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Ver. 3. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write to you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.
The apostle, having dispatched the salutation, maketh way for the matter of the epistle. This verse is the preface to the whole, wherein he proposeth two things:—
1. The occasion of his writing.
2. The matter and drift of it.
1. The occasion of writing this epistle, which was double.
[1.] His earnestness in promoting their good, beloved, when I gave diligence to write to you, of the common salvation.
[2.] The urgency of the present necessity, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you.
In assigning his earnestness and zeal for their good, you may take notice of three things, which I shall explain in their order.
(1st.) A compellation of their persons, ἀγάπητοι, beloved, a term usual in the apostles’ writings: the same word is used 1 Peter ii. 11, and there translated ‘dearly beloved.’ It noteth not only that affection 94which by the law of nature we owe to one another, Rom. xiii. 8, nor that love which by the law of bounty and kindness we are bound to render to them that love us, Mat. v. 46, but that singular love which we owe to them that are one with us in Christ, which is always expressed by ἀγάπη in scripture, and we sometimes translate it charity, often love; the Rhemists always charity, whose tenderness in this point (as one observeth) is not altogether to be disallowed, lest it be confounded with common and impure love, expressed by ἔρως; and charity, being a church word, is wholly free from such indifferency and equivocation: so here, instead of beloved, they render my dearest, which fitly noteth the tenderness and bowels that are in Christian affection.
Doct. From this compilation observe, that Christians should be to each other as beloved; such dearness and entireness of affection should pass between them, that they may entitle one another to their bowels and choicer respects.
The reasons are these:—
1. None can have better grounds to love another. They are members of the same body, 1 Cor. xii. Brothers born of the same womb, living in the same family, have defaced all the feelings of nature, and been divided in interest and affection. But surely no such schism can happen in the same body. Who would use an arm to cut off a leg, or a hand to scratch out the eyes? ‘Members care for one another.’ Now this is the relation which Christ hath left us; he hath not only called us into a family, but into a body, Col. iii. 15. See the same pressed, together with many other uniting considerations, Eph. iv. 4-6, ‘There is one body, one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,’ Let us a little go over that place. The first engagement is one body; they are wens and monstrous excrescences, not members, that suck all the nourishment to themselves. Again, one member lacking, or out of joint, is a pain and deformity to the whole. The next engagement is one Spirit, which in all other relations can only be had in fancy and imagination. Friends speak as if they lived by one common soul, but here it is so really; all believers have the same Spirit. I say in other relations, even in the nearest, every one is acted by his own soul; but here ‘by one Spirit we are baptized into one body,’ 1 Cor. xii. 13. What should divide us when we have the same Spirit? We have not all the same measures, and that occasioneth some difference; as the soul showeth itself in some members more than in others, though it acteth all; but the Spirit is the same. The next consideration is one hope. Shall not the same earth contain those that expect to live in the same heaven? Luther and Zuinglius, Cranmer and Hooper, Ridley and Saunders, shall all accord for ever in heaven; and certainly it is through the relics of the flesh that they cannot accord here. In other relations there may be divisions, because they have different hopes, and it may be hopes that entrench and encroach upon the good of each other; but here you have one heaven and one hope; it is all for you: there may be a difference in the degree of glory, but none to provoke pride or feed envy. How will bitter and keen spirits look 95upon each other when they meet in glory? It followeth one Lord. We are in the same family, how will you look God in the face if you ‘fall a-smiting your fellow-servants?’ Mat. xxiv. 45. Then one faith. There may be different apprehensions, and every one may abound in his own sense in circumstances, but the faith is the same, they agree in the same essentials and substantiate of religion. The enemies of the church, though divided in interests and opinions, yet, because they agree in one common hatred of the saints, can hold together. Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek, and the men of Tyre, did all conspire against Israel, Ps. lxxxiii.; like Samson’s foxes, though their faces looked several ways, yet were tied to one another by their tails, and ran together to burn up the corn-fields; and shall not the people of God agree, who all profess one and the same faith? The next consideration is one baptism; that is, one badge of profession: it was a cause of difference among Jacob’s sons that one had ‘a coat of divers colours,’ a special badge of affection. Consider you are all brought in by the baptism of water and the use of ordinary means; none have a special and privilegiate call from heaven above the rest of their brethren. Lastly, it followeth, one God and Father of all. You all worship the same God; there is nothing divides more than different objects of worship. When one scorneth what another adoreth it is extremely provoking;6464 ‘Summus utriusque Inde furor vulgo, quod numina vicinorum Odit uterque locus.’—Juvenal. it was the plea used to Joseph, Gen. l. 17, ‘Pardon the trespass of the servants of thy father’s God.’ Thus you see that we have better grounds of love than others have.
2. None can have higher motives than the love of Christ: Eph. v. 2, ‘Walk in love, as Christ hath also loved us.’ The pagan world was never acquainted with such a motive. Now none are affected and melted with the love of Christ but those that have an interest in it. Therefore Christ expecteth more love from Christians than from others: Mat. v. 46, ‘If ye love them that love you, what reward shall ye have? do not even the publicans the same?.’ The publicans were accounted the most vile and unworthy men in that age; but a publican would love those of his own party; therefore a Christian that is acquainted with Christ’s love to strangers, to enemies, should manage his affections with more excellency and pureness. The world is not acquainted with the love of Christ, and therefore only loveth ‘its own,’ but we are acquainted with it, and therefore should love others. See John xiii. 34, ‘See that ye love one another, as I have loved you.’ Jesus Christ came from heaven, not only to repair and preserve the notions of the Godhead by the greatness of his sufferings, but to propound to us a more exact pattern of charity, and to elevate duty between man and man.
3. None have a greater charge. Christ calleth it his ‘new commandment:’ John xiii. 34, ‘A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.’ How new, since it was as old as the moral law, or law of nature? I answer—It is called new because excellent, as a new song, &c., or rather because solemnly and specially renewed by him, and commended to their care, as new things and new laws are 96much esteemed and prized; or enforced by a new reason and example of his own death. So 1 John iii. 23, αὐτη ἔστιν ἠ ἐντολὴ, ‘This is the commandment, that we should believe in him whom he hath sent, and love one another as he gave commandment.’ It is made equal with faith. All the scriptures aim at ‘faith and love;’ it was Christ’s dying charge, the great charge which he left at his death: John xv. 17, ‘These things I command you, that ye love one another.’ Speeches of dying men are received with most veneration and reverence, especially the charge of dying friends. The brethren of Joseph, fearing lest he should remember the injuries formerly done to him, they use this plea, ‘Thy father did command us before he died, saying,’ &c., Gen. 1. 16. Let us fulfil the will of the dead. When Christ took leave of his disciples, he left this as his last charge. Think of it when thou art bent to quarrel or to neglect others. Shall I slight his last commandment, his dying charge? It is made the character of Christ’s disciples: ‘Hereby shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.’ It is as much as your discipleship,’ &c.
Use 1. It serveth to press you to this amity and love. Why should those that are to meet in the same heaven be of such an estranged heart to each other? Certainly it cometh from evil. In two cases God’s people can agree well enough—in glory and in misery; in a prison, as Ridley and Hooper did; and in heaven, as all do; in heaven, where there is no sin, and in a prison, where lusts lie low, and are under restraint. Oh! then labour for love and meekness. To which end take a few directions:—(1.) Honour the least of Christ’s wherever you find it. If any should despise others for their meanness, it would be more proper to God to do so than for any other, because they are most distant from his perfection; but he will not despise ‘smoking flax,’ Mat. xii. 20. You do not know what a spark of glory and of the divine nature may lie hid under smoke and a covert of darkness. Christ loved the young man that had but some accomplishments of nature in him,’ Mark x. 21. ‘Jesus loved him;’ much more should you, when you find any weak appearances of Christ, though they do not come up to your measures. (2.) Let not difference in opinion divide you. It were to be wished that believers were of one heart and of one way—that they all thought and spoke the same thing; yet, if they differ, cherish them for what of God is in them. In a great organ the pipes are of a different size, which maketh the harmony and melody the sweeter: ‘Whereunto we have attained, let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing,’ Phil. iii. 16. Many men love to impropriate religion, as if there were nothing of God to be found but in their own sphere. It is natural to a man to do so. We would be singular, and engross all repute of piety, orthodoxy, and right worship to ourselves. (3.) Take heed of letting love degenerate into compliance. There is ‘the bond of the Spirit,’ Eph. iv. 3, and there is an ‘unequal yoke,’ 2 Cor. vi. 14; there are ‘cords of love,’ and the chain of antichristian interests, and you must be careful to make distinction, Isa. liv. 15. ‘They shall gather, but not by me.’ There are evil mixtures and confederacies that are not of God, which you must beware of, lest by joining with men you break with God, and turn love into compliance. The image was crumbled to pieces where 97the toes were mixed of iron and clay, Dan. ii. Love may forbear the profession of some truths—there is a ‘having faith to ourselves’—but must not yield to error. (4.) There are some so vile that they will scarce come within the circuit of our Christian respect, such as are the open enemies of Christ, and hold things destructive to the foundation of religion: 2 John 10, ‘If any one bring not this doctrine, bid him not God speed.’ Vile wretches must know the ill sense the church hath of their practices. Elisha would not have looked upon Jehoram, had it not been for Jehoshaphat, 2 Kings iii. 14. When men break out into desperate rage and enmity to the ways of Christ, or run into damnable errors, it is a compliance to show them any countenance. Thus for the compellation.
(2d.) The next circumstance in the occasion is, a testification of the greatness of his love and care: πᾶσαν σποὺδὴν ποιοῦμενος, ‘When I gave all diligence.’ He speaketh as if it were his whole care and thought to be helpful to their faith, and therefore did watch every occasion: he addeth to write to you, that is a further testimony of his love, that he would think of them absent; to write, when he could not speak to them. So that here are two things:—(1.) The greatness of his love; (2.) The way of expressing it, by writing.
