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THE subject of this Lecture is a part of the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew.

It is evident, that the disciples of our Lord were, for a considerable time, possessed with the imagination which prevailed universally among the Jews respecting their Messiah, that their Master's kingdom was to be a temporal one; that he was at some time or other to become a prince of great power and splendour, and that they of course should enjoy the largest share of his favour, and be placed in situations of great distinction and great emolument. And this delusion had taken such strong hold upon their minds, that, although our Lord took frequent opportunities of combating their error, and made use of every means in his power to undeceive them, yet they still persisted in maintaining their favourite opinion; and in the beginning of this chapter they came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" It appears, from the parallel passage in St. Mark, that they had been disputing by the way who should be the greatest. Our Lord, knowing this, and finding that all he had said on this subject had produced no effect upon them, determined to try whether a different mode of conveying his sentiments to them might not strike their minds more forcibly. He therefore had recourse (as in the case of the transfiguration) to what may be called a visible kind of language. He took a little child, and, placing him before them, bid them contemplate the innocence and simplicity, the meekness and humility, which marked its countenance; and then assured them, that, unless they were converted, and became as little children; that is, unless a total change took place in the

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temper and disposition of their minds; unless they became as unambitious and unaspiring, as meek, as humble and contented, as little concerned about worldly honours and distinctions, as the child before them, they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven; they could never be considered as true objects of Christ's kingdom here, or be capable of inheriting the rewards of heaven hereafter. In the eye of God, true humility is a most sublime virtue; and whoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord then goes on to say, "Whosoever receiveth one such little child in my name, receiveth me.' That is, it is men of humble minds and meek dispositions whom I most highly prize, and whom I most strongly recommend to the notice, the kindness, the protection of all those who are friends to me and my religion; and so dear are men of this description to me, that I make their interests my own, and I shall consider every man who receives, and assists, and encourages them on my account, and for my sake, as receiving me. But if, instead of receiving and protecting these my humble disciples, any one should dare to injure them, he must expect the severest marks of my displeasure. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences; for it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh."

In order to comprehend the full meaning of this denunciation, it will be necessary to explain the peculiar meaning of the word offend. Now this expression, in the present passage, as well as in many other parts of the New Testament, signifies, to cause any one to fall from his faith, to renounce his belief in Christ by any means whatever; and against every one that makes use either of violence or artifice to terrify or seduce the sincere, and humble, and unsuspicious believer in Christ from his faith and obedience to his Divine Master, the severest woes and the heaviest punishments are here denounced.

This text of scripture, therefore, I would most earnestly recommend to the serious consideration of those, who either are or have been guilty of this most dangerous crime; and I would, also, no less earnestly caution all

those, who have not yet been guilty of it, to avoid, with the utmost care, every degree of it, and every approach to it. It is a crime often touched upon in holy writ, but less noticed, or at least less enlarged upon by divines and moralists, than perhaps any other sin of the same magnitude. For this reason, I shall enter more fully into the consideration of it than has hitherto, I believe, been usually done, and shall advert briefly to the several modes of making our brother to offend, that is, to renounce his faith in Christ, which are most common and most successful; and these are, persecution, sophistry, ridicule, immoral examples, and immoral publications.

With respect to the first of these, persecution, it was, during the first ages of the Gospel, and for many years after the Reformation, the great rock of offence, the chief instrument made use of (and a dreadful one it was) to deter men from embracing the faith of Christ, or to compel them to renounce it. But since that time we have heard little of its terrors, till they were, some years ago, revived, to a certain degree, in a neighbouring nation, where the various cruelties inflicted on their clergy are too well known, and cannot surely be ascribed altogether and exclusively to political causes.

In our own country, it must be acknowledged, we cannot justly be charged with this species of guilt. Intolerance and persecution are certainly not in the number of our national sins. But in the next mode of making our brother to offend, that is, by grave argument and reason, by open and systematic attacks on the truth and divine authority of the Christian revelation, in this we have, I fear, a large load of responsibility upon our heads.

