A SERMON Preach'd before the Honourable Company of MERCHANTS Trading to the Levant-Seas.

AT St. PETER-POOR, Dec. 15. 1695.

By HENRY MAUNDRELL, A. M. Fellow of Exeter-College in Oxford: And Chaplain to the Factory at Aleppo.

LONDON: Printed for Daniel Brown, at the Swan and Bible without Temple-Bar, MDCXCVI.

To the Right Honourable George Earl of Berkeley, GOVERNOR, AND TO THE Honourable Company of MERCHANTS Trading to the Levant-Seas.

Right Honourable, &c.,

THIS Discourse, at first Preach'd by your Appointment, is now Presented to you in a more publick manner, in Obedience to your Commands. The Defects of it, I acknowledge to be such, as render it very unworthy of the Patronage to which it is Dedicated; but how little soever it deserves your Pro­tection, yet it has one Argument to plead for it self, That it needs it: An Argument, which, as it seldom fails to obtain your Favour, so I hope now it will the rather pre­vail, because it is in Submission to your Order, that it is brought under that necessity: For tho the blame [Page]of its faults be imputable only to its Author, yet the Publication of it is wholly yours. I am too sensi­ble, how ill I have, in this mean Performance, answer'd the Character given of me, to your Honourable Com­pany, by some Worthy Members of it, my Incomparable Friends: Persons of such Improved Knowledge and Ex­quisite Judgment, that it may perhaps be wonder'd how they should come to be so mistaken; but you will be the less surprized, when you consider, That it was a mistake arising from those Virtues in them, which are so Il­lustrious in your whole Society, Friendship and Gene­rosity. However, this Advantage I shall make of their kind Error, to use it as an Admonition, what sort of Person he ought to be, and how well qualified, who should pretend to the honour of being your Chaplain. And thus far I hope I may assure you, That, what I want in Learning or Abilities, I will endeavour, by the Grace of God, to make up and supply, by Diligence, and Probity, and Zeal, for the Service of God, and of your Honoura­ble Society, in this Important Station, in which your great Goodness has placed me. I am,

Your most Obedient, and most Faithful Humble Servant, HENRY MAUNDRELL.

A SERMON Preach'd before the Levant-Company.

ECCLES. Chap. VII. Vers. 16, 17.

Be not Righteous Over-much, neither make thy self Over-wise: Why shouldest thou destroy thy self?

Be not Over-much Wicked, neither be thou Foolish: Why shouldest thou dye before thy Time?

THESE words are the Counsel of the All-wise God; deliver'd also to us by the Wisest of Men, King Solomon. And 'tis well they come so Recommended, since they may be thought to stand in need of so great an Authority to defend them from those [Page 2]Objections which every Man's Reason, at first hearing, is apt to suggest against them.

Be not Righteous Over-much, neither make thy self Over-wise: Is this like the usual Stile and Lan­guage of Inspiration? Can those Lively Oracles of God's Word, whose whole aim it is to ad­vance us to the highest Degrees of Righteousness and Wisdom that our Nature is capable of, so far contradict their own design, as to bid us not be Over-wise, or Over-righteous? Can those Sacred Wri­tings, which in other places command us to be holy, even as he that hath called us is holy; Perfect, as our father which is in heaven is perfect, Here inter­pose a Caution against Over-much Perfection? Or can there be any danger of our ever being Over-righteous, the only Rule and Measure of whose Righteousness is to be taken from the Infinite Purity of God himself? Where may a man be bold, to exert his most Vigorous and Uncon­fined endeavour, without all danger of running into any excess, if not in his attempts after these excellent Endowments, Wisdom, and Righteous­ness?

Or admitting it were possible in the Nature of the thing, that men could ever be Over-wise, or Over-righteous; yet where is the Necessity of their being caution'd against these Extremes? Are they so Intemperate in their Applications to [Page 3] Wisdom and Righteousness, that they need a Bri­dle to check their too Swift and Aspiring Zeal? Do they bring in the Offerings of Righteous­ness in so vast a store, as the Jews did, of old, their Contributions for the Service of the Ta­bernacle, That it is requisite there should be a restraint laid upon their too profuse Liberality?Exod. 36. Happy certainly were those Golden days of So­lomon, if Wisdom and Righteousness so abounded! And have we not now reason to cry out, Oh! that men would but be Wise, and Righteous enough, rather than to use this caution of Solomon, Be not Righteous Over-much, neither make thy self Over-wise.

