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of religion, when we consider how ftrangely they S E R M. allow themselves in malice and envy, in passion and CXIX anger, and uncharitable censures, and evil speaking, in fierce contentions and animofities; who would believe that the great instrument of these mens religion, I mean the holy bible, by which they profess to regulate and govern their lives, were full of plain and strict precepts of love and kindness, of charity and peace, and did a hundred times with all imaginable severity, and under pain of forfeiting the kingdom of God, forbid malice and envy, and revenge, and evil speaking, and rash and uncharitable censures, and tell us so plainly that the christian religion obligeth men “ to put off all these;" and that “ if any man seem to be religious and bridleth “ not his tongue, that man's religion is vain ? Do men read and hear these things every day, and profess to believe them to be the truths of God, and yet live as if they were verily persuaded they were false? what can we conclude from hence, but either that this is not christianity, or the greatest part of us are no christians?
So that if one of the apostles or primitive chriftians should rise from the dead, and converse among us, how would he wonder to see the face and complexion of christianity alter'd froin what it was in their days; and were it not for the name and title which we bear, would sooner guess us to be any thing than christians ?
So that upon the whole matter, there is no way to quit our felves of this objection, and to wash away the reproach of it, but to mend and reform our lives. 'Till this be done, it is unavoidable, but the vicious manners of men will affect our religion with
SER M. obloquy and reproach, and derive an ill conceit and CXIX. :
i opinion of it into the minds of men. And I cannot
see how christianity can ever gain much ground in the world, 'till it be better adorned and recommend ed by the professors of it. Nay we have just cause to fear, that if God do not raise up some great and eminent instruments to awaken the world out of this ftupid lethargy, that christianity will every day decline, and the world will in a short space be overrun with atheism and infidelity. For vice, and fuperstition, and enthusiasm, which are the reigning diseases of christendom, when they have run their course, and finish'd their circle, do all naturally end, and meet in atheism. And then it will be time for the great judge of the world to appear, and effectually to convince men of that, which they would not be persuaded to believe by any other means. And of this our Saviour hath given us a terrible and fearful intimation in that question of his; “ when the son of man comes, thall he find faith “ upon earth ?" Our Saviour hath not positively affirmed it, and God grant that we may not make it, and find it true.
And thus I have, by God's affistance, given the best satisfaction I could, to the most material exceptions I have met with against our blessed SAVIOUR and his religion. The
Ild thing remains briefly to be spoken to, viz. how happy a thing it is to escape the common prejudices which men are apt to entertain against religion, “ blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in " me." And this will appear if we consider thele three or four things. First, that prejudice does many times sway and
bias men against the plainest and clearest cruths. We'SER M. see in daily experience, what a falfe bias prejudice puts upon mens understandings. Men that are educated in the groffest errors and superstitions, how hard it is to convince them that they are in a wrong way! and with what difficulty are they persuaded of their mistake! nay they have hardly the patience to be told they are in an error, much less to consider what may be offer'd against it. How do the para sions and lusis of men blind them and lead them aside from the truth, and incline them to that side of the question which is most favourable to their lusts and interests ? how partially do men lean to that part which makes most for their advantage, though all the reason in the world lie on the other side ?...
Now ignorance and mistake are a great Navery of the understanding, if there were no worse consequences of our errors: and therefore our SAVIOUR fays excellently, that the truth makes men free; " ye shall know the truth, and the truth hall make “ you free."
Secondly, prejudice does not only bias men against the plainest truths, but in matters of greatest con. cernment, in things that concern the honour of God, and the good of others, and our own welfare and happiness. Prejudices against religion occasion mistakes of the highest nature, and may lead men to superstition and idolatry, and to all manner of im. piety, nay many times to atheism and infidelity. The prejudices against the doctrine of our Saviour are of another concernment than the prejudices which men have against the writers of natural philosophy or eloquence, or any other human art or Science. If a man's prejudice make him err in these
SER M. matters, the thing is of no great moment: but the CXIX. business of religion is a matter of the greatest and
weightiest concernment to mankind.
Thirdly, the consequences of mens prejudices in these things prove many times fatal and destructive to them. Men may upon unreasonable prejudices' “ reject the counsel of God against themselves," as it is said of the chief priests and pharisees among the Jews. Men may oppose the truth so obstinately and perverlly, as to be " fighters against God," and to bring certain ruin and “ swift destruction upon “ themselves,” both in this world, and the other ; as the Jews did, who by opposing the doctrine of the gospel, and persecuting our Saviour and his disciples, “fill'd up the measure of their sins, 'till « wrath came upon them to the uttermost.” It is easy to entertain prejudices against religion, and by considering only the wrong side of things, to fortify our prejudices to such a degree, and entrench our selves so strongly in our errors, that the plainest and most convincing truths shall not be able to have any access to us, or make any impression upon us: but all this while we do in truth undermine our own happiness, and are secretly working our own ruin; and while we think we are opposing an enemy, we are destroying our selves; “ for who hath harden'd himself against God" and his truth, “ and prospered ?” The principles of religion are a firm and immoveable rock, again't which the more violently we dash our selves, the more miserably we shall be split and shatter'd. Our blessed Saviour and his religion have been to many, and are to this day, " a stone of stumbling, “ and a rock of offence;" but he himself hath coid
us what shall be the fate of those who are offended at SER M., him; “ whosoever shall fall on this stone, shall be « broken; but upon whomsoever it shall fall, it shall. “ grind him to powder.” And therefore well might he say here in the text, “ Blessed is he whosoever u shall not be offended in me."
- more Fourthly, there are but few in comparison, who have the happiness to escape and overcome the com mon prejudices which men are apt to entertain againit religion. Thus to be sure it was when chriflianity first appeared in the world : and though among us the great prejudice of education be removed; yet there are still many, who upon one account on other are prejudiced against religion, at least fo far, as not to yield to the power of it in their lives, Few men are so impartial in considering things, as not to be swayed by the interest of their lufts and passions, as to keep the balance of their judgments even, and to suffer nothing but truth, and reason to weigh with them. We generally pretend to be “ pilgrims and strangers in the world,” and to be all travelling towards heaven: but few of us have the indifferency of travellers; who are not concern'd to find out the fairest and the easiest way, but to know which is the right way, and to go in it. Thus it should be with us; our end should always be in our cye, and we should choose our way only with respect to chat; not considering our inclination so much as our design; nor choosing those principles for the government of our lives, which are most agreeable to our present desires, but those which will most cerCainly bring us to happiness at the last; and that I am sure the principles of the christian religion, firmly believed and practifed by us, will do.