THE FIRST, ON Comparing spiritual Things with spiritual, PREACHED AT THE PRIMARY VISITATION of the LORD BISHOP of WINCHESTER, At SOUTHAMPTON, JULY 15, 1788; AND PRINTED At the Request of the BISHOP, and CLERGY: THE SECOND, On the Simplicity of the Gospel, PREACHED LIKEWISE At SOUTHAMPTON, AT THE VISITATION of the CHANCELLOR of the Diocese, September 13, 1780; AND NOW PRINTED AT HIS REQUEST;




SERMON I.ON Comparin …


ON Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

1 COR. ii. 13.‘Which things we speak, not in the words, which man's wisdom teacheth; but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’

WHEN St. Paul planted the gospel at Corinth, he found his designs chiefly opposed by two kinds of people.

The first were men of pleasure. Corinth lay commodiously for trade; and trade pro­duces riches; and it had been early observed, that it was difficult for rich men to enter into the kingdom of heaven. They were more disposed to the pleasures, which riches furnish; than to the comforts, which religion administers: and even they, who had embraced christianity, found much work for the apostle in keeping them pure from the contagion, that was spread abroad.

[Page 8]Besides the gay, and thoughtless, the apostle had another kind of people to contend with. These were philosophers: and tho they were a more respectable set of men, than the other; they were, at the same time, perhaps more intractable. A state of learning is in itself no doubt, favourable to religion, at least in a certain degree; and has ever been found so: but the philosopher himself has sometimes too much wisdom to be taught. The Corinthian philosophers certainly had; and were in general rather inclined to add something of their own to amend the gospel; than to accept it in that simplicity, in which Paul preached it.

To the latter the text alludes. These philosophizing christians (many of whom were probably teachers also) the apostle endeavours to recall to the simplicity of the gospel. He sets before them his own example. He came not, he tells them, with the excellency of speech, or the inticing words of man's wisdom. He knew nothing among them, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified: adding, that he had never preached the words, which man's wisdom teach­eth; but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; com­paring spiritual things with spiritual.

[Page 9]In this passage the apostle gives us the only true rule of interpreting scripture; which rule I shall endeavour to illustrate, by shewing, How the apostles were directed by it; and How it seems applicable to us. The text has, I know, been applied by some interpreters to persons, rather than things: but, I think, the whole context favours the sense, in which I take it,

In the first place, the apostle tells us, he avoided the words, which man's wisdom teach­eth.—In the apostle's days indeed man's wis­dom had made only a little progress in the affairs of religion. We read of Hymeneus, Philetus, and a few others, who seemed desi­rous of being teachers, before they understood what they affirmed. But their number was small.

Man's wisdom however was a kind of leaven, which made a rapid progress. We need only cursorily examine ecclesiastical history to see it's mischievous effects. There we find men running such lengths of folly, extravagance, wildness, and I may add, of wickedness, that we may well suppose, it was in the spirit of foresight, that the apostle puts us so-much on [Page 10] our guard against man's wisdom. Man's wis­dom hath filled innumerable volumes: the purity of the gospel is comprized in one.

In this ingrateful field we might wander long. The history of man's wisdom is the his­tory of his opinions; and of these there is no end. Zeal, and indiscretion; pride, and vani­ty; bad meanings, and good meanings, have all contributed to interpret what the Holy Ghost teacheth by the words of man's wisdom. In­stead therefore of wandering in this wide wil­derness, let us fix our eyes on those great land­marks, which the apostle has set up to lead us safely through it.

The apostles were immediately inspired. They taught, as the Holy Ghost instructed. Immediate inspiration, brought all things to their remembrance, whatever their blessed Lord had taught them.

At the same time, it should seem, that the inspiration of the apostles was restricted to what was new in the religion they taught—or if not wholly new, yet so obscurely shadowed out in prophecies, and prophetic types, that it needed certainly a full explanation. The great truths, with regard to the redemption of the world—the intercession of Christ—the con­ditions [Page 11] of acceptance—the universality of the christian religion—the motives it holds out— the purity it hath introduced into morals—the certainty of a future state—and of a last judg­ment—were all, no doubt strongly impressed on the minds of the apostles, and properly opened by immediate inspiration. In any of these great truths mistakes were dangerous—memory was frail—and there were yet no written re­cords.—At the same time such notices, as were already on the records of inspiration— those divine truths contained in the books of the Old Testament—wanted no farther illustra­tion from the Holy Ghost. Here nothing more seems to have been necessary, than the use of reason, and common sense. And thus the apostle distinguishes between the things, which God had revealed by the spirit; and the act of comparing spiritual things with spiritual. The one he calls declaring the testimony of God: the other was plainly the exertion only of reason. Nothing more than the exertion of reason was necessary to prove the connection between the Old Testament and the New—or to point out the completion of prophecies—or to shew, how the types of the law were fulfilled. Of this mode of reasoning we find abundant instan­ces [Page 12] among the sacred writers—in the epistle to the Hebrews especially.

Thus then inspiration seems to have been necessary to direct the apostles in what was hitherto unknown: but human reason seemed sufficient to enable them to apply what had been already inspired.

