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TO MEN OF
And when he came near, he beheld the City, and wept over it, saying, If
thou hadst Icnown, cven Thou, at least in this thy Day, the Things which belong unto thy Peace! Luke xix. 41, 42.
I. 1. NOW, what can an impartial person think concerning the present state of religion in England ? Is there a nation under the sun which is so deeply fallen from the very first principles of all religion? Where is the country, in which is found so utter a disregard to even Heathen Morality? Such a thorough contempt of justice and truth, and all that should be dear and honourable to rational creatures ?
What species of vice can possibly be named, even of those that nature itself abhors, of which we have not had, for many years, a plentiful and still increasing harvest ? What sin remains either in Rome or Constantinople, which we have not imported long ago, (if it was not of our own native growth,) and improved upon ever since? Such a complication of villanies of every kind, considered with all their aggravations; such a scorn of whatever bears the face of virtue; such injustice, fraud, and falsehood : above all, such perjury, and such a method of law, we may defy the whole world to produce. What multitudes are found
· throughout our land, who do not even profess any religion at all! And what numbers of those who profess much, confute their profession by their practice 2 Yea, and perhaps by their exorbitant pride, vanity, covetousness, rapaciousness, or oppression, cause the very name of Religion to stink in the nostrils, of many (otherwise) reasonable men?
2. “ However, we have many thousands still, of truly virtuous and religious men.” Wherein does their Religion consist? In Righteousness and true Holiness? In Love stronger than death? Fervent Gratitude to God? And tender Affection to all his creatures? Is their religion the religion of the Heart? A renewal of the soul in the image of God? Do they resemble him they worship? Are they free from pride, from vanity, from malice and envy; from ambition and avarice, from passion and lust; from every uneasy and unlovely temper? Alas, I fear neither they (the greater part at least) nor you, know what this Religion means; or have any more notion of it, than the peasant that holds the plough, of the religion of a Gymnosophist. It is well if the genuine Religion of Christ has any more alliance with what you call Religion, than with the Turkish pilgrimages to Mecca, or the Popish worship of our Lady of Loretto. Have not you substituted in the place of the Religion of the Heart, something (I do not say equally sinful, but) equally vain, and foreign to the worshipping of God in spirit and in truth 2–What else can be said even of Prayer (public or private) in the manner wherein you generally perform it? As a thing of course, running round and round, in the same dull track, without i either the knowledge or love of God? Without one heavenly temper, either attained or improved ? O what mockery of God is this ! .. i And yet even this Religion, which can do you no good, may do you much harm. Nay, it is plain, it does : it daily increases your Pride, as you measure your goodness by the number and length of your performances. It gives you a deep contempt of those who do not come up to the full Tale of your virtues. It inspires men with a seal, which is the very fire of hell, furious, bitter, implacable, unmerciful; often to a degree that extinguishes all compassion, all good nature and humanity. Insomuch that the execrable fierceness of spirit, which is the natural fruit of such a Religion, hath many times, in spite of all ties, divine and human, broke out into open violence, into rapine, murder, sedition, rebellion, civil war, to the desolation of whole cities and countries.
Tantum hæc Religio potuit suadere malorum ! 3. Now if there be a God, and one that is not a mere idle spectator of the things that are done upon the earth, but a rewarder of men and nations according to their works, what can the event of these things be? It was reasonable to believe, that he would have risen long ago, and maintained his own cause, either by sending the famine or pestilence among us, or by pouring out his fury in blood. And many wise and holy men have frequently declared, that they daily expected this, that they daily looked for the patience of God to give place, and judgment to rejoice over mercy.
4. Just at this time, when we wanted little of " filling up the measure of our iniquities,” two or three Clergymen of the Church of England began vehemently to call sinners to repentance. In two or three years they had sounded the alarm, to the utmost borders of the land. Many thousands gathered together to hear them; and in every place where they came, many began to shew such a concern for religion, as they never had done before. A stronger impression was made on their minds, of the importance of things eternal, and they had more earnest desires of serving God, than they had ever had from their earliest childhood. Thus did God begin to draw them toward himself with the cords of love, with the bands of a man.
Many of these were in a short time deeply convinced of the number and heinousness of their sins. They were also made thoroughly sensible of those tempers, which are justly hateful to God and man, and of their utter ignorance of God, and entire inability, either to know, love, or serve him. At the same time, they saw in the strongest light, the
insignificancy of their outside Religion : nay, and often confessed it before God, as the most abominable hypocrisy. Thus did they sink deeper and deeper into that Repentance, which must ever precede Faith in the Son of God. And from hence sprung“ fruits meet for repentance.” The drunkard commenced sober and temperate; the whoremonger abstained from adultery and fornication; the unjust from oppression and wrong. He that had been accustomed to curse and to swear, for many years, now swore no more. The sluggard began to work with his hands, that he might eat his own bread. The miser learned to deal his bread to the hungry, and to cover the naked with a garment. Indeed the whole form of their life was changed. They had left off doing evil, and learned to do well.
5. But this was not all. Over and above this outward change, they began to experience inward religion : 66 The love of God was shed abroad in their hearts,” which they continue to enjoy to this day. They love him “ because he first loved us,” and with-held not from us his Son, his only Son. And this love constrains them to love all mankind, all the children of the Father of heaven and earth, and inspires them with every holy and heavenly temper, the whole mind that was in Christ. Hence it is that they are now uniform in their behaviour, unblamable in all manner of conversation. And in whatsoever state they are, they have learned therewith to be content: insomuch that now they can " in every thing give thanks :” they more than patiently acquiesce, they rejoice and are exceeding glad, in all God's dispensations toward them. For as long as they love God, (and that love no man taketh from them,) they are always bappy in God. Thus they calmly travel on through life, being never weary nor faint in their minds, never repining, murmuring, or dissatisfied, casting all their care upon God, till the hour comes that they should drop this covering of earth, and return unto the great Father of spirits. Then especially it is, that they “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” You who credit it not, come and see. See these living and dying Christians.,
“Happy while on earth they breathe;
Mightier joys ordained to know,
To the third heaven they go!" Now if these things are so, what reasonable 'man can deny, (supposing the Scriptures to be true,) that God is now visiting this nation, in a far other manner than we had cause to expect? Instead of pouring out his fierce displeasure upon us, he hath made us yet another tender of mercy: so that even when “ sin did most abound, grace hath much more abounded.”
6. Yea, “ the grace of God which bringeth salvation," present salvation from inward and outward sin, hath abounded of late years in such a degree, as neither we nor our fathers had known. How extensive is the change which has been wrought on the minds and lives of the people! Know ye not that the sound is gone forth into all the land ? That there is scarcely a city or considerable town to be found, where some have not been roused out of the sleep of death, and constrained to cry out, in the bitterness of their souls, “ What must I do to be saved ?” That this religious concern has spread to every age and sex; to most orders and degrees of men ? To abundance of those in particular, who in time past, were accounted monsters of wickedness, " drinking in iniquity like water,” and committing all “ uncleanness with greediness."
7. In what age has such a work been wrought, considering the swiftness as well as the extent of it? When have such numbers of sinners, in so short a time, been recovered from the error of their ways ? When hath religion, I will not say since the Reformation, but since the time of Con stantine the Great, made so large a progress in any nation, within so small a space ? I believe, hardly can either ancient or modern history, supply us with a parallel instance.
8. Let understanding men observe also the depth of the work, so extensively and swiftly wrought. It is not a slight or superficial thing: but multitudes of men have been so