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Matter of fuch Moment, were to be ftupid and infenfible, rather than Religious. And when we come to appear before Chrift in Fudgment, we fhall be fentenced, not according to our own Opinions or Apprehenfions of our felves, whether Good or Evil, but according to the Sincerity of our Lives, to the Extent of our Charity, and to the Truth of our Repentance. And all these Supported and made Perfect by the Merits and Satisfaction of a moft Gracious and Merciful Redeemer, who will Pity and Pardon beyond what we are able to express or to conceive. But,
4thly, And to conclude this Point, The laft Device by which the Devil, in thefe Days efpecially, has endeavoured to hinder our Piety, is, by turning that Zeal into Strifes and Difputes about Religion, which ought to have been employed on the Practice of it.
For indeed, were we now to enquire what the great Demonftration of all our Zeal is, both in the Priefts and the People, what other Account should we be able to bring back than this, That they are all hot and furious for their feveral particular Opinions; as if the whole Gospel of Chrift, and all the Hopes of Eternity, depended on them; but for the Practice of a Gofpel-Life, for that Devotion, that Charity, that Humility and Integrity, which were once the great Care and Ornament of the Chriftian Church, thefe, God knows, are but little regarded by the moft of us.
If, 1ft, We confider the Publick Effects of thefe Controverfies to a Decay of Piety: What a Defolation fhall we find too often occafion'd by
them? I need not tell you how many Countries have been ruined; what Kings and Princes have been murthered, and banished, and depofed by their own People; what Blood has been Spilt; what Numbers of Honeft and Innocent People, Men, Women, and Children, have been Loft and Undone by them. And by a ftrange Metamorphofis, Cruelty and Oppreffion, Falfenefs and Diffimulation, Deceit and Perjury, all the vilest and most fcandalous Sins, by the Sacred Power of the Churches Intereft, confecrated into Chriftian and Heroical Virtues. And to compleat the Aftonishment, the Holy Martyrs and Confeffors have been damned to Hell, whilft their Perfecutors have been Sainted, and placed in Heaven.
If, 2dly, We look upon these Difputes in themfelves only, without regarding any fuch defperate effects of them: I wish I had no Occafion to fay how prejudicial they have even thus been, and without God's Infinite Mercy, might have been much more to our common Chriftianity: Whilft by the means of these. not only Schifms and Herefies (and even thofe too, St. Paul reckons among the Works of the Flesh, Gal. v. 20. which whofo are Guilty of, cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God) have crept into the Church; but, Some from thefe Contests have concluded all our Religion to be uncertain, and efteem'd it the wifest way not to join with any of us, till we can fomewhat better agree to which of us they ought to go. Others, confidering the manner how thefe Controverfies have, of late efpecially, been managed and carried on, have with fome colour of Reafon, been tempted to believe all our Pretences to be only Deceit and Vifion; for that furely did thofe
those who ftand up in the Defence of Religion, believe it themselves, they would never defend their Faith in fuch a Manner, as utterly contradicts all the Morality of it.
Which of the great Articles of Chriftianity have not our Modern Difputes call'd in Question? It is but a very little while fince the Mystery of the Sacred Trinity, and the Glorious Incarnation. of the Son of God, have again been ftruck at, by those who plainly fhew they care not what becomes of Christianity, if they cannot make their Popish Herefy prevail with it. And that if not in fo plain and direct a manner as the Arians and Socinians of our Days do; yet in another no lefs repugnant to the belief of them. For if the Contradictions, as they fay, be indeed as great in these, as 'tis plain they are in that other Myftery, or rather as one of their own great Defenders of it truly called it, That MONSTER of Tranfubftantiation, to which they are compared; I doubt all confidering Perfons will refolve from the Self-evident falfenefs of the one, to conclude against the others; rather than from their belief of thofe, to give up their affent to this.
If we look to the Morality of the Gospel; let the Heat and the Paffion, the Bitterness, and the Evil-fpeaking; fhall I add, and even the Fraud and Diffimulation which have appear'd in these Debates, be a fad Evidence how deftructive fuch Difputes are of true Piety and Religion. Whilft to leffen an Adverfary, or to be thought to get the better in an Argument, Men value not how or what they write; but feem refolved at any rate to maintain their Point, tho' for the doing of it they are forced to fuch fhifts, as without
God's Infinite Mercy, muft lofe them their own Souls.
What shall I fay to that Epidemical Uncharitableness that is from hence diffufed into the feverál Parties of Chriftians? Whilft every one seems to reckon his Enemy no better then a Heathen and a Publican; and having by their uncharitable Cenfures cut him off from the hopes of God's Mercy hereafter, think themselves afterwards difengaged from all Obligations, even of common humanity towards him now.
I fpeak not this, as if I meant to accuse those of our Church who have fo generoufly ftood in the Gap, and facrificed their Peace, their Quiet, and their Interefts to the defence of an excellent Caufe, and a truly Orthodox, Catholick, and Apoftolick Church: And much lefs would I be thought hereby to difcourage you from being as zealous for the Faith, and as Conftant in its Defence, as both your Duty requires, and as, I blefs God, you all of you are this Day, and I hope, and am perfuaded, will ever be fo. But I fpeak this to deplore the fad ftate of Chriftianity, and to bewail thofe Divifions, than which nothing has been more deftructive to the practice of Religion. I fpeak it, earnestly to befeech and exhort you, even by the Bowels and Mercy of Chrift Fefus, that you will be careful to add to your Faith Works: To adorn your Holy Profeffion, by a fuitable Converfation: To live to the Honour of your Church, as well as to difpute for it: And feeing ye know what Danger these Controverfies are apt to bring to the decay of Piety, that you would be careful to prevent them, and not suffer your Zeal for your Faith, ever to carry you to any unchriftian or unwarrantable Measures in the Defence of it.
And thus have I fet before you fome of thofe Devices whereby the Devil is wont to hinder our Piety; I have but just time to mention a very few of the other kind, viz.
IIdly, Those by which he is wont to draw us into the commiffion of Sin.
It has been an ancient Remark, and the Reafon whereof is fo deeply rooted in our very Natures, as may juftly make it a firft Principle in this Enquiry; That Evil, as fuch, is not defirable. No Man ever commits a fin for finning Sake, but upon the Account of fome good or other which he either really does, or at least thinks fhall accrue to him thereby.
Now 'tis upon this, the Devil founds all his Devices to deceive us. He obferves our Interefts, our Tempers, and Inclinations; what it is that either our Condition, or Circumftances, or Defign's in the World render us the most apt to be caught with, and accordingly offers his Temptations to us in fuch a manner as may be most like to prevail with us.
So that then to arm our felves against those Artifices by which he is wont to draw us into Sin, we shall need no long fearch, no laborious enquiry into his particular Temptations. Only let us turn our Eyes into our own Souls; there let us confider what Sins they are we are the moft apt to fall into, what Paffions the most command us, to what Irregularities our Tempers, or our Circumftances lay us the moft open, and this will presently both fhew us our Danger, and how we ought to fortify our felves against it.