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Apostasy into profaneness and sensuality of life — The causes and occasions of it — Defects in public teachers and guides in religion.
That which yet remaineth to be considered under this head of backsliding from the commands of the gospel and the obedience required of them is of a worse kind and of a more pernicious consequence; and this is that open apostasy into profaneness and sensuality of life which the generality of them who are called Christians are in most places of the world visibly fallen into. If any be otherwise minded, if they suppose and judge that the ways and walkings of the generality of churches and individual Christians, of whole nations that profess themselves to be so, are such as the gospel requireth and approveth of, they seem either to be ignorant of the true state of these things in the world, or to be highly injurious unto the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. To suppose that he by his gospel giveth countenance unto or conniveth at that darkness, profaneness, sensuality, those bloody contentions and oppressions, in a word, all those filthy and noxious lusts, which at this day have overwhelmed the Christian world, is to do what we can to render and represent it not only useless, but extremely pernicious unto mankind; for we do say therein that by him and his doctrine countenance is given unto that degeneracy in wickedness which heathenism would not allow, whereby the world is filled with confusion, and in danger to be precipitated into ruin. I shall therefore at present take it for granted (with the highest readiness to give up that concession when any tolerable evidence shall be given to the contrary) that there is, among and in the churches whereunto the generality of Christians do reckon themselves to belong, a visible apostasy from that piety, holiness, and righteousness, which the gospel indispensably requireth in all the disciples of Christ, and which the primitive Christians did earnestly follow and eminently abound in. An inquiry into the means and causes hereof is that which now lies before us. And that especial instance which I shall always regard is the church of Rome; which, as it hath given the most eminent example of apostasy in this kind of any church in the world, so whatever of the same nature befalleth others, it is sufficiently represented therein.
183The immediate internal causes (which are, as the rise and original of all sins, so of those wherein this apostasy doth consist, because they are not peculiar hereunto, but equally respect all sins at all times) belong not unto our present inquiry. By these causes I intend, in general, the depravation of nature; the power and deceitfulness of sin; love of the world, the profits, honours, and pleasures of it; the rage of the flesh after the satisfaction of its sensual lusts; with the aversation of the minds of men from things spiritual and heavenly, as being “alienated from the life of God” through the darkness and ignorance that is in them: for these and the like depraved affections, being excited and acted by the crafty influences of Satan, and inflamed with temptations, do incline, induce, and carry men into all manner of wickedness with delight and greediness, James i. 14, 15. But whereas all these things in general respect equally all times, occasions, and sins; and whereas it is the constant work of the ministers of the gospel (those, I mean, who understand their employment, with the account they must give of the souls committed unto their charge) to discover the nature, detect the deceit, and warn men of the danger, of these principles and occasions of sin within them and without them, — I shall not need particularly here to insist upon them. It is the more public external means and causes which have produced, furthered, and promoted the apostasy complained of, that we shall take under consideration.
I. The first occasion hereof, in all ages, hath been given by or taken from the public readers, guides, or leaders of the people in the matter of religion. I intend them of all sorts, however called, styled, or distinguished, into what forms or orders soever they are cast by themselves or others; and I name them so at large, because it is known how variously they are multiplied, especially in the church of Rome, where, as to these parts of the world, this apostasy began, and by which it is principally promoted, and that by all sorts of them. These at all times have, and must have, an especial influence into the holiness or unholiness of the people; yea, the purity or apostasy of the church, as to outward means, doth principally depend upon them, with the discharge of their office and duty. In many things they succeed into the room of the priests of old, and frequently fall under the command and rebuke given unto them, Mal. ii. 1–9, “O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it. And ye shall know that I have sent this 184commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.”
