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1. A Gentleman in the West of England informed me a few days ago, that a Clergyman in his neighbourhood designed to print, in two or three volumes, the Sermons which had been published in the Ten Volumes of the ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. I had been frequently solicited to do this, and had as often answered, “I leave this for my Executors.” But if it must be done before I go hence, methinks I am the properest person to do it.
2. I intend, therefore, to set about it without delay. And if it please God to continue to me a little longer the use of my Understanding and Memory, I know not that I can employ them better. And, perhaps, I may be better able than another to revise my own Writings : in order either to retrench what is redundant, to supply what is wanting, or to make any farther alterations which shall appear needful. 3. To make these plain Discourses more useful, I
purpose now to range them in proper order : placing those first which are intended to throw light on some important Christian Doctrines : and afterwards those which more directly relate to some branch of Christian Practice. And I shall endeavour to place them all in such an order that one may illustrate and confirm the other. There may be the greater need of this, because they were occasionally written during a course of years, without any order or connexion at all; just as this or the other subject either occurred to my own mind, or was suggested to me at various times by one or another friend.
4. To increase the number of Sermons in each Volume, I have added six Sermons to those printed in the Magazines. And I did this the rather because the subjects were important, and cannot be too much insisted on.
5. Is there need to apologize to sensible persons, for the plainness of my style? A gentleman, whom I much love and respect, lately informed me, with much tenderness and courtesy, that “ men of candour made great allowance for the decay of my Faculties; and did not expect me to write now, either with regard to Sentiment or Language, as I did thirty or forty years ago.” Perhaps they are decayed, though I am not conscious of it. But is not this a fit occasion to explain myself, concerning the style I use, from Choice, not Necessity? I could even now write as floridly and rhetorically as the admired Dr. B. But I dare not, because I seek the honour that cometh of God only! What is the praise of man to me, that have one foot in the grave, and stepping into the land whence I shall not return ? Therefore, I dare no more write in a fine sljle than wear a fine coat. But were it otherwise, had I time to spåre, I should still write just as I do. I should purposely decline what many admire, an highly-ornamented style. I cannot admire French Oratory: I despise it from my heart. Let those that please be in raptures at the pretty, elegant sentences of Massilon or Bourdaloue. But give me the plain, nervous style of Dr. South, Dr. Bates, or Mr. John Howe. And for elegance, shew me any French Writer who exceeds Dean Young, or Mr. Seed. Let who will admire the French frippery: I am still for plain, sound English.
6. I think a Preacher, or a Writer of Sermons, has lost his way, when he imitates any of the French Orators: even the most famous of them, even Massilon or Bourdaloue. Only let his language be plain, proper, and clear, and it is enough. God himself has told us how to speak, both as to the matter and the manner: If any man speak, in the name of God, let him speak as the Oracles of God. And if he would imitate any part of these above the rest, let it be the First Epistle of St. John.' This is the style, the most excellent style for every Gospel Preacher. And let him aim at no more Ornament than he finds in that sentence, which is the sum of the whole Gospel, “We love Him, because He hath first loved us."
London, Jan. 1, 1788.
ON THE ETERNITY OF GOD.'
PSALM Xc. 2.
“ From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art GOD.”
1. I would fain speak of that awful subject, ETERNITY. But how can we grasp it in our thought? It is so vast, that the narrow mind of man is utterly unable to comprehend it. But does it not bear some affinity to another incomprehensible thing, Immensity ? May not Space, though an unsubstantial thing, be compared with another unsubstantial thing, Duration? But what is Immensity? It is boundless Space. And what is Eternity? It is boundless Duration.
2. Eternity has generally been considered as divisible into two parts: which have been termed eternity a parte ante, and eternity a parte post: that is, in plain English, that eternity which is past, and that eternity which is to come. And does there not seem to be an intimation of this distinction in the text? Thou art God from everlasting. Here is an expression of that eternity which is past.-To everlasting. Here is an expression of that eternity which is to come. Perhaps indeed some may think it is not strictly proper to say, there is an eternity that is past. But the meaning is easily understood: we mean thereby, duration which had no beginning; as by eternity to come, we mean that durátion which will have no end,
3. It is God alone who, (to use the exalted language of
E'er time began to be;
Of wide Eternity!"
“Hail, God the Son, with glory crown'd,
When time shall cease to be:
Of whole Eternity!"
5. But by what means can a mortal man, the creature of a day, form any idea of eternity? What can we find within the compass of nature to illustrate it by? With what comparison shall we compare it? What is there that bears any resemblance to it? Does there not seem to be some sort of analogy between boundless duration and boundless space ? The great Creator, the infinite Spirit, inhabits both the one
and the other. This is one of his peculiar prerogatives : “ Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord ?" Yea, not only the utmost regions of creation, but all the expanse of boundless space! Mean time, how many of the children of men may say,
« Lo, on a narrow neck of land,
Or shuts me up in hell?” 6. But leaving one of these unbounded seas to the Father of Eternity, to whom alone duration without beginning belongs, let us turn our thoughts on duration without end. This is not an incommunicable attribute of the great Creator; but he has been graciously pleased to make innumerable multitudes of his creatures partakers of it. He has imparted this not only to angels, and archangels, and all the companies of heaven, who are not intended to die, but to glorify Him and live in his presence for ever: but also to the inhabitants of the earth, who dwell in houses of clay. Their bodies indeed are “crushed before the moth,” but their souls will never die. God made them, as an ancient Writer speaks, to be pictures of his own eternity. Indeed all spirits, we have reason to believe, are clothed with immortality : having no inward principle of corruption, and being liable to no external violence.
7. Perhaps we may go a step further still. . Is not matter itself, as well as spirit, in one sense eternal ? Not indeed a parte ante, as some senseless Philosophers, both ancient and modern, have dreamed. Not that any thing had existed from eternity ; seeing, if so, it must be God. Yea, it must be the One God; for it is impossible there should be two Gods, or two Eternals. But although nothing beside the Great God, can have existed from everlasting, none else can be eternal a parte ante ; yet there is no absurdity in supposing that all creatures are eternal, a parte post." All VOL IX.