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A SERMON

PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH, OXON,

ON THE 30th OF APRIL, 1668,

BEING ASCENSION-DAY.


LUKE xxi. 15.

For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.

IT being the great design of our Saviour’s coming into the world to declare and prove himself the Messias, and to establish a church upon that belief, we have him here encouraging the ministers of it with this notable promise, left them as a kind of legacy not long before his death; together with a prediction of what should befall them after it; which was so dreadful and discouraging, that nothing but such a promise could support them against the terrors of such a prediction. And therefore, as a tender master, all made up of goodness and compassion, while he delivers them this bitter cup with one hand, he reaches them as great a cordial with the other; all that he here promised, or said to them, being but a pledge of what he would more abundantly do for them after his ascension: when having finished his dolorous course here, and triumphantly sat down at the right hand of his Father, his glorious employment ever after should be, as a king to make good, what 135as a prophet he had foretold. And this he did with so exact a conformity of his actions to his words, that no instance can be given through all the records of time, where there is so perfect and punctual a correspondence between past and present, as we see and find in the predictions and promises of our Saviour in his life, and the completion of them since his death. A most clear and full proof doubtless of his doctrine, and consequently as infallible a demonstration of the divinity of his person, and the authentic truth of his commission.

In the words we have these two things considerable.

I. Something implied by way of prediction, viz. that the apostles should be sure to meet with adversaries, who would both gainsay and resist them in the discharge of their apostolic function .

II. Something declared by way of promise, viz. that they should find such succour and assistance from their Lord and Master, after the resumption of his glory, as should make and overcome all this op position.

Which two heads comprehend all that is in the text, and accordingly I shall give some brief account of both. And,

I. For the first of these, the prediction here implied, viz. that the apostles should not fail of adversaries to oppose them. This indeed was to be no small argument of their apostolic mission, though by no means to be reckoned amongst miracles, it being so far from having any thing of miracle or wonder in it, that nothing can be more frequent, usual, and indeed fashionable, than for the generality of men to malign a preacher, and persecute an apostle. For 136 such as engage themselves in the service of that grating, displeasing thing to the world, called truth, must expect the natural issue and consequent of truth, which is, a mortal hatred of those who speak it. The Christian ministry is a troublesome and a disgusted institution, and as little regarded by men as they regard their souls, but rather hated as much as they love their sins. The church is every one’s prey, and the shepherds are pilled, and polled, and fleeced by none more than by their own flocks. A prophet is sure to be without honour, not only in his own country, but almost in every one else. I scarce ever knew any ecclesiastic but was treated with scorn and distance; and the only peculiar respect I have observed shewn such persons in this nation (which yet I dare say they could willingly enough dispense with) is, that sometimes a clergyman of an hundred pound a-year has the honour to be taxed equal to a layman of ten thousand. Even those who pretend most respect to the church and churchmen, will yet be found rather to use than to respect them; and if at any time they do ought for them, or give any thing to them, it is not because they are really lovers of the church, but to serve some turn by being thought so. As some keep chaplains, not out of any concern for religion, but as it is a piece of grandeur something above keeping a coach; it looks creditable and great in the eyes of the world; though in such cases he who serves at the altar has generally as much contempt and disdain passed upon him, as he who serves in the kitchen, though perhaps not in the same way: if any regard be had to him, it is commonly such an one as men have for a garment (or rather a pair of shoes) which fits them, viz. to wear him and wear him, 137till he is worn out, and then to lay him aside. For be the grandee he depends upon never so powerful, he must not expect that he will do any thing for him, till it is scandalous not to do it. If a first or second-rate living chance to fall in his gift, let not the poor domestic think either learning, or piety, or long ser vice a sufficient pretence to it; but let him consider with himself rather, whether he can answer that difficult question, Who was Melchizedek’s father?77   A question very hardly solvible by a poor clergyman, though never so good a divine. Or whether, instead of grace for grace, he can bring gift for gift; for all other qualifications without it will be found empty and insignificant.

