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you can choose, or even in God's own awful words, representing the horrors of that eternal damnation, of that worm which dieth not,' of those "fires that are not quenched, of that blackness of darkness,' which are reserved for all the lovers of religious darkness !
Whence now proceeds this impenetrable deafness, this unfeeling, this immoveable stupidity? Our Saviour answers the question in my text. “They therefore hear not God's words, because they are not of God.' The passage between their ears and their hearts, and between those again and their understandings, are so totally filled up with the pleasures, the profits, and the cares of this world, that there is no room for the word of God to enter. * Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias' the prophet, quoted by our Saviour, by St. John, and by St. Paul, and applied to the very same kind of men; 'Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand ; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.'
Hence it is, that among the lower kind of people such numbers are found, who in the midst of all that unclouded light which shines about them, still 'sit in darkness,' in an almost total ignorance of Christ and his holy religion. And hence also, among the higher ranks of men, the generality have given only their ears, and many of them not even those to Christianity; have given little or no attention to the proofs of its divinity; and yet with a freedom, equally stupid and impudent, commence infidels, disbelieving through mere distaste or contempt, and ridiculing what they will not be at the trouble to understand. It is as much in vain to hope for the warmth of religion in the one sort of people, as it is to expect the knowledge of it in the other. Christianity, nevertheless, is neither above the capacity of the labouring man, nor below that of the witling. Such is its simplicity, that it may be easily understood by the former; and such its beauty and dignity, that the latter, if he does not highly taste and ardently love it, can by no other instance of insensibility so clearly prove himself a brute or a blockhead. •It
is wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets. She crieth in the chief place of concourse, how long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity ? and the scorners delight in scorning, and fools hate knowledge ? But they answer, 'depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways ;' and she gives them over with this prophetic dismiss, “therefore shall ye eat of the fruit of your own way, and be filled with your own devices ??
Having thus opened the doctrine of my text, and proved its truth by two known experiments, one wrought on the ear of him who is of God, and therefore does hear the words of God; and the other, on that of him who is not of God, and therefore does not hear his words; it may now be of some use briefly to examine, and as it were dissect, that internal sense of hearing, wherewith only the words of God can be heard ; and then more at large to shew, what those obstructions that clog this sense in some men, and make them deaf to the voice of God.
The outward ear, we know, is but an organ or instrument, whereby sounds are rendered perceptible to the mind, which, not being seated in the ear itself, but communicating with it by another organ, through that ordinarily perceives all the sounds that strike with considerable force on the ear; but nevertheless, on some occasions, although all the organs of hearing are in perfect good order, and the sounds are strongly impressed, is as insensible of that impression, as if it had never been made. This, which daily experience makes known to every man, never happens, but when the attention of the mind is closely and earnestly pre-engaged to some other object, or in some other very interesting chain of thoughts, or is asleep.
It is farther to be observed, that even when the words of those who speak to us are distinctly heard, and are in themselves most intelligible to us, we however only so far perceive their meaning, as other objects, or other tracks of thinking, leave us at leisure to attend. Hence it is, that we often but half conceive what we hear perfectly well, and might as perfectly understand, did we give our minds wholly to what is heard.
The passage to the mind is often shut against the word of God, outwardly, as in the first instance, so as that the
very sound of it is not heard ; and more inwardly, as in the second, so as to be but half perceived and understood.
But more inward still, and nearer to the soul, it meets with another and greater obstruction in those that are not of God; for even, after the meaning of it hath been so far attended to as to be sufficiently understood, the farther attention requisite to its being believed and cordially embraced, is instantly carried off to other things, more pleasing to their corrupt affections; or, what is worse, their inveterate prejudices, or beloved vices, so harden the heart, and arm the will against it, that the understanding, which in such men is always enslaved to the heart and will, is not only not at liberty to examine the force of what it proposes, but is compelled to look out immediately for pretences to evade it, and arguments to refute it. The alarm given by the word of God to a corrupt nature, is intolerable. He that believeth not, shall be damned. Repent, or ye shall all perish.' Against a declaration of war in terms so terrible, every vice, every corruption, every habit, every affection and passion, of a dissolute heart, rise at once in arms. As such an heart hath no refuge, but either in insensibility, or opposite opinion, it first tries whether absence of mind may not render it sufficiently insensible, and in order to this, calls in all its wonted pleasures, amusements, schemes, to carry off its attention from so dreadful an invader. But if this expedient proves unsuccessful, and the alarm hath already seized the spirits, then the understanding, blinded and chained, like Samson, is called in to drudge or make sport for its tyrants, whom, together with itself, it overwhelms at last in one common ruin. But in the mean time all goes smoothly: reason, ever infallible, when she seconds our wishes, soon finds out, that faith is not in our power, that the want of it therefore cannot be punishable; that God hath given us our passions and desires, and will not destroy us, at least, will not make us miserable to all eternity, for gratifying those desires with the objects he himself hath provided for them in the works of creation; and that therefore that religion cannot be founded on truth and the nature of things, which bids us abstain, when nature prompts us to enjoy.
