صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
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Reverend Brethren,

** AM very fenfible, that you cannot meet together on this ocIcafion, without making deep reflexions on the lofs, which you have suffered, for the publick good, by the removal of a pastor, whom the experience of so many years hath taught you to esteem and honour fo highly. It is your farther unhappiness, that he is fucceeded by a perfon, very unequal to the care of this confpicuous and important diocefe. But your humanity and your piety will, I doubt not, incline you, both to accept and to affift the endeavours of one, who can affure you, with very great truth, that he is earnestly defirous of being as ufeful to you all, as he can; and seriously concerned for the interefts of religion, and of this church. Would to God there were less need of expreffing a concern for them, than there is at present !

Men have always complained of their own times: and always with too


much reafon. But though it is natural to think those evils the greateft, which we feel ourselves; and therefore mistakes are eafily made, in comparing one age with another: yet in this we cannot be mistaken, that an open and profeffed difregard to religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the diftinguishing character of the prefent age; that this evil is grown to a great height in the metropolis of the nation; is daily fpreading through every part of it; and, bad in itself as any can be, muft of neceffity bring in moft others after it. Indeed it hath already brought in fuch diffoluteness and contempt of principle in the higher part of the world, and such profligate intemperance, and fearlessness of committing crimes, in the lower, as muft, if this torrent of impiety stop not, become abfolutely fatal. And God knows, far from stopping, it receives, through the ill defigns of fome perfons, and the inconfideratenefs of others, a continual increase. Chriftianity is now ridiculed and railed at, with very little referve: and the teachers of it, without any at all. Indeed, with refpect to us, the rule, which most of our adversaries appear to have fet themselves is, to be, at all adventures, as bitter as they can: and they follow it, not only beyond truth, but beyond probability; aflerting the very worst things of us without foundation, and exaggerating every thing without mercy: imputing the faults, and fometimes imaginary faults, of particular perfons to the whole order; and then declaiming against us all promifcuously, with fuch wild vehemence, as, in any cafe but ours, they themselves would think, in the highest degree, unjust and cruel. Or if fometimes a few exceptions are made, they are ufually made only to divide us amongst ourselves: to deceive one part of us, and throw a greater odium upon the other. Still, were these invectives only to affect us perfonally, dear as our reputations are and ought to be to us, the mischief would be fmall, in comparison of what it is, But the confequence hath been, as it naturally muft, that disregard to us hath greatly increased the difregard to public worship and inftruction: that many are grown prejudiced against religion; many more, indiffe rent about it and unacquainted with it. And the emiffaries of the Romish church, taking the members of ours at this unhappy disadvantage, have begun to reap great harvests in the field, which hath thus been prepared for them by the labours of thofe, who would be thought their most irreconcileable enemies.

Yet, however melancholy the view before us appears, we have no reafon to be difcouraged for let us take care of our duty, and God will take care of the event. But we have great reafon to think seriously, what our duty on this occafion is; and ftir up each other to the perfor mance of it: that where-ever the guilt of these things may fall, it may not fall on our heads. For it must needs be, that offences come: but wo to that man, by whom the offence cometh (a). Our grief for the decay of religion might be attended with much comfort in regard to ourselves, could we but truly fay, that no faults or infirmities of ours had ever given advantages against it. But though, God be thanked, we are far from being what our adverfaries would reprefent us; whofe reproaches perhaps were never lefs deferved, than now when they are the most violent: yet, it must be owned, we are not by any means, even the best of us,


(a) Matth. xviii. 7.

what we ought to be. And the prefent ftate of things calls loudly upon us, to correct our mistakes, to fupply our deficiencies, and do all we are able for the honour of God, and the happinefs of mankind,

If we can be unconcerned now, we have neither piety nor common prudence in us. And if we are concerned in earneft, we fhall be very defirous, both to avoid all wrong methods of fhewing it, and to make ule of all right ones.

Complaining of our fuperiors for thofe evils, which perhaps they cannot prevent; or complaining of them with difrefpet, for what we may apprehend they could prevent, would both be undutiful and imprudent conduct: would give our adverfaries joy, and do our caufe harm. Indeed to beg earneftly of God, that he would direct the hearts of thofe, who prefide over the public welfare; and humbly to represent to them, on all fit occafions, the declining ftate of religion, the importance and the means of preferving it; these things are unquestionable duties. But then we must always approve ourselves, at the fame time, confcientiously loyal both in word and deed; reasonable in our expectations; fincerely grateful for the protection, which we are affured of enjoying; and duly fenfible, that every thing of value to us, in this world, depends on the fupport of that government, under which we now live. We cannot be good men, if we are bad fubjects: and we are not wife men, if we permit ourselves to be fufpected of it.

