The World’s Great Sermons
By Grenville Kleiser

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Biographical Note

Robert South, who was born in the borough of Hackney, London, England, in 1638, attracted wide attention by his vigorous mind and his clear, argumentative style in preaching. Some of his sermons are notable specimens of pulpit eloquence. A keen analytical mind, great depth of feeling, and wide range of fancy combined to make him a powerful and impressive speaker. By some critics his style has been considered unsurpassed in force and beauty. What he lacked in tenderness was made up in masculine strength. He was a born satirist. Henry Rogers said of him: “Of all the English preachers, South seems to furnish, in point of style, the truest specimens of pulpit eloquence. His robust intellect, his shrewd common sense, his vehement feelings, and a fancy always more distinguished by force than by elegance, admirably qualified him for a powerful public speaker.” South became prebendary of Westminster in 1663, canon at Oxford in 1670, and rector of Islip in 1678. An edition of his writings was published in 1823. He died in 1716.




So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.–Genesis i., 27.

How hard it is for natural reason to discover a creation before revealed, or, being revealed, to believe it, the strange opinions of the old philosophers, and the infidelity of modern atheists, is too sad a demonstration. To run the world back to its first original and infancy, and, as it were, to view nature in its cradle, and trace the outgoings of the Ancient of Days in the first instance and specimen of His creative power, is a research too great for any mortal inquiry; and we might continue our scrutiny to the end of the world, before natural reason would be able to find out when it began.

Epicurus’s discourse concerning the original of the world is so fabulous and ridiculously merry that we may well judge the design of his philosophy to have been pleasure, and not instruction. Aristotle held that it streamed by connatural result and emanation from God, the infinite and eternal Mind, as the light issues from the sun; so that there was no instant of duration assignable of God’s eternal existence in which the world did not also coexist. Others held a fortuitous concourse of atoms–but all seem jointly to explode a creation, still beating upon this ground, that the producing something out of nothing is impossible and incomprehensible; incomprehensible, indeed, I grant, but not therefore impossible. There is not the least transaction of sense and motion in the whole man, but philosophers are at a loss to comprehend, I am sure they are to explain it. Wherefore it is not always rational to measure the truth of an assertion by the standard of our apprehension.

But, to bring things even to the bare preception of reason, I appeal to any one who shall impartially reflect upon the ideas and conceptions of his own mind, whether he doth not find it as easy and suitable to his natural notions to conceive that an infinite Almighty power might produce a thing out of nothing, and make that to exist de novo, which did not exist before, as to conceive the world to have had no beginning, but to have existed from eternity, which, were it so proper for this place and exercise, I could easily demonstrate to be attended with no small train of absurdities. But then, besides that the acknowledging of a creation is safe, and the denial of it dangerous and irreligious, and yet not more, perhaps much less, demonstrable than the affirmative; so, over and above, it gives me this advantage, that, let it seem never so strange, uncouth, and incomprehensible, the nonplus of my reason will yield a fairer opportunity to my faith.

The work that I shall undertake from these words shall be to show what this image of God in man is, and wherein it doth consist. Which I shall do these two ways: 1. Negatively, by showing wherein it does not consist. 2. Positively, by showing wherein it does.

For the first of these we are to remove the erroneous opinion of the Socinians. They deny that the image of God consisted in any habitual perfections that adorned the soul of Adam, but, as to his understanding, bring him in void of all notion, a rude, unwritten blank; making him to be created as much an infant as others are born; sent into the world only to read and to spell out a God in the works of creation, to learn by degrees, till at length his understanding grew up to the stature of his body; also without any inherent habits of virtue in his will; thus divesting him of all, and stripping him of his bare essence; so that all the perfection they allowed his understanding was aptness and docility, and all that they attributed to his will was a possibility to be virtuous.

