Every day, my brethren, you continue to demand of us, if the road to heaven is really so difficult, and the number of the saved is indeed so small, as we say. To a question so often proposed, and still oftener resolved, our Saviour answers you at present, that there were many widows in Israel afflicted with famine; but the widow of Sarepta was alone found worthy the succour of the prophet Elias: that the number of lepers was great in Israel in the time of the prophet Eliseus; and that Naaman was only cured by the man of God.
Were I here, my brethren, for the purpose of alarming, rather than instructing you, I needed only to recapitulate what in the holy writings we find dreadful with regard to this great truth; and running over the history of the just, from age to age, to show you, that, in all times, the number of the saved has been very small. The family of Noah alone saved from the general flood; Abraham chosen from amongst men to be the sole depositary of the covenant with God; Joshua and Caleb the only two of six hundred thousand Hebrews who saw the Land of Promise; Job the only upright man in the Land of Uz, Lot, in Sodom.
To representations so alarming would have succeeded the sayings of the prophets. In Isaiah you would see the elect as rare as the grapes which are found after the vintage, and have escaped the search of the gatherer; as rare as the blades which remain by chance in the field, and have escaped the scythe of the mower.
The Evangelist would still have added new traits to the terrors of these images. I might have spoken to you of two roads, of which one is narrow, rugged, and the path of a very small number; the other broad, open, and strewed with flowers, and almost the general path of men: that everywhere, in the holy writings, the multitude is always spoken of as forming the party of the reprobate; while the saved, compared with the rest of mankind, form only a small flock, scarcely perceptible to the sight. I would have left you in fears with regard to your salvation; always cruel to those who have not renounced faith and every hope of being amongst the saved. But what would it serve to limit the fruits of this instruction to the single point of proving how few persons are saved? Alas! I would make the danger known, without instructing you how to avoid it; I would show you, with the prophet, the sword of the wrath of God suspended over your heads, without assisting you to escape the threatened blow; I would alarm the conscience without instructing the sinner.
My intention is therefore today, in our morals and manner of life, to search for the cause of this number being so small. As everyone flatters himself he will not be excluded, it is of importance to examine if his confidence be well founded. I wish not, in marking to you the causes which render salvation so rare, to make you generally conclude, that few will be saved; but to bring you to ask of yourselves, if, living as you live, can you hope to be so. Who am I? What is it I do for heaven; and what can be my hopes in eternity? I propose no other order, in a matter of such importance. What are the causes which render salvation so rare? I mean to point out three principal ones, which is the only arrangement of this discourse. Art and far-sought reasonings would here be ill-timed. O attend, therefore, be whom you may! No subject can be more worthy your attention, since it goes to inform you what may be the hopes of your eternal destiny.
Part I. Two pathway to Salvation, innocence and penitence. Few is saved by innocence, even fewer by true penitence
Few are saved; because in that number we can only comprehend two descriptions of persons; either those who have been so happy as to preserve their innocence pure and undefiled; or those who, after having lost, have regained it by penitence: first cause. There are only these two ways of salvation; and heaven is only open to the innocent or the penitent. Now, of which party are you? Are you innocent? Are you penitent?
Nothing unclean shall enter the kingdom of God. We must consequently carry there, either an innocence unsullied, or an innocence regained. Now, to die innocent, is a grace to which few souls can aspire; and to live penitent, is a mercy, which the relaxed state of our morals renders equally rare. Who indeed will pretend to salvation, by the claim of innocence? Where are the pure souls in whom sin has never dwelt; and who have preserved to the end the sacred treasure of grace confided to them by baptism, and which our Saviour will re-demand at the awful day of punishment?
In those happy days, when the whole church was still but an assembly of saints, it was very uncommon to find an instance of a believer, who, after having received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and acknowledged Jesus Christ in the sacrament, which regenerates us, fell back to his former irregularities of life. Ananias and Sapphira were the only prevaricators in the church of Jerusalem; that of Corinth had only one incestuous sinner. Church-penitence was then a remedy almost unknown; and scarcely was there found among these true Israelites one single leper, whom they were obliged to drive from the holy altar, and separate from communion with his brethren. But, since that time, the number of the upright diminishes, in proportion as that of believers increases. It would appear, that the world, pretending now to have become almost generally Christian, has brought with it into the church its corruptions and its maxims.
