This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly…
Among the many causes which have concurred to render our holy religion thus unsuccessful, the indifference and neglect with which many sects of Christians have been accustomed to treat the moral precepts of the gospel deserves, I think, to be considered as none of the least. By giving an imaginary importance to subjects of speculation, concerning which wise and good men have always thought, and will probably continue to think, differently, they have turned aside the attention and zeal of mankind from those things in which their present and future happiness are really and principally concerned. My design is to counteract the influence of these prejudices, as far as I am able, by showing that the principal end of public preaching is to recommend the practice of virtue; and that those who attend upon it should be best satisfied with such discourses as clearly explain and strongly inculcate the several branches of morality as it comprehends our duty to our Maker, our fellow creatures and ourselves, without entering further into subjects of speculation and controversy than is of evident importance to the moral improvement and happiness of mankind.
1. I observe, in the first place, that if the duties of morality and religion were made the principal subjects of public preaching, it would remove or prevent many evils which have arisen from the contrary practice. The divisions and contentions, the persecutions and cruelties, which have disgraced the Christian Church, from its first establishment to the present day, are so well known that I may be excused the painful talk of entering into a particular enumeration of them. The time, however, seems to be at length arrived, in which men are beginning to see the folly of hating and persecuting one another for a difference in opinion on subjects concerning which it is impossible that they should be agreed. And shameful indeed must be the weakness, and fatal the delusion of mankind in the experience of so many ages hath not been sufficient to teach them this one plain but important lesson, that all zealous contentions about particular modes of faith or worship are unfriendly to the interests of religion, and the happiness of the world. From these circumstances one may hope that the present time is the dawning of a happy day, in which all distinctions of sects shall be abolished and all dissentions and animosities will be forgotten; in which we shall all love one another with pure hearts fervently, and shall cordially unite in the worship of one God, the Father of us all. And what can be more likely to hasten the approach of this delightful period than for the ministers of religion to overlook and as much as possible discourage every party distinction and useless speculation, and constantly to direct the attention of their hearers to those subjects concerning which we are all agreed, and in which we are all immediately interested; I mean the great duties of morality and religion?
2. Another reason why these duties should be the constant subjects of public preaching is because we may speak concerning them with the greatest perspicuity and certainty. That we ought to venerate the most excellent and perfect of all beings; that we should devoutly and thankfully acknowledge the hand which feeds and clothes us, and gives us richly all things to enjoy; that we should cheerfully submit ourselves to the direction of that Being who ordereth all things well; that we should observe the great laws of equity in all our transactions with mankind; that we should pity, and, if possible, relieve a brother in distress; that we should love our friends, be grateful to our benefactors, and forgive our enemies; that we should behave with honour and generosity, kindness, and charity towards all men; that we should govern ourselves with prudence and discretion, and diligently cultivate the powers which God hath given us; these are truths as obvious as they are important; truths concerning which all mankind in every country, and of every sect, are agreed. They are, therefore, of all others, the most proper subjects of public discourse.
3. I add this strain of preaching is best adapted to the understanding and taste of the generality of mankind. If a preacher endeavours to establish received opinions, or if he takes pains to overturn them; if he recites the comments of the most learned and celebrated fathers of the Church on difficult texts of Scripture, and supports them; or, if on the other hand, he attempts to explain them in a different manner, and, on this explanation, to ground a more rational scheme of faith; he may perhaps amuse and please a few; but he will, most probably, offend some, soar above the understandings of many, and reach the hearts of none. But if he exhorts his hearers to maintain good works; if he appeals to their consciences for the reasonableness and importance of the duties which he recommends; if he gives them just and lively representations of the influence which the observance or neglect of these duties will have upon their peace and happiness; if he touches the springs of gratitude, benevolence and humanity, of self-love, of hope and fear in their hearts, and calls forth every power and passion within them to assist him in pleading the cause of virtue; he will generally find his audience attentive and serious, and may hope to send them away not only pleased but improved.
4. Further, we may remark, that to exhort Christians to maintain good works is the proper business of the Christian ministry. Jesus Christ was eminently a Preacher of righteousness. This character He supported during the whole course of His public ministry. All the doctrines which He taught; all the wonderful worlds which He performed; all the pains and sufferings to which He submitted, were with this immediate view, that He might take away sin and bring in everlasting righteousness. Now, by what means can the teachers of religion so properly merit the character of Christian ministers as by pursuing the same important plan with Him whom they acknowledge as their Lord and Master?
5. The last consideration which I shall mention to evince the reasonableness of making the duties of morality and religion the constant subjects of public preaching is, that they are of the highest importance to the happiness of mankind, and that, in comparison with them, all other subjects are unprofitable and vain.
6. I will conclude by earnestly recommending it to you to take heed that you hear with the same design with which your ministers do or ought to preach, that you may be confirmed in all goodness. Attend upon public preaching, not with a view to have your favourite opinions established, your curiosity gratified, or your imaginations amused; but to have your evil habits corrected, your good dispositions strengthened, and your characters continually improved. "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only."
Parallel VersesKJV: This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
WEB: This saying is faithful, and concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men;