That holy, humble, laborious ministry, which Christ first instituted in the church, was the great means of converting men unto evangelical obedience and the preserving of them therein. This their doctrine, their spirit, their example, their manner and course of life, their prayers: preaching, and entire endeavours, tended unto, and were blessed and prospered of God unto that purpose. Then were the lives of Christians a transcript of the truth of the gospel. But through the degeneracy of the following ages, those who succeeded them became troubled fountains, polluting and corrupting all the streams of Christian religion It is no uneasy thing to observe, in the course of ecclesiastical records and stories, how, by various degrees, the leaders of the church became corrupt, and did corrupt the people, giving them in themselves an example of strifes, divisions, ambition, worldly-mindedness; and, by their negligence in discharge of their duty, depriving them of the means of being made better by the power of the doctrine and commands of the gospel. Under the old testament, the priests and prophets led the people into a double apostasy:— First, Into that of superstition and idolatry, Jer. xxiii. 9–15; and this continued prevailing among them until their sin issued in a desolating calamity. This was the Babylonish captivity, wherein all their idols were buried in the land of Shinar, Zech. v. 11. Secondly, After the return of the people from thence, when they would no more be inveigled into idolatry, whereof God designed that captivity for an effectual cure, the same sort of persons, by negligence, ignorance, and their evil example in profaneness, turned them off from God and his law. This was begun in the days of Malachi, the last of the prophets, and ended in the total apostasy and destruction of that church and people. And when the whole came unto its last issue in the rejection of the Lord Christ, the Son of God, the same sort of persons, even the guides and teachers, led, and even forced, the body of the people into that great rebellion and impenitency therein, as is evidently 185declared in the gospel. And it is to be feared that something of the like nature hath fallen out among Christians also. The first apostasy the Christian world fell into was by superstition and idolatry, principally under the conduct of the church of Rome; and this, as it will always be, was accompanied with wickedness of life in all sorts of persons. Many churches and nations being delivered from this abomination, it is well if, by the same means, they are not falling into that of a worldly, sensual, profane conversation.
The Scripture is so full on this subject, and the nature of the thing itself is such, as seems to require a deep and thorough consideration of it; but the nature of my design will not admit of enlargement on any particular head, for I intend only to point at the chief springs and occasions of this evil, and accordingly this part of our subject must be only briefly (as that preceding) treated on.
What was before asserted in general, namely, that the well-being of the church depends on the right discharge of the office of the ministry, will, I suppose, be acknowledged by all; and it is plainly declared by the apostle, Eph. iv. 11–15. In proportion thereunto it will thrive or decay. The nature of this office, the ends of its institution, the works and duties of it, with the universal experience of all ages and places, do evince this observation beyond all contradiction. If, therefore, those who undertake the exercise of this office do eminently and notoriously fail in the performance and discharge of the duties thereof, especially if they do so generally, and in any long succession of time, it cannot be but that the people will be corrupt, and degenerate from the rule of the gospel. The flocks will not be preserved where the shepherds are negligent; and fields will be overrun with weeds, thorns, and briers, if they be not duly tilled. I shall therefore, in the first place, call over some of those things which are indispensably required in and of the ministers and teachers of the church, that it may be preserved in its purity, and kept up unto its duty in evangelical obedience; and I shall insist only on those which all men will acknowledge to be such duties, or which none who own the gospel can or dare deny so to be:—
First, It is required of them that they keep pure and uncorrupted the doctrine of the gospel, especially that concerning the holiness enjoined in it, both as to its nature, causes, motives, and ends. So of old, the “priest’s lips were to keep knowledge,” and “the people were to seek the law at his mouth.” This was one main end for which the Lord Christ gave unto, and instituted the office of the ministry in the church: Eph. iv. 11–15, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, 186and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” The preservation of the truth, the declaration, vindication, and defence of it, so as the members of the church, the disciples of Christ, committed to their charge, be neither through weakness or ignorance as children, nor through the delusions of seducers, turned off from it or unsettled in it, was one great end why the Lord Christ instituted this office therein. And upon their discharge of this duty depend the growth, the obedience, the edification, and salvation, of the whole body. And therefore doth the apostle give this principally in charge unto the elders of the church of Ephesus, in his solemn giving of it up unto their care and inspection, when he himself was no more to come among them: Acts xx. 28–30, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” As he hath a regard unto other things, so in an especial manner to the introduction of perverse and corrupt opinions, contrary to the truth wherein they had been instructed by him, which comprised “all the counsel of God” concerning their faith and obedience, with his own worship, verse 27. This they were to do by their careful, faithful, diligent declaration, vindication, and defence, of the doctrine which they had received. Especially doth he press this upon his beloved Timothy. He being for a season fixed in the ministry of the church, he was chosen out by the wisdom of the Holy Ghost to be a pattern and example, in the instructions given unto him, unto all ministers of the gospel in succeeding generations. This charge is expressly committed unto him, 1 Tim. vi. 13, 14, “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 20, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” 2 Tim. ii. 13, 14, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting 187of the hearers.” And what he was enjoined in his own person, that also he was directed to commit unto others with the same charge, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved incorrupt in succeeding generations, 2 Tim. ii. 1, 2, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” The vehemency of the apostle in this charge, and his pathetical exhortations, do sufficiently evince the moment and necessity of this duty, as that without which the church would not be continued to be “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
There are three repositories of sacred truth, or of the truths of the mystery of the gospel, — the Scripture, the minds and hearts of believers, and the ministry of the present age. In the first, God preserveth them by his providence; in the second, by his Spirit and grace; in the last, by way of an ordinance or especial institution for that end.
