« السابقةمتابعة »
AM very sensible, that you cannot meet together on this oc
casion Se have suffered, for the publick good, by the removal of a paftor, whom the experience of so many years hath taught you to esteem and honour so highly. It is your farther unhappiness, that he is succeeded by a person, very unequal to the care of this conspicuous and important diocese. But your humanity and your piety will, I doubt not, incline you, both to accept and to affitt the endeavours of one, who can assure you, with very great truth, that he is earnestly desirous of being as useful to you all, as he can; and seriously concerned for the interests of religion, and of this church. Would to God there were less need of expressing a concern for them, than there is at present ! Men have always complained of their own times: and always with too Vol. VI, А
much reason. But though it is natural to think those evils the greatest, 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 professed disregard to religion is become, through a variety of unhappy caufes, the distinguishing character of the present age; that this evil is grown to a great height in the metropolis of the nation; is daily spreading through every part of it; and, bad in itself as any can be, must of necessity bring in most others after it. Indeed it hath already brought in such dissoluteness and contempt of principle in the higher part of the world, and such profligate intemperance, and fearlessness of committing crimes, in the lower, as must, if this torrent of impiety stop not, become absolutely fatal. And God knows, far from stopping, it receives, through the ill designs of some persons, and the inconsiderate. ness of others, a continual increase. Christianity is now ridiculed and railed at, with very little reserve; and the teachers of it, without any at all. Indeed, with respect to us, the rule, which most of our adversaries appear to have set themselves is, to be, at all adventures, as bitter as they can: and they follow it, not only beyond truth, but beyond probability: asserting the very worst things of us without foundation, and exaggerating every thing without mercy: imputing the faults, and sometimes imaginary faults, of particular persons to the whole order; and then de, claiming against us all promiscuously, with such wild vehemence, as, in any cafe but ours, they themselves would think, in the highest degree, unjust and cruel.
Or if sometimes a few exceptions are made, they are usually 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 personally, dear as our reputations are and ought to be to us, the mischief would be small, in comparison of what it is. But the consequence hath been, as it naturally must, that disregard to us hath greatly increased the disregard to public worship and instruction: that many are grown prejudiced against religion; many more, indifferent about it and unacquainted with it. And the emiffaries of the Ro. mish 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 those, who would be thought their most irreconcileable enemies.
Yet, however melancholy the view before us appears, we have no reason to be discouraged : for let us take care of our duty, and God will take care of the event. But we have great reason to think seriously, what our duty on this occasion is; and stir up each other to the performance 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 say, 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 adversaries would reprefent us; whose reproaches perhaps were never less deferved, than now when they are the most violent: yet, it must bc owned, we are not by any means, even the best of us,
what ra) Matth. xviii. 7,
what we ought to be. And the present state of things calls loudly upon us, to correct our mistakes, to supply our deficiencies, and do all we are able for the honour of God, and the happiness of mankind.
If we can be unconcerned now, we have neither piety nor common prudence in us. And if we are concerned in earnest, we shall be very desirous, both to avoid all wrong methods of shewing it, and to make ule of all right ones.
Complaining of our superiors for those evils, which perhaps they cannot prevent; or complaining of them with disrespect, for what we may apprehend they could prevent, would both be undutiful and imprudent conduct: would give our adversaries joy, and do our cause harm. Indeed to beg earnestly of God, that he would direct the hearts of those, who preside over the public welfare; and humbly to represent to them, on all fit occasions, the declining state of religion, the importance and the means of preserving it; these things are unquestionable duties. But then we must always approve ourselves, at the same time, conscientiously loyal both in word and deed; reasonable in our expectations; sincerely grateful for the protection, which we are assured of enjoying; and duly senfible, that every thing of value to us, in this world, depends on the support of that government, under which we now live. We cannot be good men, if we are bad subjects: and we are not wise men, if we permit ourselves to be suspected of it.
A second proper caution is, That to speak unfavourably of liberty, religious or civil, instead of carefully distinguishing 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 serve to increase that jealousy, which being in former ages grounded too well, hath been most industriouly heightened, when there never was so 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 so dangerous a prejudice against us as this : not by renouncing those 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 assuming what we have no right to : by shewing our abhorrence of tyranny, especially over the consciences of men ; and fatisfying them fully, if posible, that we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus, the Lord, and ourselves, their servants for his fake (b). Then, with respect to the privileges, that we derive from 'human authority: as, on the one hand, receding from any of them without cause is only inviting frelh encroachments, and giving needless advantages to such as will be sure to lose none: so, on the other, ftraining them too far is the likeliest way to destroy them all at once: and both our usefulness and our security depend very much, on our appearing plainly to desire nothing inconsistent with the common good; to have the truest concern for all reasonable liberty, and to be zealous only against licentiousness and confufion.
Thirdly, If we should be tempted to oppose profaneness, by encou, raging the opposite extreme of superftition : this also would be unjustifiable in itself; would have bad effects upon as many as weinight mis
lead; lead; and give great opportunities to all that should see them mifled, ei. ther of accusing religion, or exposing us, as corrupters of religion. Not that we are to give up inconsiderately, whatever some persons are pleased to charge with superfiition: for there would be no end of conceffions at that rate : but only to avoid encouraging any thing, that can be justly charged with it; and then we shall stand upon sure ground. For nothing can be morc unjust, than those imputations of it, which our ad. versaries are fo fond of throwing, some upon Christianity 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 should think to serve our cause by intemperate warmth in it. Christian zeal indeed is a duty, that never was more necdful, and never less shewn. But passion will do no good. If expressed against those, who are indifferent about religion, it will turn them into cnemics: if against the enemies of religion, it will make them yet more vchement enemies. Besides, the extravagant things, that men jay and attempt against us and our profeffion, are not always designed injuries; but frequently the effects of misrepresentations, and prejudices, that have imperceptibly taken hold on persons, who otherwise mean tolerably well. Now mildness to such as these, is but justice: and to all others, it is prudence. Railing is the province which our adversaries have chosen : and let us leave it to them. For whatever success they may meet with that way, as indeed they excel in it, we shall meet with none; but only make the spirit of Christianity be misunderfood and ill spoken of, by our own want of it. Therefore, how injuriously soever we may be treated, let us return neither injurious nor harh treatment for it; nor endeavour to mark out those persons for objects of popular hatred, who are ever so unwearied in labouring to make us so. Yet, at the same time we must never court irreligious men by wrong compliances; never contribute to increase their power of doing harm; never desert 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 ingenuously whatever can be alledged against us with truth, only claiming equitable allowances; and where charges are untrue, yet use mild expoftulations, not reproaches; and try to Thame our opposers by the reasonableness of what we say, rather than exasperate them by the vehemence of it. They indeed have little cause either to complain or to triumph, if, under such gross provocations as they give, our temper sometimes fails : but we have great cause to do our utmost, that it fail not.
And if undue severity of speech must be forborn towards professed enemies; much more to those, who may, for aught we know, design 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, whilst they affect to charge us with uncharitableness for questioning their fincerity, would despise us for believing them: there we must be allowed to see what plainly appears; and to speak of them, both as adversaries, and unfair ones.' Or when doctrines, whatever the intention of propagating them be, arç inconsistent either with the whole or any part of ous religion; it is no uncharitableness, but our duty, to lay open the