Alas! we all go astray, almost from the breast of our mothers! The first use which we make of our heart is a crime; our first desires are passions; and our reason only expands and increases on the wrecks of our innocence. The earth, says a prophet, is infected by the corruption of those who inhabit it: all have violated the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the alliance which should have endured for ever: all commit sin; and scarcely is there one to be found who does the work of the Lord. Injustice, calumny, lying, treachery, adultery, and the blackest crimes have deluged the earth. The brother lays snares for his brother; the father is divided from his children; the husband from his wife: there is no tie which a vile interest does not dissolve. Good faith and probity are no longer virtues but among the simple people; animosities are endless; reconciliations feints; and never is a former enemy regarded as a brother: they tear, they devour each other. Assemblies are no longer but for the purpose of public and general censure. The purest virtue is no longer a protection from the malignity of tongues. Gaming is become either a trade, a fraud, or a fury. Repasts, those innocent ties of society, degenerate into excesses, of which we dare not speak.
Our age witnesses horrors, with which our forefathers were unacquainted. Behold, then, already one path of salvation shut to the generality of men. All have erred. Be whom you may, who listen to me at present, the time has been, when sin reigned over you. Age may perhaps have calmed your passions; but what was your youth? Long and habitual infirmities may perhaps have disgusted you with the world; but what use did you formerly make of the vigour of health? A sudden inspiration of grace may have turned your heart; but do you not most fervently entreat, that every moment prior to that inspiration may be effaced from the remembrance of the Lord?
But with what am I taking up my time? We are all sinners, O my God! and thou knowest our hearts. What we know of our errors, is perhaps in thy sight the most pardonable; and we all allow, that by innocence we have no claim to salvation. There remains, therefore, only one resource, which is penitence. After our shipwreck, say the saints, it is the happy plank which alone can conduct us into port; there is no other mean of salvation for us. Be whom you may, prince or subject, great or low, penitence alone can save you. Now, permit me to ask, Where are the penitent? You will find more, says a holy father, who have never fallen, than who, after their fall, have raised themselves by true repentance. This is a terrible saying; but do not let us carry things too far: the truth is sufficiently dreadful, without adding new terrors to it by vain declamation.
Who is to be called a true penitent?
Let us only examine if the majority of us have a right, through penitence, to salvation. What is a penitent? According to Tertullian, a penitent is a believer, who feels every moment the unhappiness which he formerly had, to forget and lose his God: who has his guilt incessantly before his eyes; who finds everywhere the traces and remembrance of it.
A penitent is a man, intrusted by God with judgment against himself; who refuses himself the most innocent pleasures, because he had formerly indulged in the most criminal; who puts up with the most necessary ones with pain; who now regards his body as an enemy, whom it is necessary to conquer, as an unclean vessel which must be purified, as an unfaithful debtor, of whom it is proper to exact to the last farthing. A penitent regards himself as a criminal condemned to death, because he no longer is worthy of life. In the loss of riches or health, he sees only a privation of favours that he had formerly abused; in the humiliations which happen to him, but the pains of his guilt; in the agonies with which he is racked, but the commencement of those punishments he has justly merited: such is a penitent. But I again ask you, Where amongst us are penitents of this description? Now, look around you. I do not tell you to judge your brethren, but to examine what are the manners and morals of those who surround you; nor do I speak of those open and avowed sinners, who have thrown off even the appearance of virtue; I speak only of those who, like yourselves, live like the generality, and whose actions present nothing to the public view particularly shameful or depraved. They are sinners, and they admit of it: you are not innocent, and you confess it yourselves. Now, are they penitent; or are you?
Age, avocations, more serious employments, may perhaps have checked the sallies of youth: even the bitterness which the Almighty has made attendant on our passions: the deceits, the treacheries of the world; an injured fortune, with ruined constitution, may have cooled the ardour, and confined the irregular desires of your heart: crimes may have disgusted you even with crimes; for passions gradually extinguish themselves. Time, and the natural inconstancy of the heart, will bring these about; yet nevertheless, though detached from sin by incapability, you are no nearer your God. According to the world you are become more prudent, more regular, more what it calls men of probity; more exact in fulfilling your public or private duties; but you are not penitent. You have ceased from your disorders, but you have not expiated them: you are not converted; this great stroke, this grand change of the heart, which regenerates man, has not yet been felt by you. Nevertheless, this situation, so truly dangerous, does not alarm you: sins, which have never been washed away by sincere repentance, and consequently never obliterated from the book of life, appear in your eyes as no longer existing; and you will tranquilly leave this world in a state of impenitence, so much the more dangerous, as you will die without being sensible of your danger. What I say here, is not merely a rash expression, or an emotion of zeal; nothing is more real, or more exactly true: it is the situation of almost all men, even the wisest and most esteemed of the world.
The morality of the younger stages in life is always lax, if not licentious. Age, disgust, and establishment for life, fix the heart, and withdraw it from debauchery: but where are those who are converted? Where are those who expiate their crimes by tears of sorrow and true repentance? Where are those who, having begun as sinners, end as penitents? Show me, in your manner of living, the smallest trace of penitence. Are your graspings at wealth and power, your anxieties to attain the favour of the great, (and by these means an increase of employments and influence,) are these proofs of it? Would you wish to reckon even your crimes as virtues? that the sufferings of your ambition, pride, and avarice, should discharge you from an obligation which they themselves have imposed? You are penitent to the world, but are you so to Jesus Christ?