In the first way they have been kept, and shall be kept, safe against all oppositions of hell and the world, unto the consummation of all things. And if this way might fail, we acknowledge that the others would do so also, whatever some pretend of their traditions, and others of their present inspirations. And whilst this doth abide (as it shall always do), the loss that may befall in the other ways may be retrieved; and so it hath been several times, when the faith of the church hath been recovered and its profession reformed by the light and knowledge derived afresh from the Scripture. This fountain, therefore, of truth shall never be dry, but men may always draw sufficiently, yea, abundantly from it, whilst they use the means appointed thereunto. But yet this alone will not secure the public interest of truth and holiness. There must be other means also of communicating what is contained therein unto the minds and consciences of men; and the Scripture itself doth both appoint and require a ministry unto this end. Secondly, There may be a preservation of the truth derived from the Scripture for a season in the minds of men and hearts of private believers. So was it in the days of Elijah, when, in a destitution of all outward ministry, seven thousand were preserved in faith and the fear of God, “not bowing the knee unto Baal,” 1 Kings xix. 18. This the Holy Ghost is in an especial manner promised and given unto them to effect, John xiv. 16, 17, 26, xvi. 13, 1 John ii. 20, 21: for herein is the promise accomplished, that “they shall be all taught of God,” John vi. 45; which though it be not wholly without means, yet it is such as doth not always and in all things indispensably depend thereon, Heb. viii. 11 And unto this work of the Spirit preserving the truth in the minds and 188hearts of true believers, the continuance of it in the world, as to its power and profession, under great and general apostasies, is to be ascribed. So I no way doubt but that during and under the papal defection, there were great numbers in whose hearts and minds the principal truths of the gospel were preserved inviolate, so as that by virtue of them they lived unto God and were accepted with him. But this way of the preservation of the truth is confined unto individual persons, and as such only are they concerned therein. [Thirdly], As unto public profession and the benefits thereof, all sacred truth is committed unto the ministry of the present age; and on the due discharge of their office and work it doth depend. The imagination of the church of Rome about keeping sacred truths in the hidden cells of tradition or invisible, fantastical treasures, which requires neither care, nor wisdom, nor honesty unto its custody, but a mere pretence of key to open it, was one engine whereby both truth and holiness were driven out of the world.
These things are inseparable. Gospel truth is the only root whereon gospel holiness will grow. If any worm corrode, or any other corrupting accident befall it, the fruit will quickly fade and decay. It is impossible to maintain the power of godliness where the doctrine from whence it springs is unknown, corrupted, or despised. And, on the other side, where men are weary of holiness, they will not long give entertainment to the truth; for as to their desires and affections, they will find it not only useless but troublesome. Hence the great opposition which is made at this day against many important truths of the gospel ariseth principally from the dislike men have of the holiness which they guide unto and require.
