Project Canterbury

Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon I. The Illuminating Power of the Gospel.

The light of the glorious Gospel. 2 Corinthians iv. 4.

"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither indeed can he, because they are spiritually discerned," is a declaration of holy writ, which finds its attestation in the innumerable prejudices and passions which cloud the researches of the understanding, and oppose the most formidable obstacles to the reception of divine truth. It is a declaration further and most conclusively established by the fact, that the human intellect, in its highest state of natural perfection, strengthened and sharpened by the discipline of intense and pro-found investigation, was unable to draw aside the vail that concealed the spiritual and eternal world. Reason, by her most vigorous efforts, could never settle on a certain basis the principles and rules of virtue; nor could she, by all her soothings, calm the solicitude with which man contemplated that futurity, into the dark abyss of which he was hastening. It is, therefore, an essential requisite in a system designed for the salvation of man, that it should reveal and establish [1/2] those truths necessary to his duty, and his happiness here and hereafter, which human reason could not discover.

The "light of the glorious Gospel" possesses this illuminating power. It illuminates,--

By the splendour and fulness of its revelations,

By the simplicity and clearness of its precepts,

By the brightness of its example,

By the influences of its divine graces.

The Gospel illuminates,--

By the splendour and fulness of its revelations.

It sheds the brightest lustre on every subject connected with the spiritual welfare and happiness of man; it leaves nothing to conjecture, to uncertain deductions, to dubious hope; and brings down divine truth from her celestial abode, in that simple and resplendent form which is calculated to excite for her a cordial reception. That spiritual and divine knowledge which reason ardently but ineffectually sought, the Gospel has revealed to the humblest understanding. Before its glorious light appeared, various and contending deities divided among themselves the dominion of the universe, and received the acknowledgment and homage not only of the illiterate multitude, but of the learned and the mighty. But the Gospel places at the head of the creation, which he called into existence, and on the throne of supreme dominion, one eternal and infinite God. The sensual imagination of man clothed the deities to whom he rendered homage with corporeal natures, with the wants and imperfections, the licentious desires and criminal passions of the human heart. But the Gospel, [2/3] discarding these absurd and corrupting notions of Deity, reveals God as an infinite and eternal intelligence, whose attributes place him at an infinite distance from imperfection and sin, and constitute him the source of purity and goodness as well as of power. The corrupt nations celebrated the worship of their divinities in rites the most licentious, and sought to propitiate their displeasure by sacrifices the most inhuman. But the Gospel of Christ directs the worshippers of the Almighty Father to offer to him the acceptable homage of an enlightened and grateful heart, and to worship him who is a spirit, in spirit and in truth. Ineffectual were the efforts of the human intellect to ascertain the mode by which the holy and just Sovereign of the universe could become reconciled to man, the wilful transgressor of his laws; painful was the suspense, whether all the costly splendour of heathen worship, whether the hecatombs that dyed the altars with human blood, could propitiate the wrath of an indignant heaven. But the Gospel of Christ exhibits the divine perfections meeting in holy concord at the cross of Christ, holiness vindicated, justice satisfied, and mercy triumphing in the all-sufficient atonement which a divine victim there made. The feeble lights of reason could not unfold the destinies of futurity, nor quiet in the soul the dreadful apprehension, that the grave might extinguish the powers and sensible ties of that spirit which panted for immortality. But "the light of the glorious Gospel" dispels every doubt, and confirms every feeble hope. The dark recesses of the tomb are opened to the eye of Christian faith--eternal day dawns upon it--it is the path by which the soul passes to the region of immortal joys.

[4] Blessed Sun of Righteousness, how glorious the lustre which thy sacred beams cast upon truths that it was impossible for man to contemplate without the deepest emotion and anxiety! Blessed light of the Gospel, sent in mercy from the eternal Father of lights; we behold in thy revelations, (divine truth shining forth resplendent and glorious,)--the infinite and eternal Jehovah, arrayed in attributes the most illustrious and attractive, commanding, from the throne of righteous dominion, our enlightened homage and obedience; we behold a divine Saviour making a full propitiation for man's guilt, restoring the offender to the favour of his God, and preparing for the heir of sin and death the bliss of an immortal existence.

But further--the Gospel illuminates by the simplicity and clearness of its precepts.

These convey the most convincing and affecting instruction through the whole circle of religious, moral, and social duty; confirming what was before doubtful; enlightening what, was before obscure; carrying to higher perfection virtues which were before acknowledged; and revealing and establishing duties most essential and important, of which reason was before ignorant, or which, in arrogance and pride, she had rejected. The pure and heavenly rules of morality are delivered in language concise yet perspicuous, sublime yet level to the meanest capacity.