It has even been affirmed by some, that we are entitled to the distinction of having led the way to this kind of impiety and profaneness. We have this honour given to us (for an honour they esteem it) by foreign writers; and, what is worst of all, we are applauded for it by such men as D'Alembert and Voltaire.

To be stigmatized with their praise, and for such a reason, is a disgrace indeed; and it would be a still greater, if we could not justly disclaim and throw back from ourselves the humiliating and ignominious applause which they would inflict upon us. But this, I apprehend, we may effectually do. There appears to me sufficient

ground for asserting, that the earliest infidels of modern times were to be found, not in this island, but on the continent. If we may credit the account given of Peter Aretin (who lived and wrote in the fourteenth century) by Moreri, and particularly the epitaph upon him, which he recites, there is reason to believe that he was an infidel of the worst species; and Viret, a divine of great eminence among the first reformers, who wrote about the year 1563, speaks of a number of persons, both in France and Italy, who had assumed the name of Deists, and seem to have formed themselves into a sect. But it was not till the beginning of the following century that any men of that description, or any publications hostile to revelation, appeared in this kingdom. From that time, indeed, down to the present, there has been a regular succession of anti-christian writers of various descriptions and various talents, whose uniform object has been to subvert the foundations of revealed religion, and to make their countrymen offend, and renounce their faith. The last of these was a man, who, from the lowest origin, raised himself to some distinction in the political and literary world, by his bold and impious libels against government, against religion, and the Holy Scriptures themselves. In these writings were concentrated all the malignity, all the shrewdness, all the sophistry of his numerous predecessors; and from their brevity, their plainness, their familiarity, their vulgar_ribaldry, their bold assertions, and artful misrepresentations, they were better calculated to impose on the ignorant and uninformed, and more dangerous to the principles of the great mass of mankind, than any publications that this country ever before produced. And certain it is, that, having been distributed with infinite industry through every district of the kingdom, they did for a time diffuse their poison far and wide, and made a strong and fatal impression on the multitude. But, thanks be to God! they at length providentially met with talents infinitely superior to those of their illiterate author, which, with the blessing of Heaven upon them, gave a sudden and effectual check to the progress of this mischief, and afforded a striking proof of the truth of that prophecy respecting the stability of our religion, "that the gates of bell shall never prevail against it.'

The next great engine of offence, by which multitudes have been led to renounce their faith, is ridicule. An

attempt was made early in the last century to erect this into a test of truth, and it has accordingly been applied by many writers since that time to throw discredit on the Christian revelation. But by no one has this weapon been employed with more force and with more success, than by the great patriarch of infidelity, Voltaire. It is the principal instrument he makes use of to vilify the Gospel; and among the instructions he gives to his coadjutors and fellow-labourers in this righteous work, one is to load the Christian religion and the Author of it with never-ceasing ridicule, to burlesque it in every way that imagination can suggest, and to deluge the world with an infinity of little tracts, placing revelation in the most ludicrous point of view, and rendering it an object of mirth and of contempt to the lowest of mankind. This method he strictly pursued himself; to this he bent all the powers of his mind, all the vivacity of his wit, all the fire of his imagination; and whoever examines his writings against Christianity with care will find, that much the largest part of them are of this description. And in this he showed a thorough knowledge of the world. He knew, that mankind in general prefer wit to logic, and love to be entertained rather than convinced; that it is much easier to point an epigram than to produce an argument; that few can reason justly, but that all the world can be made to laugh; and that whatever can be rendered an object of derision is almost sure to be rejected without examination. Of all these artifices he has availed himself with infinite address, and we know also with fatal success. His writings have unquestionably produced more infidels among the higher classes, and spread more general corruption over the world, than all the voluminous productions of all the other philosophists of Europe put together.

There is still another way of making our brother to offend, or, in other words, of shaking his faith in the Gospel; and that is, by exhibiting to mankind in our life and conversation a profligate example.

This, in the first place, gives the world an unfavourable idea of the religion we profess. It tempts men to think, either that we ourselves do not believe it, or that we suppose it consistent with the vices to which we are abandoned; and either of these suppositions must considerably lessen their estimation, both of its doctrines and its precepts.

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