The infirmities with which God afflicts you; the enemies he raised up against you; the disgraces and losses with which he tries you; do you receive them all as you ought, with humble submission to his will, and, far from finding in them occasions of penitence, do you not turn them into the objects of new crimes? It is the duty of an innocent soul to receive with submission the chastisements of the Almighty; to discharge, with courage, the painful duties of the station allotted to him, and to be faithful to the laws of the gospel; but do sinners owe nothing beyond this? And yet they pretend to salvation; but upon what claim? To say that you are innocent before God, your own conscience will bear testimony against you. To endeavour to persuade yourselves that you are penitent, you dare not; and you would condemn yourselves through your own mouths. Upon what, then, dost thou depend, O, man! who thus livest so tranquil?
And what renders it still more dreadful is, that, acting in this manner, you only follow the torrent: your morals are the morals of almost all men. You may, perhaps, be acquainted with some still more guilty (for I suppose you to have still remaining some sentiments of religion, and regard for your salvation); but do you know any real penitents? I am afraid we must search the deserts and solitudes for them. You can scarcely particularize, among persons of rank and usage of the world, a small number whose morals and mode of life, more austere and more guarded than the generality, attract the attention, and very likely the censure of the public: all the rest walk in the same path.
I see clearly that every one comforts himself by the example of his neighbour: that, in that point, children succeed to the false security of their fathers; that none live innocent; that none die penitent: I see it, and I cry, O God! if thou have not deceived us; if all thou hast told us with regard to the road to eternal life, shall be fulfilled to the point; if the number of those who must perish shall not influence thee to abate from the severity of thy laws, what will become of that immense multitude of creatures which every hour disappears from the face of the earth? Where are our friends, our relations, who have gone before us, and what is their lot in the eternal regions of death? What shall we ourselves be one day? When formerly a prophet complained to the Lord, that all Israel had forsaken his protection, he replied, that seven thousand still remained who had not bowed the knee to Baal: behold the number of pure and faithful souls which a whole kingdom then contained! But couldst thou still, O my God! comfort the anguish of thy servants to-day by the same assurance? I know that thine eye discerns still some upright amongst us; that the priesthood has still its Phineases; the magistracy its Samuels; the sword its Joshuas; the court its Daniels, its Esthers, and its Davids: for the world only exists for thy chosen, and all would perish were the number accomplished. But those happy remains of the children of Israel who shall inherit salvation, what are they, compared to the grains of sand in the sea; I mean, to that number of sinners who combat for their own destruction? You come after this, my brethren, to inquire if it be true, that few shall be saved? Thou hast said it, O my God! and consequently it is a truth which shall endure for ever.
But, even admitting that [i.e., even if] the Almighty had not spoken thus, I would wish, in the second place, to review, for an instant, what passes among men: the laws by which they are governed; the maxims by which the multitude is regulated: this is the second cause of the paucity of the saved; and, properly speaking, is only a development of the first, the force of habit and customs.
Part II. Habits and customs of the world are imcompatible with salvation
Few people are saved, because the maxims most universally received in all countries, and upon which depend, in general, the morals of the multitude, are incompatible with salvation. The rules laid down, approved, and authorized by the world, with regard to the application of wealth, the love of glory, Christian moderation, and the duties of offices and conditions, are diametrically opposite to those of the evangelists, and consequently can lead only to death. I shall not, at present, enter into a detail too extended for a discourse, and too little serious, perhaps, for Christians.
I need not tell you, that this is an established custom in the world, to allow the liberty of proportioning expenses to rank and wealth; and, provided it is a patrimony we inherit from our ancestors, we may distinguish ourselves by the use of it, without restraint to our luxury, or without regard, in our profusion, to any thing but our pride and caprice.
But Christian moderation has its rules. We are not the absolute masters of our riches; nor are we entitled to abuse what the Almighty has bestowed upon us for better purposes. Above all, while thousands of unfortunate wretches languish in poverty, whatever we make use of beyond the wants and necessary expenses of our station, is an inhumanity to, and a theft from, the poor. These are refinements of devotion, say they; and, in matters of expense and profusion, nothing is excessive or blameable, according to the world, but what may tend to derange the fortune. I need not tell you, that it is an approved custom, to decide our lots, and to regulate our choice of professions or situations in life, by the order of our birth, or the interests of fortune. But, O my God! does the ministry of thy gospel derive its source from the worldly considerations of a carnal birth? We cannot establish all, says the world, and it would be melancholy to see persons of rank and birth in avocations unworthy of their dignity. If born to a name distinguished in the world, you must get forward by dint of intrigue, meanness, and expense. Make fortune your idol. That ambition, however much condemned by the laws of the gospel, is only a sentiment worthy your name and birth.
