Thomas Secker.

Works (Volume 1) online

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryThomas SeckerWorks (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

f el is the Savour of Life or of Death d , to all
that hear it. Thofe, who are careful to im-
prove by it, God will blefs with further Im-
provements: thofe, who are not, he will leave in
his juil Judgement to grow worfe and worfe: or,
to fpeak the Language of our Saviour juft after
the Text : Wkofoever hath, to him flail be given :
and ivbofoever hat Jo not, from him flail be taken
even that 'which he feemeth to have.

Being therefore fo deeply concerned in the
Matter, let us all confider, with what Difpofi-
tion of Heart we ought to receive religious

i. And, in the firft Place, that we mould
hearken to it with Attention, is exceedingly
plain : for elfe both fpeaking and hearing are loft
Labour. And yet how many are there, who
vouchfafe not even fo much Regard to the E)oc-
trine of Salvation ? Decency perhaps brings

c Ezek. iii, 19. * 2 Cpr. ii. 16.

VOL. I. S us


us hither : and a Failure of making our Ap-
pearance might he remarked to our Diladvan*
tage : but whether our Minds are abfent, cannot
be fo eaiily obferved : and therefore about that,
we are very indifferent. Or we come of Gourfe;
without reflecting, what End is defigned to be
ferved by it : and, though our Confciences would
not let us flay away, yet we have never bethought
xmrfelves, that being here without any Care to
become the wifer for it, amounts very nearly to
the fame Thing. Moft however have furely fome
general Intention of minding what they are
about : but in fo weak a Degree, that every
Suggeflion of every Kind overpowers it. Some
fet their Hearts on the Affairs, and fome on the
Plsafures of Life fo iritirely, that thefe Objects
croud in at the mcfl improper Times, and drive
out all others. Too many have indulged an
indolent Though tlefsnefs, till applying their
Minds in earneft to any Thing is become ex-
tremely difficult and painful to them. Not a
few are engaged fo deeply in Obfervation of
what they fee at Church, that they have no
Room left for taking Notice of what they hear.
There are Perfons too, who have fo much to
fay one to another, that they lofe, and make
thofc around them lofe, much of what the


Preacher hath to fay to them all. And frequent
mutual Informations, it feems, are of fuch
Importance and Neceffity to be communi-
cated immediately, that even the Duties of
hearkening to God's Word in the Leflbns, and
finging his Praifes in the Pfalms, muft give Way
to them. But indeed the bed difpofed, and mofl
confiderate, are not fo happy always, as to com-
mand their own Thoughts. Our Imaginations,
however carefully checked, are too apt, on every
Occafion, to prefent us with a. Multiplicity of
Fancies and Notions, quite foreign to the Bufi-
nefs we are upon : hut never more fo, than in
the Midft of our religious Exercifes. And when
once our Minds are got loofe ; an Effect, which
the leaft Accident will produce ; then on they
run from one Thing to another, hanging to-
gether by fome Kind of whimfical Connection,
till we are carried we know not whither : and,
if we try to recover ourfelves, are often loft a
fecond Time in the very Endeavour. Some
Degree of this is merely the Weaknefs of our
fallen Condition : and fome have by Nature
more of it than others : for which they have
indeed Caufe to be forry, yet not to think defpond-
inglv of their fpiritual Condition. But frill, too
much of it is commonly our own Fault. We
S 2 have

have taught ourfclves to be fo unfettled as we
are, by indulging a languid Indifference to the
moil intcrelUng of all our Concerns ; and per-
haps too, by delighting in the vain Arnr.fement,
which thefe roving Ideas give us, at the moil
improper Seafons. The Cure of this bad Habit
is very difficult : and therefore our Watchfulncfs
againft its growing upon us ought to be the
greater ; and our Attempts to root it out, more
clofely followed. We muft beg of God Pardon
for our pafl Neglects, and Affiftance for the
Time to come. We muft imprint on our Minds,
beforehand, as deeply as ever we can, the Im-
portance of Inftruction in our Duty : and come
to it with the moil deliberate and firmeft Pur-
pofe of ftrict Attention. We muft call ourfelves
back immediately, when we find we are wan-
dering : and, without ftaying at all to difcover
what it was, that led us off, return without
Delay to the Subject before us. We muft alfo
make it a Rule to recoiled: afterwards . the prin-
cipal Things, that have been faid to us. For
not only this will tie us down to mind diem the
more, when they are fpoken; but minding them
ever fo much juft then, will fingly be of fmall
Benefit : we muft think them over and over at
Home, till we digeft them into lading Nourifh-