Obs. 1. From the first, I gave all diligence, observe, that offices of love are most commendable when they are dispensed with care and diligence: it is not enough to do good, but we must do good with labour, and care, and diligence. See Titus iii. 14, ‘Let ours also learn to maintain good works;’ in the original, προιστασθαι καλῶν ἔργων, watch for good works, hunt out occasions. So Heb. x. 24, ‘Consider one another, to provoke to love and good works:’ it is not enough to admonish one another, but we must consider, study one another’s tempers, that we may be most useful in a way of spiritual communion. So Rom. xii. 17, ‘Providing for things honest in the sight of God and men,’ προνοούμενοι, catering, contriving, as carnal men do for their lusts, Rom. xiii. 14. So for ministers; it is not enough for them to press that wherein they are most versed, or what cometh next to hand, but to study what will most conduce to the ends of their ministry with such a people: ‘Study to approve thyself a good workman,’ &c. Well, then, try your Christian respects by it. The spirit is most pure, not only when you do good, but when you do it with care and diligence. Wicked men may stumble upon good, but they do not study to do good; common spirits are moved to pray, but they do not watch unto prayer, Eph. vi. 18; that is, make ii their care to keep their hearts in order, and expressly to suit their prayer to their present necessities; many may do that which is useful to the church, but they do not watch opportunities, and make it their design to be serviceable.
Again, let no care be grievous to you, so you may do good: ‘I am willing to spend myself, and to be spent for you,’ 2 Cor. xii. 15. We cannot be wasted in a better employment; so we shine, no matter though we burn down to the socket, or, like silk-worms, die in our work: Phil. ii. 17, ‘If I be offered upon the sacrifice of your faith, I rejoice with you,’ &c. The greatest pains and care, even to a maceration of ourselves, should not be unpleasing to a gracious heart. Certainly 98this is an expression will shame us: I gave all diligence; he sought all opportunities, when we will not take them. Love will put us upon searching out and devising ways of doing good.
Obs. 2. This love he would express by writing when he could not come to them. Holy men take all opportunities to do good; present or absent, they are still mindful of the saints, and write when they cannot speak: as Ambrose alludeth to Zacharias, writing when he was stricken dumb.6565 ‘Zacharias, cum loqui non potuit, scripsit.’ A man would think that absence were a fair excuse, a writ of ease served upon us by providence; yet godly men cannot be so satisfied, but must use all helps to promote the common benefits: a willing mind will never want an opportunity, and they that have a heart will be sure to find an occasion; they ‘give all diligence ‘to promote others’ welfare; and therefore use all means, take all occasions. Which showeth—(1.) How far they are from this temper that do nothing but by constraint. ‘A ready mind’ is a special qualification in an elder, 1 Peter v. 2, and a sure note of our reward, 1 Cor. ix. 17. But now when the awe of the magistrate prevaileth more than love of souls, everything is done grudgingly. It is Paul’s advice, ‘Be instant in season and out of season,’ 2 Tim. iv. 2; not only at such seasons as are fairly offered, but where corruption and laziness would plead an excuse. Christ discoursed with the woman at the well when weary, John. iv. We have but a little while to live in the world, and we know not how soon we may be taken off from our usefulness; that was Peter’s motive to write, 2 Peter i. 12, 13. (2.) This showeth their sottishness that are not careful to redeem opportunities for themselves. Jude is studying which way to promote the salvation of others, and many do not look to the state and welfare of their own souls. Again observe:—
Obs. 3. That writing is a great help to promote the common salvation. By this means we speak to the absent and to posterity; and by this means are the oracles of God preserved in public records, which other wise were in danger of being corrupted, if still left to the uncertainty of verbal tradition. By this means are errors more publicly confuted, and a testimony against them transmitted to future ages. Speech is more transient, but writing remaineth. So Christ telleth the apostles that they should ‘bring forth fruit, and their fruit should remain,’ John xv. 16. Apostolical doctrine being committed to writing, remaineth as a constant rule of faith and manners, and by the public explications of the church left upon record we come to understand the dispensations of God to every age, what measures of light they enjoyed, how the truths of God were opposed, how vindicated. Finally, by writing the streams of salvation are conveyed into every family, as a common fountain by so many pipes and conveyances, that in the defect of public preaching good supply may be had in this kind. Well, then, it is an acceptable service to the church which they do ‘who can handle the pen of the writer,’ Judges v. 14, when they send abroad a public testimony against error, a public monument of their affection to the truth. The goose-quill hath smote antichrist under the fifth rib. The Earl of Derby accused Bradford for doing more hurt by his writings than preaching. Hezekiah’s servants are 99commended for ‘copying out’ the Proverbs of Solomon, Prov. xxv. 1. They deserve not to be censured, but commended and cherished, that do service in this kind. I confess there is no end of books. Pride and ambition may put many upon scribbling, and filling the world with chaff and vanity; so that there needeth a restraint rather than an incitement. Some merely blur paper,6666 ‘Scribunt doctique indoctique poemata passim.’—Juvenal. which is no small discouragement to modest and able men. Surely care should be taken to prevent abuse:6767 Councils have thought it worthy their care, vide Canones Apostolorum (ut vocant), Can. 60.—Synod. Dordrec. Consilia de corrigendis typographiae abusibus.—Sess. 222. writing is a more public way of teaching, and men should not undertake it without a call. Jerome’s advice is good, Ne ad scribendum cito prosilias, et levi ducaris insania; multo tempore disce quod doceas (Hier. ad Rusticum Mohachium)—be not too hasty to write; that which is prepared for public instruction had need be prepared with great deliberation. The vestal virgins were ten years in learning, and ten years in practising, and ten years in teaching and prescribing directions to others.6868 ‘Εἰς τὴν μὲν πρώτην δεκατίαν ἃ χρῆ δρᾶν μανθάνουσι, τῆν δε μέσην ἅ μεμαθήκασι δρῶσι, τῆν δε τρίτην ἑτέρας αὐταὶ διδάσκουσι.’—Plutarchus in Vita Numcae. When every sciolist will be obtruding his notions upon the world, it is a great abuse; for by this means useful men are discouraged, or if they publish their labours, they are not taken notice of, as two or three grains of good corn are hardly found out under a heap of chaff. But take away this abuse, writing is a great help to the church in practicals, that people may still be furnished with good books in every age, old ones written long ago being neglected, or lying hid in some private studies, or else not coming up to the rate of present light, or not answering the temper of the present age, not meeting with the sins, nor encouraging the graces within use and exercise. Again, in controversial there is great use of writing, controversies not being so easily determined by the judgment of the ear as the eye. In the clamour of disputations and violent discourse, usually there is such a dust raised, that we cannot so soon discern the truth as upon a calm debate and mature consideration of what is delivered in writing; which I remember was the cause why Tertullian wrote his treatise against the Jews, lest the tumult and noise of the dispute should be some prejudice to the truth.6969 ‘Alternis vicibus contensioso fune uteque diem in vesperam traximus, obstrepentibus etiam quibusdam spectantibus, singulorum nubilo quodam veritas obumbrabatur.’—Tertul. contra Judaeos. But of this enough.
(3d.) I come now to the next circumstance in the insinuation or profession of his readiness to do them good, and that is the object or subject concerning which he would write to them, the common salvation, a fit argument for saints.
Obs. 1. The apostles, in their private and familiar letters, were very spiritual; yea, when they wrote about their ordinary occasions, as Paul to Philemon, still they were ready to impart some spiritual gift, whether by conference or writing. Those letters, then, should be most welcome to us that mind us of the best things.
But what was this ‘common salvation?’ I suppose by it is meant 100that salvation wherein he and they and all the saints were concerned. This expression may be conceived to be an argument, either of the apostle’s meekness; though he were an apostle, and they private believers, yet I and you have but one ‘common salvation;’ as captains, to endear themselves to their troops, will say, Fellow soldiers, as engaged in one common warfare; or else of his holiness, ‘the common salvation;’ that is, which I am to look after as well as you; or else of his love to their salvation, which he would look after as well as his own. The saints carry on a joint trade to heaven; they are all partners, and salvation lieth in common between them: you are to promote mine, and I yours. Well, then, he having their faith and salvation in like respect with his own, he was willing to write to establish them in the truth. I shall form the point in the very words of the text.
Obs. That the salvation of the people of God is a common salvation,—not to good and bad; for it belongeth only to a peculiar people,—but common to all believers: it is common to them in divers regards.
1. They all are chosen by the same grace; there is no special reason why Paul should obtain mercy rather than John, and Andrew, and Thomas. Free grace acteth upon the same terms. All God’s motives are taken from himself, from his own bosom: ‘For my own sake,’ saith the Lord, Isa. xliii. 25. There may be a difference in the creature; John and Andrew may be otherwise tempered and disposed than Paul and Peter; but God’s motives to choose both the one and the other are still the same.
2. They have the same Christ: ‘There is no other name under heaven,’ Acts iv. 12; and ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,’ Heb. xiii. 8. In all ages the church hath been saved by Christ; none of the holy ones of God had a more worthy Redeemer than we have. Christ gave the same ransom to purchase heaven for me, and thee, and others: as under the law, the rich and the poor were to give the same ransom: Exod. xxx. 15, ‘The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel.’ The price of Christ’s blood for all souls was equal. If they had a more worthy Christ to die for them, you might be discouraged.
3. You are justified by the same righteous one as far as another: ‘The righteousness of Christ is unto all, and upon all that believe, and there is no difference.’ Rom. iii. 22. In inherent righteousness, there is a great deal of difference; one hath more grace, and another hath less. In sanctification there are degrees, but as to imputed righteousness, they are all equal; none of the saints hath finer linen, or are decked with a better vesture than you are. There is a difference in the degree of faith, which receiveth this righteousness, but there is no difference in the righteousness itself. A giant or strong man holdeth a precious jewel, so doth a child; the jewel is the same; though a man holdeth it with a stronger hand, it loseth nothing of its worth in the child’s hand.7070 ‘Gemmam annulo curvo inclusam amplectitur et gigas, amplectitur et puerulus. Licet gigas fortius eam amplectatur quam puerulus, tamen manet annulus aeque preciosus et gemma aeque preciosa.’—Luther. So here the righteousness is the same, though the faith be not the same.
