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may know wherein they have offended, and that they may have no cloke for their sin, it would be very convenient, some Sunday before Easter, to read to them some heads of self-examination, (leaving out such sins and duties in which none of them are concerned,) such as you will find at the latter end of the Whole Duty of Man, and in many other books of devotion.
But to make your sermons more effectual, (and I desire it and require it of you,) that you take an account of the state and condition of your particular flocks, during the approaching season, and visit and deal in private with those upon whom your sermons have probably had no influence.
Let them know that the church obliges you to deny them the blessed sacrament, which is the means of salvation, until you can be satisfied of their reformation.
Let such as live in malice, envy, or in any other grievous crime, and yet come to the holy table as if they were in a state of salvation ; let them be told, that they provoke God to plague them with his judgments.
Admonish such as are litigious, and vex their neighbours without cause, that this is contrary to the spirit and rules of Christianity ;—that this holy sacrament either finds or makes all communicants of one heart and mind, or mightily increases their guilt that are not made so.
Tell such as are wont, before that solemn season of receiving, to forbear drinking and their other vices,—that fast and pray for a few days ;—tell them plainly, that none of these exercises are acceptable to God, which are not attended with amendment of life.
Rebuke severely such as despise and profane the Lord'sday; make them sensible, that a curse must be upon
that family, out of which none goes to church to obtain a blessing upon those that stay at home.
Tell such as have submitted to church censures, and are not become better men, how abominable that hypocrisy is, that made them utter the most solemn promises, which they never meant to keep.
By this method you will answer the ends of that rubric before the Communion, which requires all persons that design to receive, to signify their names to the curate at least some time the day before,—an order, which, if observed, would give us rare opportunities of admonishing offenders who yet do not think themselves in danger.
Lastly, in making this visitation you will see what children are uncatechised, what families have no face of religion in them, &c.
But for God's sake remember, that if all this is not done in the spirit of meekness, with prudence and sweetness, you will never attain the end proposed by such a visitation of your parish.
Do but consider with what goodness our blessed Master treated with sinners, and you will bear much in order to reduce them. At the same time fear not the face of
any man, while you are engaged in the cause of God, and in the way of your duty. He will either defend you, or reward your sufferings; and can, when he pleases, terrify gainsayers.
It is true, all this is not to be done without trouble; but then consider what grief, and weariness, and contempt our Master underwent, in turning sinners from the power of Satan unto God: and as he saw the travail of his soul, so shall we reap very great benefit by it even in this world.
We shall have great satisfaction in sceing our churches thronged with communicants, who come out of a sense of duty. more than out of a blind obedience. We shall gain a wonderful authority amongst our people. Such as have any spark of grace will love and respect you for your friendly admonition : such as have none, will however reverence you, and stand in awe of you. And they that pay you tithes, will by this be convinced, that it is not for doing nothing that you receive them, since your calling obliges you to continual labour and thoughts of heart.
That you may do all this with a spirit of piety worthy of the priesthood, you have two excellent books in your hands, The Pastoral Care, and The Country Parson, which I hope I need not enjoin you to read over at this time.
I considered, that the best men have sometimes need of being stirred up, that they may not lose a spirit of piety, which is but too apt to languish. This is all the apology I shall make for this address to you at this time.
Now that both you and I may give a comfortable account of our office and charge, as it is the design of this letter, so it shall be my hearty prayer to God.
I am your affectionate brother,
THOMAS SODOR AND MAN.
Of answering the ends of this apostolical institution. THERE is no question to be made of it, but that most of that ignorance, impiety, profaneness, want of charity, of union, and order, which we complain of, is owing to the neglect or abuse of this one ordinance; which being appointed by the apostles, and practised even when baptism was administered to people of full age a, it is no wonder that God punishes the contempt of it, by withholding his holy Spirit, and those graces which are necessary, and would certainly accompany the religious use of it.
If this were well considered, and pastors would resolve to discharge their duty in this particular faithfully, we should soon see another face of religion: Christians would be obliged to study their religion, and to think it something more than a work of the lips, and of the memory, or the mere custom of the place where they live. And being made sensible of their danger, (being liable to sin, to death, and to damnation,) this would make them serious, and thoughtful, and inquisitive, after the manner of their redemption, and the means of salvation ;-and their consciences being awakened and informed, sin would become more uneasy to them, and virtue more acceptable. In short, by this means, people would know their duty, the sacraments would be kept from being profaned, and pastors would be respected and obeyed, as being very truly the fathers of their flock.