You are of a sex and rank which introduce you to the gaieties of the world: you cannot but do as others do; you must frequent all the public places, where those of your age and rank assemble; enter into the same pleasures; pass your days in the same frivolities; and expose yourself to the same dangers: these are the received maxims, and you are not made to reform them. Such is the doctrine of the world.
Now, permit me to ask you here, who confirms you in these ways? By what rule are they justified to your mind? Who authorizes you in this dissipation, which is neither agreeable to the title you have received by baptism, nor perhaps to those you hold from your ancestors? Who authorizes those public pleasures, which you only think innocent, because your soul, already too familiarized with sin, feels no longer the dangerous impressions or tendency of them? Who authorizes you to lead an effeminate and sensual life, without virtue, sufferance, or any religious exercise? to live like a stranger in the midst of your own family, disdaining to inform yourself with regard to the morals of those dependent upon you? through an affected state, to be ignorant whether they believe in the same God; whether they fulfil the duties of the religion you profess? Who authorizes you in maxims so little Christian? Is it the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it the doctrine of the apostles and saints? For surely some rule is necessary to assure us that we are in safety. What is yours? Custom: that is the only reply you can make.
We see none around us, but what conduct themselves in the same way, and by the same rule. Entering into the world, we find the manners already established: our fathers lived thus, and from them we copy our customs: the wisest conform to them: an individual cannot be wiser than the whole world, and must not pretend to make himself singular, by acting contrary to the general voice. Such, my brethren, are your only comforters against all the terrors of religion. None act up to the law. The public example is the only guarantee of our morals. We never reflect, that, as the Holy Spirit says, the laws of the people are vain: that our Saviour has left us rules, in which neither times, ages, nor customs, can ever authorize the smallest change: that the heavens and the earth shall pass away; that customs and manners shall change; but that the divine laws will everlastingly be the same.
Customs are short lasting
We content ourselves with looking around us. We do not reflect, that what, at present, we call custom, would, in former times, before the morals of Christians became degenerated, have been regarded as monstrous singularities; and, if corruption has gained since that period, these vices, though they have lost their singularity, have not lost their guilt. We do not reflect, that we shall be judged by the gospel, and not by custom; by the examples of the holy, and not by men's opinions; that the habits, which are only established among believers by the relaxation of faith, are abuses we are to lament, not examples we are to follow; that, in changing the manners, they have not changed our duties; that the common and general example which authorizes them, only proves that virtue is rare, but not that profligacy is permitted; in a word, that piety and a real Christian life are too unpalatable to our depraved nature ever to be practised by the majority of men.
Come now, and say, that you only do as others do. It is exactly by that you condemn yourselves. What! the most terrible certainty of your condemnation shall become the only motive for your confidence! Which, according to the Scriptures, is the road that conducts to death? Is it not that which the majority pursues? Which is the party of the reprobate? Is it not the multitude? You do nothing but what others do. But thus, in the time of Noah, perished all who were buried under the waters of the deluge: all who, in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, prostrated themselves before the golden calf: all who, in the time of Elijah, bowed the knee to Baal: all who, in the time of Eleazer, abandoned the law of their fathers. You only do what others do; but that is exactly what the Scriptures forbid: Do not, say they, conform yourselves to this corrupted age. Now, the corrupted age means not the small number of the just, whom you endeavour not to imitate; it means the multitude whom you follow. You only do what others do: you will consequently experience the same lot. Now, "Misery to thee," (cried formerly St. Augustine,) "fatal torrent of human customs; wilt thou never suspend thy course? To the end wilt thou drag in the children of Adam to thine immense and terrible abyss?"