Let us then now see, how this rule, which guided the apostles, appears applicable to us— or in what way we are to speak what the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

In the first place, I think, it plainly appears, that we have no reason to expect immediate direction from what the Holy Ghost teacheth. To wait for desultory illapses of the spirit to lead us into truth, seems to have little countenance from scripture; unless indeed we apply to ourselves such passages, as by the fairest rules of interpre­tation can apply only to the apostles. And surely the greatest caution is necessary in settling a point, which, if it be an error, tends to confirm all other errors. When a man reasons himself into a mistake, he may reason himself out of it again. But when a man discards reason, and substitutes in it's room a divine instructor, every enthusiastic notion becomes then immedi­ately [Page 13] stamped with the character of divine truth. The strange effects of such wildness we have often seen: and are sufficiently guarded against it by the apostle's rule.

As far indeed as a holy life is concerned, we are assured every where in scripture, that unless the endeavours of man are assisted by the Holy Spirit of God, which dwells within him, and to whose divine admonitions he ought ever to listen, he can do nothing. Here the divine aid is necessary. Man, as a moral agent, with all the mischiefs of the fall about him, want­ed support.

But the investigation of truth is a different affair. It was not so much his understanding, that was disturbed; as his will and affections, that were perverted. Wretched man, that he was, he knew what was right; but he could not practise it. To rectify his knowledge, enough had been done: inspired truth was on record; and he had a rule given him to understand it. Farther aid would have rendered that rule un­necessary; and the expectation of any such aid, enthusiastic.

It is true indeed the pious Christian will read his bible with the best effect: and in this sense, no doubt, the Holy Spirit may be [Page 14] said to assist him in understanding the truth of scripture: for he who does the will of God, will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. But this is still only the application of scripture to the rectifying of his affections. To under­stand it as a system of truth, the rule given us to compare spiritual things with spiritual, seems abundantly sufficient. The New Testament is to us precisely in the state, in which the Old Testament was to the apostles. It is inspi­ration recorded. If farther inspiration be ne­cessary, a written record is more than is neces­sary. If God gave the greater, why should he give the less?—It seems therefore fully suffi­cient for the understanding of scripture, to take it into our hands; and, in the spirit of sinceri­ty, and piety, to compare one part with another; or with a general view of the whole. This seems in the apostle's idea the only key to the scriptures.

But now, it must be confessed, that a va­riety of causes have introduced difficulties into these sacred records. Ancient customs not well understood—ancient modes of speaking, not conformable to our own—ancient errors, generated in times of ignorance—modern pre­judices, and opinions, grafted on texts of [Page 15] scripture misapplied—have united with other causes in disfiguring the plain, and simple truths of the gospel.

Why God suffered this blot, as some may call it, in the sacred record of his truth, we know not. Yet humbly tracing the reason of it in the analogy of his other works, we may refer it to the general law of a state of trial. Every thing here bears the marks of the fall. In our moral pursuits we are ex­ercised with various difficulties: why not in the pursuit of religious truth? In both we may be assisted, if we apply the proper means. In one, the spirit of God will direct our en­deavours: in the other, the great scriptural rule of comparing spiritual things with spiri­tual.

The honest application of this rule, without doubt, would remove all the material difficul­ties of scripture. But instead of solving them in this way, we too often endeavour to adjust them by the words of man's wisdom. Hence arise all the disputes, that have divided the church.

The opinions, which have occasioned them, however varied, run commonly in two great channels—that of enthusiasm, and that of [Page 16] libertinism. The enthusiast reads his bible too literally: the libertine, (I use the word in it's less offensive sense) too laxly. The one utterly discards reason: the other thinks no­nothing but reason worth attending to. The enthusiast loves a mystery, because he does not understand it: the libertine allows nothing to be a mystery; what he does not under­stand, he rejects.—Let us in an instance or two, apply our great scriptural rule to them both.

With regard to the jarring doctrine of faith, and works, it can never surely be settled by the literal application of a few scattered pas­sages of St. Paul: but one should imagine it might easily be settled by comparing such passages with other parts of scripture; and still more by an appeal to the whole scheme of chris­tianity. The very first book of the bible shews us, that the gospel was meant to restore us to that purity of life, which we had origi­nally lost. This indeed seems to be the leading point of christianity; the word of God every where exhorting us to cleanse our hearts—to purify our affections—and to transform our­selves into new creatures.

[Page 17]Now it is certain, all this must be done by faith. Whoever cometh to God through Christ, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them, who diligently seek him. So that in this sense we may be said to be justified by faith; because without saith, and it's accom­panying virtues, no man can attain that righteousness, which the gospel requires as a proper qualification for our receiving the merits of Christ's death. All christians therefore lay a stress on faith. The great difference is, the partial view makes it in itself an end—the com­parative view makes it the means only of a purified heart, and a good life.

With regard again to an awful doctrine, which we have lately heard disputed with so much freedom; one should think, that a com­parison of spiritual things with spiritual might lead us here also to one point. The whole bible, Old Testament and New, prophecies, and completion, seem so full both of the hu­manity and divinity of Christ, that one should wonder, how any one, who believes the scrip­tures, could separate the two ideas. If only human, how inconsistent! Here is a human being, who engages in the arduous task of redeeming his fellow-creatures from sin. We [Page 18] must either therefore give up all idea of redemp­tion, of which the scripture is every where so full—or we must acknowledge the total disproportion of the work.

