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nore who had been brought up dissenters, joined with them, they brought in more and more prejudice against the Church. In process of time, various circumstances concurred to increase and to confirm it. Many had forgotten, that we were all at our first setting out, determined members of the established Church. Yea, it was one of our original rules, that every member of our society, should attend the Church and sacrament, unless he had been bred among Christians of some other denomination.
5. In order, therefore, to prevent others from being puzzled and perplexed, as so many have been already, it is necessary, in the highest degree, to consider this matter thoroughly; calmly to inquire, Whether God ever did bless the ministry of ungodly men? And whether he does so at this hour? Here is a plain matter of fact: if God never did bless it, we ought to separate from the Church; at least where we have reason to believe that the minister is an unholy man. If he ever did bless it, and does so still, then we ought to continue therein.
6. Nineteen years ago, we considered this question in our public conference at Leeds; "Whether the Methodists ought to separate from the Church?" And, after a long and candid inquiry, it was determined, nemine contradicente, That it was not expedient for them to separate. The reasons were set down at large; and they stand equally good at this day.
7. In order to put this matter beyond all possible dispute, I have chosen to speak from these words, which give a fair occasion of observing, what the dealings of God in his Church have been, even from so early a period for it is generally allowed, that Eli lived at least a thousand years before our Lord came into the world. In the verses preceding the text, we read, (ver. 12, &c.,) "Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord." They were wicked to an uncommon degree. Their profane violence, with respect to the sacrifices, is related with all its shocking circumstances, in the following verses. But (what was a greater abomination still) "they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation!" ver. 22. On both these accounts "the sin of the young men was very great, and men abhorred the offering of the Lord."
8. May I be permitted to make a little digression, in order to correct a mistranslation in the twenty-fifth verse? In our translation it runs thus, "They hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them." Ought it not rather to be rendered, "Therefore the Lord was about to slay them?" As if he had said, The Lord would not suffer their horrid and stubborn wickedness to escape unpunished; but because of that wickedness, he slew them both in one day, by the hand of the Philistines. They did not sin, (as might be imagined from the common translation,) because God had determined to slay them: but God therefore determined to slay them, because they had thus sinned.
9. But to return: Their sin was the more inexcusable, because
they could not be ignorant of that dreadful consequence thereof, that by reason of their enormous wickedness, "men abhorred the offering of the Lord." Many of the people were so deeply offended, that if they did not wholly refrain from the public worship, yet they attended it with pain, abhorring the priests, while they honoured the sacrifice.
10. And have we any proof, that the priests who succeeded them, were more holy than they, than Hophni and Phinehas; not only till God permitted ten of the tribes to be separated from their brethren, and from the worship he had appointed: but even till Judah as well as Israel, for the wickedness of the priests, as well as of the people, were carried into captivity?
11. What manner of men they were about the time of the Babylonish captivity, we learn from various passages in the Prophecy of Jeremiah. From which it manifestly appears, that people and priests wallowed in all manner of vices. And how little they were amended, after they were brought back into their own land, we may gather from those terrible words in the prophecy of Malachi: "And now, O ye Priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my Name, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will send even a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yea, I have cursed them already, because ye would not lay it to heart. Behold I will curse your seed, and I will spread dung upon their faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and men shall take you away with it." Mal. ii. 1, 2.
12. Such were the priests of God in their several generations, till he brought the great HIGH PRIEST into the world! And what manner of men were they during the time that he ministered upon earth? A large and particular account of their character we have in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew and a worse character it would be difficult to find in all the Oracles of God. But may it not be said, "Our Lord does not there direct his discourse to the Priests, but to the Scribes and Pharisees?" He does; but this is the same thing. For the Scribes were what we now term Divines, the public Teachers of the people. And many, if not most of the priests, especially all the strictest sort of them, were Pharisees: so that in giving the character of the Scribes and Pharisees, he gives that of the priests also.