ment ;


ment -, and, as the Apoftle directs, give fuch
carneft Heed to the Tubings 'which we fiave heard,
that we may not, at any 'Time, let them jlip c .

2. But hearing God's Word with Attention
will probably do us no Good, unlefs, in the
fecond Place, we hear it alfo without Prejudice
againfl it: for elfe we (hall attend to it, only to
find Fault, invent Objections, and fo lead our-
felves into Error ; which may be worfe than
Ignorance. Now unreasonable Partiality is
Blame-worthy in all Cafes : but extremely fo,
when it operates to the Di (advantage of Religion.
The Doctrines of natural Piety and Morality
are confeffedly of the plaineft and greatefl Ufc to
the prefent Peace and Comfort, as well as the
future Happinefs, of Mankind. And thole
which Revelation hath added, illuftrate, confirm,
and fupply the Defects of the former, in the moft
perfect Degree. Prepoffeflion therefore agoinit
either, is Oppofition to our own chief Good, to
that of the World in general : and every worthy,
every prudent Man, who at all underftands what
Christianity is, cannot but hearken to it with
Delight, and heartily wifh to find it true ; and
when he is convinced it is, defire to have it con-
flantly inculcated on himielf and his Fellow-
Hcb. ii. i.

S 3 creatures,


creatures, throughout the Earth. To vain and
vicious Minds indeed hearing it faithfully
preached muft give Uneafmefs. But flill fuch
Preaching is the moft real, the moft feafonable
and necefTary Kindnefs, that can be done them.
Unwelcome Truths will be never the lefs
Truths, but much the more dreadful, for their
fludying to disbelieve them. And therefore
the wicked, beyond all others, are concerned,
to take Notice of the Threatenings of the
Gofpel, lay hold on its Mercies, and ex-
amine their Lives by its Precepts; whenever
they know, or but fufpecl, they have acled
wrong. Nay, fuppofe they have no Sufpicion
of that Sort, yet unprejudiced Attention to the
Preaching of it can do them no Harm; and may
do them more Good, than they think of. We
require no implicit Submiffion to what we teach.
We warn you againft it. So far as our Doclrine
is difcerned by your Reafon, or felt by your
Gonfciences, to be true j or appears to fland on
the Teflimony of God ; fo far only believe
us. We fpeak as to wife Men : judge ye ivhat w-e
fay f . All that we afk is, judge uprightly.
For Prepoffeffion hurries People to condemn,
what they will not have Patience to underiiandi

* 1 Cor. x. 15.



they imagine Articles of Faith to be unintelli-
gible, and Rules of Life to be unreafonable,
without the leaft Foundation ; and alarm thein-
felvcs and others with Phantoms, the mere
Creatures of their own Fancies.

But though irreligious Prejudices always pre-
vail too much : yet there are Times, when
Fafhion gives a more than ordinary Countenance
to them : when all, that would make a genteel
Figure, mufl throw ailde the antiquated No-
tions of learning their Duty ; and think,
cr ieem to think, ill or meanly of thofe who
are to teach it. Now whether you have Need
to learn any Thing which you did not know, or
be reminded of any Thing which you had forgot-
ten, or be excited to any Thing which you neg-
lecl:, or diiTuaded from any Thing which you
praclife, Imuft leave to your own Confciences.
The Word of God, the Wifdom of all civili-
zed Nations, the Judgement and Experience of
all wife Men declare that every one hath Need
of thefe Things. And as for us, whofe Bufi-
nefs is to teach : paying us too much Regard,
we acknowledge, is a dangerous Temptation to
us ; and may do, and hath done, great Harm
to true Religion, to Virtue, to human Society :
but paying us too little, is full as* likely to do
S 4 Harm.