4. As we have the same privileges, so the same way; all by faith; 101and the faith of the weakest as to the essential privileges is as accept able to God as the faith of the strongest: 2 Peter i. 1, ‘Simon Peter to them that have obtained like precious faith with us.’ It is like precious for kind, though not degree;7171 ‘Fides una et eadem, non respectu subjectorum graduum sed respectu objecti finis.’ of the same nature, worth, and property, though every one cannot come up to the height of ‘an apostle.
5. They are all under the same rule and direction: Gal. vi. 16, ‘As many as walk by this rule, peace on them, and the whole Israel of God.’ The way of error is manifold, but there is but one path that leadeth to heaven.
6. They are in one mystical body, ministering supplies to one another: Col. ii. 19, ‘Not holding the head, from which all the body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.’ The head is the fountain of all vital influence, but the joints and bands do minister and convey the nourishments; the whole body is still increasing and growing up to perfection, and they are helping one another, as the members of the same body do continue the communion of the same spirit, or, by the continuity of the parts, make way for the animation and quickening by the same soul.
What use shall we make of this? I answer:—
1. It hinteth public care, that we should help salvation forward, both in ourselves and others; rejoice in others’ faith as well as in your own: Rom. i. 12, ‘Comforted by the mutual faith of you and me.’ His faith was a comfort to them, and their faith a comfort to him; nay, out of an excess of love and charity, Paul useth an expression not imitable: Rom. ix. 3, ‘I could wish that I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’
2. It checketh the impropriating of grace and religion, to such an order or sort of Christians, such as was the ambition of former times; as if all religion were confined within a cloister, or wrapped up in a black garment; those were called religious houses, and those the clergy, or God’s portion, all others were lay and secular. Oh! how far was this from the modesty of the apostles! Peter calleth the faith of common Christians, ‘like precious faith;’ and Jude speaketh of a ‘common salvation.’ So the Jews before them, they confined God’s choice to their nation; they could not endure to hear of ‘salvation among the Gentiles,’ and of a ‘righteousness that came to all, and upon all that believe.’ We have an envious nature, and would fain impropriate common favours. The church of Rome would fain bring all the world to their lore, and confine truth and faith and salvation within the precincts of their synagogue; they seize upon and possess themselves of the keys of heaven, to open to whom they please. Now God hath broken down all pales and inclosures, they would fain rear up a new partition wall. Corrupt nature envieth that others should have a fellowship in our privileges, therefore the same spirit still worketh; men do so value their lesser differences, and that distinct way and opinion which they have taken up, as if none could be saved but those of their own party and persuasion; it is very natural to us to affix holiness to our own opinions, and to allow none to be good but those that jump with us in all things. There were factions at Corinth, and 102those that said, ‘I am of Christ,’ were counted a faction too, 1 Cor. i. 12, as arrogating Christ to themselves; therefore the apostle writing to them, saith, 1 Cor. 1, 2, ‘To the saints at Corinth, and all that call on the Lord Jesus Christ, theirs and ours.’ We are apt to be rigid to those that differ from us, and to be favourable to those that think with us. Tertullian7272 Tertul. in Praescrip adversus Haereticos. saith of some in his time, Illic ipsum est promereri—it is holiness enough to be one of them. Oh! let it not be so among the people of God! do not nullify your brethren. Rom. xiv. 10, ‘Why dost thou set at nought thy brethren? τὶ ἐξουθενεῖς, Tertullian rendereth it, Cur nullificas fratrem? When God hath made a Christian of him, why dost thou make nothing of him? and cry up every private opinion for another religion, as if none could be saints and believers but they that think with you? Take heed of impaling the common salvation; inclosures are against the law.
3. It showeth that there are not several ways to heaven, there is but one ‘common salvation’ to all the elect, and one ‘common faith,’ as Paul saith, Titus i. 4, ‘To Titus my own son according to the common faith.’ There are a sort of libertines that think a man may be saved in any religion, so he doth not walk against his own light. Do not flatter yourselves; all the elect are brought to heaven the same way, ‘whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free;’ there is a good old way, Jer. vi. 16, which if we miss we are sure to perish.
4. It informeth us who are best to deal in matters of religion; those that are religious, that can call it a ‘common salvation;’ that is, common to them with others; they have share in it, and therefore they can best defend it. Differences are aggravated when carnal men intermeddle in religious controversies, but those are likest to deal with most purity of zeal and love that can say your salvation is their salvation; so in the next verse, ‘They turn the grace of our God into wantonness;’ they that have an interest in grace cannot endure to see it abused.
5. It forbiddeth scorn of the meanest Christian. They have as good hopes through grace as you have in Jesus Christ: all are one, master and servant, rich and poor. Onesimus, a poor runagate servant, yet being converted, Paul calleth him his ‘faithful and beloved brother,’ Philem. 10. In earthly relation there is a difference, yet in regard of the common faith and common salvation we are all one.
I have now done with the first part of the occasion, his earnestness in promoting their good. I now come to the second part, the urgency of the present necessity: It was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you, which is said to show that this epistle was not only occasioned by the fervency of his own love, but the present exigence and necessity as affairs then stood; the school of Simon, the Gnostics, and divers other heretics of a like loose strain and libertine spirit, sought to withdraw and alienate them from the truth, for that was the necessity here expressed, as appeareth by the next verse. Exhortations, the more necessary, the more pressing; need quickens both writer and reader; and the less arbitrary things are, the more tho roughly we go about them.
Obs. 1. Observe from hence, that necessity is a time for duty; necessity 103is God’s season to work, and therefore it should be ours: ‘For a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness,’ 1 Peter i. 6. Duties are best done when we see they are needful and necessary; things that are arbitrary are done with a loose heart; the creatures’ duty towards God begins at the sense of their own wants: James i. 5, ‘If any man lack wisdom,’ &c. Well, then, take this hint for prayer and other services; if there be a need, omit not to call upon God: as when distempers grow upon the spirit, the heart is unquiet, the affections unruly, a deadness increaseth upon you, temptations are urgent, and, too strong for you, cry out of violence, as the ravished virgins. So when conscience is incessantly clamorous, David could not find ease till he confessed, Ps. xxxii. 5. Silence will cause roaring, and restraint of prayer, disquiet. Again, if there be a need, omit not to call upon men by exhortation and counsel, as when you see things grow worse every day, and can hold no longer: the king’s danger made the king’s dumb son speak: Paul was ‘forced in spirit when he saw the whole city given to idolatry,’ Acts xvii. 16. When we see men by whole droves running into error, and ways destructive to their souls, is there not a need? is it not a time to speak? Men say we are bitter, but we must be faithful. So they say the physician is cruel, and the chirurgeon a tyrant, when their own distempers need so violent a remedy: can we see you perish, and hold our peace?
Obs. 2. Observe again, that ministers must mainly press those doctrines that are most needful. It is but a cheap zeal that declaimeth against antiquated errors, and things now out of use and practice. We are to consider what the present age needeth. What use was it of in Christ’s time to aggravate the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? Or now to handle the case of Henry the Eighth’s divorce? what profit hence to our present auditories? There are ‘present truths’ to be pressed, 2 Peter i. 12; upon these should we bestow our pains and care. Usually when we reflect upon the guilt of the times, people would have us preach general doctrines of faith and repentance. But we may answer, ‘It is needful for us to exhort you,’ &c. To what end is it to dispute the verity of the Christian religion against heathens, when there are many seducers that corrupt the purity of it amongst ourselves? In a country audience, what profit is it to dispute against Socinians, when there are drunkards, and practical atheists and libertines, that need other kind of doctrine? He that crieth out upon old errors not now produced upon the public stage, doth but fight with, ghosts and challenge the dead. So again, to charm with sweet strains of grace when a people need rousing, thundering doctrine, is but to minister cordials to a full and plethoric body, that rather needeth phlebotomy and evacuations. It is a great deal of skill, and God can only teach it us, to be seasonable to deliver what is needful, and as the people are able to bear.
Obs. 3. Again, observe, the need of the primitive church was an occasion to complete the canon and rule of faith. We are beholden to the seducers of that age that the scripture is so full as it is: we should have wanted many epistles had not they given the occasion. Thus God can bring light out of darkness, and by errors make way for the more ample discovery of truth.104
I have done with the occasion. I come now to the matter and drift of this epistle, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints; in which there is a necessary duty pressed; and these two circumstances are notable—the act and the object. (1.) The act is to contend earnestly; it is but one word in the original, ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι; but it is a word of a vehement signification, and therefore fitly rendered to ‘contend earnestly,’ (2.) The object of this contention, which is, the faith once delivered to the saints. Faith may be taken either for the doctrine of faith or the grace of faith;7373 ‘Fides est duplex, fides quae creditur, et fides qua creditur.’ both are too good to be lost, either the word which we believe, or faith by which we believe; the former is intended: faith is taken for sound doctrine, such as is necessary to be owned and believed unto salvation, which he presseth them to contend for, that they might preserve it safe and sound to future ages. Now this faith is described—(1st.) By the manner of its conveyance, δοθείση, it is given to be kept; it is not a thing invented, but given; not found out by us, but delivered by God himself; and delivered as to our custody, that we may keep it for posterity,7474 ‘Aliquid tibi traditum, non a te inventum; aliquid quod accepisti, non exagitasti,’ &c.—Vincentius Lyrinensis. as the oracles of God in the Old Testament were delivered to the Jews to be kept by them, Rom. iii. 1. (2d.) By the time of its giving out to the world: the doctrine of salvation was given but once, as never to be altered and changed, once for all. (3d.) The persons to whom, to the saints; so he calleth the church according to the use of the scriptures, or else by saints is meant the holy apostles, given to them to be propagated by them. I shall first speak of the object, before I come to the duty itself; and because the description here used will agree both to the grace of faith and the doctrine of faith, though the doctrine of faith be mainly intended, yet give me leave a little to apply it to the grace: if it be a diversion, it shall be a short one.
