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I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.—Ver. 30.
I come now to answer an objection which may be made.
Object. But if you be so earnest to maintain unity among your own sects, why do you separate from the Papists, who are Christians as well as you, and own many things of Christianity wherein you may agree with them?
I answer—In the general, certainly the separation of one Christian, from another is a great evil, which should be carefully avoided; and if walls of separation be set up by others, yet we must do what in us lies to demolish them. They do no service to Christ that make separations needlessly, when as much as is possible there should be a union and coalition between Christians. Now, what shall we say to this separation from Borne, who were in the possession of a Christianity? I tell you, this bugbear needs not fright us out of the good way, if we can but clear three things to you.
1. That as to the rise, it was neither unjust nor unnecessary.
2. As to the manner of it, it was not made rashly and lightly, but as became them that had a serious sense of the interest of Christ and of his church in the world.
3. As to the continuance of this separation, that if it were made upon good grounds, and the same grounds still continue, certainly we have no cause to revert and return back; the Roman synagogue not being grown better, but much worse, since the first breach.
If all these can be proved, there is no reason to complain of our separation.
First, That this separation was neither unjust nor unnecessary. It is unjust if it be made without a cause: it is unnecessary if it be made without a sufficient cause, or such a cause as may warrant so great a breach in the Christian world. Certain it is that the schism lieth not in the separation, but the cause; and so is not chargeable on those that make the separation, but on those that give the cause. So that if we would examine whether the separation be good, I think we must examine the causes of it; therefore let us a little consider this very thing. Certainly the cause was not unjust; there was a cause (I shall show that by and by); and that it was not unnecessary, without a sufficient cause, and so no way culpable.
The business is, whether the controversies be of such moment as that there should be such a breach among Christians that we and they should keep such a distance (I speak only to the sufficiency of the cause, the justness we shall see by and by). Of what moment soever the controversies were, if the things that are taken to be errors be imposed as a condition of communion, a Christian cannot join himself with them. Certainly it is no sin to abstain from the communion of any church on earth, where the conditions of its communion are apparently unlawful and against conscience, though it may be the matters in debate be not of great moment. I only speak provisionally, 303be they or be they not of moment, yet if these be propounded as conditions of its communion; for no man is necessitated to sin. In some cases it is lawful to withdraw out of a place for fear of danger and infection; as if a house or town be infected with the pestilence, it is but a necessary caution to look to ourselves betimes, and withdraw out of that house or town.
But now when no men are permitted to tarry but those that are infected with the disease, the case is out of dispute; the sound must be gone, and withdraw from them by all the means they can. Now, such are the corruptions of Popery, and the danger of seducement so manifest, that ‘little children are by all means to keep themselves from idols,’ 1 John v. 21. We should be very cautious and wary of that communion wherein there is so much hazard of salvation, if possible; we should keep ourselves untainted. But when we are bound to the belief, practice, profession of those errors, there needs no more debate; a Christian must be gone, else he will sin against conscience. Now this is the case clearly between them and us. Suppose the corruptions were not great, nor the errors damnable, yet when the profession of them is required, and the belief of them as certain truths is imposed, we are to endure all manner of extremity rather than yield to them. Therefore much more when it is easy to be proved that they are manifest and momentous corruptions. Therefore certainly to leave the communion of the popish faction is but to return to our union and communion with Christ; it can be no fault to leave them that left Christ, and the ancient faith and church. The innocent husband that leaves the adulterous wife is not to be blamed, for she had first broken the bonds, and violated the rights of the conjugal relation. Or, a good citizen and soldier are not to be blamed in forsaking their governor and captain, who first revolted from his allegiance to his prince, ay, and when he would engage them in the same rebellion too.
