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S E R M O N IV,
The Subject continued.
Heb. xiii. 15. 16. 17.
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of
praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not ; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and fubmit yourselves.
T remains now, in the third place, that II.
we inquire, What regard is due to them who minister in the sacred office.
But I am aware, that they who would be thought more wife than the rest of mankind, will reckon it great weakness, or great arrogance, to undertake the defence of a set of men who are now every where spoken against. The world is so strangely changed within this last age, that that character which has ever been held sacred and venerable, is at last become the object of hatred and scorn. The priests are represented as a nuisance to fociety, spiritual tyrants, lording it over the consciences of men, and actuated by nothing but pride, and lust of power; and hence priestVOL. III.
craft, craft, priestly pride and power, and such elegant terms of reproach, are thought fufficient answers to the most folid reasons in defence of religion. Nay, they have again and again been brought upon the very stage, and employed to furnish out the most ludicrous scenes in our dramatic entertainments.
No doubt there have been bad and weak men in the priesthood, as well as among other orders; and it is a pity the vices of such Ahould not be punished with exemplary feve. zity. But is it just, for the faults of particu. lar persons, to throw contempt upon the whole, and even upon the office itself? Is magistracy contemptible, because there have been wicked and foolish magiftrates ? But I am not to contend for their power, nor even 10 infist upon that obedience which the apostle in the text enjoins. All I design is, to show, that this order, as it is both venerable in itself, and absolutely necessary in society, deserves ho. nour and respect.
And here again I owa, it does not become us; either in prudence or duty, to seek ho. nour from men : but as public worship necesfarily supposes some to regulate and preside in it, and if these are despised, worship cannot be honoured, nor have any good effect upon the worshippers ; for these reasons, if we would rescue the one from contempt, we must rescue the other also ; for they are every way inseparable. If we allow public worship to be reasonable
in itself, and necessary for the good of socie. ty, (as I have endeavoured to prove it to be), we ought likewise to allow, that there must be an order of men intrusted with the direcition and management of it. The former as necessarily infers the latter, as an action does an agent; and we may as well suppose, that government and the laws can be maintained without magistrates, as that public worship can be performed without priests. This there. fore being felf-evident, we shall not further infift upon it.
Now, as their chief business is, to offer up the fpiritual facrifice of praise and prayer for the people, and in their name, thus presenting, as it were, their addreffes to Almighty God, one should think, that this employment, of all others, is the farthest from being in itself contemptible. I will not mention the honourable names which upon this account have been given them, because the world is not now disposed to allow them titles of respect; only I may be allowed to infinuate, that if those who serve in a prince's household, and about his person, derive honour from their station, and are defpifed by none who have a regard for their master; they who are employed in facred things ought to be considered, by all who have a due reverence for the Supreme Being, as more immediately belonging to him. And it cannot well be conceived how they should be despised by any, unless by such as have a fecret aversion to the work in which F 2
they are employed, or to him whom they serve.
And if we consider them as necessary for the good of society, and surely they are as necessary as public worship itself), that should oblige us to treat them with honour and esteem. If they are appointed to instruct men in their duty to God and to one another, and if it is necessary they should be so instructed, will not this end be wholly defeated if they are once rendered contemptible? The best things said, the wisest admonitions given, by one whom we despise, will not be much re. garded : it is the opinion and esteein we have of the person, that gives weight to advice ; and the generality, at least, will scarce hear with patience what they are taught by him whom they contemn. If, therefore, they who ferve at the altar are vile in our eyes, the altar itself will soon become despicable. But there is too much ground to suspect, that the spite which is shewn against the sacred character, arises from a contempt of the office ; and that priests are hated, because public worship is first difliked.
As to their enslaving the confciences of men, it is not denied, that some of them have ate tempted it, that they have shamefully corrupted the Christian revelation, and erected a temporal and tyrannical dominion upon spiritual pretences. But as these kingdoms are hapa pily and entirely delivered from that yoke of bondage, and no authority is claimed over the conscience, it is altogether unfair to charge
the crimes of a particular party upon those who abhor them, and upon all occasions have declared and exerted themselves against them. And is not every person amongst us provided with a divine standard, according to which he is allowed to measure their conduct ? and is any deference required to their deeds, but in as far as they agree with that unerring rule? Judges are every where interpreters of the laws; and to their interpretations we must submit. But no such power is pretended to by the interpreters of the sacred oracles : they appeal to every man's reason, and leave his conscience to determine him. There cannot, therefore, be a charge more groundless, than that of enslaving mers consciences; nor can there be a more unjust inference, than that, because the Romish priests perverted religion to ferve the purposes of their ambition, therefore all priests ought to be detested. Would not this be the same thing as to declare against all government, because some governments have been tyrannical ?
But as those who show the greateft zeal in Feviling the Christian priesthood, pretend to be great admirers of the customs and conftitutions of the ancients, we shall willingly join issue with them upon this question : for it is an undeniable fact, that in almost all ancient governments, public religion and a public fpirit, irreligion and selfishness, a reverence for things sacred and liberty, a contempt of things sacred and ilavery, went hand in hand.