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JOSHUA XXIV. 15.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord,
chuse you this day whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the flood; or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The Sovereign Disposer of all things, being resolved to destroy the inhabitants of the land of Canaan for their impious and barbarous idolatries and unnatural lusts, was pleased to make the Jews who were a much better, though far from a blameless, people, the instruments of their destruction, in order to warn them the more strongly against the like sins. Their leader in this awful work was Joshua : who after he had accomplished it, divided his conquests amongst them; and then having received, from the gratitude of the people, an inheritance in his own tribe *, no way considerable, which however was all that he asked ; appears to have retired thither, and spent the rest of his days in an honourable privacy; leaving the administration of affairs, in time of peace, to the ordinary civil magistrates ; till, finding his end approach he gathered all Israel, and called for their elders, their heads, their judges and their officerst; and • Josh, xix. 49, 50.
+ Chap. xxiv. 1.
they presented themselves before God. In this solemn assembly, the last he was to see, requesting nothing for himself or his posterity, but strictly following the example of Moses, who had in no respect exalted his own descendants above the rest of the people; he expresses the strongest solicitude for what he knew the public happiness to depend on; the preservation of true religion, and consequently of virtue, in opposition to the superstitious follies, and shocking vices, of the nations round them. To promote this end, the venerable Chief recounts to them, by the especial direction of Heaven, the miraculous and gracious dispensations of providence, which their fathers and they had experienced, and he had been so long a constant eye-witness of: concluding the history with their present happy condition : and his inference from the whole is, Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him, in sincerity and in truth *. But being sensible that mankind are strangely apt not to think themselves in a good state, when they are in the best; he proceeds to intreat them, that if any are dissatisfied with the fruits of observing their present religion and laws, they would consider well, under what other, upon the whole, they would wish to be; for under some they must. They might, if they pleased, after all he had said, try a change, and take the consequences : but he had seen too much of the benefit of adhering to God, to have the least desire of experiencing what would be the effects of forsaking him; and his prayer and his endeavour should be, that all under his influence might tread, for ever, in the same steps. If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, chuse you, this day, whom you will serve :but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Josh. xxiv. 14.
In these words we have,
men may grow weary of true religion.
ously what they propose to exchange it for;
and what advantage they expect from thence. III. The resolution which prudent men will
make, whatever others do; to continue in the practice of it themselves; and preserve a conscientious regard to it amongst all that are
placed under their inspection. I. An intimation of the danger there is, that a great part of the world may grow weary of religion, even whilst it is taught in simplicity and truth.
Undoubtedly one of the strongest prejudices against it hath arisen from the absurd, and often hurtful mixtures, with which, from time to time, it hath been corrupted, either by mistaken or designing men. These have tempted many to reject the whole, good and bad promiscuously; without separating what was of God from what was of man. Now, were every thing else to be treated in this manner, not one of the rightest principles of behaviour, or the most valuable blessings of life, could possibly escape. For what is there on earth, that hath not been frequently misunderstood, perverted and abused, both by weakness and wickedness? It is therefore the grossest partiality, not to distinguish in the case of religion, when we do it in every other : indeed, not to be as zealous for every real part of it; (for they are all highly useful) as against the corruptions it hath unhappily undergone. And yet even in a country where it is the purest, some can allow themselves to talk, as if it were fraud and imposition throughout: can gratify their vanity, defend their vices, or serve
their interests, by insisting confidently on the most groundless and exploded objections ; sometimes against all reverence to Him who created them; often against the revelation he hath made to them: nay, can slight it as entirely, without being acquainted with the shadow of an objection, as if they had the strongest in the world: think it a reason abundantly sufficient, that they see others of good figure do so; and at last, perhaps, set themselves to make it their scorn, without having once considered in earnest, whether they ought not to have made it the rule and comfort of their lives.
This is going great lengths ; yet not absolutely the greatest of all. For it hath happened too commonly, that those very things, for which religion ought to be honoured most, have been the true causes of mens opposing and forsaking it. The Jews, for instance, were disgusted with theirs, because it was too spiritual and refined for them. We indeed who are blessed with one yet more so, may be tempted to find the contrary fault with that of Moses. But think what the worship of the world was at that time : worship of the sun, moon and stars ; brute beasts, stocks and stones : altars under every green tree, and upon every high hill ; ceremonies numberless, unmeaning, immodest, inhuman. How prodigious a reformation was it then, to introduce, instead of these mischievous absurdities, the adoration of the only invisible Being, the Maker of all things ! and the offering of sacrifices to him in one only temple upon earth; with rites and observances, few in comparison, and directly pointed against idolatry and superstition! But what was really the merit of their religion, was the ground of their clamour against it; Make us gods to go before us* :
• Exod. xxxii. 1. 23.
let us have deities, that we can see and feel, to carry along with us; was the cry of the people: and whenever they forsook the Lord, it was for these more substantial objects of devotion. This may seem unaccountable enough; and yet, amongst ourselves, converts are frequently made to a communion, one of whose chief recommendations must be, that it strikes the senses, with images and formalities, pomp and shew.
But, as some are prejudiced against true religion for being too rational; many, it may be feared, are averse to it for being too moral. As long as piety can be made, in any shape, consistent with sin ; whether by trusting in faith without works, or substituting works of no value for those of real value; or abounding in some one sort of duties, instead of honestly practising every sort; so long it may be borne with. But if the teachers of it will assert and prove, and attempt to convince mankind, that no one can be pious, without being uniformly virtuous; then there remains no possibility of compromising matters : but, if religion will give no quarter to vice, the vicious must give no quarter to religion : a very bad inducement, I own, but a very strong one; and it deserves careful reflection, whether a principal reason, why Christianity is now, more than ever, disregarded, be not this ; that now, more than ever, since the primitive ages, it is so preached, as to leave no room for being godly and wicked at once. But, however this be, there appears, in general, but too much danger, indeed but too much experience, that men may be tired even of true religion: that it may seem evil unto them, to serve the Lord their God. Therefore the text contains,
II. An admonition, that such, as are disposed to