Sermon 4 (posthumous works)
Farewell Discourse at Cavers
THE latter months of Dr. Chalmers connexion with Cavers were engrossed with the preparations for the ensuing winter, during which he taught the Mathematical Classes in the University of St. Andrews. These preparations, and perhaps also the hurry of separation, have left evident marks of haste upon this farewell discourse. The reader, besides, will notice that in two instances an "&c" is placed at the end of a paragraph. This mark frequently occurs in the manuscript of the earlier sermons, indicating the insertion at the time of delivery of some favourite passage previously written and committed to memory. A sermon so hurriedly written, so incomplete, and so fragmentary as that which follows, should not have been inserted had it not been that a comparison of its closing address, with the other farewell discourses given in this volume, promotes so largely one of the leading purposes of the present publication.
TITUS I. 1. "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness,"
It has been insinuated to the prejudice of our religion, that its effects are far from corresponding with the magnificent anticipations of its first founders. They predicted that in the establishment of Christianity we would enjoy the reign of benevolence and peace. But let us survey the broad aspect of the world and its inhabitants - the ambition which involves it in the miseries of war - the selfishness which is unmoved by the plaintive cry of distress - the deceit which fills the earth with the exclamations of the injured - the cruelty which feasts on spectacles of pain - the licentiousness which degenerates a people, as it withers the graces of youthful modesty - the superstition which in its grovelling subjection to externals deserts the manly and respectable virtues of social life, - surely wickedness aboundeth in the land, and the cry thereof ascendeth unto heaven.
Are these the boasted effects of religion - of the religion which was to extend through the world the triumphs of truth and of virtue - of that religion which annnounced peace on earth and goodwill to the children of men; and which promised to unite the world into one family by the sacred law of love? For what purpose that illustrious succession of prophets who appeared to alleviate the gloom and ignorance of antiquity? For what purpose did the Son of God descend from the celestail abodes of love and of virtue - live amid the sufferings of persecution and injustice, and die a martyr to that cause He had so nobly defended? Even now, though we possess the sacred treasure of His instructions - though refined by all the improvements of art - though educated in all the wisdom of the ancients - even now we exhibit the vices which disgraced an age of ignorance and barbarity.
To palliate, however, the enormity of the picture, it may be urged that the most important effects of Christianity are from their nature invisible, while the prominent features of vice must strike the observation of the most superficial and indifferent. Vice stalks abroad, and exposes its shameless forehead in the face of day. It attracts attention by the glaring deformity of its character - by the tumultuous disorder it creates in society - by the outcry of those whom it injures - by the transitory splendour of its career - and by the disgraceful ignominy of its fall. Virtue seeks the shade ; it shrinks from applause; it delights in peaceful unostentatious retirement. To find virtue we must seek for it, because it shuns observation. Virtue is humble and unambitious of praise; it doeth good in secret; it is content with the gratitude of those orphans whom it shelters - of those aged to whose sickness it administers - of that family whom it rescues from want. It seeks something nobler than the applause of men.
Amid the sufferings of contempt and injustice it is supported by the testimony of its own conscience, and by the prospect of that day when it shall be restored to its honours and invested with the glories of an immortal crown. But though these considerations may seem in part to alleviate the darkness of the picture, and to console our feelings amid the multiplied displays of human vice, yet truth and justice force us to proclaim the affecting depravity of man. The more we extend our acquaintance with human life, the more we see of villany in all its varieties. Here one feasting on the spoils of injustice and oppression - there another plotting his wiles of seduction; here one under the mask of friendship broods over dark and deceitful intentions - there another disguises the vices of his character in the parade and solemnity of religious observances; here parents living on the infamy of their children - there children afflicting the old age of their parents a by their ingratitude. Who can enumerate the endless vanities of human guilt? Now envy sickens at the prospect of anothers' bliss - now calumny delights to spread its insidious poison - now licentiousness grovels in the low haunts of pollution - now cruelty rejoices in the crash of families. Yes, we have often heard the instructors of religion reproached for their sloth and indifference; but let critics remember that the scanty produce of the harvest may be imputed to the unmanageable nature of the soil as well as to the indolence of the husbandman; let them remember that the great obstacles to the advancement of religion exist among themselves; in the perverseness of their own character; in the restraints which their prejudices impose upon the efforts of pure and enlightened teachers; in their determined opposition to the practical and improving part of Christianity; in the baneful influence of that spurious and perverted orthodoxy which silences the remonstrances of conscience, and gives impunity to guilt.