In short, every thing is thought too much for persons of this profession. Though one would think, that as they are men, and men who have been at the charge of an expenseful and laborious education, as much or more than most others, they ought, upon the very right of nature and justice, to expect a return, in some degree (at least) proportionable to such cost and labour, as well as men of any other profession whatsoever; yet here, it seems, religion must supersede the rule of justice and the course of nature; and the ministers of it must be required to live, not only as spiritual persons, but as spirits; that is, with out those common accommodations of life, which God and nature have made necessary to all who are yet in the body, and freely reach out to the whole race of mankind; and upon no other ground in the world it is, but men’s envying the church a competent share of these, that all those virulent, but senseless clamours of the pride, covetousness, and luxury 138 of the clergy have been raised; so that when their insolent domineering enemies cannot get them under their feet, as they desire, then presently the clergy are too high and proud. And when avarice disposes men to be rapacious and sacrilegious, then forthwith the church is too rich. And lastly, when, with whoring, and gaming, and revelling, they have disabled themselves from paying their butchers, their brewers, and their vintners, then immediately they are all thunder and lightning against the intemperance and luxury of the clergy, (forsooth,) and high time it is for a thorough reformation.

But to disabuse the world, and to answer the several branches of the imputation; the true account of the pride of the clergy is, that they are able to clothe themselves with something better than rags; or rather, that they have any thing to clothe them at all, and that the church of England would (by its good will) neither have naked gospels nor naked evangelists. And then in the next place, the covetousness of the clergy is, that they can and do find wherewithal to pay taxes, and just enough to keep them from begging afterwards. And lastly, their luxury and intemperance lies in this, that they had rather eat at their own poor home, than lick up the crumbs at the end of their haughty neighbour’s table, and much less under it; that they scorn to sneak here and there for a dinner, or beg their daily bread of any but of God himself. The world in the mean time proceeding by no other measure with the clergy than this, viz. to exact of them hospitality to others, and to grudge them bread for themselves. And this is the true account of the pride, covetousness, 139and luxury of the clergy, which, by the mouths of puritans and republicans, have made such a noise in these deluded kingdoms.

But it is the church’s lot to be defamed, libelled, and persecuted on all hands; and may our blessed Lord, who found the same usage before us, give us grace and courage to bear it: even I myself have heard it said, and that with no ordinary acceptance and pleasure to the rest of the company who heard it, that a divine was to be spit upon by his place. And be it so, since it must be so. Nevertheless it is the comfort of such, that Christ was spit upon before them, though he had not indeed the honour to be spit upon by Christians; in which respect it must be confessed, that the servants are preferred before their master. And I have heard it said also, that the church and clergy of England have an interest opposite to the rest of the nation; that is, in other words, that the whole nation ought to rise up (as one man) against them with staves and clubs, and knock out their brains, as vermin and public nuisances; and withal, that there ought to be no church or clergy for the future, if the nation will but mind its own interest. This is the proper sense and interpretation of these words; and I hope all the impartial world (which bear and deserve the name of Christians) will consider and remember them.

Nevertheless, to dispute this point a little, I would fain know how the English clergy come to have an interest opposite to the English nation; for we are both English men, and the sons of English men, (till of late at least,) and own no dependence upon any foreign power, (as the papists do,) and consequently have a claim to a support and maintenance from our 140 country, while we serve it in a profession useful to the exigences of it. And whether those, whose profession obliges them to be still pressing obedience upon their fellow-subjects to their sovereign, and just and amicable dealing with one another, together with an universal regulation of men’s manners, serve the public by a profession useful to the exigences thereof, we appeal to the public, and to all men of sense and conscience, to judge. But if, because the clergy will never attempt, by cheating and pimping, to raise themselves from beggary to great estates and high stations, and have not forty, or fifty, or perhaps an hundred thousand pounds ready at every hand for a purchase, they must therefore have an interest opposite to the rest of the nation; this op position, for ought I see, is like to continue as long as the honesty and poverty of the clergy (for the most part accompanying it) is like to do. But whether those, who avow such an implacable enmity against the ministry, will be able to preserve this or any other government, so much as one poor minute, from the ruin which their own detestable lives, principles, and vices, threaten it with, is very much to be questioned; or rather indeed it is past all question, that they tend directly, and operate strongly, to wards its utter ruin and destruction.

Upon the whole matter, if we consider the treatment of the clergy in these nations, since popery was driven out, both as to the language and usage which they find from most about them; I do, from all that I have read, heard, or seen, confidently aver, (and I wish I could speak it loud enough to reach all the corners and quarters of the whole world,) that there is no nation or people under heaven, Christian or not 141Christian, which despise, hate, and trample upon their clergy or priesthood comparably to the English. So that (as matters have been carried) it is really no small argument of the predominance of conscience over interest, that there are yet parents who can be willing to breed up any of their sons (if hopefully endowed) to so discouraged and discouraging a profession.

