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which end it is quite neceffary, that we make the original language, at leaft of the New Teftament, familiar to us: and were that of the Old more commonly ftudied, the advantages would be very confiderable.
In order to fee clearly, on what ground our belief ftands; together with the facred volumes themselves, the writings of fuch learned perfons, as have proved their authority, and vindicated their accounts of things, must be carefully read; and attentively compared with those objections against them, which have been revived of late, dreffed up with fo much art, and fpread abroad with so much diligence. For in our prefent circumstances, we are always liable to be attacked: and confider, what an unhappy triumph it would afford, fhould we be found unprovided of a rational defence. It is very true, the general evidence, which we have for our faith, is abundantly fufficient of itself, to overbalance many dif ficulties concerning it, and ever fo many cavils against it. But yet our being unqualified to give more particular anfwers, where they can be given; as indeed there are few cafes, where they cannot; may often prove a great reproach to us, and a great ftumbling-block to others.
Next to the grounds of religion, the doctrines of it, efpecially the more important and difputed ones, ought to be ftudied, with fuch diligence and impartiality, as may best discover to us the nature of every opinion, and the force of every argument: that fo we may neither load Christianity with what doth not belong to it: nor betray, instead of defending it, by giving up what doth; but faithfully keep that which is committed to our trust (c), both entire and unmixed. To fecure this great end, we must ever adhere ftrictly to the word of God, fairly interpreted by the help of all fuch means as Providence hath given us and carefully avoid, on the one hand, fondness of novelty; and on the other, overgreat reverence of antiquity, especially fuch as comes fhort of the earlieft. But against the former of thefe, it is peculiarly needful to caution the rifing generation; whom the rafhnefs of youth, and the petulant fpirit of the prefent age, too often hurries into a ftrange vehemence for any imagination, which they have happened to take up; and prompts them to fly out againft eftablished doctrines, without having always the patience even to underftand them. Such therefore fhould be exhorted to learn a proper degree, both of filence and fufpenfe, till cooler thought, and farther inquiry, make them fitter judges of things. But befides thofe controverfies, to which this caution chiefly relates; that between the Papifts and us deferves at prefent to be well ftudied, by fuch of you, as live in the neighbourhood of any. For feldom have they fhewn more zeal or more artifice than of late, in their attempts of making profelytes. And therefore it is of great confequence, that we provide ourselves against them, with a fufficient knowledge of their real doctrines, their moft fpecious pleas, and the proper anfwers to them. Another fubject, with which we are concerned to be well acquainted, is what relates to the government and worship, difcipline and establishment of our own church. Different parts of our ecclefiaftical conftitution are frequently cenfured, by different forts of perfons, with very different views: though indeed
(c) 1 Tim, vi. 20.
the most oppofite of them have appeared, for fome time, unaccountably difpofed to unite against us; and believers to join with Infidels in ufing their Chriftian brethren ill. It may therefore be of great ufe, to inform ourselves diligently concerning every thing of this nature, which is fpoken of to our prejudice; and be always ready to hew the genuine ftate of the cafe, with mildnefs and fairnefs. But no controverfies, however needful, must be fuffered to divert our attention from what is of all things the most needful, the ftudy of practical religion, and of the common duties of life. Thefe are the things, which mankind are most apt to fail in, and moft concerned not to fail in and therefore spending much time upon them, obtaining a thorough infight into them, and having a deep fenfe of them, is the very foundation of doing good, both to others and to our own fouls.
A competent provifion of knowledge being fuppofed, the next thing is communicating it to those who are under our care, in fuch manner as their circumstances require.
The proofs of religion, both natural and revealed, all men fhould be taught, and especially at prefent, in the moft intelligible and convincing manner. As for the objections against either: fuch as it may be fuppofed they have thought or heard of, fhould be diftinctly answered; but the reft obviated only, as occafion offers. For to enter into them farther, would be mifpending time. Next to the truth of religion, they fhould have its importance laid before them. The neceffity of a moral life moft men will own in general terms: only what they are pleafed to call fo, is often a very immoral one, both with refpect to their fellowcreatures, and the government of themselves. But regard to piety is ftrangely loft, even amongst perfons, that are otherwife tolerably ferious. Many have laid afide all appearances of it: and others, who would feem to keep them up, do it with evident marks of indifference and contempt. It should therefore be induftriously fhewn and inculcated, that an inward fense of love and duty to God, founded on juft conceptions of him, and expreffing itself in frequent acts of worship, constant obedience and refignation to him, is in truth the first and great commandment (d), the principal and most important of moral obligations. But then, befides thofe inftances of piety, which reafon requires of us, there are others, founded on relations equally real, and confequently deferving equal regard, enjoined by revelation. The utmost care therefore ought to be ufed, confidering the prefent difpofition of the world, to convince men of what moment the doctrines and duties of the Gospel are. reafon fufficient for nothing in religion, is to overtura every thing. But to infift on its infufficiency for many most valuable purposes, which revelation is fully fufficient for, and on the neceffity of obferving whatever God hath thought fit to command, this is doing but common justice, though a very feafonable piece of juftice, to the doctrine of our bleffed Saviour, and the authority of our Maker.