The ancient schools of philosophers entertained contradictory ideas as to the foundation of morality, and the ends and the rewards of duty; and while they were engaged in refined disquisitions concerning the truth and importance of their respective theories, the claims and the excellence of virtue [4/5] were wholly concealed from the corrupt multitude. But the Gospel, referring the obligation of virtue to the will of the infinite and all-wise Lawgiver, and constituting, as the end and the reward of duty, our own spiritual happiness, and the attainment of the everlasting favour of our Maker and Judge, has thus erected, on a basis stable as the eternal throne, the foundation of virtue; and in the discharge of duty, engaged, by motives powerful as the endless and infinite bliss of heaven, all the affections of the soul. While heathen philosophy exhibited, in the most glowing and attractive colours; passions which, while they flattered the pride and roused the ambition of corrupt nature, were destructive of the real perfection and peace of the soul, and carried desolation and misery through the world, she rejected with scorn from her imperious code, those meek and gentle dispositions which, making the individual happy, contributed most powerfully to the happiness of others. These benign and amiable virtues the Gospel enjoins as essential qualifications for future blessedness, while she rejects those haughty and sanguinary passions, which so often visit the earth with misery, and assimilate men to the fiends of darkness. In fine, the code of morality which the Gospel enjoins, sheds luminous and satisfactory light on every part of duty, exalts and establishes the obligation and the rewards of virtue, and exhibits her in the simple and engaging lustre of that heavenly wisdom from which she emanates.

In one comprehensive precept is summed up, by the divine Author of the Gospel, the whole of our duty to God--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with [5/6] all thy mind"--thus engaging in love to the first and best of Beings, all the powers of the understanding, all the energies of the will, and all the affections of the heart: directing the understanding to exercise on him who is the fountain of truth, her most exalted contemplations; exciting the will ever to choose, as the supreme good, the infinite source of perfection; and awakening all the affections to seek, in the fruition of the Author of all purity and bliss, full and unalloyed felicity.

The important circle of relative and social duties the Gospel also regulates by a single precept, equally comprehensive and impressive--"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Are we eagerly attentive to our own interest and advantage? alive to the claims of our own reputation and character? and resolute in vindicating ourselves from the attacks of calumny and malice? When prosperity pours into our lap her treasures, are we elated with joy? and when overwhelmed with calamity, do we cast around the look of supplication for the sympathizing heart to share our woes, for the benevolent hand to succour us? This is the measure of our duty to our fellow-men established by the Gospel. Their interest we are to consider as our own; their reputation and character we are to defend and vindicate with the same bold and honest zeal with which we would repel attacks on our own; with the same emotions are we to hail the prosperity which brightens their path, as if its beams cheered our own; and the adversity which assails them, should awaken in us kindred emotions of grief and solicitude. Sacred spirit of Christian morals! by teaching us to do unto others as we would they should do unto us, thou dost make our [6/7] own feelings, wants, and interests, the measures of the kindness and the good offices we are to render to our fellow-men. Sublime spirit of the Gospel of Christ! thou dost excite in the soul those tender and amiable dispositions, which, if their sway were universal, would render the society of men on earth an image of the hallowed and peaceful fellowship of the blest in heaven.

Review the precepts of the Gospel with respect to the important branch of duties which we owe to ourselves. The virtues of humility and of meekness, of temperance and of chastity, are explained and urged in terms the most clear and forcible, and are all summed up with the most impressive and affecting energy, in the one sublime and luminous precept: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Exalted precept! which, not satisfied with correcting the exterior, with adorning the outside of our character, dost explore with divine light the inmost recesses of the heart; and dost insist on that universal and sacred purity which will qualify us for the fruition and enjoyment of God. In the code of the Gospel only thy lustre shines. The gods of unenlightened reason were beings sensual and impure. Impure and sensual were their votaries; for the heathen laws of morals were destitute of that enlightening power, which, searching every faculty of the soul, expels the darkness of impurity, and establishes the reign of holiness and peace.

You thus perceive, that the Gospel of Christ illuminates by the splendour and fulness of its revelations, and the simplicity and clearness of its precepts. Its illuminating power is still further increased by the splendid example which it exhibits.

[8] It is in example that principles display their force and power; it is example which so strongly illustrates duty, which softens its rigour, which removes from it the difficulties that intimidate, and which sheds on it a lustre that attracts, and animates, and excites to ardent persevering virtue. The rules of morals which heathen philosophers delivered, were clothed in all the charms of elegant diction, and enforced by all the graces of majestic and persuasive elocution; but their influence was yet partial and feeble, because, besides other defects and imperfections, they were destitute of the enlightening, fascinating, and impressive power of example. Principles which did not exert their commanding sway over those who professed them; rules of morals, which, while they were designed to impress the excellence and enforce the practice of virtue, still left the teachers who delivered them under the sway of their passions, and their vices were deemed fallacious and visionary; intended merely to gratify the vain curiosity of the aspiring understanding, and to amuse and interest the imaginations of men.