Again, Be not Over-much Wicked; Is this also a command becoming the Purity of the Word of God? Does the Divine Law allow us to be Wicked in a lesser Degree, provided we are not Over much so? Is Wickedness so harmless a thing in its own nature, that, like Wine, it is forbid, not in the use, but only in the excess of it? Or is there any measure of Sin that is but enough, seeing all that we are here forbid, is no more but only this, — Be not Wicked Over-much?

These are Exceptions, that are apt naturally to arise in men's Minds, against the words that now lie before us; for what Degree of Righteousness or Wisdom can be so great, that it may be condemn'd [Page 4]as Over-much; or what Degree of Wickedness so little, that it may be acquitted as not so?

It will be necessary for me therefore, before I prosecute my Discourse any further, to insist a little upon the Vindication of my Text; and to explain it in such a sense, as may not be liable to these Objections, but more agreeable to the Ho­liness and Dignity of the Word of God, whereof this is a part.

Tho, I do acknowledge, some Orthodox Com­mentators have interpreted these words only in a Moral sense; and have so understood them, that hereby, the highest true Degrees of Righteouss, and Wisdom, cannot be in the least condemned; but only the unreasonable Affectations, and arrogant Osten­tations of both, and a censorious Pride, and rigid severity toward other men, arising from a Pre­sumption of our excelling others in them: Yet, because I find divers other sound Interpreters have explain'd my Text in a larger, and more Spiritual sense, with reference to the principal Duties of our holy Religion, I think it more pro­per for my present business, in this Religious As­sembly, to consider it chiefly according to this latter Interpretation.

In order to which, be pleased to observe, That these words Righteousness and Wisdom, are very fre­quently used in Scripture, to denote, not only [Page 5]those particular Virtues, but the intire body of Re­ligion, with respect both to the Knowledge and Pra­ctice of it. According to which sense, he is a Righteous man who exercises a becomming Zeal in the whole practice of Religion; and he a Wise man, who is well instructed in its Principles and Mysteries.

But now, if this be the meaning of these words here in my Text, how can the Preacher's prohibition be justify'd? How is it possible for any one to be too Zealous in the Practice of Religion; or too stu­dious to make himself Wise and Knowing in the Principles of it?

I answer, That it is true indeed, the Knowledge and Practice of Religion, are things of Infinite and Eternal Importance to us; and do therefore both require and deserve to be made the Sub­jects of our most vigorous Zeal and Application. But it is no less true also, that there are certain Ex­cesses and Irregularities, which men are prone to fall into, even in these most weighty concern­ments; upon account of which, they may be censured, as Over-wise, and Over-righte­ous.

For 'tis a Maxim well known and approved amongst the Moralists, That Virtue consists in a Mean, or Mediocrity, between two extremes; and the holy Scripture suggests to us the same [Page 6]instruction, when it recommends to us, amongst its other Precepts, the Duty of Moderation, as a kind of Regulation, and Government, to be appli'd to all the other Offices of Virtue and Religion; which rule of Moderation, holds good in reference even to these most precious Qualifications of Wisdom and Righteousness; There is a certain Measure and Govern­ment to be observ'd in our practice of them, with­out which, our very Wisdom will become absurd, and our Righteousness impious. According to that just censure of the Poet,

Insani sapiens Nomen ferat,
Hor. lib. 1. Ep. 6.
equus iniqui,
Ultra, quàm satis est, Virtutem si petat ipsam.

For the illustration of which Principle in Mo­rals, we may borrow a resemblance from Natural things. Our food, we know, if moderately ta­ken, is the nourisher and sustainer of our Life; but if used unseasonably, excessively, irregularly, it turns to our Disease instead of our Refreshment: Physick, when skilfully appli'd, relieves the pains of the languishing Patient, and repairs the decays of his ruinous Tabernacle; but when used, with­out due Measure, Art, and Regimen, it takes part with the Disease, which it was design'd to cure, and under the pretences of a Remedy, proves to be a Poison. The natural heat of the Body, when it [Page 7]is temperate and even, and actuates the Blood with a regular Circulation, is Health, and Vigor, and Life: But the same Heat when it becomes feaver­ish, and raging, destroys that Body which before it animated, and the Patient dies with the Excess of his very Vital Flame.

Thus in like manner, Righteousness and Wisdom are the Food of the hungry Soul, the Physick of the Sick, and the spiritual Heat and Life of the Mind. But then also, if in relation to those so necessary Per­fections, we exceed the bounds of Sobriety and Moderation, that Food oppresses, that Physick poy­sons, that Heat inflames and enrages our Souls. Without that necessary mixture of Moderation, our Righteousness degenerates into a Furious Zeal, Super­stition, and Bigotry; and our Wisdom into Prophane­ness, Presumption, and undue Curiosity.