Secondly, As to the management of it, or the manner how it was carried on. It was not made rashly and lightly, without trying all good means, and offering to have their complaints debated in a free council; in the meantime continuing in their station, and managing the cause of Christ with meek but yet zealous defences, until they were driven thence by antichristian fury for blowing the trumpet, and warning the church of her danger from that corrupt party; until persecuted by censures not only ecclesiastical but civil; cast out of the church, put to death, some for witnessing against, others merely for not owning and practising, these corruptions; and hunted out from their corners, where they were willing to hide, and worship God in secret, with all rigour and tyranny; driven first out of the church, then out of the world by fire and sword, unless they would communicate with them in their sin: thus were they used. So that the Romanists cannot charge the Protestants with schism for leaving their communion, any more than a man that thrusteth another out of doors can be offended at his departure. Yea, when the reformed did set up other churches, it was after all hopes of reformation were lost and defeated; and the princes, magistrates, pastors, and people were grown into a multitude, and did in great numbers run to the banner 304which God had displayed because of his truth, and so could not in conscience and spiritual safety live without the means of grace and the benefit of ordinances and church-societies, lest they should be scattered as sheep without a shepherd, and become a ready prey to Satan.
And then this separation, which was so necessary, was carried on with love and pity, and with great distinction between the corruptions from which they separated, and the persons from whom they separated; and they had the same affection to them, and carried it all along just as those that are freed from Turkish slavery, and have broke prison, and invited the other Christian captives to second them. It may be they have not the heart and courage to venture with them; though they leave them fast in their enemies’ chains, and will not return to their company, they cease not to love and pity them, though it were long, of their fear they did not enjoy the like liberty themselves.
Thirdly, As to the continuance of this separation. It was made upon good grounds, and it is still to be continued upon the same grounds. The Roman Church is not grown better, but worse; and that which was before but mere practice and custom is since established by law and canon, and they have ratified and owned their errors in the Council of Trent. And now Antichrist is more discovered, and God hath multiplied and reformed the churches, and blessed them with his gifts and graces, and the conversion of many souls, surely we should not now grow weary of our profession, as if novelty only led us to make this opposition. If we shall think so slightly of all the truths of God and blood of the martyrs, and all this ado to bring things to this pass, that Christ may gain ground, and we should tamely give up our cause at last, as some have done implicitly, and others shrink, and let the Papists carry it quietly, it is such wickedness as will be the brand and eternal infamy of this generation. If Hagar the bond woman, that hath been cast out, should return again, and vaunt it over Sarah the lawful wife, the mischiefs that would follow are unspeakable. God permitted it to be so for a while in Queen Mary’s days; and what precious blood was shed during that time we all know; and shall we again return to the garlic and onions of Egypt, as being weary of the distractions of the wilderness, and expose the interest of Christ, merely for our temporal good, which we cannot be secured of either? Therefore, since this separation was not unjust, without cause, nor unnecessary, without sufficient cause, and since it was carried on with so much meekness and Christian lenity, and since Borne is not grown better, but worse rather, surely we have no reason to be stumbled at for our departure from that apostatical church.
In short, this separation was not culpable; it came not from error of mind: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ 1 John ii. 19. Not from corruption in manners: ‘These are those that separate themselves, sensual, not having the Spirit,’ Jude 19. Not from strife and contention, like those separations at Corinth, where ‘one was of Paul, another of Apollos,’ &c., 1 Cor. i. 12; not from pride and censoriousness, like those that said, ‘Stand farther off; I am holier than thou,’ Isa. lxv. 5. Not from coldness and tergiversation, as those that ‘forsook the assembling of themselves together,’ because they 305were in danger of this kind of Christianity, Heb. x. 25. But from conscience; and this not so much from the Christians, as from the errors of Christians; from the corruptions, rather than the corrupted. There is no reason we should be frightened with this suggestion.
But now, because that separation is good or evil according to the causes of it, let us a little consider the state of Rome when God first summoned his people to come out of this spiritual Babylon; and if it be the same still, there is no cause to retract the change.
The state of it may be considered either as to its government, doctrine, or worship; the tyranny of their discipline and government, the heresy of their doctrine, and the idolatry of their worship. And if our fathers could not, and if we cannot, have communion with them without partaking of their sin, it is certain the separation was and is still justifiable.