But wherein, then, according to their opinion, did this image of God consist? Why, in that power and dominion that God gave Adam over the creatures; in that he was vouched His immediate deputy upon earth, the viceroy of the creation, and lord-lieutenant of the world. But that this power and dominion is not adequately and formally the image of God, but only a part of it, is clear from hence, because then he that had most of this would have most of God’s image; and consequently Nimrod had more of it than Noah, Saul than Samuel, the persecutors than the martyrs, and Caesar than Christ Himself, which, to assert, is a, blasphemous paradox. And if the image of God is only grandeur, power, and sovereignty, certainly we have been hitherto much mistaken in our duty, and hereafter are by all means to beware of making ourselves unlike God by too much self-denial and humility. I am not ignorant that some may distinguish between a lawful authority and actual power, and affirm that God’s image consists only in the former, which wicked princes, such, as Saul and Nimrod, have not, tho they possess the latter. But to this I answer,

1. That the Scripture neither makes nor owns such a distinction, nor anywhere asserts that when princes begin to be wicked they cease of right to be governors. Add to this, that when God renewed this charter of man’s sovereignty over the creatures to Noah and his family we find no exception at all, but that Shem stood as fully invested with this right as any of his brethren.

2. But, secondly, this savors of something ranker than Socinianism, even the tenants of the fifth monarchy, and of sovereignty founded only upon saintship, and therefore fitter to be answered by the judge than the divine, and to receive its confutation at the bar of justice than from the pulpit.

Having now made our way through this false opinion, we are in the next place to lay down positively what this image of God in man is. It is, in short, that universal rectitude of all the faculties of the soul, by which they stand apt and disposed to their respective offices and operations, which will be more fully set forth by taking a distinct survey of it in the several faculties belonging to the soul.

1. In the understanding. 2. In the will. 3. In the passions or affections.

I. And, first, for its noblest faculty, the understanding: it was then sublime, clear, and aspiring–and, as it were, the soul’s upper region, lofty and serene, free from vapors and disturbances of the inferior affections. It was the leading, controlling faculty; all the passions wore the colors of reason; it was not consul, but dictator. Discourse was then almost as quick as intuition; it was nimble in proposing, firm in concluding; it could sooner determine than now it can dispute. Like the sun, it had both light and agility; it knew no rest but in motion, no quiet but in activity. It did not so properly apprehend, as irradiate the object; not so much find, as make things intelligible. It did not arbitrate upon the several reports of sense, and all the varieties of imagination, like a drowsy judge, not only hearing, but also directing their verdict. In sum, it was vegete, quick, and lively, open as the day, untainted as the morning, full of the innocence and sprightliness of youth, it gave the soul a bright and a full view into all things, and was not only a window, but itself the prospect. Briefly, there is as much difference between the clear representations of the understanding then and the obscure discoveries that it makes now as there is between the prospect of a casement and of a keyhole.

Now, as there are two great functions of the soul, contemplation and practise, according to that general division of objects, some of which only entertain our speculation, others also employ our actions, so the understanding, with relation to these, not because of any distinction in the faculty itself, is accordingly divided into speculative and practical; in both of which the image of God was then apparent.

1. For the understanding speculative. There are some general maxims and notions in the mind of man which are the rules of discourse and the basis of all philosophy: as, that the same thing can not at the same time be and not be; that the whole is bigger than a part; that two dimensions, severally equal to a third, must also be equal to one another. Aristotle, indeed, affirms the mind to be at first a mere tabula rasa, and that these notions are not ingenit, and imprinted by the finger of nature, but by the later and more languid impressions of sense, being only the reports of observation, and the result of so many repeated experiments.

(1.) That these notions are universal, and what is universal must needs proceed from some universal, constant principle, the same in all particulars, which here can be nothing else but human nature.

(2.) These can not be infused by observation, because they are the rules by which men take their first apprehensions and observations of things, and therefore, in order of nature, must needs precede them; as the being of the rule must be before its application to the thing directed by it. From whence it follows that these were notions not descending from us, but born with us, not our offspring, but our brethren; and, as I may so say, such as we were taught without the help of a teacher.