Now to restrain us from all these and the like excesses, is the principal part of the Wise-man's Prohibition in the former Verse of my Text, Be not Righteous over-much, neither make thy self over-wise.

The other Branch of the Prohibition is, Be not over-much wicked, neither be thou foolish: Which Words are not to be so understood, as if they for­bad only the higher degrees of wickedness, and yielded an indulgence to sins of a lesser size: For there can be no instance of Vice so inconsiderable either [Page 8]in its Measure or its Quality, as to find any toleration allow'd for it in the Law of God. But the being over-much wicked, relates to the duration of Sin, and not to the degree of it; and forbids a long persistency and hardness in Wickedness, and not only the more heinous and exorbitant acts of Im­piety. This Exposition is sufficiently warranted by the Septuagint Translation of this place; in which the Word here render'd Foolish, is [...], and properly signifies Hard and Obstinate; accord­ing to which Interpretation we may best under­stand the Words of the Wise-man, when he bids not to be over-much wicked, neither to be foolish.

From this account which has been given of the Text, we may now perceive that it contains in it, no such strange and unwarrantable meaning, as we were apt in our first thoughts to imagine; Since it appears, that the Prohibition here brought against over-much Righteousness and Wisdom, tends not to discourage us from applying our selves vigorously and faithfully to those great and important En­dowments; but only to restrain us from those Ex­cesses and Irregularities which we are apt to run into in such applications: Nor is the Precept against over-much Wickedness intended to insinuate any such favourable opinion of Vice, as if the lower de­grees of it were harmless and allowable, but ra­ther to deter men from a long obdurateness and ob­stinacy in sin.

I shall observe therefore in the Text, a Cau­tion given by the Wise-man against Three dange­rous Excesses; The two former incident to the Good and Religious man; the Last to the Wicked and Ir­religious.

The Good Man, Solomon cautions,

  • 1st. Not to let his Zeal for Religion be immode­rate and furious; Be not righteous over-much.
  • 2dly. Not to let his Enquiries into the Mysteries of Religion be too curious and presumptuous; Neither make thy self over-wise.

Both which Cautions He backs with this Con­sideration, Why shouldst thou destroy thy self?

The-Wicked Man, He warns against a long and obdurate Persistency in Sin; Be not over-much wicked, neither be thou foolish: Which warning He enforces by this Argument, Why shouldst thou dye before thy time?

These Three Cautions I take to be the princi­pal and most useful matters contained in the Text; And to illustrate them very briefly, and enforce them by the Arguments annex'd to them will be as much as I shall be able to dispatch, in the Time that is allow'd for my following Discourse.

I begin with the first of these Cautions, viz. Let not thy Zeal for Religion be Immoderate and Furious. Which is the Counsel implied in these Words, Be not Righteous over-much.

This is Advice very seasonable to all men, and at all times; it being an universal Error, too often in some measure visible in every Society and Party of men, to be transported into an Excessive Zeal, for the Patronage and Promotion of their own Persuasions. Whatever Religion men have been train'd up in, 'tis natural for them to be fond of it afterwards; That fondness will as naturally incline them to wish well to it; That kind Wish, to a Zeal and Endeavour for its Increase and Propagation. And it must be acknowledg'd, that this Zeal, so long as it contains it self within the bounds of Sobriety and Moderation, is so far from being culpable, that it is a Charitable and Generous Disposition. And in­deed, Religion is so near a Concern, and so enga­ging, that 'tis impossible for a man, who really has any, to be indifferent towards it, or not affected for its Honour and Advancement.

But from hence results the Excess which men are led into in this point: They are not contented to be soberly and temperately zealous, and to promote their Religion by such Rules and Measures as that Religion it self prescribes to them; but they run mad with an Excess of Zeal and Bigotry for it. Their Cause, they are confident, is the only righ­teous one; and then conclude, that they can never be over-righteous, in the promotion of it. All other Per­suasions are very Dagons to them, and must fall [Page 11]down at the feet of their Ark. All the Engines of Fury and Persecution must be set on foot, for the service of so meritorious a Cause; And such Mis­chiefs and Barbarities must be executed for its sake, as are a Reproach not only to Religion, but even to Humanity it self.