In place of saying to ourselves, "What are my hopes? In the church of Jesus Christ there are two roads; one broad and open, by which almost the whole world passes, and which leads to death; the other narrow, where few indeed enter, and which conducts to life eternal; in which of these am I? Are my morals the usual ones of persons of my rank, age, and situation in life? Am I with the great number? Then I am not in the right path. I am losing myself. The great number in every station is not the party saved." Far from reasoning in this manner, we say to ourselves, " I am not in a worse state than others. Those of my rank and age live as I do: why should I not live like them?" Why, my dear hearers? For that very reason: the general mode of living cannot be that of a Christian life. In all ages, the holy have been remarkable and singular men. Their manners were always different from those of the world; and they have only been saints, because their lives had no similarity to those of the rest of mankind. In the time of Esdras, in spite of the defence against it, the custom prevailed of intermarrying with stranger women: this abuse became general: the priests and the people no longer made any scruple of it. But what did this holy restorer of the law: did he follow the example of his brethren? Did he believe, that guilt, in becoming general, became more legitimate? No: he recalled the people to a sense of the abuse. He took the book of the law in his hand, and explained it to the affrighted people, corrected the custom by the truth. Follow, from age to age, the history of the just; and see if Lot conformed himself to the habits of Sodom, or if nothing distinguished him from the other inhabitants; if Abraham lived like the rest of his age; if Job resembled the other princes of his nation; if Esther conducted herself, in the court of Ahasuerus, like the other women of that prince; if many widows in Israel resembled Judith; if, among the children of the captivity, it is not said of Tobias alone that he copied not the conduct of his brethren, and that he even fled from the danger of their commerce and society. See, if in those happy ages, when Christians were all saints, they did not shine like stars in the midst of the corrupted nations; and if they served not as a spectacle to angels and men, by the singularity of their lives and manners: if the pagans did not reproach them for their retirement, and shunning of all public theatres, places, and pleasures: if they did not complain that the Christians affected to distinguish themselves in every thing from their fellow-citizens; to form a separate people in the midst of the people; to have their particular laws and customs; and if a man from their side embraced the party of the Christians, they did not consider him as for ever lost to their pleasures, assemblies, and customs: in a word, see, if in all ages the saints whose lives and actions have been transmitted down to us, have resembled the rest of mankind.
A pious soul will be always strikingly singular
You will perhaps tell us, that all these are singularities and exceptions, rather than rules which the world is obliged to follow. They are exceptions, it is true: but the reason is, that the general rule is to throw away salvation; that a religious and pious soul in the midst of the world, is always a singularity approaching to a miracle. The whole world, you say, is not obliged to follow these examples; but is not piety the general duty of all? To be saved, must we not be holy? Must heaven, with difficulty and sufferance, be gained by some, while with ease by others? Have you any other gospel to follow; other duties to fulfil; other promises to hope for, than those of the Holy Bible? Ah! since there was another way more easy to arrive at salvation, wherefore, ye pious Christians, who at this moment enjoy in heaven, that kingdom, gained with toil, and at the expense of your blood, did ye leave us examples so dangerous and useless?
Wherefore have ye opened for us a road, rugged, disagreeable, and calculated to repress our ardour, seeing there was another you could have pointed out, more easy, and more likely to attract us, by facilitating our progress? Great God! how little does mankind consult reason in the point of eternal salvation!
Will you console yourselves, after this, with the multitude, as if the greatness of the number could render the guilt unpunished, and the Almighty durst not condemn all those who live like you? But what are all creatures in the sight of God? Did the multitude of the guilty prevent him from destroying all flesh at the deluge? from making fire from heaven descend upon the five iniquitous cities? from burying, in the waters of the Red Sea, Pharaoh and all his army? from striking with death all who murmured in the desert? Ah! the kings of the earth may have regard to the number of the guilty, because the punishment becomes impossible, or at least dangerous, when the fault is become general. But God, who wipes the impious, says Job, from off the face of the earth, as one wipes the dust from off a garment; God, in whose sight all people and nations are as if they were not, numbers not the guilty: he has regard only to the crimes; and all that the weak and miserable sinner can expect from his unhappy accomplices, is to have them as companions in his misery. So few are saved, because the maxims most universally adopted are maxims of sin: so few are saved, because the maxims and duties most universally unknown, or rejected, are those most indispensable to salvation. Last reflection, which is indeed nothing more than the proof and the explanation of the former ones.
Vows of baptism
What are the engagements of the holy vocation to which we have all been called? The solemn promises of baptism. What have we promised at baptism? To renounce the world, the devil, and the flesh: these are our vows: this is the situation of the Christian: these are the essential conditions of our covenant with God, by which eternal life has been promised to us. These truths appear familiar, and destined for the common people; but it is a mistake. Nothing can be more sublime; and, alas! nothing is more generally unknown. It is at the courts of kings, and to the princes of the earth, that without ceasing we ought to announce them. Alas! they are well instructed in all the affairs of the world, while the first principles of Christian morality are frequently more unknown to them than to humble and simple hearts.
Renounced the World
At your baptism, you have then renounced the world. It is a promise you have made to God, before the holy altar; the church has been the guarantee and depository of it; and you have only been admitted into the number of believers, and marked with the indefeasible seal of salvation, upon the faith that you have sworn to the Lord, to love neither the world, nor what the world loves. Had you then answered, what you now repeat every day, that you find not the world so black and pernicious as we say; that, after all, it may innocently be loved; and that we only decry it so much, because we do not know it; and since you are to live in the world, you wish to live like those who are in it: had you answered thus, the church would not have received you into its bosom; would not have connected you with the hope of Christians, nor joined you in communion with those who have overcome the world. She would have advised you to go and live with those infidels who know not our Saviour. For this reason it was, that in former ages, those of the Catechumen, who could not prevail upon themselves to renounce the world and its pleasures, put off their baptism till death; and durst not approach the holy altar, to contract, by the sacrament, which regenerates us, engagements of which they knew the importance and sanctity; and to fulfil which they felt themselves still unqualified.