13. Soon after the pouring out of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, in the infancy of the Christian Church, there was indeed a glorious change. "Great grace was then upon them all;" ministers as well as people. "The multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and of one soul." But how short a time did this continue! How soon did the fine gold become dim! Long before even the Apostolic age expired, St. Paul himself had ground to complain, that some of his fellow-labourers had forsaken him, having "loved the present world." And not long after, St. John reproved divers of the angels, that is, the Ministers of the Churches in Asia, becausè
even in that early period, their "works were not found perfect before God."
ON ATTENDING THE CHURCH SERVICE,
14. Thus did the mystery of iniquity begin to work, in the ministers as well as the people, even before the end of the Apostolic age. But how much more powerfully did it work, as soon as those masterbuilders, the Apostles, were taken out of the way! Both ministers and people were then farther and farther removed from the hope of the gospel. Insomuch that when St. Cyprian, about a hundred and fifty years after the death of St. John, describes the spirit and behaviour both of Laity and clergy that were round about him, one would be ready to suppose he was giving us a description of the present Clergy and Laity of Europe. But the corruption which had been creeping in drop by drop, during the second and third century, in the beginning of the fourth, when Constantine called himself a Christian, poured in upon the Church with a full tide. And whoever reads the history of the Church, from the time of Constantine to the Reformation, will easily observe that all the abominations of the Heathen world, and in the following ages, of the Mahometans, overflowed every part of it. And in every nation and city, the Clergy were not a whit more innocent than the Laity.
15. "But was there not a very considerable change in the body of the Clergy, as well as the Laity, at the time of the glorious Reformation from Popery?" Undoubtedly there was: and they were not only reformed from very many erroneous opinions, and from numberless superstitious and idolatrous modes of worship, till then prevailing over the Western Church; but they were also exceedingly reformed, with respect to their lives and tempers. More of the ancient, scriptural Christianity was to be found, almost in every part of Europe. Yet notwithstanding this, all the works of the Devil, all ungodliness and unrighteousness, sin of every kind, continued to prevail, both over Clergy and Laity, in all parts of Christendom. Even those Clergy who most warmly contended about the externals of religion, were very little concerned for the life and power of it; for piety, justice, mercy, and truth.
16. However, it must be allowed, that ever since the Reformation, and particularly in the present century, the behaviour of the Clergy in general is greatly altered for the better. And should it be granted, that in so many parts of the Romish Church, they are nearly the same as they were before, it must be granted likewise, that most of the Protestant Clergy, are far different from what they were. They have not only more learning of the most valuable kind, but abundantly much more religion. Insomuch that the English and Irish Clergy are generally allowed to be not inferior to any in Europe, for piety as well as for knowledge.
17. And all this being allowed, what lack they yet? Can any thing be laid to their charge? I wish calmly and candidly to consider this point, in the fear and in the presence of God. I am far from desiring to aggravate the defects of my brethren, or to paint them in the strongest colours. Far be it from me, to treat others as
I have been treated myself; to return evil for evil, or railing for railing. But to speak the naked truth, not with anger or contempt, as too many have done; I acknowledge, that many, if not most of those that were appointed to minister in holy things, with whom it has been my lot to converse, in almost every part of England or Ireland, for forty or fifty years last past, have not been eminent either for knowledge or piety. It has been loudly affirmed, that most of those persons now in connexion with me, who believe it their duty to call sinners to repentance, having been taken immediately from low trades; tailors, shoemakers, and the like; are a set of poor, stupid, illiterate men, that scarcely know their right hand from their left: yet I cannot but say, that I would sooner cut off my right hand, than suffer one of them to speak a word in any of our Chapels, it I had not reasonable proof, that he had more knowledge in the Holy Scriptures, more knowledge of himself, more knowledge of God. and of the things of God; than nine in ten of the Clergymen I have conversed with, either at the Universities, or elsewhere.
