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MYSTERIES AN OCCASION FOR FAITH.
Protestants have thrown off near two hundred years : whereas those mysteries held by us have no prospect of power, pomp, or wealth, but have been ever maintained by the universal body of true believers from the days of the apostles, and will be so to the resurrection; neither will the gates of hell prevail against them.
It may be thought perhaps a strange thing, that God should require us to believe mysteries, while the reason or manner of what we are to believe is above our comprehension, and wholly concealed from us : neither doth it appear at first sight, that the believing or not believing them doth concern either the glory of God, or contribute to the goodness or wickedness of our lives.
But this is a great and dangerous mistake. We see what a mighty weight is laid upon faith, both in the Old and New Testament. In the former we read how the faith of Abraham is praised, who could believe that God would raise from him a great nation, at the very same time that he was commanded to sacrifice his only son, and despaired of any other issue. And this was to him a great mystery. Our Saviour is perpetually preaching faith to His disciples, or reproaching them with the want of it; and Saint Paul produceth numerous examples of the wonders done by faith. And all this is highly reasonable; for, faith is an entire dependence upon the truth, the power, the justice, and the mercy of God; which dependence will certainly incline us to obey Him in all things. So, that the great excellency of faith, consisteth in the consequence it hath upon our actions: as, if we depend upon the truth and wisdom of a man, we shall certainly be more disposed to follow his advice. Therefore, let no man think that he can lead as good a moral life without faith, as with it; for this reason, because he who hath no faith, cannot, by the strength of his own reason or endeavours, so easily resist temptations, as the other who depends upon God's assistance in the overcoming his frailties, and is sure to be rewarded for ever in heaven for his victory over them. Faith, says the apostle, is the evidence of things not seen: He means, that faith is a virtue by which anything commanded us by God to believe, appears evident and certain to us, although we do not see, nor can conceive it; because, by faith we entirely depend upon the truth and power of God.
It is an old and true distinction, that things may be above our reason without being contrary to it. Of this kind are the power, the nature, and the universal presence of God, with innumerable other points. How little do those who quarrel with mysteries, know of the commonest actions of nature? The growth of an animal, of a plant, or of the smallest seed, is a mystery to the wisest among men. If an ignorant person were told that a load-stone would draw iron at a distance, he might say it was a thing contrary to his reason, and could not believe before he saw it with his eyes.
The manner whereby the soul and body are united, and how they are distinguished, is wholly unaccountable to us. We see but one part, and yet we know we consist of two; and. this is a mystery we cannot comprehend, any more than that of the Trinity.
From what hath been said, it is manifest, that God did never command us to believe, nor His ministers to preach, any doctrine which is contrary to the reason He hath pleased to endow us with; but for His own wise ends has thought fit to conceal from us the nature of the thing He commands; thereby to try our faith and obedience, and increase our dependence
It is highly probable, that if God should please to reveal unto us this great mystery of the Trinity, or some other mysteries in our holy religion, we should not be able to understand them, unless He would at the same time think fit to bestow on us some new powers or faculties of the mind, which we want at present, and are reserved till the day of resurrec
tion to life eternal. “For now,” as the Apostle says, through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”
Thus, we see, the matter is brought to this issue; we must either believe what God directly commandeth us in Holy Scripture, or we must wholly reject the Scripture, and the Christian religion which we pretend to profess : But this, I hope, is too desperate a step for any of us to make.
Of this excellent preacher we only know that he was born near Penrith in Cumberland, that he studied at Queen's College, Oxford, and that, after spending most of his ministerial life as curate to Dr Waterland at Twickenham, he was presented to Enham in Hampshire, where he died in 1747.
That century yielded no sermons more practical or more pleasing. Seed did not fight uncertainly, or “as one that beateth the air,” but most of his topics are precise, and their illustrations is minute and home-coming. At the same time, his language is remarkably lively, and every paragraph carries the double charm of a brilliant fancy and a benevolent persuasiveness. Unlike his colder contemporaries, he indulges freely in figurative language, and, both in their conception and their wording, his metaphors are often worthy of a poet. “To a mind that is all harmony within, the Deity must appear like a what He is, in perfect beauty, all-loving and all-lovely, without any forbidding and frightening appearances : just as a deep stream, when clear and unruffled by any storm, represents the sun and firmament in a gentler and milder lustre, far more beautiful itself by reflecting the beauties of heaven." “ We must consult the gentlest manner and softest seasons of address. Our advice must not fall, like a violent storm, bearing down and making that to droop which it was meant to cherish and refresh : it must descend as the dew upon the
tender herb, or like melting flakes of snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind."
The meanest mechanic, who employs his love and gratitude, the best of his affections, upon God, the best of beings; who has a particular regard and esteem for the virtuous few, compassion for the distressed, and a fixed and extensive good-will for all; who, instead of triumphing over his enemies, strives to subdue his greatest enemy of all, his unruly passion; who promotes a good understanding between neighbours, composes and adjusts differences, does justice to an injured character, and acts of charity to distressed worth ; who cherishes his friends, forgives his enemies, and even serves them in any pressing exigency; who abhors vice, and pities the vicious person; such a man, however low in station, has juster pretensions to the title of heroism, as heroism implies a certain nobleness and elevation of soul, breaking forth into correspondent actions; than he who conquers armies, or makes the most glaring figure in the eye of an injudicious world. He is like one of the fixed stars, which though, through the disadvantage of its situation, it may be thought to be very little, inconsiderable, and obscure by unskilful beholders; yet is as truly great and glorious in itself as those heavenly lights, which by being placed more commodiously for our view, shine with more distinguished lustre.
Occupation for the Opulent.
The apostle's rule, that if any man will not work, neither should he eat, extends to the rich as well as poor; only supposing, that there are different kinds of work assigned to each. The reason is the same in both cases, viz. that he, who
will do no good, ought not to receive or enjoy any. As we all are joint traders and partners in life, he forfeits his right to any share in the common stock of happiness, who does not endeavour to contribute his quota or allotted part to it: the public happiness being nothing, but the sum total of each individual's contribution to it. An easy fortune does not set men free from labour and industry in general; it only exempts them from some particular kinds of labour. It is not a blessing, as it gives them liberty to do nothing at all; but as it gives them liberty wisely to choose and steadily to prosecute the most ennobling exercises, and the most improving employments, the pursuit of truth, the practice of virtue, the service of that God, who giveth them all things richly to enjoy, in short the doing and being everything that is commendable: though nothing merely in order to be commended. That time, which others must employ in tilling the ground (which often deceives their expectation) with the sweat of their brow, they may lay out in cultivating the mind, a soil always grateful to the care of the tiller. The sum of what I would say is this: That, though you are not confined to any particular calling, yet you have a general one: which is to watch over your heart, and to improve your head; to make yourself master of all those accomplishments, viz. an enlarged compass of thought, that flowing humanity, and generosity, which are necessary to become a great fortune; and of all those perfections, viz. moderation, humility, and temperance, which are necessary to bear a small one patiently; but especially it is your duty to acquire a taste for those pleasures, which, after they are tasted, go off agreeably, and leave behind them a grateful and delightful flavour on the mind.
Happy that man, who, unembarrassed by vulgar cares, master of himself, his time and fortune, spends his time in making himself wiser, and his fortune in making others (and therefore himself), happier; who, as the will and understanding