« PreviousContinue »
PREACHED IN THE YEAR 1807.
1 KINGS xviii. 21. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How
long halt ye between two opinions ? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
ADDRESSES from the pulpit on nice and controversial questions in divinity, however entertaining, and even instructive, they may sometimes prove to learned critics, seldom do much good to the people in general. Those who hear me frequently, know that I constantly avoid discussions of this kind. Even the disputes respecting Calvinism, which of late years have very much agitated men's minds through the medium both of the pulpit and the press, I have never so much as once inentioned ; deeply convinced, as I am, that the Scripture doctrines of grace, of salvation
by Jesus Christ, and renovation of heart by his Holy Spirit, are the subjects on which the great stress ought to be laid; that a mere head-knowledge, whether the Church of England be or be not Calvinistic, will not help a man one hair’sbreadth forward in the road to heaven and happiness; and that heat and contention about such points serve only to sour the temper, engender pride, and divert the mind from its proper business and concern,--the care of the soul,
A preacher, however, is always in his right province when he employs his powers ing his congregation from errors in essential doctrines; and I observe, that by avoiding unnecessary disputes he will have more leisure for this most important part of his duty. I endeavour, therefore, at all times, to regulate my own practice by the great distinction of essentials and non-essentials; and though my text this morning might possibly lead several persons to expect a controversial harangue on some intricate article of religion, yet my hearers in general, provided they judge from the past, will not, I am persuaded, be disappointed when they find me applying the advice of Elijah to our own times and circumstances,
to the mass of the inhabitants of any large town or city in Christendom ;-and endeavouring to take advantage of that great and holy prophet's example, for the purposes of substantial and practical improvement in our spiritual concerns. In fact, the state of religion among the Jews in the time of Elijahi appears to me to be no more than a sample of what is continually taking place in all countries where the true religion is taught and acknowledged. That is : there are some who are truly in earnest in this matter ; 'some whose hearts are in the work, with whom religion is the primary object, and who value the approbation of God and a good conscience more than all that the world tan bestow: but these are usually few in number ; and, as they love' not the world, we are not to marvel that the world does not love them; accordingly they are despised and persecuted, because they are not conformed to the world; they are Christ's little flock; and they rebuke vice and honour God in all their actions. In opposition to the few of this class, there are generally some characters openly wicked and profane in principle, and even sometimes immoral in their practice: men who deny revelation ; 'deny almost, or entirely,
the being of a God, or, what is more common, deny his moral government by rewards and punishments, and the certainty of a future state of retribution. But these also, in a Christian country, are in general not many, particularly if the Gospel be nominally received and established by the Legislature: in that case, the number of such bold blasphemers is usually very small, because the laws of the country and the ordinary notions of the inhabitants restrain the more daring effusions of infidels, and in some measure confine their irreligion to à cautious and artful hostility.
Dreadful, however, will always be the situation of a people, when, for the punishment of their sins, their 'rulers resemble king Ahab and his Jezebel. In that
In that case, the opposers of the true religion cannot fail to increase and multiply, whether they be idolaters and followers of Baal, as in the days of Elijah, or whether they be the refined unbelievers of more modern times : also, the servants of the true God will almost necessarily diminish in number in such unfavourable seasons, because these are not only not countenanced at court, but are dishonoured and disheartened by the multitude of Baal's prophets
« who eat at
Jezebel's table. Thus we may easily understand how thankful we ought to be to a good Providence, whenever, in addition to the establishment of the true religion, the sovereign and the leading rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, of a great empire, fear God and honour his revelation. And, further, it might imply ingratitude to God, and disrespect to the beloved Sovereign whom he has placed over us, were I to omit mentioning, that, to whatever height the profaneness and infidelity of many
of our countrymen may have ascended among us, this lamentable departure from the Established Religion of the state can in no degree be ascribed to the principles or the example of his present Majesty ; and I would to God that the same could be truly said of all his counsellors, and of all our senators and statesmen — but I would keep close to my subject.
In Elijah's time it appears that there existed seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal;” and these were miserably persecuted, and compelled to live in secret corners of the land, so that the almost heart-broken prophet knew but of a very small portion even of these. The followers of Baal were become much more numerous on account of the corrupt principles and idolatrous