First, As to their government. Three things are matter of just offence to the reformed churches:—
1. The universality or vast extent and largeness of that dominion and empire which they arrogate.
2. The supremacy and absolute authority which they challenge.
3. The infallibility which they pretend unto.
And if there were nothing else but a requiring a submission to these things, so false, so contrary to the tenor and interest of Christianity, this were ground enough of separation.
1. The universality of headship over all other churches, this the people of God neither could nor ought to endure.
Suppose the Roman Church were sound in faith, in manners, in discipline; yet, being but a particular church, that it should challenge such a right to itself, in giving laws to all other churches at its own pleasure, and that every particular society which doth not depend upon her beck in all things should be excluded from hope of salvation, or not counted a fellow-church in the communion of the Christian faith, this is a thing that cannot be endured.
That the Pope, as to the extent of his government and administration, should be universal bishop, whose empire should reach far and near throughout the world, as far as the church of Christ reacheth; this, as to matter of fact is impossible; as to matter of right, is sacrilegious. As to matter of fact it is impossible, because of the variety of governments and different interests under covert of which the particular churches of Christ find shelter and protection in all the places of their dispersion; and therefore to establish such an empire, that shall be so pernicious to the churches of Christ which are harboured abroad, is very grievous; and partly by reason of the multitude and diversity of those things that belong to governments, which is a power too great for any created understanding to wield. As to matter of right, it is sacrilegious; for Christ never instituted any such universal vicar as necessary to the unity of his church. But here was one Lord Jesus, and one God, and one faith, but never in union under one pope. And therefore we see, in temporal government, God hath distributed it into many hands, because he would not subject the whole world unto one, as neither able to manage the affairs thereof, nor brook the majesty of so large an empire with that meekness and moderation as becomes 306a creature. It is too much for mere man to bear. Now religious concernments are more difficult than civil, by reason of the imperfection of light about them; and it would easily degenerate into superstition and idolatry; therefore certainly none but a God is able to be head of the church.
2. The authority of making laws. Consider it either as to matter or form, the matter about which it is exercised, or the authority itself; their intolerable boldness and proud ambition is discovered in either. As to the matter about which this power is exercised, for temporal things, God hath committed them to the care of the magistrate; and it is an intrusion of his right for the Pope to take upon himself to interpose in civil things, to dispose of states and kingdoms; a power which Christ refused: ‘Man, who made me a judge over you?’ Luke xii. 14. As to matter of religion, some things are in their own nature good and some evil; some things of a middle nature and indifferent. As to the first, God hath established them by his laws; as to the other y they are left to arbitrament, to abstain and use for edification, according to the various postures and circumstances of times, places, and persons, but so that we should never take from any believer, or suffer to be taken from him, that liberty which Christ hath purchased for us by his blood. It is a licentious abuse of power not to be endured. We are to ‘stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,’ Gal. v. 1. The apostle mainly intends it of the observance of the ceremonial law, which was a bondage, because of the trouble and expense. Oh! but then the price wherewith Christ bought our freedom should make us more chary of it, and stand in the defence of it with greater courage and constancy, whatever it cost us. The captain told Paul that his liberty as a Roman was ‘obtained with a great sum,’ Acts xxii. 28. Now, the court of Rome doth challenge such a power, that it commandeth and forbiddeth those things which God hath left free, as distinction of days, meats, marriage, according to their own pleasure, 1 Tim. iv. 3; nay, sometimes dispenseth with that which God hath expressly commanded or forbidden; and then what doth it but make him equal with God, yea, superior to him? That physician possibly may be borne with that doth only burden his patient with some needless prescriptions, if for the main he be but faithful; but if he should mingle poison with his medicaments, and also still tire out his patient with new prescriptions, that are altogether troublesome, and costly, and nauseous, and for the number of them dangerous to life, it behoveth his patient to look to his health. And this is the very case. The Pope doth sometimes make bold with dispensing with God’s laws, and doth extinguish and choke Christian religion by thousands of impositions of indifferent things, which is not to be endured.
