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OCCASIONAL SERMONS.
The Subject and Temper of the Gospel Ministry.-

-“Speaking the truth in love."
Ephesians ív. 15. .

390

The Guilt and Danger of such a Nation as this.-

"Shall I not visit for these things, saith the

Lord ? And shall not my soul be avenged on such

a nation as this?" Jeremiah v. 29.

393

A

REVIEW

OF

ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.

INTRODUCTION.

Though the actions of mankind appear greatly diversified from the influence of particular circumstances, human nature has been always the same. The his. tory of all ages and countries uniformly confirms the scriptural doctrine, that man is a depraved and fallen creature ; and that some selfish temper, ambition, avarice, pride, revenge, and the like, are, in effect, the main springs and motives of his conduct, unless so far, and in such instances, as they are corrected and subdued

by divine grace:

Therefore, when St. Paul speaks of the most dreadful degree of impiety that can be imagined, enmity against God, he does not consider it as the fault of the particular time in which he lived, or impute it singly either to the idolatrous Heathens, or the obstinate Jews, but he affirms universally, that the carnal mind {** *pu* tns o2@xo5) the wisdom, the most spiritual and discerning faculty of man, is enmity against God. Men differ considerably in capacity, rank, education, and attainments; they jar in sentiments and interests; they mutually revile, hate, and destroy one another: but in this point they all agree ; whether Greeks or Barbarians, wise or ignorant, bond or free, the bent and disposition of their minds, while unrenewed by grace, is black and implacable enmity against the blessed God.

To those who acknowledge the authority of scripture, St. Paul's express assertion should be sufficient proof of this point, if we could produce no other; but besides the many other passages in the book of God to the same effect, it may be demonstrated by the most obvious proofs, experience and matter of fact. The history of the Old Testament from the death of Abel, the nature and grounds of the opposition which Jesus and his apostles met with, and the treatment of the most exemplary Christians that have lived in succeeding ages, are indisputable evidences of this offensive truth; for what can be stronger marks of enmity against God, than to despise his word, to scorn his favour, to oppose his will, to caress his enemies, and to insult and abuse his servants, for no other offence than their at. tachment to his service?

But when, from these premises, the apostle infers, “ so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” though the consequence is evident, it may seem at first view unnecessary; for can it be supposed that the carnal mind, which breathes a spirit of defiance and enmity against God, will have any desire or thought of pleasing him? Yet thus it is. The carnal mind is not only desperately wicked, but deeply deceitful; it deceives others, and often it deceives itself

. As the magicians of Egypt, though enemies to Moses, attempted to counterfeit his miracles, and as Balaam could say, “ The Lord my God,” though he was wickedly en. gaged against the Lord's people; so it has been usual with many who have hated

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and denied the power of godliness, to value themselves highly upon the form of it, and while they are alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, they affect to be thought his best servants, and make the most confident claims to his favour.

The pure religion of Jesus cannot but be despised and rejected by the carnal mind: the natural man receiveth not the things of God; they are beyond his sphere; he does not apprehend them, and therefore cannot approve them; nay, he is averse and unwilling to meddle with them, and therefore it is impossible he should understand them. But the fiercest opposition arises from the complication of presumption and hypocrisy we have spoken of; when men, destitute of the Spirit of God, from a vain conceit of their own wisdom and goodness, arrogate to themselves an authoritative decision in religious concerns, and would reduce the judgment and practice of others to their own corrupt standard.

Such was eminently the character of the Scribes and Pharisees, who, with unwearied malice, persecuted our Lord to the death of the cross ; and he forewarned his disciples to expect the like treatment; he sent them forth as lambs in the midst of wolves, and assured them that their attachment to him would draw on them the hatred of mankind, so far as even to deprive them of the rights of civil society, and the pleasures of relative life. A man's foes shall be those of his own household : his parents shall forget their affection, his children their duty, his servants their reverence, and even the wife of his bosom shall despise him, when he boldly professes the gospel; nay, the most amiable qualities, joined to the most endearing connections, are not sufficient wholly to suppress the enmity which fills the hearts of the unregenerate, against those in whom they discern the image of Christ; and that this enmity would sometimes assume a religious form, and under that appearance, proceed to the greatest extremities, he informed them, in another place: “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service.”