These are effects of an inordinate Zeal, which have been more or less evidenced in all Parties of men, and in all Religions. For indeed the very Christian Religion, that Mild and Peaceable Institu­tion, has not escaped these flames of a mad and outragious Zeal. But on the contrary, that bles­sed Instructer of Gentleness and Love, has been, by the abuse of its Professors, perverted into an In­centive of the fiercest Cruelty and Persecution. The Prince of Peace has been made a Herald of Conten­tion; and too many, that pretend to be of Christ's Flock, have turn'd themselves into ravening Wolves, worrying and devouring one another. What Flames, what Confusions, what Massacres, what Devastations! have been occasion'd, by an over-righ­teous Zeal, for that merciful Religion, which dis­claims nothing more than such Unchristian Bar­barities? And we have too many Instances, even at our own doors, in the several Sects and Divisi­ons of the Reformation it self, which, if they do not present us with any such Tragical Scenes as those beforementioned, yet cannot they be thought [Page 12]on, without affording a sad and evident demon­stration, how possible it is in the Nature of the thing, and how pernicious in its Effects, for men even in the best of Causes to be over-righteous. But

How unworthily do men treat the Christian Religion, when they make it the occasion of such Rage and Animosity? Christianity was never in­tended, to kindle such a fiery and passionate Zeal amongst its Votaries. The Spirit which that in­spires, is a Spirit of mutual Forbearance and Con­descension to one another. A Spirit, which for its visible Representation chose the Shape of a Dove to appear in, that Emblem of Love, and Meek­ness, and Innocence; a Spirit which allows us in­deed to join the Serpent's Wisdom to its Dove-like Innocence, but in all cases utterly abhors his Sting and his Poyson.

'Tis such an amicable Spirit, which, as it is the genuine Fruit, and the distinguishing Badge of the Christian Religion, so it is the most effectual Preser­ver of the Disciples and Church of Christ. But as for that contrary Spirit, of over much Zeal and Bigotry, it can tend to nothing, but that fatal end, which the Wise man here denounces as the just and natural Consequence of it; namely, That by it we shall destroy our selves. For what else can be the product of an Intemperate Zeal, and Rigor, and Conten­tion amongst Christians? It may pull down, but it [Page 13]can never edify; It can convert neither side, it may destroy both.

It is the healing Spirit of Meekness and For­bearance, which best promotes the Happiness and Safety, both of Single men, and of Societies. This has the Blessing both of God and Man attending it; Men bless it, by rendring back a Recipro­cal Love and Favour towards it; and God blesses it by his gracious Promises, declaring, That the Meek shall inherit the Earth, the Meek shall find rest to their Souls. But on the other hand, a Spirit of fierce Zeal and Bigotry, subverts the Peace and Safety both of private Persons, and of Com­munities, and chiefly of those very men who are most possessed and acted by it: For no man can exercise a furious Heat and Rigor in opposition to others, without provoking them, to mete out the same Measure, back again into his own Bosom. Thus he kindles a Fire, and perishes himself in the same Conflagration; the Mischief which he set on foot, comes home to his own door; and he verifies the Wiseman's Denunciation, which he would not take for his Admonition: By an Over-righteous Zeal he destroys himself.

And thus much of the first Caution suggested in my Text: Be not Righteous Over-much; that is, Let not thy Zeal for Religion be Immoderate and Furious.

And that we may be the better enabled to ob­serve this first Caution, Let us proceed to the se­cond, the consideration of which will most effectu­ally conduce to that end; for the chief ground and occasion of such inordinate Zeal for Religion, ari­ses most commonly, from an Over-wise and curious search into the Mysteries of it; which is the excess forbid by Solomon in these words: Make not thy self Over-wise, that is, Let not thy Enquiry into the Knowledge of Religious Mysteries be too Curious and Presumptuous.

Wisdom is indeed the Natural desire and thirst of our Souls: The Water-Brooks are not so fiercely long'd after by the Panting Hart, as this is by the mind of Man; nor when tasted, do they afford so great a Refreshment and Satisfa­ction. This is that Endowment whereby our Na­ture exceeds that of the Beasts that perish, and imitates, in some Measure, the Perfection, not only of Angels, but even of God himself. Justly there­fore may Men's minds Gasp and Pant after those living Waters; and so long as their desires and en­deavours to be wise, are Moderate and Humble, they act according to the Prerogative and Pro­priety of their reasonable Natures.