A fecond proper caution is, That to speak unfavourably of liberty, religious or civil, inftead of carefully diftinguishing both from the many abuses of them, which we daily fee; or to encourage any other restraints on either, than public utility makes evidently needful; can only ferve to increase that jealoufy, which being in former ages grounded too well, hath been moft industriously heightened, when there never was fo little pretence of ground for it; that the claims of the clergy are hurtful to the rights of mankind. It concerns us greatly to remove fo dangerous a prejudice againft us as this: not by renouncing thofe powers, which ,the Gospel hath given us; for we are bound to affert them: but by convincing the world, that they are perfectly innocent; and avoiding all appearance of affuming what we have no right to: by fhewing our abhorrence of tyranny, especially over the confciences of men; and fatisfying them fully, if poffible, that we preach not ourselves, but Chrift Jefus, the Lord; and ourselves, their fervants for his fake (b). Then, with refpect to the privileges, that we derive from human authority: as, on the one hand, receding from any of them without caufe is only inviting freth encroachments, and giving needlefs advantages to fuch as will be fure to lofe none: fo, on the other, ftraining them too far is the likelieft way to deftroy them all at once: and both our usefulnefs and our fecurity depend very much, on our appearing plainly to defire nothing inconfif tent with the common good; to have the trueft concern for all reasonable liberty, and to be zealous only against licentioufnefs and confufion.

Thirdly, If we fhould be tempted to oppofe profanenefs, by encou raging the oppofite extreme of fuperftition: this alfo would be unjuftifiable in itself, would have bad effects upon as many as we might mifA 2



(b) 2 Cor. iv. 5,

lead; and give great opportunities to all that should fee them mifled, either of accufing religion, or expofing us, as corrupters of religion. Not that we are to give up inconfiderately, whatever fome perfons are pleased to charge with fuperftition: for there would be no end of conceffions at that rate but only to avoid encouraging any thing, that can be juftly charged with it; and then we fhall ftand upon fure ground. For no thing can be more unjuft, than thofe imputations of it, which our ad. verfaries are so fond of throwing, fome upon Chriftianity itself, others on the doctrine and worship of that church, of which, through God's merciful Providence, we have the happiness to be members.

Another very pernicious error would be, if we fhould think to serve our caufe by intemperate warmth in it. Chriftian zeal indeed is a duty, that never was more needful, and never lefs fhewn. But paffion will do no good. If expressed against those, who are indifferent about religion, it will turn them into enemies: if against the enemies of religion, it will make them yet more vehement enemies. Befides, the extravagant things, that men lay and attempt against us and our profeffion, are not always defigned injuries; but frequently the effects of mifrepresentations, and prejudices, that have imperceptibly taken hold on perfons, who otherwife mean tolerably well. Now mildness to such as these, is but juftice and to all others, it is prudence. Railing is the province which our adverfaries have chofen: and let us leave it to them. For whatever fuccefs they may meet with that way, as indeed they excel in it, we shall meet with none: but only make the fpirit of Chriftianity be misunderftood and ill fpoken of, by our own want of it. Therefore, how inju riously foever we may be treated, let us return neither injurious nor harfh treatment for it: nor endeavour to mark out those perfons for objects of popular hatred, who are ever fo unwearied in labouring to make us fo.. Yet, at the fame time we must never court irreligious men by wrong compliances; neyer contribute to increase their power of doing harm; never defert our duty, either for fear of them, or favour from them. But then let us defend both religion and ourselves, with that fairness and decency, as well as courage, which becomes our function: acknowledge ingenuoufly whatever can be alledged against us with truth, only claiming equitable allowances; and where charges are untrue, yet ufe mild expoftulations, not reproaches; and try to fhame our oppofers by the reasonablenefs of what we fay, rather than exasperate them by the vehemence of it. They indeed have little caufe either to complain or to triumph, if, under fuch grofs provocations as they give, our temper fometimes fails: but we have great caufe to do our utmoft, that it fail not.

And if undue feverity of fpeech must be forborn towards profeffed enemies; much more to thofe, who may, for aught we know, defign themfelves for friends. Indeed, when it is evident, that men only put on a pretence of wishing well to Christianity, or the teachers of it; and, whilft they affect to charge us with uncharitableness for questioning their fincerity, would defpife us for believing them: there we must be allowed to fee what plainly appears; and to speak of them, both as adverfaries, and unfair ones. Or when doctrines, whatever the intention of propagating them be, are inconfiftent either with the whole or any part of our religion; it is no uncharitablenefs, but our duty, to lay open the


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