We see then, according to the prediction in the text, how, from the apostolic age, down all along to the present, the ministers of Christ were sure to meet with enemies; and that, whether they were professedly such, or pretendedly friends, their enmity was still the same, and perhaps much more fatal in the effects of it, acting under this latter guise than under the former; as the thief never does his business so effectually as when he robs under a vizard. After which, the next thing offering itself to our consideration is, how this enmity (especially in the apostles time, which the words chiefly point at) was to exert itself; and that, the text tells us, was to be two ways, viz. by word and deed; by gainsaying and resisting; and these two certainly could not but afford scope and compass enough for all the malice of man to employ and spend itself in.

And accordingly we will speak distinctly of both of them. And,

1. For gainsaying; the word in the Greek is ἀντειπεῖν, importing opposition in disputation, with an endeavour to refel or confute what is alleged by another; and the design of it is redargution, called by Aristotle ἔλεγχος, or ἐλέγχειν; that is, a concluding of something contradictory to the proposition asserted. And thus we find the apostles frequently and fiercely 142 encountered by adversaries of very different persuasions, by Jews and Gentiles, and the several sects belonging to both. As for our Saviour himself, who led the way, and was first engaged in such conflicts, we know the constant issue of all the disputes the Jews had with him was, that he silenced them by an absolute confutation. So that the end of all these contests was, that they durst not ask him any more questions; shewing hereby so much discretion at least, as to know when they were baffled, and to say no more. And this mighty force in arguing he was pleased to transmit to his apostles after him, as it was highly requisite that he should. Whereupon we see how Peter and John (as illiterate as they were) nonplused the whole council of the priests and elders, giving such an edge to the truth they spoke, that the text tells us it cut them to the heart, Acts v. And in the next place we read how St. Stephen confounded the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, together with them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with him; so that the text remarkably notes, that they were not able to withstand the wisdom and spirit by which he spake. Acts vi. 10. Truth, it seems, with that one single weapon of wisdom to defend it, being an over match to never so many tongues opposing it. Like wise we find how Apollos triumphed over his Jewish opponents, mightily convincing them that Jesus was Christ, Acts xviii. 28. And the same overpowering spirit we find conjuring down Elymas the sorcerer, opposing St. Paul’s doctrine, Acts xiii. 8, 9, &c. The like opposition also the same apostle complains of from Alexander the coppersmith, greatly with standing the gospel taught by him, 2 Tim. iv. 14. 143And it was well the coppersmith did not out of spite turn preacher, and so disgrace it more.

But this gainsaying humour stopped not in the doctrine preached, but overflowed and worked over also upon the preachers themselves; and that in calumnies and slanders of all sorts; sometimes reproaching them as drunkards, in Acts ii. 13, and thereby shewing us, that the charge of intemperance upon the clergy was as early as the apostles, who had a liberal share of it; and not only so, but it began even upon Christ himself, who was taxed for a glutton and a wine-bibber long before them: though, methinks, it looks something odd and unaccountable, that those should make the lame walk, and restore to others the use of their legs, who had drunk themselves off their own. They were traduced also as public incendiaries, and such as turned the world upside down, Acts xvii. 6; which yet (as the world then stood, with idolatry at the head of it, and truth under foot) was perhaps the only way to restore it to its right posture. They were also jeered and flouted at, as fools and babblers; Acts xvii. 18. But why then did not those profound rabbies amongst the Jews, and the Stoicks and Epicureans (those oracles of reason) amongst the philosophers, baffle and refel these babblers, and so dashing their absurd doctrine in its first rise, prevent its spreading, by a mature and thorough confutation? But it was ever an easier work to contradict than to confute. From reproaching them as fools, they proceeded to represent them also as mad men; Acts xxvi. 24. 2 Cor. v. 13. Though this, I confess, seems not so much a wonder to me, since I doubt not but the clergy in all ages, (if but well beneficed) 144 would be accused for lunaticks, if for so doing their accusers might be their guardians. But since it would be endless to traverse all particulars, let it suffice us to have observed, that as in the forecited Acts xvii. 32, we find the Athenians mocking, and in Acts xviii. 6, the Jews opposing themselves and blaspheming; so let us take the sum total of all from that one place in Acts xxviii. 22. As for this sect, we know that it is every where spoken against. In fine, the apostles and ministers of Christ were looked upon as the very offals and offscouring of the world, and were trampled upon accordingly. They were scarce ever mentioned but with slander; or so much as spoken to, but with sarcasm and invective. They were perpetually railed at as deceivers and impostors, even while they were endeavouring to undeceive the world from those wretched impostures and delusions which had so long and so miserably bewitched it. In a word, they were like physicians exchanging cures for curses, and reviled and abused by their froward patients, while they were doing all they could for their health and recovery. But,