Obs. 1. This faith is said to be given. Observe, that faith is a gift; so Phil. i. 29, ‘To you it is given to believe;’ ὑμῖν ἐχαρίσθη, given freely, Eph. ii. 8, ‘By grace ye are saved, through faith, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ We cannot get it of ourselves; a mere imagination and thinking of Christ’s death is easy, but to bring the soul and Christ together requires the power of God, Eph. i. 19. We cannot merit it, and therefore it is a pure gift. God bestoweth it on them that can give nothing for it: works before conversion cannot engage God, and works after conversion cannot satisfy God. Well, then, let us admire the mercy of God in the covenant of grace. Christ is a gift: John iv. 10, ‘If thou knewest the gift,’ &c. His righteousness is a gift: Rom. v. 16, ‘The free gift is of many offences unto justification;’ and faith, which receiveth this righteousness, is a gift: so that all is carried in a way of grace; in the covenant of grace nothing is required but what is best owed. Again, it teacheth us whither to go for faith: seek it of God, it is his gift; all the endeavour and labour of the creature will never procure it. But must we not use the means of prayer, meditation, and hearing, &c.? I answer—Yes; for (1.) God dispenseth it in a way of means: Mark iv. 24, ‘With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again, and unto you that 105hear more shall be given.’ According unto the measure of our hearing, if the Lord will work, is the measure of our faith: Acts xvi. 14, ‘The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul.’ God stirreth up to the use of means, and whilst we are ‘taught’ we are ‘drawn,’ John vi. 44, 45. (2.) Though faith be God’s gift, man’s endeavours are still necessary, for supernatural grace doth not exclude the ordinary and natural means. Marriage is necessary for the propagation of mankind, though the rational soul is from God; yea, more care is had of women with child than of brute beasts, because the fruit of the womb is the immediate work and blessing of the Lord: so faith is of God’s planting, and therefore we should be the more careful in the use of means.
Obs. 2. This faith is said to be once given. This will also hold concerning grace; for where it is once planted it cannot be totally and finally destroyed; rather it is continually supplied by the care and faithfulness of God: see 1 Cor. i. 8, and 1 Thes. v. 24, and Phil. i. 6. And those hypocrites that fall off after a long profession seldom ‘recover themselves by repentance,’ Heb. vi. 6; 2 Peter ii. 21. Well, then, here is comfort to the people of God, that find so many lusts and so many temptations. They think they shall never hold out; faith is but once given: where it is really given there needeth not a second gift. Again, here is caution. Faith is a precious jewel; if once lost wilfully after the knowledge of the truth, it is not easily regained.
Obs. 3. Consider the persons to whom it is given. It is not given to every one;’ for all men have not faith,’ 2 Thes. iii. 2; and ‘the gospel is hidden to those that are lost,’ 2 Cor. iv. 3; but it is given to the saints, to those who were chosen, that they might be saints: which showeth—(1.) The excellency of faith; it is a privilegiate and peculiar mercy. (2.) That believers are saints; faith giveth an interest in Christ, and therefore they must needs be holy: ‘His blood cleanseth,’ 1 John i. 7; ‘His Spirit sanctifieth,’ 1 Cor. vi. 11. Again, Faith itself hath a cleansing, purifying virtue: ‘Hearts purified by faith,’ Acts xv. 9. Faith applieth the blood of Christ; and the hand of the laundress is as necessary to cleanse the clothes as the soap wherewith they are cleansed. Faith waiteth for the Spirit. It argueth from the love of God. Faith and sin are like the poison and the antidote, always working one upon another, till faith hath gotten the mastery. Well, then, is your faith sanctifying? Strong persuasions of an interest in grace, and a loose life, will not suit: we are not perfectly clean and holy, but there will be strong desires and earnest groans after more holiness; as Ps. li. 10, and Rom. vii. 24, ‘Who shall deliver me?’ &c.; that is, Oh! that I were; questions are put for wishes. So Ps. cxix. 5, ‘Oh! that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes.’ Yea, there will be not only groans under, but strugglings against sin. A child of God may fall into sin, but he cannot rest in it and lie down with ease; as mud may be cast into a pure fountain, or stirred up in it, but the fountain never ceaseth till it work itself clean again. Peter and David stepped aside, but they could find no peace till they were reconciled to God: ‘I will return to my first husband, then it was better than it is now,’ Hosea ii. Again, you may know it by the drift and disposition of the heart. Which 106way lieth the bent of your spirits? and what are your constant motions and operations? A man that is travelling another way may now and then look back. How is your heart inclined? Ps. cxix. 112, ‘I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always unto the end.’ Is there a constant inclination towards God? 1 Chron. xxii. 19, ‘Now set your hearts to seek the Lord.’ Is the heart set? what is your constant course and walk? Rom. viii. 1.
But so much for this digression, occasioned by the suitableness of words to the grace of faith. Let us now come to the other acception, which is more proper in this place, namely, as faith is put for the doctrine of faith. How this was—(1.) Delivered; (2.) Once delivered; (3.) To the saints.
First, Delivered, not invented;7575 ‘Quod tibi creditum, non a te inventum; quod accepisti, non excogitasti.’—Vinc. Lyrinensis. it is not the fruit of fancy or human devising, but hath its original from God; it was delivered by him to holy men chosen for that purpose, and by them delivered by word of mouth to the men of that age wherein they lived, and by writing for the use of after ages: and delivered to be kept; it is a sacred depositum which God hath put into the hands of the church: ‘Keep that which is committed to thy trust,’ 1 Tim. vi. 20; and ‘To them were committed the oracles of God.’ Rom. iii. 2. I shall observe—(1.) The mercy of God in delivering this faith or rule of salvation. (2.) The duty of the church concerning it.
Obs. 1. The mercy of God in delivering this faith to chosen men, that by their means the world might come to the knowledge of it. The doctrine of salvation first came out from God, and then was conveyed to us by the hands of holy men. We are not sensible enough of the privilege, Ps. cxlvii. 19, 20, ‘He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgments unto Israel, he hath not dealt so with any nation,’ &c. It is not a common mercy, for many nations want it; nor no casual thing. In the primitive times not only the doctrine of the apostles was directed and ordered by the Holy Ghost, but also their journeys; the gospel came not to them by chance, but as a special gift from heaven. But that we may be more sensible of the privilege, I shall show you:—
1. The benefit of the word. By it God’s heart is opened to us, and our own hearts to ourselves; by it we are acquainted with the way of salvation, and come to understand the courses of the Lord’s justice and mercy, and in what manner he will govern and rule the world, which are altogether unknown to them that have not such a revelation delivered to them. We should never have known the cause of our misery, our fall in Adam, nor the means of our recovery, redemption by Jesus Christ, if they had not been delivered to us in this doctrine and rule of faith; we should never have known how to worship God, or enjoy God. If carnal men should have a liberty to let nature work, and set down a divinity of their own, what a goodly religion should we have in the world! a very comely chimera no doubt! For practicals it would be large enough I am sure, for natural conscience hateth fetters and restraints; in doctrinals it would be absurd enough. Man can never take a right draught and image of 107God. Who can empty an ocean with a cockle-shell? And since the fall we are grown quite brutish; our conceits are not so monstrous in anything as in the worship of God. The pagan philosophers, that were most profound in the researches and inquiries of reason, they sat abrood, and thought of hatching an excellent religion; but what was the issue? ‘Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.’ Rom. i. 22. All that they produced was fables and high strains of folly, mixed with popular rites and customs. There are many things necessary to religion, which the angels themselves could not have known if they had not been revealed, therefore their knowledge increaseth by observing God’s dispensations to the church, Eph. iii. 10. The way of salvation by Christ is such a mystery as could not have entered into the heart of any creature, no, not of an angel. If an angel had been to set down which way man should be redeemed, nay, if all the cherubim and seraphim, thrones, dominions, and powers had met together in a synod and council, and had taken in all the world to their assistance, it would have posed them all to have found out such a way as God hath appointed. But not to speak of mysteries. There is in the word some moralities suitable to the law of nature, which was once written upon man’s heart; but alas! now there remains only some scattered fragments and obscure characters, so defaced that they cannot be read; and how blind are we in these things without the word! Witness the sottish idolatry of those nations that want it, worshipping stocks or stones, yea, a piece of red cloth, or whatever they saw first in the morning. And witness those brutish customs among other nations, whereby uncleanness and unnatural sins have been authorised by a law. Therefore, it is a great mercy that something is delivered, and given out as a rule of faith and manners.
2. That this tradition is written, and put into a stated course in those books which we call scriptures. If the revelation of God’s will had been left to the tradition of men of such a rank or order, what a liberty might they take of coining oracles, and obtruding their fancies upon the world! It is a great mercy that our faith does not depend upon uncertain suggestions, but some main public records, to which all may appeal and find satisfaction. Heretofore the Lord revealed himself by visions, oracles, and dreams, to persons of eminent holiness and sanctity, that they might instruct others; which course was sure enough while the people of the world were but a few families, and the persons entrusted with God’s message had authority and credit sufficient with the present age, and lived long to continue the tradition with the more certainty to future ages. But afterwards the Lord was pleased to speak to his church both by word and writing. His word was necessary for further revealing and clearing up the doctrine of salvation; and writing was necessary, because when precepts were multiplied it was needful for men’s memories that they should be written; the long life of God’s witnesses was lessened, corruptions began to increase, Satan giving out lying oracles and visions, idolatrous rites and customs crept into the best families, Josh. xxiv. 3, Gen. xxxi. 19; the people of God were grown numerous enough to make a commonwealth and politic body; therefore, to avoid man’s corruptions and Satan’s deceits, the Lord thought fit that we should have a written rule 108at hand, as a public standard for the trial of all doctrines. God himself wrote the first scripture with his own finger upon tables of stone, Exod. xxiv. 12, and he commanded Moses and the prophets to do the same, Exod. xvii. 14, and xxxiv. 27; which dispensation of word and writing continued till Christ’s time, who, as the great doctor of the church, perfected the rule of faith, and by the apostles, as so many public notaries, consigned it to the use of the church in all ages. When the canon began to be complete, the latter apostles pressed the receiving of it; and John, as the last, and as one who outlived all the rest, closeth up his prophecy thus, Rev. xxii. 18, 19, ‘If any man add,’ &c., and ‘if any man take away,’ &c., which doth not only seal up the book of the Revelation, but the whole canon and rule of faith; which indeed was a great mercy to the world: the Lord knew to what a liberty we inclined in divine things, and therefore we needed to be tied up to a rule, which here is given us.
