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nature, not as a more perfect, but as a more equitable rule of justice; hoping to find, under the protection of nature, that liberty and allowance to their infirmities, which the gospel has precluded. But do you know the man that ever despised the gospel for the immorality of its precepts, or left it that he might be more chaste, more temperate, more charitable, than the laws of Christ required he should be ? If not, let any one judge what purposes a man serves, when he endeavors, on one side, to bring down the precepts of morality from the strictness of the gospel, and to give greater liberty and freedom to the inclinations of the world; and, on the other side, to weaken the restraints laid on the passions by the terrors of the Christian law, by discarding the fears of perpetual punishment. Is the cause of religion to be thus supported? Will the world be better, when less holiness is required of them, and when even what is required becomes less necessary to be performed, by removing the danger of transgressing? Is it for the sake of virtue that men plead the cause of libertinism, and endeavor to make void those laws of Christ, which are most uneasy to flesh and blood ? Is it to make men better than they are, that you tell them the danger of sinning is less than they apprehend, much less than the rigor of the gospel declares it to be ? And yet these are the views on which those act, who retreat from the gospel with the greatest show of reason and moderation: these are the pretences of such as would not be thought to throw off all regard to religion, but only to seek a better, I doubt they mean an easier form. And what is it that creates the aversion to the light which is held forth to them, and makes them choose to retire, if not to the total darkness of heathenish ignorance, yet to the shades of natural religion, if not this which the text has assigned, because their deeds are evil ?' You may think perhaps that I have forgot one great objection which such men have against the gospel, and which may be entertained without supposing their deeds to be evil; namely, that they cannot be reconciled to the mysteries of the gospel, or to those institutions of it, which are on no foot of reason any part of true religion. In answer to which I can only say at present, that those who make the objection are either not in earnest, or else they are unacquainted with the power of the gospel. It is true, the
gospel has taught us things which by nature we could not know; but they are all designed to confirm and strengthen our hope in God, and to give us the fullest assurance of his mercy. It is true also, that there are in the gospel some institutions, which in their own nature are no constituent parts of religion; but then they are such only as are necessary to enable us to do our duty by conveying new supplies of spiritual strength to us, for want of which we were unable, in the state of nature, to extricate ourselves from the bonds of iniquity. These are the additions which the gospel has made to religion. Our blessed Saviour saw that the hopes of nature were obscured, and therefore he did, by wonderful revelations, bring life and immortality to light again: he saw that her powers were decayed, so that she could not resist evil, and therefore he supplied the defect by the assistance of his holy spirit. If you are not willing to reap the benefit, at least forgive his kindness; and do not think the worse of him, or his religion, because of the great provision he has made in it for your security. But I hasten to a conclusion, and shall but briefly apply what has been said on this subject.
What I would chiefly suggest to your consideration is this: that the gospel of Jesus Christ being recommended to you, as founded in the express revelation of God, carries with it such an authority as cannot with safety to yourselves be despised or neglected. It is not an indifferent matter whether you receive it or no; for if the gospel be truly what it is said to be, whether you will receive it, or whether you reject it, you shall most certainly be judged by the tenor of it. I do not propose this consideration as necessarily determining your choice to the gospel, since the pretences of the gospel to divine authority still lie under your examination : but thus far the consideration goes, to show you how necessary it is to deal in this matter with all sincerity and truth, and to try the cause impartially; since, if the gospel be the word of God, it is death to forsake it. It is want of reflexion that makes men think religion is a thing so perfectly in their own power, that they may choose where and how they please, without being accountable for the choice they make, provided only they live up to the terms of it. For in truth religion, properly and strictly so called, admits of no choice : it does not lie before you to consider whether
you shall love God or no, or whether you shall love your neighbor or no: you have no choice whether you will be sober, temperate, and chaste, or otherwise ; for in these essential parts of religion you must either obey or perish. But the weakness and corruption of man making it necessary for God to interpose by a new declaration of his will, the only dispute is of the truth and authority of this new declaration. If it indeed comes from God, it cannot be safe to reject it; and whether it does or no, it is absurd to reject it without weighing its merit. This therefore is, of all others, the most weighty and serious matter, and requires the. exercise of your most composed thoughts. For if you wantonly or perversely refuse the gift of God, this will be your condemnation, 'that light is come into the world, and you loved darkness rather than light.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XLVII.
JOHN, CHAP. V.-VERSE 44.
The chief exercise of reason consists in so regulating our actions as to make them subservient to the end we purpose to attain. All men have something which is the object of their desires; though few choose well, and fewer still wisely pursue the good they choose : if we choose ill, the greater the ability with which we strive to compass our designs, the more certain is our ruin : the best actions directed to ill purposes become criminal: nothing is more commendable than a spirit of beneficence; but where the appearance of it is assumed merely to promote our own selfish designs, what is it but fraud and deceit? This is peculiarly applicable to religion. The man, who under the disguise of religion seeks only his own interest, affronts God, abuses the world, and lays up for himself certain ruin. There are degrees in this vice; and men
are often influenced by it without being conscious to so much baseness, as to deserve the name of hypocrisy. Where morality and virtue are not concerned, it may perhaps be right to comply with the world; but if we allow our love of fame to influence us in religious matters, our minds will be perverted, and we shall be disabled from judging between truth and falsehood : thus it was with those whom Christ addresses in the text. He had done among them such works as never man did, and to these he appeals as evidence of his mission (John v. 26.): in v. 39. he appeals to the ancient Scriptures : a fairer issue could not be proposed; and we learn from St. John that it had its effect on many of the rulers among the Jews, who however kept their faith secret, loving the praise of men more than the praise of God: which words express also the sense of the text. It is shown that, as religion arises from the relation we bear to God, and respects him only; when it is made to regard other objects, it necessarily becomes either idolatry or hypocrisy. It has been said that the zeal and piety of Christians fell into decay when the empire became Christian : this observation not perfectly just, as the church has, in all ages, had many faithful members. The times of persecution were calculated to afford more striking examples of zeal ; but the great alteration was, that when the powers of the world came into the Church, they were followed by all such as loved the praise of men more than the praise of God: since which time profession has become a less certain sign of true faith : and men not being now called to the proof by others, and not readily calling themselves to a strict account, have less reason for confidence in themselves. Some rules may therefore
profitably be sought by which men may judge whether they receive honor one of another, or do seek the honor which cometh from God only. In order to this it is first inquired, in what sense the text condemns the receiving honor from men : secondly, what is meant by seeking the honor which cometh from God only : thirdly, what are the marks by which men may try themselves on these articles.
I. St. Paul has given it for a rule, that we ought to render honor to whom honor is due : and as some degree of honor and respect is due to all men, St. Peter has given the precept in general terms, honor all men. All men therefore to whom honor is due, may both innocently receive and justly require it: as a father from his son, a king from his subjects, &c. But in the text, and in the parallel passage of St. John, there is evidently an opposition, between the praise of men and the praise of God. Now it is certain that no honor can be due to man which is inconsistent with the honor which we owe to