2. The other branch of the opposition designed against the apostles and ministers of Christ is expressed by resisting; a word importing a much more substantial kind of enmity, than that which only spends at the mouth, and shews itself in froth and noise; an enmity which, instead of scoffs and verbal assaults, should encounter them with all that art could contrive or violence execute; with whips and scourges, cross and gibbet, swords and axes; and though bare words draw no blood, yet these, to be sure, would. And such were the weapons with 145which they were to act their butcheries upon the Christians; till at length, through all the sorts and degrees of cruelty, the same martyrdom should both crown and conclude their sufferings together. Nor were these persecutions more terrible for their sharpness than for their frequency, and sometimes their continuance also: ten persecutions in the space of the three first centuries, and the last of them of ten years duration. They came so fast upon the Christians, that all the intermission they had from one persecution was but a kind of pause or breathing time, (a short parenthesis of ease,) to enable them for another. So that notwithstanding those short intervals, it was really and indeed a persecution still; and the work went on, though the workmen might sometimes sleep or stand still a little, to gather more strength. For the persecuting spirit seemed to shake the primitive church like a mighty ague; and it held it for a long time; the disease continuing, when the fits were gone off. This was the miserable condition which Christianity was then in; the whole world rising up in arms, and combining in a common association against the professors and preachers of it; a forlorn company, God knows, of helpless, defenceless men, without any thing but truth and innocence to stand by them: idolatry in the mean while sitting in the thrones of emperors, marching in the head of armies, and commanding the joint assistance of all that was worldly, wise, or mighty, to secure it in the possession of the so long captivated and deluded universe. So that no wonder, armed with all this power, persecution raged with a vengeance. And yet by all the terrible massacres and executions done by it, it neither did nor could 146 prevail. Forasmuch as that which kills the person does not therefore destroy the cause, especially a cause designed to teach sufferings, to be carried on by suffering, and lastly to conquer and command the world by suffering. In a word, a religion founded in the cross (as that of Christianity eminently was) could not surely be extinguished or suppressed by it.

But some may possibly here object and say, that all that has been hitherto spoken by us of this gainsaying and resisting the apostles, seems a direct contradiction to the text, which positively affirms, that their adversaries should not be able to gainsay or resist them. But this difficulty is small, or rather indeed none at all, and consequently the solution very easy and obvious; for the gainsaying and resisting mentioned in the text, may either signify the bare acts of gainsaying or resisting, or the success and prevalence of the said acts against the persons so gainsaid and resisted: and accordingly the full drift and meaning of the text is, that the apostles’ adversaries, by all the virulence of words and violence of actions which they could and would use, should not be able to prevail over them, or run them down; howbeit they would not fail with all their might to attempt it, and to that purpose to gainsay and resist them to the utmost, though in the issue all to little or no effect, unless perhaps to their own confusion. In fine, that, as long as the world stands, Christianity shall be sure to be opposed; and as long as it is opposed, shall certainly overcome.

And so from the thing supposed or implied in the text, I now proceed to the other and next thing positively declared in the same, to wit, Christ’s promise 147to his apostles of such an assistance from above, as should overcome and master all their adversaries opposition: which promise we will consider two ways, 1. According to its form and coherence with the context. And 2. According to the subject-matter of it. And,

1. For the first of these. The words being introduced by the causal particle for, shew, that they stand as a reason here assigned of something going before; which we shall find to have been a warning given by Christ to his disciples against those fears and misgiving apprehensions, which he foresaw would be apt to seize and work upon their spirits, when they should find themselves so fiercely and universally opposed on all sides: in which case, though he allowed of caution, yet he was for taking off the fright: nothing considerable being ever achieved by a mind damped and surprised with fear; a passion which will be sure to betray a man in the exercise of all his faculties. For he who fears his enemy, fights for him; or, which is worse, gives him the victory without the trouble of a battle.