3. The mercy of God appeareth in preserving it, that it may be delivered from one age to another. No doctrine so ancient as the doctrine of the scriptures; it describeth the whole history of the world from the very creation, and the original of all things. Where are there records so ancient? and yet they have been preserved even to our time. We have some ancient writings of the heathens, though nothing so ancient as scripture; but these are not contrary to men’s lusts, and have been cherished by them, and yet they have felt the tooth of time, and are in a great measure mangled; but the word of God hath been maligned and opposed, and yet it continueth, and holdeth up its head in the world: not only the main doctrine of the scriptures hath been continued, but no part of the word hath been falsified, corrupted, destroyed: the world wanted not malice nor opportunity; the powers of the world have been against it, and corrupt persons in the church have been always given to other-gospelling, Gal. i. 6, 7; 1 Tim. vi. 3; but still the scriptures have been wonderfully preserved, as the three children in the furnace, not a hair singed, not a jot and tittle of truth perished.
4. That God doth continually stir up men in the church, and be stow gifts upon them, for the opening and application of this faith and doctrine of salvation. Christ, that hath given prophets and apostles to the church to write scripture, hath also given pastors and teachers to open and apply scripture, that so still it might be delivered to the saints, and also to vindicate the doctrine of it when opposed. Every age that hath yielded the poison hath also yielded the antidote, that the world might not be without a witness. If there hath been an Arius, there hath been an Athanasius; if a Pelagius, there is also an Austin: the church hath never wanted help in this kind. Look, as in war, as the arts of battery and methods of destruction do increase, so also doth skill in fortification; and in the church God still bestoweth gifts for the further explication of truth.
5. That the light cometh to us, and shineth in this land. The gospel is a great national privilege: ‘To you is this word of salvation sent,’ Acts xiii. 26. Pray mark, it is sent; he doth not say we have brought it to you, but it is sent; it is a token sent from heaven in love. There is a mighty providence accompanieth the gospel; the journeys of 109the apostles, as I said but now, were ordered by the Spirit as well as their doctrine: Acts viii. 26, ‘The angel of the Lord said to Philip, Arise, and go towards the south, towards the way that goeth. down to Jerusalem.’ They went not as their own good affection carried them, but according to the Spirit’s direction. So Acts xvi. 7-9, ‘The Spirit suffered them not,’ &c., as ‘prophecy came not by the will of man,’ 2 Peter i. 21; that is, the doctrine itself, so the delivery of it; the doctrine they had from the Holy Ghost, and also their commission and passport. You would stand wondering, and think it a special benefit, if in a time of drought the rain should fall on your field, and none else, if, as Gideon’s fleece, your heritage should be wet, and all is dry round about you; or if the sun should be shut up to others, and shine only in your horizon, as it did in Goshen. This is a better blessing, and God hath a special hand in the progress of it; it goeth from place to place as the Lord will. Why should it come to us? our ancestors were of all nations most barbarous and portentous for their idolatries.7676 ‘Monstra diabolica colebant, Ægyptiaca uuuc numero vincentia.’—Gildas. Why to us? No cause can be assigned but the free grace and gift of God.
6. That it is given to us in our persons in particular in the power and efficacy of it. It is offered to the nation, but bestowed upon us: John xiv. 22, ‘How is it that thou wilt reveal thyself to us, and not unto the world?’ Others have only truth presented to them obiter, by the by, for your sakes; but you are ‘called according to purpose.’ Rom. viii. 28. Though in the general means they have a like favour with you, yet you may observe the particular aim of God in continuing the gospel to England for your sakes.
Use. Well, then, acknowledge God in the truths that are delivered to you out of the scriptures. Whatever means are used, God is the author of the doctrine, and the disposer of the message: receive it ‘as the word of God,’ and then it will ‘profit you,’ 1 Thes. ii. 13. If you had an oracle from heaven speaking to you on this wise, you would be more serious. It is as certain, yea, it is βεβαιοτερος λόγος, ‘a more sure word,’ 2 Peter i. 19, more sure than the oracle spoken of in the context. Regard the promises and threatenings of it with more reverence, as if God in person had delivered them to you. If you receive it ‘as the word of God, and not of men,’ what will you venture upon the promises of it? These are bills of exchange given you, that you may draw your estate into another country, that you may lay up ‘treasures in heaven.’ Neglect of the opportunity is a sign of unbelief. If one should proffer you a hundred pounds for the laying out of a penny, and you go away and never heed it, it is a sign you do not believe the offer. The recompenses of the word do far exceed all temporal emolument; if you do not heed them, it is a sign you do not believe them. So what will you forbear upon the threatenings of the word? If there were a law made that every time we deceive or slander one another, we should hold one of our hands in scalding lead for half an hour, men would be afraid of the offence. God hath told us that ‘the wages of sin is death,’ that we shall be plunged for evermore in ‘the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone;’ and yet it doth not deter us from sin, and giving offence to God. If a man were told that he were in danger of a cruel death every moment if he did not presently get a 110pardon, he would not sleep till it were done. Natural men are in danger of hell every moment by the sentence of the word, and yet how backward are they to make their peace with God!
Obs. 2. The word delivered, implieth a leaving things in another’s hand by way of trust, and so doth not only note the mercy of God, but the duty of the church, to whom ‘the oracles of God are committed ‘to be kept. Whence observe, that God hath delivered the doctrine and rule of faith to the church as a public trustee, that it may be kept and employed to the uses of the truth. Let us a little see what is the church’s duty towards the truth. I answer—(1.) To publish it to the present age. (2.) To keep it and preserve it for ages to come. So that to the present age we are witnesses, to the future trustees, Isa. xliii. 10.
1. To publish, own, and defend the truth, by profession and martyrdom; and therefore the church is called ‘the pillar and ground of truth,’ 1 Tim. iii. 15, namely, in respect of men, and as it holdeth it forth to the world; and therefore we ought to hearken to the church’s testimony till we have better evidence. We do not ultimately resolve our faith into the church’s authority, for the church’s authority is not absolute, but ministerial; as a royal edict doth not receive credit by the officer and crier, he only declareth it and publisheth it; yet the church’s testimony is not to be neglected, for ‘faith cometh by hearing.’ Rom. x. 14, and this publication of the church is a good preparative inducement, John iv. 42. If we would know the truth of a thing, till we have experience we go to those that have experience, and ordinarily the judgment of others whom we respect and reverence causeth us to have a good opinion of a thing till we make trial ourselves: in which respect Austin saith, I had never believed the scriptures unless I had been moved thereunto by the authority of the church;7777 ‘Non crederem scripturae nisi me ecclesiae moveret auctoritas.’—Aug. as we should never have known the king’s pleasure unless the messenger had brought us his letters. The church hath not power to make and unmake scripture at pleasure, but only to communicate and hold forth the truth; and till we have further assurance, is so far to be heard. We receive the faith per ecclesiam, by the ministry of the church, though not propter ecclesiam, for the authority of the church.
2. The next office of the church is to preserve the truth, and transmit it pure to the next age. As the law was kept in the ark, so was truth delivered to the church to be kept: 1 Tim. i. 11, ‘The glorious gospel committed to my trust.’ There is a trust lieth upon us; upon the apostles first to publish the whole counsel of God, and then upon pastors and teachers in all ages to keep it afoot, and upon all believers and members of the church to see that after ages be not defrauded of this privilege. We are to take care that nothing be added, Deut. iv. 2, and xii. 32; there is enough ‘to make the man of God perfect;’ nothing diminished; none of the jewels which Christ hath left with his spouse must be embezzled; that it be not corrupted and sophisticated; for we are not only to transmit to the next age the scriptures, those faithful records of truth, but also the public explications of the church in summaries and confessions must be sound and orthodox, lest we entail a prejudice upon those that are yet unborn. Every one 111in his place is to see that these things be accomplished. So much for the tradition itself.