Now it was Adam’s happiness in the state of innocence to have these clear and unsullied. He came into the world a philosopher, which sufficiently appeared by his writing the nature of things upon their names; he could view essences in themselves, and read forms without the comment of their respective properties; he could see consequents yet dormant in their principles, and effects yet unborn and in the womb of their causes; his understanding could almost pierce into future contingents; his conjectures improving even to prophecy, or the certainties of prediction; till his fall, it was ignorant of nothing but sin, or at least it rested in the notion, without the smart of the experiment. Could any difficulty have been proposed, the resolution would have been as early as the proposal; it could not have had time to settle into doubt. Like a better Archimedes, the issue of all his inquiries was a eureka, a eureka, the offspring of his brain without the sweat of his brow. Study was not then a duty, night-watchings were needless, the light of reason wanted not the assistance of a candle. This is the doom of fallen man, to labor in the fire, to seek truth in profundo, to exhaust his time and impair his health, and perhaps to spin out his days and himself into one pitiful, controverted conclusion. There was then no poring, no struggling with memory, no straining for invention; his faculties were quick and expedite, they answered without knocking, they were ready upon the first summons.

2. The image of God was no less resplendent in that which we call man’s practical understanding; namely, that storehouse of the soul in which are treasured up the rules of action, and the seeds of morality; where, we must observe, that many who deny all connate notions in the speculative intellect, do yet admit them in this. Now of this sort are these maxims, “That God is to be worshiped, that parents are to be honored, that a man’s word is to be kept,” and the like; which, being of universal influence, as to the regulation of the behavior and converse of mankind, are the ground of all virtue and civility, and the foundation of religion.

It was the privilege of Adam innocent, to have these notions also firm and untainted, to carry his monitor in his bosom, his law in his heart, and to have such a conscience as might be its own casuist; and certainly those actions must needs be regular where there is an identity between the rule and the faculty. His own mind taught him a due dependence upon God, and chalked out to him the just proportions and measures of behavior to his fellow creatures. He had no catechism but the creation, needed no study but reflection, read no book but the volume of the world, and that too, not for the rules to work by, but for the objects to work upon. Reason was his tutor, and first principles his magna moralia. The decalogue of Moses was but a transcript, not an original. All the laws of nations, and wise decrees of states, the statutes of Solon, and the twelve tables, were but a paraphrase upon this standing rectitude of nature, this fruitful principle of justice, that was ready to run out and enlarge itself into suitable demonstrations upon all emergent objects and occasions.

And this much for the image of God, as it shone in man’s understanding.

II. Let us in the next place take a view of it as it was stamped upon the will. It is much disputed by divines concerning the power of man’s will to good and evil in the state of innocence: and upon very nice and dangerous precipices stand their determinations on either side. Some hold that God invested him with a power to stand so that in the strength of that power received, he might, without the auxiliaries of any further influence, have determined his will to a full choice of good. Others hold that notwithstanding this power, yet it was impossible for him to exert it in any good action without a superadded assistance of grace actually determining that power to the certain production of such an act; so that whereas some distinguish between sufficient and effectual grace, they order the matter so as to acknowledge some sufficient but what is indeed effected, and actually productive of good action. I shall not presume to interpose dogmatically in a controversy which I look never to see decided. But concerning the latter of these opinions, I shall only give these two remarks:

1. That it seems contrary to the common and natural conceptions of all mankind, who acknowledge themselves able and sufficient to do many things which actually they never do.

2. That to assert that God looked upon Adam’s fall as a sin, and punished it as such when, without any antecedent sin of his, he withdrew that actual grace from him upon the withdrawing of which it was impossible for him not to fall, seems a thing that highly reproaches the essential equity and goodness of the divine nature.

