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must be set apart for the performance of divine worship ; and an order of men appointed, to study the Scriptures, and to read and expound them to the people ;-an order, duly qualified by education, to supply, in some faint degree, the want of inspiration, and to inculcate the belief and observance of those sacred oracles, in the general assemblies of their fellow-men, too busily engaged in secular occupations to give much time to the study of religion. As Christianity was first made known to Jews and Gentiles by the ministry of apostles, selected and delegated by its Author for that special purpose, so must it still be upheld and disseminated by similar methods—by what St. Paul ironically terms, (a phrase, which its adversaries will readily adopt,) “ the foolishness of preaching.”
Through no country of Europe has the Gospel been more generally diffused, and nowhere is it better understood, than in this distinguished and favoured island: yet to what extent, and in what degree, even here, is it believed and obeyed ? Divide the community into three classes, the laborious, the commercial, the sedentary; or, perhaps, they may be better distinguished as the poor, the busy, and the rich. Are these respec
tive classes so well versed, and so completely established, in the doctrines and principles of the Christian faith, as to want no information Are they so observant of its moral precepts, as to require no exhortation ? Are they so prepared to meet their Judge, as to need no warning Let these questions be answered by every man's observation, as they respect others; by every man's conscience, as they respect himself. But, whatever be their proficiency in piety or virtue, how was it attained ? The poor (and of such the bulk of every nation is composed), we will allow, have a general notion of revealed religion, and its moral obligations. Whence was that notion derived ? Was it not by attendance at some place of public worship, or by some intercourse with those who have occasionally attended? We may say the same of the trader and the artist. Their time, their attention, has been devoted to secular concerns, and almost the whole of their religion, and of their morals too, has been drawn from public teaching. And to whom are the superior orders indebted for their knowledge and conviction? Does theology naturally flow from classic and scientific acquirements? In all the arts, and almost all the elegancies of life, the ancient
heathens far surpassed the modern Christians; but what did they know of religion > Men in understanding, as far as related to things temporal; but in things eternal, mere babes. The piety, such as it is, which is now to be found among the noble, the learned, and the contemplative, may be attributed, in great measure, to the labours of our divines,-to the “ foolishness of preaching." The strong and masterly reasoning of Butler, the clear and convincing arguments of Clarke, the acute and impressive eloquence of Sherlock, have, doubtless, established the belief of Christianity in the minds of thousands, who read and reflect; and the posthumous productions of these and other luminaries of the Church,-men, who, though dead, yet speak; who, though they no longer fill the chair of instruction, yet preach in their writings, will, I am persuaded, bring peace, and conviction, and hope, and joy, to multitudes yet unborn.
But shall it be said, we are now sufficiently taught: For many ages we have had preachers, and interpreters, and expounders, and pastors, who have done all that can be done by mere men ; and now we need nothing but the Bible. From that alone, without a preacher, the poor,
the busy, and the rich, may learn the whole of their duty, and “go on unto perfection.” I reply, the Bible, though the best and noblest gift of God to man, will not, without other means, sustain religion, in the present state of the world. Had the New Testament been published in Judea, without any apostles to disseminate it, Christianity would never have reached these times; and were the Bible now put into the hands of every creature, without any minister to recommend, explain, and enforce it ; were there no longer a stated day for religious observances; no public structures for the celebration of religious rites ;-the Bible, excellent and perfect as it is, would soon be left to moulder upon our shelves; all sacred ordinances would be neglected or despised; and mankind become wholly absorbed in the business and pleasures of the world.
But, if you can conceive that Christianity might still subsist without a priesthood, what sort of Christianity would it be? Instead of that pure Gospel, in the sense and spirit of St. Matthew or of St. John, it would become, in one place, the gospel of folly; in another, the gospel of vice. Have not the most absurd and pernicious
doctrines been set up, by men, who pretended to derive them from the New Testament? Did not one sect lay the axe to the root of all civil government, by asserting that Christians are to acknowledge no king but King Jesus? Has not another, and that very considerable in numbers, sapped the very foundations of virtue, and made “ Christ the minister of sin,” by impiously proclaiming that the elect cannot forfeit their title to heaven by any enormity in practice? and that all righteousness is, not figuratively and comparatively as the prophet meant, but literally and absolutely, filthy rags ? Has not the Deity been sacrilegiously transformed into an arbitrary and capricious tyrant, selecting a chosen few for salvation, and devoting all others, by an irresistible decree, to unremitted and endless damnation? And have they not presumed to build this dreadful and blasphemous doctrine on the authority of that apostle, who justly describes the ever blessed Creator as “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort,”_" who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth ??? When such abominable heresies and mischievous tenets find their way among the weak and enthusiastic, notwithstanding all that