When once men are brought to understand the value of Chriftianity, the next thing is, to give them a proportionable folicitude for it: to make them obferve, how vifibly the belief and practice of it decay, and how dreadful the confequences must be and are: to shew them, that reA 4 (d) Matth. xxii. 38.
ligion is not the concern of the clergy merely, but the common concern of all men; the great thing, on which public and private happiness depends in this life, as well as eternal felicity in the next: that therefore, if they have any value for these important interests, they must take the neceffary means of fecuring them: their children, their fervants and dependants must be diligently watched over and inftructed; private devotion must be practifed, family-worship revived, and the fervice of God in the church regularly and seriously attended upon. For laying aside these things hath almost banished religion from amongst us: and nothing, but reftoring them, can bring it back. Piety is indeed feated in the heart but to give it no vent in outward expreffion, is to ftifle and extinguish it. Neglecting the public exercife of religion, is deftroying the public regard to it and teaching men to defpife their own form of religion, is enough very often to make them despise it under any form.
Great pains have been taken by our adverfaries to give the world an ill opinion of religious inftruction: and we must take equal pains to give them a good one of it; by representing to them, both the natural influence it hath, and the Divine authority that enjoins it. But after all, the only effectual conviction will be that of experience. And therefore the chief point is, to endeavour that men may feel the benefit of our teaching: feel at least, that it is their own fault, not ours, if they do not become the wifer, the better and happier for it. To this end, we must all dwell often and strongly on the great duties, and great failures of duty, in common life: firft explaining the obligations of religion fo as that they may be practifed; then infifting on it, that they muft: entering into the particulars of each with fuch plainnefs, that every one may clearly fee his own faults laid before him; yet with fuch prudence, that no one may fo much as imagine himself perfonally pointed at: and taking the ftrictest care, that no part of what we fay may feem in the leaft to proceed from our own paffions, or our own interefts; but all appear evidently to flow from a true concern for the good of thofe that hear us. Diligent confideration, what our fubject and our feveral characters will bear us out in, must direct us, when to give our judgment with diffidence, when to lay stress upon it: in what cafes to exhort with all long-fuffering (e); in what, to rebuke with all authority (f). But whichfoever we do, neither our language fhould be florid, nor our manner theatrical: for these things only raise an ufelefs admiration in weak perfons, and produce great contempt in judicious ones. Nor yet on the other hand, fhould our expreffions be mean, or our behaviour lifeless: but both must be fuitable to the employment we are upon; both be fuch as come naturally from the heart of the fpeaker, and therefore will naturally move that of
To this our public teaching it will be a great help, and indeed a valuable part of it, if we perform the feveral offices of our excellent liturgy devoutly and properly: neither with an irreverent precipitation, nor a tedious flownefs: neither in a flat and languid manner, nor yet with an affected liveliness, or a vehemence ill placed or over-done: but so as
(e) 2 Tim. iv. 2.
(ƒ) Tit. ii. 15.
may best exprefs the fenfe and the importance of what we read; and, by hewing our own attention to it, engage that of all around us.
Besides our general inftructions, it is very needful, that we give the youth under our care, in particular, an early knowledge and love of religion, that may abide with them; and ftand the trials, to which their riper years will of course be exposed. I hope you are all diligent in that most useful work of catechizing: and have done your utmost to prepare for confirmation those whom you prefent to me. And I earnestly recommend it to you, that the good impreffions, which may well be fuppofed to have been made upon their minds at this season, be not fuffered to wear off again; but be improved into settled habits of religion and virtue by ftill farther exhortations, and leading them, as foon as poffible, to the holy communion. But, though all the youth deserve our peculiar attention; yet if any of them be educated in charity-schools under our inspection, for these we should think ourselves still more nearly concerned, than for the reft; and, by first taking care, to have them taught whatever is proper, and nothing elfe, then making known the good management they are under, put an end to thofe accufations, of their learning idlenefs and pride, fuperftition and difloyalty; which may have been, sometimes one of them, fometimes another, in fome degree deferved; but have been carried with a wicked industry moft fhamefully beyond truth, and leffened the credit of this excellent inftitution, even with many good perfons, to the great detriment of Chriftianity.