You are therefore required, by the most sacred of all vows, to hate the world; that is to say, not to conform yourselves to it. If you love it, if you follow its pleasures and customs, you are not only, as St. John says, the enemy of God, but you likewise renounce the faith given in baptism; you abjure the gospel of Jesus Christ; you are an apostate from religion, and trample under foot the most sacred and irrevocable vows that man can make. Now, what is this world which you ought to hate? I have only to answer, that it is the one you love. You will never mistake it by this mark. This world is a society of sinners, whose desires, fears, hopes, cares, projects, joys, and chagrins, no longer turn but upon the successes or misfortunes of this life. This world is an assemblage of people who look upon the earth as their country; the time to come as an exilement; the promises of faith as a dream; and death as the greatest of all misfortunes. This world is a temporal kingdom, where our Saviour is unknown; where those acquainted with his name, glorify him not as their Lord, hate his maxims, despise his followers, and neglect or insult him in his sacraments and worship. In a word, to give a proper idea at once of this world, it is the great number: behold the world which you ought to shun, hate, and combat against by your example!
Now, is this your situation in regard to the world? Are its pleasures a fatigue to you; do its excesses afflict you; do you regret the length of your pilgrimage here? Are not its laws your laws; its maxims your maxims? What it condemns, do you not condemn? Do you not approve what it approves? And should it happen, that you alone were left upon the earth, may we not say, that the corrupt world would be revived in you; and that you would leave an exact model of it to your posterity? When I say you, I mean, and I address myself to almost all men.
Where are those who sincerely renounce the pleasures, habits, maxims, and hopes of this world? We find many who complain of it, and accuse it of injustice, ingratitude, and caprice, who speak warmly of its abuses and errors; but in decrying, they continue to love, to follow it; they cannot bring themselves to do without it; in complaining of its injustice, they are only piqued at it, they are not undeceived; they feel its hard treatment, but they are unacquainted with its dangers; they censure, but where are those who hate it? And now my brethren, you may judge if many can have a claim to salvation.
Renounced the Flesh
In the second place, you have renounced the flesh at your baptism; that is to say, you are engaged not to live according to the sensual appetites; to regard even indolence and effeminacy as crimes; not to flatter the corrupt desires of the flesh; but to chastise, crush, and crucify it. This is not an acquired perfection; it is a vow: it is the first of all duties; the character of a true Christian and inseparable from faith. In a word you have anathematized Satan and all his works. And what are his works? That which composes almost the thread and end of your life; pomp, pleasure, luxury, and dissipation; lying, of which he is the father; pride, of which he is the model; jealousy and contention, of which he is the artisan. But I ask you, where are those who have not withdrawn the anathema they had pronounced against Satan? Now, consequently, (to mention it as we go along,) behold many of the questions answered.
You continually demand of us, if theatres, and other public places of amusement, be innocent recreations for Christians? In return, I have only one question to ask you: Are they the works of Satan or of Jesus Christ? for there can be no medium in religion. I mean not to say, but that many recreations and amusements may be termed indifferent. But the most indifferent pleasures which religion allows, and, which the weakness of our nature renders even necessary, belong, in one sense, to Jesus Christ, by the facility with which they ought to enable us to apply ourselves to more holy and more serious duties. Every thing we do, every thing we rejoice or weep at, ought to be of such a nature as to have a connexion with Jesus Christ, and to be done for his glory.
Now, upon this principle, the most incontestable, and most universally allowed in Christian morality, you have only to decide whether you can connect the glory of Jesus Christ with the pleasures of a theatre. Can our Saviour have any part in such a species of recreation? And before you enter them, can you, with confidence, declare to him, that, in so doing, you only propose his glory, and to enjoy the satisfaction of pleasing him! What! the theatres, such as they are at present, still more criminal by the public licentiousness of those unfortunate creatures who appear on them, than by the impure and passionate scenes they represent, the theatres are works of Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ would animate a mouth, from whence are to proceed sounds lascivious, and calculated to corrupt the heart? But these blasphemies strike me with horror. Jesus Christ would preside in assemblies of sin, where every thing we hear weakens his doctrines; where the poison enters into the soul by all the senses; where every art is employed to inspire, awaken, and justify the passions he condemns? Now, says Tertullian, if they are not the works of Jesus Christ, they must be the works of Satan. Every Christian, therefore, ought to abstain from them. When he partakes of them, he violates the vows of baptism. However innocent he may flatter himself to be, in bringing from these places an untainted heart, it is sullied by being there; since by his presence alone he has participated in the works of Satan, which he had renounced at baptism, and violated the most sacred promises he had made to Jesus Christ and to his church.
