A Sermon And Prayer Delivered by THOMAS LECHTWORTH at the Meetinghouse in the Park, Southwark, England, date unspecified.
Twelve Discourses Delivered Chiefly at the Meeting House of the People Called Quakers, in the Park, Southwark. Salem: Thomas Cushing, 1794.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Section 2: The 17th Century.
We have heard much; we have had line upon line, and precept upon precept; and there have been sent among us, who, as good scribes, out of their treasury, have brought forth things new and old. But, the essential important doctrines, which respect in particular our practical duties, make, it, is to be feared, but a flight impression on the minds of men, even upon those who are very fond of hearing, and have perhaps much to say concerning the mysteries of faith; who, whilst they lay much stress upon speculative opinions, have possessed too little of that real Christian love and zeal, which manifests itself by a conduct consistent with the commandments of the Author of the Christian dispensation. We want to be stirred up, to be excited to do that, which we want not to be instructed it is our duty to do. But, if there be any, in this auditory, whose understandings may have been bewildered in a long and tedious pursuit of speculative notions; or who have attempted, though but with little success, to investigate abstruse points, and to comprehend mysteries which the wisdom of the Holy Ghost may see meet to conceal from the foolishness of men (the prying curiosity of the creature, who is more apt to inquire than to obey) if there be any such, who are yet unsatisfied with regard to those grand & essential points, upon which their acceptance with the common Father of the human race depends; if there be any who are under the pressure of manifold sins and transgressions, are in doubt with respect to those means which are necessary to be pursued, in order that their transgressions may be forgiven of God, and that they may be accepted of him; if there be any, who in the anguish of their souls, have their hands upon their loins, with What shall I do to be save? it seems to me to be my duty to state them case, nearly perhaps as we have it represented the holy Scriptures, respecting one, formerly who proposed a question of this sort.
How shall I come before the Lord? or wherewithal shall I bow myself before the
most high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings and calves of a
year old? Shall I present him with ten thousands of rivers oil? Shall I give him
my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Now it seems to me, beyond all controversy, that by coming before the Lord,
bowing before the most high God, was meant, the bowing before him, coming
before .him, acceptably. What shall I do to recommend myself to the divine
notice, to have the load of my sins taken off? my transgressions canceled from
the book of his remembrance? In answer to this he was shewn that that which
God required man, as essential to his acceptance with him, was easily to be
apprehended, and within the compass of his power to perform; that is to say, of
man, favoured with the manifestation of the Spirit of God, and strengthened by
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Here our essential duties are summed up under three heads, which indeed comprehend much - the first is justice. A man must be morally just before he can be religiously good; whereas we oft-times see the divine order perverted, and that men are more zealous to be connected with parties, and more zealous for the interest of a sect, than to maintain even the character of common honesty.
Do justly. Now the obligation of justice is void of any kind of perplexity. We no sooner reflect upon the relation man stands in to man, but the propriety of justice is clear. We are without excuse, if we neglect to do justice; and though this perhaps may come under the appellation of what is called a moral duty, let us not think meanly of moral duties; for, notwithstanding the variety of speculative doctrines published here and there, and curious distinctions made upon points of religion, what is the state of moral justice among us? Let us look abroad among mankind; shall we not have cause to apprehend, of many, that their wits are employed, and time laid our, in planning schemes to take advantage of their neighbours? in laying a foundation to raise themselves on the spoils of others? to make themselves rich, and thereby fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in sin and perdition? It seems to be the study of a great part of mankind, to outwit and deceive the other; instances of notorious breaches of justice strike us on every hand, & everywhere, and which people are the more prompted to commit, from a desire of a luxurious and pompous mode of life, which is too generally prevalent among mankind. The disease of luxury is almost epidemical; - through all classes, there seems to be an emulation to excel, and many burst in the attempt.
