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to the great disturbance and detriment of the church; and who were so impudent as to broach their hellish doctrines even in the times of the apostles themselves, and whom those holy men have in their Epistles so sharply inveighed against; had their denomination from that high opinion they had of their extraordinary knowledge and insight into the secret depths and hidden arcana of Christianity. They spoke great swelling words, as St. Jude says, ver. 16, whose whole Epistle is designed against them; and were in the mean time so utterly strangers to the true spirit of Christianity, which begins in purity of heart and life, and the sincere love of God, as a necessary preparative to the true knowledge of him and his revelations; that they gave themselves up to the most flagrant lusts and worst of vices; and therefore he calls them filthy dreamerst; a very emphatical expression, whereby he aptly denotes both their gross ignorance and shameless sensuality, and the former as very much owing to the latter. And St. Paul intimates of them, that they pretended much to philosophy and vain deceit u, or a sophistical and fallacious way of arguing, in which they were continually jangling and disputing; and made it their business to contend against and corrupt the solid truths of religion, with the oppositions of science, though falsely so calledx ; and were so vainly puffed up by it in their fleshly mind y, that they despised every body else, even the apostles themselves, as ignorant and uninstructed, and very much mistaken in the doctrines they taught, when they could not wrest and force them to countenance their vile practices and tenets. And the same account St. Peter t Jude 8. 11 Coloss. ii. 8. - Tim. vi. 2. y Coloss. ii. 18.
gives of them in his second Epistle, chap. ii. And it is very observable, that those that in all ages have come after them, and trod in their wicked steps, have been like them in this, that they have been heady and highminded, perverse disputers, eternal wranglers, full of themselves, and supercilious contemners of all that presumed to be not of their mind.
But now there is nothing strikes so directly and effectually at this poisonous root of heretical and erroneous opinions, as the serious study and sincere observance of the practical rules of Christianity ; in hearty obedience to the directions, and careful imitation of the example of the blessed Jesus.
This will teach us truly to know ourselves, and not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think?, but to think soberly and modestly, as becomes the disciples of him who was lowly in heart, and has commanded his followers to learn to be so too. This will teach us to be poor in spirit, that we may enter into the kingdom of heaven; to humble ourselves that we may be exalted, and to bring down every high thought to the obedience of Christ. And particularly the contemplation of Jesus Christ, and him crucified for sinners, if dwelt upon with due seriousness and affection, will effectually bring down all our towering, assuming notions; and make us intimately sensible of what is really our condition as sinners, viz. that we are wretched, and miserable, poor, and blind, and naked a. Let us but consider who it was that suffered for us in our lost, undone condition, and what and why he suffered; that the eternal Son of God became, in outward appearance, z Rom. xii. 3.
a Rev. iji. 17.
a poor, contemptible man, underwent great hardships and ill-treatment, suffered the most exquisite torments of a cross, to atone for wicked mankind, who had deserved his severest indignation and just vengeance : let us but seriously consider this, as every truly good Christian often does; and from our utter inability to comprehend the mystery of God incarnate, bleeding and dying for sinners, with all the circumstances of ignominy and reproach that could be heaped upon the worst of malefactors, we shall come to a true knowledge of the narrowness of our own understanding, and cry out, with the blessed apostle, O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out b!
And when we further reflect that we are of the number of those vile, rebellious creatures for whom no favour could be procured, but by so costly a sacrifice as the blood of the Son of God; and withal how ungrateful we have been, nay, how base in our returns for such wondrous goodness, continually abusing it, and growing still more stubborn and disobedient upon it; what can more tend to humble an ingenuous temper than such considerations as these, and instead of priding one's self in any thing, make one detest and abhor one's self, as exceeding vile and unworthy; and with shame and confusion of face cry out with the devout Psalmist, So foolish was I and ignorant, even as it were a beast before thee!
Now such thoughts and reflections as these are the frequent employment of every serious Christian, but which your pretenders to extraordinary wit' and
b Rom. xi. 33.
sense and knowledge seldom or never trouble their wiser heads withal; who, as St. Paul intimates, thinking they know all things, know nothing as they ought to know
A feeling sense of religion, therefore, with respect to the great fundamental truths of it, when the heart is deeply affected with them, and seriously meditates upon them, tending thus to give us a true notion of ourselves, the dimness of our understandings relating to the deep mysteries of it, and the vileness of our wills and affections in making so ill a return in our practice for such infinite mercy and goodness of God towards us, as it discovers to us, and consequently tending so much to humble us in both respects, must needs be the best preservative in the world against heresy and dangerously erroneous opinions, which always proceed from pride and a conceited haughtiness of temper, and are seldom found in men of a truly humble disposition, and that know themselves. For though sometimes even such
fall into errors themselves, or be led into them by others, yet they are not obstinate in them, nor set up for leaders of a sect and party, but are soon brought off again to the truth. Devotion silences vain jangling, and engages the Holy Spirit to reduce them from their wanderings, and inclines them to a ready compliance with his guidance and direction, having no evil bias to turn them another
Thirdly, a life of true piety disengages men's affections from the world, and renders them above preferring the interests of it before the cause of religion and the truth.
1 Cor. viii. 2.
No method has been more frequently made use of by those who would gain proselytes to a party or persuasion that is not overstocked with the inducements of reason, than to bait the hook with arguments of worldly profit and advantage; and so inordinate a love have most people for things of this nature, that it is found by experience to be of great force and prevalency. This was Satan's last reserve when he tempted our blessed Lord himself, as thinking this would do, if any thing; though he was much mistaken then, and is so still, when he takes the same course with those who are of the same temper with that most exemplary contemner of the world.
But, however, this has all along been the practice both of himself and his emissaries : history assures us it has been so in former times, and with too great success: I wish I could say that it is not so now in our own; and that the prospect of temporal advantage did not make many depart from the truth, and keep and secure them in their errors, which otherwise we might hope they would in time be persuaded to part with. But withal we cannot but say that nothing more exposes the weakness of that cause which needs such hateful and unchristian supports; and it may well be a question, whether, in this particular, the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light?
Now that the best countercharm imaginable against the bewitching insinuations of temporal interest and advantage is a truly holy, devout, and pious life, is plain, because this fixes men's minds upon so much nobler objects, and gives them a relish of so infinitely greater a good, as that what