The idea of redemption indeed is sometimes given up: but still what difficulties remain, unless we give up the scriptures also? This human being shewed every sign of a divine nature. He knew the thoughts of man; which is always considered as one of the prerogatives of the Almighty. He could forgive sin; tho we all know, that none can forgive sin, but God alone. This human being also had the power—not only of working miracles himself, which many have possessed—but of commission­ing others also to work them, which no one ever attempted before. This human being, tho cautious in the early part of his ministry; yet as he approached the end of it, spoke so freely, that those around him declared, he made himself equal with God; which was in fact the case. This human being also was endowed with the strange, and wonderful power of raising, not only others—but himself also from the dead: and not only professed in his lifetime, that he would send—but after his ascension to heaven, he actually did send, the Holy Ghost upon his faithful followers; com­municating [Page 19] to them powers, unheard of before, for the propagation of his religion. In a word, when we take a comprehensive view of the scrip­tures, and draw together the innumerable passa­ges, in which this great truth seems so plainly to be contained, it is a difficult matter to con­ceive how a denial of it is consistent with a belief in what we read. Nor is this a matter to be reasoned upon, like a point of mathematics, or natural philosophy: nor indeed does there seem a necessity to adduce the opinions of this, or that father of the church. The honest application of the rule before us, is all that seems really necessary.

That we do not understand this great mys­tery is certain: how indeed should we? but we understand as much of it, as we do of many other things—of the union of our souls and bodies particularly; in which we all believe.

There are some passages of scripture again, which have been thought more refractory—with regard, for instance, to the fore-knowledge of God; and such doctrines, as are supposed to be involved in it. For myself, I own, I find little difficulty in bringing all these pas­sages to the apostle's test of comparison. But if any of them should be thought more un­yielding; [Page 20] instead of reasoning upon them, we might still content ourselves with comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Tho we may not be able to obtain compleat satisfaction from a comparison with particular passages; we may surely obtain it from a comparison with the whole scheme of the gospel. The gospel was intended for the general good of man; and God's arbitrary will, can never run counter to his revealed will.

We act thus in common life. Suppose we look into a medical book for the remedy of some particular disorder; and should there find it prescribed, that we should mix a cer­tain quantity of some drug (a quantity which we know would prove fatal) with other ingre­dients—how should we receive such a prescription? we know well, that the book is intended to administer to our health: but here is a prescription, which would infallibly destroy us. We should take it for granted therefore—either that the drug in question was put by mistake for some other drug—or if the book were foreign, that it was wrongly translated—or that there was some mistake in the quantity perhaps—or perhaps that we might not clearly understand the prescription— [Page 21] at any rate, we should certainly never swallow the potion; because it was very plain, that the intention of the book, and the prescription must agree.

Thus the apostle's rule of comparing spiri­tual things with spiritual, will in all cases direct us right. One part will generally ex­plain another: but if any part happen to be more unyielding, we cannot be far wrong, if we compare the difficulty, whatever it is, with the general scheme and intention of the gospel.

But there is one difficulty still behind, which is the greatest of all—and that is, to bring our minds honestly to the application of this rule. The mind, when we examine a difficulty of scripture, should be blank paper. Alas! how often is it already scribbled over with the words of man's wisdom! Each of us hath his favourite system—the pride of all his studious hours—and in nothing does self-deceit triumph more, than in giving these favourite systems the gloss of scripture. It is the most difficult thing in the world to take the eye from some favourite point, and give it a general cast. And yet without this, no judgment can be formed.

[Page 22]In examining the works of man, as well as of God, we must judge from the whole, or our judgment will be erroneous. In archi­tecture, for instance, should a man stand close to a column, and pronounce boldly, that it was too large, or too small, we see at once how absurd a judgment he might pass. Whereas, if he should step back a little— take a proper stand, and view the whole in one comprehensive view, he might perhaps find, that the part objected to, was in exact proportion; and the defect not in the object, but in himself.—It is often thus in our scrip­tural inquiries: we take a doctrine from a text.

And here I cannot help lamenting the sin­gular ill-usage, which the scriptures have met with in being frittered into chapter, and verse, with so little attention to the sense. It is astonishing that the unauthorised barbarism of a printer* (I cannot give it a softer name, tho he was certainly an able, and a learned man), should be received so universally through christendom. The only advantage, which [Page 23] this strange interruption of the sense of scrip­ture can have, might just have been answered as well by marginal references. In the mean time, the mischief is glaring. The narrative, or the argument, instead of running on, like other compositions, in a continued discourse, is broken into aphorisms. In other books the paragraph ends, where the sense makes a pause. In the bible, whatever the sense is, it ends at every third or fourth line. Passages, thus insulated, receive an independent form. The sense in each little paragraph, seems drawn to a point; and the unlettered reader at least is apt to pause. Whereas, if he went on, and took all together, he would find, he must often affix a very different meaning to the words.

I have frequently heard, for instance, a verse at the beginning of the 1st epistle of St. Peter, Elect according to the fore-knowledge of God, alledged as an irrefragable argument in favour of predestination. But if this verse were added to the preceding one, from which it is violently separated, it would appear, that the whole people of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, are all the elect according to the fore-knowledge of God. Now it is absurd in the last degree, to suppose, that the whole [Page 24] bulk of these several nations were in a state of salvation: at the same time it is perfectly evan­gelical, to conceive them all invited to partake of the privileges of the gospel, according to the fore-knowledge of God—that is, according to the predictions of the prophets*.

Few judicious churchmen, I suppose, would wish for a new translation of the bible. It could not soon acquire that general reverence, which is paid to the old one. But many per­haps would desire to see the errors of the old one corrected; tho with as little alteration as possible. The several late collations of MSS. would render this, I should think, no very difficult work. If however the wisdom of our superiors see any insuperable obstacle in going so far, one should suppose, at least, there could be none in detaching chapters, and verses into the margin. They are certainly unauthorised intruders.