If a faith and practice, agreeable to the New Testament, were not always at. tended with a measure of this opposition, we should want one considerable evidence that the gospel is true; and infidels would be possessed of one solid objection against it, namely, That our Lord was mistaken when he predicted the reception his doctrine would meet with. But the scriptures cannot be broken: the word of Christ is fulfilling every day, and especially in this particular. Many, perhaps, will be ready to object here, and to maintain, that, in our nation, and at this present time, the charge is invidious and false. It will be pleaded, that when Christianity had to struggle with Jews and Pagans, it could not but be opposed; but that with us, under the guard of a national establishment, an opposition to Christianity (unless by the feeble efforts of Deists and Libertines) is impracticable and inconsistent by the very terms; and that if the delusions of a few visionary enthusiasts are treated with that contempt and indignation which they justly deserve. this should not be styled an opposition to Christianity, but rather a warrantable concern for its vindication, especially as no coercive methods are used; for though some attempts have been made to restrain the leaders from poisoning the minds of the people, yet no person is injured, either in life or property, on account of his opinions, how extravagant soever they may be.

To this extenuation it may be replied,

1. I do not assert that persecution and reproach must necessarily attend the name of a Christian, or that it is not possible to make a high profession of religion under that name, and at the same time preserve or acquire a large share of the honours, riches, and friendship of the world; but I maintain with the apostle, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The distinction he makes in these words, is observable :—So much godliness as may be professed without a peculiar relation to Jesus, the world will bear; sobriety and benevolence they will applaud ; nay, even prayers, fastings, and other external acts, may be commended :—but, to live godly in Christ Jesus,—so as to profess our whole dependence upon his free salvation ; to seek all our strength from his grace;

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to do all expressly for his sake; and then to renounce all trust or confidence in what we have done, and to make mention of his righteousness only :—this the world cannot bear; this will surely provoke the contempt or hatred of all who have not the same spirit, whether accounted Christians or Infidels, Papists or Protestants. That nothing less than what I have mentioned can be the import of liv. ing godly in Christ Jesus, I shall in due time prove by a cloud of witnesses.

2. I acknowledge, with thankfulness to God, and to those whom he has placed in just authority over us, that the interposition of stripes, imprisonment, tortures, and death, in matters pertaining to conscience, has no place in our happy land :

- jacet (semperque jaceat!)

Divini imago zeli et pestis. The spirit of persecution is repressed by the wisdom of our laws and the clemency of our princes, but we have no ground to believe it is extinct, or rather we have sufficient evidence of the contrary. Not to mention some recent instances in which power has been strained to its full extent, it is notorious that scorn, invective, and calumny (which can act unrestrained by human laws,) are employed for the same ends and purposes, which, in other countries, are more speedily effected by anathemas and sanguinary edicts.

3. The opposition I am speaking of is not primarily between men and men, sim. ply considered, but between the spirit of the world and the Spirit that is of God, and therefore the manifestation of each will be in mutual proportion. The Lord Jesus himself sustained the fiercest contradiction of sinners, because his character was superlatively excellent: his apostles, though far inferior to their Lord, expressed so much of his temper and conduct, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame in the next degree to him: As he was, so were they in the world. St. Paul, who laboured more abundantly than his brethren, experienced a larger share of dishonour and ill treatment. Though educated at the feet of Gamaliel, and no stranger to Grecian literature, when he showed himself determined to know nothing but Jesus, and to glory only in his cross, he was accounted by Jew and Gentile, as the filth and off-scouring of all things; and thus it will hold universally. If, therefore, any who sincerely espouse the gospel, meet with little disturbance or censure, it is not because the carnal mind is better reconciled to the truth than formerly in the apostle's days, but because our zeal, faith, and activity are so much inferior to theirs, and our conduct more conformable to the prevailing taste around us.