Harm. And we appeal to yourfelves : which

Extreme are the People of this Land at preient

moil inclined to ? Certainly you ought to have

your Eyes open to our Faults and Imperfections ;

elfe they will increafe : but you ought to confi-

der at the fame Time, how difficult it is for any

Set of Men, and for us in particular, to behave fo

unblarneably, as we mould. And indeed while

we difcharge our Office with any good Degree

of Faithfulnefs, the beneficial Nature of it

fhould methinks intitle us to fome peculiar Share

of the Good-will and Candour of Mankind.

At lead, no one mould, either defignedly or in-

confideratsly, make fuch harm Interpretations

of what we fay or do, as would be univer-

fally thought unjuft, or uncharitable, with

Helped: to any other Men. For fuch Treatment

will not only injure us, but make us in a great

Meafure ufelefs to thofe under our Care: which

is a Matter of public Concern. They, who

are inftrudted or admonimed by -one, of whom

they think amifs, let him lay before them ever

fo important Truths, very feldom take much

Notice of them. Yet this is one Prejudice

again ft which you ought to guard with your beft

Diligence. The Scribes and Pbarijees were both

ill Men, and our Saviour's bittereil Enemies ;



yet lince they fat in Aty/es 1 Seat, were the autho-
rized Inftrutftors of the People, he commanded
'his Difciples to obferiie and do wbatfoever Duties
they bade them g . Afk your own Hearts then,
are you thus dilpofed in Relation to every Truth,
which you hear from us - y of whom, we hope,
you have Caufe to entertain a fomewhat better
Opinion, than of them ?

But they, who have no general Prejudice
againft religious Inflrudtion or the Difpenfers of
it, have notwithftanding too often very blame-
able Antipathies to particular Subjects. Some
are highly pleafed, when we enlarge on Points
of Faith : but hate to hear thofe of Praclice
much enforced. Others are for practical Dif-
courfes only : and forget, that Faith is the
necefTary Foundation of them ; and if it were
not, that God hath the fame Right to our be-
lieving what he teaches, as to our doing what
he requires. Some would have Preaching
confifl wholly of moral DocTirines ; and hold
Piety in Contempt, as an tifelefs enthufiaftical
Thing : though both Reafon and Scripture fay,
it is the jirji and great Commandment^. Others
defpife Morality, as an inferior heathenifh At-
tainment : and think only the fublimer Parts of

* Matth. xxiii. 2, 3. h Matth. xxii. 38.


Religion mould be taugh*: : though the Apoftle
faith exprefsly, I 'will that thou affirm conjlantiy,
that they, 'who have believed in God, be careful to
maintain good Works : theje Things are good and
profitable unto Men '. Many will pay great
Attention to the gracious Promifes of the Gof-
pel : but little or none to its Laws and Threat-
enings. Or, if they are willing we mould
tiwell on fome Precepts, which not they, but
their Neighbours, tranfgrefs ; flill they turn a.
deaf Ear to all that can be faid on others : and
one would except his unjiift Gains, a fecond
his vicious Pleafures, a third his vain Amufe-
ments, a fourth his Ill-humour, a fifth his
caufelefs Separation, from being any proper
Matter of our Animadverfion. In fhort, with
moft Hearers, fome Points are in fuch Favour,
that they can hardly be repeated too often, or
carried too far : and others fo unwelcome, that
the very Mention of them gives Offence. They
have not Patience enough to difcern the true
State of the QuefKon : much lefs to obferve the
Force of the Arguments for it; or confider the
Anfwers to their Objections againft it : but re-
ject immediately with Anger, whatever thwarts
their Inclination, or preconceived Opinion : un-

! Tit. iii. 8.



