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It is true, we may as well fear, that dogs should bark out the moon, as that the utmost malice of these enemies to truth shall ever be able to sully a reputation, that has long shined with so much brightness among all learned and good men, both at home and abroad: insomuch, that when this illustrious Prelate was dying, one of the chief of his order deservedly said of him, There goes one of the greatest, and of the best men that ever England bred. No, we have seen that all their attempts against him do but add lustre to his fame. However, it cannot be less the interest of religion to promote the works of so able a divine, than it is that of atheism and irreligion to oppose them; and if all good men would shew as much zeal in the defence of them and their great author, and be as industrious to recommend both his writings and example, as atheists and libertines are to obstruct the influences of both, this would still be another addition to the glory of so great a name; and the good effects we might hope for, on the lives of men, from such excellent books, dispersed into many hands, would be, at once, the best attestation that could be given to the wondrous benefit and usefulness of them, and also the most effectual means to stop the mouths of gainsayers, by lessening the number of them daily, and bringing them over from infidelity and atheism, to the cause of God and religion.
And I cannot close this Preface better, than with earnest prayers to God, that this, and all the other works of Bishop Beveridge, may have that blessed effect; and that in return to all the
malice of those, who seem to envy us the great good we may hope for from such pious and instructive discourses, they may, by degrees, instil even into their breasts some of that spirit of piety, diffused through every page; and of atheists and libertines, make them sober men, and Christians.
IF the principles of the Christian religion were well rooted in the hearts of all mankind, what excellent fruit would they produce! The earth would put on another face, bearing some resemblance of heaven itself: idolatry, with all sorts of wickedness and vice, would be every where discountenanced and suppressed; for all would worship the one living and true God, and him only: there would be no more wars, nor rumours of wars; kingdom would not rise against kingdom, nor nation against nation, but all princes would be at peace with their neighbours, and their subjects at unity among themselves, striving about nothing but which should serve God best, and do most good in the world. Then piety, and justice, and charity, would revive and flourish again all the world over, and particularly in the church and kingdom to which we belong. Then the prayers would be read twice a day in every parish, as the law requires, and all people would heartily join together in offering them up to the almighty Creator of the world. Then all that are of riper years would, at least every Lord's-day, celebrate the memory of the death of Christ, by which their sins are expiated, and the most high God reconciled to them, and become their God and Father: and as all sorts of people would thus continually worship God in his own house, so wheresoever they are, they
would do all they could to serve and honour him; Whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, they would do all to his glory. And as for their fellowservants, they would all love as brethren, and every one seek another's good as well as their own: Whatsoever they would that men should do to them, they would do the same to all other men. In short, all would then deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godlily in this present world, and so walk hand in hand together in the narrow way that leads to everlasting life. This would be the happy state of all mankind, if they were but well grounded in that religion which the eternal Son of God hath planted upon earth.
But not to speak of other people, we of this nation rarely find any such effect of this religion among ourselves; though it be as generally professed, and as clearly taught among us, as ever it was in any nation, there are but few that are ever the better for it; the most being here also as bad both in their principles, and practices, as they which live in the darkest corners of the earth, where the light of the Gospel never yet shined: though the kingdom in general be Christian, there are many heathens in it, people that were never christened; many that were once christened, and are now turned heathens again, living as without God in the world: many that would still be thought Christians, and yet have apostatized so far as to lay aside both the sacraments which Christ ordained, and every thing else that can shew them to be so many that privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and so bring upon themselves swift destruction: many that follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth is evil spoken of, and through covetousness with feigned works make merchandise of men, as St. Peter foretold, 2 Pet. ii. 1, 2, 3. Many who will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts, heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and so fulfil the prophecy
of St. Paul, 2 Tim. iv. 3. And of those who still continue in the communion of the Church, and in the outward profession of the true Christian faith, there are many who although they profess to know God, yet in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate, Tit. i. 16. Many, did I say? I wish I could not say almost all: but alas! it is too plain to be denied.
For, of that vast company of people that are called Christians in this kingdom, how few are there that live as becometh the Gospel of Christ? that finish the work which God hath given them to do, even glorify him in the world? How many that refuse or neglect to worship and serve him upon his own day? How few that do it upon any other day, when they have any thing else to do? How many that never received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in their whole lives? How few that receive it above two or three times in the year, how often soever they are invited to it? How many are the proud, the passionate, the covetous, the intemperate, the incontinent, the unjust, the profane and impious, in comparison of the humble, and meek, and liberal, and sober, and modest, and righteous, and holy among us? The disproportion is so vastly great, that none but God himself can make the comparison: so little of Christianity is now to be found amongst Christians themselves; to our shame be it spoken.
It is indeed a matter of so much shame, as well as grief, to all that have any regard for the honour of Christ their Saviour, that they cannot but be very solicitous to know how it comes to pass, that his doctrine and precepts are so generally slighted and neglected as they are in our days? and how they may be observed better for the future than now they are? Both which questions inay be easily resolved; for we cannot wonder, that of the many which profess the Christian religion, there are so few that live up to it, when we consider how few are duly instructed in the first principles of it.