« PreviousContinue »
ad similitudinem parietum extrinsecus culti, who imitate the walls of their houses in the fairness of the outsides, but matter not what rubbish there lies within. The utmost of their ambition is to attain enervatam felicitatem qua permadescunt animi, such a felicity as evigorates the soul by too long steeping, it being the nature of all terrestrial pleasures, that they do èKTÝKELV kai dvuypaívelv tò ppovoūv, by degrees consume reason, by effeminating and softening the intellectuals. Must we appeal then to the judgment of Sardanapalus concerning the nature of felicity, or inquire of Apicius what temperance is ? or desire that Sybarite to define magnanimity, who fainted to see a man at hard labour?
Or doth now the conquest of passions, forgiving injuries, doing good, self-denial, humility, patience under crosses, which are the real expressions of piety, speak nothing more noble and generous than a luxurious, malicious, proud, and impatient spirit? Is there nothing more becoming and agreeable to the soul of man in exemplary piety, and a holy, well-ordered conversation, than the lightness and vanity (not to say rudeness and debaucheries) of those whom the world accounts the greatest gallants ? Is there nothing more graceful and pleasing in the sweetness, candour, and ingenuity of a truly Christian temper and disposition, than in the revengeful, implacable spirit of such whose honour lives and is fed by the blood of their enemies? Is it not more truly honourable and glorious to serve that God who commands the world, than to be a slave to those passions and lusts which put men upon continual hard service, and torment them for it when they have
done it? Were there nothing else to commend religion to the minds of men besides that tranquillity and calmness of spirit, that serene and peaceable temper which follow a good conscience wherever it dwells, it were enough to make men welcome that guest which brings such good entertainment with it. Whereas the amazements, horrors, and anxieties of mind which at one time or other haunt such who prostitute their consciences to a violation of the laws of God, and the rules of rectified reason, may be enough to persuade any rational person that impiety is the greatest folly, and irreligion, madness. It cannot be then but matter of great pity to consider that any persons, whose birth and education hath raised them above the common people of the world, should be so far their own enemies, as to observe the fashion more than the rules of religion, and to study compliments more than themselves, and read romances more than the sacred Scriptures, which alone are able to make them wise unto salvation.
But, Sir, I need not mention these things to you, unless it be to let you see the excellency of your choice, in preferring true virtue and piety above the ceremony and grandeur of the world. Go on, Sir, to value and measure true religion, not by the uncertain measures of the world, but by the infallible dictates of God himself, in his sacred oracles. Were it not for these, what certain foundation could there be for our faith to stand on? And who durst venture his soul, as to its future condition, upon any authority less than the infallible veracity of God himself? What certain directions for practice should we have, what rule to judge of opinions by, had not God out of his infinite goodness provided and preserved this authentic instrument of his will to the world? What a strange religion would Christianity seem, should we frame the model of it from any other thing than the word of God! Without all controversy, the disesteem of the Scriptures upon any pretence whatsoever, is the decay of religion, and through many windings and turnings leads men at last into the very depth of atheism. Whereas the frequent and serious conversing with the mind of God in his word is incomparably useful, not only for keeping up in us a true notion of religion, (which is easily mistaken, when men look upon the face of it in any other glass than that of the Scriptures,) but likewise for maintaining a powerful sense of religion in the soul of men, and a due valuation of it, whatever its esteem or entertainment be in the world. For though the true genuine spirit of Christianity (which is known by the purity and peaceableness of it) should grow never so much out of credit with the world, yet none who heartily believe the Scripture to be the word of God, and that the matters revealed therein are infallibly true, will ever have the less estimation of it. It must be confessed, that the credit of religion hath much suffered in the age we live in, through the vain pretences of many to it, who have only acted a part in it for the sake of some private interests of their own. And it is the usual logic of Atheists, Crimine ab uno Disce omnes, if there be any hypocrites, all who make show of religion are such ; on which account the hypocrisy of one age makes way for the atheism of the next. But how unreasonable and unjust that imputation is, there needs not much to discover, unless it be an argu
ment there are no true men in the world, because there are so many apes which imitate them; or that there are no jewels, because there are so many counterfeits. And blessed be God, our age is not barren of instances of real goodness and unaffected piety; there being some such generous spirits as dare love religion without the dowry of interest, and manifest their affection to it in the plain dress of the Scriptures, without the paint and set-offs which are added to it by the several contending parties of the Christian world. Were there more such noble spirits of religion in our age, atheism would want one of the greatest pleas which it now makes against the truth of religion; for nothing enlarges more the gulf of atheism, than that Méya xáopa, wide passage, which lies between the faith and lives of men pretending to be Christians. I must needs say there is nothing seems more strange and unaccountable to me, than that the practice of the unquestionable duties of Christianity should be put out of countenance, or slighted by any who own, profess, and contend for the principles of it. Can the profession of that be honourable, whose practice is not? If the principles be true, why are they not practised? If they be not true, why are they professed?
You see, Sir, to what an unexpected length my desire to vindicate the honour, as well as truth of religion, hath drawn out this present address. But I may sooner hope for your pardon in it, than if I had spent so much paper after the usual manner of dedications, in representing you to yourself or the world. Sir, I know you have too much of that I have been commending, to delight in your own deserved praises, much less in flatteries, which so benign a subject might easily make one's pen run over in. And therein I might not much have digressed from my design, since I know few more exemplary for that rare mixture of true piety, and the highest civility together; in whom that inestimable jewel of religion is placed in a most sweet, affable, and obliging temper. But although none will be more ready on any occasion with all gratitude to acknowledge the great obligations you have laid upon me, yet I am so far sensible of the common vanity of Epistles Dedicatory, that I cannot so heartily comply with them in any thing, as in my hearty prayers to the Almighty for your good and welfare, and in subscribing myself,