What exalted lustre then is shed on the sacred precepts of the Gospel! what decided superiority over every other system, does our holy religion possess in the perfect example of its divine Author! Not only did Jesus Christ unfold the most splendid view of the divine nature and attributes, and exhibit, in the most perspicuous and animating light, the extensive circle of religious, moral, and social duties--he forcibly illustrated his precepts, and impressed them on the hearts and affections of men, by that perfect and spotless example in which every virtue was displayed in its highest [8/9] purity, and every duty exhibited in its brightest lustre.

This example was indeed perfect, for it was the example of him in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead. Amidst the brilliant lustre with which human example glows, we have to lament some blemishes that alloy its brightness. But the example of Christ was animated by the attributes of his divine nature. Imperfection and impurity came not near his hallowed person. Clad with the garments of eternal righteousness, he was "holy, harmless, undefiled." On every virtue that he practised, he shed the light of divine glory; in every duty that he discharged, he exhibited the splendour of divine holiness.

And his example thus perfect was universal.

Even in the possession of the most brilliant talents, man, from the weakness and error to which his nature is subject, is not calculated to shine in all the various characters and situations of life. The circumstances that influence the exertions of the human powers are so varied, that in no one individual can be found the sublime talents and powers necessary to meet all the varying calls of duty, and to shine forth with perfect lustre in every change of situation. To exhibit with the highest splendour all the varied and opposite virtues of our nature, and to shine forth with the highest excellence in all the numerous and variously modified relations of duty, was alone the attribute of him who united to a human a divine nature.

And his example thus perfect, discharging every duty to the uttermost--thus universal, extending to every virtue--was also familiar, coming down to the level of ordinary scenes and ordinary duties.

[10] Lastly. The light of the glorious Gospel is dispensed in the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit.

The natural weakness of the powers of the human mind, and the opposition of its prejudices and passions to the exalted and holy truths of the Gospel, would seem to indicate the necessity of divine illumination, of a constant communion between the soul and that Being who is the only source of spiritual knowledge. That the mode of this communion is inscrutable, constitutes no objection to it; for no truth which relates to the divine mind and the divine operations can be brought within the comprehension of our finite faculties. The doctrine of divine illumination and grace seems indeed to be a sentiment of nature: it is the foundation of all those invocations for direction and aid which the wise and good, in every age, have addressed to the infinite though unknown fountain of truth, and goodness, and power. Grateful then should we be that the Gospel provides those illuminations of the Holy Spirit, by which we are enlightened to discern and to receive the great truths of salvation, and guided "in the ways of God's laws, and in the works of his commandments."

When then, my brethren, the light of the glorious Gospel thus illuminates by the splendour of its revelations, the clearness of its precepts, the brightness of the example which it furnishes, and the grace of the Holy Spirit which it dispenses, let it not be our condemnation that light has thus come into the world, and we have chosen darkness rather than light. How inestimable is that Gospel which thus affords full and infallible instruction on those [10/11] spiritual and immortal interests of man, in regard to which reason could afford only plausible conjectures! The powers of the human intellect among the philosophers of the Gentile world, produced works of imagination and genius that have sever been surpassed: and yet, on the subject of religion, how erroneous and corrupt their systems, how contradictory their conclusions, how feeble and fluctuating their hopes! (and their views of immortality were interrupted by the gloom of the grave.) Extinguish the light of the glorious Gospel, and darkness covers the spiritual world--man's nature and destiny, his duties and his hopes. In vain will his guilty spirit seek reconciliation and peace, and explore the way of access to the offended Majesty of heaven. In vain will his virtuous powers pant after the full knowledge and enjoyment of the Author of his being, and, turning with disgust from the errors, and sins, and sorrows of this world, look for perfection and bliss in an immortal existence. He sinks into the grave, hoping indeed that it may not close for ever upon his spirit, but yet dreading lest the sceptre of oblivion may for ever rule his slumbers.

My brethren, the light of the glorious Gospel relieves us from these doubts and fears that would alloy all our virtuous joys. Let us often reflect with gratitude on the inestimable gift; on the exalted privilege of being called to the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom to know is life eternal. Let us not obstruct, by the pride or presumption of human reason, or by impenitence and sin, the illuminating efficacy of the light of the Gospel on our hearts. Humble, submissive, penitent, and obedient, let us seek, by [11/12] fervent prayer, that divine illumination and grace by which our faith will daily become more strong and triumphant, and our obedience daily more sincere and holy, until our faith shall terminate in the vision of the transcendent brightness of the divine glory, and our obedience in the rewards of perfect and eternal bliss.

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