Secondly, Now for the manner, once delivered; that is, once for all, as never to be altered and changed; and when the canon or rule of faith was closed up, there was nothing to be added further, as a part of the authentic and infallible rule, though the daily necessities of the church do call for a further explication. But you will say, You told us but now how the word was many times delivered, how then once? I answer—The apostle speaketh not of the successive manifestations of God’s will to prophet after prophet till the Old Testament was perfected, but of that common doctrine which the apostles and evangelists by one consent had published to the world, and which was now to settle into a rule, and so to remain without change till the coming of the Lord. Observe, that the doctrine of salvation was but once delivered, to remain for ever without variation. Paul chideth them for being withdrawn to ‘another gospel,’ Gal. i. 6; and Peter telleth them, to prevent the reception of feigned oracles, that they had ‘a surer word of prophecy,’ 2 Peter i. 19, a safe rule to trust to; and Paul biddeth Timothy ‘continue in the things which he had learned,’ 2 Tim. iii. 14, 15; and our Lord saith, Mat. xxiv., ‘This word of the kingdom shall be preached to all nations.’ Now the doctrine of salvation is but once delivered—(1.) Because all is done so fully and perfectly, that nothing can be added; there is enough to ‘make us wise to salvation,’ 2 Tim. iii. 15, and what should Christians desire more? There is enough to ‘make the man of God perfect,’ ver. 17, that is, to furnish him with all kind of knowledge for the discharge of his office; there needeth no more; there is enough to make us wise to preach, and you wise to practise; and it is certain enough that you need not spend your time in doubting and disputing; and it is full enough, you need nothing more to satisfy the desires of nature, or to repair the defects of nature: here is sufficient instruction to decide all controversies, and assoil all doubts, and to give us a sure conduct to everlasting glory. (2.) Because this rule can never be destroyed. The word hath often been in danger of being lost, but the miracle of its preservation is so much the greater. In Josiah’s time there was but one copy of the law; in Diocletian’s time there was an edict to burn their bibles, and copies were then scarce and chargeable; yet still they were kept, and so shall be to the end of the world, for the sacraments must continue ‘till Christ come,’ Mat. xxviii. 20, and 1 Cor. xi. 26; and the word must be preached till we all ‘grow into a perfect body in Jesus Christ,’ Eph. iv. 12, 13; not only de jure, but de facto, not only it must be so, but it shall be so. Well, then, expect not new revelations or discoveries of new truths beside the word, which is the immutable rule of salvation: ‘Hold fast till I come.’ Rev. ii. 25. Again, it checketh them that expect new apostles, endowed with a spirit of infallibility, to resolve all doubts and questions. We must give heed to the scriptures, ‘till the day-star arise in our hearts,’ that is, till we have full communion with Christ; for our reward in heaven is expressed by ‘the morning star:’ Rev. ii. 28, ‘To him that overcometh I will give the morning star.’ Again, it confuteth the Familists, that dream of some days of the Spirit, wherein we shall have a greater light than is in the 112scriptures; they fancy the time of the law to be the days of the Father, the time of the gospel to be the days of the Son, and the latter end of the world to be saeculum Spirilus Sancti (as the Weigelians phrase it), the age of the Holy Ghost; but foolishly, for these are ‘the last times,’ Acts ii. 17, and Heb. i. 1; and the Holy Ghost was never more gloriously poured out than at Christ’s ascension, and greater things cannot be revealed to us than ‘God in Christ reconciling the world,’ Lastly, it is for the comfort of the saints that their salvation is put into a stated course, and God hath showed you what you must do if you would inherit eternal life.
Thirdly, The next circumstance is the persons to whom it was delivered, to the saints. It may be understood of the apostles, to whom it was delivered to be propagated; or of the church, to whom it was delivered to be kept, and who, in the constant use of scripture, are called saints. Observe, that saints are most interested in the acknowledgment, propagation, and defence of truth. The Christian faith was delivered to saints, and by saints, and none receive it so willingly, and defend it so zealously, and keep it so charily and faithfully as they do. (1.) The men that the Spirit of God made use of as penmen were ‘holy men,’ specially purified and sanctified for this work: 2 Peter i. 21, ‘Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;’ and Eph. iii. 5, ‘Revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.’ These men were the fittest instruments to beget an external repute to the word. Surely they would not do anything for their own ends, and obtrude their own inventions upon the world as oracles from God. A carnal man’s testimony is liable to suspicion. Who would count that wholesome that cometh from a leprous hand? Yea, those that were not of eminent sanctity were not fit for such an employment: a novel doctrine, such as the gospel seemed to be in the world, needed all the advantages that might be, to gain a title and interest in their belief; therefore did the Lord make use of such holy and self-denying persons, who expected to gain nothing but ignominy, poverty, afflictions, bonds, death; these things did abide for them in every city. (2.) Holy persons are only fit to preach the faith; sancta sanctis, holy men for holy things; it is an holy faith, and therefore fit to be managed by holy persons, that their hearts may carry a proportion with their work: Isa. lii. 11, ‘Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.’ The officers that carried the vessels and utensils of the temple out of Babylon were to take care of their cleanness. God purified Isaiah when he sent him to reprove, Isa. vi. 7, and the priests under the law that ministered before the Lord were to wash in the great laver. Re generation is the best preparation for the ministry. Others disparage their testimony, and bring a reproach upon the gospel. People think we must say somewhat for our living, and so give us the hearing, but that is all. Oh! think of it, the credit of Christ lieth at stake; and since miracles are ceased, all the external confirmation that we can add to the word is by holiness of conversation. The Levites first cleansed themselves, and then cleansed the people, Neh. xii. 30. The life of a minister is much either to edification or destruction; they take the lesson rather from your lives than your mouths, and by your levity or vanity sin cometh to be authorised: in short, either your 113doctrine will make your life blush, or your life will make your doctrine blush, and be ashamed.7878 ‘Erubescit quamvis praeclara doctrina quam propria reprehendit conscientia.’—Hieron. in Epitaph. Marcellae. (3.) None are fit publicly to defend the truth but the holy; they speak with more power, as from the heart and inward experience, and are more zealous as being more nearly concerned. They that partake of God’s nature will soonest espouse God’s cause and quarrel, and their zeal is most pure. Carnal men pervert religious differences; they change the nature of them, turning them into a strife of words, or a contention for interests; matters are not managed so purely as when there is conscience on both sides. The saints contend best for the saints’ faith: ‘We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth,’ 2 Cor. xiii. 8. Zeal in carnal men is like fire in straw, quickly up and quickly down; but in the godly, it is like fire in wood, longer kept: ‘Wisdom is justified of her children,’ Mat. xi. 19; they are fittest to interpose. Again, false zeal is most passionate, without pity and meekness; but the flame is most pure and bright in a holy heart, which is subdued to the power of truth. (4.) None receive the truth so willingly as the saints do. Holy persons can best understand what was written by holy men, they pierce into it more deeply; as iron that is red hot runneth further into the board than a sharp tool that is cold. God unbosometh himself to his familiars, Ps. xxv. 14; John vii. 17. Holy hearts are not clouded with the mists of lusts and interests. Where there is purity there is brightness; μοῦ κάθαρσις ἔλλαμψις (Nazi. Orat. ut memini 40); the mind being separated from gross things, is fitted for the reception of spiritual mysteries. Paul saw most of God when he was blind to the world; the heart being taken off from the world, is erected to things supernatural and of a higher cognisance. (5.) None retain the truth more firmly than the saints do. Manna was kept in a golden vessel, and so is truth in a pure soul: 1 Tim. iii. 9, ‘Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.’ Holiness doth not blunt the wit, but sharpen; none have a worse spiritual sight than they that lack grace, 2 Peter i. 9. An unclean vessel soureth the liquor that is put into it; so doth a carnal heart pervert the faith and taint the judgment. Let a man once be given up to some great lust, and you shall soon find him to be given up to some roaring error also; and when once they come to ‘make shipwreck of a good conscience,’ they do not long hold the faith that was once given to the saints, for grace and truth always thrive together.
I come now to the main observation that is to be drawn from these words.
Doct. That it is the duty of Christians in times of error and seducement to contend earnestly for the faith once given to the saints. It is their duty at all times, but then especially—(1.) That we may not discredit ourselves and the truth. (2.) That we may not hazard ourselves and the truth.
1. Let me first speak to the discredit, and there I shall show—(1.) That truth is honoured by a bold and resolute defence of it. We are not ashamed of it, though it be questioned and scorned in the world: Mat. xi. 19, ‘Wisdom is justified of her children.’ Neither John’s 114doctrine nor Christ’s doctrine would relish with the world, yet some had a reverent opinion of it for all that: Ps. cxix. 126, 127, ‘They make void thy law, therefore I love it above pure gold.’ In times of defection our love to God and the ways of God should be the greater; as fountain water is hottest in coldest weather. It was an honour to the Christian religion that the primitive professors were glad of an occasion to die for it,7979 ‘Quid ergo malum in Christiana religione, cujus reus gaudet, accusatio votum est, et poena felicitas.’—Tertul. and the more it was despised and persecuted, the more did they own it; falsehoods cannot endure the brunt of opposition. (2.) That we may not dishonour ourselves, and discredit our own profession. He is but an ill servant of Christ that will not serve him when ‘the Lord hath need of him;’ when God distinguisheth sides, and crieth out, ‘Who is of my side, who?’ Exod. xxxii. 26. Times of error and seducement are searching, trying times. Light chaff is carried about with every wind, but the solid grain lieth still upon the ground: ‘The approved are made manifest,’ 1 Cor. xi. 19. There is a time not only to show love, but valour: Jer. ix. 3, ‘They are not valiant for the truth upon the earth.’ To be valiant for truth is to defend it in time of opposition, and to sparkle so much the more in a holy zeal because they pervert the right ways of the Lord. A Christian must have a heart as well as a liver; not only love the truth, but contend for it, and the more earnestly the more it is opposed. The apostle saith that a bishop must ‘hold fast the word of truth,’ Titus i. 9, ἀντεχόμενον. The word signifieth a holding it fast against a contrary force; as when a man seeketh to wrest a staff out of another’s hand, he holdeth it the faster.