Having thus considered the passage of scrip­ture, I undertook to discourse on; and touched, [Page 25] tho very slightly, a very important subject—so important, and so often transgressed, that frequent hints upon it, can never be out of season—I shall just add a few remarks on the difference between holding an error, and teaching one.

Error is inseparable from the mind of man. Humanum est errare, was the honest confession of nature; and a state of grace points out the melancholy truth with still greater force. We humbly hope therefore, that as man, and error are so closely united, God will pardon our innocent errors—I mean such errors, as have no connection with guilt.

But yet our errors, tho innocent, as far as we ourselves are concerned, may to others be the source of great mischief. While they continue our own thoughts, they affect no­body: but when we suffer them to get abroad, they become cloathed in words—and perhaps in such words, as the text calls the words of man's wisdom.

Thus many excellent men, I doubt not, may have carried the doctrine of faith too high. Them it injured not; every christian virtue perhaps flowing from it. In their minds therefore however erroneous the opinion, it [Page 26] may still be innocent.—But they may fall into a very egregious mistake, if they suppose from their own pious feelings, that this doctrine has always the same effect on others. It may create self-delusion. I should fear it might have a tendency to it; and may make men satisfied with themselves. Faith is an easy substitute for a good life. Faith, they are sure, they have; and as to works, they hear them always spoken of as of no value; which it is possible they may be too apt to apply in their own way: so all is well. It is cer­tainly a very dangerous thing, to speak slightly of works, lest we should give a handle to the natural pravity of human nature.

Thus again, with regard to the other im­portant subject, on which I touched, as there are many passages of scripture relating to the humanity of Christ as well as his divinity, I cannot persuade myself, (as some pious people have done) that an exact faith on this head is necessary to salvation. Numbers, I have no doubt, will be saved through the merits of Christ, who conceive him only as their law­giver, and conscientiously obey his laws; tho they may not have those exalted ideas of his divine nature; to which our scriptural rule, I [Page 27] think, so directly leads. If their holy lives have attained the principal end of a better faith; they ought not surely to be branded with hard names, and considered among those, who deny Christ before men.

We are sometimes told they ought; because without this exalted faith in the divine nature of a Saviour, the mind cannot attain those elevated heights of love, which the gospel prescribes.

One should think so indeed: but before we pass these harsh censures on others, let any of us, who do hold that doctrine, ask our own carnal hearts, whether it purify them in this exalted manner?

At the same time, I think, we have good ground to censure those, who publicly raise scruples. Why cannot they be satisfied with keeping their opinions at home?

When a man holds a religious opinion with such conscientious firmness, that he gives up his temporal interests for it's sake; tho the opinion may be erroneous, the man is virtuous: his character respectable.—But if, instead of suffering manfully for his opinion, he should set it up as a banner, and call people together under it; he should then, I think, look well to his motives. There may be a touch of [Page 28] latent vanity—there may be an over-weening of himself—the pride of being at the head of a sect—an oblique view to self-interest perhaps —or some other undue motive, which may insinuate itself, without well looking after, into his religious views. To propagate any error, is dangerous—but on disputable motives, it is doubly so. A man is no way put upon it: of course, he is answerable for the conse­quence. On a question of philosophy indeed, where an air-pump, or a crucible is concerned, it matters little: but where religion is the subject, it becomes a point of moment. To be silent, is at least safe. There can be no harm—and I think, no great share of modesty —in keeping an opinion to yourself, which has always been opposed by a great majority, and some of the wisest, and best men, both laymen, and churchmen, that ever lived.

But it is said, the examination of truth can do no harm.

None in the world to the truth itself. None to the candid, and able examiner of it. But to the undistinguishing many it may often do great harm. Indeed I know nothing of a more delicate nature, than the management of a polemical controversy. To answer a bold [Page 29] charge, seems necessary. But to keep up the spirit of a dispute by continually replying to an opponent, who is determined never to yield, seems more than is necessary. It may unset­tle the minds of well-meaning people. It may lead them from things of more conse­quence. It may be offensive to see churchmen continually wrangling about points of religion. And tho these points may often be of little moment in themselves; yet they, who know less, may think essentials concerned; and the gospel itself of an unstable nature.—Besides I should always fear, that what was gained in argument, would be lost in piety— in charity most undoubtedly. Holy wars have ever been the worst of wars; and scriptural debates, the most intemperate.—And what end is gained? They rarely convince. People generally hold their own opinions; and the matter ends, as it began*. And as to any concern for the souls of men, in pure charity, one should think, they will not alledge this. If we allow sal­vation [Page 30] to their faith, they may surely be as condescending to ours.

After all, the world hath had enough on these subjects. There is not one of them, which hath not been over, and over debated. We have only the old argument dressed up anew. The sceptical inquirer cannot possibly mistake his way. The road is tracked by many wheels; and needful guide-posts are every where set up. From the knowledge abroad in the world, he may easily find abun­dance to satisfy all his enquiries.

The great conclusion from the whole, is, that the ministers of religion cannot be too cautious in avoiding the words, which man's wisdom teacheth; nor too careful in comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Polemical divinity, no doubt hath a tendency to lead us aside. The great point before us is very different. Instead of employing our time on the difficult topics of the gospel, which con­cern few; it would serve the cause of the gospel better, to endeavour by every means, as we are best able, to inculcate the important truths of religion, which so much concern us all—the intention, and necessity of it—it's graces, and high offers—it's means of puri­fying [Page 31] our nature—it's conditions, and awful sanctions. These are truths which, tho well known, require daily inculcating; and placing in various lights. On examining therefore the whole intention, and tenor of the gos­pel—on comparing spiritual things with spi­ritual, we must be convinced, that the great­est service we can do to religion—and the best obedience we can shew to the gospel, consists in our uniting in a conscientious en­deavour to draw a corrupt age to the prac­tice of godliness—keeping that which is com­mitted to our trust, and avoiding profane, and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called; which too often spoil men through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.