Secondly, It is required of the same persons that they diligently instruct the people in the knowledge of the whole counsel of God, in the mystery of the gospel, the doctrine of truth, that they may know and do the will of God; and this are they to do by all the means and ways that God hath appointed, pressing it instantly, together with instructions on their souls and consciences for its practice. The end why evangelical truth is committed unto their care is, not that they may keep it to themselves, so locking up the key of knowledge, but that they may communicate it unto others and instruct them therein. And he who doth not desire and endeavour to communicate unto his flock all things that are profitable for them can have no evidence in his own mind that God hath called him to the office of the ministry. The apostle, proposing his own example unto the elders of the church of Ephesus, affirms that he had “not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God,” Acts xx. 27, and that he had “kept back nothing that was profitable unto them,” verse 20. Men begin to talk or write about preaching on this or 189that subject: some, they say, preach all about Christ and grace, and justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the like; but they preach about God’s attributes, moral duties, obedience to superiors, and things of that nature. But whether this fancy have more folly or malice in it is not easy to determine. It is like those who make this plea do speak truly as to their own concernment. They preach of the things they express, exclusively unto the others, which they meddle not with at all; for if they do teach them, then is the opposition they fancy between those ways of preaching altogether vain. But that others do preach the things ascribed unto them, with a neglect of those other doctrines, which such persons pretend to appropriate to themselves as their province, is a fond imagination. And, to increase the vanity of it, the distribution is made by some with a total silence on all hands, — both on their own, which they extol, and on that of others, which they condemn, — of that which certainly ought to be the principal subject of all preaching, namely, Jesus Christ and him crucified. But the truth is, he who knows not that it is his duty to declare unto the people, not this or that part of it, but the whole counsel of God, and who is not endowed with some measure of wisdom, so as to discern what is useful, profitable, and seasonable unto his hearers, according as their spiritual states and occasions do require, knows not what it is to be a minister of Christ or his gospel, a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, nor is meet to take that office upon him. And there are three things which ministers, teachers, leaders of the people, are to attend unto in the discharge of this principal part of their office, in the communication of the knowledge of the truth committed to them unto others:—
1. That they are to do it with all care, diligence, and sedulity. How vehement is our apostle in his charge to this purpose! 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” How ought these words to sound continually in the ears of all ministers who design to be faithful in the discharge of their duty! How ought the power of them to abide on their hearts! Are they spoken alone unto Timothy? or will the souls of men be preserved, edified, saved, now with less pains and at an easier rate than formerly? It will appear at the last day that others also have an eternal concernment herein.
2. That they labour with the utmost of their strength, even to fatigation and weariness. All the names whereby their office and their work are expressed in the New Testament do include this kind of labour. As they are to “give themselves continually to the ministry 190of the word,” Acts vi. 4, — that is, wholly and entirely, in their utmost endeavours, continually unto this work, — so are they enjoined κοπιᾷν, “to labour to the utmost of the strength” they have therein, 1 Tim. v. 17; 1 Cor. xvi. 16; 1 Thess. v. 12. It is not bodily labour alone in the dispensation of the word (wherein there may be much variety, according unto the various natural dispositions or tempers of men, and of acquired gifts), but that earnestness and intension of spirit which will carry along with them the laborious pains of the whole person, that I intend. The cold, formal pronunciation or reading (as is the manner of some) of a well-composed oration doth not well express this labouring in the word and doctrine.
3. That their whole work and all their endeavours therein be accompanied with constant prayer, that the gospel in their ministry may run and be glorified, that the word may prosper in the hearts and lives of the people. So the apostles affirm that they would “give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word,” Acts vi. 4. That ministration of the word which is not accompanied with continual prayer for its success is not like to have any great blessing go along with it. As our apostle calls God to witness of his frequent mention of them in his prayers unto whom the word was preached, Rom. i. 9, 10, so he desireth the prayers of others also, that his work and labour in the ministry might be prosperous and successful, Eph. vi. 18, 19. For a minister to preach the word without constant prayer for its success is a likely means to cherish and strengthen secret atheism in his own heart, and very unlikely to work holiness in the lives of others.