And certainly no greater injury can be done to religion, than to suffer young people to come to confirmation, before they know the reason of this service, and have been well instructed in the principles and duties of Christianity. This being the very time of seasoning their minds with sound knowledge, of fortifying their wills with sober resolutions, and of engaging them to piety, before sin has got the possession of their affections; this being also the time
a Acts viii. 17.
of qualifying them to receive benefit by all our future labours, and of arming them against apostasy, heresy, schism, and all other vices, to which we are subject in this state of trial.
In short, I do not know how a clergyman could possibly spend one month better, than by leading young people, as it were, by the hand, into the design of Christianity, by some such easy method as this following: which, if deliberately proposed to every single person in the hearing of all the rest, (who should be obliged to be every day present,) and familiarly explained, not the most ignorant (supposing he had learned, as he ought, the Church Catechism) but would be able to give a reason of the hope that is in him; and his faith being thus built upon a solid and sure foundation, would, by the grace of God now imparted to him in a greater measure, withstand all future trials and temptations. The method of dealing with young Christians, in order to
fit them for confirmation. I DO not ask
believe in God: you cannot open your eyes, but you must, by the world that you see, acknowledge the God that made it, and does still preserve it ;—that he is infinite in power, in wisdom, and in goodness ;—that in Him we live, and move, and have our being ;—that he is therefore worthy of all the love and service that we can possibly pay him.
How then do you think it comes to pass, that so many who profess to know God, do yet in their works deny him b? Why, this shews plainly, that man is fallen from that good estate in which God created him. He knows that he ought to live righteously, as in the sight of an holy and just God;—that he should be afraid of doing any thing to offend so powerful a Being ;--that he should love, and strive to please Him, upon whose goodness he depends; and that he should obey all his laws. And yet he cannot prevail with himself to do what he is persuaded he ought to do.
This may convince you, that man's nature has been sadly corrupted seme way or other; we having, in every one of us, the seeds of all manner of wickedness, which, if not kept under, will certainly grow up and be our ruin.
Now, the holy scriptures tell you how this came to pass; na ly, that our first parents being created perfect, (that
b Titus i. 16.
is, able to know and obey any law that God should give them,) God gave them the law of nature and right reason to live by, and required of them a perfect obedience, with this assurance, that they should never die, if they did not transgress one particular command of not eating the forbidden fruit, which command was given them both to try their obedience, and to keep their appetites in subjection.
Now, they did transgress this command, and thereby became subject to sin, to death-the reward of sin, and to the wrath of God: for God withdrew the supernatural powers and graces which he had given them, so that now, though they knew what was fit to be done, yet had they no longer power to perform it; which would certainly have driven them to despair, but that God was pleased immediately to comfort them with this promise, that a time was coming, when he would send one to redeem them and their posterity from this miserable bondage ; and that he would then receive them again into favour, upon reasonable conditions.
In the mean time, Adam begat a race of children after his own likeness C; that is, with such a corrupt nature as his own was now become; and his posterity grew every day more and more wicked, till at last God destroyed the whole world (except eight persons) by a flood.
But this did not destroy the seeds of sin which was in them, for by these eight persons the world was peopled with a race of men, who in a short time did quite forget and forsake God; and for the most part became the subjects of the Devil, and were led captives by him at his will.
At last, God remembered his promise, and, resolving to mend that disorder which sin had caused in the world, he sent his Son to take our nature upon him, and to give mankind assurance, that God would be reconciled to them upon very merciful conditions ; namely, if they would renounce the Devil, who first tempted man to sin, and accept of such laws and rules as were necessary to change their nature, which was now become prone to evil continually.
Now, to assure them that Jesus Christ came with this message from God, he did such miracles as none but God could do ; and to convince us how much he loved us, and what a sad thing sin is, (which nothing but his death could atone for,) he gave his life a ransom for us ; the punishment due to us being laid on him.
And God, to let us know that he was well pleased with
c Genesis v. 3.