Nor can any thing more peculiarly unqualify a man for the office of an apostle or preacher of the gospel, than this degenerous quality: for it makes him unable to look a bold sinner in the face, to assert a disgusted truth, or to own his commission, when power and interest shall frown him into silence and mean compliances.

Nevertheless, since fear itself may plead reason, when it meets with objects and motives every way equal to the natural workings of it; our Saviour never forbids the passion, till he first removes the reason of it, as he does here by opposing the success 148 of omnipotence to the assaults of a mortal force; thereby owning the danger, but overmatching it with the deliverance.

Nor was it a bare deliverance, but a conquest, which Christ designed the first champions of the Christian cause; not merely to bring them off safe from their enemies, but to carry them victorious over them. And conquering, doubtless, is more glorious than not fighting, and to see an enemy fall or fly before one, than to have none at all. All which the great captain of our salvation designed and did for his apostles; and certainly he never exerted his power more to the proof of his godhead, than when he made such worms to thresh the mountains, fishermen to silence philosophers, weakness and poverty to brave it over the whole Roman empire, the counsels of senates, and the force of legions, and that with the fairest sort of violence imaginable, viz. binding their hands by sliding into their hearts.

And thus having given an account of the form and scheme of the promise with reference to the context, and what followed, and what went before it, I come now to the other thing to be considered in it, viz. the subject-matter of it, which represents to us these three things.

1. The thing itself promised, viz. a mouth and wisdom.

2. The person who promised it, which was Christ himself; I will give you a mouth and wisdom.

3. The way by which Christ performed this promise; not indeed here expressed in the text, but fully inferred from several other texts treating of the same subject, to wit, the effusion of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles presently after Christ’s ascension 149into glory, when, and by virtue whereof, this great promise was made good to them. And here,

1. For the thing promised; a mouth and wisdom, that is, an ability of speaking, joined with an equal prudence in action and behaviour. Which things we will consider first singly, and then in conjunction. And,

1. For the ability of speaking conferred upon the apostles. It was highly requisite, that those, who were to be the interpreters and spokesmen of heaven, should have a rhetoric taught them from thence too; and as much beyond any that could be taught them by human rules and art, as the subjects they were to speak of surpassed the subject of all human eloquence.

Now this ability of speech, I conceive, was to be attended with these three properties of it.

1. Great clearness and perspicuity.

2. An unaffected plainness and simplicity. And,

3. A suitable and becoming zeal or fervour. And,

1. For its perspicuity: Christ and his apostles well knew, that the great truth delivered by them would support itself, and that barely to deliver it, would be abundantly sufficient to enforce it; nakedness (of all things) being never able to make truth ashamed. There was nothing false, faulty, or suspicious in it, and therefore they were not afraid to venture it in the plainest and most intelligible language. Where indeed the thing to be spoken is unwarrantable, and the design of the speaker as bad, or worse, there, I confess, every word may need a cloak of obscurity both to cover and protect it too: 150but truth and worth neither need nor affect to keep out of sight, nor the lights of the world to wrap themselves in a cloud. The apostles never taught men to preach or pray in an unknown tongue ; nor valued such devotion as had ignorance for its parent. Christ still closed his instructions to his disciples with this question, Do ye understand these things? And we find no parable, but the rear of it is brought up with an explication. For even when Christ and his apostles preached the most mysterious truths of religion, yet then, though the thing uttered might nonplus their reason, the way and manner of their uttering it was plain, easy, and familiar ; and the hearer never put to study, when it was his business only to hear and understand. The oracles of Christ were not like those of Apollo, doubtful and ambiguous, always made to deceive, and commonly to destroy; but on the contrary, as the grand business of our Saviour, and his apostles after him, was to teach, and that chiefly in order to persuade; so they well knew, that there could be no effectual passage into the will, but through the judgment; nor any free admission into the former, but by a full passport from the latter. And therefore we find not, that in their sermons they were for amusing or astonishing their auditory with difficult nothings, rabbinical whimsies, and remote allusions, which no man of sense and solid reason can hear without weariness and contempt.

Besides that, if we look into the reason of the thing itself, it will be found, that all obscurity of speech is resolvable into the confusion and disorder of the speaker’s thoughts; for as thoughts are properly the images and representations of objects to 151the mind, and words the representations of our thoughts to others, it must needs follow, that all faults or defects in a man’s expressions must presuppose the same in his notions first.