And then as to the authority itself; according to the eminency of the lawgiver, so is his authority more or less absolute. Therefore when a mortal man shall challenge an authority so absolute as to be above control, and to give no account of his actions, and it is not lawful to say to him, What doest thou? or inquire into the reason, or complain of the injury, this is that which the churches of Christ cannot endure. Therefore they had just ground and cause of withdrawing, and making up a body by themselves, rather than yield to so great encroachments 307upon Christian liberty; to receive the decrees of one church, and that so erroneous and imposing, without examination or leave of complaint.
3. That which grieveth, and did grieve, and cause this withdrawing, is both papal infallibility and freedom from error. That any church which is made up of fallible men should arrogate this to themselves (especially the Roman, which of all churches that ever Christ had upon earth is most corrupt), that they should fasten this infallibility to the papal chair, which is the fountain of those corruptions, this they look upon as a great contradiction, not only to faith, but to sense; and as hard a condition as if I were bound, when I saw a man sick of the plague, and the swelling and tokens of death upon him, yet to say he is immortal, nay, that that part wherein the disease is seated is immortal. This was the burden that was imposed upon the people of God, that they should yield to this.
Secondly, Come to their heresy in doctrine. To rake in this filth would take up more time than will comport with your patience. It is almost everywhere corrupt; the only sound part in the whole frame is the doctrine of the Trinity, which yet the schoolmen have entangled with many nice and unprofitable disputes, which render their glorious and blessed mystery less venerable. We must do them right also in this, that they grant the doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction, and that he not only died for our good, but in our stead, and bore our punishment; they grant the truth of it, but deny the sufficiency of it: so mightily weaken, if not destroy it, while they think it must be pieced up by the sacrifice of the mass, human satisfaction, by the merit of works, purgatory, and indulgences. But in all other points of religion, how corrupt are they! That which most offends the reformed churches is their equalling traditions with the scripture; yea, their decrying and taxing the scriptures as obscure, insufficient, and as a nose of wax, pliable to several purposes; their mangling the doctrine of justification, which we own to consist in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith; and they plead in the works of righteousness which we have done; and so, if the apostle may be judge, ‘make void the grace of God,’ Gal. ii. 21. And then the merit of works, not expecting the reward of them from God’s mercy, which becometh Christian humility; but from the condignity of the work itself, which bewrayeth their pharisaical pride. We say that sins are remitted by God alone, exercising his mercy in Christ through the gospel, towards those that believe and repent. But the Papists say, pardon may be had by virtue of indulgences, if a man give such a price, do this or that, say so many ave marias and paternosters, though far enough from true faith and repentance. The one savours of the gospel, the other of the tyranny of the Pope of Rome, that hath set himself in the place of God, and substituted his laws instead of the law of Christ. So their portentous doctrine of transubstantiation, that a priest should make his maker, and a people eat their God. I could represent the difference of both churches, both in excess and defect. In excess, what they believe over and above the Christian faith. The true church believes, with the scriptures, and with the primitive churches, that there is but one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be religiously invocated and worshipped. 308They plead the creature, angels and saints, are to be both religiously invocated and worshipped. The scripture shows that there is but one surety and mediator between God and man, he that was both God and man, Jesus Christ. They say that the saints are mediators of intercession with God, by whose merits and prayers we obtain the grace and audience of our supplications. The scripture saith that Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice offered on the cross is sufficient for the plenary remission of all our sins. They say the sacrifice of the mass, which the priest under the species of bread and wine substantially, that is, by consecration into the body and blood of Christ, offered to God, that this is available for the remission of sins both of quick and dead. That the remission of sins obtained by Christ, and offered in the gospel to the penitent believer, is bestowed and applied by faith, this is the opinion of the scripture. They say remission of sins is obtained and applied by their own satisfactions and papal indulgences. That true repentance consists in confession of sin with grief, and desire