mindful of the Prophet's Reproof to the Jews
of old : This is a rebellious People, that will not
hear the Law of the Lord: ivhich fay to the Seers,
See not : and to the Prophets, Prophefy not unto us
right Things, fpeak unto us fmooth Things, prophefy
Deceits k . But however apt we are to think
otherwife, both our Bufmefs and our Intereft is,
not to iLut our Eyes againft Infbu<lion, but
make Uie of the Light it offers ; not to fence
ag.iinil Conviction, but lay open our Hearts to
the Impreffion of Truth, be it ever fo painful ;
end receive ivrf'j Meeknefs the ingrafted Word,
^hich is able tofave our Souls '. For thofe Du-
ties, which we the leaft like to hear of, may
be, and often are, the mofl needful to be incul-
cated upon us of all others. Thofe Doctrines,
of \vhich we are the moft firmly perfuaded, may,
for ought we know, unlels we have examined
them '\\ell, be great Mistakes. And even fup-
pollng them true, yet attending only to one
Part of the Truth, may lead us into Error.

3. The third Difpofition, requifite in at-
tending on the Word of God, is Serioufnefs of
Heart. There are many, who have no pofitive
Preiudices, founded on feeming Arguments
againft it, but fo thoughtlefs and giddy, that

x If. xxx. 9, 10. J James i. 21.

$4 S E R M O N XII.
they flight it moil furprifingly. At beii, they
look on what is delivered from hence, as ibme-
thing of Courfe to be faid, and not to be mind-
ed. But in their livelier Moods they can divert
themfelves extremely with the moil folemn Ex-
hortations and their Gaiety is apt to rife the
higher, the more earneftly their Duty is preffed
tipon them. Now undoubtedly the Exertion
of a cheerful Temper, when regulated by good
Senfe and Propriety, is very innocent, as well
as agreeable. But to feek for Matter of Drol-
lery in every Thing j and drefs up Subjects of
the utmoft Importance in ludicrous Difguifes,
to delight ourfelves and others with laughing at
them, is the fillieft Affectation of Wit, and the
moft dangerous Kind of Folly. Remember
then : what your Maker enjoins, what your
eternal Happinefs or Mifery depends on, is
worthy of the moft awful Attention, even of
the moil fprightly Mind : befides that the fame
Levity, which inclines Men to play thus with
religious Truths, ufually difpofes them to treat
the weigh tieft Affairs of common Life with the
fame Sort of fportful Indifcretion, till at Length
the End of that Mirth is Plcavmefs, even in
this World.

* Prov. xiv^ 1 3.



Sometimes indeed Want of ferious Regard to
what we hear, may not feem altogether incxcu-
fable. Subjects of the greateir. Moment may
be handled fo improperly, as to difguft even ths
well-meaning; and pombly raife contemptuous,
inftead of devout Reflections. But as it muft
be a very wrong Heart, that takes Occalion to
be thus moved, where none is given : fo if much
be given, which furcly is not frequently the
Cafe, it cannot be a right Heart, which dwells
on fuch Things only, or chiefly. Coniider :
here you come, in Obedience to the Appoint-
. incut of God, to learn or recoiled: the Doc-
trines and the Precepts, that lead to Salvation.
One or more of them are accordingly laid before
you and recommended to you : but unhappily
with fome Peculiarity, it may be, of Phrafe or
Manner; fome Arguments not of the ftrongeft,
fome Irregularity of Method, or Want of Live-
linefs or Prudence : in fhort, feme Mixture or
other of human Infirmity. Ought thefe Defects,
be they ever fo real, though pofTibly after all
they are but imaginary, to change the impor-
tant Bufmefs you are upon, into an ill-natured
Amufement: and turn you afide, from the Im-
provement of your own Souls, to an idle Criti-
cifm upon another Man's Performance ? Or is it



the Concern of every one of us, to profit by
all we can, fupply what is wanting, add Strength
to what is weak ; and pafs lightly over the
Imperfections of our Inftrudtors, remembering
our own ?