Thirdly, It is in like manner required of them (so far as human frailty will permit) that they do, in their persons, ways, and walkings or conversations, especially in the discharge of all their ministerial duties, give a true representation both of the doctrine which they preach and of Him in whose name they dispense it. What meekness, humility, and zeal for the glory of God; what moderation, self-denial, and readiness for the cross; what mortification of corrupt affections and inordinate desires of earthly things; what contempt of the world; what benignity, condescension, and patience towards all men; what evidences of heavenly-mindedness, — are required hereunto, both the Scripture declares and the nature of the thing itself makes apparent What can any men rationally believe, but that they who preach Christ and the gospel unto them do declare that they have no other effect or tendency but what in themselves they express and represent unto them? There is a secret language in the ministry of men, that what they are and do is that which the doctrine they preach doth require, which their hearers do understand and are apt to believe. The very philosophers saw that so it would be with 191respect unto them who publicly taught philosophy; to which purpose the words of Themistius are remarkable: Orat. 1, Ἀνελευθέρους τε δὴ οὖν οὕτως εὑρίσκοντες καὶ φιλοχρημάτους τε καὶ ἅρπαγες, λοιδόρους τε καὶ φιλαπεχθήμονας καὶ ἀλαζόνας, δολερούς τε καὶ ἐπιβούλους, οὐκ οἱήσονται ἐκ φύσεὠς ἢ τῆς προτέρας βαναυσίας ἔχειν τὰς κῆρας, ἀλλ’ αἰτιάσονται ἐκ φιλοσοφίας προσγίνεσθαι. Whatever vices most men observe in such persons, they will not attribute them unto their depraved natures or inward corruptions, but unto the philosophy they profess Hence it is enjoined them that in “all things they show themselves patterns of good works,” Tit. ii. 7; 2 Thess. iii. 9. “Be thou,” saith our apostle unto his Timothy, “an example unto believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,” 1 Tim. iv. 12. This is the dignity, honour, and preferment, that the Lord Christ calls his ministers unto, namely, that they should in their own persons represent his graces and the holiness of his doctrine unto others. Those who are otherwise minded, whose designs and affections look another way, will find themselves to fall under the effects of a great mistake. I do not reflect any thing upon what outward, secular, circumstantial advantages men may have in this world, but I do say, whatever they have of that kind which doth not enable them the more effectually in their course and work to express the meekness, humility, self-denial, and zeal of Christ, with the holiness of the doctrine they teach, or should so do, it will not redound unto any great account in the kingdom of God.
Fourthly, It is also incumbent on them to attend with diligence unto that rule and holy discipline which the Lord Christ hath appointed for the edification of the church, and the preservation of it in purity, holiness, and obedience. This, indeed, most pretend a readiness to comply withal, as that which is condited unto their appetite by an appearance of authority and power, which seldom are unaccompanied with other desirable advantages, I shall only say, it will be well for them by whom they are administered according to the mind of Christ; but that more belongeth thereunto than is usually apprehended so to do, I suppose few sober and intelligent persons will deny.
That these things, yea, and many others of the like kind, with all those duties which are subservient or any way necessary unto them, are required of all ministers of the gospel, teachers, guides, rulers of the church, and that constantly to be attended unto with zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men, none, I suppose, who profess themselves Christians will in general deny. And if in these things the life and power of the ministry (whereon the purity and holiness of the church depend) do consist, where they are wanting, it is morally impossible but that the generality of the people 192will gradually degenerate into ignorance, profaneness, immorality, and unholiness of every kind.
There is nothing I could more desire than that the present defection from evangelical holiness, which is so visible in the world, might neither in whole nor in part be charged on a defect in these thing among this sort of men, yea, that it might not be so unto qualifications, principles, and actings directly contrary unto what is thus required; for if it be not so, there will be yet hopes of a stay to be put unto its progress, yea, of a healing and recovery from it. But I shall a little inquire into that which offers itself unto the view of all, premising these two things:— 1. That I do not intend the ministry of any one place or nation, or age or time, more than another, but shall speak indefinitely unto what hath been and is in the Christian world. 2. That if indeed, upon trial, none be found blameworthy, none defective in these things, there is no harm done in that any are warned what to avoid. And, —
1. Have they all kept the truth, and doctrine, and mysteries of the gospel, committed to the ministers thereof? Are there not many of this sort who are themselves woefully ignorant of the counsel of God revealed therein? nay, are there not many who have neither will nor ability to search into the mysteries of the doctrine of Christ, and do therefore despise them? Can men keep in a way of duty what they never had, nor ever used those means for the attaining of it without which it will not be so done? And is it not manifest what must needs be, and what really are, the effects and fruits hereof? Do not hereon multitudes perish for want of knowledge and continue in the ways of sin because they have none to teach them better, at least none to teach them on such principles as are alone effectual unto their conversion and holiness? They must die, they shall die in their sins, but the blood of their souls will be required at other hands; for all the causes of gospel holiness, all proper motives unto it, all effectual ways and means of attaining it, are hid from them.