But the desire of Wisdom is oftentimes too strong, and imperious, to submit to those confine­ments, which Modesty and Sobriety would pre­scribe [Page 15]to it; for where men's thirst is so great, they are apt to be intemperate in the Gratification of it. They content not themselves with such com­petent Portions of Knowledge, as God allows them, and the Edification of their own Souls require; but they Launch out into the boundless Ocean of Divine Mysteries, striving to make themselves over-wise. They pretend to define the Incompre­hensible Nature and Properties of the Deity; they rifle all the secret Cabinets of his Counsels and Providences; they invade the most private Re­cesses of his inscrutable Wisdom, and would leave him no reserve of Knowledge to himself. They despise the most useful parts of Religious Wis­dom, as low and vulgar Contemplations; and that Knowledge they account but a poor and contemptible Attainment, which is sufficient to make 'em serviceable in their Generation, and to di­rect them safe to Heaven hereafter. The Eyes of these Men's Understandings, delight not, as the Eyes of the Body always do, in such Prospects as are Light, and Clear, and beautifully terminated; but on the contrary, they love, either to be ever looking into such dark Caverns and Abysses of Knowledge, where they can discern nothing at all; or else to survey such Infinite Spaces, where they can never arrive at any end of the Prospect. No­thing in Religion shall be to them a Mystery. [Page 16]Has God enacted Eternal and Immutable De­crees? They'l unseal the Mystical Book, and the Records of Heaven shall not escape their obser­vation. Has God in a most stupendious and un­speakable manner redeem'd Mankind? They must unfold the whole Mystery; and they'll hardly be contented, to accept the benefit of that Redemption, if they may not be allow'd to scan, and unravel, the whole Divine Art, by which that glorious Work was Accomplished.

With such rude and irreverent Curiosity do men dare to treat the most Mysterious Articles of Religion: But this certainly is a most presump­tuous exorbitancy, and may justly be censured as the excess forbid by Solomon in my Text, it be­ing the making our selves over-wise. For the holy Scriptures seem to have drawn a Curtain before these Sacred Articles, to admonish us not to search too boldly into them; but to receive them, as the constant Trials of our Faith, and Motives of our Humility. They give us the undoubted Testimony of God, to assert and confirm their truth, and that should be sufficient to warrant and command our belief of them, which is all that God in this par­ticular, requires at our hands. But if we will be over-wise, and search too curiously after the nature and discovery of them, all that we shall gain by it, will be nothing else but this mournful Recom­pence, [Page 17]we shall destroy our selves; for these sub­lime Truths are placed above our Mortal heads, like the Sun in the Firmament, to the intent that they might warm our Hearts, and influence our Lives; but they will be sure like the Sun too, to dazle our Eyes, if not to strike us quite blind, if we look too closely and obstinately upon them. It was an aspiring desire of being over-wise, that brought the Original Curse and Destruction upon Mankind: And alike ill consequence will attend all those who are guilty of the same Sinful Curiosity touching Divine Mysteries, which was our first Pa­rents, Transgression, in reference to the Tree of Knowledge. Such presumptuous discoverers may lose themselves in their researches, as we may see by the sad Ship-wrecks of those, who have been the boldest Adventurers that way; but they shall never find the forbidden secrets which they so thirst and languish after. They may disturb their Peace, impair their Health, subvert their Faith, distract their Reason; and according to the Wise­man's denunciation in my Text, totally destroy both their Bodies and Souls; but that's all the fruit that they are likely to reap from their endeavour to make themselves thus Over-wise.

And thus much of the two former Cautions con­tain'd in my Text, directed to the Good and Re­ligious man.

But if it be so necessary for the Good and Pious man, to observe such Limits and Cautions in his Appli­cations to Religion; How much more then does it behove the Wicked and Irreligious, to lay the se­verest Restraints upon himself in Relation to his Vices? Which leads me to the Third caution con­tain'd in my Text: viz. Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish, That is, Be not Persisting and Obdurate in thy Wickedness?

The holy Psalmist tells us, that God's mercies are over all his works; Extending their Benefits not on­ly to his good and obedient Creatures, but also to the wicked and rebellious ones. He bears long with them, spares and cherishes them; and when their Sins cry aloud for the Vials of Wrath, he nevertheless pours upon them the showers of his Mercy. And what is the gracious end and design of this long-forbearance and mercy of God toward them? No other but that which the Apostle assigns, That he may thereby lead them to Repentance: Rom. 2.4. But such is the Ingratitude of Sinners, that it too often works a contrary effect upon them; and that Pa­tience and Long-suffering of God, which both in the nature and design of it should persuade them to repent, encourages them to become more ex­cessive and obdurate in their Wickedness. Thus every days continuance in Sin, as it makes the [Page 19]Sinners condition more dangerous, so it renders him more obdurate and insensible of his danger; and that wickedness which puts him under the great­est necessity of Repentance, does most of all dis­able and harden him against it.

