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of it, or at the real difficulties of performing it to a degree of exactness, or at the talents requisite for it. A man bred up in the schools, or conversant only with books, may be able to write systems, or to discuss points, in a clear and accurate manner : but that and more is required in an able guide, a complete practical Divine, who undertakes to bring down the most important truths to the level of a popular audience; to adapt them properly to times, persons, and circumstances ; to guard them against latent prejudices and secret subterfuges ; and lastly, to enforce them with a becoming earnestness, and with all the prudent ways of insinuation and address. A person must have some knowledge of men, besides that of books, to succeed well here; and must have a kind of practical sagacity (which nothing but the grace of God, joined with recollection and wise observation can bring) to be able to represent Christian truths to the life, or to any considerable degree of advantage.
As to the subject here made choice of, it is the highest and the noblest that could be, viz. our Lord's Divine Sermon on the Mount: and as it is here explained with good judgment, so it appears likewise to be pressed with due force; in a clear and easy, but yet masculine style, equally fitted to the capacities of common Christians, and to the improved understandings of the knowing and judicious. One peculiar commendation must, I believe, be allowed to our author, that he happily hit upon a new key (which Divines before him had not thought on) for the fuller opening the occasion, the views, the retired meaning and connection of our Lord's Divine Sermon. Not that the thought, with respect to the Jewish expectations of a temporal kingdom was at all new; but the application of it to this case, and the use made of it for the unravelling some of the darker parts of our Lord's discourse, and the clearing their coherence; that was new, and appears to be of excellent service : particularly in the eight beatitudes, (for the setting every one of them upon a distinct foot, and not running several of
them, too confusedly, one into another,) as also in several other texts.
But to return; our author has, in my opinion, very aptly joined the commentator, preacher, and casuist all in one: and I cannot but approve the example he has himself given, and the model which he has so handsomely recommended to others, b for the composition of sermons. It is extremely proper that the text and the sermon should not appear as strangers to each other, but rather as near kindred, discovering the same features; that so the discourse itself may almost point out to discerning judges from what place of Scripture it derived its birth. This is certainly right in the general; but is yet so to be understood as to leave room for excepted cases, where excursions may be needful on account of some special occasion, season, circumstances, &c. and where any decent handle for a neat transition may prudently and properly be taken. But I cannot say any thing better, or so well upon this head, as the author himself has done in the Dedication and Preface before referred to, and therefore I dismiss it, and proceed.
One particular I cannot forbear to take notice of, (which an attentive reader may often observe in the course of these Sermons,) how happy a talent the author had in deciding points of great moment in a very few and plain words, but the result of deep consideration, and discovering a great compass of thought. I shall single out a few instances only, from among many, for a taste to the reader.
Of the Value of good Works. “I am apprehensive, that by our unwary confutation “ of the Popish errors concerning merit and supereroga“ tion, we have too much depreciated good works them“ selves; whereas it is most certain they ought to be “ highly had in estimation; not only as the genuine signs “ and fruits of a lively faith, but as necessary conditions “of salvation ; and not only of salvation, but of our “ growth in grace, and of our advancement to higher de
b In his Dedication to Bishop Robinson, and his Preface.
grees of glory." Here, very briefly and justly, is pointed out a dangerous extreme, with the rise and occasion of it, and the proper cure for it, or correction of it.
For the justifying the term conditions, the reader, who has any scruple, may consult Bishop Bull in his Harmonia &c. and Bishop Stillingfleet in his Answers to Mr. Lobb. Our author says that and more, improving and enforcing the same thought with two very pertinent and weighty considerations.
What makes a good Work. “ To make any work a good work, it must be 1. Law“ful in itself. 2. Suitable to our station and circum“ stances in the world. 3. Designed for promoting some" thing that is good for the service of God, for the good “ of our neighbour, or the salvation of our own souls.