In short, nothing in nature can be imagined more absurd, irrational, and contrary to the very design and end of speaking, than an obscure discourse; for in that case, the preacher may as well leave his tongue, and his auditors their ears behind them, as neither he communicate, nor they understand any more of his mind and meaning, after he has spoken to them, than they did before.

And yet, as ridiculous as such fustian bombast from the pulpit is, none are so transported and pleased with it as those who least understand it. For still the greatest admirers of it are the grossest, the most ignorant, and illiterate country people, who, of all men, are the fondest of highflown metaphors and allegories, attended and set off with scraps of Greek and Latin, though not able even to read so much of the latter, as might save their necks upon occasion.

But laying aside all such studied insignificant trifles, it was the clearness of the apostles’ preaching which rendered it victorious and irresistible. And this we may rest upon as certain, that he is still the powerfullest preacher, and the best orator, who can make himself best understood. But,

2. A second property of the ability of speech, conferred by Christ upon his apostles, was its unaffected plainness and simplicity; it was to be easy, obvious, and familiar; with nothing in it strained or far-fetched: no affected scheme, or airy fancies, above the reach or relish of an ordinary apprehension; no, nothing of all this; but their grand subject was truth, 152and consequently above all these petty arts and poor additions; as not being capable of any greater lustre or advantage, than to appear just as it is. For there is a certain majesty in plainness; as the proclamation of a prince never frisks it in tropes or fine conceits, in numerous and well turned periods, but commands in sober, natural expressions. A substantial beauty, as it comes out of the hands of nature, needs neither paint nor patch; things never made to adorn, but to cover something that would be hid. It is with expression, and the clothing of a man’s conceptions, as with the clothing of a man’s body. All dress and ornament supposes imperfection, as designed only to supply the body with something from without, which it wanted, but had not of its own. Gaudery is a pitiful and a mean thing, not extending further than the surface of the body; nor is the highest gallantry considerable to any, but to those who would hardly be considered without it: for in that case indeed there may be great need of an outside, where there is little or nothing within.

And thus also it is with the most necessary and important truths; to adorn and clothe them is to cover them, and that to obscure them. The eternal salvation and damnation of souls are not things to be treated of with jests and witticisms. And he who thinks to furnish himself out of plays and romances with language for the pulpit, shews himself much fitter to act a part in the revels, than for a cure of souls.

I speak the words of soberness, said St. Paul, Acts xxvi. 25; and I preach the gospel not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, 1 Cor. ii. 4. This was the way of the apostles’ discoursing of things 153sacred. Nothing here of the fringes of the north-star; nothing of nature’s becoming unnatural; no thing of the down of angels’ wings, or the beautiful locks of cherubims: no starched similitudes introduced with a “ Thus have I seen a cloud rolling in “its airy mansion,” and the like. No, these were sublimities above the rise of the apostolick spirit. For the apostles, poor mortals, were content to take lower steps, and to tell the world in plain terms, that he who believed should be saved, and that he who believed not should be damned. And this was the dialect which pierced the conscience, and made the hearers cry out, Men and brethren, what shall we do? It tickled not the ear, but sunk into the heart: and when men came from such sermons, they never commended the preacher for his taking voice or gesture; for the fineness of such a simile, or the quaintness of such a sentence; but they spoke like men conquered with the overpowering force and evidence of the most concerning truths; much in the words of the two disciples going to Emmaus; Did not our hearts burn within us, while he opened to us the scriptures?

In a word, the apostles’ preaching was therefore mighty and successful, because plain, natural, and familiar, and by no means above the capacity of their hearers: nothing being more preposterous, than for those who were professedly aiming at men’s hearts, to miss the mark, by shooting over their heads.

3. The gift of preaching, conferred by Christ upon his apostles, required a suitable zeal and fervour to attend it; for without this, as high and important a truth as the gospel preached by them was, none would have believed that it had any powerful effect 154 upon the preacher’s own affections, nor consequently, that it could have wrought at all more upon other men’s; this is most certain. So true is it, that the same things, differently expressed, as to the proper effects of persuasion, are indeed not the same. A cold indifference dispirits a discourse; but a due fervour gives it life and authority, and sends it home to the inmost powers of the soul, with an easy insinuation and a deep impression.

But then I do by no means place this zeal in speaking loud, in sweating, or in a boisterous motion or agitation of the body, for all this looks rather like the preacher’s wrestling with his auditory, than instructing it; but I place it in his shewing a warm and sensible apprehension on his part of the things uttered by him; so that the very manner of his speaking shall demonstrate the real inward sense he has of what he speaks, and that in the judgment of all who hear him.

