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as if it were a matter of pastime and diversion. Our business, alas! is quite another thing; either to learn, or, at least, be reminded of our duty; to apply the doctrines delivered, compare the rules we hear with our lives and actions, and find wherein we have transgressed. These are the dispositions men should bring into the house of God, and then they will be little concerned about the preacher's wit or eloquence, nor be curious to inquire out his faults and infirmities, but consider how to correct their own.
Another remedy against the contempt of preaching is, that men would consider, whether it be not reasonable to give more allowance for the different abilities of preachers than they usually do. Refinements of style, and flights of wit, as they are not properly the business of any preacher, so they cannot possibly be the talents of all. In most other discourses, men are satisfied with sober sense and plain reason: and, as understandings usually go, even that is not over frequent. Then why they should be so over nice in expectation of eloquence, where it is neither necessary nor convenient, is hard to imagine.
Lastly, The scorners of preaching would do well to consider, that this talent of ridicule, they value so much, is a perfection very easily acquired, and applied to all things whatsoever; neither is any thing at all the worse, because it is capable of being perverted to burlesque: perhaps it may be the more perfect upon that score; since we know, the most celebrated pieces have been thus treated with greatest success. It is in any man's power to suppose a fool's cap on the wisest head, and then laugh at his own supposition. I think there are not many things cheaper than supposing and laughing; and if the uniting these two ta
lents can bring a thing into contempt, it is hard to know where it may end.
To conclude. These considerations may, perhaps, have some effect while men are awake; but what arguments shall we use to the sleeper? what methods shall we take to hold open his eyes? Will he be moved by considerations of common civility? We know it is reckoned a point of very bad manners to sleep in private company, when, perhaps, the tedious impertinence of many talkers would render it at least as excusable as the dullest sermon. Do they think it a small thing to watch four hours at a play, where all virtue and religion are openly reviled; and can they not watch one half hour to hear them defended? Is this to deal like a judge (I mean like a good judge,) to listen on one side of the cause, and sleep on the other? I shall add but one word more: That this indecent sloth is very much owing to that luxury and excess men usually practise upon this day, by which half the service thereof is turned to sin; men dividing their time between God and their bellies, when, after a gluttonous meal, their senses dozed and stupified, they retire to God's house to sleep out the afternoon. Surely, brethren, these things ought not so to be.
"He that hath ears to hear let him hear." And God give us all grace to hear and receive his holy word to the salvation of our own souls!
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
Ir is remarkable, that about the time of our Saviour's coming into the world, all kinds of learning flourished to a very great degree; insomuch that nothing is more frequent in the mouths of many men, even such who pretend to read and to know, that an extravagant praise and opinion of the wisdom and virtue of the Gentile sages of those days, and likewise of those ancient philosophers who went before them, whose doctrines are left upon record, either by themselves, or other writers. As far as this may be taken for granted, it may be said, that the providence of God brought this about for several very wise ends and purposes for it is certain, that these philosophers had been a long time before searching out where to fix the true happiness of man; and not being able to agree upon any certainty about it, they could not possibly but conclude, if they judged impartially, that all their inquiries were, in the
end, but vain and fruitless; the consequence of which must be, not only an acknowledgment of the weakness of all human wisdom, but likewise an open passage hereby made, for letting in those beams of light, which the glorious sunshine of the gospel then brought into the world, by revealing those hidden truths, which they had so long before been labouring to discover, and fixing the general happiness of mankind beyond all controversy and dispute And therefore the providence of God wisely suffered men of deep genius and learning then to arise, who should search into the truth of the gospel now made known, and canvas its doctrines with all the subtilty and knowledge they were masters of, and in the end freely acknowledge that to be the true wisdom only, "which cometh from above."
However, to make a farther inquiry into the truth of this observation, I doubt not but there is reason to think, that a great many of those encomiums given to ancient philosophers are taken upon trust, and by a sort of men who are not very likely to be at the pains of an inquiry that would employ so much time and thinking. For, the usual ends why men affect this kind of discourse, appear generally to be either out of ostentation, that they may pass upon the world for persons of great knowledge and observation; or, what is worse, there are some who highly exalt the wisdom of those Gentile sages, thereby obliquely to glance at and traduce divine revelation, and more especially that of the gospel; for the consequence they would have us draw is this: That since those ancient philosophers rose to a greater pitch of wisdom and virtue than was ever known among Christians, and all this purely upon the strength of their own reason, and liberty of
thinking, therefore it must follow, that either all revelation is false, or, what is worse, that it has depraved the nature of man, and left him worse than it found him.
But this high opinion of heathen wisdom is not very ancient in the world, nor at all countenanced from primitive times. Our Saviour had but a low esteem of it, as appears by his treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who followed the doctrines of Plato and Epicurus. St Paul likewise, who was well versed in all the Grecian literature, seems very much to despise their philosophy, as we find in his writings; cautioning the Colossians to "beware lest any man spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit." And in another place, he advises Timothy to "avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; that is, not to introduce into the Christian doctrine the janglings of those vain philosophers, which they would pass upon the world for science. And the reasons he gives are, first, That those who professed them did err concerning the faith: secondly, because the knowledge of them did increase ungodliness, vain babblings being otherwise expounded vanities, or empty sounds; that is, tedious disputes about words, which the philosophers were always so full of, and which were the natural product of disputes and dissentions between several sects.
Neither had the primitive fathers any great or good opinion of the heathen philosophy, as it is manifest from several passages in their writings: so that this vein of affecting to raise the reputation of those sages so high, is a mode and a vice but of yesterday, assumed chiefly, as I have said, to disparage revealed knowledge, and the consequences of it among us.