Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing the great doctrines of the gospel plainly and fully. " A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." But it is now more important, though more difficult, to preach the gospel plainly and by sound doctrine to refute and silence gainsayers. Hence,

5. Ministers have great need of the prayers of their people, that they may preach the gospel with confidence and plainness. They are in great danger of neglecting this duty, from their brethren, who conceal their sentiments and from individuals among their churches and congregations, who love error, better than truth and take pains to propagate it, by unwarrantable means. It is hard and extremely difficult for ministers to stand alone, without the aid and prayers of those, who profess to love and hear the truth. Even the apostles felt their need of the assistance and prayers of their christian brethren and affectionately called upon them to pray for them, that they might be enabled to deliver divine truths with freedom and plainness. The apostle Paul desired the Christians at Ephesus, that they would pray for him, that utterance might be given him, that he might open his mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel. He made a similar request to_the Colossians ; and to the Thessalonians he says, “ Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified ; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.” All ministers now need and all faithful ministers now desire the prayers, assistance and countenance of the people of God, that they may have courage, fortitude and zeal, to preach the gospel plainly and boldly as they ought to preach it, in the face of a frowning world, who unreasonably hate it and op

[ocr errors]

pose it.

This reminds us, my hearers, of the mutual duties, which we owe to one another.

It is forty nine years to-day, since I took the pastoral care of the Church and people in this place. When I came here I found a respectable and exemplary Church and a very regular people. And God has been pleased

at different times to appear and plead his own cause. But on the whole, has not the cause of truth, of piety, and of virtue declined ? Were there forty nine years ago, many prayerless families in this place ? or many sabbath-breakers ? or many profane swearers ? or any infidels, or any Unitarians, or any Universalists? Why then are such persons to be found here now? This the preacher ought to ask himself. Has be not stood in his watch-tower? Or has he not descried any danger? or has he feared and neglected to give seasonable warning of the dangers he has descried ? Has he appeared to use any means to conceal his sentiments, or to keep back, through fear, or favour, any truths, any warnings, or admonitions ? Or has he, on the other hand, preached plainly and intelligibly on the great doctrines of the gospel and fairly met and attempted to refute every gross and fatal error and corrupting practice ? If these things be so, why. have gross and dangerous errors and corrupt practices existed so much of late years ?

There must have been some criminal causes of these deplorable effects. They must be chiefly ascribed to the preacher, or to those, who have attended, or neglected to attend, his preaching. It belongs to you to judge of me and to

, me to judge of you, with candor and impartiality. To this duty I have called myself and have called you, once every year. And to this duty I now call you and myself. It is high time for you and for me, to look forward to a day, which cannot be far from me and may not be far from some of you, and prepare to: meet and give an account, how and what we have spoken and how and what we have heard.

SERMON II.

THE RIGHT OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT.

Acts, XVII. 11.- These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so.

The primitive preachers of the gospel considered their hearers, as capable of judging of the truth of what they heard. They not only taught the truth, but exhibited clear and conclusive evidence to support what they taught. This appears to have been Paul's practice, from the two first verses of this chapter, in which it is said, Paul, as his manner was, went into the synagogue of the Jews and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures. But though he preached the gospel in this fair and candid manner, yet some were highly displeased and violently opposed him, which constrained him to leave Thessalonica and go to Berea, where he met with a kind and candid reception. The people there heard him with avidity and candor. Their minds were open to divine truth; and so far as they understood it, they received it in love. And this fair, candid disposition led them, not to place an implicit faith in the preacher, but to search the scriptures, the only infallible standard of truth, to see whether the doctrines he delivered were really contained in the word of God. And this was so far from displeasing the apostle, that he highly commended them for it, in the text. « These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” This conduct of the Bereans, in exercising their right of private

[ocr errors]

judgment, in forming their religious sentiments, was agreeable to common sense and sanctioned by divine authority. We may, therefore, justly draw this general conclusion from it.

That men ought to exercise the right of private judgment, in forming their religious sentiments.

I shall first show, what it is to exercise the right of private judgment; and then show, that men ought to exercise it, in forming their religious sentiments.

I. Let us consider what it is to exercise the right of private judgment in forming our religious sentiments.

It is the right, which every man has, of seeing with his own eyes, hearing with his own ears, and of exercising his own reason, in forming his religious opinions. When any man, without any compulsion, or restraint, freely exercises his own natural abilities, in forming his sentiments, he exercises all the right of private judgment, that he can have, or enjoy. But this implies several things. In particular,

1. A right to hear what may be said upon the subject to be decided. Men are often unprepared to form their judgment upon a subject, without collecting information from others. We have a right to hear what may

. be said upon a subject proposed to our approbation, or belief, before we either receive, or reject it. The Bereans had a right to hear the reasons the apostle had to offer in favour of Christianity, before they either received it as true, or rejected it as false. And this was proper, in order to form a just opinion of what he declared to be a Revelation from Heaven. We have a right to collect evidence upon any subject, from any, who are able to give us information about it. And in many cases, before we have gained such information we are not duly prepared to form a decisive opinion. The more information men can collect from others, in any case, the better they are prepared to judge correctly and form an opinion according to truth. Private judgment does not reject, but rightly improves all the light and information obtained from others.

2. This right implies a right to examine every subject for ourselves and employ all our rational powers in investigating the truth. Though many things may have been said and many volumes may have been written upon any religious doctrine ; yet we have a right to think and reason upon it ourselves ; and to search the scriptures, to see whether it be there revealed, or not. After the Bereans nad heard Paul preach and reason out of the scriptures, they had a right to reason and search the scriptures for themselves ; and to gain more light, if they could, than the apostle had exhibited. The greatest and best of uninspired men are liable to err. And therefore we are to use our own reason and knowledge, in connection with theirs, in forming our religious opinions. When we come to think seriously and accurately upon a subject, which others have treated with great confidence, we may find good reasons to differ from them in opinion. They may have overlooked and we may have found the real truth, in the case. The right of collecting evidence and of weighing it after collected, is necessarily involved in the right of private judgment. Nor can we properly judge for ourselves, unless we examine for ourselves. After we have read and conversed upon a difficult religious subject, we ought to think and read the Bible, in order to unite with, or differ from others, in opinion. This is the most essential and important branch of the right of private judgment. This is what others often wish to abridge us

. of and what we are too apt to give up, or abuse. I may add,

3. The right of private judgment involves the right of forming our opinions according to the best light we can obtain. After a man knows what others have said, or written ; and after he has thought and searched the scriptures, upon any religious subject, he has a right to form his own judgment exactly according to evidence. He has no right to exercise prejudice, or partiality ; but he has a right to exercise impartiality, in spite of all the world. After all the evidence is

a

« PreviousContinue »