These are the reasonings, spun out of appetite and pas
sion, which shut the internal ear against the words of God in all those men who are not of God. And in such men these reasonings will hold good and sound, till poverty, infamy, sickness, pain, death, or damnation, the natural or vindictive consequences of their vices, teach them to feel conviction, who would not hear it.
But till then, say the parson what he will, reason, that is, their own reason, will always be on the side of the libertines, and teach them this comfortable opinion, that if there is a God, it is his will they should be wicked.
Now, it is not only the thorough-paced infidel that is furnished with this armour of proof against religion. No, that whole tribe of men, who dodge between faith and infidelity, between virtue and vice, and hope to compound, under the sanctified name of Christians, with Almighty God, for a decent life of sin; though they are not so completely accoutered, have however as much of this armour as is necessary to their plan of living. If they want the headpiece, they have the breast-plate, and that suffices, for their heads are naturally not very penetrable.
In this they transact all their business, pursue all their pleasures, and go to church on Sundays; and here they most want it, for who knows what may be heard from the lessons or the sermon, that might otherwise carry compunction or terror to their hearts ? But they are safe. The lessons are old, trite, and often heard before. And as to the sermon, every thing alarming or damnatory in that, is either overstrained by the two much heated imagination of the preacher, or, at least, it is not in all points applicable to them, and therefore in no point or measure to be regarded. If the sermon is short, what signifies it, say they ; the advocate is retained, and must harangue a little for his fee. If it is long, why then it is tedious and impertinent, and may be parried by a nap, or a little chat to him who sits next. If it consists of human reasonings and moral sentences, it is pretty enough, but they could have said as much themselves. If it is much larded with Scripture, especially if it any where attempts 'persuasion by the terrors of the Lord,' these hearers contemn it for the antiquity both of its matter and dress, and take it extremely ill that
the preacher should endeavour to frighten people who know better things, than to stand in awe, at this time of day, of hell and damnation. In short, the preacher, manage as he will, is but a weak creature at the best, and therefore what he says ought to pass for little.
Pride is the greatest infidel of all our passions. What! to pin one's faith on authorities ! To be guided by the reports of others, rather than one's own judgment! To submit to mortifications! To deny one's self! To renounce the pomps of the world! To be humble, meek, and patient ! To follow a crucified master! But, above all, to be tutored, and even, in some measure, governed, by a despicable parson, our inferior in birth, breeding, and fortune, whom we must not only maintain, but reverence, truly! and (mortifying thought) to the miserable produce of whose wrong head and barren understanding we must gravely listen at least for half an hour
week! This is not to be endured. Yet were the detested usurpation on our liberty to stop here, we might perhaps compound. But all these encroachments are no sooner submitted to, and we begin to hope for those comfortable indulgences to our schemes and pleasures, which are wisely granted by some undertakers of the conscience, than behold! our mistresses are to be banished, our gaming tables overturned, the very glasses struck out of our hands, as we were raising them to our mouths, and almost all our schemes of profit, pleasure, or ambition, forbidden, under pain of damnation! Our whole nature gives the lie to a religion that teaches this; and therefore it is, must be, and shall be, a false religion. The gownmen may propose to reason with us on the evidences of their religion, on their records, their prophecies, their miracles, too extraordinary to be believed, even though they were seen ; but is there not somewhat within us, sufficient to baffle all this cant? Can that be wisdom which would persuade us to act against our own nature? Or can that be truth which tells us, we are blind, and want a guide ? which bids us think meanly of ourselves ?
The infidels, I know, avow other principles more specious, and would be thought to proceed on reasonings, not so immediately drawn from their own depraved hearts; but