Wherefore, doubtless the will of man in the state of innocence had an entire freedom, a perfect equipendency and indifference to either part of the contradiction, to stand, or not to stand; to accept, or not to accept the temptation. I will grant the will of man now to be as much a slave as any one who will have it, and be only free to sin; that is, instead of a liberty, to have only a licentiousness; yet certainly this is not nature, but chance. We were not born crooked; we learned these windings and turnings of the serpent: and therefore it can not but be a blasphemous piece of ingratitude to ascribe them to God, and to make the plague of our nature the condition of our creation.

The will was then ductile and pliant to all the motions of right reason; it met the dictates of a clarified understanding half way. And the active informations of the intellect, filling the passive reception of the will, like form closing with matter, grew actuate into a third and distinct perfection of practise; the understanding and will never disagreed; for the proposals of the one never thwarted the inclinations of the other. Yet neither did the will servilely attend upon the understanding, but as a favorite does upon his prince, where the service is privilege and preferment; or as Solomon’s servants waited upon him: it admired its wisdom, and heard its prudent dictates and counsels–both the direction and the reward of its obedience. It is indeed the nature of this faculty to follow a superior guide–to be drawn by the intellect; but then it was drawn as a triumphant chariot, which at the same time both follows and triumphs: while it obeyed this, it commanded the other faculties. It was subordinate, not enslaved to the understanding: not as a servant to a master, but as a queen to her king, who both acknowledges a subjection and yet retains a majesty.

III. Pass we now downward from man’s intellect and will to the passions, which have their residence and situation chiefly in the sensitive appetite. For we must know that inasmuch as man is a compound, and mixture of flesh as well as spirit, the soul, during its abode in the body, does all things by the mediation of these passions and inferior affections. And here the opinion of the Stoics was famous and singular, who looked upon all these as sinful defects and irregularities, as so many deviations from right reason, making passion to be only another word for perturbation. Sorrow in their esteem was a sin scarce to be expiated by another; to pity, was a fault; to rejoice, an extravagance; and the apostle’s advice, “to be angry and sin not,” was a contradiction in their philosophy. But in this they were constantly outvoted by other sects of philosophers, neither for fame nor number less than themselves: so that all arguments brought against them from divinity would come in by way of overplus to their confutation. To us let this be sufficient, that our Savior Christ, who took upon Him all our natural infirmities, but none of our sinful, has been seen to weep, to be sorrowful, to pity, and to be angry: which shows that there might be gall in a dove, passion without sin, fire without smoke, and motion without disturbance. For it is not bare agitation, but the sediment at the bottom, that troubles and defiles the water; and when we see it windy and dusty, the wind does not (as we used to say) make, but only raise a dust.

Now, tho the schools reduce all the passions to these two heads, the concupiscible and the irascible appetite, yet I shall not tie myself to an exact prosecution of them under this division; but at this time, leaving both their terms and their method to themselves, consider only the principal and noted passions, from whence we may take an estimate of the rest.

And first for the grand leading affection of all, which is love. This is the great instrument and engine of nature, the bond and cement of society, the spring and spirit of the universe. Love is such an affection as can not so properly be said to be in the soul as the soul to be in that. It is the whole man wrapt up into one desire; all the powers, vigor, and faculties of the soul abridged into one inclination. And it is of that active, restless nature that it must of necessity exert itself; and, like the fire to which it is so often compared, it is not a free agent, to choose whether it will heat or no, but it streams forth by natural results and unavoidable emanations. So that it will fasten upon any inferior, unsuitable object, rather than none at all. The soul may sooner leave off to subsist than to love; and, like the vine, it withers and dies if it has nothing to embrace. Now this affection, in the state of innocence, was happily pitched upon its right object; it flamed up in direct fervors of devotion to God, and in collateral emissions of charity to its neighbor. It was not then only another and more cleanly name for lust. It had none of those impure heats that both represent and deserve hell. It was a vestal and a virgin fire, and differed as much from that which usually passes by this name nowadays as the vital heat from the burning of a fever.