of the grace of Christ, with a serious purpose of newness of life, this is the doctrine of the scripture. They think that to the essence of true repentance there is required auricular confession, penal satisfactions, and the absolvance of the priest, without which true faith profiteth nothing to salvation. Again, the scripture teacheth this doctrine, that the ordinances confer grace by virtue only of God’s promises, and the sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace to them that believe. And they would teach us that they deserve and confer grace from the work wrought. The scripture teacheth that good works are such as are done in obedience to God and conformity to his law, and are completed in love to God and our neighbour. They teach us that there are works of supererogation, which neither the law nor the gospel requireth of us; and that the chief of these are monastical vows, several orders and rules of monks and friars. The scripture teacheth us that God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is only to be worshipped, both with natural and instituted worship, in spirit and in truth; and they teach both the making and worshipping of an image, and that the images of saints are to be worshipped. The scripture teacheth that there is but one holy apostolical catholic church, joined together in one faith and one Spirit, whose head, husband, and foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ, out of which church there is no salvation; and they teach us the Church of Rome is the centre, the right mother of all churches, under one head, the Pope, infallible and supreme judge of all truth; and out of communion of this church there is nothing but heresy, schism, and everlasting condemnation. Instead of that lively faith by which we are justified by Christ, they cry up a dead assent. Instead of sound knowledge, they cry up an implicit faith, believing as the church believes. Instead of affiance, they cry up wavering, conjectural uncertainty.
Thirdly, Come to their worship. Their adoration of the host, their invocation of saints and angels, their giving to the Virgin Mary and other saints departed the titles of mediator, redeemer, and saviour, in their public liturgies and hymns; their bowing to and before images; their communion in one kind, and that decreed by their councils, with a non obstante Christi institute, notwithstanding Christ’s express institution 309to the contrary; their service in an unknown tongue, and the like, are just causes of our separation from them. But it is tedious to rake in these things. So that unless we would be treacherous to Christ, and not only deny the faith, but forfeit sense and reason, and give up all to the lusts and wills of those that have corrupted the truth of Christianity, we ought to withdraw, and our separation is justifiable notwithstanding this plea.
The use. Here is reproof to divers sorts.
1. To those that think they may be of any sect among Christians, as if all the differences in the Christian world were about trifles and matters of small concernment, and so change their religion as they do their clothes, and are turned about with every puff of new doctrine. If it were to turn to heathenism, Turcism, or Judaism, they would rather suffer banishment or death than yield to such a change; but to be this day of this sect and to-morrow of another, they think it is no great matter. As the wind of interest bloweth, so are they carried, and do not think it a matter of such moment to venture anything upon that account. You do not know the deceitfulness of your hearts; he that can digest a lesser error will digest a greater. God trieth you in the present truth. He that is not faithful in a little will not be faithful in much, as he that giveth entertainment to a small temptation will also to a greater, if put upon it. Where there is not a sincere purpose to obey God in all things, God is not obeyed in anything. Every truth is precious. The dust of gold and pearls is esteemed. Every truth is to be owned in its season with full consent. To do anything against conscience is damnable. You are to choose the way of truth impartially, to search and find out the paths thereof.
2. It reproves those that will be of no religion till all differences among the learned and godly are reconciled, and therefore willingly remain unsettled in religion, and live out of the communion of any church upon this pretence, that there is so much difference, such show of reason on each side, and such faults in all, that they doubt of all, and therefore will not trouble themselves to know which side hath the truth. You are to choose the way of truth. And this is such a fond conceit, as if a man desperately sick should resolve to take no physic till all doctors were of one opinion; or as if a traveller, when he seeth many ways before him, should lie down and refuse to go any farther. You may know the truth if you will search after it with humble minds: John vii. 17, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.’ ‘The meek he will teach the way.’ If you be diligent, you may come to a certainty notwithstanding this difference.
