Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, FAMILIAR EPISTLES ON A SERMON, 'OFFICE & OPERATIONS OF HOLY SPIRIT': 5, by JOHN BYROM



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FAMILIAR EPISTLES ON A SERMON, 'OFFICE & OPERATIONS OF HOLY SPIRIT': 5, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: When christians first receiv'd the joyful news
Last Line: The hackney'd terms—may next salute your eyes.


WHEN christians first receiv'd the joyful news—
Messiah come—unmix'd with worldly views;
When the whole church with heavenly grace was bless'd,
And, from the Spirit Comforter, possess'd
One heart, one mind, one view to common good;
Then was the real gospel understood.

Then was the time—to cite what you will find
The preacher noting—"when the world combin'd
"Its pow'rs against it, but could not destroy;
"When holy martyrs, with enraptur'd joy,
"Encounter'd death; enabled to sustain
"Its utmost terror, and its utmost pain:
"At such a juncture, heav'n's uncommon aid
"Shone forth, to help humanity display'd.

"But now"—his reason for abated grace,
Diff'rence of primitive and present case—
"Now—ease, and honour" (mind the maxim, friend;)
"On the profession of the faith attend:
"At first establish'd by diviner means,
"On human testimony now it leans:
"Supports itself, as other facts must do,
"That rest on human testimony too;
"Sufficient strength is the conviction there,
"To make the present christian persevere."

Here lies the secret—that may soon unfold
Why modern christians fall so short of old;
Why they appear to have such diff'rent looks,—
The men of spirit, and the men of books:
When racks and gibbets, torment and distress
Attended them who ventur'd to confess,
They had, indeed, a fix'd and firm belief,
To die for one who suffer'd like a thief;
Stretch'd on the wheel, or burning in the flame,
To preach a crucified Redeemer's name;
Courage, like this, compendious proof supplied
Of heav'n's true kingdom, into which they died:
Thus was the wisdom of the world struck dumb,
And all the pow'rs of darkness overcome;
Gospel prevail'd, by its internal light,
And gave the subject for the pen to write.

But when the world, with a more fatal plan,
To flatter, what it could not force, began;
When ease and honour, as the preacher saith,
Attended the profession of the faith;
Then wrought its mischief, in the too secure,
The secret poison, slower but more sure:
Commodious maxims then began to spread,
And set up learning in the Spirit's stead:
The life diminish'd as the books increas'd,
Till men found out that miracles were ceas'd;
That, with respect to succours more sublime,
The gospel promise was but for a time;
That inspiration, amongst men of sense,
Was all a mere fanatical pretence:
And divers like discoveries, that grant
To ease and honour just what faith they want—

Faith to profess that wondrous things of old
Did really happen, as the books have told;
But with a caution, never to allow
The possibility of happ'ning now:
For, as the world went on, it might affect
An honourable ease, in some respect,
To own celestial comfort still inspir'd,
And suff'ring courage, as at first requir'd;
Quite proper then; but equally unfit,
When once the sacred canon had been writ:
For upon that (is gravely here averr'd)
Part of the Spirit's office was transferr'd;
Books once compos'd, th' illuminating part
He ceas'd Himself; and left to human art
To find, within his scriptural abode,
Th' enlight'ning grace that presence once bestow'd.

These suppositions if a man suppose,
You see th' immediate consequence that flows;
That men and churches afterwards attack'd,
Are pre-demolish'd, by asserted fact;
Which, once advanc'd, may, with the greatest ease,
Condemn whatever christians he shall please:
Owing to his forbearance, in some shape,
If aught th' extensive havoc shall escape.

With such a fund of learning, and a skill
To make it serve what argument he will;
With choice of words, for any chosen theme,
With an alertness rulingly supreme;
What, sir, can single persons or a sect,
When he is pleas'd to preach at 'em, expect?

Just what they meet with, in the present case—
All the dogmatic censure and disgrace
That a commanding genius can exert,
When it becomes religiously alert;
With narrow proofs, and consequences wide,
Sets all opponents of its rote aside;
The PAPISTS first, and then th' inferior fry,
FANATICS, vanquish'd with a—"Who but I?"
These are the modish epithets that strike
At true religion and at false alike;
Of these reproaches infidels are full;
Their use in others verging down to dull:
How one, who is no infidel, applies
The hackney'd terms—may next salute your eyes.





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