ON The Simplicity of the Gospel.


2 COR. xi. 3.‘I fear, lest, by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty; so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity, that is in Christ.’

ONE of the first great objects of aposto­lical fear, in the matter of religious corruption, was judaism. The earliest converts were Jews; and they could not at once be brought to acknowledge the simplicity that is in Christ. Deep prejudices had taken root: the authority of Moses—their peculiar privileges—the grandeur of their temple—and splendor of it's worship, had gotten posses­sion of their earliest conceptions; and had filled their minds with ideas, which were not easily erased by the simplicity of the gospel.

But tho judaism was the primary object of the apostle's fear; the passage before us leads [Page 38] us to suppose, his apprehensions had here taken another turn; and were rather directed to the temptations of the world.—We may consider it indeed, if we please, as prophecy. It has certainly the most genuine mark of prophecy— it has been exactly fulfilled. The simplicity of the gospel, in it's first age, could not be more corrupted by judaism; than it has been since by a concurrence of other mischievous causes.

In the following discourse, I shall just touch upon a few of those causes, pointed out by the apostle, which have corrupted the simpli­city that is in Christ; and I shall then inquire, what part the ministers of the gospel should take in this matter. It is a subject neither new, nor curious. But if it be a common subject; it is, at least, a very interesting one; and can neither be too often reviewed, nor too deeply impressed.

In order to see how the simplicity that is in Christ, hath been corrupted, it may be necessary to inquire first, in what it consists. But the apostle hath not defined it; and there­fore [Page 39] we may suppose, we are to gather a de­finition of it for ourselves.

Whoever reads the holy scriptures with the meek spirit of a learner, will feel the meaning of the expression better, than any logical dis­tinctions can explain it to him. He will feel the simplicity that is in Christ growing upon him more, and more, as he becomes more intimately acquainted with the scriptures; and by degrees taking possession of his understand­ing and affections—he will feel a disposition forming itself in his mind, free from the pre­judices of any sect—yet indulgent to the opi­nions of all—open to conviction—and above disingenuous cavil—zealous in searching for the truth—but gentle in maintaining it—equally ready to correct an error; and to acknowledge it. He will feel that the simplicity, which is in Christ will form his heart, as well as his faith, and opinions. He will not allow the precepts of religion to be refined by the glosses of the world—nor accommodated to it's fashions—nor considered as speculative points. His faith will be a directing prin­ciple; which raises him above the world— above it's hopes—above it's fears—and forms [Page 40] him into a chearful passenger through this state of trial; animated only by those holy hopes, which the gospel inspires.

That there are now, and have been in all ages, many individuals, who may, in a certain degree, be thus characterized, we have no doubt. But where shall we find the national character of a people under this description? In early days, when christians were of one heart, and one soul, we may suppose, that heart, and soul were truly christian. But it was at a time, when, we read, they had all things in common. When the necessary distinc­tions of society began to take place; then began also among christians, an opposition between the spirit of the world, and the simplicity, that is in Christ. This simplicity was in a degree tainted, even before the miraculous powers of the church ceased; and we may be assured the mischievous spirit, which then ap­peared, has not been idle through so long a tract of time; but hath continued extending it's influence in some countries more, in others less, according to the various circumstances of each. The New Testament is the record of the simplicity of the gospel: and modern [Page 41] history, but above all ecclesiastical history, is the record of it's corruption.

The apostle of the text is writing to the converts of a trading, and opulent town; not barbarous, and uninformed; but inlightened by all the philosophy, and worldly wisdom at that time in esteem. He foresaw what temptations their peculiar circumstances would draw them into. Worldly ideas of various kinds—vanity, pride, and ambition—avarice, profusion, and sensuality; in a word, all the arts of raising a fortune; and all the arts of consuming one, he knew, would be conti­nually operating before their eyes: and how the simplicity of the gospel might be able to oppose these fascinating delusions, was the object of his fear.

Again, it might be in equal danger from the refinements of philosophy; and the acute reasonings of learned men; who trying it's simple principles by canons of human inven­tion, and rules of logical exactness, would from these pronounce boldly on it's inconsistences, and defects.

The simplicity of the gospel might be power­fully opposed too by the ridicule of men of [Page 42] wit; who taking their topics of comparison from the fashions, and practices of the world, might display the folly, and absurdity of such doctrines, as they were inclined to discoun­tenance.

All this was perfectly easy: for as christi­anity, and the world were at variance; argu­ments drawn from the world, and addressed to the world, were sure of being favourably heard.

That these were the motives of the apostle's apprehension, is very plain: for he tells his converts, he fears, they should be corrupted, as the serpent had beguiled Eve. To know therefore how that matter stood, we need only turn to the record of the fatal deed. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food; and that it was pleasant to the eye; and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.

Short as this account is, we find in it a combination of interest, pleasure, vanity, and a false taste for knowledge, all co-operating, through the wiles of the devil, to impose upon our first parent. With these delusions, she was corrupted; and with these delusions we [Page 43] conclude the apostle feared his Corinthian converts might be corrupted also.