3. It reproves those that take up what comes next to hand, are loath to be at the pains of study, and searching, and prayer, that they may resolve upon evidence; that commonly set themselves to advance that faction into which they are entered. Alas! you should mind religion seriously; though not lightly leave the religion you are bred in, yet not hold it upon unsound grounds. As antiquity: John iv. 20, ‘Our fathers worshipped in this mountain.’ Or custom of the times and places where you live: Eph. ii. 2, ‘According to the course of the world,’ the general and corrupt custom or example of those where we 310live; nor be led by affection to, or admiration of some persons, Gal. ii. 12. Holy men may lead you into error. Nor by multitude, to do as the most do: ‘Follow not a multitude to do evil;’ but get a true and sound conscience of things; for by all these things opinions are rather imposed upon us than chosen by us.
4. It reproves those that abstain from fixing out of a fear of troubles; as the king of Navarre would so far put forth to sea as that he might soon get to shore again. You must make God a good allowance when you embark with him; though called not only to dispute, but to die for religion, you must willingly submit: ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his own life, he cannot be my disciple,’ Luke xiv. 26. How soon the fire may be kindled we cannot tell; times tend to Popery; though there be few left to stick by us—the favour of the times runs another way—we ought to resolve for God, whatever it costs us.
5. It reproves those that think to reserve their hearts, notwithstanding outward compliance; the way of truth, being chosen, is to be owned, 2 Cor. vii. 1; the outward profession is required as well as the inward belief: Rom. x. 10, ‘For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’ A man that should lift himself among the enemies of his country, and fight with them, and say, I reserve my heart for my country, this is a mockage; as if a wife that prostitutes her body to another, should tell her husband she reserveth her heart for him. Satan would have outward prostration; he did not ask the heart, but, ‘Fall down and worship me.’
Use 2. To press us to choose the way of truth. Take it up upon evidence, and cleave to it with all the heart.
First, Take it up upon evidence, the evidence of reason, scripture, and the Spirit. Reason will lead us to the scripture, the scripture will lead us to the Spirit; so we come to have a knowledge of the truth.
1. Reason; that is preparative light, and will lead the soul thus far. It is a thousand to one but Christianity is the way of God; it will see much of God in this representation: and if you should go on carnally, carelessly, neglecting heaven and Christ, reason will tell you you run upon a thousand hazards, that there are far more against you than for you in your sinful courses. Stand upon the way. Where may you find such likelihood of satisfaction, or probability of salvation as in the religion we have? Either this is true or there is none: that you should venture your souls rather here than elsewhere; and at least, that you should profess the Christian religion as men go to a lottery; reason will tell you thus. A man that comes to a lottery, it is uncertain whether he shall have a prize or no; but it is but venturing a shilling, possibly he may have a prize; so reason will tell you, if it be uncertain whether there be a heaven or a hell, yet it is a thousand to one there are both: I may have a prize; and it is but venturing the quitting of a few lusts that are not worth the keeping. There are some truths above reason, but none contrary to it; for grace is not contrary to nature, but perfects it; therefore there is nothing in the gospel but what is agreeable to sound reason. Reason will tell us there is no doctrine agreeth so much with the wisdom, power, goodness, justice, truth, and the honour of God, as that doctrine revealed in the scripture.311
2. When reason hath thus brought you to the scripture, there is the great warrant of faith: John xvii. 20, ‘They that believe in me through their word.’ And Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law, and to the testimony, else there is no light in them.’ That is the sacred standard by which we should measure all doctrines, and these will ‘make wise the simple,’ Ps. xix. The plainest, meanest, simplest man may find out the right way to heaven, if he will consult with God’s book diligently, there he may become wise to salvation; the veriest fool and simple man may be taught how to walk directly and safely. This is the clue which brings us through all the labyrinths and perplexing debates in the world, to consult with the word of God, that we may not receive the truth upon man’s credit, but see the grounds of it with our own eyes. He that finds the pearl of price must dig for it: Mat. xiii. 44, he must read the scriptures, be much in the study of God’s book.