Thus when Christ accosted Jerusalem with that melting exprobration in Matt, xxiii. 37, 38, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Now what a relenting strain of tenderness was there in this reproof from the great doctor as well as saviour of souls, and how infinitely more moving than if he had said only, O ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, how wicked and barbarous is it in you thus to persecute and stone God’s prophets! And how can you but expect some severe judgment from God upon you for it? Who, I 155say, sees not the vast difference in these two ways of address, as to the vigour and winning compassion of the one, and the low dispirited flatness of the other in comparison? Likewise for St. Paul, observe how he uttered himself in his excellent farewell discourse to the elders of Ephesus, Acts xx. from verse 18 to the end of the chapter, and particularly in verse 31. Remember, says he, how that for the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. These were the arguments here used by this great apostle, arguments, in comparison of which he knew that the most flowing rhetoric of words would be but a poor and faint persuasive. And then again, in 2 Cor. xi. 29, with what a true and tender passion does he lay forth his fatherly care and concern for all the churches of Christ? Who, say he, is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? Than which words nothing doubtless could have issued from the tongue or heart of man more endearing, more pathetical and affectionate.

And thus much for the ability or gift of speaking, the first member of the promise made by Christ here to his disciples. The other and next is that of wisdom, the noblest endowment of the mind of man of all others, of an endless extent, and of a boundless comprehension, and, in a word, the liveliest representation that a created nature can afford of the infinity of its Maker. And this, as it is in men, is properly the great principle, directing them how to demean themselves in all the particular passages, accidents, and occasions of human life, which being in the full compass of them indeed innumerable, to recount and treat of them all here would be next to impossible; 156 but as that wisdom which most peculiarly belonged to the first dispensers and ministers of the gospel, I shall only mention two instances in which it most remarkably shews itself; namely,

1. That they opposed neither things nor persons, any further than they stood in their way in the ministry of it. On the contrary, I am become all things to all men, says St. Paul, and that neither to gain favour nor interest, but only converts to Christianity, 1 Cor. ix. 22. And again, he owned the very sect of the Pharisees, so far as they owned and contended for the grand article of the resurrection, in Acts xxiii. 6. In like manner he quoted also and approved several things out of some of the heathen poets, as in Acts xvii. 28, and Titus i. 12. In a word, he never rejected any real solid truth, whether spoken by Jew or heathen, or whatsoever the design of either of them might be in the speaking of it. For as right reason most certainly lies at the foundation of all true religion, so the apostles embraced all that which by genuine consequence was deduced from thence by any sort or sect of men whatsoever, forasmuch as they made not those deductions under the formal notion of such a sect or party, but as they were rational men, arguing rightly upon the general received principles of nature. And accordingly the apostles countenanced and fell in with truth so offered them, wheresoever they found it; they valued a pearl, though took up from a dunghill. And to have done otherwise, had neither been zeal nor discretion, but a kind of ridiculous and morose partiality. But,

2. The other instance of the wisdom given by our Saviour to his apostles, was their resolute opposing 157all doctrines and interests whatsoever, so far as they stood in opposition to the gospel. They would not so much as hold their peace in such a case, but their proceeding was absolute and peremptory, Acts v. 29, We ought to obey God rather than men. And when a point of Christian liberty was endangered by the judaizing brethren in Gal. ii. 5, We gave place to them, (says the blessed St. Paul,) no, not for an hour. And we know how he withstood St. Peter himself to the face upon the like occasion. We read also how the same apostle preached of justice and temperance before Felix, who he notoriously knew lived in a lewd, incestuous marriage, and was equally infamous for bribery and extortion.

And this undoubtedly was his wisdom, his high and apostolic wisdom; though had he indeed lived in such an age as measures conscience by latitude, and compliance and wisdom by what a man can get, much another kind of character would no doubt have attended him, and he would have been taxed as a weak, hasty, and inconsiderate person, for reflecting upon and provoking the governor, who had used him fairly and civilly; so that if he had been but less free of his tongue, and a little more free of his purse, he might in all likelihood have been very easily released, and perhaps preferred too; but now, poor man, he has quite lost himself.