Description of the Just
These, my brethren, as I have already told you, are not merely advices and pious arts; they are the most essential of our obligations. But, alas! who fulfils them? Who even knows them? Ah! my brethren, did you know how far the title you bear, of Christian, engages you; could you comprehend the sanctity of your state; the hatred of the world, of yourself, and of every thing which is not of God, that it ordains you; that life according to the gospel, that continual watching, that guard over the passions; in a word, that conformity with Jesus Christ crucified, which it exacts of you; could you comprehend it, could you remember, that as you ought to love God with all your heart, and all your strength, a single desire that has not connection with him defiles you, you would appear a monster in your own sight. How! would you say to yourself, duties so holy, and morals so profane! A vigilance so continual, and a life so careless and dissipated! A love of God so pure, so complete, so universal, and a heart the continual prey of a thousand impulses, either foreign or criminal! If thus it is, who, O my God! will be entitled to salvation?
Few indeed, I am afraid, my dear hearers; at least it will not be you, (unless a change takes place,) nor those who resemble you; it will not be the multitude. Who shall be saved? Those who work out their salvation with fear and trembling; who live in the world without indulging in its vices. Who shall be saved? That Christian woman, who, shut up in the circle of her domestic duties, rears up her children in faith and in piety; divides her heart only between her Saviour and her husband; is adorned with delicacy and modesty; sits not down in the assemblies of vanity; makes not a law of the ridiculous customs of the world, but regulates those customs by the law of God; and makes virtue appear more amiable by her rank and example. Who shall be saved? That believer, who, in the relaxation of modern times, imitates the manners of the first Christians; whose hands are clean, and his heart pure; watchful, "he hath not lift up his soul to vanity," but who, in the midst of the great dangers of the world, continually applies himself to purify it; just, who swears not deceitfully against his neighbour, nor is indebted to fraudulent ways for the innocent aggrandisement of his fortune; generous, who with benefits repays the enemy who sought his ruin; sincere, who sacrifices not the truth to a vile interest, and knows not the part of rendering himself agreeable, by betraying his conscience; charitable, who makes his house and interest the refuge of his fellow-creatures, and himself the consolation of the afflicted; regards his wealth as the property of the poor; humble in affliction, Christian under injuries, and penitent even in prosperity. Who will merit salvation? You, my dear hearer, if you will follow these examples; for such are the souls to be saved. Now these assuredly do not form the greatest number.
While you continue, therefore, to live like the multitude, it is a striking proof that you disregard your salvation.
These, my brethren, are truths which should make us tremble; nor are they those vague ones which are told to all men, and which none apply to themselves. Perhaps there is not in this assembly an individual, who may not say of himself, "I live like the great number; like those of my rank, age, and situation; I am lost, should I die in this path." Now, can anything be more capable of alarming a soul, in whom some remains of care for his salvation still exist? It is the multitude nevertheless, who tremble not. There is only a small number of just, which operates apart its salvation, with fear and trembling; all the rest are tranquil. After having lived with the multitude, they flatter themselves they shall be particularized at death; every one augurs favourably for himself, and chimerically thinks he shall be an exception.
Prospect of the Last Judgment
On this account it is, my brethren, that I confine myself to you who, at present, are assembled here: I include not the rest of men: but consider you, alone existing on the earth. The idea which occupies and frightens me, is this, I figure to myself the present, as your last hour, and the end of the world; that the heavens are going to open above your heads; our Saviour in all his glory, to appear in the midst of this temple; and that you are only assembled here to wait his coming, like trembling criminals, on whom the sentence is to be pronounced, either of life eternal, or of everlasting death; for it is vain to flatter yourselves that you shall die more innocent than you are at this hour. All those desires of change with which you are amused, will continue to amuse you till death arrives; the experience of all ages proves it; the only difference you have to expect, will most likely be only a larger balance against you than what you would have to answer for at present; and from what would be your destiny, were you to be judged this moment, you may almost decide upon what will take place at your departure from life. Now, I ask you, (and, connecting my own lot with yours, I ask it with dread,) were Jesus Christ to appear in this temple, in the midst of this assembly, to judge us, to make the dreadful separation between the goats and sheep, do you believe that the greatest number of us would be placed at his right hand? Do you believe that the number would at least be equal? Do you believe there would even be found ten upright and faithful servants of the Lord, when formerly five cities could not furnish so many? I ask you. You know not; and I know it not. Thou alone, O my God! knowest who belong to thee.