In their first Essays and Practices of Wicked­ness, Men are naturally apt to be diffident and fear­ful; full of inward distrusts, in the very commission of the evil, and of bitter checks and remorses for it afterward. They proceed to their first acts of Lewd­ness, as raw and unexperienced Soldiers are wont to go into Battel, that is with Chill Fears, Pale­ness and Tremblings; but when they have often try'd the danger, and come off with safety, they then bid defiance to the Almighty,Job 15.26. They run upon the thick bosses of his buckler; and what they at first attempted with so much fear and reluctancy, they repeat afterward with Triumph and Shout­ing. When they find that none of those Judg­ments, which are denounced against Sin, and which they were at first so apprehensive of, fall upon their heads; but that on the contrary they are crowned with Blessings; they then begin to flat­ter themselves, that God's threatnings are but emp­ty Menaces, of much seeming terror indeed, but no real danger. That he is no such dreadful Judge and Avenger as they at first mistook him for. And by these steps they become over-much wicked [Page 20]and foolish, that is, hardened and secure in their Sins.Eccl. 8.11. Because sentence is not speedily executed upon them; therefore are their hearts fully set in them to do evil.

But hear the Wiseman's warning, ye secure and obdurate Sinners! Why will ye dye before your time? Mistake not God's forbearance with you, for an allowance of your actions; think not that you are Pardon'd because you are Reprie­ved: Or that God's Judgments against you are reversed, because they are respited; flatter not your selves with such deceitful expectations. For if Solomon knew any thing, this will be the sure, tho it may be the slow Recompence of your over-much Wickedness, it will bring you to a wretched and untimely end. For the wrath of God is compared in Scripture to the raging of a Lion; which tho it may be long be­fore it can be provoked, yet it will be sure to break out upon you at last, in so much the more violent fury and destruction. And admitting that the Divine Wrath should for a time pass you over, yet the natural product of your own over much wickedness, will it self do the work of that Ven­geance, and you will need no other Executioners but your own Vices; for all Sin is naturally of a most deadly and pestilential Influence; it is the fruitful Parent of surfeitings, debilities, and rot­tenness of Bones, of an Infirm Life, and an Imma­ture [Page 21]Death. And whilst both Nature and Provi­dence thus combine against your safety, how can you live out half your days? How can you escape Solomon's Denunciation against your over much Wickedness, That it shall cause you to dye before your time?

And thus I have given you a brief Illustration of the Three Cautions delivered in my Text, and the Arguments annex'd to them by the Wise-man. I shall now crave leave, only to make Application of what has been said, in a short Address to the Three several sorts of Persons who are guilty of the Excesses which we are here warned against, and to persuade them to yield a more dutiful Re­gard and Obedience to these Excellent Cautions of Wise Solomon.

1. And first I shall apply my self to the over-much Righteous; that is, to those who are excessive and intemperate in their Zeal for Religion.

'Tis one of the saddest Considerations that can enter into a Christian's heart, to observe the deplo­rable effects of such a furious and ungovern'd Zeal in our own Nation; and to reflect upon that Wrath and Bitterness, with which men professing the same Fundamentals of Religion, do notwith­standing detest and separate from one another. Even the most distant Parties of men, and most disagreeing in other matters are yet all of the same [Page 22]mind in this Point, in showing an immoderate Zeal, in favour to their own Persuasions, and in opposition to those of other men. Nay, many times you shall have such men warmest of all for the Cause of their Opinions in Religion, who were it not for that Mad and Inordinate Zeal, would be hard put to it to produce from their whole Life and Practice any other Proof that they are of any Religion at all. Let the Members of the Party that is opposite to them be never so regu­lar both in Belief and Practice; never so careful to preserve Faith, and a good Conscience; yet be­cause they dare to contradict them in some small things, they burn with Zeal against them; give no Quarter either to their Persons or Opinions; but that single and inconsiderable difference shall efface all sense of their Agreement in greater mat­ters; and like a Gulph fix'd between them, shall separate them from all Christian Charity and Commerce with one another. Unreasonable men! Thus to rip up the very Bowels of Christia­nity by an over righteous Zeal for its Cause, and for the sake of such things which are but the Mint, and Annise, and Cummin of Religion, to violate that Love and Meekness which are the weightier things of our Saviour's Law.