Another very useful method of spreading the knowledge of religion, and teaching men a ferious regard to it, is by diftributing or procuring to be diftributed, fuch pious books, especially to the poorer fort, as are beft fuited to their capacities and circumftances. For there is a great variety of them to be had: and at fo very low prices, that much good may be done this way to confiderable numbers at once, in a most acceptable manner, for a trifling expence.
But nothing will contribute more to make our public instructions effectual, than private converfation, directed with prudence to the same end. The better we are known to perfons, the greater influence we may hope to have upon them: and the better we know them, the more diftinctly we fhall fee how to make ufe of that influence to good purposes. By reprefenting proper truths, at fit times, with a modeft freedom, we may very much abate the prejudices of men, who have any fairness remaining, both against religion and ourselves: at least we may prevail on them, for the fake of public order and example, to keep within the bounds of decency; and so prevent their doing harm, if we cannot make them good. Perfons, that err in particular points of doctrine, friendly dif courfe may fhew us what led them into their mistakes, and enable us to lead them out again. Such as diffent from our church-government and worship, talking amicably with them, and behaving in the fame manner towards them, if it doth not immediately bring them over, may however bring them nearer to us, both in judgment and affection. Such as are faulty in their moral conduct, ferious and affectionate remonftrances, given in private and kept private, and joined with a tenderness to their characters in public, may often do a great deal towards reforming them: and fooner or later, the feed thus fown may spring up in their hearts, and
produce happy fruits. We fhould not indeed press upon perfons, when there is no other profpect than that of provoking them: but we ought to watch all opportunities, whilft there is any hope left; and not only make it our endeavour to convert the mistaken and vicious, but ftir up the negligent to ferious thought, and the good themfelves to more eminent goodness. Especially fuch perfons of rank and influence, as we find well difpofed, these we must earnestly excite to appear and give countenance to the cause of religion, ever remembring that awful declaration of our bleffed Lord: Whofoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and finful generation, of him alfo fhall the Son of Man be afbamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy Angels (g). We must convince them of the urgent neceffity there is, for interpofing in behalf of piety and virtue: and fuggeft to them the means for engaging with fuccefs in this excellent employment. Yet must we never Spend fo much of our attention on the higher part of the world, as to give the leaft fufpicion of neglecting the lower; whofe number is so much larger, whofe difpofitions are ufually fo much more favourable to religion, and whofe eternal happiness is of equal importance to them, and ought to be of equal concern to us: but we must prove we are in earnest in our work; by making it our care, as it was our Master's, that the poor have the Gofpel preached to them (h). And one opportunity of preaching it with fingular advantage, both to the poor and the rich, is when sickness brings near to them the view of another life. At some times indeed the fick may be incapable of attending to exhortations: at others they may be endangered by them: and at all times great prudence is requifite, to avoid the extremes, of terrifying or indulging them too much. But, provided due caution be used in these refpects; laying before them what they ought to be, and reminding them to confult their own consciences what they have been, is a moft likely method of exciting in them fuch affections and refolutions at that season of recollection and seriousness, as, through the bleffing of heaven, may produce the happiest effects.
To thefe excellent offices therefore we must all of us chearfully apply ourselves, each in fuch degree as his ftation requires. If they do require pains, if they do take up time, if they are inconfiftent with agreeable amusements, and even interrupt useful studies of other kinds; yet this is the business which we have folemnly chofen, and the vows of God are upon us it is the most important and most honourable, it ought to be the most delightful too, of all employments: and therefore we have every reason not to feek the means of evading our duty, but of fulfilling it; and each to take the overfight of the flock of God, committed to him, not by constraint, but willingly (i). For if we only juft do what we can be punished by our fuperiors for neglecting, we muft neither expect fuccefs nor reward.
But then to fecure either, the chief thing requifite is ftill behind: that our own tempers and lives be fuch, as we fay thofe of other perfons fhould. For if we, who teach religion, live, or fuffer our families to live, with little or no fense of religion, what can we poffibly expect,
(g) Mark viii. 38.
(b) Matt. xi. 5.
(i) Pet, v. 2.