It is known how brutishly ignorant the generality of their priests are in the Papacy; neither, for the most part, do the rulers of that church require any more of them than that they have skill enough to read and manage their public offices of devotion. Neither is it much otherwise in the Greek church, in any of the branches of it, whereby whole nations, under a public profession of Christianity, are through stupid ignorance degenerated into a profane course of life, no less vile than that of the heathens. It is well if it be not so in some measure in other places also. But the truth is, the ignorance of many who take upon them the office of the ministry, and their unconscionable idleness when they have so done, is the great occasion of the continuance of profaneness and ungodliness among the people. And if 193the preaching of the gospel be the only sovereign, effectual means appointed by God for the change of men’s natures and the reformation of their lives (a denial whereof includes a renunciation of Christianity), it is a vain expectation that either of them will be wrought in such a way as to restore the beauty and glory of religion in the world, unless provision be made for an able ministry to instruct the body of the people, through all their distributions, in knowledge and understanding.
2. It is the duty of this sort of persons, unto the same end, to preserve the truth pure and uncorrupted. Unless this be done carefully and effectually, holiness will not be maintained or preserved in the world. And it is evident how many of them have acquitted themselves herein, as hath been in part declared in the foregoing account of apostasy from the doctrine and truth of the gospel By them principally it hath been debased, corrupted, perverted, and continueth yet so to be; neither is there at this day scarce any one doctrine that should really promote evangelical obedience which is free from being despised or depraved by some of them. But this is not that which we now speak unto; it hath been done already. Our present inquiry is after that love and care of, that zeal for the truth, which are eminently required of them. Do they pray, and labour, and plead with God and man for its preservation, as that wherein their principal interest doth lie? or do many esteem of it any farther but as their outward advantages are secured by it? A fault there is in this matter, and it is not without the especial guilt of some that the world is come to such an indifferency about the principal truths of the gospel that from thence men slip into atheism every day.
3. Neither are these defects supplied by diligence in their work; yea, the want thereof is of all other evils in this kind most evident. No words are sufficient to express the sloth and negligence, the coldness and carelessness, that are found amongst many in the discharge of their duty, as to the instruction of others, and the application of the word of God to the hearts and consciences of men. I shall not mention particular instances, that none may be offended. The matter itself is evident, and the effects of it manifest. It may seem to some desirable that such things should be concealed, but whilst by reason hereof the souls of multitudes are in danger of eternal ruin every day, those who are sensible of their misery may be allowed to complain. How few, therefore, do diligently and industriously lay out themselves and their strength in the ministry, with zeal for the glory of God and compassion unto the souls of men! How few do take heed to themselves and to the flocks, do watch and pray, and press their message on the consciences of their hearers! Alas! it is but little of saving truth that many know in the notions of it, less they 194care to communicate unto others, because they know it not in its power. Will the souls of men be brought into the obedience of faith, will the power and interest of sin and the world in them be cast down and destroyed, will gospel obedience be preserved in the lives of men, by such weak and languid endeavours as many satisfy themselves withal! If it be so, conversion unto God and the fruits of holiness must be looked on as most easy things, and the ministry itself to be of little use in the world. Certainly, there is another representation of these things in the Scripture; and notwithstanding the growth of some opinions that would render the whole work of Christianity so easy and facile as to be accommodated unto a negligent ministry, yet the event thereof is openly pernicious. Wherefore we need not fear to say, that coldness, lukewarmness, sloth, and negligence, especially when accompanied with ignorance and spiritual darkness about the principal mysteries of the gospel, with an unconcernment of mind and affections in the importance, end, and design of their work, among them who are looked on as the public teachers of the church, at any time or in any place, keeps open a wide door for the lusts of men to pour forth themselves into that deluge of apostasy from the power of godliness which the world is even overwhelmed withal.