But all such fierce and extravagant Zealots, of whatever Tribe or Persuasion, let me admonish, [Page 23]That the Gospel abhors such a Furious and Uncha­ritable Bigotry, and enjoins us to let our moderation be known unto all men. It commands us indeed to show a Zeal towards God: But what kind of Zeal is it? Is it such a blind, angry, and exterminating Zeal, as that which these men are possessed with? Nothing more contrary; It is a Zeal according to knowledge; a Zeal that enlightens, warms and che­rishes, but never consumes or destroys. A Zeal that ought indeed to stir us up to convince gainsayers, and to put to silence the ignorance of foolish mea: But how should that be done? Not with fierce Oppo­sitions, Fury, and Maliciousness; but by the gent­ler methods of Love, and Patience, and Well-doing: These are the Weapons of our Warfare. A Christian Zeal must imitate that friendly and propitious Ri­ver upon which this City stands, and to which you are so much indebted for your Traffick and Gran­deur: It must proceed in a still and gentle Course, and not in such an eager and rapid Torrent, as can serve only to sweep all things before it, and to be­tray the shallowness of its own Channel. From the example of this Bountiful River, be pleased to learn the due Moderation of your Piety: And de­rive this double Advantage from its Waters, to make it the Patern of your Zeal, as it is the great Fountain of your Riches. 'Tis such a Calm, and Even, and Deep Current of Religion, which alone [Page 24]can quench the burning Discords that are between us; and Import as great an Increase of true Piety amongst us, as that other does of Wealth and Splendor.

And have we not now, in the present Posture of our Affairs, the greatest reason to be of this mind, considering the Subtilty and Vigilance of our Common Enemies, who will be sure to take all Advantages from our Domestick Feuds, and to improve them to their Interest, and our Destruction. How will they rejoice in Gath, and triumph in the streets of Askalon! to see our over-righteous Zeal against each other; to look on whilst we most unnatu­rally do the work of their Arms by our own Animo­sities; and give them the Pleasure of beholding our Ruin, without putting them to the Trouble and Expence of procuring it? Let me beseech you therefore, for the sake of our Common Inte­rest and Safety, to entertain Candid, Amicable, Christian Dispositions towards one another. And whereever we meet with a man of a truly Pious and Teachable Spirit; Sound and Orthodox in the Articles of the Christian Faith, and conscientiously observant of the Rules of Christian Practice; let us treat such a one as a Brother, and a true Disciple of Jesus Christ. We may wish indeed, That he were not only almost, but altogether such as we are: We may, by the proper methods of Gentleness, Good [Page 25]Example, and Meek persuasion, endeavour to make him so. But if that perfect consent cannot be obtain'd, if those lesser marks of distinction cannot be totally wiped out; yet let 'em not be allow'd to break Friendship between us, and to prejudice our Charity but when we are so far agreed Let us over-look in our private Capacities and common Con­versation, all differences in lesser matters; and say of 'em all, as Ephron did to Abraham, concerning the price of his Field, What is that betwixt me and thee? This is the true Genius and Behaviour of a Christian Spirit; and to this I exhort you all, in the name of God, and in the meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ, by whose name we are call'd, and whose merciful temper, ought to be made the subject of our faithful imitation. But if the Example of Christ be not suf­ficient to work us into such a mild and condescending Spi­rit, yet at least let the sense and care of our own Self-Pre­servation prevail with us; for why should we by an over-Righteous Zeal and Bigotry destroy our selves?

But 2. In the next place let me address my self to those who transgress in the second excess, caution'd against in my Text, By making themselves over-wise; that is, by being too boldly Curious and Inquisitive in the Mysteries of Religion.

This is an Excess, the practice and mischief of which is too widely and fatally spread in the present Age. In which, the most Venerable Mysteries of Religion, are prostituted to the most illiterate and vulgar Examination; and those sacred Articles of the Trinity and Incarnation, to which the most Improved Understandings of former Ages have bow'd with a profound Veneration, are presumptously at­tempted to be unfolded, by every confident Undertaker; and if they cannot be unfolded, more presumptuously de­ni'd, as if it were out of Malice and Revenge for their un­searchable obscurity.

But let every such curious and daring Enquirer hear the Advice of the Wiseman, who is likely to be his best In­structor [Page 26]in the rules and measures of acquiring Know­ledge; Mike not thy self over-wise.