4. Something within the reach of our own talents and “ abilities. If it wants any of these conditions, it cannot “ be one of those good works meant in my text d." He goes on to explain the several particulars at large, in a very clear and just manner. A good work might have been more briefly defined: but it could not have been more wisely, or more distinctly guarded against every evasion and illusion of self-fattery; whereby many are persuaded that they are doing good works, while they are really doing works of darkness.
Of false Prophets. “ I cannot believe that they are all wicked men in their “ hearts and lives, who are infected with any heretical, “ dangerous doctrine. It is probable the sheep's clothing “ may extend farther than the bare hypocritical outward
• Vol. i. Serm. xxi. p. 374.
d Vol. i. Serm. xxxi. p. 506.
“ show, even to the good habits of the mind, and a regu“ lar course of life : by which they are much better fur“ nished and qualified to give a credit to their false doc“ trines. ..... But now here seems to be prescribed a “ plain, easy way of discerning false teachers from true, “ and a way which lies level to the meanest capacity. It “ is only by observing the fruits and consequences of every “ doctrine, what it is apt to produce where it is tho
roughly sucked in and believed, and then judging how “ far these fruits resemble the doctrine and spirit of Chris“ tianity d.”
Of Enthusiasm. “ The Spirit of God having given us a clear rule to " walk by, (namely, the rule of the holy Scriptures,) “ whatsoever preacher shall deliver any doctrine, either “ in the general disparaging the holy Scriptures and pre“ ferring enthusiasm, or in particular setting up the privale
spirit to assert any thing contrary thereto; it requires
no great depth of learning to observé, that such doc- trine strikes at the root of all revealed religion, and opens “ a door for the destruction of it f." Here the secret views or remote tendency of all enthusiasm is briefly laid open. Enthusiasm, in the bad sense, appears to be a subtle device of Satan upon ill meaning or unmeaning instruments, (making use of their ambition, self-admiration, or other weakness,) to draw them by some plausible suggestions into a vain conceit that they have something within them either of equal authority with Scripture, or superior to it 8. And when once they have thus got e Vol. iv. p. 249, 274.
f Vol. iv. p. 274. & They will not perhaps directly say that their private spirit is of authority superior to that of Scripture : but they often make it so in effect, more ways than one: 1. By making the Scripture submit to be judged of by the private spirit, and not the private spirit by the Scripture. 2. By making the guidance of the private spirit to supersede even the reading, or the use of the Scripture, after a time, when supposed perfect enough not to need any longer the help of the written word. 3. By setting up a pretence of infallibility in a man's private breast, warranting him to substitute his own interpretations in the room of the Divine laws.
loose from that Divine restraint, under a pretence of Divine impulses, then there is nothing so wild or extravagant, that those free rangers, following their own new lights, are not capable of.
I shall conclude this Preface with recommending a few seasonable reflections to the consideration of serious and conscientious Christians amongst us.
1. One is, how particularly happy they may think themselves, in their having three several sets of excellent Discourses
on our Lord's Divine Sermon in their own language, (such perhaps as are not to be met with in any other,) and in their constantly living under the care and direction of faithful guides, judicious and well-studied Divines : for those, at last, are, under God, in the use of his word, the safest counsellors they can have to confide in. Let those who boast of Divine impulses, or immediate inspirations, bring together all the choice things they can meet with, that have been invented and uttered by those of their way for seventeen centuries, and see whether they are at all fit to be compared or named with the weighty and solid compositions of the judicious and well-read Divines, early and late : who yet have pretended to no more than the ordinary assistances of the Holy Spirit, in the use of God's written word, and of other outward means of Divine providential appointment, without any direct, immediate inspiration at all. What then has the good Spirit been doing for his supposed favourites all the time? Or rather, what has not some evil spirit been doing through a long tract of centuries, in seducing many to father Satan's suggestions, or their own weak fancies, upon the blessed Spirit of God?
2. It may be of use to every serious Christian, wisely to consider how many different kinds of instruments the Tempter commonly makes use of to corrupt their faith, or to debauch their morals. They are reducible to three
h Besides Mr. Blair's, there is also Bishop Blackhall's and Mr. Gardiner's.