How far our case may be similar to that of the Corinthian converts, I should rather leave as matter of inference. All I wish to establish on this head, is, that we are assured, on the authority of an apostle, that the simpli­city, which is in Christ, may be corrupted by such temptations, as certainly do abound amongst us—in our manners—in our amusements—in our literary pursuits; and in our general modes of intercourse with each other.

Some theorists may amuse themselves with an opinion, that religion is in a progressive state. It is at least a pleasing theory—and in one sense, no doubt, a very just one. If we believe in prophecy, we must believe, that the gospel will not only spread over the face of the earth; but that it's present state is a kind of preparation for that glorious state, of which we obtain a general conception from the apoca­lypse of St. John; tho the lofty figures em­ployed in that description, leave the detail ob­scure.

But notwithstanding this general progress of the gospel, we may suppose it's light to be some­times [Page 44] obscured in particular countries—or, in the apostle's language, it's simplicity corrupted. On this head I fear the general prevailing manners of our own country will not stand a scriptural test.

As the ministers of the gospel make a part of this tainted mass, we must not flatter our­selves, that we are not, in a degree, corrupted also. We read, in early days, of deceitful workers transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; and we cannot conceive, that these deceitful workers are more uncommon now, or these transformations more rare. I mean not however at present to pursue so ingrateful a theme; I should rather wish to inquire, how far we have it in our power to counteract such corruption.

Even to oppose this torrent, with any success, no doubt, may be difficult enough. To re­store the simplicity of the gospel is a vain thought. For that great event we must wait devoutly for those times, to which I have just alluded, when all offence shall be done away.

Some things may be wrong, which the legislature only can rectify: and tho we ac­knowledge [Page 45] the difficulty of moving these sacred foundations; yet favourable opportunities may perhaps arise, in future time, when a few things, which are now rather offensive, may be brought nearer the simplicity of the gospel. Many of our ablest churchmen have freely ex­pressed their wishes on this head; and as these wishes become more general, they will of course, obtain more weight. Establishments however, after all, necessary as they are, must necessarily bring on their attendant evils; which serious men may bemoan—and in part may rectify; but, on the whole, they will ever have cause to lament, that the nature of things, in this corrupt state, is mixed with evil—and that the nature of man, will turn even his blessings into mischief.

We have also greatly to lament, that the man­ners of the great, are, in general, so far removed from the simplicity of the gospel; because the manners of the great will ever be the principal source of national manners. It is a happiness however, that in general these vitiated scenes are removed from the eyes of the people: and yet enough sometimes gets abroad to astonish those, who happily live at a distance from them. There is one day [Page 46] particularly, on which the great, and little world are, in some degree, on a level; and one place, in which they meet on an equal footing. We have it ever to lament, that so pleasing a har­mony—an institution so delightfully calculated to insure benevolence by united devotion through the whole mass of the people, should be so generally disregarded. Even the very poli­tical use of this sacred institution, if it had no other, were sufficient to inforce a general observance of it on all, who have a love for public order. But the great should consider farther, that if they have no need of instruction —their inferiors at least have; who are al­ways ready, on this, and every occasion, to shew their betters, how much they approve, and value the bad examples they set them.

Let things however be wrong in what de­gree they will—let the great and little world unite in treating the simplicity, that is in Christ with what contempt they please, it is still our part to do our best to preserve it; and to keep the remains of religion, as far as we can, and as long as we can, subsisting amongst us. Tho the whole head is sick, and the heart faint, and the physician's best skill can only palliate; it is always something to go so far.

[Page 47]Our blessed Saviour calls the ministers of the gospel the salt of the earth. It is a most expressive figure. It shews not only that there will be great corruption in the earth; but it shews farther, that the ministers of the gospel are the means, which God has appointed to oppose this corruption. Tho our influence cannot preserve the whole; yet still it may preserve a part. Tho we may have no effect on the general bulk of mankind; yet there may be many an individual, whose honest heart we may retain in the simplicity of the gospel.

We are not legislators; and things would not go on better, if we were. The only means, which we have to employ in this matter, lie in two easy words, our doctrine, and our manners; in both of which it should be our utmost endeavour to attain, as far as we can, and to impress upon others, the sim­plicity that is in Christ. The former, we must endeavour to preserve from the corruptions of worldly wisdom; the latter from the corrup­tions of worldly fashions.

To explain the word of God, is certainly the most arduous business, in which the reason of man can engage. Every explanation of the [Page 48] sacred text, is, in fact, putting our own sense upon the words of scripture: and when we consider the very supine ignorance of the ge­nerality of the common people, who take their ideas of religion from what we tell them; it is certainly a very awful thought, and should make us endeavour to keep as close as possible to the simplicity, that is in Christ.

It is in vain to attempt this without a thorough acquaintance with scripture; which will always suggest such passages to the me­mory, as, on a comparison with the subject we are upon, may direct us to the true scrip­tural sense.

The lawyer is obliged to study with at­tention a number of books, and to examine a variety of parallel cases, before he can be qualified to act in his profession. The physi­cian is under the same necessity. And is it not a mortifying consideration, that, because the common people are obliged to take our prescriptions, just as we please to prescribe, we should for that reason prescribe carelesly; and without sufficiently consulting that book, which alone will enable us to do it pro­perly?