Such would have been the descants of our modern politics upon this occasion; but after all, if the word of truth itself may be heard, that, we shall find, knows no wisdom in an apostle, but what makes him bold and fearless in the cause of the church and of religion, and ready to discharge a rebuke 158 upon any of the highest rank of right worshipful or right honourable sinners, where a scandalous guilt shall call for, or make it necessary; the contrary practice being incomparably the grossest of follies, and such as will be sure to lay a man low enough in the next world, whatsoever preferment it may raise him to in this.

And thus we have seen here the full compass of our Saviour’s promise to his ministers and disciples, even the two most valuable perfections of man’s nature, and the very top of the wisest of the heathens wish, sapere et fari, a mouth and wisdom, a sagacity of mind, and a command of speech. And he bestows them also in their proper lustre and great est advantage, that is to say, united, and like two stars in conjunction; many indeed being able to bring mouth enough to the ministry, though as for wisdom, that may even shift for itself: but still those two stand best by mutual support and communication, elocution without wisdom being empty and irrational, and wisdom without elocution barren and unprofitable. Praestat eloqui, modo cum prudentia, quam sine eloquio acutissime cogitare, said the great master of eloquence. A faculty to speak properly, and to act wisely, was a legacy fit to be left by the Saviour of the world to those, by whom he intended to instruct the world. And so much for the first general thing proposed from the words, to wit, the thing promised; I proceed now to the

2. The person promising, who was Christ himself; I will give you a mouth and wisdom. I lay a peculiar stress and remark upon this, because Christ seems by this very thing to give his disciples an assurance of his resurrection. He knew that it would 159not be long before they should see him crucified, killed, and laid in the grave, and so under all the umbrages of weakness and mortality that human nature could undergo; but when again, in the midst of all this, they should remember, that there was still a promise in store, not yet fulfilled, and withal not capable of being fulfilled by a person dead and extinct, they must needs from thence have concluded that he could not abide in that condition, but must irresistibly triumph over the grave, ascend and enter into a state of sovereignty and glory. Every tongue which sat upon the apostles at the day of pentecost, spoke aloud the resurrection and ascension of him who had promised, and then gave the same. For surely they could not expect to receive gifts from above, while the giver of them was under ground. And so I proceed to the

3. And last thing proposed from the text, which was, to shew by what means Christ conferred those gifts upon his disciples and apostles; and that, we find, was by the effusion of the Holy Ghost, the author and giver of every good and perfect gift, ministerial gifts more especially. Those were endowments too great to spring either from the strength of nature or the force of industry. The conferring of which we have eminently set forth in Matt. x. 19, 20. Take no thought (says our Saviour) what ye shall .speak: for it shall he given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. They were surely the first, and perhaps will be the last, who ever did or are like to speak so much sense and reason ex tempore. But the cause is assigned in the next verse, for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of the Father which speaketh in you. And this glorious 160 day, we know, informs us, that it spoke at length with a witness, with fiery tongues, and a flaming eloquence, and such an one as bore down all contradiction before it. This was the inspiration which filled and raised them so much above themselves, for their work was too big for a mere mortal strength; and therefore, as God himself was to send, so he was also to furnish out his own ambassadors at the cost of heaven, (as I may with reverence express it.) The apostles we find were not (and that by our Saviour’s particular order) to stir out of Jerusalem till the Holy Ghost was come upon them, and then they went forth armed at all points, to encounter either Jew or Gentile, and they did it both with courage and wisdom, and consequently with triumph and success.

And accordingly we are to carry it in perpetual remembrance, that while the work of preaching the gospel continues in the world, (as he, who is truth itself, has assured us it ever will,) the Spirit will never be wanting to the faithful preachers of it in a suitable assistance of them, though not in the same measure, we own, in which the apostles were assisted by it, whose work being peculiar and extraordinary, their assistance was to be so too. Infallibility was in the apostles a real privilege, but nowadays an insolent, or rather impudent pretence. And yet nothing is more confidently and constantly laid claim to, both by the papist and the enthusiast, than the Spirit; but none certainly ever yet ventured to speak lies and nonsense by the Spirit but themselves. To some of which persons indeed the world may allow a sort of wisdom, but far from the wisdom which is from above; and a mouth too they are well 161known to have, but a mouth never so open to speak as to devour. Christ defend his church from such inspired impostors, and vouchsafe his mighty presence to all the true (though too much despised) ministers of it, according to the measure of that glorious promise, and the last uttered by him here on earth at his victorious ascension into heaven. Go, teach all nations; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

To whom therefore, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

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