18. In the mean time I gladly allow that this charge does not concern the whole body of the Clergy: undoubtedly there are many Clergymen in these kingdoms, that are not only free from outward sin, but are men of eminent learning, and what is infinitely more, deeply acquainted with God. But still I am constrained to confess, that the far greater part of those ministers I have conversed with for above half a century, have not been holy men, not devoted to God, not deeply acquainted either with God or themselves. It could not be said, that they set their "affections on things above, not on things of the earth;" or that their desire, and the business of their lives was, to save their own souls and those that heard them,
19. I have taken this unpleasing view of a melancholy scene, of the character of those who have been appointed of God to be shepherds of souls for so many ages, in order to determine this question: Ought the children of God to refrain from his ordinances, because they that administer them are unholy men? A question with which many serious persons have been exceedingly perplexed. "Ought we not," say they, "to refrain from the ministrations of ungodly men? For is it possible that we should receive any good from the hands of those that know not God? Can we suppose that the grace of God was ever conveyed to men by the servants of the Devil?"
What saith the Scripture? Let us keep closely to this, and we shall not be misled. We have seen there what manner of men most of these have been who have ministered in holy things for many ages. Two or three thousand years ago, we read, "The sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord." But was this a sufficient reason for the Israelites to refrain from their administrations? It is true, they "abhorred the offerings of the Lord" on their account. And yet they constantly attended them. And do you suppose that Samuel, holy as he was, ever advised them to do otherwise? Were not the priests and public teachers equally strangers to God, from this time to that of the Babylonish captivity?
Undoubtedly they were. But did Isaiah or any of the Prophets exhort them for that cause to forsake the ordinances of God? Were they not equally ungodly from the time of the Babylonish captivity, to the coming of Christ? How clearly does this appear, were there no other proof, from the Prophecies of Jeremiah and Malachi! Yet did either Malachi or Jeremiah, or any other of the Prophets, ex-. hort the people to separate themselves from these ungodly men?
20. But to bring the matter nearer to ourselves. Never were any priests or public teachers more corrupt, more totally estranged from God, than those in the days of our blessed Lord. Were they not mere whited walls? Were not those that were the best of them, painted sepulchres? Full of pride, lust, envy, covetousness? Of all ungodliness and unrighteousness? Is not this the account which our Lord himself, who knew what was in man, gives of them? But did he therefore refrain from that public service, which was performed by these very men? Or did he direct his Apostles so to do? Nay, just the contrary: in consequence of which, as he constantly attended them himself, so likewise did his disciples.
21. There is another circumstance in our Lord's conduct, which is worthy of our peculiar consideration. "He calls to him the twelve, and sends them forth, two by two," to preach the gospel. (Mark vi.) And as they do not go in the warfare at their own cost, the very devils "were subject unto them." Now one of these was Judas Iscariot. And did our Lord know that "he had a devil?" St. John expressly tells us he did. Yet he was coupled with another of the Apostles, and joined with them all in the same communion. Neither have we any reason to doubt but God blessed the labour of all his twelve ambassadors. But why did our Lord send him among them? Undoubtedly for our instruction. For a standing unanswerable proof that he "sendeth by whom he will send :" that he can and doth send salvation to men, even by those who will not accept of it themselves.
22. Our Lord gives us farther instruction upon this head: in Matthew xxiii. 1-3, we have those very remarkable words: “Then Jesus spake to the multitude, and his disciples, saying, The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' chair: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, observe and do; but do not according to their works; for they say and do not." Of these very men he gives the blackest character in the following verses. Yet is he so far from forbidding either the multitude or his own disciples to attend their ministrations, that he expressly commands them so to do, even in those words, "All things whatsoever they bid you observe, observe and do." These words imply a command to hear them: for how could they "observe and do what they bid them," if they did not hear it? 1 pray consider this, "ye that say of the successors of these ungodly men, "They say and do not; therefore we ought not to hear them." You see, your Master draws no such inference; nay, the direct contrary. O be not wiser than your Master: follow his advice, and do not reason against it.