But they, who by no Means hear Sermons
with Contempt, will yet be far from due Seri-
oufnefs, if they hear them only with Cnnolity.
And this it may be feared is a very common
Cafe. We want to have lome fafhionable Con-
troverfy difcufied, fome difficult Paflage of
Scripture explained, fome darling Speculation
enlarged on, fome plaufible Hypothecs propofed :
in a Word fomething told us, that may prove
a plealing Exercife of our Understandings at the
Time, and a Help to Converfation afterwards.
Difcourfes, of which v/e can make this Ufe,
we feldom think of putting to any better : of
fuch as we cannot, we foon grow weary, and
hearken impatiently after other Teachers, having,
as the Apoflle expreffes it, itching Ears n .
Thus v/e pay moil earner! Attention to what we
hear: and receive abfolutely no Good from it.
For filling our Heads, in this Manner, is rather
the Way to corrupt our Hearts, than to amend
them. Learning and Ingenuity are doubtlefs



of great Service in explaining, defending, and
adorning Religion. But flill the Things, which
a ferious Man will chufe to have moil infilled on
in the Pulpit, are thole, which he is moil con-
cerned to praitife, and moil liable to fail in,
the plain common Rules of a Chriilian Life.
There is Nothing new perhaps in fuch Dif-
courfes : Nothing, but what you have often heard
and well remember. But have you minded it
as effectually as you ought ? Searching into
this may poffibly be new enough to you ; how
agreeable, God and yourlelves know beil : but
it is needful, without Queilion. Repeating to you
ever fo often the Precepts, which you are con-
fcious you obferve, will give you Pleafure.
And the more unpleafing the Repetition of the
reil is, the more neceiTary it will be. " This
Kind of Preaching hath no Entertainment in
it." Very true. But is it for Entertainment that
you come to the Houfe of God? Such as do,
mull not take it arnifs to be difappointed ; but
fubmit, inileadof what they wiih, to have what
they want, given them ; the Knowledge of their
Duty, their Sins, their Saviour, their Grounds
of Hope or Fear in Relation to Eternity. At
leafl, whatever they might like for themfdvei,,


288 S E R, M O N XII.

they muft permit others to have the Gofpcl
preached to them .

But fuppofmg you are ever fo defirous to hear
Sermons ever fo proper : on what Account do
you delire it ? Perhaps only to enjoy the Satif-
fadtion, which a well -compofed Difcourfe natu-
rally affords. Your Ear is gratified, your Senti-
ments are enlivened, agreeable Emotions of vari-
ous Kinds are excited. So the Hearer is pleafed,
the Speaker commended, and followed ; but
with no Thought of pracliling one Word he
hath faid. This is the Turn of Mind, fo ad-
mirably defcribed, many Ages ago, by the Pro-
phet EzekieL Son of Man, the Children of
thy People Jlill are talking of tbee p by the Walls
end in the Doors of the Houfes, andfpeak one to
another ', every one to his Brother, faying, Come, I
pray you, and hear what is the Word, that comet h
forth from the Lord. And they come and Jit before
thee as my People ; and they hear thy Words, but
they will not do them : for with their Month
they foew much Love, but their Heart goeth after
' their Covetoufnefs; their worldly Defires of what-
ever Sort. And lo, thou art unto them as a very

Matth. xi. $.

* This it the marginal, and the right Tranfiation.



lovely Song, of one that bath a pleafant Voice, and
can play well on an Inftrument : for they hear .thy
Words j but they do them not^. Religious In-
ftrudion could never be appointed to give fuch
empty, infignificant Delight as this : nor doth
it in the leaft attain its proper End, unlefs it
influences Men to forget the Preacher, and
think of themielves : unlefs it raifes in them,
not a fuperficial Complacency, or an idle Ad-
miration ; but an awful Solicitude about their
eternal Welfare, and that a durable one.

Conftitutional Warmth of Temper is often
blown up into a pious Flame, that goes out
almoft as fuddenly, as it was kindled.. Lively
Affections are experienced ; excellent Defigns
are formed ; every Thing promifes wonderfully
well for a Time ; and then links down into
Nothing. Or, it may be, Men are moved
anew, and refolve anew, at every good Sermon
they hear: but they cool-again long before the
next, and bring no Fruit to Maturity. Now
a Life of religious Feelings and Intentions,
with an irreligious Failure of acting fuitably to

s Ezek. xjodil. 30, 31, 32.

