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SERMONS.

SERMON XIV.

OF GROWTH IN GRACE.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus

Christ, to whom be glory both now und for ever. Amen.

-2 Pet. ii. 18. When Christianity, like the day-spring from the east, with a new light, did not only enlighten the world, but amazed the minds of men, and entertained their curiosities, and seized upon their warmer and more pregnant affections, it was no wonder, that whole nations were converted at a sermon, and multitudes were instantly professed, and their understandings followed their affections, and their wills followed their understandings, and they were convinced by miracle, and overcome by grace, and passionate with zeal, and wisely governed by their guides, and ravished with the sanctity of the doctrine, and the holiness of their examples. And this was not only their duty, but a great instance of providence, that by the great religion and piety of the first professors, Christianity might be firmly planted, and unshaken by scandal, and hardened by persecution ; and that these first lights might be actual precedents for ever, and copies for us to transcribe in all descending ages of Christianity, that thither we might run to fetch oil to enkindle our extinguished lamps. But then piety was so universal, that it might well be enjoined by St. Paul, that “ if a brother walked disorderly," the Christians should avoid his company : he forbade them not to accompany with the heathens that walked disorderly ; " for then a man must have gone out of the world;" but they were not to endure so much as “ to eat with,” or to salute, a disorderly brother," and ill-living Christian. But now, if

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we should observe this canon of St. Paul, and refuse to eat or to converse with a fornicator, or a drunkard, or a perjured person, or covetous, we must also “

go out of the world :" for a pious or a holy person is now as rare as a disorderly Christian was at first, and as Christianity is multiplied every where in name and title, so it is destroyed in life, essence, and proper operation; and we have very great reason to fear, that Christ's name will serve us to no end but to upbraid our baseness, and his person only to be our judge, and his laws as so many bills of accusation, and his graces and helps offered us but as aggravations of our unworthiness, and our baptism but an occasion of vow-breach, and the holy communion but an act of hypocrisy, formality, or sacrilege, and all the promises of the Gospel but as pleasant dreams, and the threatenings but as arts of affrightment. For Christianity lasted pure and zealous; it kept its rules, and observed its own laws for three hundred years, or thereabouts ; so long the church remained a virgin ; for so long they were warmed with their first fires, and kept under discipline by the rod of persecution : but it hath declined almost fourteen hundred years together ; prosperity and pride, wantonness and great fortunes, ambition and interest, false doctrine upon mistake and upon design, the malice of the devil and the arts of all his instruments, the want of zeal, and a weariness of spirit, filthy examples and a disreputation of piety and a strict life, seldom precedents and infinite discouragements have caused so infinite a declension of piety and holy living, that what Papirius Massonius, one of their own, said of the popes of Rome, “ In pontificibus nemo hodie sanctitatem requirit ; optimi putantur, si vel leviter mali sint, vel minus boni quam cæteri mortales esse solent ;" “ No man looks for holiness in the bishops of Rome; those are the best popes who are not extremely wicked :” the same is too true of the greatest part of Christians; men are excellent persons, if they be not traitors, or adulterous, oppressors, or injurious, drunkards, or scandalous, if they be not. as this publican,' as the vilest person with whom they converse.

Nune, si depositum non infitietor amicus,
Si reddat veterem cum tota ærugine follem ;
Prodigiosa fides, et Tuscis digna libellis,
Quæque coronata lustrari debeat agna. - Juren. Sat. 13. 60.

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