3. The scripture leads us to the Spirit, because there are many mysteries in the gospel difficulty known, that will not be taken up by a sure faith without illumination from above. Besides, there are so many various artifices used by men to disguise the truth, Eph. iv. 14. And besides, there is a connate blindness and hatred of truth, which is natural to men, and therefore it is the Spirit of God must help us to make a wise choice. Look, as in practical things, we shall never choose the way of truth in opposition to the falsity of worldly enjoyments without the light of the Spirit; therefore it is said, Prov. xxiii. 4, ‘Labour not to be rich, cease from thine own wisdom.’ If a man be guided by his own understanding, he will choose riches: so also in matter of opinion, when we lean to our own understanding, we shall choose amiss. John xvi. 13, it is the Spirit of God that must guide us into all truth, therefore you must beg his direction; for if we that are so blind of heart be left to our own mistakes or the deceits of others, left to the direction of ourselves, how easily shall we err! Say, ‘Lord, send out thy light and thy truth, to lead me to thy holy hill.’
Secondly, As we should choose the way of truth, so cleave to it with all firmness and perseverance, without seeking out any other way, John vi. 67, 68. If you turn away from Christ, where will you get a better master? Change where you will, you will change for the worse; you will turn your back upon true comfort and true happiness, for he hath all this. So much for the first part, the Tightness of David’s choice, ‘I have chosen the way of truth.’
In the latter clause, there you have his diligence and accuracy in walking according to the tenor of the true religion, ‘Thy judgments have I laid before me.’ By judgments is meant the precepts and directions of the word, as invested with threatenings and promises; for so the word contains every man’s doom: not only the execution of God’s providence, but the word, shows what will become of a man. Now these ‘I have laid before me;’ that is, propounded them as the rule of my life; as the king was to have the book of the law always before him, Deut. xvii. 19.
Doct. When we have chosen the way of truth, or taken up the profession of true religion, the rules of it should be ever before us.
Three reasons for this:—
1. To have a holy rule and not a holy life is altogether inconsistent. 312A Christian should he a lively transcript of that religion he doth profess. A Christian should be Christ’s epistle, 2 Cor. iii.; a walking Bible: Phil. ii. 15, 16, ‘shining as lights, holding forth the word of life.’ How? Not in doctrine, but in practice. A suitable practice joined with profession puts a majesty and splendour upon the truth. If there are many doubts about the true religion, why they are occasioned by the scandalous lives of professors; we reason from the artist to the art itself. Look, as there is a correspondence between the stamp and the impress, the seal and the thing sealed, so should there be between a Christian’s life and a Christian’s belief; the stamp should be upon his own heart, upon his life and actions; his action should discover his opinion, otherwise he loseth the glory and the benefit of his religion; he is but a pagan in God’s account,’ Jer. ix. 25; he makes his religion to be called in question; and therefore he that walks unsuitably, he is said to ‘deny the faith,’ 1 Tim. v. 8. To be a Christian in doctrine and a pagan in life is a temptation to atheism to others; when the one destroys the other, practice confutes their profession, and profession confutes their practice; therefore both these must be matched together. Thus the way of truth must be the rule, and a holy life must be suited.
2. As to this holy life, a general good intention sufficeth not, but there must be accurate walking. Why? For God doth not judge of us by the lump, or by a general intention. It is not enough to plead at the day of judgment, you had a good scope and a good meaning; for every action must be brought to judgment, whether it be good or evil, Eccles. xii. 14. When we reckon with our servants, we do not expect an account by heap, but by parcels; so a general good meaning, giving our account by heap, will not suffice, but we must be strict in all our ways, and keep close to the rule in every action, in your eating, trading, worship: Eph. v. 15, ‘See that you walk circumspectly,’ &c. See that you do not turn aside from the line and narrow ridge that you are to walk upon.