I am concerned at heart, friends, to revive in your remembrance the obligation of
justice. We must be just and righteous before we shall be good; and it seems that
our Lord laid a peculiar stress on what are called moral doctrines, that of justice,
and that of mercy; insomuch that he says, If ye forgive not men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses; and again he says (which is
worthy of note it is called the golden rule; it is a law, a general law, of action,
Worthy of the Most High to give, and of his Son to promulgate among the
inhabitants of the earth) Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye
even so to them. Here is the essence of all the best human laws or statutes that
ever were composed in the world. All human laws, so far as they are consistent
with propriety, are founded in, and consistent with, this general law, which
comprehends all relations and connections among mankind: - Whatsoever ye
would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. If we would wish to
appear with honesty to our neighbours, let us act in the manner we would wish
them to act to us. If we would wish them not to take advantage of us, let us not
take advantage of them. As, in a time of distress, we would wish to have the
sympathy of our neighbours, and the hand of relief extended to us, let us not
forget the needy in the time of our prosperity, but do to them as we would they
should do to us. If we wish, being in danger, to be apprized of that danger, that
we might not fall into destruction, let us warn and admonish others. There is a
mutual dependence runs through society, and it is our duty to advertise one
another in hours of peril; and where we can do no positive good, we should
endeavour to prevent all possible evil. These are duties which we want not so
much to be convinced of, as be effectually incited to perform. But such is the
weakness of human nature, that people are more fond of taking up with
subscriptions to articles of faith, and of attendance to ordinances, and wish to get
rid of their sins in that way, and herein shew a great zeal; but that falls short of
the rectitude which the gospel enjoins, and is the end of the law, and the end of
the coming of Christ, and of offering himself a sacrifice for sin to produce order
and righteousness among all ranks of men. This was one of the ends of his
coming; and however specious our professions may be, however deeply we may
enter into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, yet if we possess not the spirit
of charity, and motives to justice and benevolence, what is it? If I speak, says the
apostle, with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become
as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; and though I have the gift of prophecy,
and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so
that could remove mountains; and have not charity, I am nothing. By charity, I
conceive, is not meant a gust of passion that would prompt a man occasionally
to do a good act, but a settled principle of goodness and benevolence, that would
prompt a man to general justice, and not to be just only; but also good. If I speak
with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, it will profit me
nothing; if I have all faith, and understand all mysteries, yet, says he, if I have
not charity, it profiteth me nothing; to shew, that, in order to our actions being
denominated good, they must proceed from a good motive and principle. He
shews that the semblance of charity is nothing; If I give my body to be burned,
and my goods to the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Therefore, let us endeavour to be really that we seem to be. Let us not content
ourselves with the semblance of holiness and charity, but let us hold the mystery
of the faith, in a pure conscience: for it is possible people may conceive right
notions of things, and yet, for want of receiving them as a principle influencing
their actions, they may hold the truth, but hold it in unrighteousness; but he, who
holds the mystery of faith as he ought to hold it, holds it in a pure conscience.
Our Saviour, in his ministry, was gentle in his address, and persuasive in his language. When he addressed the publicans and sinners, he found more openness to receive the gospel among that rank of people, than those who had the form of godliness, but denied the power thereof; insomuch, that it became a proverb, that he was the friend of publicans and sinners; for which conduct he gave this essential reason, that he cam not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Among these people there was a disposition to receive him; and among other things which the messengers of John were required to testify that they had seen, was, that the poor had the gospel preached to them. How did this friend of publicans and sinners, who spoke with so much gentleness, behave when he came to address the superior characters, in the pomp of their sanctity, who made broad phylacteries, who were zealous for the written and oral traditions of their fathers ? O ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell! Ye are like whited sepulchers, which, indeed, appear beautiful outward, are within full of dead mens bones. And he takes occasion to instruct his followers: Unless, says he, your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now, what was the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees ? It seems they appeared more than a little zealous for the rituals of the Mosaic dispensation, were punctual to the time of prayer, specious in their address to the Majesty of heaven, and performed all the service of the Jewish tabernacle; but, though they possessed the righteousness of the law, they were strangers to moral righteousness. Ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, says he, but what have you neglected to do ? Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and truth: these ought ye to have done, and not to have the other undone, by which, he does not reprehend them for their performance of the rituals of that dispensation which were obligatory until the sacrifice of Christ, yet he shews the superiority of moral and practical truths, mercy and judgment. These ought ye to have done; and, therefore, in point of order, when the prophet answers the question proposed to him, the first is, do justice; which I conceive not only comprehends the obligation we owe to one another, but the obligation we owe to the Supreme Being. While I am zealous to plead for the obligation of justice among men and the discharge of the duties of social relations I would by no means forget that there is a justice due to the glorious Father of all we possess. He has made us, not we ourselves; we are his offspring; he has communicated to us a variety of temporal and spiritual blessings, and we ought in point of gratitude, in point of justice, to make a proper application of those blessings, to render to him the duty that arises from the relation that we stand in to him as his children, the offspring of the everlasting Father; and, therefore, he call upon us, my son, give me thy heart. He would not require that of us which is not in point of justice our duty to comply with: give me thy heart; give me the best of thy affections; manifest left thy love to me by keeping my commandments, as a good steward; for, we are all, all ranks and classes of beings are, stewards of the manifold grace of God; and it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. The time is approaching, when it will be said, give an account of thy stewardship; for, thou mayest be no longer steward. Let us, therefore, ask ourselves this question, - what have we received? what improved? and what misapplied? and then ask, what owest thou to my Lord ? The debt is immense. We have received much: our improvements have been little; but wherewith shall we come before the Most High? In what way will the Father of mercies be propitious to us? Let us first confess our faults; let us not cover our sins, or seek to hide them; for, he that hides his sins shall not prosper: let us acknowledge our sins; let us encompass his altar in the multitude of his mercies; let us possess the penitential affectation of the poor publican, while the Pharisee could boast of his fasting twice in a week, giving alms of all he possessed, and not being as other men, even as the poor publican. Notwithstanding there pompous words, he was not accepted. The poor publican had nothing to plead, no merit to recommend him; and, therefore, under the contemplation of the infinite Majesty he was about, to approach, he had not courage to lift up his hands towards the habitation of his holiness; but, sighing, said, Lord be merciful to me, a sinner! If we possess these penitential affectations, we shall become the objects of that mercy which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ exemplified in his ministry, in his character; in his crucifixion, in his resurrection, and ascension into glory. It is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and we have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God: we have done the things we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done. And, such is the marvelous condescension of him who inhabits eternity, that he sent forth his Son, not with a message of unrelenting vengeance, not to assign to fallen spirits a habitation in those realms where the worm shall never die, and the fire shall never be quenched, but with the glorious and interesting message, that whosoever forsakes his fins shall be forgiven of his Father who is in heaven, and whosoever frames his life and manners, in consequence of it, with this penitential affection, he shall that inheritance which is unspeakably glorious; his sins shall be canceled from the book of the divine remembrance, and shall not stand against him in the judgment of the last day. If we confess our sins, God is merciful and just to forgive us our sins. I distinguish between the forgiveness of sins and the conversion of our souls. The forgiveness of fins is purely owing to the mediation and intercession of Jesus Christ; but the work of conversion requires and calls upon the object to be a co-worker with the influence of grace to purify the soul, and turn its feet into the just man's path, which is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Therefore, saith our Lord, my Father worketh, and I work : work ye also.
He came to his own, and his own received him not; but, to as many as received
him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to as many as
believed on his name. Therefore, we experience the remission of sins through
the forbearance of God; but the work of sanctification is not yet completed; the
office of the Mediator is not only to procure for us the remission of sins past, but
it is to correct those vices in our very souls which the gospel-axe is laid to the
root of, the corrupt tree in us, the root of our corrupt affections; and, till this has
effectually done its office, we shall not be cleansed from unrighteousness. God
Almighty grant, of his infinite mercy, that we may not be content under any
specious pretences of religion, but that we may seek to attain that purity of heart
without which we cannot enter the habitation of those glorious regions, where
nothing that defiles, or that worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, can enter. It is
the pure in heart who shall see God: it is those that have been reformed from the
errors of their ways, and whose affections are raised from earth to heaven, from
natural to spiritual objects; these are of the number of the Lord's redeemed, who,
when the time of their conflict shall be ended on earth, shall stand upon Mount
Sion to celebrate the praises of the great King forever and ever! I feel my heart
enlarge with the love of the gospel, with the benevolent spirit which ushered the
Saviour into the world: Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good
will to men.
We all stand in the relation of brethren to one another. We all stand in the relation of children to the universal Parent. We are his by creation. The Lord grant we may be his by adoption: that we may be sealed by him to the day of complete redemption: that we may he cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit: that we may be influenced by the most pure motives to conduct ourselves by his commandments here, and have a well-grounded hope of living with him hereafter! I commend us to the protection of our Almighty Father; and, finally, wish us to retain, in our remembrance, these important articles, that they may be written, as with the point of a diamond, upon the tablet of o or hearts. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. Consult the sacred oracles; thou wilt be instructed in that which thou art to know, qualified to perform that which thou art to do, be enlarged in thy best faculties and powers to enter into those regions where the inhabitants shall not say I am sick; for, the people who dwell therein are forgiven their iniquity.
I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build us' up in the most holy faith, and to give ns an inheritance, among all them who are sanctified. He hath shewn unto thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of thee; to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. Add, to your faith, virtue; to virtue, knowledge; to knowledge, temperance; to temperance, patience; to patience, godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; and, to brotherly-kindness, charity: and if there things be in you, and abound among you, they shall make you that you shall be neither barren, nor unfruitful, in the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!