2. The next reason is, that we may not endanger and hazard ourselves and the truth. (1.) That we may not endanger ourselves. It is good to be able to defend religion when it is questioned; ignorant, secure, and careless spirits will certainly miscarry. Present truths and present errors have an aspect upon our interests; we must determine one way or another. Now how easily are they carried away with interests that have no principles, no ἴδιου στήριγμου, 2 Peter iii. 17, no proper ballast in their own spirits! Therefore let us strive to know the truth, to own the truth in a time of trial; it is needful. All errors and heresies are but men’s natural thoughts gotten into some valuable opinion, because backed with the defences of wit and parts. What are all the learned disputes against the truth, but the props of those vulgar misprisions and gross conceits that are in the heart of every natural and ignorant man? We have all a heretic in our bosoms, and are by nature prepared to drink in all kinds of errors and lies, and therefore we are said, Ps. lviii. 3, to ‘speak lies from the womb,’ because these things are in our natures. We are born Pelagians, and Libertines, and Papists.8080 ‘Pelagiani omnes nascimur et cum supercilio pharisaico.’—Spanheim. As in the new nature there is a cognation and proportion between us and truth, so in the old nature there is an inclination to all manner of errors. Luther saith, Every man is born with a pope in his belly. And Mr Greenham hath a saying, that if all errors, and the memorials of them, were annihilated by the absolute power of God, so that there should not the least remembrance of them remain, yet there is enough 115in the heart of one man to revive them again the next day. Certainly whatever is suggested from without doth very well suit with the carnal thoughts that are in our own bosoms. Look upon any error or blasphemy that is broached in the world, and you will find it true. Is atheism vented? ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,’ Ps. xiv. 1. Gentilism, or the doctrine of many gods? So do we set up many gods; whatever we fear or love, that we worship: ‘Whose god is the belly,’ Phil. iii. 19. Every man naturally is a pagan and idolater. Pelagian tenets, wherein original sin is denied, are natural. Common people think they had ever a good heart towards God: ‘All these have I kept from my youth,’ Mat. xix. 20. Chance and fortune, in a contradiction to God’s decrees, are a man’s natural opinions. So the doctrine of works and merit is in every man’s heart. What question more rife, when we begin to be serious, than ‘What shall I do?’ A ceremonious ritual religion is very pleasing to carnal sense; conjectural persuasions is but a more handsome word for the thoughts of ignorant persons; they say they cannot be assured, but they hope well. Doctrines of liberty are very suitable also to corrupt nature: ‘Cast away the cords,’ Ps. ii.; and ‘Who is lord over us?’ Ps. xii. 4. Nay, all sins are rooted in some error of judgment, and therefore they are called ‘errors,’ Ps. xix. 12. Well, then, for our own caution we had need stand for the truth, because error is so suitable to our thoughts; now when it spreadeth further, it is suitable also to our interests, and then we are in great danger of being overset. (2.) That we may not hazard the truth. When errors go away without control, it is a mighty prejudice both to the present and the next age: ‘The dwellers upon earth’ rejoiced when God’s witnesses were under hatches, and there was none to contest with them, Rev. xi. 10. Fools must be answered, or else they will grow ‘wise in their own conceit,’ Prov. xxvi. 4, 5. Error is of a spreading, growing nature, therefore it is not good to retreat and retire into our own cells from the heat and burden of the day; let us stand in the gap and make resistance as God giveth ability. Two motives will enforce this reason:—(1.) The preciousness of truth: ‘Buy the truth and sell it not.’ It is a commodity that should be bought at any rate, but sold by no means, for the world cannot bid an answerable price for it. Christ thought it worthy his blood to purchase the gospel; by offering up himself he not only procured the comfort of the gospel, but the very publication of the gospel; therefore we should reckon it among our treasures and choicest privileges, and not easily let it go, lest we seem to have cheap thoughts of Christ’s blood. (2.) The trust that is reposed in us for the next age, that is an obligation to faithfulness. We are not only to look to ourselves, but to posterity, to that doctrine which is transmitted to them; one generation teacheth another. And as we leave them laws and other national privileges, so it would be sad if we should not be as careful to leave them the gospel: ‘Our fathers told us what thou didst in their days,’ Ps. xliv. 1. Every age is to consider of the next, lest we entail a prejudice upon them against the truth. What cometh from forefathers is usually received with reverence: ‘A vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers,’ 1 Peter i. 18. If you be not careful you may sin after you are dead; our errors and evil practices being continued and kept afoot by posterity. 116All the world had been lost in error and profaneness, if God had not stirred up in every age some faithful witnesses to keep up the memory of truth. There is in man a natural desire to do his posterity good; love is descensive. Oh! consider, how shall the children that are yet unborn come to the knowledge of the purity of religion, without some public monument or care on your part to leave religion undefiled? Antichrist had never prevailed so much if men had thought of after ages; they slept, and unwarily yielded to encroachment after encroachment, until religion began to degenerate into a fond superstition, or bundle of pompous and idle ceremonies; and now we see how hard it is to wean men from these things, because they have flowed down to them in the stream of succession, and challenge the authority and prescription of ancient customs. Look, as sometimes the ancestor’s guilt is measured into the bosom of posterity, because they continued in their practices, Mat. xxiii. 35, ‘That upon you may come all the righteous blood,’ &c.; so many times the miscarriages of posterity may justly be imputed to us, because they shipwrecked themselves upon our example: ‘The fathers ate sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Well, then, let us perform the part of faithful trustees, and keep the doctrine of salvation, as much as in us lieth, pure and unmixed.
Use. It presseth us to this earnestness of contention and zeal for the truths of God. We live in a frozen age and cursed indifferency hath done a great deal of mischief. Christians! is error grown less dangerous, or the truth of religion more doubtful? Is there nothing certain and worth contention, or are we afraid to meddle with such as shroud themselves under the glorious name of saints? We will not oppose saints, and so let the ‘truth’ go that was given to the saints, to be kept by them. Oh! my brethren, Paul withstood Peter to the face when truth was like to suffer, Gal. ii. 11. So should we with stand them to the face rather than make such sad work for the next age, and leave our poor babes to the danger of error and seduction. What is become of our zeal? ‘There is none valiant for the truth upon the earth.’ Prejudices and interests blind men so that they can not see what they see, and are afraid to be zealous, lest they should be accounted bitter. We have been jangling about discipline, and now doctrine itself is like to escape us. In the name of God let us look about us. Are there not crafty thieves abroad that would steal away our best treasure, and in the midst of the scuffle cheat us and our posterity of the gospel itself. We have been railing at one another for lesser differences, and now we begin to be ashamed of it. Satan hopeth that error and blasphemy itself shall go scot-free. Ah! my brethren, it is time to awake out of sleep. Whilst we have slept the enemy hath come and sown tares. What a tattered religion shall we transmit to ages to come; if there be not a timely remedy! To help you I shall show:—
1. What we must contend for.
2. Who must contend, and in what manner.
1. What we must contend for. For every truth of God, according to its moment and weight. The dust of gold is precious; and it is dangerous to be careless in the lesser truths: ‘Whosoever shall 117break the least of the commandments, and teach men so to do,’ &c., Mat. v. 19. There is nothing superfluous in the canon. The Spirit of God is wise, and would not burden us with things unnecessary. Things comparatively little may be great in their own sphere, especially in their season, when they are the truths of the present age, and now brought forth by God upon the stage of the world, that we may study his mind in them. Better heaven and earth should be blended together in confusion, saith Luther, than one dust of God’s truth should perish.8181 ‘Potius ruat coelum quam pereat una mica veritatis.’—Luther. If the Lord call us out to the defence of them, what ever cometh of it we must be faithful. A man may make shipwreck of a good conscience in small matters. Say not, ‘It is a little one, and my soul shall live.’ Hearken to Satan, and this will be a little one, and that shall be a little one, till we have littled away all the principles of faith. I tell you, the world hath counted those small things for which the children of God have ventured their all. It is your duty to ‘take the little foxes,’ Cant. ii. 15. The first appearances of error are many times modest. There is a chain of truths; the devil taketh out a link here and a link there, that all may fall to pieces. See 2 Thes. ii. 2, ‘Let no man deceive you with such doctrine as that the day of Christ is at hand.’ Why? They might say there is no great danger in that. Peter saith, ‘The end of all things draweth nigh,’ 1 Peter iv. 7. The seducers said, ἐνέστηκε, it ‘is at hand;’ and Peter saith, ἤγγικε, ‘it draweth nigh.’ Here is no great difference. Ay! but be not shaken in mind, saith Paul, ‘neither by letter nor by word nor by spirit, as if the day of the Lord were at hand;’ that is, take heed of such suggestions, under what pretence soever they are brought to you, either of revelations or collections from my doctrine; it is all a falsehood. Why is Paul so earnest? Because Satan had an aim to make them look for the sudden coming of Christ, which not happening accordingly, to make them fall a-questioning all the truths of God.8282 ‘Ne forte cum transisset tempus quo eum credebant esse venturum, et venisse non cernerent, etiam caetera fallaciter sibi promitti arbitrantes et de ipsa mercede fidei desperarent.’ So Gen. iii. 3, ‘Ye shall not eat nor touch lest ye die.’ That was Satan’s repetition. Whereas God had said, Gen. ii. 17, ‘Thou shalt surely die.’ No great difference, but Satan got a great deal of advantage by it. Therefore be not ‘ignorant of Satan’s devices.’ The Council of Nice would not gratify Arius in a letter,8383 Ὁμοούσιος and ὁμοιούσιος. and Nestorius in a letter.8484 Θεοδόχος and θεοτόκος. The lesser truths are not to be slighted in their time and place; they deserve an earnest contention. The martyrs were not foolish nor prodigal of their lives; they knew what they did when they durst not give place for a moment.
