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Three Sermons Three Prayer Part 2

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Christian wisdom is "without partiality;" it is not calculated for this or that nation of people, but the whole race of mankind. Not so the philosophical schemes, which were narrow and confined, adapted to their peculiar towns, governments, or sects; but "in every nation, he that feareth G.o.d and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him."

Lastly, It is "without hypocrisy;" it appears to be what it really is; it is all of a piece. By the doctrines of the Gospel we are so far from being allowed to publish to the world those virtues we have not, that we are commanded to hide even from ourselves those we really have, and not to let our right hand know what our left hand does, unlike several branches of the heathen wisdom, which pretended to teach insensibility and indifference, magnanimity and contempt of life, while at the same time, in other parts, it belied its own doctrines.

I come now, in the last place, to show that the great examples of wisdom and virtue among the Grecian sages were produced by personal merit; and not influenced by the doctrine of any particular sect, whereas in Christianity it is quite the contrary.

The two virtues most celebrated by ancient moralists were fort.i.tude and temperance, as relating to the government of man in his private capacity, to which their schemes were generally addressed and confined, and the two instances wherein those virtues arrived at the greatest height were Socrates and Cato. But neither these, nor any other virtues possessed by these two, were at all owing to any lessons or doctrines of a sect. For Socrates himself was of none at all; and although Cato was called a Stoic, it was more from a resemblance of manners in his worst qualities, than that he avowed himself one of their disciples. The same may be affirmed of many other great men of antiquity. Whence I infer that those who were renowned for virtue among them were more obliged to the good natural dispositions of their own minds than to the doctrines of any sect they pretended to follow.

On the other side, as the examples of fort.i.tude and patience among the primitive Christians have been infinitely greater, and more numerous, so they were altogether the product of their principles and doctrine, and were such as the same persons, without those aids, would never have arrived to. Of this truth most of the Apostles, with many thousand martyrs, are a cloud of witnesses beyond exception. Having, therefore, spoken so largely upon the former heads, I shall dwell no longer upon this.

And if it should here be objected, Why does not Christianity still produce the same effects? it is easy to answer, first, that, although the number of pretended Christians be great, yet that of true believers, in proportion to the other, was never so small; and it is a true lively faith alone that, by the a.s.sistance of G.o.d's grace, can influence our practice.

Secondly, We may answer that Christianity itself has very much suffered by being blended up with Gentile philosophy. The Platonic system, first taken into religion, was thought to have given matter for some early heresies in the Church. When disputes began to arise, the Peripatetic forms were introduced by Scotus as best fitted for controversy. And however this may now have become necessary, it was surely the author of a litigious vein, which has since occasioned very pernicious consequences, stopped the progress of Christianity, and been a great promoter of vice; verifying that sentence given by St. James, and mentioned before, "Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." This was the fatal stop to the Grecians in their progress both of arts and arms; their wise men were divided under several sects, and their governments under several commonwealths, all in opposition to each other, which engaged them in eternal quarrels among themselves, while they should have been armed against the common enemy. And I wish we had no other examples, from the like causes, less foreign or ancient than that. Diogenes said Socrates was a madman; the disciples of Zeno and Epicurus, nay, of Plato and Aristotle, were engaged in fierce disputes about the most insignificant trifles.

And if this be the present language and practice among us Christians no wonder that Christianity does not still produce the same effects which it did at first, when it was received and embraced in its utmost purity and perfection; for such wisdom as this cannot "descend from above," but must be "earthly, sensual, devilish, full of confusion and every evil work," whereas, "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." This is the true heavenly wisdom, which Christianity only can boast of, and which the greatest of the heathen wise men could never arrive at.

Now to G.o.d the Father, &c.

THREE PRAYERS USED BY THE DEAN FOR STELLA IN HER LAST SICKNESS, 1727

I.

Almighty and most gracious Lord G.o.d, extend, we beseech Thee, Thy pity and compa.s.sion toward this Thy languishing servant; teach her to place her hope and confidence entirely in Thee; give her a true sense of the emptiness and vanity of all earthly things; make her truly sensible of all the infirmities of her life past, and grant to her such a true sincere repentance as is not to be repented of.

Preserve her, O Lord, in a sound mind and understanding during this Thy visitation; keep her from both the sad extremes of presumption and despair. If Thou shalt please to restore her to her former health, give her grace to be ever mindful of that mercy, and to keep those good resolutions she now makes in her sickness, so that no length of time nor prosperity may entice her to forget them. Let no thought of her misfortunes distract her mind, and prevent the means toward her recovery, or disturb her in her preparations for a better life. We beseech thee also, O Lord, of Thy infinite goodness, to remember the good actions of this Thy servant; that the naked she hath clothed, the hungry she hath fed, the sick and the fatherless whom she hath relieved, may be reckoned according to Thy gracious promise, as if they had been done unto Thee. Hearken, O Lord, to the prayers offered up by the friends of this Thy servant in her behalf, and especially those now made by us unto thee. Give Thy blessing to those endeavours used for her recovery; but take from her all violent desire either of life or death, further than with resignation to Thy holy will. And now, O Lord, we implore Thy gracious favour toward us here met together. Grant that the sense of this Thy servant's weakness may add strength to our faith; that we, considering the infirmities of our nature and the uncertainty of life, may by this example be drawn to repentance before it shall please Thee to visit us in like manner. Accept these prayers, we beseech Thee, for the sake of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, ever one G.o.d, world without end. Amen.