[Page 49]Some think the simplicity, that is in Christ, consists in cloathing their sentiments always in scripture-phrase. I see no more reason for this, than for going about, as the apostles did, in sandals, with a scrip, and a staff. Modes of speech are just as much the fashion of times, and countries, as modes of dress; and need be as little observed. The scriptural mode of speech is highly figurative—very dif­ferent from any mode now in use; and re­quires translation, as much as the original Greek. It is the scriptural idea, not the scriptural mode of expression; for which I am contending: and this may be lost in many ways. It may be narrowed to speak the opinions of a sect—or, it may be widened to speak the opinions of the world—or it may be lost in morals; when instead of preaching plainly, and simply on gospel-subjects, our discourses, with scriptural mottoes affixed, are short immethodical essays; in which the be­ginning can hardly be distinguished from the end—nor indeed what is aimed at, till the book is closed, just as the audience may sup­pose the subject will open.

[Page 50]There is another thing also, which often occasions our erring from the simplicity, which is in Christ. As the gospel is a covenant be­tween God and man, it touches, of course, on such things, as relate to both. As far as it relates to God, it is, no doubt, a deep, mysterious subject; but as far as it relates to man, nothing can be more simple, and easy. Hence it is, that our religion, without any contradiction of terms, (peace be to all scep­tical cavils!) is sometimes called the mystery of godliness; and sometimes the simplicity of the gospel. It is the mystery of godliness, as it relates to God's part in this gracious plan; and the simplicity of the gospel, as it relates to us. To the want of sufficient attention to this easy distinction perhaps arise not only many of the disputes, and misconceptions, and infu­sions of worldly wisdom, which have so often dis­graced the gospel: but also much of that strange, unaccountable confusion of ideas, that perplexes, and confounds the understanding of the lower people. If the lost condition of man—his restoration, and redemption by Christ—the necessity of a holy life—the tendency of the [Page 51] gospel to make him happy both here, and hereafter—and other plain points, had gene­rally been the subjects of popular discourses, we should not have had now that gross ig­norance in matters of religion, and that va­riety of strange notions, and prejudices to com­bat; which we find amongst the common people, on all religious subjects; but especi­ally on the sacrament of the Lord's supper. As nothing is more difficult than to eradicate old prejudices; nothing would have been more easy than to have prevented their getting ground at first. The plain truths of the gospel might have descended just as easily as misconception and error.

It should be our care then to accommodate our doctrine, as much as we can, to the sim­plicity that is in Christ—not to dwell upon it's mysterious parts—not to enter into the in­quiries, how? and why?—nor to clog it with difficult, or refined questions; against which the apostle to Timothy, long ago, took abun­dant pains to guard us; but to preach it, as we are directed, with plainness—to lay the stress on it's obvious truths—and when we [Page 52] have occasion to mention a mysterious point, (one of those great points, which relate to God's part in the covenant of grace, rather than to man's) to be very careful of going too far—to keep as close as possible to scrip­ture, lest we make a difficulty more difficult by endeavouring to explain, what cannot be explained. The less, in general, that is said on such points, the better.—One thing we should always remember; and that is to adapt our discourses to the lower, rather than the higher parts of our audience; that we may, like good ministers, dispense that gospel; whose peculiar characteristic it was, to be preached to the poor.

I shall close this head, with the account, which an ancient heathen of the fourth century gives of the mode of preaching the gospel in his day. ‘The christian philosophy, says he, is very simple. It's principal concern is to regulate the manners of men; and to infuse worthy notions of the Deity. Ob­scure questions, and nice arguments, it avoids. Nor does it enter into the nature and foundation of virtue: but exhorts, in a general way, to the practice of it; which [Page 53] experience shews us is more effectual among the vulgar*.’

Tho this honest heathen had not a com­pleat idea of christianity, he seems however to have had so good a notion of it, that many christian pastors might take a lesson from him.

Our manners should be as simple as our doctrine.

But you ask, what is simplicity of manners? It is a phrase of ambiguous meaning.

Let us not here again, puzzle ourselves with definitions. They who seek for close definitions on these subjects, I should fear, seek rather for evasion, than information. The scriptures have little to do with definitions. On these subjects, they speak to the heart, more than to the head. Whoever reads, with a desire to learn, the instructions, which our Saviour, and his apostles, give to the ministers of the gospel, will soon feel—unless indeed it be a point, which he wishes to overlook— [Page 54] not only in what the simplicity of our man­ners should consist—but also, that it should be our first, and most indispensible care.

And the reason of the thing, as we are preachers of the gospel, is plain; because the simplicity of our manners must give force to what we say. It is not every body, with his best endeavour, who can get hold of the properest method of communicating his ideas; or can practice that mode of application in his dis­courses, either publicly, or privately, which may have the best effect upon the people. But simplicity of manners is a mode of preach­ing, which makes up many defects—it is adapted to every capacity—every body under­stands it; and it adds a dignity, and conse­quence even to a discourse of less weight. Tho the common people are no good reason­ers, there is however one mode of reasoning, at which they are very ready—that of inferring doctrine from manners: and they will not only make the latter a test of the former; but they will in general pay more attention to it like­wise.

When the city of Antioch was disposed to receive the gospel; and the apostle Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to promote the good [Page 55] work, which was there carrying on, the peo­ple seem to have been particularly influenced by his holy life; ‘for he was a good man, says the apostolical historian, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith—and much people was added unto the Lord.’

On the other hand, the purest doctrine will lose it's effect, among the common people at least, in proportion as they see their mi­nister pay less attention to it himself. That apostolical apostrophe, Thou that preachest to others, teachest thou not thyself? will ever be the language of popular contempt.