Then for the contrary passion of hatred. This we know is the passion of defiance, and there is a kind of aversation and hostility included in its very essence and being. But then (if there could have been hatred in the world when there was scarce anything odious) it would have acted within the compass of its proper object; like aloes, bitter indeed, but wholesome. There would have been no rancor, no hatred of our brother: an innocent nature could hate nothing that was innocent. In a word, so great is the commutation that the soul then hated only that which now only it loves, that is, sin.

And if we may bring anger under this head, as being, according to some, a transient hatred, or at least very like it, this also, as unruly as now it is, yet then it vented itself by the measures of reason. There was no such thing as the transports of malice or the violences of revenge, no rendering evil for evil, when evil was truly a nonentity and nowhere to be found. Anger, then, was like the sword of justice, keen, but innocent and righteous: it did not act like fury, then call itself zeal. It always espoused God’s honor, and never kindled upon anything but in order to a sacrifice. It sparkled like the coal upon the altar with the fervors of piety, the heats of devotion, the sallies and vibrations of a harmless activity.

In the next place, for the lightsome passion of joy. It was not that which now often usurps this name; that trivial, vanishing, superficial thing, that only gilds the apprehension and plays upon the surface of the soul. It was not the mere crackling of thorns or sudden blaze of the spirits, the exultation of a tickled fancy or a pleased appetite. Joy was then a masculine and a severe thing; the recreation of the judgment, the jubilee of reason. It was the result of a real good, suitably applied. It commenced upon the solidity of truth and the substance of fruition. It did not run out in voice or indecent eruptions, but filled the soul, as God does the universe, silently and without noise. It was refreshing, but composed, like the pleasantness of youth tempered with the gravity of age; or the mirth of a festival managed with the silence of contemplation.

And, on the other side, for sorrow: Had any loss or disaster made but room for grief, it would have moved according to the severe allowances of prudence, and the proportions of the provocation. It would not have sallied out into complaint of loudness, nor spread itself upon the face, and writ sad stories upon the forehead. No wringing of hands, knocking the breast, or wishing oneself unborn; all which are but the ceremonies of sorrow, the pomp and ostentation of an effeminate grief, which speak not so much the greatness of the misery as the smallness of the mind! Tears may spoil the eyes, but not wash away the affliction. Sighs may exhaust the man, but not eject the burden. Sorrow, then, would have been as silent as thought, as severe as philosophy. It would have been rested in inward senses, tacit dislikes; and the whole scene of it been transacted in sad and silent reflections....

And, lastly, for the affection of fear: It was then the instrument of caution, not of anxiety; a guard, and not a torment to the breast that had it. It is now indeed an unhappiness, the disease of the soul: it flies from a shadow, and makes more dangers than it avoids; it weakens the judgment and betrays the succors of reason: so hard is it to tremble and not to err, and to hit the mark with a shaking hand. Then it fixt upon Him who is only to be feared, God; and yet with a filial fear, which at the same time both fears and loves. It was awe without amazement, dread without distraction. There was then a beauty even in this very paleness. It was the color of devotion, giving a luster to reverence and a gloss to humility.

Thus did the passions then act without any of their present jars, combats, or repugnances; all moving with the beauty of uniformity and the stillness of composure; like a well-governed army, not for fighting, but for rank and order. I confess the Scripture does not expressly attribute these several endowments to Adam in his first estate. But all that I have said, and much more, may be drawn out of that short aphorism, “God made man upright.” And since the opposite weaknesses infest the nature of man fallen, if we will be true to the rules of contraries we must conclude that these perfections were the lot of man innocent....

