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contends earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; no temperance so excellent, as that which refrains from high thoughts and presumptuous imaginations. - As the thoughts are the principles of action, and all vice and virtue begins in the heart; the scripture, for a natural reason, hath insisted so particularly on the obedience of the mind, and an humble reception of truth. A sound faith is the seed of a virtuous life; but if there is bitterness in the root, it will extend itself to the branches; and to a discerning palaté every leaf will taste of it. All bad principles and irreligious opinions partake of the nature of the place from whence they come; they are not the seeds of grain or of fruit; but the seeds of fire; which from a small spark diffuse themselves abroad into a wide and destructive flame. How short is this proposition -man may know good and evil independent of God! It is a mere spark : yet this has filled the world with misery, ignorance, idolatry and atheism : it is the compendium of all heresy, and of all infidelity.
The nature of the subject requires us now to take a short review of the artifices which are employed to draw men into spiritual wickedness. The first and chief of these is to inflate the mind with a false opinion of its own natural powers. He, who undertakes to persuade us, that a man has a native light by which he can know, and a power by which he can do, the will of God, understands the consequences of his success : he knows, that if we follow him thus far, we shall be prepared to receive the rest of his opinions. Few have written against the Christian doctrines, at least in modern times, who have not first endeavoured to make the mind conceited of its own powers. He, that publishes to corrupted nature the pleasing doctrimes of natural liberty, independence, and : the selfsufficiency of the human mind, will never want an audience. Pride and indolence will always be glad to hear, that nothing is required of them, on questions of the highest importance in religion, but to look inwards, and consult their own opinions. The private judgment of an individual, rash and inexperienced as it may be, has been allowed to be conclusive against the laws and regulations of society : whence vanity will readily infer, that a private person cannot do justice to his own wisdom, till he contradicts the judgment of the public, and strikes into some by-path of his own.
It has been asserted on the same ground, that no man can fall into condemnation for the errors of his faith; because sincerity in falsehood will be as acceptable to God as truth itself. But might we not as well say, that poison will answer all the purposes of wholesome food, provided it be eaten with a good appetite? Or that darkness may be substituted for light; and that men may direct their steps by one as well as by the other? If this principle is true, the priests of Baal may find a place in heaven, and Jesus Christ need not have come into the world. Another
of recoinmending dangerous opinions is to magnify the authors and abettors of them, as persons of superior knowledge, and great worth, profound scholars, and acute reasoners. They are applauded also, yea, they applaud themselves, for the excellence of their temper, their universal candour and benevolence. While honest men are apt to betray the emotions of their indignation, the enemies of their faith prevail upon themselves to practise a sort of political patience, which suppresses its own passions to take advantage of the passions of other men. This patience has nothing of religion in it; but may rather be considered as a kind of anti-christian mortification; a black virtue of a counterfeit angel of light. With this, however, they impose upon the unwary, who are not able to see through specious appearances. They affect to breathe nothing but peace and gentleness; they leave all others to think as they please, and desire nothing but that freedom of thought which they allow to other people. And who can deny to such accomplished gentlemen, the liberty of insulting all articles of faith, blaspheming the scriptures, defaming the Christian church, and corrupting the morals of Christian people, by undermining the very foundations of moralily ? especially when it is considered on the other hand, that piety and orthodoxy have nothing to uphold their credit in the world, but the arbitrary authority, and persecuting spirit of some men, working upon the folly and credulity of others : that all the refinements of learning are on one side ; bigotry, superstition and ignorance on the other: that all the worst inen are with the church, and all the best are against it.
A farther artifice of those who attempt to subvert the faith of their readers, is to pretend a sacred' regard to truth, and a laudable desire to rescue the minds of their brethren from error and imposition. A man, who comes to make an impudent attack upon all the distinguishing articles of Christianity, introduces him. self to us as a sincere lover of the gospel He dare not leave his readers to find that out by the perusal of his work; but hopes they will be blind to the mischief of it, when they have conceived a fair opinion of the spirit and candour of the writer. This outward appearance of meekness and charity has always been assumed by those who have had ill designs against
the flock of Christ. Disguise is necessary to the success of every impostor; insomuch that our blessed Saviour hath given it as the characteristic of a false prophet-Beware, said he, of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's cloathing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. To secure themselves under their disguise, they caution us largely against censoriousness: they can bear every thing but censure and detection, which they call unchuritableness. We can never offend a thief so much as by following him with a candle, to shew people what he is about: but no good man will fear to give such offence: he will rather wish to be called censorious by those whom it is the duty of every true Christian to censure.
And now, if the Nature of Spiritual Wickedness is as I have represented it; (I hope without aggravation or partiality) our * office, as ministers of the gospel, calls upon us to provide against it, by alarming the careless; by rescuing, as far as we are able, those who have been ensnared by the sophistry of the adversary; and by securing those who are as yet uncorrupted. The oracles of God having been committed to us, our duty is to contend earnestly for the faith therein contained, that the people may not be defrauded of that light which God hath intrusted with us, for the guiding of their feet into the way of peace: in this great and necessary branch of our ministry, we are to avoid the two extremes of petulance and fearfulness : we must neither betray the cause, nor expose ourselves. When we see men obstinately shutting their eyes against the clear light of truth, and industriously leading others aside into darkness, our indignation will be raised : but we are so to be angry in this case
* This Discourse was preached before the Clergy, at an Episcopal Visitation.
. as not to sin: and, on the other hand, when we are moderating our zeal, we must take care not to carry our civility so far, as to give place to the devil, who deserves neither precedence nor courtesy at our hands. Some are so addicted to censure, that they see sin every where; others are so indifferent towards evil, that they see it no where. For them, evil men and evil spirits may go on as they please without any interruption.
Christians, who from ignorance or the prejudice of education have their doubts, and wish for information and satisfaction, are to be treated with civility and tenderness : but infidelity deserves no quarter. No praises will ever be due to the-learning or abilities of those, who pervert their talents to the everlasting destruction of mankind.
When we endeavour to secure the mind from corruption, prudence will direct us to chuse the fittest season. First impressions of every kind are strongest; and therefore we must begin soon enough: we must sow. the seeds of true religion, before the ill weeds of vanity and falsehood have got possession. The importance of early instruction, and the efficacy of catechetical forms, simply explained, is greater than any words can describe. Many, when they come to riper years, are carried about with every wind of doctrine, for want of timely instruction to keep them steady, and defend them from the deceits of enthusiasm, which have a dreadful effect on the interests of truth and piety, When a reprobate, who never had any regular foundation of Christian knowledge, changes all of a sudden into an Apostle (a phænomenon not altogether unknown in these days) he may boast that his heart is turned; but melancholy experience teaches us, that his heud is too frequently turned along with it.