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throned in both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel! How often have we alleged, that in the time of Jesus Christ the church was described as a little flock, Luke xii. 32. that heathens and Jews were all in league against christianity at first, and that the gospel had only a small number of disciples ! How often have we retorted, that for whole centuries there was no trace, no shadow of the opinions of modern Rome! But we will not apply ourselves to this controversy to-day by fixing your attention on the sophisms of foreigners, perhaps we might divert your eyes from your own; by shewing you our triumphs over the vain attacks made on us by the enemies of the reformation, perhaps we might turn away your attention from other more dangerous wounds, which the reformed themselves aim at the heart of religion. When I say, the multitude is a bad guide in matters of faith, I mean, that the manner, in which most men adhere to truth, is not by principles, which ought to attach them to it, but by a spirit of negligence and prejudice.
It is no small work to examine the truth, when we arrive at an age capable of discussion. The fundamental points of religion, I grant, lie in the scriptures clear and perspicuous, and within the comprehension of all who chuse to attend to them: but when we pass from infancy to manhood, and arrive at an age in which reason seems mature, we find ourselves covered with a veil, which either hides objects from us, or disfigures them. The public discourses we have heard in favor of the sect, in which we were educated, the inveterate hatred we have for all others, who hold principles opposite to ours, the frightful portraits that are drawn before out eyes of the perils we must encounter, if we depart from the way we have been brought up in, the impressions made upon us by the exam
ples and decisions of our parents, and masters, and teachers, the bad taste of those, who had the care of our education, and who prevented our acquiring that most noble disposition, without which it is impossible ever to be a true philosopher, or a real christian, I mean that of suspending our judgment on subjects not sufficiently proved : from all this arise clouds, that render the truth inaccessible, and which the world cannot dissipate. We do not say, that natural talents or supernatural assistance are wanting; we are fully convinced that God will never give up to final error any man who does all in his power to understand the truth. But the world are incapable of this work. Why? Because all the world, except a few, bate labor and meditation in regard to the subjects, which respect another life; because all the world would choose rather to attach themselves to what regards their temporal interests than to the great interest of eternal happiness: because all the world like better to suppose the principles imbibed in their childhood true, than to impose on themselves the task of weighing them anew in the balance of a sound and severe reason : because all the world have an invincible aversion to suppose, that when they are arrived at manhood they have almost lost their time in some respects, and that when they leave school they begin to be capable of instruction. . ;
If the nature of the thing cannot convince you, that the multitude continue through negligence in the profession of that religion, in which they were born, experience may here supply the place of reasoning. There is an infinite variety of geniusses among mankind. Propose to an assembly a question, that no system hath yet decided, and you will find, as it is usually said, as many opinions as heads.
It is certain, if mankind were attached to a religion only because they had studied it, we should find a great number of people forsake that, in which they had been brought up, for it is impossible, that a whole society should unite in one point of error, or rather, it'is clear to a demonstration, that as truth hath certain characters superior to falshood, the temples of idols would be instantly deserted, erroneous sects would be soon abandoned, the religion of Jesus Christ, the only one worthy of being embraced, the only one that deserves disciples, would be the only one embraced, and would alone be received by all sincere disciples of truth.
Do not think, my brethren, that this reflection concerning that spirit of negligence, which retains most men in a profession of their own religion, regards only such communions as lay down their own infallibility for a fundamental article of faith, and which prescribe ignorance and blind submission as a first principle to their partizans, for it is but too easy to prove, that the same spirit of negligence reigns in all communities. Hence it comes to pass, that in general so few christians can render a reason for their faith. Hence it is that people are usually better furnished with arguments to oppose such societies as surround them, than with those, which establish the fundamental truths of christianity. If then you follow the direction of the multitude in the study of religion, you will be conducted by a spirit of negligence, prejudice will be held for proof, education for argument, and the decisions of your parents and teachers for infallible oracles of truth..
II. The multitude is a bad guide in regard to that worship, which God requireth of us, they defile it with a spirit of superstition. Superstition is a disposition of mind, that inclines us to regulate all parts of divine worship, not by just notions of the Supreme Being, nor by his relations to us, nor by what he has condescended to reveal, but by our own fancies. A superstitious man entertains fantastical ideas of God, and renders to bim capricious worship; he not unfrequently takes himself for a model of God; he thinks that what most resembles himself, however mean and contemptible, approaches nearest to perfection. We affirm, this disposition is almost universal. .
It would be needless to prove this to you, my brethren, in regard to erroneous communities. Were superstition banished from the world, we should not see men, who are made in the image of God, disgrace their nature by prostrating themselves before idols, and marmosets, so as to render religious honors to half a block of wood or stone, the other half of which they apply to the meanest purposes: we should not see a crowd of idolaters performing a ceremonial, in which conviction of mind hath no part, and which is all external and material : we should not see a concourse of people receiving with respect, as the precious blood of the Saviour of the world, a few drops of putrified water, which the warmth of the sun hath produced by fermentation in the trunk of a decayed tree : we should not see pilgrims in procession mangling their flesh in the streets, dragging along heavy loads, howling in the high-ways, and taking such absurd practices for that repentance, which breaks the heart, and transforms and renews the life. You will easily grant all this, for, I have observed, it is often less difficult to inspire you with horror for these practices, than to excite compassion in you for such as perform them.
But you ought to be informed, that there are other superstitions less gross, and therefore more dangerous. Among us we do not put a worship absolutely foreign to the purpose in the place of that, which God hath commanded and exemplified to us, but we make an estimate of the several parts of true worship. These estimates are regulated by opinions formed through prejudice or passion. What best agrees with our inclinations we consider as the essence of religion, and what would thwart and condemn them we think circumstantial.
We make a scruple of not attending a sermon, not keeping a festival, not receiving the Lord's supper, but we make none of neglecting to visit a prisoner, to comfort the sick, or to plead for the oppressed. We observe a strict decency in our religious assemblies while our ministers address pray. er to God, but we take no pains to accompany him with our minds and hearts, to unite our ejaculations with his to besiege the throne of grace. We think it a duty to join our voices with those of a whole congregation, and to fill our places of worship with the praises of our Creator, but we do not think ourselves obliged to understand the sense of the psalm, that is sung with so much fervor, and, in the language of an apostle, to sing with understanding, 1 Cor. xiv. 15. We lay aside innocent occupations the day before we receive the Lord's supper, but no sooner do we return from that ordinance than we allow the most criminal pleasures, and enter upon the most scandalous intrigues. Who make these mistakes, my brethren ? Is it the few? Be not conformed to this world, in regard to the worship that God requires of you, the multitude perform it in a spirit of superstition.