Having thus surveyed the image of God in the soul of man, we are not to omit now those characters of majesty that God imprinted upon the body. He drew some traces of His image upon this also, as much as a spiritual substance could be pictured upon a corporeal. As for the sect of the Anthropomorphites, who from hence ascribe to God the figure of a man, eyes, hands, feet, and the like, they are too ridiculous to deserve a confutation. They would seem to draw this impiety from the letter of the Scripture sometimes speaking of God in this manner. Absurdity! as if the mercy of Scripture expressions ought to warrant the blasphemy of our opinions; and not rather to show us that God condescends to us only to draw us to Himself; and clothes Himself in our likeness only to win us to His own. The practise of the papists is much of the same nature, in their absurd and impious picturing of God Almighty; but the wonder in them is the less since the image of a deity may be a proper object for that which is but the image of a religion. But to the purpose: Adam was then no less glorious in his externals; he had a beautiful body, as well as an immortal soul. The whole compound was like a well-built temple, stately without, and sacred within. The elements were at perfect union and agreement in His body; and their contrary qualities served not for the dissolution of the compound, but the variety of the composure. Galen, who had no more divinity than what his physic taught him, barely upon the consideration of this so exact frame of the body, challenges any one, upon a hundred years’ study, to find out how any the least fiber, or most minute particle, might be more commodiously placed, either for the advantage of use or comeliness. His stature erect, and tending upward to his center; his countenance majestic and comely, with the luster of a native beauty that scorned the poor assistance of art or the attempts of imitation; His body of so much quickness and agility that it did not only contain but also represent the soul; for we might well suppose that where God did deposit so rich a jewel He would suitably adorn the case. It was a fit workhouse for sprightly, vivid faculties to exercise and exert themselves in; a fit tabernacle for an immortal soul, not only to dwell in, but to contemplate upon; where it might see the world without travel, it being a lesser scheme of the creation, nature contracted a little cosmography or map of the universe. Neither was the body then subject to distempers, to die by piecemeal, and languish under coughs, catarrhs, or consumptions. Adam knew no disease so long as temperance from the forbidden fruit secured him. Nature was his physician, and innocence and abstinence would have kept him healthful to immortality.

The two great perfections that both adorn and exercise man’s understanding, are philosophy and religion: for the first of these, take it even among the professors of it where it most flourished, and we shall find the very first notions of common-sense debauched by them. For there have been such as have asserted, “that there is no such thing in the world as motion: that contradictions may be true." There has not been wanting one that has denied snow to be white. Such a stupidity or wantonness had seized upon the most raised wits that it might be doubted whether the philosophers or the owls of Athens were the quicker sighted. But then for religion; what prodigious, monstrous, misshapen births has the reason of fallen man produced! It is now almost six thousand years that far the greater part of the world has had no other religion but idolatry: and idolatry certainly is the first-born of folly, the great and leading paradox, nay, the very abridgment and sum total of all absurdities. For is it not strange that a rational man should worship an ox, nay, the image of an ox? That he should fawn upon his dog? Bow himself before a cat? Adore leeks and garlic, and shed penitential tears at the smell of a deified onion? Yet so did the Egyptians, once the famed masters of all arts and learning. And to go a little further, we have yet a stronger instance in Isaiah, “A man hews him down a tree in the wood, and a part of it he burns, with the residue thereof he maketh a god.” With one part he furnishes his chimney, with the other his chapel. A strange thing that the fire must first consume this part and then burn incense to that. As if there was more divinity in one end of the stick than in the other; or, as if he could be graved and painted omnipotent, or the nails and the hammer could give it an apotheosis! Briefly, so great is the change, so deplorable the degradation of our nature, that whereas we bore the image of God, we now retain only the image of man.

In the last place, we learn hence the excellency of Christian religion, in that it is the great and only means that God has sanctified and designed to repair the breaches of humanity, to set fallen man upon his legs again, to clarify his reason, to rectify his will, and to compose and regulate his affections. The whole business of our redemption is, in short, only to rub over the defaced copy of the creation, to reprint God’s image upon the soul, and, as it were, to set forth nature in a second and fairer edition; the recovery of which lost image, as it is God’s pleasure to command, and our duty to endeavor, so it is in His power only to effect; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and forever more. Amen.

End of Vol. II.


Biographical Note  •  Hooker  •  Jeremy Taylor  •  Baxter  •  Bossuet  •  Bunyan  •  Tillotson  •  Howe  •  Bourdaloue  •  Fénelon  •  South  • 

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