II. Written October 17, 1727

Most merciful Father, accept our humblest prayers in behalf of this Thy languishing servant; forgive the sins, the frailties, and infirmities of her life past. Accept the good deeds she hath done in such a manner that, at whatever time Thou shalt please to call her, she may be received into everlasting habitations. Give her grace to continue sincerely thankful to Thee for the many favours Thou hast bestowed upon her, the ability and inclination and practice to do good, and those virtues which have procured the esteem and love of her friends and a most unspotted name in the world. O G.o.d, Thou dispensest Thy blessings and Thy punishments as it becometh infinite justice and mercy; and since it was Thy pleasure to afflict her with a long, constant, weakly state of health, make her truly sensible that it was for very wise ends, and was largely made up to her in other blessings more valuable and less common. Continue to her, O Lord, that firmness and constancy of mind wherewith Thou hast most graciously endowed her, together with that contempt of worldly things and vanities that she has shown in the whole conduct of her life. O All-powerful Being, the least motion of whose will can create or destroy a world, pity us, the mournful friends of Thy distressed servant, who sink under the weight of her present condition, and the fear of losing the most valuable of our friends. Restore her to us, O Lord, if it be Thy gracious will, or inspire us with constancy and resignation to support ourselves under so heavy an affliction. Restore her, O Lord, for the sake of those poor who, by losing her, will be desolate, and those sick who will not only want her bounty, but her care and tending; or else, in Thy mercy, raise up some other in her place with equal disposition and better abilities. Lessen, O Lord, we beseech Thee, her bodily pains, or give her a double strength of mind to support them. And if Thou wilt soon take her to Thyself, turn our thoughts rather upon that felicity which we hope she shall enjoy, than upon that unspeakable loss we shall endure. Let her memory be ever dear unto us, and the example of her many virtues, as far as human infirmity will admit, our constant imitation. Accept, O Lord, these prayers, poured from the very bottom of our hearts, in Thy mercy, and for the merits of our blessed Saviour. Amen.

III. Written November 6, 1727

O merciful Father, who never afflictest Thy children but for their own good, and with justice, over which Thy mercy always prevaileth, either to turn them to repentance, or to punish them in the present life in order to reward them in a better; take pity, we beseech Thee, upon this Thy poor afflicted servant, languishing so long and so grievously under the weight of Thy hand. Give her strength, O Lord, to support her weakness, and patience to endure her pains without repining at Thy correction. Forgive every rash and inconsiderate expression which her anguish may at any time force from her tongue, while her heart continueth in an entire submission to Thy will. Suppress in her, O Lord, all eager desires of life, and lessen her fears of death by inspiring into her an humble yet a.s.sured hope of Thy mercy. Give her a sincere repentance for all her transgressions and omissions, and a firm resolution to pa.s.s the remainder of her life in endeavouring to her utmost to observe all Thy precepts. We beseech Thee likewise to compose her thoughts, and preserve to her the use of her memory and reason during the course of her sickness. Give her a true conception of the vanity, folly, and insignificance of all human things, and strengthen her so as to beget in her a sincere love of Thee in the midst of her sufferings.

Accept and impute all her good deeds, and forgive her all those offences against Thee which she hath sincerely repented of or through the frailty of memory hath forgot. And now, O Lord, we turn to Thee in behalf of ourselves and the rest of her sorrowful friends. Let not our grief afflict her mind, and thereby have an ill effect on her present distemper. Forgive the sorrow and weakness of those among us who sink under the grief and terror of losing so dear and useful a friend. Accept and pardon our most earnest prayers and wishes for her longer continuance in this evil world, to do what Thou art pleased to call Thy service, and is only her bounden duty, that she may be still a comfort to us and to all others who will want the benefit of her conversation, her advice, her good offices, or her charity. And since Thou hast promised that where two or three are gathered together in Thy name Thou wilt be in the midst of them to grant their request, O gracious Lord, grant to us who are here met in Thy name that those requests, which in the utmost sincerity and earnestness of our hearts we have now made in behalf of this Thy distressed servant and of ourselves, may effectually be answered, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Footnotes:

{1} A clearer style, or a discourse more properly adapted to a public audience, can scarce be framed. Every paragraph is simple, nervous, and intelligible. The threads of each argument are closely connected and logically pursued.--Orrery.

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Three Sermons Three Prayer Part 2 summary

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