4. I confess, that (as our Saviour has taught us to expect by the parable of the tares) revivals of religion have been generally attended with some incidental offences, and counterfeited by many false appearances. It has been so in times past; it is so at present; and we are far from justifying every thing, and in every degree, what the world is ready to condemn. However, we cannot but complain of a want of candour and ingenuousness in this respect also. Many who bring loud charges against what is irregular and blameable, are evidently glad of the oppor. tunity to prejudice and alarm weak minds. They do not confine their reproof to what is erroneous and unscriptural, but endeavour, by ambiguous expressions, invidious names, and indiscriminate censures, to obscure the state of the question, and to brand error and truth with the same mark of infamy: they either cannot, or will not distinguish between evangelical principles and the abuse of them; and when the distinction has been pointed out to them again and again, they refuse attention, and repeat the same stale misrepresentations which they know have been often refuted: they will not allow a grain for infirmity or inadvertence in those whom they oppose, while they demand the largest concessions for themselves and their adherents : they expect strict demonstrations from others, while, in their own cause, they are not ashamed to produce slanders for proofs, and jests for arguments :-thus they triumph without a victory, and decide ex cathedra, without so much as entering upon the merits of the cause. These methods, however successful, are not new inventions : by such arts and arms as these, christianity was op

posed from its first appearance: In this way Lucian, Celsus, and Julian employed their talents, and made themselves famous to future times.

I judge it therefore a seasonable undertaking to attempt the apology of Evangelical Christianity, and to obviate the sophistry and calumnies which have been published against it; and this I hope to do, without engaging in any controversy, by a plain enumeration of facts. I propose to give a brief delineation of Ecclesiastical History from our Saviour's time; and, that the reader may know what to expect, I shall here subjoin the principal points I have in view.

1. I shall consider the genius and characteristic marks of the gospel which Jesus taught, and show that, so long as this gospel was maintained in its purity, it neither admitted or found a neutrality, but that all who were not partakers of its benefits were exceedingly enraged against it. I shall make it appear, that the same objections which have attended any reformations in later ages, were equally strong against christianity, as taught by Christ and his first disciples; and that the offences and irregularities which have been known to attend a revival of evangelical doctrine in our time, were prevalent, to a considerable degree, under the preaching and inspection of the apostles.

2. When I come to the lives and conduct of those called the Fathers, whose names are held in ignorant admiration by thousands, I shall prove, on the one hand, that the doctrines for which the fathers were truly commendable, and by which many were enabled to seal their profession with their blood, were the same which are now branded with the epithets of absurd and enthusiastic; and, on the other hand, that the fathers, however venerable, were men like ourselves, subject to mistakes and infirmities, and began very soon to depart from the purity and simplicity of the gospel.

3. The progress of our history will manifest that the accession of wealth and power to the christian profession proved greatly detrimental to the faith, discipline, and manners of the churches ; so that, after the emperors publicly espoused the cause of Christ, the power and beauty of the gospel was gradually eclipsed. Yet, in the most degenerate times, God had a spiritual people, who, though partaking in some degree of the general declension, retained so much of the primitive truth and practice as to incur the hatred and persecution of what is called) the christian world.

4. I shall treat of the means and instruments by which the Lord supported and revived his declining cause during several centuries :-1. In the valleys of Piedmont, Provence, &c. by Berangarius, Waldo, and others. 2. In England, by Wickliff and his followers. 3. In Bohemia, by John Huss and Jerome of Prague. 4. In Germany, by Luther. Here I shall take occasion to observe, (1.) That these successive reformations were all projected and executed, so far as God was pleased to give success, upon the same principles which are now so industriously exploded by many who would be thought champions of the Protestant faith; and (2.) That Luther's reformation, the most extensive and successful, and of which we have the best accounts, was soon followed by errors, heresies, and a numerous train of abominations (as had been the case with primitive christianity) which the Romanists, in imitation of their Pagan predecessors, joyfully laid to the charge of the doctrine which Luther preached.

5. As it was not long before the reformed countries needed a second reformamation, I shall give some account of the endeavours of many good men in Germany and other places, in this view; their principles, success, and the treatment they met with from those who ought to have supported them, and then I shall briefly take notice of the similar occurrences in our own country, from the end of Queen Mary's reign to the present time, together with what has been most remarkable in the history of the gospel in our American settlements.

6. I shall occasionally consider the character and conduct of those persons whom God has honoured with eminent usefulness, in the different periods of his church, point ont the defects of their plan, and the mistakes which, through infirmity, in some degree blemished their undertakings.

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