All this is not spoken to justify undue rigours, such as are without any temper of Christian moderation, or those frivolous controversies about trifles, such as have no foundation in the word; as about the observance of Easter between the eastern and western churches, which difference grew so high that they excommunicated each other; or about celebrating the Lord’s Supper with leavened or unleavened bread; or the fierce bickerings between Chrysostom and Epiphanius about Origen’s 118books, set on by Theophilus, in pursuit of which many were slain, the senate house pulled down, and the great church at Constantinople set on fire; nor to justify mere verbal strifes about ‘words and names,’ forbidden by the apostle, 2 Tim. ii. 14; 1 Tim. vi. 4. Vainglorious men, if they can get but a different method of expression, cry, No new light, and so there is a great deal of noise stirred up about a mistake. Nor to justify the breaking of church fellowship and communion, and making rents in the body of Christ, because of difference of opinion in smaller matters, when we agree in the more weighty things. We are to ‘walk together as far as we are agreed,’ Phil. iii. 16; and externals wherein we differ, lying far from the heart of religion, are nothing to faith and the new creature, wherein we agree, Gal. v. 6, and vi. 15. The most weight should be pitched upon the fundamentals and essentials of religion; and when there is an agreement there, private differences in smaller matters should not make us break off from one another. False zeal is unevenly carried out to these lower things, both in opinion and practice; and usually young professors are eager upon disputes, impatient of contradiction, and lay out all their strength this way, to excuse their care in the more weighty matters of Christianity; whereas ‘the kingdom of God doth not stand in meat and drink, but in peace and righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ Rom. xiv. 17. The itch of disputing and zeal for an opinion, rather than religion in the main, are bad characters. Again, when men, though in the right, think there is no religion or holiness but within the compass of such an opinion, this is censorious rigour, or to be ‘righteous over-much,’ Eccles. vii. 17; or when a lesser dissent is loaded with all the odious consequences that you can fancy in your thoughts, though disclaimed by the party dissenting; when Eloi is turned into Elias, and things are perverted by a misinterpretation, as Christ’s words were, John ii. 19, compared with Mat. xxvi. 61;—briefly, when men upon every small occasion draw all things to extremity, and break out into contumely, revilings, persecution, biting and devouring one another,8585 As Rivet said of Montague, ‘Non potest ille quenquam a quo dissentit vel in levissimis sine convitiis nominare.’—Riveti Apol. pro Sanctissima Virgine Maria. it is not zeal, but fierceness and brutish immoderation. Therefore, all this excepted, it standeth us upon to be zealous even to sufferings for the lesser truths, that we may prevent the further encroachments of Satan, and antichrist, his eldest son, upon the liberties and privileges of the saints.
But now, besides the lesser things, there are fundamentals and essentials in religion, which challenge the choicest of our care and zeal, that they may be kept entire and without violation; the ignorance of them is damnable, and the denial heretical: to determine what they are is an undertaking of great concernment to the Christian world, but of too high a nature for the present exercise. I shall only mention a few points which seem to be ἐν πρώτοις, matters concerning the foundation; as the creation of the world by God in six days out of nothing, God’s providence, man’s misery by sin, deliverance by Christ, the necessity of the new creature, the resurrection of the dead, and the everlasting recompenses. These are points of the greatest moment, 119though I cannot but say that others also are fundamental;8686 There are divers other fundamentals of the highest nature, as the mystery of the Trinity, into which we are baptized, the union of the two natures in the person of Christ, that the scriptures are the word of God, &c. but these come to mind as being of the most practical concernment.
2. Who must strive, and in what manner. I answer—All in their place, and in that way that is proper to them.
[1.] Private Christians must have a share in this holy contention; their duty is partly—(1.) To search out the truth, that they may not fight blindfold, or by an unhappy mistake lavish out their zeal upon fancies which they affect, or ordinances and doctrines of men. People are never so furious as when they have least ground and reason for what they assert; yea, and error never prevaileth so much as when Christians are all flame and affection without judgment, and do not understand the reasons of that religion which they do profess. See 1 Peter iii. 15, ‘A reason of the hope that is in you;’ and 2 Peter iii. 17, ἴδιον στήριγμον, ‘their own steadfastness;’ that is, such a steadfastness as doth arise from solid grounds in their own hearts, and not merely from the consent of others. (2.) To own the profession of the truth, whatever it cost them. I say, it is their duty to own the profession of the truth; for the public owning of the people it is a great let and restraint to tyranny, and such innovations as otherwise a carnal magistrate would introduce into the church by force and power. See Acts iv. 21, they let them go because of the people; so Mat. xiv. 5, and xxi. 46. And again, I say they must own it whatever it cost them, for zealous defences are a great honour to the truth. The disputations of the doctors do not commend it to the world so much as the death of the martyrs; and therefore, though you cannot dispute for the truth, yet you should die for the truth: ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,’ &c., Heb. xii. 4. We cannot be at too much cost to preserve so precious a treasure to posterity. And here even women may put in a share; they have lives to sacrifice upon the interest of the truth, and usually they do not fall in vain.8787 ‘Ipsae foeminae sunt nobiscum in eadem confessionis gloria constitutae.’—Cyp. Mart. ‘Cum triumphantibus viris et foeminae veniunt, quae cum saeculo dimicantes sexum quoque vicerunt.’—Cyp. Serm. de Lapsis. (3.) To honour the truth by their conversations: there are heretical manners as well as heretical doctrines; and-there are many that are otherwise of an orthodox belief, yet make others sectaries and disciples of their vices: some live atheism; there are Antinomians in practice; an apostate is a practical Arminian. Therefore Christians are called to ‘hold forth the word of life’ in their conversations, Phil, ii. 16; and to ‘make the doctrine of God the Saviour comely,’ Titus ii. 10, by glorifying God in that course of life to which they are disposed. To preach and write for the truth doth not honour it so much as to ‘walk in the truth,’ 3 John 4; and the life is a better witness of the reality of religion than the tongue.8888 ‘Efficacius eat vitae quam linguae testimonium.’—Bernard. (4.) To comprise all in a few words, whatever maketh for the truth, either with God or men, all that must the people do: ‘We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth,’ saith Paul, 2 Cor. xiii. 8. To God you must pray, that he would send forth not only labourers, but champions, Mat. ix. 38; not only such as can handle the trowel, but the sword in the battles of 120the church. To men, you are to quicken those that have gifts to look to their duty in this kind:8989 ‘Gladiatores perfectissimos non tantum magistri et praepositi sui, sed etiam idiotae et supervacui quique adhortantur de longinquo, ut saepe ab ipso populo dictata suggesta profuerint.’—Tertul ad Mart. ‘Say to Archippus, Take heed to thy ministry which thou hast received in the Lord,’ Col. iv. 17. Many may be stirred up by your exhortations, that otherwise would lie useless in idleness and privacy: in the battle the trumpeter hath his use as well as the soldier. Neither are they to be admonished only, but assisted; and by that means you have an interest in the glory of the work: 3 John 8, ‘We ought to receive such, that we may be fellow-helpers to the truth;’ σύνεργοι, co-workers; your helping hand is to the action, and God will not be unmindful of it: yea, if you bear any part of the toil, by performing any labour of love to them, it shall turn to a good account in the day of the Lord. Hezekiah’s servants did but copy out the proverbs, and it is mentioned to their praise, Prov. xxv. 1. All this may be done by persons of a private gift and station.
[2.] There is something that the magistrate may do: ‘He is the minister of God for good.’ Rom. xiii. 4; not only for good civil, but spiritual; and therefore doth the apostle bid us pray for them, that they may be keepers of both the tables: 1 Tim. ii. 2, ‘That we may lead a quiet life under them, in all godliness and honesty.’ Heathens have asserted, that it belongeth to the magistrates’ duty chiefly to look after matters of religion;9090 ‘Τὸ περὶ θεῖον ἐπιμέλεια,’ &c.—Arist. Polit., lib. vii. cap. 8. much more is it evident by the light of Christianity. The kings of the Old Testament are commended for their zeal in this kind; and in the times of the gospel it is prophesied that ‘kings shall be the church’s nursing fathers, and queens her nursing mothers,’ Isa. xlix. 23, which they cannot be if they suffer poison to be given to God’s little ones without any let and restraint. It is a clear truth that if a man give up himself to Christ, he is to give up himself to him in every relation; his wit, wealth, parts, authority, all to be laid out for the use and service of Christ: he that doth not give up all, giveth nothing; we are to be Christ’s in every capacity. Therefore a magistrate as a magistrate must not only countenance religion, but also discountenance error, and hinder the spreading of it within his charge. It is by Christ that ‘kings reign,’ Prov. viii. 15, from him they received their power, and to him must they give an account of the exercise of it in the great day of recompenses; therefore they are bidden to ‘be wise and to kiss the Son,’ Ps. ii. 10-12, which certainly noteth more than a negative act or not opposing: there must be something positive, a zealous defence of the truth in their way, or else God will reckon with them. Those Gallios that are indifferent to Christ and antichrist cannot expect a long and happy reign. I cannot see how they can be true to civil interest unless they be careful for the suppression of error; for when false doctrines are freely vented, it is to be supposed they will find a general reception, for the most are the worst; and then, when the generality of a nation are corrupted, national judgments will not long be kept off, the whole body is sure to smart for it; for, as the Jewish proverb is, two dry 121sticks will set a green one on fire. Besides that error is masterly and bloody, and loveth to give law; therefore, ere it be too late, they should look to the civil peace, for if men be quiet, God will not, when his honour and truth and worship is neglected. But of this more hereafter.
[3.] Ministers are to contend for the truth, for by their office and station in the church they are captains of the people in this war against Satan and his adherents; therefore it is required of them that they should be able to handle the sword and the trowel; not only to ‘exhort by sound doctrine,’ but to ‘convince the gainsayers,’ Titus i. 9. These are πίστοι ἄνθρωποι, 2 Tim. ii. 2, ‘The faithful men,’ the feoffees in trust, to whom truth is committed; they are the salt of the earth, Mat. v. 13, those that must season the world with gracious principles; therefore they must above all others labour in the defence of the truth, otherwise they are compared to ‘dumb dogs that bark not’ when the thieves come to steal away the treasure, Isa. lvi. 10, 11. Now ministers must contend, partly by preaching, warning the people of the wolves that are abroad, Acts xx. 29; partly by disputing, Acts xv. 2, and xviii. 28, that by the knocking of flints light may fly out, and that truth may beat its enemy hand to hand in the open field; and partly by writing,9191 ‘Alternis vicibus contentioso fune uterque diem in vesperam traximus, obstrepentibus etiam quibusdam spectantibus, singulorum nubilo quodam veritatis obumbrabatur.’—Tertul. contra Judaeos. for many times disputes are carried on with so much tumult and popular noise, that truth is lost in the crowd; besides, by this means we are a help to posterity, that, together with the poison, the antidote may be transmitted to them.
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