3. Accurate walking will never be, unless our rule be diligently regarded and set before us. Why?
[1.] So accurate and exact is the rule in itself, that you may easily swerve from it; therefore it must always be heeded and kept in your eye, Ps. xix. David admired the perfections of the law for the purity of it, and for the dominion of it over conscience. What was the issue of that contemplation? See ver. 12, ‘Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.’ Thus the best man, when he compares himself with the law, will be forced to blush, and acknowledge more faults than ever he took notice of before. When we see the law reacheth not only to the act but the aim, not only to the words but the thoughts and secret motions of the heart, then, Lord! who knows his errors? The law of God sometimes is said to be broad and sometimes narrow; a broad law: Ps. cxix. 96, ‘Thy commandment is exceeding broad.’ Why broad? Because it reacheth to every motion, every human action; the words, the thoughts, the desires, are under a law. Nay, yet more, the imperfect and indeliberate motions of the soul are under a law; therefore the commandment is exceeding broad. On the other side it is said to be narrow, ‘A strait gate, and a narrow way.’ 313Mat. vii. 14. Why? Because it gives no allowance to corrupt nature; we have but a strait line to go by. So that we need regard our rule.
[2.] We are so ignorant in many particulars relating to faith and manners, that we need often consult with our rule. The children of light have too much darkness in them, therefore they are bidden to look to their rule: Eph. v. 17, ‘Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.’ Blind consciences will easily carry us wrong; and we have some new things still to learn from the word of God, for know ledge is but in part; therefore our rule should be ever before us.
[3.] So many and subtle are those temptations which Satan sets on foot to make us transgress this rule. The devil assaults us two ways—by ‘fiery darts,’ and by ‘cunning wiles,’ Eph. vi. 11. He hath not only violent temptations, burning lusts, or raging despair, but he hath ensnaring temptations by his wiles, such as most take with a person tempted; and he ‘transforms himself into an angel of light,’ 2 Cor. xi. 14; covers his foul designs with plausible pretences; therefore we need have our rule and the word of God ever before us.
[4.] We are weak, and easily overborne, and therefore should bear our rule always in mind. God’s people, their greatest sins have been out of incogitancy; they sin oftenest because they are heedless, and forgetful, and inattentive. Therefore, as a carpenter tries his work by his rule and square, so should a Christian measure his conversation by the rod of the sanctuary. God, whose act is his rule, cannot miscarry. So the schoolmen, when they set out God’s holiness, say God’s hand is his rule. But we, that are creatures, are apt to swerve aside, therefore need a rule. We should always have our rule before us. We are to walk according to rule, Gal. vi., and Josh. i. 7, 8, ‘The book of the law shall not depart from thee,’ &c. If we would have our rule before our eyes, we should not so often swerve. Christians, though you be right in opinion, that will not bring you to heaven, but you. must have the rules of this holy profession before you.
Use. Oh, then, let the word of God be ever in sight as your comforter and counsellor! The more we do so the more shall we walk in the fear of God. You are not to walk according to the course of this world, but according to rule; and therefore you are not to walk rashly and in deliberately, and as you are led and carried on by force of present affections, but to walk circumspectly, considering what principle you are acted by, and what ends; and the nature and quality of our actions are always to be considered. Remember you are under the eye of the holy and jealous God, Josh. xxiv. 9, and eyed by wicked men who watch for your halting, Jer. xx., and eyed by weak Christians, who may suffer for your careless and slight walking, who look to the lives of men rather than their principles. You are the ‘lights of the world,’ Mat. v. 14, and light draws eyes after it; you are ‘as a city upon a hill.’ You that pretend to be in the right way, the way of truth, will you walk carelessly and inordinately? You are compassed about with snares; there is a snare in your refreshments, Ps. lxix.; your estates may become a snare, 1 Tim. vi. 9; your duties may be come a snare: be ‘not a novice, lest you come into the condemnation of the devil,’ 1 Tim. iii. Therefore take heed to your rule, be exact and watchful over your hearts and ways.314
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