There is another kind of contempt also, which every consistent man would particularly wish to avoid—and that is his own contempt of himself. What must that man's feelings be, whose life is spent in a continued variance with those truths, which he is obliged to preach? who must tell his hearers of governing their undue affections; and yet lets his own loose in all the vanities of a dissipated age? who must talk of the world as a pilgrimage: while every action of his life shews it to be his carnal home? who is obliged to preach the glories of a future state, and the joys of heaven: while his own happiness is plainly [Page 56] centered in worldly ambition, and worldly attentions?—Contempt abroad may be borne, if a man feel from the uprightness of his own heart, that he does not deserve it: but there is no refuge from contempt within—unless a man is past feeling, and sets at defiance the remonstrances even of common decency.

How far the minister of the gospel should keep at a distance from the world—from it's ambitious views—it's interests—and it's party-contentions—how far he should stand aloof from it's pleasures; and abstain from many amusements, which tho perhaps innocent in themselves, may, (at least when countenanced by him,) have a tendency to break down the fences of religion, are questions—not proper indeed for me to determine: but very proper for every churchman to examine seriously in his own conscience. It is becoming surely that the ministers of a religion, which so in­tirely disclaims the world, should endeavour at least not to be much intangled in it. A morose character is not the alternative. Cheer­fulness is the natural companion of religion. Sourness is an alien intruder. Amusements too are necessary: but I am not singular in thinking those amusements should rather be [Page 57] of the retired kind; than sought for amidst the noise, and bustle of the world. Riot, and excess generally attend the amusements of a number of people assembled with a purpose of being joyous; and what none would do alone, is not scrupled perhaps, where the im­propriety (which, by the way, deserves often a severer name) is divided among a multitude. In scenes like these, the clerical habit is a blot: the clerical character, a still greater. I would not be thought harsh: I would not be thought uncomplying. The world, I know, is often shocked at hearing the precepts of the gospel opposed, in all their plainness, to the elegant fashions, which it adopts: and we are sometimes almost afraid, in our popu­lar discourses, of opening gospel-truths so fully as we might; lest by saying more than the times will bear, we should injure a cause, which we wish to advance. Our blessed Lord himself was often obliged to speak in parables. But let the world, if it please, be the deaf adder, which stoppeth it's ears, there need be no apology surely for recommending gospel-truths in the plainest manner to the ministers of the gospel.

[Page 58]But the clerical character may be a check upon improprieties.

I should fear, not much. As we have the example however of our blessed Lord, who kept company with publicans, and sinners with a view to reform them; nothing farther can be said, if this be the real motive: tho to me it appears risking more, than the pro­bability of advantage will insure.

After all, my brethren, it may be an easy matter, in an age of licence, to satisfy our­selves—if we make the comparison only with others: but I hope this is a kind of satisfaction, and a kind of comparison, in which none of us would willingly acquiesce. We talk of sectaries, and novel teachers; and cry, the people have itching ears. Would to God, no blame in this matter may rest upon ourselves! To speak with truth and candour, there does not seem, in general, to be so much simplicity, and propriety of manners amongst us, as there appears to be amongst several of our dissenting brethren.

But propriety of manners is the dissenter's chief support. It is his worldly engine: and therefore his motives may be as worldly as ours.

[Page 59]They may, or may not be, for any thing we know. We have nothing to do with any motives but our own. It concerns us more to consider, whether certain truths lie not nearer home? Whether the establish­ed churchman declines the heat of the day, because his wages are double? Whether he spend his superfluity on the vanities of life, because those wages are abundant?—or, whe­ther his manners are more lax, because those wages are more certain?—The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few, was a com­plaint of great authority in very early days— Things are not mended I should suppose, now. It is inconceivable how wrong the spiritual affairs of a parish get in a little time. Habits of vice, and inattention to every thing serious, make a quick progress. A few careless pastors, succeeding each other, leave a parish in a state of heathenism; and it must be a work of time, and labour—of length of time, of accumu­lated labour, to recover it from it's supineness. A generation may be lost; and no hope left but in a rising one—Whereas, if the care of one minister succeeded to that of another, each uniting simplicity of doctrine, with sim­plicity [Page 60] of manners, in a few years a great change might be wrought.

Thus, my brethren, I have given you my thoughts on a subject—not very recondite indeed; but very interesting. It is a serious business—a business too, in which we have all voluntarily engaged. We have all put our hands to the plough—and we know the conse­quence of looking back. Let us then cheer­fully proceed; evermore uniting our prayers with our endeavours, that God would, of his infinite mercy grant, we may both by our PREACHING, and LIVING, SET FORTH his holy word, and SHEW it accordingly.



End of page 18. Instead of but himself also, read but even himself.

End of page 23. Tho the first epistle of St. Peter must have been written to a great body of people, dispersed, as they were, over so many countries (consisting probably both of Jewish, and Gentile Christians; especially the latter, as appears from the body of the epistle) yet it certainly was not addressed to the whole people of these nations, as I have inadvertent­ly affirmed. The argument however is little affected. If among the twelve apostles one was a devil—if Ananias, and Sapphira could prevaricate so vilely even in the face of the whole apostolic college—we can hardly suppose, there were no nominal Christians in so extensive, and dis­persed a body.

Beginning of page 25. Instead of transgressed, read neglected.

End of page 27. Instead of look well to his motives, read look well, not only to his opinions; but to his motives also.

By the same Author, and sold by R. BLAMIRE, in the Strand.

  • LIVES of several REFORMERS.
  • LECTURES on the CATECHISM of the Church of England.
  • PICTURESQUE REMARKS on several Parts of England.

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