The business of a Christian minister is to hold up vice to infamy, and to denounce the thunders of heaven on the presumptuous. He should tremble to prostitute the honours of his Masters' name by employing it to charm the wicked into security, and to save them from the troublesome restrictions of duty. He should scorn to lower the dignity of the pulpit by converting it into a vehicle of licentious instruction; and for whom ? - to please the vilest and the meanest of mankind. He should impress upon their feelings that all the parade of external ordinances will not save the presumptuously wicked from the horrors of their impending punishment. No; let them strive to get to heaven as they may by their punctualities and their externals - let them sit at the table of the Lord - let them drink of that wine which is the symbol of a Redeemers' blood - all their sighs and tears and heavenly aapirations will avail them nothing while they retain deceitfu1 malignity of their characters.
No; the supernatural charms they ascribe to the sacramental cup will no more avail than the spells of conjurors or the delusions of witchcraft. They may eat and drink and retire from the ordinance of the supper with the deceitful assurance of the Almightys' favour; but tremble, 0 hypocrites, you have drunk the poison of the soul; you have tasted the seeds of disease and death and everlasting destruction, &
However much the Church of Scotland may have suffered from the contempt and censure of its adversaries, there is one part of its constitution which will ever be admired by those who entertain a sincere and enlightened attachment to religion - that which ensures the independent provision of its ministers. When a teacher of religion derives his support from the spontaneous liberality of that congregation over which he presides, the chief care of his heart is often to please and not to instruct them - to flatter the vices of the rich, because he has much to expect from their bounty - to flatter the vices of the poor, because they compensate by their numbers for the smallness of their individual contributions. What can be expected from the efforts of an instructor fettered as be is by such shameful and humiliating restraints? It is in vain to look to him as the dignified and intrepid champion of pure Christianity; it is vain to hope that through his manly and disinterested efforts we shall behold the downfal of those corruptions which were grafted on the religion of Jesus in the dark ages of superstition. His instructions will not dispel prejudices but confirm them; will not correct the prevailing vices of sentiment but perpetuate the reign of Ignorance and error, &c.;
On terminating the short career of my labours as your religious instructor, it is natural to inquire what has been accomplished. We refer the answer to your own hearts. It will be declared in your future conduct and conversation. Much must have been imperfectly understood, much has been forgotten, much may have excited a momentary impression of goodness, but an impression which has now been effaced amid the bustle and temptations of the world. Some we hope may have produced the fruits of righteousness and life everlasting. Have virtuous resolutions been confirmed? Has guilt been appalled in its career? Has the despair of the penitent been revived to confidence and joy? Has the gloom of affliction been brightened by the consoling prospects of immortality? Have the instructions you have heard been useful in protecting the young and inexperienced from the dangers of an ensnaring example, and from the artifices of an intriguing villany? Have they been useful in alarming the careless indifference of parents to the moral and religious education of their offspring, and in teaching children to respect the authority of age? Have they been useful in humbling the pride of oppression, in exposing to contempt the infamy of falsehood, in detecting the baseness of calumny, or in impressing the terrors of vengeance on the determined impenitence of guilt?
Have they been useful in alarming the impious security of the wicked, in teaching them that all creeds and all ordinances are unable to shelter them from judgment, and that their only refuge is a sincere and effectual repentance? Have they been useful in inspiring gratitude to Him who for our sakes lived a life of suffering and died a death of ignominy, whose morality has improved and adorned the face of society, and whose doctrines have ennobled the existence of man by unfolding to him the prospects of his immortal destiny? These are triumphs more ennobling to the teacher of virtue than all the splendour of opulence, or than all the authority of power. They will support his footsteps amid the storms of this dreary and tempestuous world: they will cheer the gloomy desolation of age, and be a sweet remembrance in the hour of death. Let our last words be those of tenderness and affection. Let our parting admonition be reserved as the legacy of friendship. You are in a world of care and suffering - now labouring under the embarrassments of poverty, now afflicted with the disgrace and ingratitude of children, now pining in the infirmity of disease, and now oppressed by the insolence of power. Hold fast to religion. It will console you amid the ills and perplexities of life; it will be unto you as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; it will bless you in the evening of your days, and conduct you to the glories of an eternal world.
August 28th 1802
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