may furely beg, that
they and all Men would ferioufiy confider, what
one good EfFeft they have ever obferved to fol-
low from difregarding the appointed Exercifes
of Religion : in what better vVay the Time,
allotted for thefe Exercifes, is generally em-
ployed by thofe, who frequent them not ; and
what Harm could poffibly follow, if, from Obe~ .
dience to the Command of God, from a Refpect
to public Authority, from Concern for public
Welfare, from Tendernefs for their own private;
Reputation, and (may we not add?) from Hope
of poffibly receiving fome little Improvement
too, they mould prevail on themfelves to fpend
at Church, every Week, a few of thofe Hours,
which they do not feem, on other Occasions,
to reckon fo very precious. Doing this, and

requiring



SERMON XI.

requiring thofe who depend on you to do it
alfo, you cannot have Occafion to regret very
bitterly: omitting it, whatever you think now,
perhaps you may, certainly you will, repent :
God grant the Time may come, before it is too
late. Let us therefore now make this, amongfl
others, one Trial of our fpiritual State, whether
<we have loved the Habitation of God's Houfe, the
Place where his Honour dwelleth Y : whether we
receive the Word 'with all Readinefs of Mind %
and defer e thejincere Milk of it, as St. Peter ex-
preffes himfelf, that ive may grow thereby*. If
not, let us ftir up ourfelves to the more conftant
and zealous Pra&ice of a Duty, which the
Apoftle to the Hebrews enjoins as an indifpenf-
able one, even in the Midft of fevere Perfecu-
tions : with whofe Words I conclude. Let us
hold f aft the ProfeJ/ion of our Faith without wa-
vering, and provoke one another unto Love and
good Works, not forfaking the ajfembling of our*
felves together, as the Marnier of feme is, but ex-
horting one another : and fo much the more, as yt
Jee the Day approaching b .



y Pf. xxvi. S. 2 AftsKvii. 1 1 . * i Pet. ii. 2.

* Heb. x. 23, 24, 25.



SfilU



! .



[2 7 I ]



S E R M O N XII.



.
LUKE vlii. 18.



Heed therefore how ye bear.



EVERY Advantage, beftowed on us by
Providence, is a Truft, of which we
muft hereafter give Account. The Advantages,
which tend more immediately to our Improve-
ment in Piety and Virtue, are a Trufl of the
moil important Kind : and religious Inflruclion
holds a principal Rank amongft thefe. Its Na-
ture is excellently fitted to do Men Good : the
Grace of God is ever ready to accompany it :
and yet very frequently it fails of its End.
Doubtlefs too often this is our Fault, who are
employed to difpenfe it. We do not preach, we
do not live, as we mould : may God be merci-
ful to us and amend us : for heavy will be our
Condemnation, if we wilfully tranfgrefs, or fu-

pinely



SERMON Xlf.

pinely neglect, either Part of our Duty. Siit
the Word of God; even when delivered by un-
fkilful and wicked Hands, hath Power enough to
produce its Effect, if received as it ought : and
though delivered by the ableft and heft, too com-*
monly, for Want of being fo received, produces
none. Preachers ofRigbteoufnefs, from the Days
of Noah 3 - to this, have found their Warnings in
a great Meafure fruitlefs. Prophets, exprefsly
commiffioned from Heaven, have been rejected
or difregarded by thofe, to whom they were fent.
Nay, the Son of God himfelf, as indeed his
whole Hiftory, but efpecially his Parable in this
Chapter {hews, met with many, in whofe
Hearts his Doctrine either gained no Reception,
or foon withered away, or was choked with
Thorns; for a few, who brought forth good
Fruit, in a greater Degree or a lefs. And if it
was needful for him, who fpake as never Man
dul^t who confirmed his Dilcourfes by Miracles,
and adorned both by a Life of perfect Holinefs,
to bid his Apoflles themfelves take Heed> how
they heard : much more ought his Miniflers
now to give his People the fame Caution, and
they to obferve it. You think, and very truly,
that a great deal is incumbent on us : but do

a 2 Pet. ii. 5. * John vii. 46.

you



SERMON XII. 273

you confider, what is incumbent on yourfelves ?
Our Reafons to defire that our Preaching may
be fuccefsful, are very flrong : but yours are
yet flronger. If we fail of converting you, pro-
vided we endeavour it faithfully, we have deli-
vered our own Souls : but if. you fail of being
converted, you die ir- 7 your Iniquity c . The Gof-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20

Online LibraryThomas SeckerWorks (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 20)