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PREACHED IN THE YEAR 1771.
ST. JAMES, iv. I.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members ?
INTERPRETERS have observed, that these questionis refer to the state of things, which then took place among the Jews, when this epistle was addressed to them. For, about that time, they had grievous wars and fightings among themselves ; every city, and every
family, almost, of this devoted people, not only in Judea, but in many other countries, through which they were scattered abroad, being miserably distracted and torn asunder by civil and domestic factions.
This application, then, of the Apostle's words to the Jews of his own time, seems a just one. But we need look no further for a comment upon them, than to that hostile spirit, which too much prevails, at all times, and under all circumstances, even among Christians themselves.
The root of this bitterness, we are told, is in the lusts, that war in our members : that is, there is, first, an insurrection of our carnal appetites against the law of our minds; and, then, the contagion spreads over families, neighbourhoods, and societies; over all those, in short, with whom we have any concern, till the whole world, sometimes, becomes a general scene of contention and disorder.
For, ask the princes of this world, what prompts them to disturb the peace of other states, and to involve their subjects in all the horrors of war; and their answer, if they deign to give one, and if it be ingenuous, must, commonly, be, their lust of conquest and dominion. Ask the servants of those princes,
what splits them into parties and factions; and .. they can hardly avoid answering, or we can answer for them, their lust of wealth and power. Ask the people, at large, and under whatever denomination, what occasions their contempt of authority, their disobedience to magistrates, their transgressions of law, their cabals and tumults, their hatred, defamation, and persecution of each other; and charity herself, for the most part, can dictate no other reply for them to this question, than that they are excited to all these excesses by the lust of riot and misrule, or, of, what they call, LIBERTY.
But there is no end of pursuing this subject in all its applications to particular instances. What we have most reason to lament, is, that Christians not only fight with each other, at the instigation of their lusts, for their own carnal and corrupt ends; but that they make the very means, which God has appointed to compose these differences, the instruments of their animosity, and become outrageous in their hostile treatment of each other, by the perversion of those principles, which were intended to be its restraint. For if any thing could appease this tumult among men, what more likely to do it, than the administration of civil justice, and the sacred institutions of religion? Yet, are even these provisions of divine and liuman wisdom, for the support of peace and good order, defeated by our restless and ingenious passions ; and we contrive, to make RELIGION and Law themselves, subservient to the increase of that contention, which they tend so naturally to keep out of the world.
As this abuse, which inverts the order of things, and turns the medicine of life into a deadly poison -- as this abuse, I say, can never be enough exposed ; let me represent to you some part of the evils, which this monstrous misuse of RELIGION and Civil Justice has brought upon mankind; as the last, and most striking effort of these malignant lusts, from which, according to the holy Apostle, all our violations of peace and charity are derived.
And, First, of the mischiefs, arising from MISAPPLIED RELIGION.
It were an ample field, this, should I under take to follow the ecclesiastical historian in all the abuses, which he so largely displays. But my design is to open the fountains ; to point, only, to the general causes, from which those abuses have flowed. And the chief of these causes will not be overlooked, if we consider that Christianity has been corrupted by superstition, by policy, and by sophistry: for, in each of these ways, the lusts of men have found free scope for their activity ; and have produced all those endless discords and animosities, which have dishonoured the Christian world.
1. SUPERSTITION began very early to make cruel inroads into the religion of Jesus : first, by debasing its free spirit with the servility of Jewish observances ; next, in adulterating its simple genius by the pomp of pagan cere monies ; and, afterwards, through a long course of dark and barbarous ages, in distiguring its reasonable service w by every whimsy, which a gloomy or disturbed imagination could sug
The lasts of men gave birth to these several perversions. The obstinate pride of the Jewish Christian was flattered in retaining the abrogated ritual of the Law: the pagan proselyte gratified bis vanity, and love of splendor in religious ministrations, by dressing out Christianity in all the paint and pageantry of his ancient worship: and the miserable monk soothed his fears, or indulged his spite, in
η Την λογικής λατρείαν. Rom. xii. 1.