See an excellent Difcourfeof Mufonlus the Phi'ofopher on this
Subjert. A. Gdl. 1. 5. c. i. See alfo Arr. EpiXA. -\. c. 23. And
the Character of Socrafes's Difcourfes give 1 !! by .llc:l:adcs on his
own Experience, flat. Cotrviv. See alfo Seneca, 1'p. 52.

VOL.. I, T them,


them, is not the Life of a ChrifHan, nor will it
ever procure us the Reward of one.

4. There ftill remains then a fourth Requi-r
fite, without which, however attentive, impart
tial, and ferious, we are, we mall fall fhort ;
but towards which all thefe Qualities greatly
contribute: and what that is, the Apoftle
plainly fignifies to us, where he faith, Ihe Word
preached did not profit them, not being mixed with
Faith y in them that heard it r . And the Faith,
that we muft have, to make it profit us, is not
a mere hiftorical Perfualion of the Truth of the
Gofpel, though with this we are to begin -, but
a deep Senfe of our Need of God's Mercy pro-
mifed in it ; a thankful Acceptance of the
Terms, on which that Mercy is offered; an
humble Reliance on a crucified Saviour for Par-
don, Grace and Strength; with a firm Depend-
ance on having thefe Blemngs conveyed to us,
through a right Ufe of the Means, which he
hath ordained for that End ; his Word and
Sacraments, and Prayer. Such Faith indeed mufl
ewe by ff faring at firft, as the Apoftle hath ob?
ferved *. But this is no Objection againft the
Neceffity of exercifing it afterwards, in
to hear as we ought : and exercifing duly
T Heb. iv. 2. !Rf^' * ! 7*



ptefent lower Degree of it, is the only Way
to obtain a higher. Every one therefore, who
defires Benefit from religious Inftruction, muft
attend on it with Humility of Heart, as a fall-
en, {infill, imdeferving Creature ; to whom it
makes known a Method of Recovery, which
of himfelf he could never have found out or
imagined. He mufl receive if, when delivered
conformably to Scripture, not as the Word of
Men, but as it is in Truth, the Word of God r ,
muft labour to ftrengthen his Conviction of thefc
Things* He mufl apply earneftly to Him*
whofe Gift Faith is, for that Faith in his Gof-
pel, 'which worketh by Love u . For when once
we come to love our Maker, our Redeemer, our
Sanctifier, we mall hear the very harder! Parts
of our Duty with willing Minds, and perform
the Whole with a cheerful and perievering
Zeal : till which Time, all remains imperfect
and ineffectual. Every Attainment that conies
fhort of uniform univerfal Obedience, however
fpecious it be, leaves us in Effect very nearly,
if not quite, where we were* St. 'James $
Comparifon is perfectly juft. Be ye Doers of the
Word: and not Hearers only, deceiving your own
f elves. For if any be a Hearer of the Word, and

' i Theff. ii. 13. "Gal. v. 6.

T 2 not


not a Doer > he is lifie unto a Man, beholding his
natural Face in a Glafs. For. he beholdeth himfelf,
andgoeth his Way, and ftraitway forget tetb, what
Manner of Man be was w . Yet this too plainly
appears to be the corrrmon Method. A, great
Part, even, of thofe, who come to hear from a
Principle of Confcience, fuch as it is, mind ex-
ceedingly little at the Time; reflect lei's after-
wards, and continue juft the fame Men they
.were before. They wonder indeed, that their
Neighbours take no more Notice of what is
faid; and can even wreft PafTages in Sermons to
Meanings, which they were never intended to
have, and are fcarce, if at all capable of, in
order to point them again ft the Faults of others ;
while they think not in the leaft of correcting
their own, be they ever fo plainly defcribed :
as if Religi6n were made for every one elfe to
practife, but themfelves. It would really feem

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryThomas SeckerWorks (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 20)