So was it with the church under the old testament, as God by the prophets complains in a hundred places. Can any man be so stupid as to imagine that the ordinary discharge of the priestly office in the church of Rome, in saying their offices at canonical hours, hearing of confessions and giving absolutions, without the least dram of labouring in word and doctrine, is a means to keep up the power of Christian religion, or is not an effectual means to drench mankind in sin and security? Neither doth the calling of things by other names change their natures. Wherever there is the same neglect of the true work of the ministry, in the matter of it or manner of its performance, the same event will ensue thereon. And it will be nowhere more fatal than where men love to have it so, and despise whatever is spoken to the contrary, so as that it shall be esteemed a crime for any one to be dissatisfied with the soul-ruining sloth and negligence of this sort of men.
4. Moreover, whereas great relief in all these cases might be taken from a holy, exemplary conversation and walking among them in whom it is required as an ordinance of God for the direction and encouragement of the people, it is manifest in the world, and sufficiently taken notice of, that many of them in their own persons are openly ambitious, insatiably covetous, proud, sensual, haters of them that are good, companions of the worst of men, evidencing the depraved habits of their minds in all signal instances of vice and folly. 195He that shall consider what was the state, what were the lives, of the apostles and first preachers of the gospel, with those who succeeded them for some ages following, not merely as to their outward condition of straits and poverty (which, as it will be pleaded, was occasioned by the state of things then in the world), but as to that humility, lowliness of mind, self-denial, contempt of the world, zeal for God, purity of life, which they prescribed unto others and gave an exemplification of in themselves; and then take a view of that universal contradiction unto them and their ways which the lives and course of very many in the world do at this day openly express; he must conclude that either all those things were needless in them, as to the public interests of Christianity, or that they are unspeakably endamaged by those of some at present.
Wherefore, it cannot with any modesty be denied but that by reason of these and the like miscarriages in the spiritual guides of the people, the generality of Christians have been either led or suffered insensibly to fall into the present apostasy. When God shall be pleased to give unto the people who are called by his name, in a more abundant manner, “pastors after his own heart, to feed them with knowledge and understanding;” when he shall revive and increase a holy, humble, zealous, self-denying, powerful ministry, by a more plentiful effusion of his Spirit from above; then, and not until then, may we hope to see the pristine glory and beauty of our religion restored unto its primitive state and condition.
Those who do yet judge that matters among the common professors of Christianity, as to the obedience of faith, are in as good a posture as they were at any time formerly, or as they need to be, who have no other desire or interest in them but only that they should not be better, may abide in their security without troubling themselves with these things. But for such as cannot but see that a revolt or defection from gospel obedience is not only begun in the world, but carried unto that height that it is ready to issue in idolatry or atheism, it is time for them to consider under whose hand this hath fallen out, and be stirred up to put a stop unto its progress before it be too late. Nor is it to be expected or fancied that there will be a recovery of the people from ungodliness and profaneness, or unto the holy obedience the gospel requireth, until there be such a change wrought in the ministry that the word may be so dispensed and such examples given as may be effectual unto that end. It is to cast the highest contempt on the office itself to imagine that this breach can be otherwise healed; for whereas this declension is fallen out under the conduct of the present ministry and that of the foregoing ages, it is not to be thought that it will be retrieved under the same conduct. And to suppose that it can be done any other way, 196that the world of professed Christians shall be recovered unto holy obedience by any other means but the ministerial dispensation of the word, is to render it a thing altogether useless. Here, then, must begin the cure of that lethargy in sin that the world is fallen into, — namely, in the renovation of a powerful evangelical ministry, or the due discharge of that office by them that are called thereunto or possess the place of it, if ever it be effected unto any purpose in this world.
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