But if we know not who belong to him, at least we know that sinners do not. Now, who are the just and faithful assembled here at present? Titles and dignities avail nothing; you are stripped of all these in the presence of your Saviour. Who are they? Many sinners who wish not to be converted; many more who wish, but always put it off; many others, who are only converted in appearance, and again fall back to their former courses: in a word, a great number, who flatter themselves they have no occasion for conversion. This is the party of the reprobate. Ah! my brethren, cut off from this assembly these four classes of sinners, for they will be cut off at the great day. And now appear, ye just: where are ye? O God! where are thy chosen? And what a portion remains to thy share!
My brethren, our ruin is almost certain; yet we think not of it. When, even in this terrible separation which will one day take place, there should be only one sinner in this assembly on the side of the reprobate, and that a voice from heaven should assure us of it, without particularizing him, who of us would not tremble, lest he should be the unfortunate and devoted wretch? Who of us would not immediately apply to his conscience, to examine if its crimes merited not this punishment? Who of us seized with dread, would not demand of our Saviour, as the apostles formerly did, and say, "Lord, is it I? " And should a small respite be allowed to our prayers, who of us would not use every effort, by tears, supplication, and sincere repentance, to avert the misfortune? Are we in our senses, my dear hearers? Perhaps, among all who listen to me, ten just would not be found, perhaps fewer. What do I know, O my God? I dare not with a fixed eye regard the depths of thy judgments and justice. More than one, perhaps, would not be found amongst us all. And this danger affects you not, my dear hearer? You persuade yourself, that in this great number who shall perish, you will be the happy individual; you, who have less reason, perhaps, than any other to believe it; you, upon whom alone the sentence of death should fall, were only one of all who hear me to suffer. Great God! how little are the terrors of thy law known to the world! In all ages, the just have shuddered with dread, in reflecting on the severity and extent of thy judgments upon the destinies of men. Alas! what do they prepare for the children of Adam!
But what are we to conclude from these grand truths? That all must despair of salvation? God forbid! The impious alone, to quiet his own feelings in his debaucheries, endeavours to persuade himself that all men shall perish as well as he.
This idea ought not to be the fruit of the present discourse, it is meant to undeceive you with regard to the general error, that any one may do whatever others do; to convince you, that, in order to merit salvation, you must distinguish yourself from the rest; in the midst of the world, lead a life to the glory of God, and resemble not the multitude.
When the Jews were led in captivity from Judea to Babylon, a little before they quitted their own country, the prophet Jeremiah, whom the Lord had forbid to leave Jerusalem, spoke thus to them: Children of Israel, when you shall arrive at Babylon, you will behold the inhabitants of that country, who carry upon their shoulders gods of silver and gold. All the people will prostrate themselves, and adore them. But you, far from allowing yourselves, by these examples, to be led to impiety, say to yourselves in secret, It is thou, O Lord! whom we ought to adore.
Let me now finish, by addressing to you the same words.
At your departure from this temple, you go to enter into another Babylon; you go to see idols of gold and silver, before which all men prostrate themselves; you go to regain the vain objects of human passions, wealth, glory, and pleasure, which are the gods of this world, and which almost all men adore; you will see those abuses which all the world permits, those errors which custom authorizes, and those debaucheries which an infamous fashion has almost constituted as laws. Then, my dear hearer, if you wish to be of the small number of true Israelites, say, in the secrecy of your heart, It is thou alone, O my God! whom we ought to adore. I wish not to have connection with a people which know thee not; I will have no other law than thy holy law; the gods which this foolish multitude adores, are not gods: they are the work of the hands of men; they will perish with them: thou alone, O my God! art immortal; and thou alone deservest to be adored. The customs of Babylon have no connection with the holy laws of Jerusalem. I will continue to worship thee with that small number of the children of Abraham, which still, in the midst of an infidel nation, composes thy people; with them I will turn all my desires toward the holy Zion. The singularity of my manners will be regarded as a weakness; but blessed weakness, O my God! which will give me strength to resist the torrent of customs, and the seduction of example. Thou wilt be my God in the midst of Babylon, as thou wilt one day be in Jerusalem.
Ah! the time of the captivity will at last expire; thou wilt call to thy remembrance Abraham and David; thou wilt deliver thy people; thou wilt transport us to the holy city; then wilt thou alone reign over Israel, and over the nations which at present know thee not. All being destroyed; all the empires of the earth; all the monuments of human pride annihilated, and thou alone remaining eternal, we then shall know that thou art the Lord of hosts, and the only God to be adored.
Behold the fruit which you ought to reap from this discourse; live apart; think, without ceasing, that the great number work their own destruction; regard as nothing all customs of the earth, unless authorized by the law of God; and remember, that holy men have, in all ages, been looked upon as singular.
It is thus, that, after distinguishing yourselves from the sinful on earth, you will be gloriously separated from them in eternity.
Now, to God the Father, etc.