Vain Man! Wouldest thou be wise beyond the Stan­dard and Capacity of thy Nature? Does this disoblige thee, that there should be Mysteries in Religion above thy Understanding? Will nothing content thee but thou must comprehend the Essence and Attributes of the Dei­ty? Foolish and Ambitious Creature! Go first and study those things which are more proportion'd to thy capacity; the Idioms and Elegancies of Languages, the Histories and Polities of Nations, the Practical Maxims and Cases of Mo­rality, and the ordinary appearances of Nature. Search into the matter and motions of the heavenly Bodies, the Formation of Animals, the Virtues of Plants, the seeds and mixtures of Earth, and the fluxes and refluxes of the Wa­ters. And when thou hast gone through this School of Art and Nature, and hast mastered all the difficulties that oc­cur there; then, and not before, begin to unriddle the Mysterious Doctrines concerning Religion, and the Author of Nature. But if there are many things even in this in­ferior scope of Knowledge, which thou must confess to be too hard for all thy Study and Learning to overcome, and which will baffle thy most diligent enquiry into them; Why shouldest thou pretend too boldly to the Knowledge of more remote and sublime things? Why shouldest thou think it a disparagement to thy understanding, which is not able to give account of the meanest Plant or Insect, to acknowledge something above its comprehension, in the Nature of God, and the Mysteries of Religion?

Let me therefore as earnestly, as I may seasonably in this Generation, Exhort you all, in consideration of the nar­rowness and insufficiency of our human understandings, not to be too curious, or to expect to be over wise in Re­ligious Mysteries; but let us acquiesce in such a know­ledge and discovery of those high and inaccessible Articles, [Page 27]as may conduce to our Edification and Salvation; and let us not by an endeavour to be over-wise in them, weary, and distract, and perplex our minds; For why should we thus destroy our selves?

But 3. Let me now apply my self to those who are guilty of the last and greatest excess forbidden in my Text, who are, the over-much wicked and obdurate Sinners.

And all such let me exhort, by the terror of the Wise­man's denunciation, to rouze themselves up from their dangerous security. 'Tis a Lethargick and treacherous sleep, that lulls them so fast, and will be sure to end in an Immature, and which is worse, in an Eternal death; and what Motive can be sufficient to persuade men to the for­saking of their most beloved Vices, if they will not do it for this strong reason, for the prolongation of their Lives, and for the escaping of Death?

What terrible pains and operations, will not men some­times contentedly undergo for these dear ends? they'l part with Limb after Limb, cut off Right-hands, pluck out Right-eyes, and think themselves sufficiently rewarded for all, if they can but avoid dying thereby, and preserve a poor helpless trunk and remnant of Life. And why will they not be equally prevailed with for the same reason, to give up their Sins? Those Sins which are the Gangreens and Mortifications of their Bodies and Souls, and must, if not cut off, bring them to death before their time? Why will they not part with these Right-hands, and these Right-eyes, their beloved Sins, as willingly as they do those of their Bodies, since there would be less pain in doing it, and there is for it a greater necessity. Strange and unaccountable infa­tuation! That whereas Skin for Skin, and all that a man hath will he give for his life; yet he will not, tho for the sake of the same dear possession, be persuaded to part with his dar­ling Vices.

What account canst thou give of such a proceeding, thou [Page 28]soolish and obdurate Sinner? That whereas God has hedg­ed in thy way with thorns, and placed death as a stop in thy progress, thou wilt yet break through all those strong sences, chusing to dye before thy time, and to offer thy self up, if I may so say, a Martyr to the Devil? What Apology canst thou make for such an extravagant conduct? What reason canst thou find wherewith to answer the Wisemans question, why thou wilt dye before thy time? Is death so amiable a thing in thy eyes? Art thou so enamour'd with the King of terrors, that thou hastenest thus to meet him, and to anticipate the day of thy dissolution? No certainly, this cannot be the true reason of thy proceeding; no man can be thus in love with death, but especially not the wicked man, who must ex­pect so sad a Catastrophe after death. But the true cause of such an absurd Behaviour is this; That men consider not the last issue of their actions: they go on in their Vices, as the Ox goes to the Slaughter, reflecting in the mean time no more than that Beast does, that they are tending to the Chambers of death. Awake then, ye harden'd and secure Sinners, from this unthinking stupidity! Arise, and escape for your Lives! Death and Hell are before you, and why will ye die before your time? If you love life, and desire to see good days, flee from those Vices which lead you into such fatal and murderous consequences; Let the time past of your lives be accounted as over-much wickedness; and walk from henceforth in the good and wholesome Paths of Virtue and Religion. Thus will you escape that untimely end which the Wiseman here warns you of; thus will you set out in a fair way to a long life here, and in a sure way to an eternal One hereafter. To which God of his Infinite Mercy bring us all through Jesus Christ, To whom, &c.


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