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SERMON IV. '
LUKE xii. 57.
Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
HE Duties, which God hath enjoined us, though reasonable and beneficial in the highest Degree, are yet, through the Depravity of human Nature, and the Prevalence of bad Customs, become so unacceptable, that they are practifed, as we must be fenfible, but imperfectly by the beft, and very little by the largest Part of the World. Yet avowedly to neglect doing what they ought, is too shocking a Behaviour to fit eafy upon the Minds of Men. Some Plea therefore they must find out, either to juftify, or at least to excuse, their Manner of Life. And various are, and ever have been, the Excufes, invented by the irreligious and immoral, not only to maintain. E 4
some Character amongst others, but chiefly to quiet themselves.
Now of all thefe, one of the beft, if it were a true one, would be that of Ignorance: not knowing that fuch and fuch Things are incumbent on us. This appears to be a Cafe, to which not only Compaffion must have Regard, but which even Juftice itself must acquit of Guilt. And therefore it is no Wonder, if many fhelter themselves under fo favourable a Pretence.
The lower Part of Mankind, in general, on almoft every Occasion, alledge, that they have not the Advantages of Education and Inftruction which others have: that they are not able, perhaps even to read that holy Book, in which their Duty is fet forth: and if they be, yet the fame Quickness to understand it, or Leifure to ftudy it, cannot be looked for from them, as if their Minds had been improved by Rules of reasoning and judging, and their Time at their own Difpofal. A great deal they think may be required, with the utmost Reafon, from thofe of higher Rank: but from fuch as they are, little or nothing.
But, befides this vulgar Sort, there is also a learned Kind of Ignorance, pleaded by fome,
whofe Freedom of Inquiry and fuperior Sagacity hath given them Caufe, they apprehend, to be very diffident of many Points, that others are firmly perfuaded of. And therefore they argue, that, though it may be the Duty of common People, who, for Want of the Means of Knowledge or of Abilities to use them, must believe what they are taught, though it may be right and neceffary for them, in Confequence of their Belief, to practife Virtue and Piety very confcientioufly: yet it must not be expected, that those of greater Genius, who are more enlightened, and perceive many Doubts in thefe Matters, fhould put themfelves under difagreeable Restraints, merely on Account of uncertain Speculations; and conform their Lives to the rigid Precepts of Chriftianity, when they are really not well fatisfied of the Authority of it; nor, it may be, even of natural Religion.
Thus, you see, the lowest Incapacity and the highest Self-opinion can urge in Effect the fame Argument, to evade what Men have no Mind to. And I fhall now fhew, that in both it is inconclufive; and fully confuted by our Saviour's home Question, Yea, and why even of yourfelves judge ye not what is right?
Thefe Words appear, by the parallel Placés in the other Evangelifts, to have been originally defigned against those amongst the Jews, who, from Diflike of the Strictnefs of our bleffed Lord's Morality, pretended Ignorance of his divine Miffion, after he had given abundant Proofs of it; when yet, without without any separate Proofs of it at all, the main Things which he taught, carried their own Evidence along with them, and every Man's Heart bore Witness to their Truth. They had seen Miracles, of various Kinds, performed in Atteftation of his Claim: yet ftill they were not content without more, and thofe of their own chufing. The Pharifees came forth, with the Sadducees alfo, tempting him, and fought of him a Sign from Heaven. But he, with no lefs Dignity than Prudence, refused to gratify a Curiofity, both ill-meaning and endless: and fighing deeply in his Spirit, as St. Mark informs us', at this perverfe Difpofition of theirs; told them, with a kind, becaufe needful, Severity of Speech, where the Defect lay. A wicked and adulterous Generation feeketh after a Signo: your finful Inclinations and Lives, not the Want or the Defire of fufficient Evidence, a Matth. xvi. 1. Mark viii. 11. b Verfe 12. Matth. xvi. 4. I prompt